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The Story of Mandavya Muni

Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapters 107-108
In his purport to Çrémad Bhägavatam 3.5.20, His
Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
mentions the sage Mandavya Muni:
Mandavya Muni was a great sage (cf. SB 1.13.1),
and Vidura was formerly the controller, Yamaraj,who takes charge of the living entities after
death. Birth, maintenance and death are three
conditional states of the living entities who are
within the material world. As the appointed
controller after death, Yamaraj once tried Mandavya
Muni for his childhood profligacy and
ordered him to be pierced with a lance. Mandavya,
being angry at Yamaraj for awarding
him undue punishment, cursed him to become
a çüdra (a member of the less-intelligent laborer
class). Thus Yamaraj took birth in the womb of
the kept wife of Vicitravirya from the semen of
Vicitravirya’s brother, Vyasadeva.
This story is elaborately told in the following section
of Mahäbhärata:
There was a celebrated brahmin named Mandavya
who was determined on the spiritual path.
Steady in truthfulness and austerity, he knew all
the religious law. Mandavya was a mighty yogi
capable of great asceticism. Beneath a tree at the
entrance to his äçrama, he stood unmoving with
upraised arms and observed a religious vow of
silence. Much time passed, until one day, as the
sage dutifully performed his penances, a band
of thieves rushed into his äçrama carrying stolen
valuables. Being followed closely by a large
group of police, the frightened thieves quickly
concealed their booty in the sage’s cottage and
then hid themselves in the same spot, just as the
heavily-armed policemen arrived there.
Seeing the sage, who stood silently with upraised
arms, the police captain anxiously questioned
him, “Brahmin, which road did the thieves
take? Whichever way they went, we have to follow
them immediately!”
Even when thus questioned, the sage maintained
his religious vow of silence and spoke
not a word, true or false, to the police. At
that point the king’s men searched the sage’s
äçrama and quickly discovered the thieves,
together with the stolen property. The police
then suspected the sage of complicity in the
crime. They arrested him and delivered him
with the thieves to the king.
The king then sentenced the sage and the actual
thieves: “Let them be put to death!” The government
executioners, not realizing that Mandavya was aholy ascetic,
impaled him on a lance and left him
in that condition. The guards then returned to the
king and took their valuable reward.
Although that most religious man remained impaled
on the stake for a considerable time without
food or drink, he still did not die. Mandavya was
such a powerful yogi that not only did he keep
himself alive, but through his mystic power he
was able to summon his fellow yogis to that place.
That night, many saintly sages, assuming the form
of birds, came there from all directions and by
their own mystic strength revealed themselves
to Mandavya. Seeing him struggle to carry on
his religious austerities even
though suffering on a stake,
the assembled sages were
mortified and could hardly
bear the sight. Grief-stricken,
they said, “O brahmin, we
want to hear it directly from
you. What sin have you committed
to be punished in this
terrible way?”
That tiger of a sage replied,
“It would be wrong to blame
others for my suffering.” the
sage replied to his fellow ascetics.
“I do not know what I
have done, but surely I and
no one else am the cause of
my suffering.”
Shortly thereafter, the police
happened upon the sage
Mandavya and were astonished
to see that after so
many days he was still alive.
They told the king exactly
what they had seen, and the
monarch instantly understood
that Mandavya was a
true and powerful ascetic.
The king and his ministers
rushed to the spot, fell at
Mandavya’s feet, and begged
the sage, who was still fixed
on the lance, for mercy and forgiveness.
“O best of sages,” the king wept, “out of ignorance
and illusion I have greatly offended
you. Please forgive me. I beg that you not be
angry with me.”
Thus addressed by the king, Mandavya
blessed him with his mercy, and the grateful
ruler at once tried to remove the loathsome
stake. Unable to pull it out [the 142nd chapter of
the first canto of the Garuòa Puräëa describes
that the stake had gone all the way to the top
of the sage's skull], the king broke it off and a
portion remained in the sage’s body.
Mandavya Muni then resumed his travels, with a
portion of the stake still in his body. So determined
was he to carry on his religious duties, however,
that he began to think of the stake in his body as a
flower garland, and by such extraordinary penance
he gained promotion to higher planets, which are
extremely difficult to reach. After this incident, the
sage became known throughout the universe as
Ani-mandavya, or “Mandavya-of-the-lance”.
Eventually that most learned sage went to see
Yamaraja, the lord of death, who is also known as
Dharma because he punishes the sinful according
to the laws of God. Seeing Dharma sitting in
his abode, the powerful Ani-mandavya began to
rebuke him. The sage had acquired great power
through his extraordinary austerities, and he spoke
to Dharma in a threatening voice.
“What evil deed have I committed? Why was I
made to suffer such a sinful reaction? Why was
I falsely accused and impaled on a lance? I can’t
understand it. Answer me at once!”
Dharma said, “Previously you pierced insects in
their tail with a sharp blade of grass. For this act, O
ascetic brahmin, you received that reaction.”
Animandavya replied, “For a small offense, Yamaraja,
you have exacted a very heavy punishment
indeed. Therefore, Dharma, for your own sin you
will fall among the human beings of earth and take
birth from the womb of a çüdra woman!
Animandavya then declared:
maryädäà sthäpayämy adya loke dharmaphalodayäm
ä caturdaçamäd varñän na bhaviñyati pätakam
pareëa kurvatäm evaà doña eva bhaviñyati
I hereby establish as a principle of justice that henceforth
there will be no heavy sin considered for children
up to fourteen years of age. After that they will
be held responsible for their offenses. (108. 13)
Because of his offense, Dharma took birth as the
noble Vidura from the womb of a çüdra woman.
Completely free of greed and anger and vastly learned
in both spiritual and material affairs, he was far-seeing,
peaceful, and always devoted to the welfare of the
noble Kuru dynasty.

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