Mahabharata Ch 51-53, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 41-50 « Ch 51-53  » Ch 54-56]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:51; Shlokas:23
Janamejaya was impressed with Astika, who, while still a child, spoke "like a wise old man", and wanted to grant him a boon. The sadasyas agreed with the king, "but not before Takshaka" had been consigned to the sacrificial fire. Janamejaya asked the hotar to speed up the sacrifice so that Takshaka came there without delay. The ritvijas informed Janamejaya that the shastras had revealed, and the fire confirmed it, that Takshaka had taken refuge in Indra's palace. Suta Lohitaksha informed Janamejaya that Takshaka was was protected by Indra and that the fire would not be able to harm him. An angry Janamejaya asked the priests to continue with their sacrifice. Soon enough, Indra himself arrived, with Takshaka hidden in his garments. Janamejaya told his priests to hurl Takshaka along with Indra himself if Takshaka was hiding in Indra's palace. Soon, Takshaka's "terrible roars and fearful cries" could be heard, and the priests informed the king that Takshaka had been abandoned by Indra, his body "disabled through our mantras", and that it was now "proper for you to grant a boon to this best of Brahmanas." Janamejaya agreed.
Astika asked that the sacrifice be stopped. An unhappy Janamejaya offered Astika "gold, silver, cows or whatever else you wish to possess" and repeatedly asked him to choose a different boon, but he refused. The sasasyas then "unanimously" told the king to "[L]et the Brahmana have his boon."

[The perils of granting a boon without understanding its implications is again evident here.]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:52; Shlokas:22

Shounaka asked Souti to recount the names of all the snakes that had fallen in to the fire at the snake-sacrifice. Souti replied that there were "many thousands, millions and tens of millions" of snakes and that he was unable to count all of them. Souti then recounted the names of chief ones in Vasuki's, Takshaka's, Airavata's, Kouravya's, and Dhritarashtra's family that fell into the fire.

[A total of 89 names are recounted by Souti. Among the snake "Dhritarashtra's" lineage is a snake named Shakuni! These are, obviously, different from the Kuru king and the Gandhara prince.
This chapter seems like a later insertion, since there is a clear break of continuity from the preceding chapter to this one. If you read chapter 51 and then 53, there is continuity. ]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:53; Shlokas:36

Thus Janamejaya granted Astika his boon, and the snake sacrifice came to an end. The ritvijas and sadasyas were given gifts by the king, as was Lohitaksha, the suta who had predicted the sacrifice would end because of a Brahmana. A happy Astika returned home and told his uncle and mother what had happened. The snakes all were pleased and asked what boon they could grant Astika. Astika replied that that people who read "about this virtuous act of mine with a tranquil mind in the morning and evening, have no reason to fear you." The snakes agreed.
"जरत्कारोर्जरत्कार्वां समुत्पन्नो महायशाः
आस्तीकः सत्यसंधो मां पन्नगेभ्योऽभिरक्षतु" [1.53.22]
"He who invokes the immensely famous and truthful Astika, born to Jaratkaru from Jaratkaru, will be protected from snakes."
Shounaka thanked Souti, and then asked him to recount all the "wonderful accounts" composed by Vyasa at the snake-sacrifice. Souti replied that Vyasa had recounted the "great history known as Bharata" at this snake-sacrifice, during intervals in the sacrifice.

[This ends Astika Parva.]

These chapter summaries are based on the unabridged translation of the Mahabharata done by Dr Bibek Debroy, and published by Penguin Books India, and which I have been reviewing on my blog. The Sanskrit shlokas are from the electronic text of the Mahabharata - based on John Smith's revision of Prof. Muneo Tokunaga's version of the Mahabharata Critical Edition of the text from and copyright of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.