Burning of the Khandava Forest

Part 6: Exposition of the Khandava creatures

In our last article we saw how Indra and the gods were defeated in their battle against Arjuna. As a result, Agni was able to burn the Khandava forest to his heart’s content. We saw how all the animals, demons, and ghosts of the forest tried to escape but were burnt down. Here, Rishi Vyasa gives a vivid description of the havoc wrought by Sri Krishna’s Sudarshana Chakra. We also saw that Sudarshana means right observation. This is the stage of a student’s journey where the observation of his inner psychic nature has become so powerful that the very act of observation destroys the inner weaknesses and patterns which previously he had to struggle with.

Vyasa writes that in the burning of the forest were burnt Danavas and Rakshasas (demons and giants; pride and vanity being the biggest giants), snakes (accumulated desires), panthers, bears, elephants (drunk with vanity), tigers, lions (with flowing manes), deer, buffalos, and countless birds. The burning forest was filled with the screams of the animals and the sounds of burning fire; it seemed as if it were judgement day. Then with his chakra once more Sri Krishna went on a killing spree quelling thousands of birds, animals, demons and ghosts. As they died in the burning flames it seemed as if the spirits that left their bodies came and merged with the spirit of Sri Krishna. He took on a terrible form as if he were a dark cloud over masked light which was absorbing all the escaping spirits. This was his form of time or ‘Kala’. All of us have a time-body that survives after death where all our deeds are recorded as if they are happening right now.

Indra was worried about his friend Thakshak, the king of the snakes. A heavenly voice told him that Thakshak has not been burnt as he was in Kurukshetra, and not in the forest. Thakshak is the doer within us, the active ego. He is in Kurukshetra, or the field of doing. The ego or the self dissolves near the end of our journey and so it survives this burning of the animalistic memories in our Manipur chakra. The voice also told Indra that there was no way the gods could beat Arjuna and Sri Krishna. In their past lives they were two great rishis called Nar and Narayan and had performed great austerities.

The heavenly voice symbolises contact with higher and divine centres within us. These centres were always there but we could not use or communicate with them. Now that the student’s emotional energy has been purified by the burning of the forest, he is free of negative emotions and so the emotional energy rises higher and awakens hidden powers and centres within. The voice also speaks of the previous birth of both, Sri Krishna and Arjuna. This implies that before we can reach the stage of final purification of our emotional energies, a great deal of preparation is essential. The student must be very regular and sincere in his practices. Further the practices must be done with an attitude of joy and gratitude for grace can descend any time and for that the right mental posture is required. We do not have to become serious – there is a difference between sincerity and seriousness. In seriousness, we have to do it and in sincerity, we love to do it.

After hearing the heavenly voice, Indra and all the gods stopped fighting and started going back to the heavens or Indrapuri. Arjuna and Sri Krishna lifted their conches and blew the sound of a lion through them. The Omkara is made of three and a half sounds. The first two sounds are ‘A’ and ‘U’. These are the sounds made by the roar of a tiger or lion. This sound comes from the solar plexus area and is the sound of raw animal power. The other sounds in the Omkara are heavenly and lift the energy within us from the lower chakras to the higher ones. Up until now, every time the energies would rise from Muladhara to Swadhisthana and to Manipura, but the animal emotions there would bring them down again. Now, with the burning of the forest all the animal cells have been transformed, so now the energy can flow up easily. This is what is represented by them blowing a roaring sound through their conch shells.

Agni was very happy; after a long time his flames rose high in the sky without any smoke. If we burn wet wood it creates smoke, we have to let it dry. Similarly, we cannot burn all our suppressed desires without letting them mature. Agni is now free of smoke saying that now the all the patterns and samskaras have been burnt, and at the right time. Agni danced creating different patterns and in different colours. He was completely satiated by the blood, meat, and fat that Sri Krishna and Arjuna had offered him.

When Agni was dancing, a demon called Mai, who was hiding in Takshak’s palace, suddenly made a run for safety. Agni saw him running and made a loud sound signalling the two warriors to kill him. Sri Krishna saw him and readied to kill him. Mai saw that Sri Krishna was going to kill him so he fell at Arjuna’s feet and begged that he be spared. Arjuna was filled with compassion and told him not to be afraid, and spared his life. Hearing Arjuna’s words, Sri Krishna also told Mai that he would not kill him. Mai was the architect of the demons.

We have seen that the emotional energy is purified and when this happens and the energy rises above the Manipura chakra, it brings a lot of artistic creativity in one’s life. This is symbolised by the architect escaping. Sri Krishna then asks Mai to build a palace for Yudhisthira.

Agni kept burning the forest for another fifteen days. In addition to Takshak’s son, Ashwasen (whose mother died saving him), Agni let Mai and four ‘sarang’ cranes live. In our next article, we will take the story of the four young sarang birds.