Vyasa and Parasara- the fulfillment of a great mission by a father and son
------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Note: The following article is a selection of some chapters from the author's unedited manuscript 'Vyasa and Parasara- the fulfillment of a great mission by a father and son'. In this work the author has attempted to recreate the lives of two of the greatest ancient Indian seers.
"I am Vyasa among the sages", proclaims Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagawad Gita. Such is the greatness of Vyasa. He is the most significant among all the incarnations of the Divine in Hinduism. According to most Puranas, Vyasa is the 17 th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Some puranas even include him in the ten major incarnations of Vishnu.
According to Maharshi Parasara, " The Unborn lord has many incarnations. He has incarnated as the nine grahas to bestow on the living beings the results due to their Karmas. He assumed the auspicious form of grahas to annihilate the evil forces and sustain the divine. From Sun the incarnation of Rama, from Moon that of Krishna , from Mars that of Narasimha, from Mercury that of Buddha, from Jupiter that of Vamana, from Venus that of Parasurama, from Saturn that of Kurma (Tortoise), from Rahu (north node) that of Varaha (pig), and from Ketu (south node) that of Meena (Fish) occurred. All other incarnations than these also are through the grahas".
While some puranas mention Buddha as one of the ten incarnations, some mention Balarama. Yet others mention Veda Vyasa's name among the ten major incarnations of Vishnu. Thus there is no universal list of the ten incarnations. It is possible that both Buddha and Vyasa had incarnated through the graha Mercury. I am narrating the story of Vyasa here for Mercury since his life and work clearly symbolise Mercury at its best. Which other incarnation of the Lord symbolizes Mercury better?
Vyasa is the editor par excellence. With unbelievable zeal and divine inspiration, he redacted the Vedas. He standardized the Vedas, the order and the accents of every mantra, which has come down to us intact since 5000 years. Vyasa is by far the most prolific among writers. He survived the Kurukshetra war and later composed the original Mahabharata, on which, with interpolations and additions, the present structure of the epic rests. Today the Mahabharata is the world's longest epic, and is considered as the fifth veda. The highly revered Bhagawad Gita is just a portion of this great and inspiring epic. The Puranic literature, which originally was said to consist of ten million verses, is also attributed to him. He is said to have composed the Brahma Sutras. The list is endless. Such a gigantic feat and prolific intellectual work remain unparalleled. Verily Vyasa is an embodiment of Mercury and its divine energy.
It is said that in each age (Mahayuga), in every Dwapara yuga, Vishnu in his form of Veda Vyasa, incarnates to uphold the Vedas. He divides the Vedas and helps to preserve them for the coming kali yuga. In other words a Veda Vyasa is born every 4.3 million years since that is the span of a mahayuga! In this Manvantara, twenty-eight mahayugas have elapsed. Thus twenty-eight Veda Vyasas have incarnated so far! The Vyasa for this Dwapara yuga is Krishna Dwaipaayana, the son of the illustrious sage Parasara, who is considered the father of Vedic astrology, for it is held widely that it was he who composed the famous astrological text 'Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra'. Parasara was the grandson of Vasishta, the greatest among sages.
Sage Vasishta had a son called Shaktri. Let me narrate to you how Shaktri was eaten up by a rakshasa. King Kalmashapada, who belonged to the Ikshvaku line of kings, once went to the forest. After a while he felt thirsty. While looking for water, the king met Shaktri. There was a very narrow path along which even two people could not walk abreast. Since he was very thirsty, Kalmashapada asked Shaktri to give him the right of way. But Shaktri insisted that, as a brahmana, he possessed the right of way, Kalmashapada thereupon struck Shaktri with his whip and Shaktri in turn cursed the king that he would become a rakshasa. As a result a rakshasa named Rudhira possessed the king. The rakshasa had entered the king's body, and Kalmashapada started behaving like a demon. Kalmashapada's first act as a rakshasa was to eat up Shaktri and his hundred brothers.
Sage Vasishta could not bear the shock of his sons being killed. With his wife Arundhati, the sage climbed a mountain and the couple flung themselves down from the peak so that they might die. But the earth had no desire to permit the death of such a great sage. She adopted the form of a woman and broke the couple's fall. "Please do not kill yourself, the world needs you", she told Vasishta. Shaktri's wife Adrishyanti too tried to dissuade her father-in-law from committing suicide. She pleaded with Vasishta, "I am expecting. If the two of you kill yourselves, who will look after the son when he is born? He is, after all, Shaktri's son. Please stay alive for his sake".
