Mahabharata Stories: 18 – Freedom from a Golden Cage

Whether one is born into a royal household or in a poverty-stricken family, the one thing common in yearning is freedom. Prince Siddhartha, though lacked not in any of the comforts and attendances common men yearn for, wanted to break free of the bondage simply to have freedom of experience; ultimately he gained in status to be the revered Buddha. This quest for freedom is the only irrefutable meaning to life that man has been able to find so far.

Sage Lomasa, the companion and guide to the Pandavas on their pilgrimage while in exile, narrated to them the significance of the places they visited. One of the places was the hermitage of sage Vibhandaka. The sage lived with his son Rishyasringa the life of hermits, the latter not having come in contact with any human being other than his own father. Thus, Rishyasringa, having learned from his father and having gained great spiritual heights, had the strength of purity that summed up immensely to his powers.

The country of Anga was once afflicted by acute famine and the king, Romapada, approached learned men for a solution. They told him: There is a young sage by name Rishyasringa who, we have heard, has the power to bring rain and fertility to any place he sets foot on. If you can bring him here, our problems would be solved.

The king then made plans to have Rishyasringa brought to the kingdom. Accordingly, he arranged for beautiful damsels to entice the sage. The damsels, trapped between the anger of the king and of sage Vibhandaka, cautiously planned their move.


They made up a boat to look like an ashrama with gardens all around and floated it close to Vibhandaka’s hermitage. Fortunately sage Vibhandaka was away at the time. Taking the opportunity, the leader of the damsels accosted young Rishyasringa, pretending to be a Rishi herself. The young sage, experiencing human contact for the first time, was spontaneously drawn to the beautiful woman.

The whole situation now in her hands, she allured the sage with sweet words, gifts and flowers and gentle caresses. Then she left.

When sage Vibhandaka returned, he was shocked to see the complete change in the environs and, above all, the anxiety about his son’s usually placid face. When he enquired of him what had happened, the pure Rishyasringa said: A Rishi of immense beauty was here and I am unable to think of anything but him! I yearn to see him!

Vibhandaka guessed what had occurred. He told Rishyasringa: The one you saw was no Rishi but a demon bent upon hindering our penances and austere practices. Do not encourage such creatures!

Vibhandaka searched the forest for the person responsible for his son’s pitiable state but in vain. One day, soon afterwards, when he was away, the damsel came to Rishyasringa and took him to the boat. Another courtesan cut the boat off from its moorings and it sailed to Anga.

As foretold by the learned ones, rain lashed the country the moment Rishyasringa set foot on Anga’s soil. Rishyasringa was treated royally and Romapada gave him his daughter Shanta in marriage.

But the fear that lurked on in the king’s mind was of Vibhandaka. Again, taking the advice of the learned men, he sake to placate the sage by ensuring that there were men at his service all along the route he took and that he received cows and other such gifts. Vibhandaka, coming to learn of the happenings, proceeded angrily towards Anga but was gradually calmed down by the services and gifts he received along the route to the capital.

He was received with due honours by the king. He blessed his son, now sitting on the throne like a god in heaven, and his beautiful bride. He told him: Act in a manner pleasing to the king. Be here until you beget a son and then join me in the forest.

In course of time Rishyasringa and Shanta repaired to the forest and lived their lives in worship of God.


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