After the audience showed their appreciation to Mars’ champion for his forceful presentation, Mercury’s advocate took the floor. He was a paragon of the sort of versatile intelligence and mercurial mental dexterity that Mercury signifies, and everyone leaned forward that they might not miss any clever word-play or diplomatic wit that might be forthcoming.
Glancing coyly towards his master, he said: “Great King! Mercury is even mightier than is Mars, for is not brain more effectual than brawn? Experts everywhere count Mercury as the crest jewel of the Nine Planets because of his extraordinary prowess. He is the most intelligent planet of all, and he removes all the obstacles of those who worship him. As far as possible he causes no inauspicious event, but rather creates prosperity for everyone. By providing all living beings with supreme discernment he illumines their paths, both mundane and spiritual, through life.
“Mercury’s color is green, the green of the sacred durva (Bermuda grass). He has a splendid, slender body and is eternally energetic. He speak always with distinct, pure, sweet words, but loves to use ambiguities, puns, and words with double meanings. He is fond of jokes, and of fun and games; ever auspicious, always clever, he is a Vaishya, a commercial planet. This great sage Mercury, who has a pronounced aptitude for mathematics and business, rules the skin, me rational mind, and speech. His metal is brass, and his gem emerald. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are all mixed in his constitution, and he is fond of all tastes. Lord of the north, of Wednesday, and of the constellations Gemini and Virgo, he is reknowned as the Golden-Eyed, the Bewitching, the Gentle, the Knower, and the Awakener.
“Mercury is the son of the Moon. We have heard, your majesty, the story of how the Moon languished from consumption, and now we must hear the reason for that infirmity. The Law of Karma, 0 King, is inexorable. Nature’s wheels grind slowly, but they grind thoroughly, and no living being is exempt from karma; no, not even so exalted a personage as Lord Moon.
“When the Moon came of age, he conquered the three worlds and several times performed the Rajasuya, the sacrifice which gives lordship. Nine goddesses served him: Sinivali and Kuhu (me goddesses of the two halves of the New Moon day), Vapus (‘Beautiful Body), Pushti (‘Nourishment’), Prabha (‘Luster’), Vasu (‘the Excellent’), Kirti (‘Fame’), Dhriri (‘Firmness’), and Lakshmi (‘Prosperity’). Then, having achieved rare glory, he became inordinately arrogant and overstepped the boundaries of propriety.
“The Moon was the chief disciple of Jupiter, the guru of the celestials, and was also the favorite of Tara (‘the Star’), Jupiter’s wife, who was attracted to him by his character, his nature, and his beauty. Once it happened, when Jupiter was away on an errand for the gods, that Tara and Moon eloped. Some say they fell in love; some say Tara asked the Moon not to let her fertile moment go to waste; some say the Moon abducted her by force. Though we do not know the precise circumstances of their departure, my liege, we do know what happened next: Jupiter returned home, found his wife gone, soon discovered her whereabouts, and several times sent messages to the Moon requesting his wife’s return.
“The Moon, however, repeatedly refused to comply with these requests, maintaining that Tara had accompanied him other own accord and Would leave only when she was satiated with him. These replies so infuriated Jupiter that he communicated them to his disciple Indra, who sent an ultimatum to the Moon. When Moon refused to yield, Indra began a war. Venus and the asuras (demonic celestials who fight with the devas) took the side of Moon in this war, because of the ongoing enmity between Jupiter and Venus, while Rudra, the omnipotent Lord Shiva, took the side of the devas out of love for His preceptor Angiras, the rishi who was Jupiter’s father.
“The war dragged on so long that the Great Rishis began to fear that the end of the world was nigh. Angiras therefore asked Brahma to reprimand the Moon and order him to return Tara. This the Moon did, but he returned her pregnant. When Jupiter learned of this he was furious, and said to her, ‘You weak-willed woman! Expel from your womb, which is my field to plow, this fetus which was planted there by another. I am sorely tempted to reduce you to ashes for this lapse of morality; the only reason I do not do so is that I am myself eager to sow my seed in you.’
Tara then bashfully ejected the fetus, which was a boy, radiant like gold. Seeing the child’s splendor both Jupiter and Moon hankered after him, and both claimed paternity, demanding that Tara declare the true father’s name. When Tara was too embarrassed to speak, her new- born child said to her angrily, ‘Why do you seek to cover your transgression with false shyness? Speak!’ Finally, when Brahma questioned her in private she admitted that the Moon was the father of that wonderful child, who was the planet Mercury.
