Viṣṇu Purāṇa | Book 2 - Chapter 13

Chapter XIII

Legend of Bhārata. Bhārata abdicates his throne, and becomes an ascetic: cherishes a fawn, and becomes so much attached to it as to neglect his devotions: he dies: his successive births: works in the fields, and is pressed as a palanquin-bearer for the Rājā of Sauvīra: rebuked for his awkwardness: his reply: dialogue between him and the king.


Reverend sir, all that I asked of you has been thoroughly explained; namely, the situation of the earth, oceans, mountains, rivers, and planetary bodies; the system of the three worlds, of which Viṣṇu is the stay.

The great end of life has also been expounded by you, and the pre-eminence of holy knowledge.

It now remains that you fulfil the promise you made some time since, of relating to me the story of king Bhārata,

and how it happened that a monarch like him, residing constantly at the sacred place Śālagrāma, and engaged in devotion, with his mind ever applied to Vāsudeva, should have failed, through time, sanctity of the shrine, and the efficacy of his abstractions, to obtain final emancipation;

how it was that he was born again as a Brahman; and what was done by the magnanimous Bhārata in that capacity: all this it is fit that you inform me.


The illustrious monarch of the earth resided, Maitreya, for a considerable period at Śālagrāma, his thoughts being wholly dedicated to god, and his conduct distinguished by kindness and every virtue, until he had accomplished, in the highest degree, the entire control over his mind.

The Rājā was ever repeating the names, Yajneśa, Achyuta, Govinda, Mādhava, Ananta, Keśava, Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu, Hṛṣīkeśa; nothing else did he utter, even in his dreams; nor upon anything but those names, and their import, did he ever meditate.

He accepted fuel, flowers, and holy grass, for the worship of the deity, but performed no other religious rites, being engrossed by disinterested, abstract devotion.

On one occasion he went to the Mahanadi, for the purpose of ablution: he bathed there, and performed the ceremonies usual after bathing.

Whilst thus occupied, there came to the same place a doe big with young, who had come out of the forest to drink of the stream.

Whilst quenching her thirst, there was heard on a sudden the loud and fearful roaring of a lion; on which the doe, being excessively alarmed, jumped out of the water upon the bank.

In consequence of this great leap, her fawn was suddenly brought forth, and fell into the river; and the king, seeing it carried away by the current, caught hold of the young animal, and saved it from being drowned.

The injury received by the deer, by her violent exertion, proved fatal, and she lay down, and died; which being observed by the royal ascetic, he took the fawn in his arms, and returned with it to his hermitage:

there he fed it and tended it every day, and it throve and grew up under his care. It frolicked about the cell, and grazed upon the grass in its vicinity; and whenever it strayed to a distance, and was alarmed at a wild beast, it ran back thither for safety.

Every morning it sallied forth from home, and every evening returned to the thatched shelter of the leafy bower of Bhārata.

Whilst the deer was thus the inmate of his hermitage, the mind of the king was ever anxious about the animal, now wandering away, and now returning to his side, and he was unable to think of anything else.

He had relinquished his kingdom, his children, all his friends, and now indulged in selfish affection for a fawn. When absent for a longer time than ordinary, he would fancy that it had been carried off by wolves, devoured by a tiger, or slain by a lion.

"The earth," he would exclaim, "is embrowned by the impressions of its hoofs. What has become of the young deer that was born for my delight?

How happy I should be if he had returned from the thicket, and I felt his budding antlers rubbing against my arm. These tufts of sacred grass, of which the heads have been nibbled by his new teeth, look like pious lads chanting the Sāma-veda."

Thus the Muni meditated whenever the deer was long absent from him; and contemplated him with a countenance animated with pleasure as he stood by his side.

His abstraction was interrupted, the spirit of the king being engrossed by the fawn, even though he had abandoned family, wealth, and dominion. The firmness of the prince's mind became unsteady, and wandered with the wanderings of the young deer.

In the course of time the king became subject to its influence. He died, watched by the deer, with tears in its eyes, like a son mourning for his father; and he himself, as he expired, cast his eyes upon the animal, and thought of nothing else, being wholly occupied with one idea.

