Kunti hears a cry of grief sounding throughout the brahmana's house.

The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the Mahabharata continues, the Pandavas, whom their enemies assume have burned to death, are living in Ekacakra disguised as brahmanas in the house of a brahmana family.

King Janamejaya said:

Those great warriors, the Pandavas, the sons of Kunti, went to Ekacakra. But what did they do after that, O best of brahmanas?

Sri Vaisampayana said:

The sons of Kunti did not spend much time within the brahmana's house, for disguised as humble ascetics they went out begging. As they went about collecting alms, O king, they would see the charming varieties of forests, the fascinating geological regions, and the rivers and lakes of that country. The Pandavas, by their excellent character and qualities, became a very agreeable sight for the people of the city.

The Pandavas

Every night the Pandavas would deliver their alms to Kunti, and each son would enjoy what she set aside for him. Four heroic brothers and Kunti herself would eat half of the food collected by begging, and mighty Bhima would eat the other half. As those great souls thus spent their days there, O mighty Bharata king, a long time passed.

One day, when the Bharata princes had gone out begging and Bhimasena had stayed behind to keep company with his mother, Kunti heard a terrible cry of grief sounding throughout the brahmana's house. My dear Bharata king, Kunti was a very merciful person, a godly woman with the mind of a saint, and when she heard the brahmana and his family wailing in anguish, she could not bear it.

Her heart suddenly churning with sorrow, the gentle lady called her son Bhima and in a voice filled with kindness said to him, "My son, we are living very happily in the house of the brahmana; we live as honored guests, without any strife, and completely hidden from the sons of Dhrtarastra. I am always thinking, son, whether I could possibly do something to please the brahmana, for when people live happily as guests in another's home, it is normal to offer something to the host. After all, a person's character is measured by his gratitude. When kindness is shown to a gentleman, he never forgets it, and he feels he must do even more in return. It is quite clear that some tragedy has befallen this brahmana, and if I can help him in his crisis, I will have done a good deed."

Bhima said, "We must find out what grief has arisen for this brahmana. Once we know it, I am determined to help him, even if it be a most difficult task."

O lord of men, as the two of them went on talking, they again heard a cry of anguish coming from the brahmana and his wife. Thereupon, Kunti rushed into the inner quarters of the noble brahmana like a merciful cow whose calf has been trapped. There she saw the brahmana with his wife, son, and daughter, his face transformed in grief.

The brahmana said to his wife, "What a curse, to be born in a world where our dreams go unfulfilled and instead we suffer a pain that burns like fire; we depend on others and take the deepest sorrow as our lot. To be alive is the greatest grief; to be alive is the hottest fever; to be alive and working in this world surely means to choose among conflicting delusions.

Even if a person lives alone and does not worry about worldly piety, prosperity, and bodily pleasure, a life without these is considered the greatest misery. Some people say that salvation is the greatest thing, but I have no hope that I will achieve it. And if a person acquires ordinary wealth, all hell besets him. To be greedy for wealth is the worst misery, and if one actually acquires wealth he suffers even more. And one who falls in love with his money suffers the greatest pain of all when he inevitably parts with it. In any case, I see no way to save myself from this disaster unless I flee to a safe place with my wife and children.

"You know very well, brahmana lady, that in the past I tried to get you to leave for your own good, but you did not listen to me. No matter how many times I begged you, foolish woman, all you could say was, 'I was born and raised here, and my father was born and raised here.' But your old father and mother went to heaven a long time ago, and so did your other seniors, relatives, and friends. So what pleasure is there in living here? You were so attached to your relatives that you did not listen to my words, and now your own family must perish, and I cannot stand the pain. The only solution is that I perish. I cannot bear to lose any one of my own family and go on living like a cruel and heartless man.

"I have always practiced religion together with my wife, and she is like a mother to me, always restrained, a true friend arranged by the gods. She has always helped me more than anyone in my life's progress. She was ordained for me by my venerable father and mother, and she has shared with me from the beginning all the duties and burdens of married people. My dear wife, you are an educated woman from a noble family, the mother of my children. Having accepted you in accordance with all our customs and wed you in sacred marriage with the chanting of mantras, how can I now sacrifice you, a saintly and faultless wife who are ever faithful, simply to save my own life?

"And how could I ever bring myself to sacrifice my beloved daughter, still a child, who has not even reached her full youth or developed the mature signs of womanhood. The exalted creator of this world has placed her in my care on behalf of her future husband. I aspire for higher planets where my forefathers dwell, but I can achieve them only through the goodness and piety of my daughter's son. And having brought her into this world, how could I dare abandon her?

