Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Category: Mythical Mondays

#MythicalMondays – Sampati

Most of us are aware of Jatayu and his role in Ramayana. This post is about his lesser known brother Sampati. Sampati turned out to be crucial in Sita’s search in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

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The great king Daksha Prajapati (father of Sati, Shiva’s consort) was one of the Manasa Putras of Lord Brahma, born from his right thumb. Daksha had two wives; Prasuti and Panchajani. Vinata was one of the daughters of Daksha and Panchajani. She, along with twelve other sisters, was married to sage Kashyapa.

Vinata had two sons with Kashyapa, Aruṇa and Garuda. She brought them out as eggs. She was promised that she will have two powerful sons when the eggs hatch. However, out of impatience and curiosity she broke one of them. Aruna, radiant and reddish as the morning sun, was born from the broken egg. Due to premature breaking of the egg, Aruṇa was not as bright as the noon sun as he was promised to be. Aruṇa’s brother, Garuda, was born at full term, and eventually became the main vehicle of Lord Vishnu. Aruṇa supposedly was the charioteer of Surya, the Sun God.

Sampati and Jatayu were the sons of Aruna. Sampati and Jatayu were giddha (vultures) of the Deva (demi-gods) dynasty. Sampati was the King of Vultures and he was an old friend of Dasharatha (Ram’s father). He was the elder brother of Jatayu.

As young children they used to compete with each other as to who could fly higher. They could fly higher and higher than any other bird in the sky. On one such occasion, Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get charred by the scorching sun rays. Sampati saved his younger brother by spreading his own wings over him, protecting him from the hot flames of sun. But in this attempt Sampati got injured and lost his wings forever. Wingless, he fell down on to the earth near the Vindhya Mountains by the Southern Sea. Jatayu also was no longer able to fly and fell near the banks of Godavari River. This way, the two brothers got separated from each other.

Sage Chandrama informed Sampati that he will have to wait there till Lord Vishnu’s incarnation reached the place and restored his wings.

Later on in Ramayana, when Sita was abducted by Ravana, Jambuvant and Hanuman led Sugriva’s army of monkeys and reached the seashore in search of Sita. Tired and exhausted, they had collapsed on the sand when an old and hungry Sampati came out of the cave and thanked the Lords for bringing him food.

Picture Courtesy – Good Kids

Jambuvant told Angad how ironical life was. He said how this vulture was waiting to feast on them while another blessed vulture named Jatayu tried to rescue Sita from Ravana when he was on his way to Lanka after kidnapping Sita. They also informed him that Jatayu had fought a fierce battle with Ravana before he was defeated and his wings were cut. When Rama and Lakshmana reached there searching for Sita, they found an injured Jatayu. A dying Jatayu informed Rama about his fight with Ravana and also informed them the direction in which Ravana had taken Sita.

The moment he heard of Jatayu’s death, Sampati wanted to perform his last rites. The monkey army helped him in this. Afterwards Sampati, who could see beyond what others could see, informed them of how Ravana had taken Sita across the sea to Lanka in his Pushpaka Vimana. He also told them that Sita was waiting for Rama in the Ashok Vatika underneath a tree. At this time Sampati’s wings were healed. After thanking Jambuvant, Hanuman and the monkey army, Sampati flew away.

#MythicalMondays – Bali Stones in Temples

I belong to the coastal state of Kerala which is popular for its coconut palm trees, spices, natural beauty and most of all, its temples.

My Ammamma (maternal grandmother) used to tell me that our house was earlier a Mana/Illam (the house of Namboothiris or the Brahmins of Kerala; also called Brahmaalayam or Mana) and it came with a Paambu Kaavu (abode of the snakes) which included Brahmarakshassu (the spirit of a Brahmin). My childhood vacations were by default spent in this house with a large compound and hence most of the stories I remember revolve around this place.

