Yudhisthira performed two big yagnas (sacrifices) in his lifetime. One was the Rajasuya yagna, performed when he ascended to the throne of Indraprastha before losing his kingdom to Duryodhana in a game of dice (dhyoot). The other was the Ashvamedha yagna, which he performed after the Mahabharata war. Read about the events that happened during and after Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna.
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Why Did Yudhisthira Perform Ashvamedha Yagna?
After the Mahabharata War, many kingdoms were left without rulers. People were confused and sad. Even the Pandavas were sad that they brought about this destruction all over the Bharatavarsha (India). Lord Krishna and Ved Vyasa then told Yudhisthira to perform a yagna to bring whole of the Bharatavarsha under his rule and provide relief to the people.
After counseling his ministers, Yudhisthira agreed to perform the Ashvamedha Yagna. The Pandavas set up a horse loose so that it could roam all over the Bharatavarsha and unite all the different kingdoms scattered over the Indian landscape. The rule was to allow free passage to the horse so that it could go to different kingdoms and bring it under Yudhisthira. If anyone or any kingdom obstructed or caught the horse, they would have to fight Arjuna, the commander of army following the horse.
There was little resistance, and Arjuna could remove that using his army. Only one incident is worth mentioning in detail: His own son kills Arjuna, and his wife brings him to life. I will detail this in the next section of this post.
Arjuna’s Death During Yudhisthira Ashvamedha Yagna
Arjuna had three more wives in addition to Draupadi: Subhadra, Chitrangada, and Ulupi. Back when the Pandavas married Draupadi, Ved Vyasa made them take an oath that each of them would stay with Draupadi for one year in a rotation. If anyone broke this pact, they’d be exiled for twelve years.
When Yudhisthira and Draupadi were staying together, Arjuna had to go into their palace to fetch his Gandiva (his bow was named Gandiva) due to some unavoidable circumstances. He gladly accepted the exile and went touring Bharatavarsha. This is when he married Ulupi and Chitrangada. Ulupi was a merwoman and Chitrangada was the daughter of the king of a kingdom named Manipura.
Ulupi and Chitrangada: Arjuna’s Other Wives
Ulupi was half woman and half Naga (snake). She was the daughter of Kauravya, the chief of Nagas. When Arjuna was taking a bath in the river Ganga during his exile, Ulupi saw him and fell for him. She dragged him to her home underwater and convinced Arjuna to marry her. After some resistance, Arjuna agreed, and they got married. They stayed together for three years. It was during this time that Ulupi gave birth to Iravan, Arjuna’s son.
Arjuna later proceeded to Manipura, married Chitrangada, and had a son called Babhruvahana. This was the son who grew up and killed Arjuna during the Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna. Let’s first understand why he did so.
The Curse by Vasus: What Caused Arjuna’s Death?
When Arjuna used Shikhandi to kill Bhishma in the Mahabharata war, it was considered an unethical act by many. The celestial Vasus too thought of it the same way. When Bhishma fell due to countless arrows delivered by Arjuna, the Vasus cursed Arjuna that he too would be killed by his own son in due time.
To understand their anger, you need to know the connection between Bhishma and the Vasus. Bhishma was a mortal form of one of the eight Vasus. In the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, Ganga tells the story of Bhishma to Shantanu.
You might already know that Shantanu married river Ganga in her human form. She had told Shantanu that the latter should not question her acts if the marriage was to stay intact. They had eight sons, but Ganga drowned each child as soon as it was born, except the eighth. Shantanu stopped her from drowning the last child and the marriage broke. She took the eighth child with her to train him properly and returned him to Shantanu when he was of appropriate age.
She told Shantanu that each of these children was a celestial Vasu cursed by Sage Kashyap to be born as a mortal. She told Shantanu that these Vasus stole the cow of Sage Kashyap due to which they were cursed. When the Vasus pleaded with Sage Kashyap after the curse, the latter said they could die as soon as they took birth. Sage Kashyap, however, said that the eighth Vasu who actually stole the divine cow would have to live. This was Shantanu’s eighth child who grew up as Bhishma. When Bhishma fell due to the arrows of Arjuna, the Vasus cursed Arjuna.
