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Epic Characters of Vedas & Upanishads

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NACHIKETA

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Nachiketa was the son of Vajashravas, a poor but very ambitious Brahmin. Wanting to be famous as a daani, Vajashravas performed a great yajna in which he planned to give away many cows in daana. Unfortunately, all the cows were completely useless and emaciated.  Noticing that anything given in daana must be of use to the receiver, Nachiketa was upset and asked his father to whom he planned to give his son away in daana. In anger, the father said that he would gift him to Yama. Taking his father’s words as gospel, Nachiketa left for Yama’s abode immediately, something that was unheard of. The father repented his anger and felt helpless. Finding that  Lord Yama wasn’t there, he waited for him outside for three days without eating or drinking water. After Yama returned, he and his wife felt guilty for a brahmachari guest had been left unattended. In lieu of it, Yama asked the boy to ask for three boons.  Nachiketa asked him to ensure that his father would not worry about him and would welcome him when he returned home.  Next, Yama taught him Agnividya , which was the second boon.  As the third boon, Nachiketa wanted to know about the Ultimate Truth – whether man exists after death. Yama was dumbfounded because this was a secret even the Devas were not aware of. How could a young boy be let into it? Yama tried to attract him with other gifts but the boy was very firm. Finally, Yama explained to him what Atma Vidya meant and was pleased to give him jnana deeksha.  Nachiketa acquired Brahmavidya from the Lord of Death and then returned to his father who became his son’s disciple. This is the story of Nachiketa as it appears in the Kathopanishad.

DATTATREYA
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Dattatreya was an incarnation of  SriHari, born to sage Atri and his wife Anasuya. Along with him were born in the same family, Soma, an incarnation of Brahma and Durvasa, an incarnation of Shiva. Dattatreya desired to live in isolation and once hid himself in a lake through his yogic power. When Karthveeryarjuna wasn’t prepared to take over kingship, a minister, Garga, advised him to worship Dattatreya and get the power that he needed. Sage Brihaspathi also advised the Devas to take the help of Dattatreya if they wanted to regain all that they had lost to the asuras. Accordingly, Dattatreya advised them to somehow bring the asuras to him. The Devas started a battle with the asuras and came running to Dattatreya who was sitting with the beautiful Lakshmi. Naturally, this distracted the asuras who forgot their purpose of coming and carried away the beautiful goddess.  The Devas were asked to follow them and again engage them in battle as now, they had lost their merit by indulging in the heinous crime of carrying away Lakshmi.  Yadu, an emperor , once asked Dattatreya how he managed to remain untouched by desires.  Dattatreya’s answer was very interesting – he said he had 24 preceptors ranging from the Sun to the tiny spider. At the request of the Devas and sadhus, he spoke to them at length on peace, truth, courage, righteousness and so on. There was no one who came in contact with him and didn’t derive something of value. He touched everyone with his great understanding of things.

BHARADWAJA

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Bharadwaja was sage Valmiki’s disciple, son of Uthathya and Mamatha. Drona was his son. He was one of the Saptharishis who belonged to the Vedic Age. He lived through the first three yugas and was the originator of the Bharadwaja gotra. He was the first person to listen to the Ramayana from his guru. He had a major role to play in many events in the Ramayana. He was extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, he was deserted as a child by his parents. The Maruth Devas found the abandoned child and took him under their care. Later he was asked to do severe tapas to get more knowledge from Devendra.  Bharadwaja had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. However, Indra felt that all that would go waste if his lineage was not taken care of. Indra advised him to become a gruhastha . Though he wasn’t interested , he realized that it was a responsibility and hence sought Indra’s blessings for the purpose . The Maruth Devas found that none of  Bharatha’s children survived to succeed him. So they asked him to adopt Bharadwaja. Thus the sage got married to Susheela and got entitled to ascend the throne. But as he was interested in spreading the message of the Vedas, he prayed to AgniDeva to bless Bharatha with a son. He anointed him king and left to perform the duty that was close to his heart. He established an ashram on the banks of the river Saraswathi and  it came to be  one of the most sought after  centers for the study of the Vedas. Later, when there was a dreadful epidemic, he learnt Ayurveda from Devendra and used his knowledge to give relief to multitudes of people. He distributed a huge number of royal gifts that he had received from two royal disciples, Divodasa and Abhyavarthi. He had no use for them! He was a true patriot and did everything to preserve and protect dharma.

