Yamaraja sighed, his head in his hands. Deep in the nether regions, seated on a throne in his immense hall, the great lord of death was embarrassed. His chamber, normally thronged with terror-struck people dragged before him by his fearsome servants, was deserted. By his side sat Chitragupta, the celestial scribe who recorded the deeds of all beings. He too was idle, the cloth upon which he wrote the records unmarked.
Near to Yamaraja sat the black bodied, terrifying form of Death personified. Yamaraja turned to him and said, “My life is useless. How shall I please Lord Vishnu? The servant who eats his master’s food without serving him is condemned and sinful. Just see my pitiable state!”
Meanwhile, on the Earth, Emperor Rukmangada sat in his royal court. By his side sat the beautiful Sandhyavali, his queen, and near him were his ministers and many brahmin priests. Sanskrit chants reverberated throughout the hall as the brahmins praised Vishnu and the Emperor. Light from the rising sun poured through latticed windows, and great billows of incense smoke wafted in the bright rays. Thick marble pillars that could not be encompassed by two men’s arms rose to the high ceiling, where gold embossed images of the gods looked down on the assembly.
As the chants subsided Rukmangada spoke out. “Tomorrow is Ekadashi. Send out the messengers.”
Rukmangada was deeply devoted to God and had particular faith in the great vow of Ekadashi, observing fast on the holy day of Vishnu that falls on the eleventh day of the new and full moons. It was a standing rule in his kingdom that all citizens observe this vow without fail. When Ekadashi arrived the king would despatch his soldiers and brahmins to all parts of the kingdom. They would go out with elephants bearing great drums that were beaten with a thunderous sound. The royal messengers would then loudly declare, “Tomorrow is the day of Vishnu. If any foolish person over the age of eight and under eighty-five takes food grains, he or she will be punished severely. Give charity to brahmins, hear holy narrations and take bath in sacred rivers. In this way enjoy the kingdom, but do not eat grains on Ekadashi.”
Many persons would object, presenting various reasons why they had to eat their normal meals on that day. “I am working hard and require nourishment,” some would say. Others argued, “I do not worship Vishnu. Shiva is my lord and I fast for him.” Still others would ask to be excused on the grounds of being unwell, but the brahmins would convince them all that they should observe the Ekadashi vow.
Brahmins would recite Vedic verses establishing the glory of Ekadashi in all towns and villages across the globe. “He who eats grains on Vishnu’s day consumes the sins of the world, while he who fasts earns the religious merit of the entire earth.”
As a result, all people everywhere carefully observed Ekadashi, and thus after death each and every one of them went directly to Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu’s eternal residence. All people dying anywhere on the earth, no matter what the cause, achieved that spiritual kingdom and never took birth again.
All the hells became devoid of sinful beings. The frightening, thorn-filled pathway leading to Yamaraja’s hall was empty of all beings. Scorched by the unrelenting heat of the twelve sun-like Adityas, it lay cracked and broken. Even the higher worlds of the gods were abandoned, as they received no offerings or sacrifice, and no men were going to heaven, for they completely bypassed the celestial regions as they rose to the highest abode. Everyone had given up all religious rituals save and except the vow of Ekadashi. They made no offerings to their ancestors, nor gave charitable gifts, visited pilgrimage sites or performed any other rite. They simply fasted on Vishnu’s day and thereby achieved all success in life.
* * *
In the course of his cosmic travels the great sage Narada observed that heaven and hell had become empty. Wondering much, he went to Yamaraja’s palace and, after bowing before that mighty god, said, “My dear lord, great judge of all beings, what has happened? No cry is heard in your courtyard, where formerly the agonised screams of countless sinful persons resounded. Chitragupta sits like a sage observing the sacred vow of silence. Why does no wicked person come here? What is the reason for this astonishing occurrence, never before seen?”
Yamaraja, his great black staff in hand, turned toward Narada. “Wise one, you should know that ruling over the earth now is the saintly king Rukmangada. It is on his account that I have become redundant and Chitragupta gazes vacantly about, his cloth cleared of all records.”
Yamaraja told the sage about Rukmangada’s edict regarding Ekadashi. “Hence it is he who has divested me of my service to Vishnu. Thanks to him the path to Vishnu’s immortal residence has become smooth and polished. Chitragupta and the other writers are taking rest and I sit here like a wooden deer. I have lost all desire for my post as the world’s guardian.”
