63. The Story of King Nrga
9 / The Story of King Nṛga
The demigod was obliged to accept the body of a lizard.
Once the family members of Lord Kṛṣṇa, such as Sāmba, Pradyumna, Cārubhānu and Gada, all princes of the Yadu dynasty, went for a long picnic in the forest near Dvārakā. In the course of their excursion, all of them became thirsty, and so they began to try to find out where water was available in the forest. When they approached a well, they found that there was no water in it, but on the contrary, within the well was a wonderful living entity. It was a large lizard, and all of them became astonished to see such a wonderful animal. They could understand that the animal was trapped and could not escape by its own effort, so out of compassion they tried to take the large lizard out of the well. Unfortunately, they could not get the lizard out, even though they tried to do so in many ways.
When the princes returned home, their story was narrated before Lord Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa is the friend of all living entities. Therefore, after hearing the appeal from His sons, He personally went to the well and easily got the great lizard out simply by extending His left hand. Immediately upon being touched by the hand of Lord Kṛṣṇa, that great lizard gave up its former shape and appeared as a beautiful demigod, an inhabitant of the heavenly planets. His bodily complexion glittered like molten gold. He was decorated with fine garments, and he wore costly ornaments around his neck.
How the demigod had been obliged to accept the body of a lizard was not a secret to Lord Kṛṣṇa, but still, for others' information, the Lord inquired, "My dear fortunate demigod, now I see that your body is so beautiful and lustrous. Who are you? We can guess that you are one of the best demigods in the heavenly planets. All good fortune to you. I think that you are not meant to be in this situation. It must be due to the results of your past activities that you have been put into the species of lizard life. Still, I want to hear from you how you were put in this position. If you think that you can disclose this secret, then please tell us your identity."
Actually this large lizard was King Nṛga, and when he was questioned by the Supreme Personality of Godhead he immediately bowed down before the Lord, touching to the ground the helmet on his head, which was as dazzling as the sunshine. In this way, he first of all offered his respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord. He then said, "My dear Lord, I am the son of King Ikṣvāku, and am King Nṛga. If you have ever taken account of all charitably disposed men, I am sure You must have heard my name. My Lord, You are the witness. You are aware of every bit of work done by the living entities--past, present and future. Nothing can be hidden from Your eternal cognizance. Still, You have ordered me to explain my history, and I shall therefore narrate the full story."
King Nṛga proceeded to narrate the history of his degradation, caused by his karma-kāṇḍa activities. He was very charitably disposed and had given away so many cows that he said the number was equal to the amount of dust on the earth, the stars in the sky and the rainfall. According to the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies, a man who is charitably disposed is commanded to give cows to the brāhmaṇas. From King Nṛga's statement, it appears that he followed this principle earnestly; however, as a result of a slight discrepancy in his action, he was forced to take birth as a lizard. Therefore it is recommended by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gītā that one who is charitably disposed and desires to derive the benefit of his charity should offer his gifts to please Kṛṣṇa. To give in charity means to perform pious activities. As a result of pious activities one may be elevated to the higher planetary systems; but promotion to the heavenly planets is no guarantee that one will never fall down. Rather, from the example of King Nṛga, it is definitely proved that fruitive activities, even if they are very pious, cannot give us eternal blissful life. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, the result of work, either pious or impious, is sure to bind a man unless it is discharged as yaj�a on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
King Nṛga continued to say that the cows given in charity were not ordinary cows. Each one was very young and had given birth to only one calf. They were full of milk, very peaceful and healthy. All the cows were purchased with money that had been earned legally. Furthermore, their horns were gold-plated, their hooves were bedecked with silver plates, and they were covered with silken wrappers which were embroidered with pearls and necklaces. He stated that these valuably decorated cows were not given to any worthless person, but were distributed to the first-class brāhmaṇas, whom he had also decorated with nice garments and gold ornaments. The brāhmaṇas were well qualified, none of them were rich, and their family members were always in want for the necessities of life. A real brāhmaṇa never hoards money for a luxurious life, like the kṣatriyas or the vaiśyas, but always keeps himself in a poverty-stricken condition, knowing that money diverts the mind to materialistic ways of life. To live in this way is the vow of a qualified brāhmaṇa, and all of these brāhmaṇas were well situated in that exalted vow. They were well learned in Vedic knowledge. They executed the required austerities and penances in their lives, and were liberal, meeting the standard of qualified brāhmaṇas. They were equally friendly to everyone; above all, they were young and quite fit to act as qualified brāhmaṇas. Besides the cows, they were also given land, gold, houses, horses and elephants. Those who were not married were given wives, maidservants, grains, silver, utensils, garments, jewels, household furniture, chariots, etc. This charity was nicely performed as a sacrifice according to the Vedic rituals. The King also stated that not only had he bestowed gifts on the brāhmaṇas, but he had performed other pious activities, such as digging a well, planting trees on the roadside and installing ponds on the highways.