KASHYAPA

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Sage Kashyapa was one of the saptharishis who had attained Brahmajnana. He was the creator of all the Devas by virtue of one of his wives being Adithi  who was the mother of all Devas. Surya, Indra and Vamanamurthy were his sons. He co-operated with Brahma in creating the world, took charge of the governance  of the planet and saved it from destructive forces. Whenever dharma was in danger , he used his power to protect and establish it.  Kashyapa was the son of Kaladevi and Marichi. DakshaBrahma got sixty daughters for the purpose of procreation and Kashyapa married thirteen of them. So, all living beings we find on earth  are fathered by Kashyapa. Once, one of the sage’s wives, Dithi, got jealous of Adithi and asked the sage to grant her motherhood. The sage was meditating and asked her to wait. She wouldn’t and so he just said that she would bear two wicked sons but one of them  would have a son who would  be the Lord’s devotee. Vamanamurthy  was born  as  Adithi and  the sage’s son in order to teach a lesson to the daithyas who had started ruling over the Devas.  We also have the story of how Garuda and Aruna became Kashyapa’s sons. Kashyapa was about to curse Khadru on knowing that she had tried to cheat Vinatha, Garuda’s mother. The sage stopped Mother Earth  from descending  to the nether world. He was an expert in dharmashastra. He got the opportunity to preach to Prahlada the nuances of righteous conduct. Kashyapa and  Adithi were born as Kausalya and Dasharatha, then as Devaki and Vasudeva. During the  Mahabharata war, Kashyapa was foremost among the sages to dissuade Drona from the thoughtless killing and violence. Kashyapa believed in the universal principle – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, and his motto was – Sarve  Janah  Sukhino Bhavanthu.

BHRIGU

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Sage Bhrigu was a great tapasvi, one of the saptharishis who helped the Lord in the task of creation. He  had mastered yoga and the art of Sanjivini Vidya. He belonged to the first manvanthara.  He came out of Lord Brahma’s heart and was called Brahmamanasaputra. He established the clan that came to be known as Bhargava gotra. The sage came out of fire after Varuna performed a great yajna. Brahma, Agni and Varuna vied for him but the Devas supported Varuna’s claim. As a young boy, he mastered Brahmavidya through severe penance. Once he conducted a yaaga to find out which among the Trinity was the greatest. He cursed Vishnu for killing his wife, and so, in his incarnation as Rama, Vishnu suffered from separation pangs. Later when Bhrigu was able to bring back his wife to life, he repented the curse and started worshipping Vishnu. In fact, it’s interesting that Narayana became Bhrigu’s son-in-law as he got married to Sridevi who was none other than Lakshmi and the sage’s daughter.  While Bhrigu was known to be short tempered, he was also  merciful when the situation demanded. He brought back Jamadagni to life and later helped Parasurama to give up the Kshatra way of life. Bhrigu released heaven from the arrogant rule of Nahusha and restored it rightfully to Devendra.  The sage  did everything to preserve dharma and didn’t spare even Agnideva once as he went against it. Brahmadeva had to intervene to ease the situation. Thus, Bhrigu led a full and useful  life  preaching the righteous way of life to the world.

AGNI

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Agni is one of the ashtadikpalakas who protects the South-east direction (Agneya). He occupies the second position after Devendra and is the chief deity of the Rig Veda. The Maruth devas are born out of Agni. Agni is present in every living being or thing and is the energy that causes movement. He is Varuna’s brother and is influenced by Vayu Deva. According to Vishnu Purana, he is the eldest son of Brahmadeva. Agnideva was once cursed by sage Bhrigu because of which he entered the ocean and performed tapas. The world was on the brink of disaster without Agni. Brahmadeva had to implore Agni to go back to the world and resume his duties. Agnideva once lost his immense power of digestion when King Swethaki performed a great yajna lasting  a hundred years.   As suggested by Brahmadeva, he had to burn the Khandava forest in order to regain his power. In spite of burning down a large part of Sahadeva’s army, Agni  stopped his burning spree on  Sahadeva’s plea and helped the Pandavas to complete the rajasuyayajna.  Devendra had once committed a sin of killing a Brahmin. When Brahma divided the sin into four parts, Agni accepted one of the parts in order to free Devendra. Agni appears in the Ramayana when he himself offered a pot of payasam to the childless Dasharatha. Later, when Sita was put through a test of fidelity, he announced to the world that she  was  the most faithful woman of her time.  Parameswara blessed Agni saying that he would never have to fear death.  Agni Deva is all powerful, present in all, sustaining and protecting all the time.

INDRA

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Indra, son of Aditi, king of Devas, is the Lord of the east, of Heaven and space. He’s an enemy of the rakshasas. He’s the first one to receive nectar from Garuda after which he protected the Prithvi mountain ranges, created space and placed Dyuloka in its position. But he has one weakness- he cannot stand anyone surpassing his  power or position. Amaravathi is his capital and Indrani is his consort. His proud possessions include Ucchaishravas, Iravatha, Kamadhenu,  and Kalpavriksha. It was because of his pride that he once angered sage Brihaspathi and lost his kingdom. On killing Vritrasura, he found that he had committed the sin of killing a Brahmin and hence hid himself in the Manas lake.  King Nahusha took Indra’s position and became very proud and arrogant. Later Indra performed Aswamedhayajna and regained his lost kingdom. It is because of his own folly that a bird-hero who was stronger than himself, Garuda, was born. Even his Vajrayudha couldn’t hurt Garuda. Later, they both became friends. Indra put emperor Shibi to test and obtained Karna’s kavacha and kundala in order to weaken him and protect his own son, Arjuna. He sent his chariot  for Rama to face Raavana in the mighty battle. However, he invited sage Durvasa’s curse due to his pride. Indra came down to earth and conferred on Lord SriKrishna the title Upendra.

