Saint Agastya and the Demon Brothers, Batapi and Illwala

Saint Agastya’s character in the Hindu mythology has its own significance. Many notable incidents have direct or indirect links to him and his actions. One out of those is the one involving the two demon brothers, Batapi and Illwala.

Both Batapi and Illwala had the weird ability to change their appearances as and when they want. Demons as they were, they used that rare ability for their foolish and evil fun. For some reason, they developed a strong hatred for the Brahmins. So, they devised a plan to kill all the brahmins around. They would invite the Brahmins to their home to offer them food, feigning their benevolence. When the brahmins accepted their invitation, Batapi would turn into a goat, and Illwala would kill that goat to prepare tasty non-vegetarian dishes and feed the Brahmins. After a while, Illwala would shout: Batapi, come out.” Batapi would come alive, tear open the stomach of the Brahmin, in the process leaving him dead.

When such instances continued to multiply, Saint Agastya came to know of this. To teach the demon duo a lesson, he wished to be their guest. The demon brothers got elated to have the saint as their prey. They treated the guest in their planned manner and offered the same non-vegetarian dish. Saint Agastya relished the food and belched in satisfaction, thus killing Batapi inside his stomach using his saintly abilities. When Illwala yelled, Batapi, come out!”, Baatapi did not turn up. Smelling something wrong, he went on to attack Saint Agastya. Saint Agastya chanted some mantras and turned Illwala into a handful of ash, thus relieving the brahmins of the torture of the demon brothers.

Lessons learnt:

If the Almighty has blessed you with some rare abilities, use them benevolently, thus contributing towards the larger good of the society you are a part of. Else, the Almighty can devise his own way to wipe out your very existence.


Lord Rama’s Reward to the Diligent Squirrel

When Hanuman came up with the news that Mother Sita had been confined in Lanka by Ravana, Lord Rama decided to cross the ocean and rescue her from the Demon King. Looking at the expanse of the ocean that lead to Lanka, Lord Rama planned to build a bridge across it. To accomplish that humongous task in less time, all the monkeys and bears who were part of Sugreeva’s army were employed.

The monkeys and bears had to bring huge stones and big boulders from a distance and throw them into the deep ocean. As they all were busy in the tiring task, a small squirrel was observing all that from a distance. After a while, it decided to help Lord Rama in that initiative too. To begin with, it carried small stones in its mouth and heaped them up on the bridge under construction. After a while, it got so tired in that task that it had to change its way of working. Steadfast as its will to contribute was, it took a different approach: it dipped its body in the water nearby and rolled it over the sand; then, it walked slowly onto the bridge being constructed and got the sands off its body by sudden movement. It was doing this pretty religiously, little caring for the contribution it was making towards the final bridge construction.

Lord Rama was observing the diligence with which the squirrel was performing its task, voluntarily. He got so impressed that He went on to the squirrel and asked why it was doing this. The squirrel’s answer made all the monkeys and bears roll into a laughter.

Lord Rama asked them all to stop reacting that way and not to measure the amount of contribution the squirrel made towards the bridge construction. He rather highlighted the squirrel’s sincerity, strong will-power and perseverance to help them in a noble cause. After that, Lord Rama carried the squirrel on one palm and ran his other palm on its back with heavenly love. That left an indelible mark on the squirrel‘s back, which exists till date.

Lessons learnt:

  • Let not the volume of your contribution discourage you from putting in your heart into a task at hand. How much you contribute towards a task matters less compared to how diligently you put in your effort.

Bajrangawali – the other name of Lord Hanuman

Bajrangawali is one of the many names of Lord Hanuman.

Lord Hanuman’s love and devotion for Lord Rama is legendary. He is the eternal devotee of Lord Rama and therefore his idol is worshipped along with Lord Rama’s wherever they are.
After the coronation of Lord Rama in Ayodhya, all the monkey gods and inhabitants returned to Kiskindhya and Lanka. But Lord Hanuman desired to serve Lord Rama forever, so could get his permission to stay in Ayodhya.

One day Mother Sita was putting on a vermilion mark on her forehead. Lord Hanuman observed that and wished to know the reason for that ritual. Mother Sita explained that having a vermilion dot on her forehead would lengthen the life span of her beloved husband. Lord Hanuman admired that. Moments later, he thought if a mere dot of vermilion on Mother Sita’s forehead can add to his Lord’s life span, how much further wouldn’t his Lord’s life span expand when he drenches his complete body in vermilion? He applied vermilion to his whole body to add infinite years to his loving Lord’s life.

‘Baja ranga’ literally means ‘bright red colour’, that is the colour of the vermilion. Hence, his name!

This incident is yet another testimony of Lord Hanuman’s strong devotion towards Lord Rama.

Lessons learnt:

  • When one’s devotion for one’s Lord is pure and selfless, the universe would recognize that with due respect.

Ahalya’s tale: A case of Agony and Atonement

When the supreme creator Lord Brahma created the most beautiful lady ever Ahalya, he never had an inkling of how arduous a task it would be to find a suitable groom for such a pretty lady. After much thought and sincere search, he finally decided to get her married to Sage Goutam. Sage Goutam was a wise man no doubt; but age was not on his side then. He was an old man, so was never an ideal match for the damsel in Ahalya, for whom the whole male lot of the universe was ready to do the impossible if they could win her hand.

Ahalya too was unhappy with that decision of Lord Brahma; but she didn’t have a way to oppose her creator’s wish. She took that as her destiny and agreed for the marriage.

