Chapter 180 — The Story of Kundadanta and the Upside-down Ascetic

Rama said:—

Sage, I ask you to remove the shade of a doubt from my mind, just as sunshine dispels darkness and brings to light whatever is dark and obscure in the world.

Once I saw a self-controlled ascetic who came to the Gurukula school where I was sitting among the council of the sages and learned men, conversing on subjects of theology and divinity. He was a learned brahmin of godly appearance. He came from the land of the Videhas and was practiced in religious austerities. The shining luster of his body was as unbearable as the terrible seer Durvasas himself.

On entering the assembly, he made his obeisance to the illustrious persons. We also saluted him in return and provided a seat for him to sit down. The brahmin being well seated, I picked up many discourses with him from the Vedanta, Sankhya and Siddhanta philosophies. When his weariness was gone, I asked him this question. “Sage, you seem to be tired with your long journey to this place. Please tell me, O eloquent brahmin, from where you have started here today?”

The brahmin (Kundadanta) replied:—

So it is, O fortunate prince. I have taken great pains to come here. Now hear me tell you the reason that brings me here to see you. There is a district here named Vaideha. It is populous and prosperous, resembling a heavenly paradise. There I was born and educated and lived. I was named Kundadanta because of the whiteness of my teeth, bearing resemblance to the buds of white kunda flowers. 10 Afterwards I renounced my worldly concerns and traveled far and wide about this earth. I stayed in the ashrams of holy sages and saints and the shrines of gods to rest from the fatigue of my travels.

11 I stayed near sacred Srisailam Mountain where I sat silently for a long period practicing my meditation austerities. 12 There I found a desert devoid of grassy pastures and woody trees where the light of the sun and the shade of night reigned by turns, as the place was completely open to the sky. 13 In the middle of this desert was a branching tree with a few green leaves and leaflets. The bright sun dispensed his gentle beams from the upper sky through its cooling foliage. 14 Under one of its branches, there hung a man of holy appearance. He blazed as the resplendent sun hanging in the open air by the cords of sun’s wide extending beams and radiating rays. 15 The man’s feet were tied up by a thick cord of munja grass. His head hung downward towards the ground beneath. This gave him the appearance of an offshoot of a banyan tree rooted in the earth below.

16 After a while I approached him. I saw that his two folded palms were affixed to his breast. 17 Advancing nearer to the body of the brahmin, I found it was alive and breathing, having the feeling of touch and the perception of heat and cold and that of the breeze and change of weather. 18 Afterwards I devoted myself to attending upon that holy person. I underwent all the difficulties of the sun and seasons until I was received into his confidence. 19 Then I asked him, “Who are you lord, that you have taken up this sort of painful meditation? Tell me, O far sighted seer, what is the object of your protracted state of self-mortification at the expense of your precious life?”

20 He replied to my question, “First, O devotee, tell me what is the object of your tapas and those of all others who are devoted to whatever they pursue?” 21 This was his introduction to what he was going to say. Being pressed further by my troublesome questions, he gave the following answer to my questions. 22 “I was born at Mathura where I grew up in the house of my father and acquired my knowledge of philology and the arts in course of time. 23 I also learned that princes are the receptacles of all pleasures and enjoyments and that early youth is capable of enjoying all the fruits of life. 24 Since then I began to reflect upon possession of the seven continents of the earth and to foster the ardent expectation of gratifying all my desires of this life. 25 That is why I came here, to meditate in order to attain the objects of my desire. 26 Therefore, O my disinterested and self offered friend, return to your own country and desired home. Leave me to remain in this state, with my firm resolution to accomplish my desired object.”

27 Being instructed by him to leave, listen now to what I said to him. This will amaze you and the wise will be gladdened in their hearts. 28 I addressed him saying, “O holy saint, let me remain here at your service underneath this holy tree until you obtain the desired reward of your meditation.” 29 The humble minded devotee remained as cool and quiet as a block of stone. His eyes remained closed as he persisted in his quiescence like a dead body, without any motion in his outer limbs.

30 I stayed with him for six months. I remained quiet and quiescent like a block of wood, enduring the rigors of climate and seasons without shrinking. 31 Once I saw a person bright as the blazing sun descending from sun, then standing in the presence of the devotee. 32 The ascetic mentally offered his adoration to this divine person and I bodily prostrated myself before him. He uttered his words, in a tone as sweet as the flowing out of ambrosial sweetness.

33 He said, “O persistent brahmin who has long been hanging from this branch of a banyan tree, suspend your severe austerities and accept your desired reward which I am ready to confer upon you. 34 As you wish, you shall reign over the seven oceans and continents of this earth with your present body for seven thousand years.” 35 In this manner, this second sun gave his blessing to the devout ascetic, then plunged into the bosom of the ocean out of which he had come.

36 The god having departed, I approached the ascetic hanging below the branch and said to him, “I witnessed today what I had heard before, that the gods are ever gracious to their suppliants. 37 Now O brahmin, as you have gained the object of your desire, it is desirable that you should give up your austerity and pursue the proper callings and the course of your life.”

38 He agreed to my proposal. I climbed the tree and loosened his feet, like they loosen the feet of an elephant from its chains. 39 Then, having bathed himself, he made offerings with his pure hands for the remission of his sins. Then with the fruit which he was fortunate to pluck from the tree, he broke the fast of his long penitence. 40 By virtue of his meritorious devotion we obtained plenty of the delicious fruits of that holy tree. We refreshed ourselves lived on that fruit for three days.

41 Thus this brahmin, desiring to obtain sovereignty of the earth with its seven continents encircled by the seven oceans, completed his painful fasting hanging upside down until he obtained his desired reward from the god of day. He refreshed himself for three days in that place, then both of us set out on our journey towards the city of Mathura.