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Sacrificial Fire

"As for the benedictions given by demigods like Lord Siva, there is the following historical incident cited by great sages. Once, Lord Siva, after giving a benediction to a demon named Vrkasura, the son of Sakuni, was himself entrapped in a very dangerous position. Vrkasura was searching after a benediction and was trying to decide which of the three presiding deities to worship in order to get it. In the meantime he happened to meet the great sage Narada and consulted with him as to whom he should approach to achieve quick results from his austerity. He inquired, "Of the three deities, namely Lord Brahma, Lord Visnu and Lord Siva, who is most quickly satisfied?" Narada could understand the plan of the demon, and he advised him, "You had better worship Lord Siva; then you will quickly get the desired result. Lord Siva is very quickly satisfied and very quickly dissatisfied also. So you just try to satisfy Lord Siva." Narada also cited instances wherein demons like Ravana and Banasura were enriched with great opulences simply by satisfying Lord Siva with prayers. Because the great sage Narada was aware of the nature of the demon Vrkasura, he did not advise him to approach Visnu or Lord Brahma. Persons such as Vrkasura who are situated in the material mode of ignorance, cannot stick to the worship of Visnu.

After receiving instruction from Narada, the demon Vrkasura went to Kedaranatha. The pilgrimage site of Kedaranatha still exists near Kashmir. It is almost always covered by snow, but for part of the year, during the month of July, it is possible to see the deity, and devotees go there to offer their respects. Kedaranatha is for the devotees of Lord Siva. According to the Vedic principle, when something is offered to the deities to eat, it is offered in a fire. Therefore a fire sacrifice is necessary in all sorts of ceremonies. It is specifically stated in the sastras that gods are to be offered something to eat through the fire. The demon Vrkasura therefore went to Kedaranatha and ignited a sacrificial fire to please Lord Siva.

After igniting the fire in the name of Siva, he began to offer his own flesh, by cutting it from his body to please Lord Siva. Here is an instance of worship in the mode of ignorance. In the Bhagavad-gita, different types of sacrifice are mentioned. Some sacrifices are in the mode of goodness, some are in the mode of passion, and some are in the mode of ignorance. There are different kinds of tapasya and worship because there are different kinds of people within this world. But the ultimate tapasya, Krsna consciousness, is the topmost yoga and the topmost sacrifice. As confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita, the topmost yoga is to think always of Lord Krsna within the heart, and the topmost sacrifice is to perform the sankirtana-yajna.

Although Vrkasura continued his sacrifice for six days, he was nevertheless unable to personally see Lord Siva, which was his objective; he wanted to see him face to face and ask him for a benediction. Here is another contrast between a demon and a devotee. A devotee is confident that whatever he offers to the Deity in full devotional service is accepted by the Lord, but a demon wants to see his worshipable deity face to face so he can directly take the benediction. A devotee, however, does not worship Visnu or Lord Krsna for any benediction. Therefore a devotee is called akama, free of desire, and a nondevotee is called sarva-kama, or desirous of everything. On the seventh day, the demon Vrkasura decided that he should cut off his head and offer it to satisfy Lord Siva. Thus he took bath in the nearby lake, and without drying his body and hair, he prepared to cut off his head. According to the Vedic system, an animal which is to be offered as a sacrifice has to be bathed first, and while the animal is wet he is sacrificed. When the demon was thus preparing to cut off his head, Lord Siva became very compassionate. This compassion, however, is a symptom of the quality of goodness. Lord Siva is called tri-linga, "a mixture of the three material qualities." Therefore his manifestation of the nature of compassion is a sign of the quality of goodness. This compassion, however, is present in every living entity. The compassion of Lord Siva was aroused because the demon was offering his flesh into the sacrificial fire. This is natural compassion. Even if a common man sees someone preparing to commit suicide, it is his duty to try to save him. He does so automatically. There is no need to appeal to him. Therefore when Lord Siva appeared from the fire to check the demon from suicide, it was not as a very great favor to him.

The demon was saved from committing suicide by the touch of Lord Siva; his bodily injuries immediately healed, and his body became as it was before. Then Lord Siva told the demon, "My dear Vrkasura, you do not need to cut off your head. You can ask from me any benediction you like, and I shall fulfill your desire. I do not know why you wanted to cut off your head to satisfy me. I become satisfied even by an offering of a little water." Actually, according to the Vedic process, the siva-linga in the temple or the form of Lord Siva in the temple is worshiped simply by offering Ganges water because it is said that Lord Siva is greatly satisfied when Ganges water is poured upon his head. Generally, devotees offer Ganges water and the leaves of the bilva tree, which are especially meant for offering to Lord Siva and the goddess Durga. The fruit of this tree also is offered to Lord Siva. Lord Siva assured Vrkasura that he becomes satisfied by a very simple process of worship. Why then was he so anxious to cut off his head, and why was he taking so much pain by cutting his body to pieces and offering it in the fire? There was no need of such severe penances. Anyway, out of compassion and sympathy, Lord Siva prepared to give him any benediction he liked.