Yamaraja informed Narada that he intended to visit Brahma, the lord of all the gods. “I shall apprise him of my plight and seek his assistance. Soon I shall be the sole resident of hell, for a servant who does not do his master’s work but goes on enjoying his wealth is a highly sinful man.”
Yamaraja rose from his throne and departed for Brahma’s planet. Behind him followed both Narada and Chitragupta. Rising to the highest region of the universe they reached the spotless abode of Lord Brahma. There the four Lokapala gods who guard the four quarters of the cosmos were worshipping him. He was surrounded by the personified forms of all aspects of the creation, some embodied and some bodiless. The Vedas, Puranas and Epics were serving him in person, along with the oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, ages, seasons, days, nights, constellations, truth and falsehood, happiness and distress, success and failure, and countless other existences. The three material modes, goodness, passion and ignorance, also attended him in person and numerous great sages were offering praise and prayers. Personified emotions such as confusion, calmness, fear, elation and anger stood by his side.
Like a bashful bride Yamaraja entered in amongst all these beings and went before Lord Brahma with head bent, looking down at the floor.
Seeing Yamaraja the people there were surprised. Some of them remarked to each other, “What is this? How is the son of the sun god here? He is never idle even for a moment. How too is his clerk Chitragupta present here? He too never knows any rest. Surely this is the wonder of wonders that we see his cloth wiped clean. It has never been seen before.”
As they spoke Yamaraja fell flat before Brahma, like a tree cut at its root. He cried out, “Save me! Save me! Lord of the gods, I am oppressed and overwhelmed. You are my lord. See me now, sunk in despair.”
Yamaraja became unconscious and a great tumult arose in the hall as many persons spoke out. “He who causes the distress of all beings is now himself distressed. Surely the saying that one who gives pain to others will soon also suffer is true. No one who commits an evil act ever attains auspicious results.”
The powerful wind-god Vayu stood up and spoke out. “Do not malign this dear servant of the Lord.”
With his brawny arms Vayu slowly raised Yamaraja and placed him on a seat. Yamaraja appeared as if he was about to run away, but Vayu pacified him and said, “Who has attacked you? How have you been displaced from your kingdom and sent here? Tell us everything. I am sure Lord Brahma will remove your grief.”
Yamaraja looked up and addressed Brahma in a voice choked with tears. “My lord, grandsire of all, hear my words. Humiliation in one’s endeavours is a pain worse than death. One appointed to a post who does not carry out his master’s orders falls into the dark and fearful hell known as Andha Kupa. He is then born as a worm in decaying wood.”
Yamaraja spoke with difficulty. The assembly of celestials and sages listened in silence as he went on. “A selfish person who robs his master will become a dull witted house mouse for three hundred Kalpas, while he who shirks his work will take birth as a cat.”
Yamaraja knew well the various consequences attendant on all kinds of acts as it was his job to mete out those results. As the powerful lord of justice and death he was empowered by the Supreme Lord to know the acts of all embodied beings. These were kept on record by Chitragupta and read out to the souls when they were brought before him. They would then be awarded the appropriate consequence.
“O my lord! At your command and after careful consultation with sages and study of sacred texts I have administered justice and governed the subjects of this world, commending the meritorious and condemning the sinful. However, I have today been overpowered by King Rukmangada.”
On the mention of Rukmangada’s name a murmur went around the assembly. His fame had reached even to Brahma’s abode. Yamaraja described how the people had abandoned all other religious practices save and except the Ekadashi vow.
“But despite these delinquencies they go without fail to Vaikuntha, taking with them their fathers, grandfathers, mother’s fathers and three full generations of ancestors. Even those already in hell are being quickly released.”
Yamaraja was concerned by the widespread lack of religious practise. He was not averse to Vaishnavas–he also worshipped Vishnu–but it was not just the devoted followers of Vishnu who were avoiding his jurisdiction. Sinful men who followed Ekadashi by force were also escaping justice. How could it be right? Indirectly he glorified the Ekadashi vow. It was clear that worship of Vishnu was all a man required for perfection.
