The following events are worth mentioning when answering what happened after Mahabharata War:
- Yudhistara’s Ashvamedha Yagna: Arjuna’s Death & The Golden Mongoose
- Parikshit and Takshak Snake, and
- Janamejaya’s Snake Sacrifice
This post retells Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice only. Please use the above links to check out the other events that happened after Mahabharata.
Table of Contents
The Background: What Happened After the Mahabharata?
Pandavas won the Mahabharata war with the help of Sri Krishna. After performing the last rites of the people killed in the war, Yudhistara was crowned the emperor of Hastinapur. He performed an Ashvamedha Yajna (horse sacrifice) to provide leadership to the kingdoms lost in the great war of the Mahabharata. The Yajna was successful except for a story that I will recite in another blog post. It is about a half-golden mongoose that mocked Yudhistara’s Ashvamedha yajna.
The Pandavas retired to the forest after ruling for some years. The grandson of Arjuna, Parikshit, was made emperor of Hastinapur. Parikshit was a good king. However, his life was cut short by Takshak Snake due to a curse from the son of a sage. I have linked to the story of Parikshit in the above-mentioned four notable events that happened after Mahabharata.
Janamejaya’s Hatred Toward Snakes
Janamejaya was Parikshit’s son and Pandava’s great-grandson. He was just a boy when Takshak killed Parikshit. When he grew up, he learned about the unfortunate incident that caused his father’s death. He started hating snakes and decided to get rid of all the snakes, including Takshak.
He organized a snake sacrifice with the help of Brahmin scholars. It was known as the Sarpa Satra (Sarpa = snakes; Satra = sacrifice). Just after this sacrifice, Vaisampayana recited the Mahabharata to Janamejaya and others.
Sri Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa’s Mahabharata begins with scholars assembling to discuss Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice and then goes on to tell the story of the Mahabharata. I will present some other important Mahabharata events in the following posts. This post is restricted to what happened after Mahabharata War: Janamejaya’s Snake Sacrifice.
The Curse on Snakes
Long before Janamejaya was born, the mother of snakes, Kadru, cursed her sons (snakes), saying they would be destroyed in the sacred fire of snake sacrifice conducted by Janamejaya.
Sage Kashyap had Kadru and Vinata as his wives. Kadru gave birth to a thousand snakes, whereas Vinita gave birth to the mighty Garuda (the one of Lord Vishnu) and Aruna (the charioteer of Lord Sun). Kadru envied Vinata and always tried to downplay her. Kadru and Vinata got into an argument regarding the color of the tail of a divine horse that came out of the Samudra Manthan (the churning of the milk ocean) conducted by devas (gods) and asuras (demons) for the pot of Amrita.
Vinata said the color of the tail of the divine horse was white, while Kadru maintained it was black. They bet on the color, saying the loser would become the servant of the bet-winner. Kadru asks her sons (snakes) to coil around the tail of the divine horse so that it appears black. Some of her sons helped her win the bet. But Kadru was angry that the other sons did not listen to her. She cursed them, saying those snakes would be sacrificed in a Sarpa Satra conducted by Janamejaya.
Sage Kashyap asks Lord Brahman to intervene. Lord Brahma says only the bad snakes will perish, and the good ones will be saved by a Brahmin boy named Astika. This curse was another reason that compelled Janamejaya to perform the snake sacrifice because many snakes were destined to perish in the sacrificial fire.
The Sarpa Satra: Snake Sacrifice by Janamejaya
Upon deciding to perform the sacrifice, Janamejaya invited Brahmins and scholars from all over the world to participate in the yagna so that no snake was left alive. A person who looked after the horses observed the sacrifice site. He told Janamejaya that the site was not good and that the yagna would be incomplete, but Janamejaya did not pay heed to the person.
The Sarpa Satra started, and soon people could see snakes of all shapes and sizes perish in the sacrificial fire due to the power of the mantras uttered by renowned Brahmins. Janamejaya was happy and wanted the Takshak snake to perish in the fire. He asked the Brahmins to invoke Takshak, but the latter was already at Lord Indra’s place. Takshak wanted refuge, and Lord Indra provided him with that.
When the king came to know about this, he asked the Brahmins to force Lord Indra into giving up his refuge to Takshak. The Brahmins started uttering mantras that would force even Lord Indra into the sacrificial fire. When he noticed this, Lord Indra left Takshak on his own and escaped.
Meanwhile, a small boy named Astika enters the Sarpa Satra venue. He saw the snakes falling into the fire, and just as Takshaka was about to fall, he uttered some mantra and asked Takshaka to stop in the air. Astika’s mantra was powerful enough to keep Takshaka away from fire, even as the Brahmins continued to utter sacrificial mantras.
How Did Astika Stop Janamejaya’s Snake Sacrifice?
You may want to know why Astika wanted to save the snakes. His uncle was the king of snakes, who asked him to protect the species of snakes from extinction. He had promised Vasuki, the king of snakes, that he would stop Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. That was the reason Astika entered the Sarpa Satra venue and got past the guards.
Astika started singing the glory of Emperor Janamejaya and his ancestors. He also praised the people performing the snake sacrifice. Janamejaya and the Brahmins were pleased. Janamejaya, seeing Takshaka come to the sacrificial fire, was so happy that he asked Astika to ask for a wish, stating he would fulfill the wish at any cost. Meanwhile, Astika had uttered a mantra that had Takshaka hanging in the air instead of falling into the sacrificial pyre.
Astika asked the king to stop the snake sacrifice immediately. Janamejaya was bound by his words. He did try to persuade Astika into asking him something else, but Astika stuck to his word too. The Brahmins understood and told the emperor to stop the snake sacrifice. Finally, Janamejaya too understood the purpose of Astika, and he stopped the Sarpa Satra.
After Janamejaya’s Snake Sacrifice (the Sarpa Satra) was stopped by Astika, all the Brahmins sat together, and Vaisampayana told the story of the Mahabharata to everyone present there. The whole above story about the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya forms the Astika Parv (episode) of the epic Mahabharata. It was what happened after Mahabharata War that formed the retelling of the Mahabharata, which otherwise would have been lost.
The Astika Parv has been made into an animated Hindi movie that you can watch here.
Who Killed Takshak Snake?
You may wonder if Takshak did not die in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice, how he died, and if he died at all. There are many folktales related to the demise of Takshak. The most interesting one is the following:
Takshak could change forms. He was in human form on the outskirts of a village when he decided to change into a snake and pass through a crevice in a tree. A village woman saw this and told the villagers. It happened that while trying to pass through the crevice, Takshak was stuck in the tree. The villagers came and lynched him to death.
The other two events that happened after Mahabharata war—the story of the golden mongoose in Yudhistara’s Ashvamedha Yagna and Why Yudhistara Had to Go to Hell—are two separate posts that I will write shortly. Please check back for links to those stories in a few days.
Receive free lessons from Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, and Indian Saints; join Our Whatsapp channel; phone number not required.