But Lord Indra was so blind in love for Ahalya that despite her marriage to Sage Goutam, he kept his desire of winning Ahalya alive. He kept an eye on both Ahalya and her husband’s daily activities. He sensed he was quite close to his goal when he got to know that Sage Goutam used to walk far from his ashram early in the morning to take bath in the river and meditates there for quite some time after the bath. Lord Indra shamelessly approached Lord Chandra to do him a favour by misleading Sage Goutam about his early morning schedule. Lord Chandra was hesitant initially, but later gave in to Lord Indra’s request and made a rooster’s crowing sound hours before it was dawn, hearing which Sage Goutam started for his bath.

Little later, Lord Indra came inside the ashram in the guise of Sage Goutam and approached Ahalya for making love. That was quite an unusual thing for Ahalya, so she had strong doubts in her mind. She meditated, and divinely created as she was, she could know about Lord Indra’s identity. But her physical desire to make love with a debonair male like Lord Indra overpowered her conscience. She gave in to Indra’s wishes, and immediately after the immoral act, she felt ashamed and pleaded before Indra to desert the place. As luck would have it, Sage Goutam reached the ashram at that moment, and by his supreme intelligence, could make out the whole incident.

A wise man’s fury is a dangerous thing to deal with. In the height of his anger, he cursed all involved in the incident. He cursed Lord Chandra to have black marks on his body (which we can see even now, the black mark visible on moon). He wished Lord Indra to have his body full of thousands of vaginas and become impotent. He wanted Ahalya to be converted to a mere stone idol, and she hung her head in shame for the wrong deed and owned the curse. But little later, the husband in Sage Goutam realized the pain that a young lady like her had gone through by agreeing to marry her, and so asked her to wait for the divine touch of Lord Bishnu in the avatar of Lord Rama to get rid of the curse.

Lord Indra felt so much ashamed of his physical change that he hid himself in deep forest. As a result of his prolonged absence, there was chaos in heaven. Knowing this, Lord Brahma asked Lord Indra to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva, being happy with Lord Indra’s thousand years of meditation, converted the thousand vaginas into thousand eyes and returned him his potency.

Ahalya kept lying like a neglected stone until Lord Rama’s arrival. Lord Rama along with Rishi Biswamitra and younger brother Lakshmana was going to Mithila when he kept his feet on the stone idol of Ahalya. That touch gave back Ahalya her original beauty and then she sought the blessings of Lord Rama to join her husband Lord Goutam in the Himalayas.

Lessons learnt:

  • Own your mistakes, and do what you can, to atone for the wrong you have done.
  • Practice forgiveness. It might not change the past, but it does change the future.

Munificence of Queen Kaikei

Many know of Queen Kaikei’s devilish wish of asking a boon in an opportune moment to King Dasaratha to send his step son Rama Chandra to the forest for fourteen long years. It is considered devilish mainly because many read her intention of seeing her son Bharata as the King of Ayodhya in the absence of Rama Chandra.

But there is another side to the tale, which is not as popular as the above one that vilifies Queen Kaikei as a selfish mother.

Queen Kaikei was an able charioteer to King Dasaratha on many of his expeditions. Many a time, she had been able to pull Dasaratha out of danger by showcasing her valor as a charioteer. On one such occasion, when the enemies injured the King and there was a dire need to flee from the place of fight momentarily, Kaikei courageously drove the chariot to a safer place in the far-off jungle where the King could rest the night, and the morning after, when he would recover,  he might avenge the attack.

Queen Kaikei had the rare ability to listen to the conversations of birds and animals. As the King was taking rest and Queen was sitting by him, she could overhear the conversation between a parrot couple.

Parrot husband: You know, King Dasaratha who is taking rest here has his bad times coming.
Parrot wife: Alas! What’s going to happen?
Parrot husband: Not right now. But when he offers his Kingship to his eldest son, the first fourteen years would bring in all misfortunes for the Prince. The Prince has threat to his life too!
Parrot wife: That’s so unfortunate! Isn’t there a way to escape from this misfortune?
Parrot husband: There is a way!
Parrot wife: What’s that?
Parrot husband: If the Prince goes out on a sacred mission to far-off forests and leads a saintly life for those fourteen years, he will bring in lot of prosperity to the state of Ayodhya and will prove to be an efficient and adorable king.

The prophecy by the parrot couple was shocking to Queen Kaikei.

So when Rama Chandra’s coronation was about to take place, Kaikei, as she adored him deeply, had to ask for a boon from King Dasaratha that would keep Rama Chandra away from Ayodhya’s throne for the ominous fourteen years. She knew such action of hers would bring her all sorts of ill name and posterity might curse her as a selfish mother. But that was acceptable for her, as all that she wanted was the prosperity of her beloved step son Rama Chandra.  Not only that, she knew that her own son Bharata might have to serve as the King if Rama Chandra would leave for the forest, and the prophecy might prove fatal for Bharata. But the munificent mother in Queen Kaikei was tolerant enough to see her son Bharata suffer than her step son Rama Chandra.

Of course, it was heartening to know that when Bharata acted as a pseudo-King of Ayodhya placing the shoes of Rama Chandra on the throne for those portentous fourteen years, the prophecy of the parrot couple was annulled.

Lesson learnt: When you are certain that your action would help avoid a crisis that has befallen others, by all means, act as planned, irrespective of whether you earn an ill name for that action. In other words, if you earn an ill name for your action that brought in larger good, you rather own it – that is perhaps one of the many instances of ‘difficulty of being good’.