When the demon was offered this facility by Lord Siva, he asked for a very fearful and abominable benediction. The demon was very sinful, and sinful persons do not know what sort of benediction should be asked from the deity. Therefore he asked Lord Siva to be benedicted with such power that as soon as he would touch anyone's head, immediately it would crack, and the man would die. The demons are described in the Bhagavad-gita as duskrtis, or miscreants. Krti means very meritorious, but when duh is added it means abominable. Instead of surrendering unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the duskrtis worship different demigods in order to derive abominable material benefits. Sometimes such demons as material scientists discover lethal weapons. They cannot show their meritorious power by discovering something which can save man from death, but instead they discover weapons which accelerate the process of death. Because Lord Siva is powerful enough to give any benediction, the demon could have asked of him something beneficial from human society, but for his personal interest he asked that anyone whose head would be touched by his hand would at once die.

Lord Siva could understand the motive of the demon, and he was very sorry that he had assured him whatever benediction he liked. He would not withdraw his promise, but he was very sorry in his heart that he was to offer him a benediction so dangerous to human society. The demons are described as duskrtinas, miscreants, because although they have brain power and merit, the merit and brain power are used for abominable activities. Sometimes, for example, the materialistic demons discover a lethal weapon. The scientific research for such a discovery certainly requires a very good brain, but instead of discovering something beneficial to human society, they discover something to accelerate the death which is already assured to every man. Similarly, Vrkasura, instead of asking Lord Siva for something beneficial to human society, asked for something very dangerous to human society. Therefore Lord Siva felt sorry within himself. Devotees of the Personality of Godhead, however, never ask any benediction from Lord Visnu or Krsna, and even if they ask something from the Lord, it is not at all dangerous for human society. That is the difference between the demons and the devotees, or the worshipers of Lord Siva and the worshipers of Lord Visnu.

While Sukadeva Gosvami was narrating the history of Vrkasura, he addressed Maharaja Pariksit as Bharata, referring to King Pariksit's birth in a family of devotees. Maharaja Pariksit was saved by Lord Krsna while he was in his mother's womb. Similarly, he could have asked Lord Krsna to save him from the curse of a brahmana, but he did not do so. The demon, however, wanted to become immortal by killing everyone with the touch of his hand. Lord Siva could understand this, but because he had promised, he gave him the benediction.

The demon, however, being very sinful, immediately decided that he would use the benediction to kill Lord Siva and take away Gauri (Parvati) for his personal enjoyment. He immediately decided to place his hand on the head of Lord Siva. Thus Lord Siva was put into an awkward position because he was endangered by his own benediction to a demon. This is also another instance of a materialistic devotee's misusing the power derived from the demigods.

Without further deliberation, the demon Vrkasura immediately approached Lord Siva to place his hand on Lord Siva's head. Lord Siva was so afraid of him that his body trembled, and he began to flee from the land to the sky and from the sky to other planets until he reached the limits of the universe, above the higher planetary systems. Lord Siva fled from one place to another, but the demon Vrkasura continued to chase him. The predominating deities of other planets, such as Brahma, Indra and Candra, could not find any way to save Lord Siva from the impending danger. Wherever Lord Siva went, they remained silent.

At last Lord Siva approached Lord Visnu, who is situated within this universe on the planet known as Svetadvipa. Svetadvipa is the local Vaikuntha planet beyond the jurisdiction of the influence of the external energy. Lord Visnu in His all-pervasive feature remains everywhere, but wherever He remains personally is the Vaikuntha atmosphere. In the Bhagavad-gita it is stated that the Lord remains within the heart of all living entities. As such, the Lord remains within the heart of many low-born living entities, but that does not mean that He is low-born. Wherever He remains is transformed into Vaikuntha. So the planet within this universe known as Svetadvipa is also Vaikunthaloka. It is said in the sastras that residential quarters within the forest are in the mode of goodness, residential quarters in big cities, towns and villages are in the mode of passion, and residential quarters in an atmosphere wherein indulgence in the four sinful activities of illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling predominate are in the mode of ignorance. But residential quarters in a temple of Visnu, the Supreme Lord, are in Vaikuntha. It doesn't matter where the temple is situated, but the temple itself, wherever it may be, is Vaikuntha. Similarly, the Svetadvipa planet, although within the material jurisdiction, is Vaikuntha.

