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Katha Series: Niralamba Tapasvini – Part 2


Kuni-gargee said. ‘But mother, who am I? I know the sense of touch, feel, taste and I feel and I know boundless joy too. But who is that, ‘I’ who knows? Who am I?’.

The fearless devi, said with a wide knowing smile, “Am I to think that it is the passion that binds you to tapas, or attachment to knowledge?”

‘How does one choose a path in matters such as these, mother’?

‘You must find that for yourself now’, the divine mother rose making a grand elaborate gesture to bless her.

Kuni-gargee felt a shiver pass through her spine and immediately felt a glorious sensation of joy, peace and calm overwhelming her mind, body and soul. She opened her eyes to bow down to her, but the divine mysterious devi left as swiftly as she came into the ashram.

‘I can feel in my bones and my being the way I am drawn to the unmanifest. I have chosen a long difficult journey.  I tried sharpening my buddhi to go beyond my senses and forms. Alas! the path of pure jnana is indeed for the blessed few redeemed souls,’ thought the now much matured Kuni-gargee. The illustrious tapasvini sensed and lived in the miracle of life. She understood that although sense perceptions open up the world, they teach as much by their limitations to the discerning mind.

As years passed by the young Kuni-gargee grew quite old though her faith in her tapas was unabated.  Seeing her growing old, people referred to her as the Vridha kanya, the aged tapasvini. She felt distanced from her own body. Her spirit was still soaring high and so she stretched herself further more.

One day to her utter dismay she realized that she was unable to rise without help from her bed. The niralamba tapasvini, who was free from all physical imperfections, now needed support. She was unable to rise at the Bramha-muhurtam to begin her rituals. The following day, it was worse. She could hardly drag herself out of the bed to take even a single step. Realizing the utter futility of her existence without tapas and her vrat she resolved to relinquish her body.

No sooner had she resolved to give up her body than Narada Mahahrshi arrived at the Ashram. He looked like the vernal sun himself and the aura of the rishi was seen permeating all around. She rose with great difficulty to receive this venerable rishi. He addressed her directly and said, ‘Oh! noble and blemish less one, undoubtedly you are a great tapsvini. Your austerities have earned you great fame. However, I have come to inform you that the Gods of the devloka say that without fulfilling the vivaha samskara, a woman will not be eligible to go to higher regions of blessedness. I have heard this discussion in devaloka. Alas! your tapas will not serve you, as an unmarried kanya cannot earn a place in devloka’, he said.

The Vridha Kanya, heard this rather unsettling criteria with utmost calmness, for her mind was trained to respond rather than to react. She thought to herself, ‘I have pursued tapas, not in search of a reward or to reach devaloka. But if there is more to my life on this earth even in this condition, then I will surrender to the test with humility.’

She had always set very high standards for herself, in her tapascharya. However, in this situation, there is an external criterion to be satisfied in collaboration with others. She debated in her mind about the requirements of the new loka. She understood rules and restrictions very well. Fulfilling the rules needed immense self-control and concentration but she saw that the rules of devlokas were of a different mettle. These were games that manavas and devas often played to please themselves.

Desire, icha, is a strong emotion and all actions of human beings are motivated towards fulfilling those desires. Kuni-gargee had followed the path of a renunciant, a tapasvini, as a seeker of cosmic truth. She had not desired to amass tapas shakti. Her actions had intrinsic virtue that elevated her life experiences. She was hardly attached even to her extraordinary spiritual acquisition. She found the debate rather far removed from her objectives and her pursuits and so she could not help sensing the irrelevance of such a criterion. However, she sought a resolution to the conundrum of her onward journey. Therefore, without much ado, she addressed the rishis in the sabha who had gathered to settle the issue which had no precedent.

The Vridha kanya addressed the learned rishis with great dignity. ‘If such is the condition, most revered rishis, then I shall abide by the rule with humility. I have been taught by my learned father the Maharshi Kunigargya, that the facets of dharma are many. ‘Bahu dwarasya dharmaha’. He said Rishis have discussed and reflected deeply about dharma and its many forms such as Satyam, Daya, tapas, Saucam, Titiksha, Sama, Dama, Ahimsa Bramhacharyam, Tyagam samdrekshaseva, Santosha, atmavimarshana and Atma samarpanam. Perhaps there are many other aspects about which the learned rishis are well aware.’

‘I consider this criterion laid by the devas of devloka as another tapas, a titiksha to be endured to satisfy the rule set by devas. In the world of tapas as the learned rishis are aware, the unmanifest truth is beyond joy and misery, likes and dislikes even beyond good and evil. What can one say about the duality as seen in gender as a man and a woman that is so apparent? However, the rules and regulations and the conventions that are in place perhaps have their own reasoning. Devloka too has its conventions that must be respected. Conventional wisdom too has its own purpose, said the vridha kanya’. One of the persons in the assembly rose to say, ‘O! vridhi kanya, we have not framed these regulations but we are here to ensure that they are respected and enforced’.

‘Indeed!’  said the vridha kanya. ‘I see different ways by which conventions and rules bind the conduct of people, whether in bhuloka or devloka’. I have limited experience in the ways of the world, but I am bound by the worldly rules too. Shouldn’t the conventions be vibrant, alive and wedded to truth and fairness? I pray and urge the devas to reflect on the motivation for laying these restrictions and its justification. I stand here in front of you all to satisfy the requirement set by you’.

