Astika upa parva is the fifth upa parva in the epic Mahabharat. The word Astika has many meanings in Sanskrit. In this context, Astika is taken as a believer of God. Astika was the name of a Rishi who stopped the serpent’s yajna of Janamejaya.

Churning of the milky ocean by demons and Gods
Samudra Manthana – Churning of the milky ocean

Astika was a peace lover. He supported non-violence. Astika used the method of oral request that was open to him since he had no power to command to stop the serpent’s yajna. He knew God exists in the hearts of the living beings, as narrated in the Bhagavadgeetha:

ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां हृद्देशेऽर्जुन तिष्ठति ।
भ्रामयन्सर्वभूतानि यन्त्रारूढानि मायया ॥

Meaning: O Arjuna, God exists in the heart of every living creature. He creates illusions in creatures and drives all the living beings as if a mechanic moves the machines. Hence one must respect the living beings and should not cause any pain.

Advocating this idea, Rishi Pramati had told the Astika Parva, to his son Ruru. It was narrated to explain the importance of non-violence to his son. But this is an inside story. We could see the narration from Ugrashava Sauti and the chief listener was Shaunaka surrounded by other Rishis.

Rishi Jaratkaru

There lived in olden days holy Rishis called Yayavaras. One of their children called Jaratkaru when grown up had started penance and had become very ascetic. One day, when he was moving through forests, he noticed some hanging structures like bats. Due to his ascetic powers, he could communicate with them and enquired about their name and purpose. They answered him, by mentioning about their gloomy status. They were all the dead yayavaras, and then they were hanging their heads upside down like bats, since their lone child called Jaratkaru had not yet married. Their desire was to see their grandchild. Then he informed them that he himself was Jaratkaru and to satisfy them, he would try for his marriage and continued to take up his works of that day. Later, he started to search for a bride for marriage and wished to pray to God Vishnu.

Lady Jaratkaru

Kashyapa was a Rishi. He was learned and ascetic as well as sympathetic. Daksha Prajapathi had thirteen daughters. The first four daughters were Diti, Aditi, Kadru and Vinata. Kashyapa had married all the thirteen daughters of the Prajapathi. Then Vinata desired to have two children and Kadru desired to be mother of one thousand offsprings. Vinata wanted to see her children fly in the high sky and Kadru wished her children should be able to threaten all others on the earth.

Then, Kadru had given birth to one thousand eggs. After five hundred years, one thousand snakes came out of the eggs. Thus Kadru had become the mother of one thousand snakes. Adi Shesha was a snake, very strong in physique and when he had grown up, got the job under Vishnu as his personal assistant and then got a name as Vasuki. God Vishnu used to take rest over Vasuki. Vasuki had become the king of snakes. He had a sister, with the name as Jaratkaru.

Jaratkaru couple

One day, Vasuki had offered a proposal of his sister as bride to the gentleman Jaratkaru and discussed with Vishnu.  Both the lady snake bride, Jaratkaru and the Rishi bridegroom, Jaratkaru had agreed for the proposal and the marriage was completed with the blessings of God Vishnu and supervised by the king of snakes Vasuki. The Jaratkaru couple had been blessed with a child and it was named as Astika. On seeing the child Astika, all the hanging yayavaras had immediately elevated to heaven, in satisfaction. Astika had studied the scriptures of oblations, but he was a virtuous man and decided to live in support of non-violence.

Birth of Valmiki

Vinata also had laid two eggs. When Kadru had become a mother, Vinata had felt jealous of her. In a hurry, she had broken one of the eggs as she was impatient. The bottom part of the child was not fully grown but the upper head part had somewhat grown. Later, the child had quickly grown up and understood the mistake of his mother that had been committed. Then he could see the other egg and requested his mother to wait, till naturally the child could come out of that egg. Vinata agreed. Her first child was named as Aruna and appointed as the charioteer to Sun God. Later Aruna had requested with God for a physically strong child and hence he got a child. After growing up, he was known as Valmiki and the article is already posted under Ramayana articles with the title Sampati.