Brahma Rakshas is actually the spirit of a Brahmin, a dead scholar of high birth, who has done evil things in his life or has misused his knowledge, who has to suffer as a Brahm Rakshas after his or her death. The earth-bound duties of such a scholar would be to disperse or impart knowledge to good students. If he did not do so, he would turn into a Brahma Rakshas after death which is a very fierce demonic spirit. The word Brahm means Brahmin and Rakshas, a demon. As per ancient Hindu texts they are powerful demon spirit, who have lot of powers and only few in this world can fight and over-come them or give them salvation from this form of life. It would still retain its high level of learning. But it would eat human beings. They have the knowledge of their past lives and vedas and puranas. In other words they have qualities of both Brahmin and Rakshas.

Source: Wikipedia

We used to have regular Vishnu/Devi Poojas, Naivedyams and Sarpa Pooja. As I type this I can smell the milk and jaggery based payasams, uzhunnu vada, neiyappams and the other delicacies that were served to the gods. The poojas were mostly done by my ammavan (Amma’s younger brother). It was an exciting experience. As a child, it was fun to run around plucking Tulsi and Koovalam (Bhel) leaves, jasmine and rose flowers and dehusking malar (puffed rice). The memories of those days I hold precious.

Until I got married I hadn’t visited any place in Kerala except the houses of both grandparents and a few relatives. But I did travel the length and breadth of the state visiting various temples. Sometimes clinging on to Muthachan‘s (maternal grandfather) fingers or walking behind Amma and Mema (her younger sister).

This is what made me notice the stones that are laiden around the temple complex at various distances. These are called Bali Kallu or Bali StonesLike all children, my mischief would multiply the moment I landed in Kerala because I knew there were enough people to support and protect and acres of land to run and escape to, from Amma’s spanking. These round stones looked interesting and were nothing more than stepping stones to the innocent child in me. I used to jump around on these without any knowledge about what they were.

Amma’s punishments made me feel rebellious as she did not provide any accompanying answers to my Whys and Whats. They are sacred and we should pray, that’s all she would say. What is it? Which God are they? Why should we not step on them? My questions were always hushed and I was told God will punish me for my sins. I wanted to meet this ‘monster’ that everyone prayed and called God. I wanted to ask him in person why he will punish innocent children for asking curious questions.

Recently Li’l Love, my younger one, did the same thing and as a reflex action I scolded her. She is an improvised replica of me and hailed a number of Whats, Whys and Why nots my way. It made me research for this post.

Bali Kallu/Bali Stones

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These are small stones laid around the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) and the outer perimeter of the temple. These stones represent the Ashtadikpalakas or Lokapalakas, the rulers of the eight directions.

Utsava Bali at the Chuttambalam Balikallu (Picture Credit: Guruvayur Utsavam)

During the utsavam or annual festival in the temple, most of the ceremonies are around these Bali Kallus. The annual festival is meant to please these lesser known deities because they are the ones who take care of the village for the entire year. The main deity’s idol is brought out for “Bali” or rounds during the festival and during these rounds or pradakshinams, the various Bali stones are offered Pujas.

Ashta Dikpalas are the guardians of direction. They are:

Kubera : for North (Uttara)
Yama : for South (Dakshina)
Indra : for East (Pūrva)
Varuna : for West (Paścima)
Isana (Shiva) : for North-East (Īśānya)
Agni : South-East (Āgneya)
Vayu : North-West (Vāyavya)
Nirrti (sometimes Raksasa) : South-West (Nairṛti)

 

Apart from these there are two more deities added for the vertical directions and then the Dikpalakas are considered as being 10 or Dasa-Dikpalakas.

Brahma : Zenith (Ūrdhva)
Vishnu : Nadir (Adho)

Vastu-Shastra is strongly related with the eight directions. It defines the eating, sleeping, reading and worshiping habits. The most commonly referred example is not to sleep with your legs facing the South(Dakshina) direction.

Some temples in Kerala have Sapthamathrukkal (Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Shankari, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamundi, Indrani) in addition to these Ashtadikpalakas.  The seven mothers with the invisible presence of the Mahamaya is installed on a single granite stone on the inner balivattom at left hand side of the main shrine and parallel to the sreekovil (main temple inside the complex).

While you are completing the circumambulation, these stones must be on your right side. These stones are considered to be the hub of energies and are constantly transferring energies around the temple. This is why we are not supposed to touch or step on these because that causes a break in the transfer of energy between them.