"Some men think that a father has greater affection for his son than for his daughter, but my love is the same for both my children. On the son rests one's hopes for higher worlds, family lineage, and eternal happiness, but my daughter is an innocent child. How could I dare abandon her? If I did that, I would be rejecting my own soul, and I would suffer in the tenebrous worlds of fallen spirits. And yet if I leave them behind, it is clear that they also will not have the strength to live. To sacrifice any one of them would be an act of cruelty, condemned by the wise. Yet if I sacrifice myself, they will all die without me.

"I have fallen into such anguish, and I have no power to escape it. Oh damn! What will happen to me and my family? To die with all of them is best, for I can no more endure this life."

The brahmana's wife said, "You should never lament like that, as if you were an ordinary man. You are a brahmana, learned in the spiritual science, and under no circumstance should you lament. Destruction of the material body is inevitable; all men must die. There should be no lamentation for that which is bound to perish. Ultimately, a man cherishes all his possessions his wife, son, and daughter for his own satisfaction. The soul itself is eternal and dependent only on God. Therefore give up your anxiety through perfect spiritual knowledge, for I am determined that I myself shall go to that place. Since time began, the supreme duty for a woman in this world is to do what is best for her faithful husband, even at the cost of her life. Therefore by performing such an act, I shall bring you happiness, and I shall gain undying glory both in this world and the next.

"I shall now declare to you the religious principles that must guide our present actions, for they will clearly increase your prosperity and virtue: You have now fulfilled with me the purpose for which a man seeks a wife. I have given you a good daughter and a son, and therefore I have no further debt to you. You are capable of nourishing and protecting our two children. I cannot nourish and protect them as well as you. Without you, I would simply suffer, unable to satisfy the needs of the family. How would the two young children survive, and how would I live? Without you, I shall be an unprotected widow with two small children. How will I give a good life to my children and keep myself on the path of righteousness?

Kunti Mata

"How will I be able to protect our daughter when she is pursued by proud and indecent men unworthy of marriage with our family? Just as birds eagerly chase a piece of meat thrown on the ground, so do all men pursue and exploit a woman who has no strong man to protect her. O best of brahmanas, I will be disturbed by wicked men who will come lusting after me, and I will not have the power to stay on the godly path that is so revered by the decent.

"If you do not see to her religious education, how will I have the energy or authority to keep this young girl, your only daughter, on the path of her father and forefathers? How will I have the strength to instill good and necessary qualities in this young boy when he is fatherless and exploited all around? How will I teach him to care about religion as you do? Unworthy men will push me aside and go after your unprotected daughter, like the uncultured men who seek to force their way into the spiritual science. And if I don't want to give them this virgin girl, endowed with all your fine qualities, they will grow violent with me and take her by force, as crows steal clarified butter from the arena of sacrifice.

"When I am forced to see your son grow up unlike his father and your daughter fallen into the hands of unworthy men, and when I am despised by the people and forget my own soul in the company of polluted men, I shall undoubtedly die. My two young children will have already lost their father, and when they lose their mother there is no question but that they will perish, like two fish in a lake gone dry. Bereft of you, the three of us will thus perish without a doubt. Therefore, it is I whom you must sacrifice.

"O brahmana, for women it is the highest felicity and the noblest act to make the final journey before their husband, not to let the husband die and then try to take his place in their children's life. I am prepared to give up my son, my daughter, and all my relatives, because I live only for your sake. To live always for the good of her husband is far better for a woman than the practice of austerities, sacrificial rites, religious formulas, and all kinds of charity. That which I desire to do is a religious act, fully approved by the Supreme, and [considering the situation,] it is certainly desirable and beneficial for you and for our family.

"The sages know that a man wants children, property, and loving friends to free himself from trouble and woe, and he wants a wife for the same reason. Putting the whole family on one side and you on the other, all of us are not equal to you. That would certainly be the decision of rational people. Do with me what must be done, and act yourself to save yourself. Grant me leave, O noble one, and take good care of our two children.

"In any case, knowers of law say that the law definitely forbids the killing of women. They say that even Raksasas know these laws, and so he probably won't even kill me. Men will undoubtedly be killed, but the killing of women is doubtful. Therefore, you who know the law should send me there. I have enjoyed my life, for I have received much love and I have practiced virtue in my life. Now, having borne loving children by you, I will feel no pain by losing my life.

"I have had my children, and I am getting older. I only want your happiness. I have studied the whole situation and made my decision. Though losing me, noble man, you will find another woman, and your religious duties [as a husband and father] will again be firmly established. My gentle husband, it is not irreligious for men to take many wives, but it is most irreligious for women to betray their first husband. If you study the whole situation, you will see how abominable it is for you to sacrifice yourself. Rather, through me you must save yourself, your family, and our two children."

When the husband was thus addressed by his wife, he tightly embraced her, O Bharata, and they silently shed tears in deep anguish.

Listening to the words of her parents, who were grieving beyond measure, their young daughter felt her entire body seized by that same grief, and she said to them, "How is it that you are both so grief stricken that you wail as if there were no one to help you? I have something to say, so please listen, and then kindly do as I ask. According to our religious laws, it is I whom you must surrender. Surrender me, who without doubt am here to be given up; and thus by one, all will be saved. After all, when parents have children they think, 'My child will save me one day.' That time has now come, and you two must save yourselves with my help, for I am like a boat that will take you across the ocean of grief. Both in this world and in the next, a child is meant to save the family from the troubles of life, and that is why the wise have named the child putra, 'one who delivers from hell.' That is why grandparents always long to have children from their daughters. Now I will personally deliver my forefathers by saving the life of my father. My brother is just a child, and if you go to the next world, father, he will perish in a short time without doubt. Certainly if Father goes to heaven, my little brother will perish. The sacred offerings to the forefathers will be cut off, and that will create much suffering for them. If I am left without my father and mother and brother, then I shall go from misery to greater misery, and I would then die in a most unnatural way.

"If you, Father, along with my mother and baby brother, are free and healthy, then our family line and the offerings to the ancestors will undoubtedly go on nicely. A son is the father's very soul, and a wife is his best friend, but a daughter is simply trouble for her father. Free yourself from this trouble and engage me according to our religious laws. Otherwise, if I am deprived of my father, then wherever I go, an unprotected and wretched young girl, I shall find only misery. By executing such a difficult duty, my end will be beneficial to all. Either I shall set our family free, or else, dear Father, best of brahmanas, you will pass away, leaving me behind, and I shall become a miserable creature. Therefore you must consider me too.

"Thus for my sake, for religion's sake, and for the family's sake, noble man, sacrifice me and protect yourself, for it is I who should be given up. In the matter of an unavoidable duty, the Lord will not punish you, and the greatest good will come to me from the sacred water offered by your hand to a departed daughter.

"What could be more miserable than for you to go to heaven, Father, so that we are left to run around like dogs, begging food from others? Rather, when you and the family are freed from this trouble and are all healthy and strong, then I shall dwell in the immortal world, and my heart will be filled with joy."

Hearing from the young girl such entreaties, the father and mother, and the girl herself, all wailed and wept. Then, hearing all his family crying, the brahmana's tiny son opened his eyes wide, and the child spoke out in the broken, unclear speech of the very young.

"Daddy, don't cry; don't, Mother! Don't you, Sister!" Laughing, he went up to each of them one by one. He then took a straw in his hand and again spoke in a joyful tone. "I'll kill the man-eating Raksasa with this!"

In spite of the misery that filled their hearts, when they heard the mumbling speech of the little boy a great joy arose among them.

"Now is the time," Kunti realized, and she went to them, who were almost dead with grief, and brought them back to life with words like the immortal nectar.

Kunti Devi said, "What is the cause of all this suffering? I want to know the facts. Once I understand the situation, if there is any way to drive away your grief I shall do it."

The brahmana said, "O ascetic woman, the words you speak are to be expected from holy persons like you, but I must tell you that no human being can dispel our grief. Close to this city dwells a mighty Raksasa named Baka, and he rules the city and all the countryside. He is an evil-minded man-eater.

"That powerful and demonic Raksasa king protects the city, the countryside, and the entire state. Indeed, because of him we have no fear of other kings or creatures.

"But he has established a price for his protection: we must provide him a wagonload of rice, two buffaloes, and the person who delivers it to him. One by one, each person offers him food, and when a person's turn comes, after many years, it is not at all easy to escape. Whenever a man tries to get free of this atrocious duty, the Raksasa kills him with his wife and children and eats them. Our official king lives in Vetrakiya, but he has no plan whereby we might live in peace, forever free of this demon.

"Actually, we deserve our fate, for we have chosen to live in the domain of a weakling king. We are always in anxiety, for we have chosen the shelter of a bad king. After all, who can tell the brahmanas what they must do? The brahmanas have their own mind; they are not subservient to anyone's will. With all their saintly qualities, they blow about like the wind and go where they will like the birds.

"It is said that one should first find a good king, and after that a wife, and then one should seek one's fortune. One who gathers these three necessities will be able to maintain his relatives and children. Unfortunately, I acquired all this, but in the wrong order, and now we have fallen into the terrible calamity and are all suffering. You see, our turn has come, and it will destroy this family, for I must now pay the price of the demon's food by providing one human being. I could never raise enough money to purchase a man who would sacrifice his own life to enrich his family. And I could never bring myself to sacrifice one of my friends. I see no way to get free from the Raksasa. I have sunk into the great ocean of grief, and it is very, very difficult to escape. I shall go with all of my family to meet that Raksasa, and that hungry monster will consume all of us together."

Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Fluent in several languages, Hridayananda Dasa Goswami has extensively taught Krsna consciousness in India, Europe, the United States, and Latin America. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.