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The sons of Sagara meet Lord Kapila.
In the sixth generation after Rohita appeared King Bahuka. When all of his possessions were taken away by his enemies, King Bahuka accepted the order of vanaprastha and went to the forest along with his wives. When the king passed away, in old age, one of his queens wanted to ascend the funeral pyre, but Aurva Muni knew that she was pregnant and so he forbade her to give up her life. Sometime later, the envious co-wives of this queen gave her poison along with her food. But, instead of the queen and her embryo being harmed, a son was born along with the poison, and thus the child became famous as Sagara.
Maharaja Sagara later became the emperor of the earth, but under the order of his spiritual master, Aurva Muni, he did not kill the uncivilized men, such as the Yavanas, Shakas, Haihayas and Barbaras. Instead, he made some of them dress in a very awkward fashion, he shaved some bald while allowing them to keep their moustaches, and he half-shaved others. Maharaja Sagara left some of the uncivilized men without external garments, and he took away the underwear from others.
Then, when King Sagara began the performance of ashvamedha-yagyas, for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, under the direction of Aurva Muni, Indra came and stole the sacrificial horse. Maharaja Sagara had two wives named Sumati and Keshini. The sons of Sumati, who were very proud of their strength, searched for the lost horse under the order of their father, and while doing so, they extensively excavated the earth.
When the sons of Sagara came upon the horse near Kapila Muni’s ashram, in the northeastern direction, the sons of Sagara exclaimed, “Here is the man who has stolen the sacrificial horse! Because he is sitting with his eyes closed, as if to avoid us, he is certainly most sinful and deserves to be killed!”
While shouting like this, the 60,000 princes rushed at Kapila Muni while brandishing their weapons. Because Lord Kapila opened his eyes as the sons of Sagara approached him, it is sometimes said that they were burned to ashes by the fire that emanated from them. The fact was, however, that because Indra had misled the sons of Sagara’s intelligence, so that they disrespected a great personality, fire emanated from their own bodies and immediately burned them to ashes.
By his second wife, Keshini, Maharaja Sagara begot a single son named Asamanjasa, whose son was Amshuman. In his last life, Asamanjasa was a great mystic yogi who fell down from his elevated position, due to bad association. Although he was born in a royal family, and also had the special advantage of jati-smara (remembrance of his past life) Asamanjasa wanted to act as a great miscreant.
Asamanjasa performed many abominable activities that gave him a very unfavorable public image. Once, Asamanjasa drowned many boys who were playing in the River Sarayu. When Maharaja Sagara saw his son’s cruel nature, he gave up all affection for him and had him exiled. By use of his mystic power, Asamanjasa revived all of the dead boys, and after returning them to their parents, he left Ayodhya. When the citizens saw this astonishing feat, they were struck with wonder, and Maharaja Sagara lamented greatly for the loss of his exalted son.
Thereafter, Maharaja Sagara ordered his grandson, Amshuman, to search for the sacrificial horse. By following the path of his uncles, Amshuman finally came to where the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Kapiladeva, was seated. Although he saw the pile of ashes, and also the sacrificial horse nearby, Amshuman offered his respectful obeisances unto Lord Kapila.
With folded hands, Amshuman prayed, “My dear Lord, even Lord Brahma is unable to understand Your position, which is beyond the range of meditation or mental speculation. Therefore, what to speak of us, who have been created by Lord Brahma?”
“My Lord, although You are seated within our hearts, we cannot see You, due to the influence of the material energy. We are only able to see the actions and reactions of the three modes of material nature.”
“O Supreme Soul of all living entities, simply by seeing You, I have now become freed from all lusty desires, which are the root-cause of illusion and bondage to material existence.”
After being glorified in this way, Lord Kapila mercifully spoke about the path of transcendental knowledge to Amshuman, and then said, “My dear prince, here is the horse that your grandfather has been searching for. Please take it. As for your forefathers that were burnt to ashes, they will be delivered only after receiving the water of the Ganga, and by no other means.”
Amshuman circumambulated Lord Kapila, offered his obeisances by bowing his head, and then returned the horse to his grandfather, thus enabling him to complete his sacrifice. Later on, Maharaja Sagara handed over the kingdom to Amshuman, and under the direction of Aurva Muni, retired from active life so that he could perform austerities for attaining perfection.
King Amshuman also performed austerities for a long time, hoping to cause the descent of the Ganga, for the benefit of his uncles, but was unable to do so. His son, Dilipa, was similarly unsuccessful. Then, as Dilipa’s son, Bhagiratha, was engaged in performing very severe austerities, Mother Ganga appeared before him and said, “I am very satisfied by your activities and so I am prepared to give you whatever benediction you desire.”
After bowing his head before Gangadevi, King Bhagiratha expressed his desire. However, in reply, the goddess said, “O King, when I forcefully fall to the earth, who will sustain me? If I am not given support, I will pierce through the surface of the earth and go down to the lower regions of the universe. Besides this, if I descend to the earth, people in general will bathe in my water, just to neutralize all of their sinful reactions. For this reason, I do not wish to come to the earth. When these sinful reactions accumulate in me, how would I will be able to free myself from the burden?”
“My dear King, you should consider these points very carefully.”
King Bhagiratha replied, “Greatly elevated pure devotees of the Lord, who are without material desires, are always glorious and can deliver all the fallen conditioned souls. When such great saintly persons bathe in your water, the sinful reactions that you have accumulated will certainly be counteracted, for such devotees always carry within their hearts the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who can vanquish all impurities. And, Lord Shiva, who is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, can sustain your water and thus break the force of your fall.”
Thereafter, King Bhagiratha was able to satisfy Lord Shiva by his practice of austerities. When the King requested him to sustain the forceful waves of the Ganga, Lord Shiva agreed by saying, “So be it”. With great attention, Lord Shiva then bore the water of the Ganga upon his head, for he knew it to be supremely purifying, due to having emanated from the toe of Lord Vishnu.
King Bhagiratha then brought the Ganga to where his forefathers had been burnt to ashes, and simply by being sprinkled with her water, the sons of Sagara became eligible for elevation to heaven. What then can be said about those persons who directly worship Mother Ganga with great faith and devotion? Because she has emanated from the lotus toe of Lord Vishnu, Gangadevi has the power to award liberation from material bondage.