‘As things stand, you can see that I, Kuni-gargee, am the Vridha kanya, and I do not see anyone coming forward to seek my hand. Since such is the situation oh learned Gurus, I shall give half of my tapah phalam to anyone who will seek my hand in marriage. Thus, I shall be able to fulfill the requirement set for women by the devas of devloka. The rishis in the assembly, who witnessed this conversation considered her proposal to be fair and gave their consent. One of the young rishis seated in the assembly by the name Sringavan, son of Galavan showed interest in the proposal. However, he said that he would accept her hand provided she complied with his precondition. The Vridha kanya had hoped that things would proceed smoothly since the learned rishis gave their consent. However, when rishi Sringavan began with a precondition, it surprised her. Though old and immobile her sense of pleasantness never left her and she smiled when she heard attentively, to the condition laid out by the young, confident Sringavan. He addressed the Vridha kanya and said ‘I can marry you on the precondition that you will be my wife only for one night’, and if this is agreeable to you, I shall extend my hand in marriage”. Vridha kanya readily consented to this pledge laid by Sringavan.

Soon after, their marriage took place in the presence of all, according to the traditional vidhi, and the panigraha ceremony was performed. Thus, their marriage ceremony bound them as husband and wife. Miraculously Vridhi kanya that night was transformed into a stunning bride. The fair browed beauty of yonder years. All those who attended the marriage ceremony looked at the breathtakingly beautiful bride in awe. The young bride mesmerized rishi Sringavan. Her celestial jewelry with perfumed clothes, divine garlands distracted the young groom and delighted him to no end. Sringavan was overwhelmed with joy looking at his bride. He lost all sense of time and place and the circumstances that bound him to her in marriage.

The next morning, at the crack of dawn the young bride, graciously thanked Sringavan and reminded him about the pledge and told him that it was now time for her to leave.

Sringavan was grief-stricken when he heard that his bride will no longer be with him. All his newly awakened dreams of marital bliss were shattered. He was beside himself in agony at the idea of separation from his new bride. He tried to dissuade but in vain. ‘How is it, he said, my beloved that you are willing to leave me so easily while I am agonizing over this separation? Is it possible that I am more in love with you than you are? I have known that women are more attached to their families and husbands. How is it that you are willing to walk out of this union so easily?  Your attitude, oh young bride, is indeed perplexing and alien. Is it possible that you who are so young and beautiful, have no passion in your heart? or is it I am not the man of your dreams? He pleaded with her not to abandon him and expressed his affection for her. He urged her further to change her mind, even reminding her that he was the one who set the rules and therefore he could change it if he so wished.

Vridha kanya, smiled graciously and said ‘Rishi, I am aware that you are the one who set the condition and I am the one who consented to the condition. How can any promise or rule function if the one who sets the rules is not bound by the same? If you wish to change the rules then that will be another game and another law and another commitment. It cannot be the same’.

Vridha kanya, understood Sringavan’s state of mind and his attachment to his desires, that made him forget the conditions he had set for her. Without alluding to the pledge again, Vridha kanya, folded her hands in respect and stepped out of his life.  Sringavan realized to his great despair how he had woven a web of rules that had now come to close in on him. He had unwittingly sought freedom for himself while imposing restrictions on Vridha kanya.

Rishi Sringavan could not stop Vridhi kanya from going, though his heart longed for her company and spent long periods mourning at his loss.  He was burdened and ensnared by the pledge he had set for her. He pined for her long after she had left because his attachment only grew stronger. His mind became so weak that he could not discharge any of his duties. Soon his emotion overruled his reasoning. In mourning for her, long after she left for her heavenly abode, in despair he too cast away his body.

The wise tapasvini, having freed herself from the pledge, thought that it was the right time for her to commence on her onward journey. She glanced around the sacred peaceful ashram that was engulfed in a serene glow, as the Sun’s golden rays streamed into the room.  She thought, ‘How glorious and divine is this place. Blessed will be those, who will set their foot in this ashram of my father. Blessed will be those, who undertake the pilgrimage, said Vridhi Kanya aloud, calling out into the cosmos with her heart overflowing with joy. She was exhilarated with a bhavajna herself, the divine mother who knows and recognizes the hearts of all her children. She felt that her tapas had no consequence in devloka. So, she wished that the people of bhulok be blessed with the fruits of her tapas. It is in relinquishment that one experiences anand, an everlasting Joy. ‘Tyagena amrutatavm asi.’ Her father’s words were ringing in her ears. ‘As you reach the stage of sama darshan, one with all, you will experience the universal laya of Adi deva’.

She then declared, ‘Whoever visits this extraordinary place, as a tirtha, with shradha and dedication, spends a night exercising self-control, and offers oblations to the devas, will receive the fruits of performing bramhacharya of sixty-four years. She thought to herself, ‘my life on this earth is meaningful only when I reach out to all seekers with tapah phala, spiritual blessings. Just as a rivulet on its way, having quenched the thirsts of many, joins the ocean, I too having revealed in the cosmic mystery on earth will merge joyfully with the universe’.

Featured Image: Jamini Roy (Source – Pinterest)

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