So, the next time any child steps on these stones, kindly share the story with them instead of bashing them up without clearing their doubts.

Stay tuned every Monday for more such lesser known stories. Would appreciate your suggestions and additions to the stories. It helps us expanse our knowledge.

#MythicalMondays – Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala

Like the story of Rahu & Ketu, this story of Lord Ayyappa too begins after Samudra Manthan.

When Lord Shiva heard praises of the enchanting beauty of Mohini, the female form of Lord Vishnu, he expressed the desire to see it by himself. When he saw Mohini, Lord Shiva was overcome with passion and united with her. This union of Hari and Hara was called HariHaraMurti and from this was born Lord Ayyappa or Dharmashastha or Hariharasuthan (son of Hari and Hara).

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Birth of Ayyappa

Lord Ayyappa spent a few years of his childhood in Kailasa under the loving care of Shiva, Parvati and his brothers Ganesha and Subramanya (Karthikeya) and sister Bhadhrakali. Under the supervision of Shiva and Parvati, Ayyappa attained mastery of Vedas, Upanishads, Shastras and artillery.

One day, Lord Shiva explained to him the purpose of his life.

The Asura (demon) king Mahishasura, son of Asura Rambha, was blessed with invulnerability to all men and hence to end his terror and torture the Gods sent Goddess Durga or Shakthi. Durga fought fiercely and killed him. This enraged his cousin sister Mahishi (daughter of Karambaasura). She sought revenge against the Gods who participated in the death of her brother.

Mahishi was the cursed wife of Dattatreya (son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya), Leeladevi (daughter of sage Galava).

Mahishi  (she-buffalo) pleased Lord Brahma, the creator. She asked for the boon of invulnerability but Brahma told her that it was impossible. A cunning Mahishi then asked him for a boon that none other than the son of Lord Shiva and Vishnu shall be able to kill her. She knew it was absolutely impossible for two men to have a child as it was against the order of nature.

Lord Brahma granted her the boon to rule the Universe and being invulnerable to all men except the son of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva) who would serve as human being on earth for twelve years before he could kill her.

She thought that now she was unconquerable and hence started defeating everyone and conquering the three worlds. She tortured and defeated men (manushya on earth), demons (asuras in paataal/hell) and demi-gods (devas in swarg/heaven).

Lord Shiva tells Ayyappa that it was time for him to be born as a boy on earth and serve humanity for twelve years before fulfilling the purpose of his birth, Mahishi’s destruction. This was the purpose of the divine union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.

The king and queen of Pandalam in Kerala were childless and extremely sad about it. They were both highly religious and ardent followers of Lord Shiva. One day, the king along with his army reached the banks of river Pamba for hunting. This is where he finds Lord Ayyappa as a wailing baby boy with a gem around his neck. He was thus named, Manikandan (in Sanskrit, mani means gem and kanda means neck). King Rajashekhara of Pandya Dynasty adopts Manikandan and takes him to the palace. The king and queen raise Manikandan as their own child. After two years, the king and queen are blessed with a baby boy. They name him Rajarajan. Both the boys grew up together in the loving atmosphere of the kingdom.

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King Rajashekara of Pandalam finds Manikandan

Manikandan goes to Gurukula and masters all arts and sciences. He blesses the guru’s vision and speech impaired son with sight and speech. The Guru realizes that Manikandan was a divine form of Dharmashastha. Manikandan requests the Guru to keep this information as a secret for some more time. The Guru obliges.

When Manikandan is twelve years old, the king decides to appoint Manikandan as the crown prince. His prime minister was unhappy that the natural heir Rajarajan who was the real son of the king is not being appointed as the crown prince. He misguides the queen and makes her agree to get rid of Manikandan.

As per plan, the prime minister poisons Manikandan and applies magic and witchcraft. Manikandan becomes terribly sick and down with deadly rashes all over his body. He could not be cured by the royal physician in spite of his best efforts. This is when Lord Shiva comes in the form of a sage and cures Manikandan.

The queen now acts of having a terrible headache which no physician or sage is able to cure. The prime minister threatens the royal physician and makes him say that nothing but the milk of a tigress is required for curing the queen. But no one was ready to go to the forest and milk the tigress (puli in Malayalam).

