[April 27, 2023 is Jahnu Saptamī in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the same tithi on May 6, 2014. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Today is Jahnu Saptamī, a very special day.
THERE IS NO END TO REWARD-SEEKING ACTIVITIES
Once there was an Emperor named Sagara, who was discontent at heart although he ruled the entire world. As a result, he desired to occupy the position of Indra and become the king of heaven, where sense-enjoyment is ten times greater in comparison to the earthly plane. Here a flower wilts in a couple of days, while there it remains fresh for days on end. The denizens of heaven possess longer lifespans; a year on the earthly plane comprises just a day in heaven. So Sagara Mahārāja contemplated, “Heaven is replete with many Gandharvas and Apsarās; so if I become the king of heaven, I will also get to witness and relish all the singing and dancing.” Aware that one gains the post of Indra by the performance of one hundred aśvamedha-yajñas (horse sacrifices), he resolved to do the needful. Just see, how there is no end to these reward-seeking activities!
Consequently, Sagara Mahārāja successfully performed ninety-nine yajñas without facing any obstacles. However, when the hundredth yajña was about to be performed, Indra got alert, ‘My rival has appeared and before long I will be asked to retire from my post!’ So Indra stole the horse meant for the sacrifice and placed it in front of Kapila Muni’s āśrama [which was underground].
THE PRICE OF OFFENDING A GREAT PERSONALITY
Sagara Mahārāja had two wives; one wife bore only one son, Asamanjasa, while the other wife delivered an embryo shaped like a gourd. [An aerial voice confirmed to preserve the seeds of the gourd in clarified butter, each seed in a separate pot, and over a period of time sixty thousand very powerful sons were born.] As many seeds as that gourd possessed, that many sons were born.
Asamanjasa's son is Anśumana, whose son is Dilīpa, and Dilīpa’s son is Bhagiratha. [Eventually Sagara Mahārāja’s dynasty continued from Asamanjasa.]
[Sagara Mahārāja had sent his sixty thousand sons to recover the stolen horse.] When the sons of Sagara Mahārāja, were unable to find the horse after painstakingly searching the earth in all directions for a long time, they began digging underground and eventually reached Kapila Muni's āśrama where they spotted the sacrificial horse. Astonished, and presuming that Kapila Muni had indeed been the culprit, they spontaneously made a lot of commotion there, exclaiming, “Is he a saint?”, “He is a bhaṇḍa (hypocrite)!”, “He is shameless!”, “He is the one who stole the sacrificial horse!” Meanwhile, Kapila Muni [being deeply absorbed in meditation] was oblivious to what had transpired. It was actually Indra who had left the horse in front of Kapila Muni’s āśrama.
Their vociferous exchanges eventually broke Kapila Muni's meditation. [Having offending a great personality, the heat in their bodies increased to such an extent that fire emanated from them.] Kapila Muni did not burn Sagara Mahārāja’s sons; they were burnt to ashes by their own karma. Without discernment, they baselessly condemned Kapila Muni, alleging that he had stolen the sacrificial horse.
THE DESCENT OF GAṄGĀ
Now that all the sons of Sagara Mahārāja were burnt to ashes, how would they be delivered? [Asamanjasa left home and later his son Anśuman and Anśuman’s son Dilīpa, performed austerities to bring Gaṅgā to this material world for the deliverance of their ancestors, but they were unsuccessful.] Look how there is no end to these ritualistic activities!
Then Bhagiratha, the son of Dilīpa, thought, “Only if I somehow bring patita-pāvanī Gaṅgā to this material world, and her holy waters mix with the ashes of my ancestors, will they get deliverance and ascend to heaven. [With this in mind, Bhagiratha performed very severe austerities and eventually managed to please Gaṅgā. Now that Gaṅgā had agreed to descend, the question was - who would sustain her staggering force?] Thus Bhagiratha performed austerities to please Lord Śiva [And requested him to sustain the forceful waves when Gaṅgā descended]. Lord Śiva obliged him by sustaining the current of Gaṅgā on his head and she began to whirl in his dreadlocks. Bhagiratha again pleased Lord Śiva by his prayers and Gaṅgā commenced her further descent. The place from where Gaṅgā sprang forth is called ‘Gomukha’. [Gaṅgā followed behind Bhagiratha while] Bhagiratha [led the way on his swift chariot] blowing his conch to direct Gaṅgā while heading towards the place where his ancestors were burnt to ashes.
HOW GAṄGĀ CAME TO BE KNOWN AS JĀHNAVĪ
[After passing through many countries] When Bhagiratha, followed by Gaṅgā,
was passing through Navadvīpa, the island of Jahnudvīpa, where Jahnu Muni was performing penance, the swift currents of Gaṅgā washed away his kośa-kuśī; two vessels, one big (kośa) and one small (kuśī). They are like pañca-pātra which are used to hold water. [Enraged] Jahnu Muni swallowed the entire Gaṅgā. Bewildered, Bhagiratha offered him many ardent prayers and explained the entire background to him. Hearing all this, Jahnu Muni was pleased with him.
The question is - How was Gaṅgā let out?
It happened in two ways in two different kalpas (millenniums). In one kalpa, Jahnu Muni let her out from his right ear. That is why the right ear is considered as pure. And in another kalpa, he let her out by tearing up his thigh. This is how she received the name, Jāhnavī (daughter of Jahnu Muni). Then, Jāhnavī and Bhagiratha continued on their journey and arrived at a place, where the wheel of Bhagiratha’s chariot got stuck in the mud. Hence it
was named Cakra-tīrtha or Cakradah, but over the passage of time, it came to be known as Cakdāh. Bhagiratha prayed again for the release of his chariot. This is also the place where Pradyumna had killed Śambarāsura.
