Continued from : The Curious Tale of Barbareek
Khaatu Shyam (claims to be based upon canto185, sections 1-2 of the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata)
Khaatu village is located 16 kilometres from Reengas railway station. King Khatvaanga ruled on the banks of the river Rupaavati and bathed in it daily with his queen. A temple of Shiva was located in the centre of the town where he worshipped daily with river water and grain grown by himself. Ever concerned about the welfare of his subjects, he was just and virtuous. One day his queen complained that she had no jewels to wear. The king told her that only what he grew himself was theirs, but the queen would not be pacified without ornaments.
Finally, the king sent a messenger to Kubera, the lord of wealth, who sent back chests filled with ornaments. Decked in these, the queen accompanied the king to the river on a Monday to bring water to pour on the Shivalinga in the temple. As they dipped the earthen pots in the river, the king’s turned golden but the queen’s melted away. She realised the fruit of her karma.
This river Rupaavati used to flow originally by Hastinapura. Any creature bathing in it was lifted bodily to the other world. The Dharma-king approached Vishnu that as the Kali Yuga was approaching, should all sinful creatures bathe in Rupaavati they would cause mayhem in heaven. Hari smiled and said in that epoch this river would disappear into the earth and be visible only to the virtuous. Further, Krishna would manifest as Shyamdeva at Rupaavati. What was sacred Kaashi in the Satya Yuga would be Khaatu in Kali Yuga.
250 years ago a Kshatriya maiden named Narbadaa used to serve the deity faithfully with water from the pond and bathing with the water daily. One day the deity appeared before her and granted her the boon of appearing at her call and granting her desire. Since then that Kshatriya clan serves the deity and Brahmins of Gauda perform the worship.
Bhima had two beloved sons. His first queen was Ahilyavati, the second Hidimbaa. Ahila’s son was Barbareek who had gifted his head and obtained a boon from Krishna. Hidimbaa’s son Ghatotkacha died fighting heroically for the Pandavas. He had a son named Suhridaya, blessed by Devi Shakti. As he had curly ringlets, he was also called Barbareek. Arriving at the battlefield he boasted of his prowess before Krishna who beheaded him.
Ahilyavati was Naga princess, daughter of the king Vasuki, who used to accompany her father while he worshipped Shiva and Parvati. She was born when Parvati blessed Vasuki that Devaki would be born as his daughter.
Once in a storm all the flowers in the garden were blown away. The next morning Ahilyavati, finding not a single flower on any plant, gathered some fallen on the ground and offered them to the deities. Bhavani was infuriated at this insult to her husband and cursed her to have a dead husband. The maiden begged forgiveness and Vasuki rushed to Mahadeva who assured him that his daughter’s fortune would remain unimpaired. When Bhima was poisoned by Duryodhana and thrown into the river, he floated into the realm of the Nagas. Ahilyavati fainted on seeing his body, saying that this was her husband. Vasuki poured amrita into Bhima’s mouth, reviving him. Ahilyavati told him how he had reached her abode and narrated Bhavani’s curse. Bhima, beset by hunger-pangs, demanded food first and gulped down all the amrita. Vasuki had the remnants fed to cows and since then their urine is counted as pure. Vasuki now begged Bhima to respond to Ahilyavati’s plea—for he was indeed a dead person now alive, as Bhavani had stated her husband would be. Bhima said he would act as directed by his mother and elder brother and wanted to leave, refusing the repeated pleas of Vasuki and his daughter to at least give his word, pledging marriage. Tired out, he fell asleep, in a lovely bungalow in the midst of a garden. Vasuki set guards all around, directing that none should be allowed entry. At midnight the sage Narada arrived and enquired of the guards whether a fair complexioned man had entered the abode of the Nagas, for he had come in search of him. The guard took him to Vasuki who narrated everything. When Bhima met them in the morning, Narada advised him to fulfil Bhavani’s prophecy on the pain of suffering her wrath, and that he would ensure that Kunti and Yudhishthira did not take offence at their permission not having been taken. Bhima agreed to the marriage, which was conducted by Narada. On his way to Hastinapura Narada came across Krishna who told him that for succouring creatures in Kali Yuga Ahilyavati would give birth to his four-armed form.
Bhima and Ahilyavati proceeded to Hastinapura with four mighty escorts provided by Vasuki. On the way they stopped at Panchavati to offer worship to Shiva in his temple. At night a terrible Rakshasi named Ghori appeared, roaring and throwing rocks and trees about. Ahilyavati urged Bhima not to hit a woman, and herself jumped on the ogress, whirled her about by her hair, threw her on the ground, kicked her on the chest and dragged her by the hair to her husband’s feet. Bhima pardoned the terrified demoness who was begging for her life. With a parting kick Ahilyavati bade her leave. The next day Bhima announced his departure for Hastinapura, assuring that he would come whenever she called. Ahilyavati smiled sadly and said she knew he would never come back. She asked him to stay on at least till their son or daughter was born so that the child knew the father. Bhima assured her that it would be a mighty son and that he would definitely return on call. He left for Hastinapura. Vasuki came to visit his daughter and left after putting the guards on alert.