While this conversation was going on, the baby who was in Adrishyanti's womb began to recite the Veda. This was a miracle indeed and Vasishta did not at first realize where the sound of the recitation was coming form. But Vishnu appeared and told the sage, "You will have a grandson who will bring glory to your line. He will be a great devotee of Shiva. It is he who is reciting the Vedas. Please stay alive for his sake." Vasishta was thus dissuaded from committing suicide. In due course, Adrishyanti gave birth to Parasara.
When Parasara grew up, he asked his mother, "Where is my father? Why do I not have a father like other children do?" "Your father Shaktri was eaten up by a rakshasa," replied Adrishyanti. "Eaten up by a rakshasa!" exclaimed Parasara. "I will pray to the god Shiva. Through my austerities, I will attain great powers. And with my powers I am going to burn up the entire universe. There is no point in retaining such an evil universe where one's father is eaten up by a rakshasa."
Vasishta persuaded his grandson that such a general destruction of the universe would not be in anyone's interest. The universe had done no particular harm. If anyone had committed a crime, it was the rakshasa who had performed the dastardly deed. Parasara resolved that he would use his powers to destroy the rakshasas. With this end in mind, Parasara started to pray to Shiva. Shiva was pleased at these prayers and granted Parasara amazing powers. With these powers, Parasara got to see and talk to his dead father. And he used these powers to destroy the rakshasas.
"Please stop this destruction," Vasishta told his grandson. "There has been enough of killing. If Shaktri died, that was written in his stars. Birth and death are inevitable for all beings. The rakshasa was merely the instrument of what fate had decreed for my son. Do not kill any more rakshasas. Anger serves no purpose." Parasara followed his grandfather's advice and was blessed by the sage that he would become well versed in all the shastras . Vasishta also blessed Parasara that he would compose the Purana samhita and the Vishnu Purana. This Vishnu Purana is different from the one by the same name, one that is among the eighteen puranas. The latter is based on a condensed version of Parasara's version, as revealed by Vyasa. Parasara is also said to have authored the famous 'Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra', the original source book of Jyotish or astrology.
Parasara soon became renowned. He was widely respected for his knowledge, tapas and powers. He had his own hermitage with many disciples. It became a center of attraction for the neighbouring ashrams too. Parasara's austerity and firm faith in the power of the Sacred Word , the Veda , inspired one and all. Now let me narrate to you how his ashram was destroyed and what happened thereby.
CHAPTER-2 (not included in the preview)
CHAPTER -- 3
The next day, as soon as the sun rose, Matsya took Parasara in her boat. It was the month of Ashada the Moon was full and could be seen even in the dim daylight. Birds flew gracefully across the sky. The dancing water waves splashed against the boat playfully as if they were flirting with the boat. Parasara was immersed in deep thought as he looked at the sky. Suddenly his face lit up as he realized the significance of the moment. A great stellium was happening in the zodiacal sign of Pisces. Soon, in a short time, the planetary pattern indicated a very rare muhurta, one that comes in millions of years! A child conceived at such an exact moment would achieve great feats. His destiny would be linked to that of the rest of humanity. He would accomplish a cosmic mission!
Parasara was a seer of Jyotisa or astrology, an integral part, a limb of the Vedas. He knew the significance of the moment. How could he let such a moment pass by unnoticed? Further he remembered how, long back Lord Vishnu had granted him a boon that he would be born as his son, for a divine mission. If that promise could ever come true, it was only now, as the stars indicated.
Parasara now noticed Matsya's face and body. She looked very graceful. She was dark in color and in the morning Sun, she looked as if she was made of shining copper. Her lovely cheeks glowed with happiness and joy. And what proportionate limbs she had! She had the ideal physiognomy (Samudrika lakshana) that clearly spoke highly of her samskaras. She was no ordinary girl. She had a great future ahead. Moreover the ancient science of physiognomy indicated that she could be the mother of a highly virtuous soul. She was almost like a goddess. But how could he speak to her? Would she understand his motive? Her face, especially her eyes and the shape of her nose, convinced Parasara that she was intelligent and no ordinary fisher girl.