In consequence of this predominant feeling at such a season, he was born again, in the Jambumārga forests, as a deer, with the faculty of recollecting his former life;

which recollection inspiring a distaste for the world, he left his mother, and again repaired to the holy place Śālagrāma.

Subsisting there upon dry grass and leaves, he atoned for the acts which had led to his being born in such a condition; and upon his death he was next born as a Brahman, still retaining the memory of his prior existence.

He was born in a pious and eminent family of ascetics, who were rigid observers of devotional rites.

Possessed of all true wisdom, and acquainted with the essence of all sacred writings, he beheld soul as contradistinguished from matter (Prakriti). Imbued with knowledge of self, he beheld the gods and all other beings as in reality the same.

It did not happen to him to undergo investiture with the Brāhmanic thread, nor to read the Vedas with a spiritual preceptor, nor to perform ceremonies, nor to study the scriptures.

Whenever spoken to, he replied incoherently and in ungrammatical and unpolished speech. His person was unclean, and he was clad in dirty garments. Saliva dribbled from his mouth, and he was treated with contempt by all the people. Regard for the consideration of the world is fatal to the success of devotion.

The ascetic who is despised of men attains the end of his abstractions. Let therefore a holy man pursue the path of the righteous, without murmuring; and though men contemn him, avoid association with mankind.

This, the counsel of Hiraṇyagarbha, did the Brahman call to mind, and hence assumed the appearance of a crazy idiot in the eyes of the world.

His food was raw pulse, potherbs, wild fruit, and grains of corn. Whatever came in his way he ate, as part of a necessary, but temporary infliction.

Upon his father's death he was set to work in the fields by his brothers and his nephews, and fed by them with vile food; and as he was firm and stout of make, and a simpleton in outward act, he was the slave of everyone who chose to employ him, receiving sustenance alone for his hire.

The head servant of the king of Sauvīra, looking upon him as an indolent, untaught Brahman, thought him a fit person to work without pay (and took him into his master's service to assist in carrying the palanquin.)

The king having ascended his litter, on one occasion, was proceeding to the hermitage of Kapila, on the banks of the Ikṣumatī river, to consult the sage, to whom the virtues leading to liberation were known, what was most desirable in a world abounding with care and sorrow.

Amongst those who by order of his head servant had been compelled gratuitously to carry the litter was the Brahman, who had been equally pressed into this duty, and who, endowed with the only universal knowledge, and remembering his former existence, bore the burden as the means of expiating the faults for which he was desirous to atone.

Fixing his eyes upon the pole, he went tardily along, whilst the other carriers moved with alacrity; and the king, feeling the litter carried unevenly, called out, "Ho carriers! What is this? Keep equal pace together."

Still it proceeded unsteadily, and the Rājā again exclaimed, "What is this? How irregularly are you going!"

When this had repeatedly occurred, the palanquin- carriers at last replied to the king: "It is this man, who lags in his pace."

"How is this?" said the prince to the Brahman, "are you weary? You have carried your burden but a little way; are you unable to bear fatigue? And yet you look robust."

The Brahman answered and said:

"It is not I who am robust, nor is it by me that your palanquin is carried. I am not wearied, prince, nor am I incapable of fatigue."

The king replied, "I clearly see that you are stout, and that the palanquin is borne by you; and the carriage of a burden is wearisome to all persons."

"First tell me," said the Brahman, "what it is of me that you have clearly seen, and then you may distinguish my qualities as strong or weak. The assertion that you behold the palanquin borne by me, or placed on me, is untrue.

Listen, prince, to what I have to remark:

The place of both feet is the ground; the legs are supported by the feet; the thighs rest upon the legs; and the belly reposes on the thighs; the chest is supported by the belly; and the arms and shoulders are propped up by the chest:

the palanquin is borne upon the shoulders, and how can it be considered as my burden?

This body which is seated in the palanquin is defined as Thou; thence what is elsewhere called This, is here distinguished as I and Thou.