“It was, your majesty, after this abduction adventure that Lord Moon annoyed 26 of his 27 wives. This karma led him to be stricken with consumption, as the fruit of his father-in-law’s curse, and it denied him any children from those twenty-seven wives. The workings of karma are profound, sire.”
The king mused a little space, and then said, “Amazing! All the planets that we call benefics, namely the Moon, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus, displayed their own personal frailties during this sordid episode. The Moon fornicated with his gurus wife — a sin which you can atone for, according to the mandate of religious law, only by lopping off your private parts and then walking with your severed genitals in your hands toward the north until you die. The Moon chose rather to brazen it out, with the help of Venus and the asuras, the mortal enemies of the Moons own tribe of devas. Venus, the Great Statesman, then elected to reward the Moon’s misconduct not with a reprimand but with military support, simply to spite his enemy Jupiter. Jupiter, the guru of the celestials, first assumed his wife to have become pregnant by the Moon and so ordered her to expel the fetus from her womb, but when he saw Mercury’s beauty and intelligence he changed his tune. He lied, saying that he was the father, because of his desire to possess such a handsome and talented son. Even Mercury was blameworthy; he was wrong to speak to his mother angrily, for without her dalliance he would never have been born.”
The entire audience, pundits and courtiers alike, here erupted into shouts of appreciation for King Vikramaditya’s astute insights. Pleased, Mercury’s pundit bowed low to his king and continued, “Yes, your majesty, you have understood the situation precisely. While we can by no means approve of the Moon’s actions, Jupiter should have measured his response more carefully, for later, as a result of the karma of demanding his wife back, he also had to suffer, when he impregnated his own brother’s wife.
“Listen now, 0 King, to the story of the illustrious progeny of Mercury. The first child of Vivasvan, the Sun, was Vaivasvata, and the first child of Vaivasvata was a girl, Ila. Vaivasvata had wanted to first have a son and had organized a sacrifice for that purpose. When he inquired of the priests how things had gone awry he discovered that his wife, Shraddha (‘Faith’), had wanted a girl first, and she had therefore induced the chief officiant at the sacrifice to make a slight change in one mantra. The result was Ila.
“Vaivasvata would have none of this, however, so he overruled his wife and requested the Rishi Vasistha to propitiate Narayana, the Lord of All, to turn Ila into a boy. This Vasistha did, and Has name was changed to Sudyumna after the sex change.
“But, your majesty, it is easier to change your name than it is to alter your destiny! This Sudyumna grew to be a handsome and talented prince, and he remained a prince until the day he was out hunting and entered a certain forest where he and all his attendants were without any warning transformed into women. Too late he learned that the great Rudra, the bull-bannered Lord Shiva, had once been surprised by celestials in the act of lovemaldng with His wife Parvati in that very forest. He assuaged Parvati’s embarassment by proclaiming that any male who entered there would become female — except, of course, for Lord Shiva Himself.
“After this transmutation, Sudyumna-turned-Ila continued to wander about with her female followers in that forest until, when they came to Mercury’s hermitage, she and Mercury fell in love at first sight. Their son was Pururavas, who was thus both the great-grandson of the Sun and the grandson of the Moon.
“Sudyumna afterwards wanted to become a man again, so he sought the help ofVasistha, the rishi who had made him a man in the first place. Vasistha then propitiated Lord Shiva, Who in order to both make His own words regarding the forest true and also please the rishi, judiciously ruled that Sudyumna would be a man one month and a woman the next. Sudyumna then ruled the earth, though as our scriptures state, ‘His subjects never reconciled themselves to the idea of a king who changed sex periodically.’ After a long rule he abdicated, entrusted his kingdom to his eldest son, Pururavas, and went to dwell in the forest as an ascetic.
“Once it happened that when the gods Mitra and Varuna saw the gorgeous Apsaras Urvashi, they spontaneously discharged their seed. Agastya originated from the portion of that semen which they deposited in a water pot, while Vasistha was born at the same time from the semen that fell to the ground. Incensed with Urvashi, the two great lords cursed her to fall to earth and wander among men.
“It then came to pass that the Divine Narada (the celestial busybody) informed Urvashi of the form, virtues, wealth, and courage of Pururavas, who had become a great king. Impressed by his good qualities, which were many, and dazzled by his beauty, which made him est. He assuaged Parvari’s embarassment by proclaiming that any male entered there would become female — except, of course, for Lord was Himself.
“After this transmutation, Sudyumna-turned-Ila continued to ider about with her female followers in that forest until, when they ie to Mercury’s hermitage, she and Mercury fell in love at first sight. ar son was Pururavas, who was thus both the great-grandson of the I and the grandson of the Moon.