Eventually Gaṅgā reached the place (which came to be known as Gaṅgā-sāgara), and when the ashes of Bhagiratha’s ancestors mixed with her holy waters, they were all finally delivered.
Earlier it was very difficult to reach Gaṅgā-sāgara, but nowadays it is more accessible. The contemporary name for Gaṅgā-sāgara is 'Harwood point', where the flow is very swift and strong.
BOON OF GETTING FREED FROM THE SIN OF BRAHMA-HATYĀ
Why do people go to Gaṅgā-sāgara? Because according to the opinion of karma-kāṇḍa (ritualistic fruitive activities) –
'setum gatvā samudrasya gaṅgā-sāgara-saṅgamam,
brahma-hatyapi pramucyate mitra-drohi na mucyate’.
So people pay a visit to Gaṅgā-sāgara once, to get freed from the sin of brahma-hatyā, which cannot be atoned by any other means.
KARMA-KĀṆḌA IS VERY COMPLEX
Although people visit Gaṅgā-sāgara, it will relieve one only from the sin of brahma-hatyā, but not from the sin of killing a friend - mitra drohi na mucyate. Karma-kāṇḍa is very complex; although everything is considered as auspicious, there is also a limit to how far one can go. Factually speaking, there is nothing auspicious about karma-kāṇḍa, because ultimately it does not even free one from the cycle of birth and death.
tyājyaṁ doṣa-vad ity eke
karma prāhur manīṣiṇaḥ (Bhagavad-gītā, 18.3)
[Some learned men declare that all kinds of fruitive activities should be given up as faulty.]
So the saints, have warned against performing ‘karma’. What is karma? Karma is ‘veda-pranihita’ (prescribed in the Vedas). Don’t get caught up in activities like going to Gaṅgā-sāgara, donating cows at Prayāga during the eclipse, if one does this or that such and such will be the outcome, and so on. Instead go towards hari-bhakti.
TAKE UP TO UNALLOYED DEVOTION TO ŚRĪ HARI
Even the sixty thousand ṛṣis of Naimiṣāraṇya had prepared themselves to perform a sacrifice with an intention to attain heaven. Sūta Gosvāmī said, “Why are you striving to go to heaven? Listen to the Bhāgavata. Śukadeva spoke the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to King Parīkṣit as he was approaching his end; I was also present in that assembly. I will now repeat what I heard from Śukadeva. I have received his mercy.” This is how it happens.
So don’t get caught up in these fruitive activities, take up to hari-bhakti and you will not face any obstacles. If your devotion is causeless, then such devotion is unbroken. Nobody can stop it.
ONLY AN ‘INSTRUMENT’ BUT THE BLESSING IS MEANT FOR ALL
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: It is not clear whether the sin of brahma-hatyā got attached to Kapila Muni or to Sagara Mahārāja because his descendants perished?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Both. [This was for the purpose of loka śikṣā, to set an example for others to follow.] Bhagiratha getting Gaṅgā to this material world was for everyone’s benefit, not merely for his ancestors so that all those who bathe in Gaṅgā get deliverance from their sins.
Just as Sanātana Gosvāmī became an instrument, for the parikramā of the śilā of Girirājā Govardhana [who is worshipped as non-different from Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa and who is also worshipped as haridāsa-vara, the topmost amongst the servants of Kṛṣṇa.]
Kṛṣṇa gave the impression of His lotus feet on the Govardhana-śilā, saying, “You have become old and cannot perform the entire Govardhan parikramā. So just by circumambulating this Govardhana-śilā, which now bears My footprint, four times, it will be considered as your having performed the entire [13-14 miles long] parikramā of Śrī Girirājā Govardhana.” That is why in the month of Kārtika, many devotees daily circumambulate the Rādhā Dāmodara temple where this śilā is being worshiped.
Someone had posed a question to me during one hari-kathā, “Is this boon awarded exclusively to Sanātana Gosvāmī or is it for the benefit of everyone?” In reply, I asked, “Whom does the mother cow bless by giving milk? Even though she gives milk for her calf, everyone including the one who is taking care of her and so many others get her milk. Even Ṭhākurajī’s abhiṣeka is performed using that milk. This is just a pretext. In this example, although the calf is nimitta (an instrument), everyone else also derives the benefit. Similarly by making Sanātana Gosvāmī an instrument, the Lord made this arrangement for the welfare of the whole world; even for others who are incapable of performing the entire Govardhana parikramā. Just as by making Arjuna an instrument, the Lord gave the teaching of the Bhagavad-gītā. Does that mean Bhagavad-gītā was only meant for Arjuna? Certainly not. It is meant for the whole world. This is the point.”
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: So the descent of Gaṅgā to this world proved to be a blessing for all the people – past and present.
Śrīla Mahārāja: Be they the successors of Sagara Mahārāja or fruitive workers, for anyone who sprinkles the ashes of the deceased in the Gaṅgā will be able to deliver that departed soul.
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: So the significance of this day is that today Gaṅgā came out of the thigh of Jahnu Ṛṣi.
Śrīla Mahārāja: Yes, it is today that he let her out, and not that she reached the intended destination today, it was at a later date she reached the intended destination - Gaṅgā-sāgara.
(All pictures are by Pieter Weltered, www.sanatanasociety.com)