And that bull amongst the seers now spoke to Matsya of celestial beauty and tapering thighs. He explained to her the significance of the moment. As he explained to her his thoughts, Matsya felt shy. She felt elated that a sage of his rank thought so highly of her. But she was scared too. It didn't take much time for her to make up her mind. This was no ordinary sage. He was a seer who had gone beyond lust. Surely he had no desire for physical pleasures. His proposal seemed to be willed by the gods.
Parasara read her mind and was pleased with the maturity that she displayed, for her age. Parasara spoke now, as he approached her, 'O blessed and beautiful one, please accept my embraces". Matsya looked around and replied, 'O holy one, behold the Rishis standing on either bank of the river. Seen by them how can I grant thy wish?' Thus addressed by her, the ascetic thereupon created a fog, which enveloped the whole region in darkness. And the maiden, beholding the fog that was created by the great Rishi wondered much. She blushed as she spoke, "O holy one, I am a maiden under the protection of my father. By accepting your embraces my virginity will be sullied. My virginity being sullied, how shall I be able to return home? Indeed, I shall not then be able to bear life. Reflecting upon all this, O illustrious one, do that which should be done.'
That best of Rishis, gratified with all she said, replied, 'You shall remain a virgin even if you grant my wish. And, O timid one, O beauteous lady, I solicit the boon that you desire. My grace has never before proved fruitless.' Thus addressed, the maiden asked for the boon that her body might emit a sweet scent (instead of the fish-odour that it had). And the illustrious Rishi thereupon granted that wish of her heart.
Having obtained her boon, she became highly pleased, and her season immediately came. She accepted the embraces of that Rishi of wonderful deeds. And she thenceforth became known among men by the name of Gandhavati (the sweet-scented one). Men could perceive her scent form the distance of a Yojana. And for this she was known by another name, which was Yojanagandha (one who scatters her scent for a Yojana all around). Satyavati gratified with having obtained the excellent boon in consequence of which she became sweet-scented and her virginity remained unsullied, conceived through Parasara's embraces. And she brought forth the very day, on an island in the Yamuna, the child begot upon her by Parasara.
Such a birth is called 'sadyogarbha' . It is said that Hanuman and Dattatreya too were born similarly. They too did not have to spend nine months in the womb and were born the same day. The illustrious Parasara continued on his journey, after explaining to Matsya that he would come back one day for his son. It was thus that Vyasa was born of Satyavati or Matsya, through Parasara. And because he was born in an island, he was called Dwaipaayana (Dwaipa or island-born).
As the child grew, he started attracting people with his sweet voice. Little Krishna , as Vyasa was called because of his dark complexion, was a very intelligent child full of questions and explorations. He wanted to know everything.
Dharmakshetra was now a center of learning. It reverberated with the holy chants, the fourfold Sacred Word . One day, Dwaipaayana who was performing the pre-dawn sandhya in the Yamuna River looked at the sky. The morning star shone brightly. Dark clouds on the horizon were dispersing. Dwaipaayana's mind was in a transpersonal state. Suddenly a single shaft of light struck him, through the dense curtain of clouds. That moment was a moment of revelation, as he looked at the orb of gold. He could almost hear the mandate of his guardian god Surya in unmistakable terms. "Make the whole world noble and united in high aspirations".
From that moment he felt that he was possessed. What had been given to no other sage was given to him. All the gods and the entire creation merged into one. He saw no distinction between man and man. And the whole world had to be made Arya, pure, noble and united in aspiration. He now worked towards absorbing the others into the Vedic fold. He adopted numerous tribesmen and women and gave them his own gotra, the Parasara gotra. Whomsoever Dwaipaayana Vyasa touched became noble and inspired. He was under the protection of Surya. He could penetrate the hearts of men and women and light the sacred fire, the fire of knowledge in their hearts.