“Sudyumna afterwards wanted to become a man again, so he ght the help ofVasistha, the rishi who had made him a man in the : place. Vasistha then propitiated Lord Shiva, Who in order to both His own words regarding the forest true and also please the rishi, iciously ruled that Sudyumna would be a man one month and a man the next. Sudyumna then ruled the earth, though as our ptures state, ‘His subjects never reconciled themselves to the idea of a g who changed sex periodically.’ After a long rule he abdicated, listed his kingdom to his eldest son, Pururavas, and went to dwell in forest as an ascetic.
“Once it happened that when the gods Mitra and Varuna saw gorgeous Apsaras Urvashi, they spontaneously discharged their seed. stya originated from the portion of that semen which they deposited water pot, while Vasistha was bom at the same time from the semen : fell to the ground. Incensed with Urvashi, the two great lords cursed to fall to earth and wander among men.
“It then came to pass that the Divine Narada (the celestial ^body) informed Urvashi of the form, virtues, wealth, and courage of uravas, who had become a great king. Impressed by his good lities, which were many, and dazzled by his beauty, which made him seem an incarnation of the god of love, Urvashi fell in love with him, and appeared before him. The king was delighted to see her and, wide eyed and goose-fleshed, he spoke to her softly and smoothly: ‘Welcome, 0 beauty! Please be seated. What can I do for you? Let us enjoy loveplay together for eternity!’
“Urvashi replied, ‘0 handsome one! No woman exists whose eyes and mind would not cleave to you as mine do. My eyes so desire the delight of your embrace that they refuse to relinquish their hold on your limbs. I shall certainly enjoy life together with you with three stipulations, if you break even one of these, you will lose me. First, you must protect like a treasure these two rams that I entrust to you; they are like my children. Second, my diet consists of ghee (clarified butter) alone, which I consume once a day. Finally, I must never see you naked, except at the time of love-making.’
“Pururavas replied, ‘I shall observe these restrictions without fail! What a world-beguiling form! What comportment of love! What man would not accommodate such a woman who herself approaches him?’
“Pururavas now sported as he pleased with Urvashi, who was an expert in purveying pleasure. Inebriated by the sweet flavor of her mouth,and by the lotus fragrance which exuded from all parts of her body, he dallied with her for long years.
‘When the celestials began to feel that heaven was not worth living in without Urvashi, Indra dispatched gandharvas to bring her back. In the black of night these gandharvas stole away the pair of rams that Urvashi, who loved them like her own children, kept always at her bedside. Awakened by the bleating of these rams as they were being led away, Urvashi cried out in alarm, ‘0,1 am lost! I am undone! I put my faith in this eunuch of a husband, this worthless fellow who merely pretends to be a hero, and he has failed me! Thieves are stealing my darling rams while he lies feigning sleep like a frightened woman. Only during daylight does he act like a man!’
“Now Pururavas had not moved because he was unclothed. But diese verbal arrows pricked him like a goad pricks an elephant, and so in a mood of extreme anger he rushed out naked into the night, sword in hand. At this the gandharvas let go the rams and speedily lit the place with lightning. Urvashi then saw her naked husband coming toward her leading her rams, and so disappeared. When Pururavas returned to find no wife in his bed he was drowned in the despondency of sorrow. Crazed with heartache, lost in thoughts of her, this madman searched the wide world over for Urvashi.
“He discovered her at last at Kurukshetra, seated beside the Saraswari river with five of her friends, all in a gay mood. Seeing him, they rose to leave.
“He began to wheedle: ‘Dearest darling! Wait! Return with me and live with me again.’
“She said to him, ‘Great hero, I am as difficult to capture as the wind.’
“He replied, ‘Yes, I know. But remember the bliss we enjoyed together; remember that, whenever you desired it, you could come to my chamber day or night and I would ram you with my manhood.’
“Urvashi reminisced: ‘Yes, thrice a day you would ram me with your manhood, and so you impregnated me, 0 Pururavas. You have ruled my body; I always yielded to your desire.’
“‘I saw,’ said Pururavas, ‘that when I, a mortal, tried to embrace these superhuman companions of yours by throwing off their garments they fled from me like timid does or mares.”
“Urvashi replied, ‘Mortals who lust after immortals can connect with them only when the immortals allow them to connect. Thus I allowed you to unite with me, in the past.’
“‘Yes,’ said Pururavas, ‘you showered your love on me, and from these showers we conceived an exceptional child. Now please grant me my’life.'”
