In the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma gives advice to Yudishthira and the Pandavas concerning how to be a good king and how to be good person, while he's lying on a bed of arrows after the end of the Kurukshetra war. In this chapter, Bhishma tells Yudhishthira about the importance of giving respect to Brahmanas. He recounts a number of occasions where Brahmanas used their magical powers to defeat Kshatriyas in battle:

The energy and might of those Kshatriyas who scorch everything with their energy and might become neutralised when they encounter the Brahmanas. The Bhrigus conquered the Talajanghas. The son of Angiras conquered the Nipas. Bharadwaja conquered the Vitahavyas as also the Ailas. O chief of Bharata's race. Although all these Kshatriyas were capable of using diverse kinds of arms, yet the Brahmanas named, owning only black deer skins for their emblems, succeeded in conquering them effectually.

My question is, what are the stories of all these incidents alluded to by Bhishma?

The Bhrigus defeating Talajanghas is clearly a reference to Vishnu's incarnation Parashurama, who was a Brahmana descended from Bhrigu and who defeated the king Kartavirya Arjuna and his Haihaiya army. (The Talajanghas are a tribe of the Haihaiyas.) And the sage Bharadwaja defeating the Vitahivyas is a reference to the story of how Bharadwaja went into the body of the prince Pratardana in order to fight the Vitahavyas, described in an earlier chapter of the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata.

But when did the sage Bharadwaja fight the Ailas? For those who don'f know, Ailas are more commonly known as the kings of the Lunar dynasty, who are called Ailas because they are descended from Ila, grandson of Chandra the moon god. It seems strange that Bharadwaja would fight them, considering that he was raised by the Lunar dynasty king Bharata (after whom India was named) and was the ancestor of a lot of Lunar dynasty kings, as I discuss here. And when did the son of the sage Angiras fight the Nepas?

  • The son of Angiras is Brhaspati. So is there any account of Brhaspati fighting the Nipas? Also, is Sage Bharadvaja the same as Vitatha Bharadvaja, the adopted son of Bharata? Because I know Vitatha is the son of Mamata and Brhaspati, but Wikipedia says that even Sage Bharadvaja was Brhaspati's son. Yet I think its unlikely that Sage Bharadvaja was the same as Vitatha, because Vitatha became a Kshatriya, and ruled the Kuru Kingdom.
    – Surya
    Apr 18, 2016 at 10:00
  • @Surya Yes, Vithatha is the same as the famous sage Bharadwaja. Bharadwaja was raised as a prince in Bharata's court, and then later on he became a rishi. And I don't know of an account of anyone fighting the Nipas. Apr 18, 2016 at 14:50

1 Answer 1


Yudhishthira asked Bhishma the reward of worshipping Brahmanas

"Yudhishthira said, 'Tell us, O king, what is that reward attached to the worship of Brahmanas, seeing which thou worshippest them, O thou of superior intelligence! Indeed, what is that success, flowing from their worship, guided by which thou worshippest them?'

He then told the story of Kartavirya Arjuna.

"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is cited this old narrative of a conversation between Pavana and Arjuna, O Bharata! Endued with a thousand arms and great beauty the mighty Kartavirya, in days of yore, became the lord of all the world. He had his capital in the city of Mahishmati. Of unbaffled prowess, that chief of the Haihaya race of Kshatriyas swayed the whole earth with her belt of seas, together with all her islands and all her precious mines of gold and gems. Keeping before him the duties of the Kshatriya order, as also humility and Vedic knowledge, the king made large gifts of wealth unto the Rishi Dattatreya. Indeed, the son of Kritavirya thus adored the great ascetic who, becoming pleased with him, asked him to solicit three boons. Thus requested by the Rishi in respect of boons, the king addressed him, saying, 'Let me become endued with a thousand arms when I am in the midst of my troops. While, however, I remain at home let me have, as usual only two arms! Indeed, let combatants, when engaged in battle, behold me possessed of a thousand arms, observant also of high vows, let me succeed in subjugating the whole earth by dint of my prowess. Having acquired the earth righteously, let me sway her with vigilance. There is a fourth boon which, O foremost of regenerate persons, I solicit thee to grant. O faultless one, in consequence of the disposition to favour me, it behoveth thee to grant it to me. Dependent that I am on thee, whenever I may happen to go wrong, let the righteous come forth to instruct and set me right! Thus addressed, the Brahmana replied unto the king, saying, 'So let it be!' Even thus were those boons acquired by that king of blazing effulgence.

Sahastrarjuna then thought no one was his equal.

Riding then on his car whose splendour resembled that of fire or the Sun, the monarch, blinded by his great prowess, said, 'Who, indeed, is there that can be regarded as my equal in patience and energy, in fame and heroism, in prowess and strength?' After he had uttered these words, an invisible voice in the welkin said, 'O ignorant wretch, dost thou not know that the Brahmana is superior to the Kshatriya? The Kshatriya, assisted by the Brahmana rules all creatures!'

