The curse on Parikshit & the forgiveness of rishi Shamika

Posted on June 26, 2010

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It is well known that Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Arjuna, was cursed to die within seven days when he insulted an innocent rishi by placing a dead snake on the rishi’s shoulder.

The curse was however not pronounced by the rishi himself, but by his son.

The incident happened when Parikshit went hunting. The King, after pursuing a specific prey in the forest for a long time, had become tired and hungry. This was when he came across the hermitage of rishi Shamika. Unaware that the rishi was under a vow of silence, the King enquired about the prey but the rishi answered not. Enraged by the rishi’s silence, Parikshit placed a dead snake on the rishi’s shoulder with the end of his bow. The rishi still did not protest. Observing this, Parikshit became repentant and walked away.

Parikshit places a dead snake on Shamika rishi's shoulder (Source: Amar Chitra Katha Comics)

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The rishi’s son Shringi, who himself was highly accomplished in penances, came to know of the insult meted out to his father through Krsha, son of another rishi. An enraged Shringi  cursed that the King will meet his death by the live snake Takshaka in seven days.

Shamika soon learnt of the rash act of his son. He summoned Shringi and said:

“Dear son, the act of your curse is not to my liking. Your act does not befit the dharma of tapasvis. We should forgive such acts done by the king, for we are able to practice austerities and attain greater merits mainly because of his protection. Without his protection, we would be experiencing great difficulties.

A King establishes rule of law with his scepter. From the scepter comes fear, and fear gives way to peace. And peace is conducive for people to execute their duties appropriately. We would not be able to practice austerities had we had fear of robbers and the like. The King thus facilitates our austerities, which please the Gods. The Gods give forth to rain, and rain gives forth to food, and food gives forth to the nourishment of beings.

For these reasons, the King is also entitled to a share of the merits that we achieve from our austerities. A kingless country will be swayed by all kinds of evils.

The King was exhausted and hungry when he saw me, and was not aware of my observance of silence. I understand how these circumstances drove him to commit such an act. For these reasons, he in no way deserves such a curse from us”

Shamika also said this about his son, “Even after a son matures into an adult, it is the duty of the father to counsel him so that the son may attain greater merits. But not only are you young, but you also give in to anger. When even great ascetics of renown are swayed by anger, what can I say of a young lad like you. So despite the fact that you have acquired great merits through penances, I do see a need and reason to counsel you for some more time.

“You should strive to destroy your anger by controlling your senses and sustaining on food from roots, stem and fruits in the forest. Anger deprives an ascetic of his merits, without which liberation cannot be achieved. Only forgiveness can give forth to bliss both in the current world and the next. So you should focus on controlling your senses and be forgiving towards others. By following this, you can attain the regions even beyond the reach of Brahma”

Having said this, Shamika rishi sent a messenger to Parikshit to warn the king of the imminent danger. Parikshit did take precautions, but Takshaka managed to bite the King to death as foretold by Shringi.

(Source: Mbh Adi Parva, Chapters 40 & 41)

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This narration addresses to some extent the duty of citizens towards sustaining a good ruler. While this is applicable for autocracy, what can be even said of a democracy?

The story also throws a nice aspect on the duties of a father, and why one should not give in to anger. While the treatment of these topics in this narration is tangential, there are many incidents and conversations in the Bharata that explore such topics in greater depth.

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