When Krishna Dwaipaayana Veda Vyasa sought to divide the four Vedas, he first gathered around him four learned disciples and taught them the four Vedas- to Paila the Rig Veda , to Vaisampayana the Yajur Veda , to Jaimini the Sama Veda , and to Sumantu the Atharavana Veda . He later taught the puranas which are known as the fifth veda, to his disciple Romaharshana. In the beginning, there was only one Purana and sage Vyasa divided it into eighteen. The original source for all puranas is the Purana Samhita, which Vyasa taught to Romaharshana. Romaharshana had six disciples Sumati, Agnivarchah, Mitrayu, Shamshapayana, Akritavrana and Savarni to whom he taught the puranas. Each of these disciples composed a purana based on the Purana Samhita.
Dwaipaayana's birth is narrated in the Mahabharata, in the beginning. Sixty years later he emerges as a highly revered sage, an embodiment of Dharma. What is interesting here is that it was he who saved the Kuru lineage from ending, by agreeing to Niyoga, on being requested. In a way, the Mahabharata is a story of his own children, for both the Kauravas and Pandavas are biologically his grandchildren through niyoga. He survived the Kurukshetra war and later composed the original Mahabharata, on which, with interpolations and additions, the present structure of the epic rests.
Krishna Dwaipaayana Vyasa'a son Sukadeva is traditionally believed to have been a sanyasi (renunciant). The establishment of the order of Sanyasis, is traditionally accepted to have been founded by Sukadeva under the inspiration of his father Vyasa. The order of Sanyasis has been the firm foundation of Sanatana Dharma for over thirty centuries. Of course Adi Sankaracharya re-organised the order under the name of Dashanami Sampradaya. Thus almost everything that we see as Sanatana Dharma, today, is directly or indirectly a legacy of Krishna Dwaipaayana Veda Vyasa. The Skanda Purana records a conversation between Vatika and her son Sukadeva in which she tries to persuade him of the need for grhasthasrama, the need to found a home at a stage in life dedicated to the Sacred Word . Other Puranas like Harivamsa and Devi Bhagavatam mention that he was married and had children.
Vyasa is said to be immortal, that he still lives. Most Indians believe it to be true. Nay, it is not a mere belief to them. It is a living truth as experienced by sincere souls. Vyasa guides every true aspirant in the form of the unseen 'Master'. Dwaipaayana Vyasa is among those rare immortal souls who continue to live in the same form astrally, guiding humanity's spiritual ascent, in our journey back to cosmic roots. Other immortal masters, according to tradition are Markandeya, Dattatreya, Hanuman, Agastya, Narada. But it is Vyasa who gets the unique honor of his birthday, on the Full Moon day of Ashada month, being celebrated as the holy day of revering the 'Guru Tattwa', the universal spirit of the Guru, a spirit that continues to guide us to this day. On his birthday, we celebrate the holy 'Guru Poornima', the 'Full Moon day of the Guru'. And why not? A Vyasa comes once every 4.3 million years! It is to this eternal spirit of Vyasa that we bow and seek guidance. If you do not have a Guru, if you have any spiritual doubts, when you need guidance, pray sincerely to Vyasa chanting 'Vyam Vyasadevaya Namah', and you shall receive guidance in some form. You may receive it through a book, another being, your own neighbor, or through a human guru, or if you are lucky, if you have enough merit, even from Vyasa himself!
It is said that Vyasa appeared to the great Adi Sankaracharya guided and blessed him when the latter was writing an Advaitic commentary to Vyasa's 'Brahma Sutras' or 'Aphorisms on Brahman'. According to legend many centuries later Vyasa again appeared to Madhvacharya (12 th century AD), another great saint, a force to reckon with, in the Dwaita school of Vedanta . This happened during Madhvacharya's piligrimage to the holy place Badri. He was blessed with a vision of the radiant Vyasa at the center of the 'Mandala of Great Masters' (Guru Mandala), surrounded by other sages and masters.
It is said that Vyasa once again appeared and blessed Swami Vidyaranya (13 th century AD) the spiritual head of the Sringeri Sankara Matham. He was a scholar, yogi and a spiritual adept. Once he was instructed by a Brahma Rakshasa who was a pious Brahmin called Singaribhattu in his previous life, to take Vyasa's blessings in the holy city of Kashi at Manikarnika Ghat, where Vyasa would come in the form of an outcaste followed by four dogs (symbolizing the four Vedas). Vyasa blessed swami Vidyaranya, granting him the knowledge of mantras . Further he blessed Vidyaranya that he would be the main force, the very spirit behind the founding of a great empire that would flourish for three hundred years, an empire that would help uphold the 'Sanatan Dharma' that we call Hinduism today. The empire is none other than the famous 'Vijayanagar empire', that had the good fortune of being ruled by the noble Krishnadevaraya. Vidyaranya swami later released the brahmarakshasa from his previous unwholesome karma.