Lord Siva finally entered Svetadvipa Vaikuntha. In Svetadvipa there are great saintly persons who are completely freed from the envious nature of the material world and are beyond the jurisdiction of the four principles of material activity, namely religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and liberation. Anyone who enters into that Vaikuntha planet never comes back again to this material world. Lord Narayana is celebrated as a lover of His devotees, and as soon as He understood that Lord Siva was in great danger, He appeared as a brahmacari and personally approached Lord Siva to receive him from a distant place. The Lord appeared as a perfect brahmacari, with a belt around His waist, a sacred thread, a deerskin, a brahmacari stick and raudra beads. (Raudra beads are different from tulasi beads. Raudra beads are used by the devotees of Lord Siva.) Dressed as a brahmacari, Lord Narayana stood before Lord Siva. The shining effulgence emanating from His body attracted not only Lord Siva but also the demon Vrkasura.

Lord Narayana offered his respects and obeisances unto Vrkasura, just to attract his sympathy and attention. Thus checking the demon, the Lord addressed him as follows: "My dear son of Sakuni, you appear very tired, as if coming from a very distant place. What is your purpose? Why have you come so far? I see that you are very tired and fatigued, so I request you to take a little rest. You should not unnecessarily tire your body. Everyone greatly values his body because with this body only can one fulfill all the desires of one's mind. We should not, therefore, unnecessarily give trouble to this body."

The brahmacari addressed Vrkasura as the son of Sakuni just to convince him that He was known to his father, Sakuni. Vrkasura then took the brahmacari to be someone known to his family, and therefore the brahmacari's sympathetic words appealed to him. Before the demon could argue that he had no time to take rest, the Lord began to inform him about the importance of the body, and the demon was convinced. Any man, especially a demon, takes his body to be very important. Thus Vrkasura became convinced about the importance of his body. Then, just to pacify the demon, the brahmacari told him, "My dear lord, if you think that you can disclose the mission for which you have taken the trouble to come here, maybe I shall be able to help you so that your purpose will be easily served." Indirectly, the Lord informed him that because the Lord is the Supreme Brahman, Certainly he would be able to adjust the awkward situation created by Lord Siva.

The demon was greatly pacified by the sweet words of Lord Narayana in the form of a brahmacari, and at last he disclosed all that had happened in regard to the benediction offered by Lord Siva. The Lord replied to the demon as follows: "I myself cannot believe that Lord Siva has in truth given you such a benediction. As far as I know, Lord Siva is not in a sane mental condition. He had a quarrel with his father-in-law Daksa, and he has been cursed to become a pisaca (ghost). Thus he has become the leader of the ghosts and hobgoblins. Therefore I cannot put any faith in his words. But if you have faith still in the words of Lord Siva, my dear King of the demons, then why don't you make an experiment by putting your hand on your head? If the benediction proves false, then you can immediately kill this liar, Lord Siva, so that in the future he will not dare give out false benedictions."

In this way, by Lord Narayana's sweet words and by the expansion of His superior illusion, the demon became bewildered, and he actually forgot the power of Lord Siva and his benediction. He was thus very easily persuaded to put his hand on his own head. As soon as the demon did that, his head cracked, as if struck by thunder, and he immediately died. The demigods from heaven began to shower flowers on Lord Narayana, praising Him with all glories and all thanksgiving, and they offered their obeisances to the Lord. On the death of Vrkasura, all the denizens in the higher planetary systems, namely the demigods, the pitrs, the Gandharvas and the inhabitants of Janoloka, began to shower flowers on the Personality of Godhead.

Thus Lord Visnu in the form of a brahmacari released Lord Siva from the impending danger and saved the whole situation. Lord Narayana then informed Lord Siva that this demon, Vrkasura, was killed as the result of his sinful activities. He was especially sinful and offensive because he wanted to experiment on his own master, Lord Siva. Lord Narayana then told Lord Siva, "My dear lord, a person who commits an offense to great souls cannot continue to exist. He becomes vanquished by his own sinful activities, and this is certainly true of this demon, who has committed such an offensive act against you."

Thus, by the grace of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Narayana, who is transcendental to all material qualities, Lord Siva was saved from being killed by a demon. Anyone who hears this history with faith and devotion certainly becomes liberated from material entanglement as well as from the clutches of his enemies."

Krsna Book, Chapter 88

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Excerpted from texts and purports of HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.