Today, we revisit stories within the Mahabharata during the Pandava princes’ exile. Then, Rishi Lomesh had taken them on a long tour of all the holy places in Bharata.
The rishi then tells Yudhisthira, “O king we are now in the part of the country called Kalinga. This is the river Vaitarni. Dharma, the lord of death, performed a great yagna on the northern shore of this river near these foothills. Since then many rishis have done yagnas here, this place is always full of Brahmins performing austerities and reciting verses from the Vedas. For those tapasvis who wish to reach swarga or heaven, the road is from the southern to the northern banks of this river. Once, the gods also decided to perform a big yagna here. They forgot to keep a share of the yagna for Lord Shiva. In the midst of the yagna, Lord Shiva, in his form of Rudra, came and took away the sacrificial animal. The yagna being incomplete, the devas started fearing the consequences. The devas then prayed to Lord Shiva, praising him in beautiful verses. They requested him not to destroy their yagna and give them back the sacrificial animal. Lord Shiva was pleased and the devas got the animal back. They finished the sacrifice and gave a proper share to Rudra. It has, since, been the custom that in any yagna the first fruit is offered to Lord Shiva.” Here, Rishi Vyasa says that whoever recites the verses the devas recited for Rudra to be happy will see the pathway to paradise.
The Pandavas, then, bathed in the river. It is said that after a person dies, he has to cross the Vaitarni. A dip in this river gives one remission from sins. The word Vaitarni comes from “vitru” or to cross over and also from “vitaran” or to distribute. It means that at the point of death we have one more chance to be free, and this is by crossing this river. To cross over, we must distribute or give away all that we hold on to.
Shiva came in the form of Rudra. This comes from the root “rodayati” or to cry. To perform a yagna we must first be free of crying or complaining. We complain about everything in our lives and because of complaining, we never get the fruits of our actions. All of us have an animal within us and before death we have to transform this animal nature. The first step is to be free of complaining and the second to perform actions with an attitude of prayer. This is depicted by the beautiful verses sung by the devas to get back the sacrificial animal.
The river is in Kalinga. This comes from the root “kal” or strife or quarrel. Before we die, we want to drop all the strife we are holding on to and this is done by crossing the river. We then stand on the other shore, pure and free.