The story of a great Vedic King illustrates the character of krishna's pure devotees and His unfailing support for them.
Canto 8, Chapter 4: Ambarisa Offended by Durvasa Muni
King Ambarisa ruled over the entire world and achieved inexhaustible, unlimited opulence and prosperity. Advanced in spiritual knowledge, the king cared little for all of this, realizing it to be exactly like a dream. He knew that attachment to material wealth simply leads one onto the path of darkness, and he therefore considered the whole universe to be no more desirable than a piece of stone. As a staunch devotee of Visnu, he desired only the Lord’s service and the association of other devotees. The saintly king was an emblem of Krishna consciousness, with his mind and senses continuously engaged in the Lord’s service. For Visnu’s pleasure and the good of the world he performed many great sacrifices supervised by sages such as Vasistha, Asita, and Gautama. Within Ambarisa’s kingdom all the citizens were pious and dedicated to divine service. They were not greedy or envious and lived peacefully and harmoniously.
The king himself lived simply and had no attachment to worldly position or wealth. He saw it all as temporary and material, affording no real happiness. Visnu became greatly pleased with Ambarisa and bestowed upon him His cakra weapon, which protected him from all enemies and adversity.
Once the king and his wife decided to follow the vow of Ekadasi for one full year. When the vow was complete, he worshiped Visnu and bathed in the Yamuna. After giving charity to brahmanas and feeding them sumptuously, Ambarisa was about to break his fast when the sage Durvasa suddenly appeared.
King Ambarisa graciously received Durvasa and said, “Please be seated and allow me to arrange for your meal.”
Durvasa said, “I shall accept your hospitality, but first I must bathe.”
The sage left for the Yamuna and the king waited patiently. A long time passed as Durvasa sat half-submerged in the river, his mind absorbed in Brahman. The time for Ambarisa to break his fast was passing. If he did not eat soon, his entire vow would be rendered useless and he would become an offender to the Lord. How, though, could he eat before Durvasa returned and thereby offend that sage? The king consulted his priests. They were confused as to how to respond, some saying that he should continue fasting and others that he should eat.
Ambarisa reached his own conclusion.
“Certainly I must break my fast to avoid transgressing the rules of the Ekadasi vow. Yet this will disrespect Durvasa. I think therefore that I will take just a little water.”
Drinking water would be considered both eating and not eating, and in this way the king would satisfy both requirements. Ambarisa swallowed a mouthful of water, and not long after, Durvasa returned. By his mystic power the sage could immediately understand that the king had drunk water. He was furious.
Frowning, his body trembling with rage and his mouth pursed, the sage said, “What is this? This king is proud of being a Vaisnava but is nothing of the sort. Puffed up with his wealth and power, he thinks he is God and can freely transgress religious principles.”
As the red-faced sage castigated Ambarisa, the king stood silently before him with folded hands.
Durvasa continued, “You have invited me to eat as your guest and then eaten before me. I shall now punish you!”
The sage tore a handful of hair from his head and hurled it to the ground. He uttered a mantra, and suddenly from the scattered hair a frightful demon rose up like the fire of devastation. He roared terribly and bore in his hand a great trident. Ambarisa remained placid and unafraid even as the monster advanced toward him. Instantly, however, the Lord’s cakra weapon appeared and enveloped the demon in a sheet of fierce flames. In a few moments all that remained of him was a heap of ashes scattering in the wind. The cakra then turned its attention toward Durvasa, whose eyes widened in horror. Seeing that the same fate which had befallen his created demon now threatened him, the sage swiftly took to his heels. The cakra followed close behind. Feeling its scorching heat, Durvasa sped away, but the disc stayed right behind him. He fled everywhere, to hills, caves, beneath the sea, to other planets, and even to heaven, but could not escape. Still the cakra came for him.
Finally he went before Brahma and begged, “My dear lord, please save me.”
Brahma expressed his inability to assist the panic-stricken sage. “By a mere flick of His eyebrows Visnu vanquishes the entire universe. All gods and universal controllers, including Siva and I, bow our heads before Him and carry out His orders. How can we save you from His cakra?”