The demoness Ghori told her spouse, the rakshasa Doondaa, about this couple living in the forest. Doondaa assumed the appearance of Bhima and sat down where Ahilyavati was lost in meditation, worshipping Shiva and said, “I have arrived, my queen.” As he sought to hold her hand, she opened her eyes, stood up and stepped back. Flames erupted enveloping the demon and burnt him to ashes. As Ghori came running, she too was burnt up.
Ahilyavati gave birth to a son who waxed mighty immediately after birth, with mighty arms, red eyes, shining curly black hair. Narada came from heaven, named him “Barbareek” and informed Ahilyavati that the Pandavas had been exiled deceitfully for thirteen years. As advised by him, she taught her son to worship Shiva and taught him to perform “japa” since he wanted to meet him.
Once, hearing a lion roar, Barbareek sought it out and rode on its back to his mother. He used to play with the entire pride. One day Ahilyavati showed Barbareek a lion fleeing from a hunter. Barbareek ran after them and challenged him. As the hunter shot arrow after arrow at him, Barbareek caught them all and snapped them. When the hunter was exhausted, Barbareek hit him once with his fist and he fell dead. Barbareek dragged the corpse to his mother who rebuked him for killing a defeated opponent. She taught him the code of Kshatriyas—never to trouble the weak, to protect the defeated, never to let a mendicant leave empty-handed and ever to obey parents.
From the god of fire, Agni, she obtained an indestructible bow that would never miss its target. Agni told Barbareek that the matching arrows he would have to obtain himself from Shiva. Daily this bow and the arrows were to be garlanded in the Shiva temple. Ahilyavati took her son to the realm of the Nagas where Vasuki, her father, gave him Amrita, the draught of immortality, to drink. Daily Ahilyavati would sit on the branch of a tree and teach her son archery. Barbareek faithfully followed every instruction of hers. One day she pointed out to him the top of a mountain as the target and challenged him to hit it. Barbareek shot his arrow with such force that the mountain peak shattered, the wild beasts fled in all directions, and the arrow flew back into Barbareek’s hand. His mother leapt down from the tree and hugged him in joy.
On this mountain lived many demons who were injured when the peak was shattered. Roaring aloud, they ran at mother and son. Ahilyavati alerted her son, who shot a single arrow at them and then watched while she started catching them and throwing them on the ground. Barbareek noticed that she thrashed only those who attacked her, but did not touch the fleeing demons. Returning to her son she asked him to explain why he had shot the arrow without her permission when she had only asked him to be ready. She explained that the opponent must be given the opportunity to make the first move. The Kshatriya never hits first. Touching his head to her feet, Barbareek begged forgiveness and promised never to repeat this mistake.
Koshaasur was the leader of the demons and on hearing of what had happened he was enraged. He proceeded to where Ahilyavati was and insulted her. She gestured to Barbareek who hit him with his fist. The demon attacked him with a sword, whereupon Barbareek kicked him on his chest so hard that he fell far away. Barbareek then caught hold of his legs and tore him into two. Similar was the fate of his general Khadgasur whom Barbareek throttled. The hermits living in dread of the demons were now free of all fear. Delighted, Ahilyavati blessed and embraced her son.
Mother and son worshipped Shiva and Barbareek got immersed in invoking the deity, totally oblivious of the passage of time. Ahilyavati deputed guards around him and sat down, invoking Parvati to grant her son the darshan of Shiva. At this time Vasuki arrived and understood what was happening. He proceeded immediately to Shiva’s abode and bowing at his feet begged him to grant his grandson and his daughter the divine darshan. Manifesting before the meditating mother and son, the divine couple awakened them. Falling at their feet, when Shiva bade Barbareek to ask for a boon, he begged for arrows to match the bow given by the god Agni. Shiva then gave him three arrows and told him that a single arrow would pierce through an entire army, killing all creatures and return to the quiver. Together, the three could destroy the entire creation and none could withstand them. Shiva prescribed a condition, that Barbareek should assist the side which was likely to lose in a war. Shiva blessed Barbareek that no one, not even the lord of creation, would be able to oppose him.
Barbareek used this arrow to destroy Bhil bandits who stole the cows of Phattaa Gujar, with whose milk Ahilyavati used to worship Shiva, and Somasur with his army who tried to ruin the sacred sacrifice performed by sage Harit.
