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King Sudyumna becomes a woman.
Prishadhra attains perfection.
Sraddhadeva Manu, the son of Vivasvan, at first had no children and so the great sage Vasishtha performed a sacrifice on his behalf, to please the demigods Mitra and Varuna. During that sacrifice, Manu’s wife, Shraddha, who was observing a vow to subsist only upon milk, approached the priest in charge of offering oblations into the sacrificial fire. After offering her obeisances, Shraddha begged the priest to do whatever was necessary to enable her to have a daughter. Thus, when the chief priest ordered him, “Now offer oblations” this priest remembered Shraddha’s request and then offered the oblations of ghee while chanting the mantra beginning with the word, “vashat”. Thus, even though Manu had performed the sacrifice for the sake of getting a son, because his wife had diverted the priest, a daughter named Ila was born.
Upon seeing the birth of a female child, Manu was not very satisfied, and so he addressed his guru, Vasishtha: “My lord, all of you are expert in chanting the Vedic mantras. How then has a result been obtained that is the opposite of what had been desired? Because of this, I am feeling very unhappy.”
“O great sage, because you are self-realized, and fully purified as a result of having performed severe austerities, your words, like those of the demigods, can never prove false. How then is it possible that your determination has been baffled in this case?”
Vasishtha knew all that had happened, and so he replied, “This discrepancy has been caused by your priest’s deviation from the original purpose of the sacrificial performance. Still, you should not be aggrieved, for by dint of my personal prowess, I shall grant you a good son.”
Having come to this decision, Vasishtha offered prayers to the Supreme Lord, Vishnu, so that Ila might be turned into a male. Being pleased with Vasishtha, the Supreme Personality of Godhead awarded him the desired benediction, and thus Ila became transformed into a very fine male named Sudyumna.
Once upon a time, King Sudyumna, along with a few of his ministers and other associates, rode into the forest upon a fine Sindhi horse, to go hunting. While thus engaged in chasing the animals, King Sudyumna went far to the north, where at the foot of Mount Meru, there is a forest known as Sukumara, where Lord Shiva enjoys along with Uma.
As soon as King Sudyumna entered this forest, however, he saw himself transformed into a female, and his horse into a mare. When his followers also saw how their sex had become reversed, they became extremely morose while simply standing there and looking at one another in astonishment.
Once, long before, some great rishis, whose very effulgence could dissipate the darkness of all directions, came to see Lord Shiva at the Sukumara forest. However, the goddess Ambika was naked at this time, and thus she became very ashamed to see how the rishis were present before her. When they saw Parvati quickly get up from Lord Shiva’s lap, while attempting to cover her breasts, the rishis immediately turned around and departed for the ashram of Nara-Narayana. Then, just to please his wife, Lord Shiva declared, “From this day onward, any male who comes to this place shall immediately become a female!”
Ever since then, no male had dared to enter that forest, but unknowingly, King Sudyumna had done so and thus suffered the consequences. Thereafter, the transformed King and his associates aimlessly wandered from one forest to another. Because King Sudyumna was now the best of all beautiful women that excite sexual desire, when the son of Soma, named Budha saw her loitering near his ashram in the company of other women, he wanted to enjoy her. Since the beautiful woman who was formerly Sudyumna also desired to accept Budha as her husband, the son of the moon-god begot in her a son named Pururava.
After some time, the transformed Sudyumna began remembering his family priest, Vasishtha, and the great rishi, in turn, felt very aggrieved to see the deplorable condition of his disciple. Desiring that Sudyumna regain his masculinity, Vasishtha began worshiping Lord Shiva, and was soon able to satisfy him. To please Vasishtha, and at the same time keep his promise to Parvati, Lord Shiva told the rishi, “Your disciple, Sudyumna, may remain a male for one month and then a female for the next. In this way, he can rule the world, as he desires.”
Thus, by the mercy of his guru, Sudyumna regained his masculinity every alternate month. Although he continued to rule the kingdom, the citizens were not very satisfied with this arrangement, because they could see that every alternate month, Sudyumna had to relinquish his royal duties. Finally, when King Sudyumna became quite old, he handed over his entire kingdom to his son, Pururava, and then entered the forest with the intention of attaining life’s actual goal, by the practice of austerities.
After Sudyumna thus departed for the forest, accepting the vanaprastha order of life, Vaivasvata Manu began performing very severe austerities on the banks of the River Yamuna, for the purpose of getting more sons. For one hundred years, Sraddhadeva worshiped the Supreme Lord, and as a result, he came to receive ten sons who were as glorious as he. One of these, named Prishadhra, was employed in giving protection to the cows, under the order of his spiritual master, Vasishtha. Accepting the vow called virasana, Prishadhra stood all night with sword in hand, just to protect the cows from the attack of wild animals.
One night, during a heavy rainfall, a tiger entered the area surrounding the cowshed. All of the cows had been lying down, but as soon as they saw the intruder, they fearfully jumped up and began running here and there, all over the land. When the powerful tiger seized one of the cows, it began screaming due to intense fear and agony, and so Prishadhra immediately came running to the spot, after picking up his sword. But, due to the dense darkness, which had been created by a thick covering of clouds, he thought the cow to be the tiger, and very forcibly cut off its head. Because the sword had also cut its ear, the tiger fearfully fled from that place, leaving a trail of blood on the ground.
The next morning, when Prishadhra discovered that he had killed a cow instead of the tiger, he became extremely dejected. Even though this sin had been committed unknowingly and accidentally, Prishadhra’s family priest, Vasishtha, angrily cursed him by saying, “In your next life you will not be born as a kshatriya. Rather, you will have to accept birth as a shudra because of killing this cow.”
Prishadhra accepted his guru’s curse with folded hands. Then, with controlled senses, he accepted the vow of brahmacharya and took leave of all his material responsibilities. Remaining unaffected by material conditions- being satisfied with whatever was available, by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, to maintain his body and soul together- and viewing all living beings equally, Prishadhra devoted his full attention to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. By constant meditation upon the Lord, Prishadhra achieved the exalted platform of pure devotional service, and thereafter, he began traveling over the earth as if deaf, dumb and blind.
Once, after entering a forest, Prishadhra saw a great fire, and so he took advantage of the opportunity to burn his body. After giving up his mortal body, Prishadhra went directly back home to the spiritual world, and as a concomitant result, he avoided suffering the effects of having been cursed by his preceptor.