Durvasa had no time to waste. He rushed off, with the cakra right behind him, heading for Siva’s abode in Kailasa Mountain. Siva responded in the same way as Brahma.
“I and the other gods who rotate within the universe, caught up in the idea of our greatness, cannot exhibit any power to compare with that of Visnu. Innumerable universes are created and destroyed simply by His will.”
Durvasa dashed off and went as far as Vaikuntha, falling at the feet of Narayana Himself.
“Save me, save me! I take shelter of You!” he cried. “Without knowing Your unlimited power, I have offended Your dear devotee. Please deliver me from the terrible reaction. Surely one is freed even from hell simply by remembering Your name!”
Although not a devotee himself, the sage was aware of Visnu’s power. He stood before Him with folded palms, glancing fearfully over his shoulder as he spoke.
Narayana smiled and said, “I am completely under the control of My devotees; indeed I am not independent. Because My devotees are devoid of material desires, I sit within their hearts and am at their disposal. They are very dear to Me, as is anyone who is dear to them.”
The Lord said that He could not enjoy His own opulence and spiritual bliss without His pure devotees.
“Such persons abandon everything for my sake – homes, wives, children, riches, and even their lives. How can I forsake them? As they know nothing but Me, I know only them.”
Narayana advised Durvasa that his only recourse was to return at once to Ambarisa and seek his forgiveness.
“Offending a devotee harms one’s own self. Austerity and knowledge are great assets, but when acquired by those who are not gentle, they are the opposite.”
Durvasa could understand that his only hope for deliverance was to appease Ambarisa. He raced back as fast as he could, with the cakra closely pursuing him.
Chapter 5: Durvasa Muni’s Life Spared
When Durvasa reached the king again, he immediately fell before him and clasped his feet. “Forgive me, great king. I have offended you,” he pleaded. Ambarisa was horrified to see the sage in such imminent danger. Feeling himself to be at fault. he began to offer prayers to Sudarsana.
“Greatly auspicious cakra, you are fire, you are the most powerful sun, and you are the moon, master of all luminaries. You are water, earth, sky, air, the senses, and the sense objects. You are religion, truth, and sacrifice. You maintain the entire universe, and you are the supreme transcendental prowess of God.”
Understanding that Visnu and His potencies are nondifferent, Ambarisa offered many prayers, finally asking that Durvasa be spared. Satisfied with this offering, Sudarsana desisted from chasing the sage. The greatly relieved Durvasa repeatedly thanked Ambarisa. “My dear king, today I have experienced the greatness of Visnu’s devotees, for despite my offense, you prayed for my good fortune. For those who have achieved Visnu, what is impossible to do or to give up? You have saved my life, and I am deeply indebted to you.”
The sage had been gone for a full year, during which time Ambarisa had been patiently awaiting his return without taking any food. He had only drunk water. Feeling he had offended Durvasa and expecting him to return soon, he wanted to first offer food to the sage before taking his own.
When Durvasa came before him, Ambarisa fell flat before Durvasa and said, “Please be seated. Accept my worship and take your meal.”
Durvasa had never seen such a demonstration of tolerance and forgiveness. He sat down and was served a large variety of first-class preparations.
When he had eaten, he said to the king, “You must eat also. Mistakenly I considered you to be an ordinary man, but I now see that you are an elevated soul. Simply by seeing you and touching your feet, I have become pleased and satisfied.”
Durvasa said that the king’s fame would be spread throughout heaven and earth. Continuously praising Ambarisa, he rose up into the skyways and went to Brahmaloka, the highest material planet.
Although Ambarisa could understand that by Visnu’s grace he had become powerful, he was not interested in material opulence. He wanted only to serve the Lord. By that service the king had fully realized the Absolute Truth. For him even the highest material planet is no better than hell. Absorbed in thoughts of Visnu, he accepted the vanaprastha order to engage only in spiritual practice. After handing over the kingdom to his sons, he dressed in simple clothes and made his way to the forest.
Sukadeva Gosvami concluded the narration by saying, “Anyone who recites or even remembers this history of King Ambarisa will attain pure devotional service to Krishna without delay.”
Krishna Dharma is the author of the world’s best-selling English editions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He lives in London with his family. Find out more about him and read more of his writing at www.krishnadharma.com.