VARUNA-VAYU

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Varuna is the god of Divyaloka, the lord of days and nights and is kind and considerate. He is the creator of the earth, the sky and of the laws of Nature. Surya is his eye and air is his breath. It is Varuna who has placed Surya, Agni and Soma in their positions. With time, Varuna’s unchallenged position changed as Devendra became the chief of Gods. However, he remained the same – compassionate and benevolent. Varuna is sage Kashyapa’s son and his son  is sage Bhrigu.  He is one of the ashtadikpalakas, being the Lord of the west. He was one of the Gods who vouched for Sita’s fidelity. Once he violated the tenets of dharma when he kidnapped Bhadra,  Soma’s daughter, Sage Atri’s grand daughter and Uthathya’s wife. With the power of his tapas, Uthathya drained the waters of seas and oceans. Varuna got scared , restored Bhadra to him and begged his pardon.

Vayu is one of the panchabhootas, the cause of daily yajnas. As he has five forms, he’s called Panchapraana. He has two basic qualities – sound and sense of feel. As long as he dwells in our body, we live. In the Chandogya Upanishad, we are told how Vayu is crucial  for the survival of all the organs of the body. Vayudeva’s pride took a test at the hands of a yaksha when the former couldn’t lift a blade of grass. Anjaneya and Bhima were born of his blessings. The entire sky is his living place and he is the soul of the Devas. He preached dharma and was successful in correcting Karthaveeryarjuna.  Along with Indra and Varuna, he also convinced Rama of Sita’s fidelity.

DADHEECHI – NAABHAAGA

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Dadheechi was a sage who donated his own body to the devas for making weapons to kill the rakshasas.  He was sage Agnivesha’s grandson. Devendra initiated him into two valuable arts called Pravarga and Madhu. In order to perform a yajna which was to last several years, the devas deposited their weapons with  Dadheechi  who reluctantly agreed to take care of them.  Finding that the devas did not return to take them back, he reduced them all to liquid and drank it up. This  gave a new strength to his bones and body. When the devas were in need of their weapons and came to know what had happened,  they took Vishnu’s advice. Bowing down to Vishnu’s request, Dadheechi entered into a state of trance and  left his body.  Indra and the other devas now used his bones to create many weapons including Vajrayudha and Brahmasira.

Naabhaaga belonged to the lineage of sage Marichi. Taking advantage of his thirst for knowledge, his brothers wronged him by not giving him his share of their father’s property. Naabhaga approached his father  who gave him confidence by saying that  as a scholar, he would be revered everywhere and it would be better if he lived away from his selfish brothers. He also asked him to help sage Angirasa at his yajna. At the end of the yajna, the sage gave Naabhagaa all that was remaining – money and things.  As luck would have it, Naabhagaa met Rudradeva on the way who reminded him that whatever he was carrying belonged rightfully to him as per Brahmadeva’s wish. Naabhaaga promptly apologized to Rudradeva who was so pleased with his righteous behavior that he not only restored everything to him but also initiated him into the knowledge of the Ultimate.

SATYAKAAMA JAABAALA

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Jabaala was the daughter of a great sage who lived in an ashram with his wife. The girl learnt a lot of things related to righteous life from both her parents.  She became an orphan very early in life . She believed that guests were gods, something that her parents had instilled in her.  She fell in love with a young sage who stayed with her for a short while. While leaving  to perform penance, he told her that she would give birth to a brahmajnani.  In course of time, she gave birth to a bright boy who was named Satyakama.  He was sent to sage Gowthama’s ashram for education but had to return to his mother to find out his gotra. As his mother wasn’t able to answer his question, she said that she only knew he was her son and hence could be called Satyakama Jaabaala. His preceptor was impressed with his simple answer and took him under his tutelage. Satyakama was a little disappointed that even after one year at the gurukula, he had not been initiated into learning. The guru understood his pain, performed his upanayana and initiated him into Gayatri mantra and taught him Medha suktha. He then told him that ‘goseva’ was as important as any other . Since there were 400 cows in the ashram that had become weak, he was asked to take them, strengthen them and multiply them too. Satyakama carried out his responsibility successfully. During this time he learnt a lot about Nature and her ways. When he returned to the ashram with 1000 cows, his guru was very pleased and initiated him into the Pranava mantra which made the boy feel that he had attained the highest. His mother was witness to his being proclaimed a brahmajnani. Satyakama Jaabaala became famous as a seeker of truth.

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