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Story of Shatanika and Shasranika

In the region named Jambudvipa, there used to rule a king named Shatanika. He was the best among warriors. But he was also very religious. He donated alms and treated his guests well. Every day, the brahmanas received gold and clothes from Shatanika. When Shatanika died, his son Sahasranika became king.

Sahasranika also ruled well and righteously. But he did not donate as much of alms to the brahmanas as his father used to. They took their complaint to the king and said, You do not give as much of alms to us as your father used to. Many brahmanas have already left your kingdom. So will the others, unless you increase the alms you give us.

I have indeed heard that the donation of alms to brahmanas brings punya, replied Sahasranika. I have also heard that all this punya takes one to heaven after death, until the time one has to be born again. Since my father accumulated all this punya by donating alms to brahmanas, he must be in heaven. You are all learned brahmanas. Why don't you tell me where my father is right now?

The brahmanas could not reply. They had no idea where Shatanika was. But later on, they met a learned sage named Bhargava. Bhargava was so powerful that the brahmanas were sure that he would be able to tell where Shatinika was. They begged Bhargava to help them. Bharagava was not very interested in helping the brahmanas. He was busy meditating and had no desire to waste his time on idle pursuits like finding out where dead people now were. But the brahmanas kept begging him and Bhargava eventually agreed.

The sun god himself led the way and, following the sun god, Bhargava went all the way to Yama's abode. It was a long distance away.

The sun god led Bhargava straight to where the twenty-eight crores of narakas (hells) were. The wailings of sinners who were being tortured could be heard. Before they could go any further, their way was barred by a brahmana.

Bhargava, said the brahmana, You owe me a coin for services rendered. You have not paid this and I am dead. Pay me the coin and only then can you proceed further.

I am not carrying any coins on me, replied Bhargava. When I return home, I will collect a coin and bring it back to you. Now let me move forward.

Nonsense, said the brahmana. This is hell. Here payments are strictly on a cash basis. There is no question of paying up later. Pay or you shall not proceed. If you do not have any coins, why then , pay me one-sixth of all the punya that you have earned through your mediations. Bhargava paid what was asked for and edged forward. He was successively stopped by a cowherd, a washerman, a tailor, a priest and a builder. To each of them Bhargava owed some money and they would not let him go until the debts were cleared. In each case, Bhargava parted with one-sixth of his punya so that he was left with none at all.

When these accounts were settled, the sun god led Bhargava to the hell where Shatanika was. Bhargava was bewildered to find such a righteous king as Shatanika in a hell. The king was hung upside down in a pot and was being boiled in oil.

Bhargava asked Shatanika, What is all this? Why are you in hell? You had accumulated a lot of punya through your righteous deeds.

Not really, replied the king. I did donate a lot of alms, especially to brahmanas. But all the money for the alms came from taxing my subjects severely. So it brought no punya at all. Go and tell my son that punya is best acquired by associating with righteous people. And most important of all, tell him to pray to Shiva in the month of Chaitra and on chaturdashi tithi (fourteenth day of the lunar fortnight).

When Bhargava returned, he related what he had been told to Sahasranika. Sahasranika did not stop donating alms. But the money for such alms no longer came out of the royal treasury. The king worked as a labourer and used this money for the donation of alms. He also observed the vrata that his father had asked him to observe in honour of Shiva.

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