(This story is not a sequal, you can read it even without any context)
In our previous parts, we have talked about…
- Part-1: “Vishwamitra: Part-1 Birth of Sage Vishwamitra”
- Part- 2: “Vishwamitra: Part-2 Conflict with Vashishtha“
- Part- 3: “Vishwamitra: Part-3 Curse of Kalamashpada & Heaven for Trishanku“
- Part-4: “Vishamitra: Part-4 king Amvarisha and Shunahshepa“
Today we will talk about how King Harishchandra lost everything he had and how Sage Vishwamitra played his part in his life.
Vishwamitra and Harishchandra
One fine day when Vishwamitra was into deep meditation, doing penance to acquire his strength back, Vignaraja (Deity of Obstacles) came around and created an illusion of a woman screaming in pain. It was this time when king Harishchandra, son of Trishanku was in the vicinity, he came rushing with the intention to rescue the women. Seeing the king, Vighnaraja possessed his body and started beating Vishwamitra. This sudden physical abuse thwarted sage’s penance, and with great fury, he woke up from the meditation. In the meantime, Harishchandra also came back to his senses and realized the gravity of the situation. Looking at the enraged sage he threw himself to his feet while begging for mercy he tried to explain the situation. Vishwamitra in turn asked the king to give Dakshina (Donation) for his Rajsuya Yajna. As the king showed willingness Vishwamitra asked for every single asset the king owned including his empire leaving him with only his son and wife. King knew that he did not have much of a choice, so he gave up everything he possessed along with the clothes he was wearing.
A Poor King
As the king was walking out of his palace leaving everything behind Vishwamitra appeared and asked for more donations, saying that what he gave was not sufficient. Grief struck Harishchandra said that for now he doesn’t have anything but within a month he will arrange some more money to give to sage.
Harishchandra started living in destitution with his family while his loyal subjects would follow him wherever he went but Vishwamitra did not like this. He came and claimed all king’s subjects as they were part of the kingdom Harishchandra had donated. Yet again, Harishchndra complied with Vishwamitra’s orders and decided to leave the county. As if this was not enough, Vishwamitra beat up the king’s wife, queen Shaivya (also known as Taramati) with a stick so that they move faster while walking out of the kingdom.
(The five Guardians of the directions witnessed this fiendish act of Vishwamitra and condemned it. Prompted by their trenchant words Vishwamitra cursed them to take birth as humans and suffer the pain of birth. Later they were born as sons of Draupadi.)
Harishchandra with his wife and son in Kashi
Almost the entire month went by, Traveling barefoot Harishchandra and his family arrived in Kashi, the holy city. The first person he encountered here was Vishwamitra, he again demanded the donation king had promised. King pointed out that there is one more day left for the agreed duration. Vishwamitra concurred and left only to come back the very next day.
On this side, the king did not have anything to even feed his starving son. His wife, Devi Taramati suggested selling her as that was the only way she could think of. King agreed, he decided to part from his son as well because it would have been unfair to not let him go with his mother.
Chandal and Harishchandra
The next day in the evening Harishchandra gave whatever money he acquired to Vishwamitra from selling his wife and son. Sage was still unhappy. He demanded more. Baffled, Harishchandra resorted to his last possession, himself. He then put out himself for an auction. One Chandal (an outcast) showed the willingness to buy him but the Kshatriya pride of the king did not allow him to work for a Chandal. After contemplating the situation, Harishchandra changed his mind and planned to sell himself to Vishwamitra instead. Upon this proposal, Vishwamitra accepted King as a slave, but then to top his stake of atrocities he sold Harishchandra to that Chandal for some gold coins. This time Harishchandra being a slave did not have a say as to whom he be sold to.
Harishchandra started working for Chandal. He was given the duty to work in a crematorium and collect fees to burn dead bodies. From that amount, some would go to Chandal, one part would go to the local authority and whatever was left was Harishchandra’s remuneration.
Harishchandra and Taramati with their dead son
One day Harishchandra dreamed about his past life and realized that his current situation is the result of his sins from earlier life. In his dream, he saw his wife cry her heart out which shook his sole and his sleep broke. He couldn’t believe his eyes but there was his wife standing in front of him carrying the dead body of his son who died of a snake bite seeking to perform last riots. Harishchndra barely managed to gather himself, he realized his duty and remembered the command of his master. He asked for the cremation fees from his wife to burn his own son. Alas, Taramati did not have anything to offer and for that Harishchandra denied her to cremate his son.
Liberation of Harishchandra
Enough, all Devas(deities) along with Dharma (leading deity) and Vishwamitra appeared in front of him. They all bowed to Harishchandra and his righteousness. Mesmerized by his qualities they invited him to heaven but Harishchandra denied. He said that he would not go to heaven without those who wept for him when he left his kingdom as they all share his merit. He urged the deity king Indra to let his people visit heaven at least for one day. Indra granted this wish of Harishchandra and ascended him along with his folks to heaven.
As all these events concluded, Vashishtha the royal sage of Harishchndra’s dynasty finished his penance and rose from meditation after 12 years. The moment he came to know about all these turns of events and how Vishwamitra agonized king Harishchndra, he went straight to Vishwamitra to wage a war against him. But, Brahma intervened, he placated the situation and explained sage Vashishtha that Vishwamitra was not doing anything out of vengeful intent, instead, all that had happened was orchestrated to test Harishchandra where Vishwamitra just played his part which in a way aided Harishchandra to attain heaven.