After the tragic battle of Kurukshetra between the Kaurava and Pandava tribes - climactic moment of the 90,000 stanza Indian Sanskrit epic,The Mahabharata - old King Yudhishthira of the Pandavas, finding himself one of the few survivors, leaves the battlefield and begins a grueling trek into the mountains of the Himalayan region seeking purification - seeking heaven. The time is roughly 1000 BC. He is heading toward the gates of heaven and along the way a stray DOG befriends him and saves him from marauders several times.
As Yudhishthira and the DOG finally stand at the foot of Heaven's gate a great roaring sound echoes through the mountains as Indra, God of Gods, suddenly appears descending from an airborne vehicle, which he invites Yudhishthira to enter and fly back to heaven with him.
Yudhishthira, having observed the death pangs of his brothers and cousins fallen in the bloody soil of Kurukshetra, Yudhishthira - known as The Just - humbly addresses Indra: 'I have come from the carnage where I have wept over the bodies of my brothers, our cousins and all our children dropped down there... If I am to enter heaven then their bodies must come with me and you must help me in this effort. Without them I do not wish to enter Heaven, O Lord of Deities... It behoveth thee to permit this.'
'Don't worry, Indra replied heartily, very soon you will see your brothers, cousins and children in Heaven... in fact they are already there, along with Krishna. So do not yield to grief, O unblemished one whose council was always peace not war. Having cast off their human bodies they have gone ahead. As regards thee, it is ordained that because of your faultless life you are to enter heaven in your own body.'
'This DOG,' Yudhishthira said, patting the dog's head, 'O Lord of the Past and Present... this DOG is exceedingly devoted to me. He must come with me. My heart is full of compassion for him.'
'Immortality and a condition equal to mine awaits you', Indra smiled blandly 'prosperity extending in all directions... high success, and all the felicities of Heaven have been won by you. So do cast off this DOG and come with me... In this there is no cruelty.'
'O Indra...thou of a thousand eyes,' Yudhishthira replied, 'O thou of righteous behavior... It is exceedingly difficult for one of righteous behavior to perpetrate an act that is unrighteous. I do not desire that union with prosperity of which you speak if I must cast off this DOG who is devoted to me.'
'There is no place in Heaven for persons with DOGS.' Indra frowned, 'besides... there are minor deities that take away all the merits of persons with DOGS. Reflecting on this action you are about to take, Yudhishthira, really, you must abandon this DOG. There is no cruelty in this.'
'It has been said that the abandonment of one who is devoted to you is infinitely sinful,' Yudhishthira replied, 'hence,O lord, I shall not abandon this DOG merely out of a desire for future happiness. Long ago I took a vow that I would never give up a person who is terrified, nor one that is devoted to me, nor one that seeks my protection saying that he is destitute, nor one that is afflicted, or one who is solicitous of life... As long as I live I will never give up such a one.'
Then Indra became impatient, 'Whatever gifts, or sacrifices are spread out... or libations poured on sacred fires... if they are seen by a DOG they become worthless. Do thou, therefore, abandon this DOG. By abandoning him you will attain the region of felicity straight away. You are a great hero... you have reached this region because of your own great deeds... Why are you so stupefied? You have already renounced everything. Why then do you not renounce this DOG?'
Yudhishthira said, 'It is well known in all the worlds that there is neither friendship nor enmity with those that are dead. When my brothers died, I was unable to revive them... hence it was then only that I abandoned them. I did not abandon them as long as they were alive. To frighten one that has sought protection... or slaying a woman... or injuring a friend... these, I think, are equal to the abandonment of one that is devoted.'
Hearing these words of king Yudhishthira, suddenly the DOG morphed into AGNI, supreme God of Fire, along with his ancillary deities: Yama deity of Death and Dharma deity of Righteousness. Well pleased by Yudhishthira's words, out of the gold fringed acetylene blue aura which surrounded him, AGNI, his body like a bright glowing coal spoke in a sweet voice filled with praise.
'Thou art well born, O king of Kings, and possessed of the intelligence and good conduct of the Pandavas. Thou hast compassion for all creatures, of which this is a bright example. On the present occasion, knowing the DOG to be devoted to thee, instead of renouncing him, thou hast renounced Indra's invitation to board this heavenly vehicle. Therefore. O king, there is no one in Heaven who is your equal and regions of inexhaustible felicity are thine... '
Then the great God AGNI, with Indra and the other Gods, deities, and celestial Rishis, caused Yudhishthira to enter the heaven-bound car along with those beings crowned with success and capable of going everywhere at will, who rode in their respective cars ascending so quickly that the entire countryside blazed with light.
(from the Mahabharata of Vyasa, translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli)
© Elwyn Chamberlain 2009