He started talking about his powers.

"Arjuna said, 'When gratified, I am able to create many creatures. When angry, I am able to destroy all. In thought, word, and deed, I am the foremost. The Brahmana is certainly not above me!' The first proposition here is that the Brahmana is superior to the Kshatriya. The counter-proposition is that the Kshatriya is superior. Thou hast said, O invisible being that the two are united together (in the act upon which the Kshatriya's superiority is sought to be based). A distinction, however, is observable in this. It is seen that Brahmanas take refuge with Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas never seek the refuge of Brahmanas. indeed, throughout the earth, the Brahmanas, accepting such refuge under the pretence of teaching the Vedas, draw their sustenance from the Kshatriyas. The duty of protecting all creatures is vested in Kshatriyas. It is from the Kshatriyas that the Brahmanas derive their sustenance. How then can the Brahmana be superior to the Kshatriyas?

He asked the power of Brahmanas to the wind god.

"Arjuna said, 'Oh, I see that thou hast today shown thy devotion and attachment to the Brahmanas. Tell me now what kind of earthly creature is the Brahmana! Tell me, does a superior Brahmana resemble the Wind in any respect? Or, is he like Water, or Fire, or the Sun, or the Firmament?'"

The god of the wind then told many stories showing the supremacy of the Brahmanas in this chapter that Bhishma narrated to Yudhishthira

"The god of wind said, 'Hear, O deluded man, what the attributes are that belong to Brahmanas all of whom are endued with high souls. The Brahmana is superior to all those which, O king, thou hast named! In days of yore, the earth, indulging in a spirit of rivalry with the kind of the Angas, forsook her character as Earth.

The regenerate Kasyapa caused destruction to overtake her by actually paralysing her. The Brahmanas are always unconquerable, O king, in heaven as also on earth. In days of yore, the great Rishi Angiras, through his energy, drank off all the waters. The high-souled Rishi, having drank off all the waters as if they were milk, did not feel yet his thirst to be slaked. He, therefore, once more caused the earth to be filled with water by raising a mighty wave. On another occasion, when Angiras became enraged with me, I fled away, leaving the world, and dwelt for a long time concealed in the Agnihotra of the Brahmanas through fear of that Rishi.

The illustrious Purandara, in consequence of his having coveted the body of Ahalya, was cursed by Gautama, yet, for the sake of Righteousness and wealth, the Rishi did not destroy outright the chief of the deities. The Ocean, O king, that was full in former days of crystal water, cursed by the Brahmanas, became saline in taste.

Even Agni who is of the complexion of gold, and who blazes with effulgence when destitute of smoke, and whose flames uniting together burn upwards, when cursed by the angry Angiras, became divested of all these attributes.

Behold, the sixty thousand sons of Sagara, who came here to adore the Ocean, have all been pulverised by the Brahmana Kapila of golden complexion. Thou art not equal to the Brahmanas. Do thou, O king, seek thy own good. The Kshatriya of even great puissance bows to Brahmana children that are still in their mothers' wombs.

The large kingdom of the Dandakas was destroyed by a Brahmana.

The mighty Kshatriya Talajangala was destroyed by a single Brahmana. viz., Aurva. Thou too hast acquired a large kingdom, great might, religious merit, and learning, which are all difficult of attainment, through the grace of Dattatreya. Why dost thou, O Arjuna, worship Agni everyday who is a Brahmana?

The god of the wind then described Lord Brahma.

The Lord of all creatures, Brahman, unmanifest, endued with puissance, and of unfading glory, who created this boundless universe with its mobile and immobile creatures (is a Brahman). Some persons there are, destitute of wisdom, who say that Brahman was born of an Egg. From the original Egg, when it burst forth, mountains and the points of the compass and the waters and the earth and the heavens all sprang forth into existence. This birth of the creation was not seen by any one. How then can Brahman be said to have taken his birth from the original Egg, when especially he is declared as Unborn? It is said that vast uncreate Space is the original Egg. It was from this uncreate Space (or Supreme Brahman) that the Grandsire was born. If thou askest, 'Whereon would the Grandsire, after his birth from uncreate Space, rest, for there was then nothing else?' The answer may be given in the following words, 'There is an existent Being of the name of Consciousness. That mighty Being is endued with great energy. There is no Egg. Brahman, however, is existent. He is the creator of the universe and is its king! Thus addressed by the god of wind, king Arjuna remained silent.'"

In the next chapter, there are stories of Brahmanas defeating Kshatriyas.