One day the sage Narada arrived and told Barbareek that the great war between Kauravas and Pandavas was to begin in which the former had the larger army while the latter had only Krishna with them. Barbareek then decided that according to his vow he would fight on the side of the weaker side. Narada left, eager to see what Krishna would do now because the side that had Krishna with it was actually the stronger and therefore Barbareek ought to be supporting the Kauravas. That would lead to a fascinating god-versus-devotee encounter that Narada gleefully awaited.
Taking his mother’s permission, Barbareek set out for Kurukshetra. On the way he rested beside a lake at night and sang a paean to Shiva. Hearing this a demoness approached him, disguised as a nymph, and begged him to be her husband. When he refused, she caught hold of his hand. Barbareek invoked his mother for protection as he would not raise his hand against a woman. Flames issued from the saffron mark Ahilyavati had put on his forehead, and consumed the demoness.
The next morning Krishna, disguised as a Brahmin, met Barbareek on the road and asked where he was going. Barbareek proudly announced that he was going to fight in a war and that a single arrow of his would decide its fate. He urged Barbareek to return home, asking how with just three arrows he expected to do anything. Barbareek replied that with one arrow he would win the war as it would slay all soldiers, howsoever numerous. The Brahmin asked him to demonstrate the power of that arrow by shooting down every leaf of an ashvattha tree before them. Barbareek did so, but Krishna had kept one leaf hidden under his foot. When the arrow reached his foot, Krishna became grave understanding that in an instant this youth was capable of making the impossible possible and changing everyone’s destiny. He removed his foot and the arrow, piercing that leaf, returned to Barbareek’s quiver. Krishna revealed his four-armed form, to which Barbareek bowed his head. When asked to beg a boon, Barbareek prayed that this enchanting Shyam form, clad in yellow, be his and the world extol him by that name. That was day of Ekadashi, the eleventh day following the new moon.
The next day Barbareek reached the camped armies and sought for the flautist. He noticed the huge army of the Kauravas and was sure they could not lose the war. A soldier pointed out to him the chariot flying the monkey pennant on which Krishna would be found. Approaching the chariot, Barbareek asked its driver his name and was told it was Muralidhar, the flautist. Saluting him, Barbareek declared that he was Ahilyavati’s son, was of Pandava descent and had come to fight on the weaker side. The Pandavas ran up and embraced Bhima’s son. Krishna now told him that before the battle began it was necessary to perform a ritual to removed all obstacles to Pandava victory and that for this the head of either Arjuna or Krishna or Barbareek—the mightiest three among them—was necessary.
Barbareek laughed and said this was a unique opportunity where Krishna himself was asking for alms, but his innermost desire was to witness the war and this should be granted. Krishna gave his word that Barbareek’s head would be immortal and would be worshipped by the world in Kali Yuga. Catching his hair on one hand, with the other he sliced off his head and placed it in Krishna’s hands. Krishna transformed it into his own likeness and placed the head atop a pole on a hill from where it watched the entire battle. Krishna explained to Arjuna that for the salvation of people in the coming Kali Yuga he had invested that head with a fourth of his sixteen qualities, participating in the battle with the remaining twelve.
After the war in the Pandava camp Arjuna and Yudhishthira ascribed their victory to Krishna. This enraged Bhima who asserted that it was his mace and Arjuna’s arrows that had won the victory. Yudhishthira then told him that to resolve the dispute it was best the enquire of one who had witnessed the entire war. Bhima agreed. Krishna brought down the head from the pole. Everyone was enchanted, finding it was virtually Krishna’s reflection. Krishna bade him to relate to his father whether it was Bhima’s mace and Arjuna’s arrows that had won the war.
That head witnessed every fighter killed by the discus, followed by Bhavaani catching the blood in a skull and drinking it gleefully along with a band of dancing yoginis and Bhairav sword in hand. The Flautist had turned Annihilator. Bhima bowed his head in acknowledgement.
Krishna blessed Barbareek that his head would be a deity in the Kali Yuga granting his devotees their desires and would be invoked with the chanting of “Jai Shri Shyam!” His form would be four-armed and the scent of sandalwood would waft from it. Krishna then summoned Luhaagar, handed him the head, asking him to keep it in the sacred spot of Dagdhsthali. In Kali Yuga Sishupal would be born as an extremely arrogant king because he had lamented while dying that while Krishna had fled from Jarasandh he had never done so from him, thereby casting a slur on his fame. In Rupavati river Sishupal would discover the head where Luhaagar was asked to drop it.
Luhaagar complied and the head of Barbareek was carried down the river to Khaatu, the capital of king Khatvaang, where the river disappeared. The capital too was abandoned. Here a cow would daily pour its milk on the spot where the head lay buried. Hearing of this marvel, the people dug up the head and heard a celestial voice announce that this was an incarnation of divinity blessed by Krishna, the son of Ahilyavati, which should be worshipped in a temple. The people built a temple, kept the head on a throne and worshipped it. The spot where it was found became known as Shyam-kund, the pond of Shyam.