King Harischandra arranged Shunahshepa, a brahmin boy for sacrifice to be given to Lord Varuna in place of his son Lohita which is a sin. [Reference - Ithareya Brahmana Panchika 7 Adhyaya 3]

Still, he is called Satya Harischandra. On what basis Maharshi Vasishta justified this?

  • where did you learn about this story? from upanyasa, or elders, or scriptures, or blog? reason i'm asking is that we need to check the source for any statement before researching into it. for example, consider this scenario - in my life, I have only seen white rabbits, which don't have any horns. but I read in a book that a green rabbit has 3 horns. Now, if I trust that book, I can either believe both green-rabbits and horned-rabbits. Or, if I don't trust that book, I can refuse to believe both green & horned rabbits. But I cannot believe only green and disbelieve horn, or vice-versa. – ram Dec 2 '18 at 6:52
  • since we have not personally seen 1. Satya Harischandra or 2. Shunashepa incident, and we only learned about them from books, we have to first, check whether the book is authentic, and second, either believe both, or believe neither. that's why I was asking where you learned about this story. – ram Dec 2 '18 at 6:54
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    First of all it was Harischandra's son who exchanged Shunahshepa in his place after getting pemission from Shunahshepa's parents...and Varuna agreed on it...so where is lie???...sin is different thing...so as of now ur Q is unclear... – YDS Dec 2 '18 at 11:11
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    Reference - Ithareya Brahmana Panchika 7 Adhyaya 3 – B.Chandrashekara Dec 2 '18 at 13:01
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    @B.Chandrashekara, the reason behind asking the text, was that most questions from 'pamara' (your words) arise because they either read a poorly translated text, or they misunderstood it, or they didn't read the full context, or they have malicious intent, or they just assumed somethings based on their personal knowledge/experience. it happens often on this site, that's why we ask the source of where exactly they came to such an understanding. – ram Dec 5 '18 at 3:29

From wikipedia :

King Harishchandra of the Ikshvaku dynasty had 100 wives, but no son. On advice of the sage Narada, he prayed to the deity Varuna for a son. Varuna granted the boon, in exchange for an assurance that Harishchandra would make a sacrifice to Varuna in the future. As a result of this boon, a son named Rohita (or Rohitaswa) was born to the king. After his birth, Varuna came to Harishchandra and demanded that the child be sacrificed to him. The king postponed the sacrifice multiple times citing various reasons, but finally agreed to it when Rohita became an adult. Rohita refused to be sacrificed and escaped to forest. An angry Varuna afflicted Harishchandra with a stomach illness. Rohita intermittently visited his father, but on advice of Indra, never agreed to the sacrifice.

In the sixth year of wandering in the forest, Rohita met a starving Brahmin named Ajigarta Sauyavasi, a descendant of Angiras. Ajigarta had three sons. Rohita offered Ajigarta a hundred cows in exchange for one of his sons to be sacrificed to Varuna in his place. Ajigarta agreed to the offer. He didn't want his eldest son to be sacrificed, and his wife didn't want their youngest son to be sacrificed. So, Shunahshepa—the middle son—was chosen for the sacrifice. Rohita then gave a hundred cows to Ajigarta, and took Shunahshepa and Ajigarta to the royal palace.

Varuna agreed to the replacement on the basis that a Brahmin was a worthy substitute for a Kshatriya. King Harishchandra combined the sacrifice with his own Rajasuya ceremony. Four priests were called to conduct the sacrifice: Ayasya (the udgatr), Jamadagni (the adhvaryu), Vashistha (the brahman) and Vishvamitra (the hotar). However, all of them refused to bind Shunahshepa to the sacrificial post. Ajigarta then offered to bind his son for another hundred cows. Rohita accepted the offer, and Ajigarta bound Shunahshepa to the post. However, the priests refused to slaughter him. Ajigarta then offered to sacrifice his own son in exchange for another hundred cows. The prince agreed to his demand. As Ajigarta readied to kill his own son, Shunahshepa prayed to the Rigvedic deities. With his last hymn, which invoked Ushas (the deity of the dawn), his bonds were loosened and King Harishchandra was also cured of his illness.

It was Rohita, who refused to be sacrificed (at the advice on Indra), not Harischandra. In your question, you mentioned 'Harischandra arranged'.. It was Rohita who arranged an exchange with Ajigarta, which Varuna agreed to.

Satya Harischandra is called so because he never lied.
A common definition of lie is something said or done to deceive another person intentionally. The shastra definition of truth is 'Satyam Bhoota Hitam Proktam' - that which is said in the benefit of beings (in some cases even common lie becomes vedic truth).

Anyways, since the other party here, Varuna, agreed to both the postponements of Rohita's sacrifice, and Rohita's offer to exchange himself with another person, who was also eventually saved by Rishis, where is the problem ?

  • Satisfied with the answer. Still, during his Rajasuya, he was planning to sacrifice a brahmin boy. As I learnt, as per Hindu scriptures, Holy cows and brahmins are not to be killed ( AGHNA). Such be the case, Harischandra's truthfulness to Dharma is questionable – B.Chandrashekara Dec 3 '18 at 5:08
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    Instead of Wikipedia, can you pls answer from archive.org/details/aitareyabrahmana04hauguoft/page/315 as op has doubt from this...bdw Wikipedia and original text seems to be in sync...so ur explanation would remain same...just changing the quote text and source would be enough...bdw ur wish if u want to edit or not.. :) You can copy text from here... – YDS Dec 3 '18 at 5:14
  • Scriptures have Gomedha yajna too... @B.Chandrashekara so even your questions are questionable... :) – YDS Dec 3 '18 at 5:21
  • Nevertheless, sacrificing Brahmin boy may not pass scripture scruitiny – B.Chandrashekara Dec 3 '18 at 5:49
  • @YDS, feel free to edit this answer using that.. i was initially hesitant to use wikipedia anyways but couldn't find original text. – ram Dec 3 '18 at 5:52

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