Some time after Yudhishthira was crowned; he performed a horse sacrifice called Asvamedha yagna. This sacrifice was performed by none but the most powerful kings. All the princes of the land were invited and the celebrations were organized on a splendid scale. Beautiful gifts were distributed among the Brahmins, the poor and the destitute who had flocked to Hastinapur from different parts of the country. The pundits who performed the religious rites and the kings and princes who attended were all loaded with gifts. When the yagna was over, Yudhishthira and all his brothers had every reason to feel happy and satisfied over a job well done. But this was not to be.
Just before the vast assembly broke up, there suddenly appeared, right in the middle of the pavilion, a weasel. The weasel rolled on the ground and laughed aloud. The laugh sounded almost human and it seemed that the weasel was mocking the people present. The very sight of the weasel alarmed the guests. The priests took it to be an evil omen, particularly because one side of the weasel's body shone like gold. It just did not seem natural. Dropping everything else the head priest asked the weasel why he was bothering the distinguished gathering.
The weasel did not answer at once. It first turned around and took a good look at the princes and learned Brahmins gathered in the pavilion. At last it began to speak that their sacrifice was far lesser than the sacrifice of the poor Brahmin at Kurukshetra. As a result the princes should do away with their pride.
The gathering was amazed to hear human speech from the throat of a weasel. Many people were highly displeased that anyone should talk so rudely in the presence of the noble Yudhishthira and his guests. The head priest was aghast and enquired what was wrong with their yagna.
The weasel laughed again and said that undoubtedly Yudhishthira was one of the greatest of kings and he performs the yagna with perfect details. But the sacrifice of the Brahmin of Kurukshetra was greater. And then he sets out to narrate the story:
Long before the battle of Mahabharata was fought between the Kauravas and Pandavas at Kurukshetra, there lived in that city a Brahmin. His family consisted of his wife, son and daughter-in- law. They were very poor and obtained their daily food by picking grain that had fallen in the fields after harvesting was over. For many years they lived in this manner. But then the land was hit by a severe drought. There was no rain for months on end. Rivers and wells ran dry. The soil in the fields cracked for lack of moisture. There was no sowing or harvesting and no grain scattered in the fields to be gathered by the Brahmin and his family.
For many days they starved. One day, after wandering in the blazing sun for hours on end, they managed to gather a small quantity of maize. They came home, roasted the maize and ground it into flour. Then they divided the flour into four equal portions and eagerly sat down to eat. Just then a man entered their house and said he was very hungry. Without a moment's hesitation the Brahmin stood up. He welcomed the guest, bringing him water to wash his feet and making him comfortable. Then he placed his own share of the flour before the guest. The guest ate the flour with gusto and at the end of it he was still hungry. The Brahmin realized that his guest was not satisfied but he did not know what to do.
Just then the Brahmin's wife also offered her share of the food to the guest as well. She said that if the guest is satisfied by eating her share she would indeed feel great. The Brahmin did not like the idea because he was devoted to his wife and could not bear to see her go hungry. But she insisted and in the end the Brahmin had to agree. He placed his wife's portion of the flour before the guest and urged him to eat it. The guest finished the flour in no time but he was still hungry. The Brahmin noticed that the guest was still not satisfied. He looked about him helplessly but could not find anything to offer.
Now it was the Brahmin's son to come forward to give away his food to the guest. The Brahmin did not like the idea because he was deeply attached to his son and could not bear to see him suffer. But the son insisted and in the end he had to agree. The guest took the son's portion of maize flour and ate it eagerly. But he was still hungry.
Before the Brahmin could say anything, his daughter-in-law came forward. She placed her share of the maize flour before the Brahmin. The Brahmin hesitated, for he loved his daughter-in-law like his own child. But in the end he had to agree.
The guest ate the daughter-in-law's portion of the flour and his face began to glow with satisfaction. He blessed them fir the hospitality they have offered him. He also added that not every one could give away his share of food when he himself is dying of hunger but the Brahmin family did exactly that. In lieu of their charity they have all earned a place in heaven and the chariots of the gods came to take them away. As he said this, the mysterious guest disappeared. At the same time the Brahmin and his family saw a beautiful golden chariot come down from the sky. It stopped at their very door. They stepped in and flew straight to heaven.
The story of the Brahmin of Kurukshetra was over but the weasel continued to say that he lived near the house of the Brahmin and he caught the aroma of flour. It made his head turn to gold. Out of sheer joy he went and rolled in the flour that had fallen on the ground and one side of his body became gold too. Then he turned on the other side but there was no more flour left and so the other side of his body remained as it was. He wanted his entire body to turn to gold and was looking for a place where a truly great sacrifice has been made. He then landed at the sacrifice of the great and noble Yudhishthira but that too did not help. Therefore although Yudhishthira did make a splendid sacrifice but it was not as grand as the gift of flour that the Brahmin made to his guest.
With these words the weasel disappeared. But he had uttered words of rare wisdom. They left a deep impression on the minds of the people in the pavilion. And for a long time they remained seated, in perfect silence, thinking over what they had heard.
|More Articles in Mahabharata (239)|