Birth of Garuda

After waiting for five hundred years, a strong bird had come out of the second egg. He was named as Garuda. Vinata had prayed with Sun and Moon to bless her child with good health always. Vinata had prayed with the God of wind, Vayu, and the God of waters, Varuna, to bless her child, to get the support of air during flying, and food and water at the distant stations visited by him always. Since Vasuki or Adi Shesha had become the personal assistant of Vishnu, Vinata also desired to procure a post for her son, Garuda under Vishnu. Vishnu was pleased to appoint Garuda as his own vehicle.

Nectar or Amrit

Then, Diti, the third wife of Kashyapa desired to have sixty six crore children and Aditi also desired to be the mother of thirty three crore offspring. Diti wanted to grow her children majestic in the high sky and she wished her children should be able to threaten all others on the earth. Thus she had given birth to sixty six crore demons. After many years, the children of Aditi had inherited heaven. Aditya started ruling the Swarga loka or Devaloka. Then, Diti and her children had got Narakaloka and had become sad, so instructed her children to get the best of education from Shukracharya and become very strong. But by that time, heaven had suffered bankruptcy and all the wealth of Aditya had been dissolved in the milky ocean. Then, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara had suggested churning the milky ocean to recover back the wealth and valuable assets.

Then, churning was proposed using the Meru Mountain as the churning stick or rod, placed on the celestial tortoise, called Kurma. Vasuki had been made as the rope around it. The head side of the Vasuki had been caught together by the demons and the tail side had been caught by devas or angels. Then the body of the serpent, Adi Shesha was pulled by great strength, during churning. He could not with stand the pain and vomited the poison into the seabed before him. Since it was the first result of their works, they decided to offer the entire poison to God Shiva.

Thereafter they got Lakshmi, along with some gold. With the gold under her custody, Lakshmi was married to God Vishnu. Many valuable assets were recovered later, and the divine horse Uchchaishravas was also recovered. When the great physician, Dhanvanthari with the nectar pot was seen, the pot was lifted by Garuda; Dhanvanthari had become Vishnu, sat over Garuda, and flew into the sky and disappeared. Kalpavriksha and Kamadhenu had also then appeared, but were quickly taken into the custody by God Vishnu. The churning was then stopped.

Kadru’s Curse to the Snakes

Kadru and Vinata had heard about the divine horse Uchchaishravas. Kadru guessed the horse would have black hairs on its tail. Vinata guessed it would be white hairs on its tail. They mutually took a vow and if one failed in their saying, then she should work as the slave to the winner. Since Kadru told the color as black, and to win in the vow, she instructed her snake children, in black color, to go to the tail of the horse so as to get a black look of the tail of the horse from a distant end.

Few snakes agreed but most of the snakes disobeyed. Kadru cursed the disobeying snakes so as to get into the ritual fire of the king Janamejaya. On the following day, the sisters visited the horse and found its tail contained majority of black hairs by nature in color. Since Kadru had won in the vow, she enjoyed a horse riding over the same Uchchaishravas. Vinata had lost, so she had become a slave to Kadru.

Later, Vinata wanted nectar from her son Garuda and tempted Kadru to offer her a few drops of amrit to her when nectar had been brought by her son. Garuda was holding the pot of nectar and had given few drops to her mother. Vinatha had given those drops to Kadru and relieved of her bonded labor. Kadru had distributed those drops to her children. Thus the snakes, Vasuki or Adi shisha, his sister, Jaratkaru, Takshaka and other obedient snakes, swallowed the ambrosia and continued in the progeny of snakes forever on this universe. The disobedience of some of the children snakes remained in abeyance but the God of time had started his count down. Kadru instructed all of her children not to disturb innocent persons.