Vyasa also continues to live at another level. He lives as 'Sanatana Dharma'. What we call Hinduism today, its entire body of literature is directly or indirectly from Vyasa. He saved the ' Sacred Word ' or Veda as it was revealed. He divided the Vedas . He reclaimed the fourth Veda into the mainstream. He edited the Vedas and made a plan to preserve Vedic wisdom intact for the people of Kali Yuga. He composed the original 'Mahabharata' and thus the 'Bhagavad Gita' too. He gave the 'Purana Samhita' and thus the entire puranic literature in a way. He composed the essence of the Upanishads in the form of the 'Brahma Sutras'. Not satisfied with all this, he gave us the holy 'Srimad Bhagavatam', the book of books, one that takes spiritual love, the highest form of love, to its pinnacle. He gave us countless stotras (like Vishnu Sahasranama etc) embedded within the Puranic literature.
Krishna Dwaipaayana Vyasa is undoubtedly the architect of Spiritual India of Kali Yuga. As Aurobindo said, the Mahabharata is the National poem and Vyasa the National poet of India . Vyasa gave us almost everything that we see as 'Sanatana Dharma' today. His life was dedicated to the ' Sacred Word '. He upheld Dharma. He authored an unbelievable body of knowledge. He is the most prolific author ever, an editor par excellence. The more you know of Hinduism, the more you realize the greatness of Vyasa. We would not have heard the Vedas in their pristine form without him. There wouldn't be the Puranas, or the Mahabharata, or the Brahma Sutras, or the Gita, or the various stotras, stutis and sahasranamas . Vyasa is thus, the most significant among all the incarnations of Vishnu. For how would we know about the various incarnations, if not through his works? Whatever we know of most incarnations of Vishnu, is through Vyasa.
No doubt Valmiki's Ramayana is sweet, and he remains the first great poet. The Dharma depicted in Ramayana is a straight path, sometimes painful but nevertheless not impossible. While Valmiki goes into the Hindu heart, Vyasa goes into its very marrow, its every cell, its spirit, its every possible mood. The picture of Dharma that Vyasa portrays is a very intricate one, with its many facets. Right and wrong are relative, bewilderingly mixed, bringing one to crossroads. Often one falls in a labyrinth, caught between the many faces of Dharma, weighing the relative merits of the course of action to be adopted. And what a picture! It is said of the Mahabharata- "What is found in this epic maybe elsewhere; What is not in this epic is nowhere else". How true!
Thus Vyasa is the very essence of Dharma. He is verily Dharma walking on the earth. As we study his life and works, he emerges as an embodiment of Sanatana Dharma itself. 'Vyasochishtam jagatsarvam'. Vyasa pervades everything in the Universe. The more you investigate the Universe, the more you find the spirit of Vyasa in every part, the very roots. Verily Vyasa is Vishnu himself with two arms (Vishnu has four arms). Vyasa is Shiva indeed without three eyes. Reading , listening or meditating on Vyasa's life and works, equips one with the right intellect, the prerequisite to right understanding. The fire of knowledge thus acquired dissolves all unwholesome karmas. The mere act of reading, listening or remembering the glory of Vyasa, helps one achieve the four goals of life. Salutations to the Master of masters, an embodiment of Dharma, the very form of Shiva and Vishnu in one.
Vyasa's life is his message. Human life is to be lived as directed by the gods, not by us imperfect human beings. The Sacred Word shall guide us at all stages. To live in, and for Dharma, is the only way. Dharma when upheld protects us forever. It is Dharma that should be the guiding light in our lives. Only a life lived in, and for Dharma, is a life, any other becomes mere existence. Let us not merely exist, let us LIVE. And may we all live in DHARMA .
There can be no achievement without tapas,
No manifestation without inner resolution
No creation without sacrifice.
Verily the entire universe itself is a great process of Brahma yagnya.