The King continued, "In spite of all this, unfortunately one of the brāhmaṇa's cows chanced to enter amongst my other cows. Not knowing this, I again gave it in charity to another brāhmaṇa. As the cow was being taken away by the brāhmaṇa, its former master claimed it as his own, stating, 'This cow was formerly given to me, so how is it that you are taking it away?' Thus there was arguing and fighting between the two brāhmaṇas, and they came before me and charged that I had taken back a cow that I had previously given in charity." To give something to someone and then to take it away is considered a great sin, especially in dealing with a brāhmaṇa. When both the brāhmaṇas charged the King with the same complaint, he was simply puzzled as to how it had happened. Thereafter, with great humility, the King offered each of them one hundred thousand cows in exchange for the one cow that was causing the fight between them. He prayed to them that he was their servant and that there had been some mistake. Thus, in order to rectify it, he prayed that they would be very kind upon him and accept his offer in exchange for the cow. The King fervently appealed to the brāhmaṇas not to cause his downfall into hell because of this mistake. A brāhmaṇa's property is called brahma-sva, and according to Manu's law, it cannot be acquired even by the government. Both brāhmaṇas insisted that the cow was theirs and could not be taken back under any condition; neither of them agreed to exchange it for the one hundred thousand cows. Thus disagreeing with the King's proposal, both brāhmaṇas left the place in anger, thinking that their lawful position had been usurped.
After this incident, when the time came for the King to give up his body, he was taken before Yamarāja, the superintendent of death. Yamarāja asked him whether he wanted to first enjoy the results of his pious activities or first suffer the results of his impious activities. Yamarāja also hinted that since the King had executed so many pious activities and charities, the limit of Nṛga's enjoyment would be unknown to him. There was practically no end to the King's material happiness, but in spite of this hint, he was bewildered. He decided to first suffer the results of his impious activities and then to accept the results of his pious activities; therefore Yamarāja immediately turned him into a lizard.
King Nṛga had remained in the well as a big lizard for a very long time. He told Lord Kṛṣṇa: "In spite of being put into that degraded condition of life, I simply thought of You, my dear Lord, and my memory was never vanquished." It appears from these statements of King Nṛga that persons who follow the principles of fruitive activities and derive some material benefits are not very intelligent. Being given the choice by the superintendent of death, Yamarāja, King Nṛga could have first accepted the results of his pious activities. Instead he thought it would be better to first receive the effects of his impious activities and then enjoy the effects of his pious activities without disturbance. On the whole, he had not developed Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The Kṛṣṇa conscious person develops love of God, Kṛṣṇa, not love for pious or impious activities; therefore he is not subjected to the results of such action. As stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā, a devotee, by the grace of the Lord, does not become subjected to the resultant reactions of fruitive activities.
Somehow or other, as a result of his pious activities, King Nṛga had aspired to see the Lord. He continued to say: "My dear Lord, I had a great desire that someday I might be able to see You personally. I think that my tendency to perform ritualistic and charitable activities, combined with this great desire to see You personally, has enabled me to retain the memory of who I was in my former life, even though I became a lizard." (Such a person, who remembers his past life, is called jāti-smara.) "My dear Lord, You are the Supersoul seated in everyone's heart. There are many great mystic yogīs who have eyes to see You through the Vedas and Upaniṣads. In order to achieve the elevated position of being equal in quality with You, they always meditate on You within their hearts. Although such exalted saintly persons may see You constantly within their hearts, they still cannot see You eye to eye; therefore I am very much surprised that I am able to see You personally. I know that I was engaged in so many activities, especially as a king. Although I was in the midst of luxury and opulence and was subjected to so much of the happiness and misery of material existence, I am so fortunate to be seeing You personally. As far as I know, when one becomes liberated from material existence, he can see You in this way."
When King Nṛga elected to receive the results of his impious activities, he was given the body of a lizard because of the mistake in his pious activities; thus he could not be directly converted to a higher status of life like a great demigod. However, along with his pious activities, he thought of Kṛṣṇa, so he was quickly released from the body of a lizard and given the body of a demigod. By worshiping the Supreme Lord, those who desire material opulences are given the bodies of powerful demigods. Sometimes these demigods can see the Supreme Personality of Godhead eye to eye, but they are still not yet eligible to enter into the spiritual kingdom, the Vaikuṇṭha planets. However, if the demigods continue to become devotees of the Lord, the next chance they get they will enter into the Vaikuṇṭha planets.
Having attained the body of a demigod, King Nṛga, continuing to remember everything, said, "My dear Lord, You are the Supreme Lord and are worshiped by all the demigods. You are not one of the living entities, but You are the Supreme Person, Puruṣottama. You are the source of all happiness to all living entities; therefore You are known as Govinda. You are the Lord of those living entities who have accepted a material body and those who have not yet accepted a material body." (Among the living entities who have not accepted a material body are those who are hovering in the material world as evil spirits or living in the ghostly atmosphere. However, those who live in the spiritual kingdom, the Vaikuṇṭhalokas, have bodies that are not made of material elements.) "You are, my Lord, infallible. You are the Supreme, the purest of all living entities. You are living in everyone's heart. You are the shelter of all living entities, Nārāyaṇa. Being seated in the heart of all living entities, You are the supreme director of everyone's sensual activities; therefore, You are called Hṛṣīkeśa.