Janamejaya and serpent’s yajna

When the demons entered the Patalaloka, Uttanka had returned from Patala loka and joined Janamejaya. Hence the serpent’s yajna started and the snakes had been charmed by the mantras, attracted by the ritual fire and most of them died. Takshaka, Vasuki and his sister Jaratkaru had also got the token call to come into the fire, to fall in order to embrace death.

Vasuki took shelter under Vishnu. Takshaka took shelter under Indra. Vishnu assured Vasuki for his life protection. Takshaka was the son of Kadru and Indra was the son of Aditi. Hence Takshaka and Indra were brothers. Indra assured Takshaka for his life protection. Then the sister of Vasuki, Jaratkaru called her son Astika and enquired about his plans to stop the yajna. Astika assured his mother, Jaratkaru for her life protection. 

It is recommended to read the article Uttanka in Ramayana and Mahabharat posted here at before proceeding with the following elaborations. Also, it is recommended to read the article Paushyaparva in Mahabharat to get a better understanding of what’s yet to come.

Then, Astika, the learned person had arrived near the ritual venue. Uttanka had seen him and invited to join him in the rituals as a learned person. They together called the name of Takshaka but Indra had come there representing for Takshaka.

Indra told Uttanka let the serpent’s yajna be stopped in the star of Pushya itelf, one star prior to Ashlesha. Uttanka obeyed Indra’s Instructions. Thus Takshaka got exempted from oblation and allowed to return to his old residence at Takshashila. Janamejaya had noted it but kept silence. Then Astika started to praise Janamejaya. When king Janamejaya was very much pleased, he intended to offer gifts to Astika. But Astika politely rejected his offers and convinced him to give them to Uttanka along with his fees since he was the authorized priest and started first. He agreed and satisfied Uttanka. Then both Astika and Uttanka together, praised Indra as the honorable guest for the conclusion function. Indra had become more joyful and asked them to seek a boon.

Uttanka desired to see God Krishna and Indra agreed and assured him that, at appropriate time, at his hermit Ujjwalak, he would see the God Krishna and also his Vishwarupa Darshana there. Astika was a noble man and his mother, Jaratkaru had lived safely away from the yajna. Indra had enquired about the future plans of Astika and assured him any kind of required boon.

Astika was intelligent. He was obedient to his forefathers and anticipated good status for his forefathers, yayavaras in heaven. His mother Jaratkaru, the snake had taken the nectar and had become immortal reptile always. He requested victory for Janamejaya in his life and requested Indra to bless more powerful boons when rituals were conducted by non-violent channels than living creature’s or animal’s life sacrifices. Indra had agreed and Janamejaya had also agreed to the plans and proposals of Astika. Astika suggested Janamejaya to go to Takshashila and request Takshaka to return to his deserved original abode at Nagaloka. Astika suggested to Janamejaya to perform Ashwamedha yajna without cutting the throat of actual horse but with grains only similar to the one done by sage Agastya.

Janamejaya had agreed for the suggestions. After adding Takshashila into his country, Janamejaya started preparations for the Ashwamedha. He has done the rituals without actual animal sacrifice but resorted to non-violent methods. It was supervised by Asthika and after completion, he desired to hear the story of Mahabharat from the sage Vyasa. But Vyasa himself was one of the characters in the epic and the author of the same epic. He deputed his disciple Vaishampayana who was an expert in Yajurveda and fire rituals.

Astika had conducted the Ashvamedha oblations by pouring cow ghee, offering food grains, without killing any horses. Hence in the next upa parva Vaishampayana started telling Mahabharat to Janamejaya advocating the importance of non-violence.

The hearing of the story of Mahabharat epic had been graced by God Vishnu by special provisions and is treated equivalent to drinking of the nectar or amrit.  One who reads some of the verses would be losing his sins of past and would be eligible to go to heaven even though unmarried or childless. 

On reading this story, children would gain more memory power.

Next post, Mahabharat: Amshavatarana Parva may not be missed.

Mahabharat: Sambhava Parva would be presented separately in another article.

Readers may share this story with children, friends and family.

Share this article: