Barhishad, was a righteous king well versed in the vedas and the practice of rituals. (The Prachetas were his sons, to whom Shiva imparted the Rudrageetham). As he performed yagnas (sacrifices) one after the other, the entire place was covered with blades of Kusha grass, with their pointed ends facing east. Hence he was known as Prachinabarhi. (Prachi-east).
Once the divine sage, Narada, admonishes Prachinabarhi: " O King, what do you seek for yourself through rituals? Isn't the cessation of sorrow and attainment of happiness our highest goal? How do expect to achieve that by means of conducting rituals?"
The King replied: "I know not, blessed one. My mind has been distracted by rituals. Pray, impart me the wisdom where I may be freed from the shackles of Karma."
Narada answers: " O King, behold the multitudes of mercilessly slaughtered creatures for the sacrifices. They wait for you eagerly in the next world to avenge this. Hear from me an old legend, the story of Puranjana."
Narada narrates the story of Puranjana:
"There was a monarch named Puranjana. He had a friend Avijnata (because his activities were unknown). Puranjana searched for a suitable abode which will help him attain all the pleasures he was seeking. After a prolonged search, he finds in the southern ridges of the Himalayas a city provided with nine gates, surrounded by three defensive walls, with five pleasure-gardens, one porter, six families of merchants and five market places, a veritable Bhogavathy, city of pleasures. There was a heavenly garden in the outskirts of the city. In that garden, Puranjana meets a charming damsel. She had ten attendants. She was guarded by a five hooded serpent. She was capable of assuming any form at will. Puranjana fell for her charms and enquires about her.
She answers that she doesn't know who she was. She only knew that she was present here today and nothing else. The attendants were her companions and the snake guarded the city while she slept. She was happy to be his wife and to secure for him all the pleasures that he longed for. So with a mutual agreement the couple entered the city and rejoiced there for a long time.
The life of luxury with his wife, Puranjani gives way to infatuation, complacency and a false sense of security. He completely identified himself with her and lost his real nature. The foolish king involuntarily imitated his wife -- like a monkey which repeats the actions, kept for amusement.
Once the king goes for a hunt, accompanied by the eleventh general. His car was drawn by five horses, had a pair of shafts, two wheels, one axle tree, three flag-staffs, five chords, a single rein, two poles to which the yoke is fixed, five recesses and sevenfold protection. Bow and arrow in hand, he set out for the hunt,
leaving behind his wife.
After the hunt, where many animals were killed for mere sport, the fatigued king takes rest. Now he thinks of his queen. He finds Puranjani lying unkempt on the floor, angry. He cajoles her and with words of praise appeases her. She brings Puranjana completely under her control.
Blinded by her charms, the king does not notice the rapid movement of time. He has children and grand children. Attachment to them prompted manifold desires. In order to achieve them, he performed many rituals and sacrifices involving animal-slaughter. Senility sets in.
It was then that the chief of gandharvas, Chandavega, along with his strong retinue of 360 men and 360 women ravage the city by rotation. Half of them are fair and the other half dark in complexion. When these attendants began pillaging the city, the snake, Prajagara offered some resistance, but eventually loses strength. Puranjana feels distressed with his dominion of the city and his kinsmen too. He is filled with anxiety, but unable to comprehend the impending calamity.
There is a daughter of KAla, the time-spirit, who was looking out for a husband. She approaches the Lord of the Yavanas, Bhaya (fear) and courts him.
Bhaya replies, "the world does not welcome you as you are inauspicious and despised. You may move imperceptibly and enjoy the whole creation owing its existence to karma. Join my army and bring about the destruction of all beings. You will be my sister and here is my brother Prajwara, (mortal fever). With you both, I shall range over this world, unperceived."
Accompanied by Prajwara and the daughter of Kala, the hordes of the lords of Yavanas, Bhaya, besieged Puranjana's fort-like city from various entrances, and oppressed the entire population. Embraced by that maid, daughter of Kala, Puranjana was divested of his glory. Seeing his city destroyed, his sons, grandsons, servants and ministers were rebellious and disrespectful. His wife became indifferent. He could see no remedy for his predicament. He had also lost his spiritual moorings and reluctantly proceeded to quit the city. Meanwhile, Prajwara, elder brother of the chief of Yavanas, set fire to the entire city. Puranjana suffered untold agony. The serpent guarding the city also closed with Prajwara, unable to fight any longer. He shook himself violently and sought to fly away. Puranjana, down with the thoughts of 'I' and 'Mine' in respect of his body, felt wretched when the hour of separation came. He wept. He worried for the fate of his loved ones after he was gone.
At this point, Bhaya seized him, and dragged him away after binding him. Even at this point, Puranjana failed to remember his old friend and companion, Avijnata, due to infatuation. The guardian serpent, held until now by the Yavanas, deserts the city. After him the city is reduced to the elements.
Puranjana, mentally clinging to his wife's memory at his last moment is reborn again as the daughter of the ruler of Vidharbha. She married the king of Pandyas, Malayadhwaja. After enjoying their worldly life for a long time, Malayadhwaja renounces the kingdom and leaves for the Kulachala mountain to worship Krishna. He was followed by this daughter of Vidarbha. He practised austerities, which gradually emaciated his body. He triumphed over the pairs of opposites, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain etc., His wife, Vaidarbhi waited upon him lovingly, and with continued austerities, she shone beside her husband. After the king sheds his mortal frame, Vaidharbhi laments.
At that moment, a wise man who was an old friend of hers, soothes her with sweet words of consolation.
"Dear child, who are you, and whose death is it that you mourn?
"Do you know me, an old friend of yore, with whom you moved about? Can you recall Avijnata, whom you left, to seek earthly enjoyments? You and I were swans living in the Manasa lake for thousands of years. You left me for a woman and her pleasure abode, made of decaying materials. Dominated by the intellect, the man who entered this abode ceases to be self-conscious. Because of her you have forgot your divinity and have been reduced to this wretched state. You are not the daughter of the king of Vidarbha, nor is this hero your husband. Nor are you the spouse of Puranjani, by whom you were held captive in the city of nine gates.
"You and I are a pair of swans. The wise never perceive the difference between us. "
Admonished thus by the fellow swan, the swan of the Manasa lake regained self-consciousness.
Narada ends his narration, "O Prachinabarhi, I have thus imparted to you the spiritual truth in an indirect manner. For the glorious Lord loves to remain incognito.
Prachinabarhi replies, "O divine sage, we are unable to follow your teaching correctly. Only the wise can grasp it. We are deluded by attachment to the rituals."
Narada explains the story --(to be contd.)