Yamaraja went on, “Never mind how they die, whether by drowning, falling from a height, eaten by animals or whatever, whether sinful or pious, pure or impure, they go straight to Vishnu’s abode. Oh, how can I tolerate this minimising of my position and service?”
The god begged Brahma to take action. Soon everyone in the whole world would be transported to Vaikuntha thanks to Rukmangada.
“For one thousand years he has ruled the earth and has already liberated innumerable persons. Surely Vishnu’s abode is unlimited since it is not filled with the floods of persons cropping up there like lotuses.”
Yamaraja raised his great jewelled rod of justice and also pointed toward Chitragupta’s cloth. “Both the staff and the cloth of decrees given to me by you have become useless. I now serve no purpose whatsoever and I have therefore fallen at your feet. Save me, lord.”
The four headed Brahma smiled down at Yamaraja. Seated on his throne he glowed like many suns, his ethereal body adorned with shining silk and celestial gems. His voice reverberated with a transcendent power as he replied to Yamaraja.
“Why are you disturbed? Distress at the good points of others is an agony that endures until death. It is no wonder that all men are bypassing you to reach Vishnu’s abode. A single obeisance to Krishna is equal to ten great Vedic sacrifices. Indeed, one who performs such sacrifices may well take rebirth, but one who bows before Krishna is never reborn.”
Brahma instructed that a person need only chant Krishna’s name to achieve the greatest possible success in life. “No matter how sinful, if one remembers the Lord’s name at death he is liberated from the bondage of worldly existence. What wonder is there then that one gets liberation by fasting on Vishnu’s day?”
Brahma chided Yamaraja, who stood with his head bowed. “Wicked fellow. You are fortunate you have not been ground to a powder or tightly bound up for disrespecting the Vaishnavas. The king’s employees should never apprehend favourites of the king. Son of Bhaskara, I may be able to help you with the devotees of Shiva or Surya or my own devotees, but never with those of Hari. He is the Lord of all.”
Brahma declared that the Vaishnavas should not be restrained even if they fraudulently observe Ekadashi. “I do not know if I can assist you. It may even destroy my own body if I try. My very post as Brahma has been earned by associating with Vishnu’s devotees.”
Yamaraja was disconsolate. He felt unable to return to his post. “I cannot discharge my duty while Rukmangada rules over the world. If you can somehow shake him from his courageous resolve I shall feel that all my ends are achieved. I will never arrest anyone who calls out Hari’s name. Those intelligent persons are beyond my jurisdiction and are worshipable by even the heaven walkers. But, lord, give me at least some service.”
Brahma sat in meditation for some moments. Suddenly from out of his form there appeared a celestial maiden of resplendent beauty. Adorned with all ornaments of burnished gold and silver, bedecked with numerous jewels, a golden girdle around her wide hips, she glanced about here and there enchanting all who saw her. Everyone in the assembly gazed at her with unblinking eyes, but Brahma closed his own eyes and endeavoured strongly to control his mind.
Brahma remembered Vedic instructions. Anyone looking lustfully at his own daughter is liable to fall into a terrible hell. In any event, a woman’s body is nothing more than a cage of bones covered by a mass of flesh, filled with mucus, pus, stool and urine. What intelligent man will be enamoured of such a body?
Thinking in this way Brahma took courage and opened his eyes to speak with the girl. “Fair complexioned lady, I have mentally created you in order to madden men’s minds.”
The maiden bowed to Brahma and said, “Surely it is so. Just see the entire universe bewildered and falling into senselessness simply upon seeing me. Even among yogis and sages there is no man who will not be agitated when his eyes fall upon me.”
She asked Brahma to command her. “Tell me who I should delude and consider it done. Even a stone will become infatuated upon seeing me, what then of a man? Until a beautiful woman casts her love-laden glances upon a man he remains firmly on the path of fortitude.”
Mohini compared the power of a woman to that of a weapon. Like arrows drawn back to the ear that pierce through the heart, glances discharged from the well-drawn bows of the eyebrows penetrate a man’s heart and end all his vows and determination.
Brahma smiled. “You have spoken the truth. There is nothing you cannot achieve. You are attracting even my mind despite my steadying it with the goad of perfect knowledge. Upon seeing you the very universe has become motionless.”
Brahma instructed her to go to the earth and appear before Rukmangada. She would find him on Mount Mandara. “There you should wait, playing upon your lute and singing. Enchanted by that song he will come to you, most beautiful one, desiring your hand. Then you must make a request of him.”
The four-faced deity instructed her to accept the king’s proposal of marriage, but only on condition that he promised to do whatever she asked of him. “He will not refuse and when the time is right and he is excessively eager to lie with you, then you should laughingly take his hand and remind him of his promise.”
Brahma told her that she should then ask Rukmangada to give up fasting and practising severe vows on Ekadashi, telling him that it is a hindrance to their relationship. “Tell him that you desire his company continuously, but due to his vow he abandons you for three nights.”
Brahma then told her about the king’s son, Dharmangada. He surpassed even his illustrious father. The prince had conquered the entire universe, bringing all beings under his father’s sway. Powerful like the sun, he was dearer to Rukmangada than his own life.
Brahma continued, “Dear child, if the king refuses your request to give up his vows on Ekadashi then you should ask for Dharmangada’s head.”
Brahma gave the name Mohini to the girl and told her to set off on her mission. As she left he said, “Either the king shall abide by your desire and the people will again approach Yamaraja, or he will slay his son and go with him to Vishnu’s immortal abode.”
Mohini departed and Yamaraja, watching the slender limbed Mohini going away, felt sure his problem would soon be solved.
* * *
On earth King Rukmangada called for his son Dharmangada. Sitting with him in his royal court, he said, “I have discharged my duties as king. All men are attaining salvation and the earth prospers. I wish now to go to Mandara Mountain and enjoy some rest in that celestial region, roaming the forests and seeing the delightful lakes and flower filled meadows.”
The king told his son that he was entrusting the kingdom to him and Dharmangada replied, “Enjoy whatever pleasures you desire. Surely I shall bear the heavy burden of your kingdom, ensuring that all your edicts are kept. No other holy virtue appeals to me other than following your directives. A son who disobeys his father becomes degraded despite engaging in all kinds of religious practice.”
The prince bowed and touched his father’s feet. With tears in his eyes Rukmangada lifted him up and embraced him. He then went to his own quarters. After he had gone Dharmangada summoned the leading citizens and said, “While I hold the rod of justice even Yamaraja cannot be the chastiser. Always do your duty and remember Lord Vishnu. Offer the results of your work to him and abandon all sense of proprietorship. Do not take food on Vishnu’s day. In this way be happy in this life and go to Vaikuntha after death.”
The prince ruled the kingdom exactly as his father had done. A steady stream of souls continued to rise up to Vaikuntha, while Yamaraja waited patiently for Mohini to exert her irresistible charms on Rukmangada.
Seeing the virtue of his son, Rukmangada said to his wife, “We are blessed. Our son is as white as the moon on earth. If a son is humble, heroic and full of high virtues then his parents certainly attain salvation.”
Expressing his delight that Dharmangada had assumed full responsibility for the kingdom, the king told Sandhyavali that he wished now to go the forest. “There shall I indulge in sports and other diversions. Released from the burden of protecting the people I can move about freely.”
Sandhyavali shared her husband’s happiness on seeing their son so capable, but she understood that by sports he meant hunting. It was common enough for kings to hunt, as they had to constantly practise their skills at weaponry. But now Rukmangada intended to retire from active duty so what was the need for him to take up weapons again?
The queen said, “The Vedas praise non-violence as the highest virtue. They also condemn a man with adult children who still pursues worldly pleasures.”
Sandhyavali suggested he remain at home and worship Lord Vishnu. Rukmangada said, “I have no desire to slay animals. My wish is only to protect the sages in the forest and to get their holy company. Hunting is merely a pretext.”
The king enjoyed spending time with the sages, hearing them recite scriptural stories and teachings. There was a symbiotic relationship between the rulers and the brahmins in which each protected the other. The brahmins gave protection by delivering spiritual instructions, ensuring that kings remained on the upward path of virtue, while kings protected brahmins by ensuring they had their necessities, and also that they did not face danger from wild animals, Rakshasas and thieves.
Rukmangada had this in mind as he set off for the forest. He strapped on his jewelled sword and hung his long, gold inlaid bow across his back. Servants fetched his great black steed and he swung himself into the ornamented saddle. He turned to the soldiers following him. “We ride for Mandara Mountain.”
Spurring on his horse, Rukmangada went at such a speed that no one could keep pace with him. The horses, elephants and chariots in his entourage fell far behind, while the ordinary foot soldiers fell unconscious as they tried to keep up.
It was a four or five day ride to Mandara Mountain but the king arrived there within a single day, keen as he was to see the sages. He reached a beautiful hermitage at the foot of the mountain, which abounded in flowering and fruit-laden trees. Sweet fragrances were carried on the cool breeze and the sounds of Vedic chants filled the air. Pleased and pacified in mind simply by entering that spiritual atmosphere the king dismounted. He went into the hermitage and saw the lustrous sage Vamadeva who was surrounded by thousands of disciples. The sage resembled a blazing fire covered by countless sparks and Rukmangada immediately fell flat before him.
Vamadeva offered blessings and said to his disciples, “Here is the Emperor Rukmangada. Offer him due respects.”
The disciples had the king sit upon a seat of kusha grass then worshiped him with various sacred articles and gave him cool water to drink. The king then folded his palms and addressed Vamadeva.
“On seeing your holy self who is ever absorbed in divine meditation my sins are destroyed and all my pious acts have borne fruit.”
Vamadeva smiled. “I think it is I who am blessed by your presence. You are a highly praiseworthy Vaishnava. What other king on earth could vanquish Yamaraja and lead the entire world to Vaikuntha? The path to hell is empty and desolate as a result of your great deeds.”
Vamadeva praised the king at length. Rukmangada was a rare soul, a great exemplar among monarchs. The sage went on, “Any king who does not worship Vishnu but turns instead to other gods is like a woman who abandons her husband for a paramour. You have acted quite in accordance with Vedic direction and are therefore supremely blessed.”
The king bowed low in humility. “I am not like this. Indeed I am not even equal to the dust of your feet. It is only by the grace of brahmins like yourself that one can achieve devotion for Vishnu. By offending them a person loses all divine favour.”
Vamadeva replied, “I wish to grant you a boon. Ask for whatever you wish.”
The king raised his hands in protest. “I have received everything I desire by simply seeing your two feet. But I do have one question. I am supremely happy, my wife and son are both devoted and I face no difficulties whatsoever. By what merit has this come about? Is it due to acts in this birth or the previous one?”
The sage sat in silent meditation for some moments and then replied, “You were formerly a shudra, oppressed by poverty and harassed by a wicked wife. You maintained yourself by working for others and receiving wages. In this way your life passed in misery.
“Once you came in contact with pure-minded brahmins who inspired you to go on pilgrimage. You travelled to many places and finally came to Mathura where you bathed in the Yamuna. You heard holy recitations of the Puranas and were instructed in how to observe the sacred vow of abstaining from sleep, known as Asunya Sayana Vrata. Performing this for Vishnu’s pleasure you gained immeasurable benefit and as a result took this present birth. Now you worship Vishnu through the Ekadashi vow. Surely you will soon reach him.”
Vamadeva asked Rukmangada if there was anything else he desired and the king asked his permission to visit the Mandara Mountain. “I have given charge of the kingdom to my son and wish to rest awhile.”
The sage said, “This is the duty of the son, to relieve his father of all anxiety. He who carries out his father’s order to the best of his ability derives the benefit of a daily bath in the Ganges.”
Vamadeva blessed the king and told him to go to wherever pleased him. Rukmangada bowed before the sage and took his leave, riding out toward the great Mandara hill. As he approached that sacred place he saw the mountain shining in the distance like a mass of brilliant gems. As he got closer it looked like a great heap of liquid gold shining with the splendour of a hundred suns. Decorated with metals and minerals of many colours, it was full of blossoming trees and embellished with many caves where effulgent sages lived. The scent of flowers mixed with the aroma of ripe, pot-like fruits that resembled the breasts of young women. Crystal waterfalls cascaded down the mountainside and countless rivulets of clear water snaked through delightful bowers and meadows. Bevies of celestial maidens laughed as demigods courted them, their anklets creating a tinkling sound that mingled with buzzing of countless bees and the calling of the cuckoos.