Bhishma said, "Thus addressed, king Arjuna remained silent. The god of wind once more spoke to him, 'Listen now, O king, to the story of the greatness of the Brahmana Agastya. Once on a time, the gods were subjugated by the Asuras upon which they became very cheerless. The sacrifices of the deities were all seized, and the Swadha of the Pitris was also misappropriated. Indeed, O Chief of the Haihayas, all the religious acts and observances of human beings also were suspended by the Danavas. Divested of their prosperity, the deities wandered over the earth as we have heard. One day, in course of their wandering they met Agastya of high vows, that Brahmana, O king, who was endued with great energy and splendour which was as blazing as that of the sun. Saluting him duly, the deities made the usual enquiries of politeness. They then, O King, said these words unto that high-souled one, 'We have been defeated by the Danavas in battle and have, therefore, fallen off from affluence and prosperity. Do thou, therefore, O foremost of ascetics, rescue us from this situation of great fear.' Thus informed of the plight to which the deities had been reduced, Agastya became highly incensed (with the Danavas). Possessed of great energy, he at once blazed forth like the all-consuming fire at the time of the universal dissolution. With the blazing rays that then emanated from the Rishi, the Danavas began to be burnt. Indeed, O king, thousands of them began to drop down from the sky. Burning with the energy of Agastya, the Danavas, abandoning both heaven and earth, fled towards the southern direction. At that time the Danava king Vali was performing a Horse-sacrifice in the nether regions. Those great Asuras who were with him in those regions or who were dwelling in the bowels of the earth, were not burnt. The deities, upon the destruction of their foes, then regained their own regions, their fears entirely dispelled. Encouraged by what he accomplished for them, they then solicited the Rishi to destroy those Asuras who had taken refuge within the bowels of the earth or in the nether regions. Thus solicited by the gods, Agastya replied unto them, saying, 'Yes, I am fully competent to consume those Asuras that are dwelling underneath the earth; but if I achieve such a feat, my penances will suffer a diminution. Hence, I shall not exert my power.' Even thus, O king, were the Danavas consumed by the illustrious Rishi with his own energy. Even thus did Agastya of cleansed soul, O monarch, accomplish that feat with the aid of his penances. O sinless one, even so was Agastya as described by me!

Bhishma later told the feats of his teacher Vashishta.

"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed, king Arjuna remained silent. The god of wind once more said, 'Hear, O king, one of the great feats of the illustrious Vasishtha. Once on a time the deities were engaged in performing a sacrifice on the shores of the lake Vaikhanasa. Knowing of his puissance, the sacrificing gods thought of Vasishtha and made him their priest in imagination. Meanwhile, seeing the gods reduced and emaciated in consequence of the Diksha they were undergoing, a race of Danavas, of the name of Khalins, of statures as gigantic as mountains, desired to slay them. Those amongst the Danavas that were either disabled or slain in the fight were plunged into the waters of the Manasa lake and in consequence of the boon of the Grandsire they instantly came back to vigour and life. Taking up huge and terrible mountain summits and maces and trees, they agitated the waters of the lake, causing them to swell up to the height of a hundred yojanas. They then ran against the deities numbering ten thousand. Afflicted by the Danavas, the gods then sought the protection of their chief, Vasava-Sakra, however, was soon afflicted by them. In his distress he sought the protection of Vasishtha. At this, the holy Rishi Vasishtha assured the deities, dispelling their fears. Understanding that the gods had become exceedingly cheerless, the ascetic did this through compassion. He put forth his energy and burnt, without any exertion, those Danavas called Khalins. Possessed of wealth of penances, the Rishi brought the River Ganga, who had gone to Kailasa, to that spot. Indeed, Ganga appeared, piercing through the waters of the lake. The lake was penetrated by that river. And as that celestial stream, piercing through the waters of the lake, appeared, it flowed on, under the name of Sarayu. The place whereon those Danavas fell came to be called after them. Even thus were the denizens of Heaven, with Indra at their head, rescued from great distress by Vasishtha, It was thus that those Danavas, who had received boons from Brahman, were slain by that high-souled Rishi. O sinless one, I have narrated to thee the feat which Vasishtha accomplished. Shall I go on? Or, will you say anything! Was there a Kshatriya who could be said to surpass the Brahmana Vasishtha?'

Feats of Atri

The gods sought the protection of Rishi Atri.

"Bhishma said, 'Thus addressed, Arjuna remained silent. The god of wind once more addressed him, saying, 'Hear me, O foremost one of the Haihayas, as I narrate to thee the achievement of the high-souled Atri. Once on a time as the gods and Danavas were fighting each other in the dark, Rahu pierced both Surya and Soma with his arrows. The gods, overwhelmed by darkness, began to fall before the mighty Danavas, O foremost of kings! Repeatedly struck by the Asuras, the denizens of heaven began to lose their strength. They then beheld the learned Brahmana Atri, endued with wealth of penances, engaged in the observance of austerities. Addressing that Rishi who had conquered all his senses and in whom wrath had been extinguished, they said 'Behold, O Rishi, these two, viz., Soma and Surya, who have both been pierced by the Asuras with their arrows! In consequence of this, darkness has overtaken us, and we are being struck down by the foe. We do not see the end of our troubles! Do thou, O lord of great puissance, rescue us from this great fear.'