"My dear Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa, because You have given me this body of a demigod, I will have to go to some heavenly planet; so I am taking this opportunity to beg for Your mercy, that I may have the benediction of never forgetting Your lotus feet, no matter to which form of life or planet I may be transferred. You are all-pervading, present everywhere as cause and effect. You are the cause of all causes, and Your potency and power are unlimited. You are the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the Supreme Brahman. I therefore offer my respectful obeisances unto You again and again. My dear Lord, Your body is full of transcendental bliss and knowledge, and You are eternal. You are the master of all mystic powers; therefore You are known as Yogeśvara. Kindly accept me as insignificant dust at Your lotus feet."
Before entering the heavenly planets, King Nṛga circumambulated the Lord. He touched his helmet to the lotus feet of the Lord and bowed before Him. Seeing the airplane from the heavenly planets present before him, he was given permission by the Lord to board it. After the departure of King Nṛga, Lord Kṛṣṇa expressed His appreciation for the King's devotion to the brāhmaṇas as well as his charitable disposition and his performance of Vedic rituals. Therefore, it is recommended that if one cannot directly become a devotee of the Lord, one should follow the Vedic principles of life. This will enable him, one day, to see the Lord by being promoted either directly to the spiritual kingdom or indirectly to the heavenly kingdom, where he has hope of being transferred to the spiritual planets.
At this time, Lord Kṛṣṇa was present among His relatives who were members of the kṣatriya class. To teach them through the exemplary character of King Nṛga, He said: "Even though a kṣatriya king may be as powerful as fire, it is not possible for him to usurp the property of a brāhmaṇa and utilize it for his own purpose. If this is so, how can ordinary kings, who falsely think of themselves the most powerful beings within the material world, usurp a brāhmaṇa's property? I do not think that taking poison is as dangerous as taking a brāhmaṇa's property. For ordinary poison there is treatment--one can be relieved from its effects; but if one drinks the poison of taking a brāhmaṇa's property, there is no remedy for the mistake. The perfect example was King Nṛga. He was very powerful and very pious, but due to the small mistake of unknowingly usurping a brāhmaṇa's cow, he was condemned to the abominable life of a lizard. Ordinary poison affects only those who drink it, and ordinary fire can be extinguished simply by pouring water on it; but the araṇi fire ignited by the spiritual potency of a brāhmaṇa can burn to ashes the whole family of a person who provokes such a brāhmaṇa." (Formerly, the brāhmaṇas used to ignite the fire of sacrifice not with matches or any other external fire but with their powerful mantras, called araṇi.) "If someone even touches a brāhmaṇa's property, he is ruined for three generations. However, if a brāhmaṇa's property is forcibly taken away, the taker's family for ten generations before him and for ten generations after him will be subject to ruination. On the other hand, if someone becomes a Vaiṣṇava or devotee of the Lord, ten generations of his family before his birth and ten generations after will become liberated."
Lord Kṛṣṇa continued: "If some foolish king who is puffed up by his wealth, prestige and power wants to usurp a brāhmaṇa's property, it should be understood that such a king is clearing his path to hell; he does not know how much he has to suffer for such unwise action. If someone takes away the property of a very liberal brāhmaṇa who is encumbered by a large dependent family, then such a usurper is put into the hell known as Kumbhīpāka; not only is he put into this hell, but his family members also have to accept such a miserable condition of life. A person who takes away property which has either been awarded to a brāhmaṇa or given away by him is condemned to live for at least 60,000 years as miserably as an insect in stool. Therefore I instruct you, all My boys and relatives present here, do not, even by mistake, take the possession of a brāhmaṇa and thereby pollute your whole family. If someone even wishes to possess such property, let alone attempts to take it away by force, the duration of his life will be reduced. He will be defeated by his enemies, and after being bereft of his royal position, when he gives up his body he will become a serpent. A serpant gives trouble to all other living entities. My dear boys and relatives, I therefore advise you that even if a brāhmaṇa becomes angry with you and calls you by ill names or cuts you, still you should not retaliate. On the contrary, you should smile, tolerate him and offer your respects to the brāhmaṇa. You know very well that even I Myself offer My obeisances to the brāhmaṇas with great respect three times daily. You should therefore follow My instruction and example. I shall not forgive anyone who does not follow them, and I shall punish him. You should learn from the example of King Nṛga that even if someone unknowingly usurps the property of a brāhmaṇa, he is put into a miserable condition of life."
Thus Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is always engaged in purifying the conditioned living entities, gave instruction not only to His family members and the inhabitants of Dvārakā, but to all the members of human society. After this the Lord entered His palace.
Thus ends the Bhaktivedanta purport of the Second Volume, Ninth Chapter, of Kṛṣṇa, "The Story of King Nṛga."