I and thou and others are constructed of the elements; and the elements, following the stream of qualities, assume a bodily shape;

but qualities, such as goodness and the rest, are dependent upon acts; and acts, accumulated in ignorance, influence the condition of all beings.

The pure, imperishable soul, tranquil, void of qualities, preeminent over nature (Prakriti), is one, without increase or diminution, in all bodies.

But if it be equally exempt from increase or diminution, then with what propriety can you say to me, 'I see that thou art robust?'

If the palanquin rests on the shoulders, and they on the body; the body on the feet, and the feet on the earth; then is the burden borne as much by you as by me.

When the nature of men is different, either in its essence or its cause, then may it be said that fatigue is to be undergone by me.

That which is the substance of the palanquin is the substance of you and me and all others, being an aggregate of elements, aggregated by individuality."

Having thus spoken, the Brahman was silent, and went on bearing the palanquin; but the king leaped out of it, and hastened to prostrate himself at his feet; saying:

"Have compassion on me, Brahman, and cast aside the palanquin; and tell me who thou art, thus disguised under the appearance of a fool."

The Brahman answered and said:

"Hear me, Rāja, Who I am it is not possible to say: arrival at any place is for the sake of fruition; and enjoyment of pleasure, or endurance of pain, is the cause of the production of the body.

A living being assumes a corporeal form to reap the results of virtue or vice. The universal cause of all living creatures is virtue or vice: why therefore inquire the cause (of my being the person I appear)."

The king said:

"Undoubtedly virtue and vice are the causes of all existent effects, and migration into several bodies is for the purpose of receiving their consequences;

but with respect to what you have asserted, that it is not possible for you to tell me who you are, that is a matter which I am desirous to hear explained:

How can it be impossible, Brahman, for anyone to declare himself to be that which he is? There can be no detriment to one's-self from applying to it the word I."

The Brahman said:

"It is true that there is no wrong done to that which is one's-self by the application to it of the word I; but the term is characteristic of error, of conceiving that to be the self (or soul) which is not self or soul.

The tongue articulates the word I, aided by the lips, the teeth, and the palate; and these are the origin of the expression, as they are the causes of the production of speech.

If by these instruments speech is able to utter the word I, it is nevertheless improper to assert that speech itself is I.

The body of a man, characterized by hands, feet, and the like, is made up of various parts; to which of these can I properly apply the denomination I?

If another being is different specifically from me, most excellent monarch, then it may be said that this is I; that is the other: but when one only soul is dispersed in all bodies, it is then idle to say, Who are you? who am I?

Thou art a king; this is a palanquin; these are the bearers; these the running footmen; this is thy retinue: yet it is untrue that all these are said to be thine.

The palanquin on which thou sittest is made of timber derived from a tree. What then? is it denominated either timber or a tree? People do not say that the king is perched upon a tree, nor that he is seated upon a piece of wood, when you have mounted your palanquin.

The vehicle is an assemblage of pieces of timber, artificially joined together: judge, prince, for yourself in what the palanquin differs really from the wood. Again; contemplate the sticks of the umbrella, in their separate state. Where then is the umbrella?

Apply this reasoning to thee and to me. A man, a woman, a cow, a goat, a horse, an elephant, a bird, a tree are names assigned to various bodies, which are the consequences of acts.

Man is neither a god, nor a man, nor a brute, nor a tree; these are mere varieties of shape, the effects of acts.

The thing which in the world is called a king, the servant of a king, or by any other appellation, is not a reality; it is the creature of our imaginations: for what is there in the world, that is subject to change, that does not in the course of time go by different names.

Thou art called the monarch of the world; the son of thy father; the enemy of thy foes; the husband of thy wife; the father of thy children.

What shall I denominate thee? How art thou situated? Art thou the head or the belly? Or are they thine? Art thou the feet? or do they belong to thee?

Thou art, oh king, distinct in thy nature from all thy parts!

Now then, rightly understanding the question, think who I am; and how it is possible for me, after the truth is ascertained (of the identity of all), to recognise any distinction, or to speak of my own individuality by the expression I.'