Manikandan realizes that it was time for the fulfillment of the purpose of his divine avatar. He convinces the king that it is his duty to get the milk to cure his mother and hence he should be allowed to go to the forest. He leaves the kingdom with his bow and arrows.

Finding him alone in the forest, devas and sages appear in front of him and apprise him of the situation of Devaloka (heaven) where Mahishi had conquered Indra’s throne. Indra requests Manikandan to fight and kill Mahishi and save Devas and Devaloka.

During this time, Lord Shiva had sent Mahisha (cursed form of Dattatreya) to lure Mahishi and bring her to earth. Mahishi was so charmed that she forgot everything about the revenge and blindly followed Mahisha to earth.

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Mahishi Vadham

After a long and fierce battle Maikandan caught hold of her horns and killed her. Mahishi fell dead on the banks of the river Alasa (Azhutha) in Kerala. Manikandan jumps onto Mahishi’s dead body and performs a dance form like Tandava. The touch of Manikandan redeemed Mahishi from the curse and Leela emerged. She prayed Manikandan and asked him to take her as his consort.

The Lord declined her request since he was a bramhachari  (a celibate) for the purpose of Dharma Shasan, but agreed that she being the avatar of Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvathi combined, would be worshipped at a special shrine next to him. From then onwards she was known as Malikapurathamma. It is said that Ayyappa had promised to marry Malikapurathamma in the season when there are no kanni-ayyappans (first-timers) to the temple. Mallikapurathamma is said to be waiting eternally for that season.

Indra and the devas disguised as the tiger and his tigresses. Manikandan climbed onto the tiger and rode to Pandalam. When people saw Manikandan return with a group of tigers instead of just the milk, they bowed to him and prayed. The queen and the prime minister realized that Manikandan was no ordinary boy and sought forgiveness for their mistakes.

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Pulivahanan (One who rides the tiger)

After fulfilling the purpose of his avatar, Lord Ayyapan agreed to the wishes of his foster father, King Rajasekharan of Pandalam, and agreed to remain at the Holy Shrine of Sabarimala for the purpose of Dharmashasan in the world. Thus two adjacent temples were made by the King at Sabarimala, one for Shree Dharmasastha and the other for Malikapurathamma. Parashurama carved the figure of Lord Ayyappa and installed it on the day of Makarasankranthi.

Sabarimala is situated inside the dense forests of Periyar Tiger Reserve. ‘Sabarimala’ is derived from Sabari, a devotee of Sri Ram. The previous name of the place was Mathangamala, named after the sage Mathanga. After Sri Ram and Sabari met there, the place came to be called Sabari’s mala (mountain in Malayalam), and thus Sabarimala.

The important message given at the temple is, Tat Tvam Asi. The ultimate knowledge that each individual is a God to himself/herself. Tat Tvam Asi in Sanskrit means “That is you”. This is why the pilgrims call each other Swami.

I have always wondered why Lord Ayyappa is not known by my North-Indian friends when all the other related stories like Samudra Manthan, Rahu & Ketu and Mahishi vadham are similar. This is when I read another story online which said the union of Shiva and Vishnu, the foetus, was sent to monkey queen Anjana’s womb because it was against the order of nature for two men to have a child. The child thus born was Hanuman. This is why Hanuman is also said to be Shiva’s child. I have no idea which one is the real story but the one common thing between Ayyappa and Hanuman is that they are both brahmacharis. Irrespective of the authenticity, both the stories are equally interesting.

Do share any variations that you are aware of.

Recommended Reading: 

 

#MythicalMondays – Rahu & Ketu

Last Monday I had shared the story of Samudra Manthan/Palazhi Madhanam. I had promised last week to share Lord Ayyappa’s story today. But it had to be postponed to next Monday because this story of Rahu and Ketu was equally important to share and it had to be told to complete Lord Vishnu’s Mohini Avatar. Since this story is a continuation from there, I would suggest you to read it before going ahead.

Lord Vishnu’s Vishwa Mohini Roopam had helped the Devas obtain Amrita (the nectar of immortality) that the Asuras had snatched from Lord Dhanvantari and get rid of Sage Durvasa’s curse. Finally they defeated the Asura army lead by King Bali.

As I was going through various versions of this story I read this particular one which was new to me. Sharing it for the knowledge of my readers.

Mohini bewitched the Asuras with her beauty and made them agree to share Amrita with Devas. She had made Devas and Asuras sit in two lines. While the Asuras bedazzled by Mohini’s enchanting beauty and their desire to get married to her kept their eyes tightly shut, Mohini served Amrita to all the Devas.

One of the Asuras, Swarbhanu, opened one of his eyes and smelled something fishy. He realized that Mohini had served almost all of the contents of the pot of Amrita to all the Devas. He disguised as a Deva and quietly sneaked over to the other side and sat next to Surya and Chandra. Mohini did not notice this changeover and mistaking Swarbhanu for a Deva, she served Amrita to him as well.

Swarbhanu was the son of Viprachit (father) and Simhika (mother). Simhika was the daughter of Hiranya- Kashyapa the great demon who was the father of Prahlaadha, the greatest devotee of Lord Vishnu.

The Devas were about to consume the Amrita when Surya and Chandra noticed something amiss. They saw and extra Deva on their side of the line whom none of them had ever met before. While gulping down the Amrita, Surya looked closely and screamed, “He is not a Deva.” Almost simultaneously Chandra also shouted, “Oh Yes! He is not a Deva. I have never seen him before this.”

By now Swarbhanu had taken the Amrita in his mouth and was about to gulp it when Mohini changed into Lord Maha Vishnu’s Vishwaroopam form. He immediately charged his Sudarshan Chakra towards Swarbhanu’s neck, preventing him from swallowing the Amrita.

Picture Source: Pinterest

Since a bit of Amrita had flowed down his throat, Swarbhanu had become immortal. He did not die but his head was separated from his body. Lord Brahma made Swarbhanu’s head and body join with a snake. The head joined a snake’s body and came to be known as Rahu and the snake’s head joined with Swarbhanu’s body and came to be known as Ketu.

Lord Brahma granted Rahu and Ketu a boon for accepting this new form, a place amidst the planets, the Navagrahas. Depicted as a serpent with no body riding a chariot drawn by eight black horses, Rahu is one of the navagrahas. The other name of Rahu is Bhayanaka. It is believed that Rahu occasionally swallows the sun and the moon for pointing him out to Lord Vishnu and this is what causes the solar and lunar eclipses on our planet.

According to Buddhist Mythology, in the Candima Sutta and the Suriya Sutta, Rahu attacks Surya and Chandra before being compelled to release them by their recitation of a brief stanza conveying their reverence for the Buddha. The Buddha responds by enjoining Rahu to release them, which Rahu does rather than have his “head split into seven pieces”. The verses recited by the two celestial deities and the Buddha have since been incorporated into Buddhist liturgy as protective verses recited by monks as prayers of protection.

This is something I came across on Wikipedia. I am not sure of the truth about it, but I am amazed at how different mythologies are interlinked.

Rahu and Ketu’s power increases between sunset to sunrise. Their power of vengeance is so strong that they cause an astrological moment called the Rahu Kaalam that stays every day during the day for 1 hour and 30 minutes. This time is considered to be highly inauspicious for undertaking any good deeds. Now I know that these mythological stories made my Muthachan (maternal grandfather) stop us for a while before stepping out of the house for my Mema’s (maternal aunt) matchmaking.

Rahu and Ketu control over one’s courage, action, sorrow, valour, sin and provide for mental troubles and worries in current life depending on one’s own past karmas in their past lives. Rahu governs over the head portions, while Ketu governs over one’s ears, speech and hearing etc.

Once Hanuman was chasing Surya mistaking him for a ripe fruit. That’s when he spotted an unusual Rahu with the head attached to a snake’s body. He looked like a fire-spitting dragon. Hanuman chased Rahu. Rahu ran for his life and sought help from Indra. Indra attacked Hanuman’s jaw with a strong thunderbolt. This is the incident that made Vayu, Hanuman’s father, to withdraw air from the world. Vayu was later pacified by all the Gods and Hanuman was granted lots of boons including Lord Brahma’s powerful boon of escaping even the Brahmastra.