Atri then defeated his enemies.

"The Rishi said, 'How, indeed, shall I protect you? They answered, saying, 'Do thou thyself become Chandramas. Do thou also become the sun, and do thou begin to slay these robbers!' Thus solicited by them, Atri assumed the form of the darkness-destroying Soma. Indeed, in consequence of his agreeable disposition, he began to look as handsome and delightful as Soma himself. Beholding that the real Soma and the real Surya had become darkened by the shafts of the foe, Atri, assuming the forms of those luminaries, began to shine forth in splendour over the field of battle, aided by the puissance of his penances. Verily Atri made the universe blaze forth in light, dispelling all its darkness. By putting forth his puissance, he also subjugated the vast multitudes of those enemies of the deities. Beholding those great Asuras burnt by Atri, the gods also, protected by Atri's energy, began to despatch them quickly. Putting forth his prowess and mastering all his energy, it was even in this way that Atri illumined the god of day, rescued the deities, and slew the Asuras! Even this was the feat that regenerate one, aided by his sacred fire,--that silent reciter of Mantras, that one clad in deer-skins,--accomplished! Behold, O royal sage, that act achieved by that Rishi who subsisted upon fruits only! I have thus narrated to thee, in detail, the feat of the high-souled Atri.

Feats of Chyavana and how he made Asvins be part of the sacrifice

"Thus addressed, Arjuna remained silent. The god of wind once more spake unto him, 'Hear, O king, the feat achieved by the high-souled Chyavana (in days of old). Having passed his promise to the twin Aswins, Chyavana addressed the chastiser of Paka, saying, 'Do thou make the Aswins drinkers of Soma with all other deities!'

"Indra said, 'The Aswins have been cast away by us. How then, can they be admitted into the sacrificial circle for drinking Soma with the others? They are not numbered with the deities. Do not, therefore, tell us so! O thou of great vows, we do not wish to drink Soma in the company of the As wins. Whatever other behest thou mayst be pleased to utter, O learned Brahmana, we are ready to accomplish.'

"Chyavana said, 'The twin Aswins shall drink Soma with all of you! Both of them are gods, O chief of the deities, for they are the sons of Surya. Let the gods do what I have said. By acting according to those words, the gods will reap great advantage. By acting otherwise, evil will overtake them.'

"Indra said, 'I shall not, O foremost of regenerate persons, drink Soma with the Aswins! Let others drink with them as they please! As regards myself, I dare not do it.'

"Chyavana said, 'If, O slayer of Vala, thou wilt not obey my words, thou shalt, this very day, drink Soma with them in sacrifice, compelled by me!

The sage shows his powers

"The god of wind said, 'Then Chyavana, taking the Aswins with him, commenced a great religious rite for their benefit. The gods all became stupefied by Chyavana with his Mantras. Beholding that feat commenced by Chyavana, Indra became incensed with wrath. Taking up a huge mountain he ran against that Rishi. The chief of the deities was also armed with the thunderbolt. Then the illustrious Chyavana, endued with penances, cast an angry glance upon Indra as he advanced. Throwing a little water at him, he paralysed the chief of the deities with his thunderbolt and mountain. As the result of the religious rite he had commenced, he created a terrible Asura hostile to Indra. Made of the libations he had poured on the sacred fire, that Asura was called Mada, of mouth gaping wide. Even such was the Asura that the great ascetic created with the aid of Mantras. There were a thousand teeth in his mouth, extending for a hundred yojanas. Of terrible mien, his fangs were two hundred yojanas in length. One of his cheeks rested on the earth and the other touched the heavens. Indeed, all the gods with Vasava seemed to stand at the root of that great Asura's tongue, even as fishes when they enter into the wide open mouth of a leviathan. While standing within the mouth of Mada, the gods held a quick consultation and then addressing Indra, said, 'Do thou soon bend thy head in reverence unto this regenerate personage! Freed from every scruple, we shall drink Soma with the Aswins in our company! Then Sakra, bowing down his head unto Chyavana, obeyed his behest. Even thus did Chyavana make the Aswins drinkers of Soma with the other gods.

All this stories was a narrative of Vayu deva telling the supremacy and the power of Brahmanas who defeated the Kshatriyas and demons and this narrative was told by Bhishma to Yudhishthira. These stories are in Anusasana Parva

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