The pundit paused long enough to permit the king to notice the pun, for the name of the son of Pururavas and Urvashi was Ayus, and that word in Sanskrit means ‘life.’
After seeing the king’s face smile the pundit continued:
“Urvashi replied, ‘I will send you whatever is yours that we have produced together. Return home now, 0 muddle-head, for you cannot obtain me.’
“Seeing that Urvashi remained unmoved, Pururavas began to plead threateningly: ‘Stop!’ he said. ‘You cannot depart hence without satisfying me; otherwise, I will today lie down in the lap of destruction, and this excellent body of mine, which has sported well with you, will fall down dead, exposed before all, and the rapacious wolves and vultures will devour it.’
“Pitying him, Urvashi tried to dissuade him: ‘Do not die, 0 Pururavas! Do not fall down, or let the baneful wolves devour you. Lasting friendships cannot be made with women, for their hearts are the hearts of hyenas.’
“Unmoved and now more desperate, Pururavas called to hen ‘Turn back! or my heart will break with grieving.’
“Urvashi relented sufficiently to say, ‘I am now expecting your child. At the end of each year, my lord, you-can spend a night with me, and you will have another issue.’ Then she vanished from his sight.
“Pururavas returned to his city, where every pleasure seemed empty to him. Somehow, as he impatiently bided his time, a year passed with excruciating slowness. When at the end of the year he returned to Kurukshetra, he was delighted to see Urvashi there, holding a splendid child. They united togedier that night, and Urvashi, finding her husband profoundly grief-stricken at the prospect of further separation from her, told mat padietic king, ‘It is because you are srill mortal that we cannot remain together. Now that you have progeny, children who can continue to propitiate the devas with oblations, you can propitiate the gandharvas and they will give me to you. Then we will rejoice together in the heavens.’
“The king promptly extolled the gandharvas, who were so pleased that they gave him a fire-pot in which he could keep the fire that he would need to perform the ritual through which he could obtain Urvashi. In his dazed state he carried that fire-pot away with him, believing it to be Urvashi herself, but he soon realized that it was merely a fire-pot. Placing it in the forest, he returned home and spent each of his nights meditating on her.
“It was at the start of the Silver Age (Treta Yuga) that the three Vedas, which deal with rituals, dawned in his meditating mind. When he returned to the place where he had left the fire pot he saw an Asvanha tree growing from the bottom of a Shami tree. Anxious to regaip Urvashi he made two fire sticks with the wood of that Asvattha tree. Meditating on the lower fire stick as Urvashi, on the upper one as himself, and on the one between as their expected son, he churned those sticks to the accompaniment of the proper mantras. Jatavedas, the sacrificial fire, so called because he helps one gain heavenly enjoyments, manifested from the churning of these fire-sticks, and became the three-fold sacrificial fire ofAhavaniya, Garhapatya, and Dakshina. The king adopted this fire as his son, and into it he made sacrificial offerings, desiring the realm of Urvashi. With the help of this fire who was his son, he attained the world of the gandharvas, and his Urvashi.
“In the Golden Age (Satya Yuga), your majesty, there was only one Veda and that was the sacred syllable Om, That Which Is Always New (pranava), which includes in it all possible sounds. The deity also was one only: Narayana, the Lord of All. There was but a single sacred fire, and all humans were part of one community. It was only at the beginning of the Silver Age that the one Veda became three, and the one fire became three, by the action of Pururavas, that noble scion of both the lunar and solar races.
“One of Pururavas’ descendants was the forceful Rishi Vishvamitra, a doer of great deeds. When King Trishanku craved to be elevated to heaven while still in his physical body, his guru, the Rishi Vasisrha, cursed him to become a chandala (the lowest of the low). Trishanku then approached Vishvamitra, who catapulted him bodily towards heaven. When he reached heavens gates, the celestials, disgusted by his human stench, hurled him down from there headlong, but Vishvamitra halted him midway in his descent, and there he hangs to this day, upside down, shining like a star in the sky.
“Another descendant of Pururavas was Jahnu, who married the River Kaveri. Jahnu once swallowed the entire River Ganga; the Rishis then extracted that blessed river from him as his daughter. Others who count King Pururavas as their ancestor Include the river Kaushiki; the great Dhanvantari, who promulgated Ayurveda; the Rishi Jamadagni; and Parashurama, Jamadagni’s son, who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu Himself. What further proof of Mercury’s predominance among the planets is needed than this striking family tree? I offer my respects to that marvellous planet Mercury who is exceptionally handsome and mild.”