Burning of the Khandava Forest

Part 9: Agni and the Sarang Birds

In the last article we saw how the flames of Agni were coming close to the sarang birds. The mother of the birds had left them and gone away to a place of safety. Their father had got a promise from Agni that he would not burn the four sarang birds of which the young birds were unaware. Although young, they were very wise and harboured no fear of what was coming their way. Actually, they were young rishis – their names were Jaritari, Sarisrukka, Stambhamitra, and Drona.

Let us see the meanings of their names. Jaritari is connected with the aging process (or the process of dissolving). There are two kinds of aging – the first is of the body, where we grow old. The other is the aging which leads to ripening and maturity. This maturity brings wisdom and dissolves the ego. This young bird is wise beyond his years. Sarisrukka comes from the root ‘sru’ meaning to move with the agility of wind – like an arrow or thunderbolt. This is the brilliance of the mind and the power of one-pointed attention. Mostly, the attention is fragmented and hence, powers of the mind remain hidden. When one-pointed, the attention works like a thunderbolt and the mind can take the right decisions in a flash.

Stambhamitra comes from the root ‘stha’ – to stand, pause, wait. The word ‘mitra’ comes from the root ‘mid’ meaning greasy or affectionate. All our emotions are greasy – stuck in possessiveness. Here, we have an emotional energy that is friendly without getting stuck. The last young one was called ‘Drona’, which comes from the root ‘dru’ or liquid – one who is adaptable and can escape from any adverse situation. He is not obstinate or adamant. These four brothers speak words of wisdom and then address Agni, and so remain untouched by his flames.

Jaritari says “That person who has the wisdom to see in advance the obstacles he will have to face, remains calm and steady in unfavourable times.” The next brother Sarisrukka addresses his elder brother “The elder brother is wise, he is the father and he will find a way out of this calamity.” The third Stambhamitra told his eldest brother, “You are brave and without fear and are sure to rise above these troubled times.” The youngest Drona then said, “Agni has seven tongues and seven faces and he has both the power of creation and destruction, he is cruel and is fast engulfing the forest and moving towards us.” Here Drona gives the eldest brother a key of how to stop Agni. He iterated that Agni has seven tongues, signifying that he understands all languages – those of persuasion and also those of request and appeal. The four brothers decide to pray to Agni so that he can be persuaded not to harm them. They bring their attention together, hold their hands in prayer, and invoke the god of fire.

Jaritari says, “Oh one who inflames and burns, you are the spirit of the wind, and the body of all medicine. Water is where you were born, but you are also the womb which gives birth to water. Just like the rays of the sun, your flames can move in all directions.” Here he reveals the different properties of fire. It inflames when we get angry but our own anger burns us. The wind is the courier which carries all communication, and the heart of the message is fire – that which we want to convey. The rays of the sun fell upon the atmosphere and caused oxygen and hydrogen to combine to form water and so fire is the womb of water. The ether element pervades, the wind goes and comes, water flows down, and earth is steady. But fire, the heat and light pervade, the flames can go and come, as water goes down the flames rise, but in that very rising lays the hidden quality of falling too and hence, it is the womb of water. It is the fire too that heals by burning samskaras.

Sarisrukka says, “Oh fiery comet, your flames form seven peaks which lead to freedom from suffering. You bring heat in the form of suffering in people’s lives. The yogis convert that heat into austerity or tapas and thus free themselves from all kinds of pain. We surrender to you and ask that you do not burn us to death.” The seven peaks are the seven doors which lead to samadhi and freedom from suffering. To be free from heat, one must rise up to the peak of heat. Sadly though, we spend our lives running away from suffering.

Stambhamitra says, “You are Brahma, you are the fire that brings and sustains life in all forms. You give birth to the three worlds, sustain them, and when the time comes destroys them. It is your light that brightens the universe and holds the heavenly bodies in their place.” Brahma means expanding consciousness and Agni is the symbol of this consciousness. As long as we have the fire of life within us, we are living. The same is true for all heavenly bodies, thus it is fire that sustains all possible life.

Finally, Drona said, “You remain in our bodies and help us to digest the food we eat. At a subtle level you help us understand, which too, is a form of digestion. As the rays of the sun, you fall upon the earth and enter into water and give life and nutrition to all life. All the greenery we see in life, the rivers, and the mountains are dependent upon you. You are the bearer of good fortune. So to us brothers, please bring good fortune and help us cross the shore as you burn this forest.

Agni was very pleased with the young sarang birds; not only did he spare them but also granted them many boons. After the fire calmed down their father and mother both returned and the family was together again.