THE STORY OF Jada Bharata occurs in many texts. ‘Jada’ means stupid, dumb, foolish. I will give you the Jada Bharata story as stated in the Vishnu Purana. The Vishnu Purana is in the form of a dialogue between the sages Maitreya and Parashara. Maitreya questions and Parashara answers. Bharata was a famous king. Bhratavarsha is supposed to have been named after a king named Bharata. There are two kings known as Bharata, both of whom might have given their name to this country. So the texts say. Jada Bharata was one of these. After ruling as king, Bharata retired to the forest, renouncing his kingdom and leaving his wife and sons. He performed austerities in a place known as Salagrama, in search of liberation from this cycle of birth, death and rebirth. We will take the story up from this point.
Maitreya said, ‘O illustrious one! You have spoken about the importance of jnana and the supreme objective. You spoke about Bharata, lord of the earth. I wish to hear about his conduct. King Bharata resided in Salagrama. He immersed himself in yoga, with his mind only fixed on Vasudeva. As a consequence of the power of that sacred region, he constantly meditated on Hari. Why did he not obtain emancipation and why was he again born as a Brahmana? When he was reduced to the state of being a Brahmana, what did the extremely great-souled one do? You should tell me everything about Bharata.’
Parashara replied, ‘O Maitreya! The immensely fortunate one, lord of the earth, resided in Salagrama for a long period of time, with his mind fixed on the illustrious one and on nothing else. He resorted to non-violence. He possessed all the qualities. He achieved the supreme objective of control over his mind. King Bharata only pronounced Hari’s name: ‘I prostrate myself before the lord of sacrifices, Achyuta, Govinda, Madhava, Ananta, Keshava, Krishna, Vishnu, Hrishikesha, Vasudeva.’ He did not utter anything else, not even in his dreams. He thought of nothing, other than the meanings of these names. Collecting kindling, flowers and kusha grass, he performed rites for the divinity. He performed no other rites. He was devoid of attachment, immersed in yoga and austerities. For the sake of his ablutions, he once went to Mahanadi. [This might be the proper name of a river, or it might simply be an adjective.] He had his bath and performed the other rites. O Brahmana! At that time, a doe emerged from the forest and came to the bank of the river. She was thirsty and wished to drink water. She was pregnant and about to give birth. When she had almost finished drinking water, a lion’s loud roar was heard, terrifying all creatures. Overwhelmed with fear, she jumped from the river onto the bank. However, since it was too high, she fell into the river and miscarried. She was bewildered and submerged in the tumultuous waves. The king seized the fawn delivered as a result of the miscarriage. As a result of the miscarriage and the progressive exertions she had made, the doe fell down and died. The ascetic king saw the distressed doe. He gathered up the fawn and returned to his own hermitage.’
‘Every day, the king nurtured the fawn. He nourished it and it grew. In search of grass, it would stray up to the end of the hermitage. Having gone to desolate and distant parts, when it was scared of tigers, it would rush back again. Even when it went far away in the morning, it would again return to the hermitage in the evening, to Bharata’s cottage in the hermitage. Whether the deer was near or far, his mind was attached to it and he could not think of anything else. He had cast aside his kingdom and sons. He had freed himself from all his relatives. Nevertheless, he now possessed a sense of ownership in the fawn. ‘Has it been devoured by wolves or tigers? Has a lion brought it down?’ If a long time elapsed since its departure, these were his thoughts.
‘This earth is marked by impressions of its hooves. What has become of the fawn, which brings delight to me? With the tips of its horns, it rubs against my arms. When it returns safe from the forest, I am filled with joy. With its budding teeth, it has nibbled at these tufts of kusha grass.’ When it was away for a long time, these were the sage’s thoughts. When the deer was next to him, his happy face was full of joy. Since nothing else was on his mind, his meditation was disturbed. This was despite the king having abandoned his kingdom, objects of pleasure and relatives. The restless deer went far and near and his mind also became restless. The king lost his steadfastness. A long period of time passed. In the course of time, the king died, gazing at the deer with tears in his eyes, like a father towards a son. As he gave up his life, his thoughts were on the deer.’
King Bharata’s mind was attached to it and he could not think of anything else. He had cast aside his kingdom and sons. He had freed himself from all his relatives. Nevertheless, he now possessed a sense of ownership in the fawn.
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‘O Maitreya! His mind was only on it and he thought of nothing else. Since his thoughts were like that, destiny reduced him to such a state. He was born in the great forest of Jambumarga, as a deer that remembered its past life. Since he remembered his past life, he was not interested in samsara. He left his mother and went to Salagrama again. He sustained himself on dry grass and leaves. He sought to free himself from the karma that had led to his becoming a deer. Therefore, when he gave up his body, he was reborn as a Brahmana who remembered his past life. He was born in a pure and noble family of yogis who followed good conduct. He possessed every kind of knowledge and knew the truth about every sacred text. He perceived the atman as distinct from Prakriti. Since he possessed knowledge about the atman, he perceived no difference between him and the gods and all other beings. He did not read the sacred texts, as instructed by his preceptor. He did not go through the sacred thread ceremony. He saw nothing in the rituals. He did not accept the sacred texts. Even when people spoke a lot to him, he said little in reply and that too was incoherent. His speech did not possess the quality of being polished. His words were like those uttered by vulgar people. His body was unclean. He was clad in faded garments. Saliva could be seen between his teeth. All the citizens abused him. For those who pursue yoga, regard shown by others causes great damage. A yogi obtains success in yoga when people dishonour him. In this way, a yogi must follow the virtuous path of dharma. He must not contest people who show his disrespect. Instead, he must avoid any association with them. The immensely intelligent one followed Brahma’s words.
He knew the nature of the atman, though people took him to be jada. He subsisted on gruel, shreds of plants, wild fruits and fragments of grain. He ate whatever little he got. When he was given, he ate a lot. He did not follow norms about what should be eaten when. When his father died, his brother, nephews and relatives made him work in the fields and nourished him with inferior food. His body was stout, but his acts were like those of an idiot.
He bore burdens for everyone and was given food in return for carrying loads.’
‘The king of Souvira’s attendant saw that he had the appearance of a Brahmana, but had not been through any of the samskaras [sacraments]. He thought he could be employed, like an animal. The great-souled king of Souvira was about to leave. People who could be employed without wages were being sought. Bharata resembled a fire shrouded in ashes. With that kind of appearance, he was taken to be one who could be employed without wages. The king of Souvira’s attendant assumed that he could be thus employed, without payment. O Brahmana! Astride his palanquin, the king made up his mind to leave. He was going to go to the banks of Ikshumati, where Kapila’s excellent hermitage was located. What is best in this samsara, where men generally face misery? He wished to ask the great sage known as Kapila, who knew about the dharma of moksha, the answer to this question. Urged by the attendant, men had been rounded up to carry the palanquin. Among all the others who had been rounded up to bear the burden without payment of wages was the Brahmana who possessed every kind of knowledge. He remembered his past lives and bore the burden so as to destroy those sins.’
In the next column, I will tell you how this story ends and about the conversation between Jada Bharata and the king of Souvira.