Another story from the Ramayana says that King Ravana had once imprisoned all the Navagrahas (the nine planets) and Hanuman had got them released. All grahas thanked Hanuman. It is thus believed that the negative influences of any graha can be overcome by worshiping Lord Hanuman.

Recommended References:  The lesser known story of Rahu and Ketu!

#MythicalMondays – Samudra Manthan/Palazhi Madhanam

Amma and Achan recently had the good fortune of organizing an Ayyappa Villakku here in Delhi. There were bhajans reciting the story of Lord Ayyappa, his birth and the purpose of his avatar (incarnation). As I told the meaning of those Malayalam bhajans to the girls, their curious minds kept filling up with questions and questions. This made me dig through my cupboard at my parents’ house and dig out an old treasure. A book on Lord Ayyappa that my Muthachan (maternal grandfather) had arranged for me through a devotee visiting the temple. The search was absolutely worth it. Sharing the story here as the first blog post on my new blog Wings and Chirps. 

Those Old Books – Treasures

Once Rishi Durvasa came to meet Indra. As Indra got down from his elephant and bowed down to him, the happy sage gave him a divine flower garland. Indra put the garland on the elephant’s trunk and began styling his hair. Meanwhile, the fragrance of the garland invited thousands of bees which irritated the elephant who threw it down and crushed it under its feet. This enraged the sage as the garland was to be treated as a prasada or religious offering. Durvasa cursed Indra and all devas to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune.

Indra and devas ran to Lord Vishnu who suggested that the Amrita (the nectar of immortality) that would emerge from Palazhi Madhanam (Samudra Manthan; churning of the ocean) alone can cure them of the affects of this curse.

The churning of the Kshirasagara (the ocean of milk) was an elaborate process. Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod, and Vasuki, the king of serpents, who abides on Shiva’s neck, became the churning rope. The demons who demanded to hold the head of the snake were poisoned by fumes emitted by Vasuki. The gods and demons still pulled back and forth on the snake’s body alternately, causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean. Between the churning, the mountain began to sink. Vishnu, in his Kurmavatar (turtle) supported the mountain on his back.

A number of treasures were released from the Ocean of Milk during churning. The lethal poison known as Kalakooda Visham or Halahala escaped from the mouth of the serpent king. It was so powerful that it could destroy all of creation. Lord Shiva consumed the poison to protect the universe. Goddess Parvati grabbed Shiva’s throat in an effort to prevent him from swallowing the poison which was powerful enough to destroy Gods too. As a result, Shiva’s throat turned blue. Thus, Lord Shiva is also called Neelakantha (the blue-throated one).

The divine treasures that emerged from the sea were, Goddess Lakshmi, the Apsaras (the divine nymphs), Varuni (Goddess of Wine; consort of Varuna), Kamadhenu (the wish-granting divine cow), Airavata and several other elephants, Uchhaishravas (the divine 7-headed horse), Kausthubham (a rare gem), Kalpavriksha (wish-fulfilling divine tree), Parijat (the divine flowering tree with blossoms that never fade or wilt), Sharanga (the bow of Lord Vishnu), Chandra (the moon), Shankha (Vishnu’s conch) and many others.

Finally, Lord Vishnu emerged in Dhanvantari avatar (heavenly physician) with the pot containing Amrita. Devas (demi-gods) and Asuras (demons) started fighting for the nectar of immortality. Garuda took the pot and flew from the battle ground.

 

The demi-gods approached Lord Vishnu who took the form of the enchanting damsel Mohini to distract the Asuras, take the Amrita and distribute it among the Devas. She told the Asuras that they have to keep their eyes shut till she serves them all and that she will marry the last one to open his eyes. While the Asuras kept their eyes closed in order to win Mohini, she took the Amrita and served it to all the Devas thus curing them of Durvasa’s curse. The rejuvenated Devas then defeated the Asuras.

More on Mohini and her son with Lord Shiva, Lord Ayyappa, in the next post. Stay tuned.

***Do share any variations of the story that you are aware of. This post is strictly based on the stories I have heard, read from the Bhagavatha and other texts and books.

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