When Ulupi heard about the curse, she was agitated and went to Ganga who told her how to revive Arjuna after he died. Pacified, Ulupi took Chitrangada’s son Babhruvahana with her and trained him to make him as good an archer as Arjuna.
Babhruvahana Killed Arjuna During Yudhisthira Ashvamedha Yagna
Coming back to Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna, when the horse reached Manipur, Ulupi asked Babhruvahana to fight Arjuna and not let him go alive. A battle ensued between Arjuna and Babhruvahana – who did not know they were related – and ended up with both opponents striking each other fatally.
Chitrangada reached the battle spot and blamed Ulupi for the death of her husband and son. Ulupi told Chitrangada about the curse of Vasus. She then brought her father’s nagamani (a stone known to Nagas) and placed it on Arjuna’s chest following which Arjuna’s wounds healed and he woke up.
Thus ends the story of Arjuna’s death and resurrection during Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna. It is said Babhruvahana also didn’t die but fainted due to the impact of Arjuna’s arrow and later woke up.
There were no major incidents for the rest of Ashvamedha Yagna and Arjuna returned to Hastinapura with the horse. After the Yagna, Yudhisthira distributed gifts to the poor and concluded the ceremony. Another incident that found place in the epic Mahabharata was that of a golden mongoose.
The Golden Mongoose in Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna
This happened just after Yudhisthira sent away people with riches he distributed. Everyone was happy and praised Yudhisthira saying he performed the best yagna ever. However, a mongoose arrived at the ceremony spot and started taunting Yudhisthira that the Yagna was useless. Half of the mongoose was built in gold while the rest of it was normal fur. The people at the Yagna spot asked the mongoose why it spoke so negatively about the sacrifice. The mongoose narrated the following story.
The Poor Brahmin and His Guest
Once there was a poor brahmin who lived on the outskirts of a city with his wife, son, and daughter-in-law. Being extremely poor, it was hard for them to acquire food. After staying hungry for days, the brahmin somehow got some barley one day. His wife made flour out of it and distributed it into four parts: one for the brahmin, one for herself, one for the son, and one for the daughter-in-law.
And so it happened that just as they sat down to eat the flour, there was a knock at their door. The brahmin opened the door and saw a person standing who asked the brahmin if he could get him some water. Since a guest is considered a god in the Indian culture, the brahmin invited him inside and asked the guest if he would want anything to eat. The guest said he was hungry.
The brahmin gave his share of barley flour to the guest. The guest ate it and said he was hungrier. The flour he ate increased his appetite. The brahmin’s wife brought forth her share of the barley and asked the brahmin to give it to the guest. Though reluctant, the brahmin took the flour and gave it to the guest. The guest ate it and was still hungry.
The brahmin’s son gave his share of barley flour to the brahmin saying it was his duty to help his father in pursuing his duties. However, even the son’s share of barley flour was not enough to satisfy the guest’s hunger. The final share was that of the daughter-in-law. She brought it and said to the brahmin that she too wanted to follow the footsteps of her husband. The guest ate the flour and left. That night, the four of them died due to starvation. A golden chariot appeared and took them to heaven because the guest was Lord Dharma who wanted to test the brahmin and his family.
“I was there watching all this happen,” said the mongoose. “There was some flour left on the ground and I rolled in it. Half my body became golden.” The mongoose told the people present at the venue of Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna. “Ever since, whenever there is a sacrifice or yagna, I go there and try to see if the effects of yagna are good enough to make my other part golden too. You see your yagna couldn’t do that, so I do not consider it as good as that of the poor brahmin.”
Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna: Conclusion
This post narrated two major incidents that happened during Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna. While the story of Arjuna’s death and resurrection doesn’t mean much, the story of the golden mongoose holds a moral. Swami Vivekananda often quoted it to his Western Audience to drive home the point of Karma Yoga. In his works on Karma Yoga, he says the story is an example of how Karma should be done. Placing others’ needs before Self is the highest form of Karma Yoga, according to Swami Vivekananda. This is all I know about Yudhisthira’s Ashvamedha Yagna. This post is part of What Happened After Mahabharata War.
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