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Harishchandra, Rohita and Sunahshepha
In the seventh generation after Mandhatta appeared Satyavrata, who was also called Trishanku. When Trishanku kidnapped the daughter of a brahmana at the time of her marriage, his father cursed him to take birth as a chandala. However, instead of becoming degraded, by the influence of Vishvamitra, Trishanku went to the heavenly planets in his mortal body. He was then pushed back down by the demigods, but because of Vishvamitra’s influence he did not fall all the way back to earth. As a result, he can still be seen hanging in the sky, head downwards, even to this day.
Harishchandra was the son of Trishanku, and because of him there was a great quarrel between Vishvamitra and Vasishtha. There had always been enmity between the two, ever since Vishvamitra had endeavored to elevate himself to the status of a brahmana. Although, for a long time, Vasishtha didn’t accept Vishvamitra as such, he finally agreed to do so, in consideration of his quality of forgiveness.
Then once, Vishvamitra performed a sacrifice for Harishchandra. But, when he became angry with the king, the rishi took away all of his possessions, claiming them to be dakshina. Vasishtha did not like this, and as a result, the fighting between the two became so severe that one of them said, “My you become a bird” and the other countered, “May you become a duck.” Thereafter, the fighting continued for many years, as both of the rishis took these forms.
Harishchandra became extremely morose due to not having an heir. Then, following Narada’s advice, he begged Varuna, “My lord, because I have no son, I request you to kindly give me one. If you mercifully fulfill my desire, in return I will offer the boy back to you in sacrifice.”
Varuna agreed, and so with his benediction, Harishchandra begot a son named Rohita. After the birth of the child, Varuna approached Harishchandra and said, “Now that you have received a son, you must offer him to me in sacrifice.”
Harishchandra replied, “After ten days from its birth, an animal becomes fit for use as a sacrificial offering.”
After ten days had elapsed, Varuna returned and said, “Now you can perform the sacrifice.”
Harishchandra replied, “When an animal grows teeth it is considered pure enough to offer.”
When the child’s teeth came in, Varuna came back and said, “Now that the animal has teeth, you can perform the sacrifice.”
Harishchandra replied, “These baby teeth must fall out, and then the animal will be fit for becoming a sacrificial offering.”
When these teeth had fallen out, Varuna again approached Harishchandra and said, “Now you can perform the sacrifice.”
However, Harishchandra replied, “Only when the animal’s teeth again grow in will it become fit for being sacrificed.”
When the second set of teeth grew in, Varuna returned to Harishchandra and said, “Now you can certainly perform the sacrifice.”
Harishchandra replied, “When the boy becomes a kshatriya and is able to defend himself in a fight with the enemy- only then will he be considered purified.”
Harishchandra had certainly become very attached to his son, and so, out of parental affection, he had requested Varuna to wait, again and again. After some time, Rohita could understand that his father was obliged to offer him in sacrifice. To save himself from death, he took his bow and arrows and departed for the forest.
Some time later on, Rohita received news that the disease called dropsy had attacked his father, making his abdomen extremely bloated. Although Rohita wanted to return home, Indra came in the guise of a brahmana and forbade him by suggesting that he instead travel to holy places and thus gain pious credit. Rohita obeyed Indra’s order, and for one full year he wandered here and there, on pilgrimage.
At the end of each year, for five consecutive years, Indra approached Rohita in the same way, forbidding him to return home by repeating his previous advice. During the sixth year, however, the son of Harishchandra came home. Having purchased the second son of Ajigarta, named Sunahshepha, Rohita presented him to his father for use as a sacrificial animal, and then he offered his respectful obeisances.
Thereafter, a grand human sacrifice was arranged, and Vishvamitra was appointed the chief priest in charge of offering oblations. Jamadagni was the priest engaged to chant the mantras of the Yajur Veda, Ayasya was the reciter of the hymns of the Sama Veda, and Vasishtha became the chief brahminical priest.
When Sunahshepha was brought into the sacrificial arena, he fervently begged the demigods to spare his life, and so he came to be released by their mercy. Being very pleased with Harishchandra, Indra gave him a golden chariot; and Vishvamitra, in appreciation for the king’s qualities of truthfulness and forbearance, taught him the spiritual knowledge that enables one to fulfill the mission of human life. The demigods had protected Sunahshepha (who was born in the dynasty of Bhrigu) in consideration of his being highly advanced in spiritual understanding, and thus he received the name Devarata.
Vishvamitra had one hundred and one sons, among whom the middle one, named Madhucchanda was prominent, so that all became known as Madhucchandas. After Harishchandra’s sacrifice, Vishvamitra accepted Sunahshepha as his own son and then ordered his other sons to accept him as their eldest brother and obey his orders. When his elder fifty sons refused to accept Sunahshepha, Vishvamitra angrily cursed them, saying, “May all of you bad sons become mlecchas, who are opposed to the principles of Vedic culture.”
Seeing this, Madhucchanda and his fifty younger brothers approached Vishvamitra and agreed to his proposal by saying, “Dear father, we shall abide by whatever arrangement you like.”
Vishvamitra then told his obedient sons, “Because you have accepted Sunahshepha as your eldest brother, I am very satisfied. Indeed, by complying with my order, you have made me a father of worthy sons, and thus I bless all of you to also beget such good progeny.”