Veda Study


Puranic Nahusha
Career Highlights


Vipin Kumar and Radha Gupta

J-178, HIG Colony, Indore(India) - 452011



A brief introduction to puranic view of  Nahusha is presented here. A beauty(named Ashokasundari) has been born out of eternal tree or kalpa vrksha ( Padma Purana 2.102 ). A demon named Hunda wants to acquire that beauty. But the beauty says that she is destined to be the wife of Nahusha, the son of Aayu. Hunda the demon tries to destroy child Nahusha on his birth, but somehow, child reaches in the hands of seer Vashishtha and he brings him up. He names the child Na-hush because he did not smile on being glorified by gods. Nahusha destroys demon Hunda. Subsequently, when Indra had to go in hiding for some reason, Nahusha was enthroned in place of Indra, the god king. Nahusha desires to acquire queen Shachee who is a chaste woman. Shachee cleverly demands that if he comes to her seated on a chariot drawn by seven rishis, she can become his queen. Nahusha does the same and when rishis are unable to carry him properly, he exhorts them by saying srip, srip, or go, go. On this, sage Agastya out of rishis curses Nahusha to become a sarpa or snake and that he will be able to regain his normal form only when he has discussions with some saintly figure. Subsequently, Nahusha the snake catches Bhima out of five Pandavas for his food and Yudhishthira manages to speak to Nahusha the snake, ask him questions and also answer his questions( Mahabharata Vana parva 178). First, Yudhishthira tells the qualities of a brahmin – truth, donation or giving, nonviolence, sweet speak etc. Then Yudhishthira asks Nahusha which one is better out of truth and donation or between nonviolence and sweet speaking. The answer given by Nahusha is that it depends on circumstances. Moreover, Yudhishthira defines that at present, nobody is brahmin by birth, but even a low caste can attain brahminhood by his deeds, by purification . In response to a question from Nahusha, Yudhishthira answers that what is worth to be known is a state of self where there is neither happiness nor sorrow and one should try to reach that state. Then Yudhishthira asks Nahusha how to proceed to heaven, what type of deeds are required for going there and in response, Nahusha states 3 types of proceeds – either he can be a god, or man or a lower beast. One who is devoted to action, can proceed to anyone out of these three. But what is desirable is that one should establish his soul in the eternal expansion, and that can be done only when one has become unattached to the consequences of his deeds. Yudhishthira asks him what is the place of settlement of sound, touch, form etc, why one does not receive all of these simultaneously at one time. Nahush answers that it is the senses, knowledge, mind and intelligence which carry the information to soul which really enjoys the five subtle elements sound etc. . When mind gets employed by intelligence in one element, soul is not able to receive information. But there is one way, and that is to circumvent intelligence and reach to a higher state of intelligence which can give a feeling of knower to the soul Then Yudhishthira asks him the superior characteristics of mind and intelligence.

            The above puranic description of Nahush throws some light on the hidden facts about Nahusha. One,  praises of Nahusha are sung by gods when he reaches in the hands of seer Vashishtha. Then, as is well known from the thinking of  recent vedic scholars,  Vashistha is symbolic of evolution in a vertical direction, while Agstya symbolizes evolution in a horizontal direction. Vertical evolution may be interpreted as the achievements of an individual which may lead to his seclusion from worldly pleasures. The horizontal evolution may be called as his return to worldly pleasures, but in a changed form, where he is unattached with these. And the discussion of Mahabharata seems to present the same facts.

            The puranic fact of Nahusha being brought up by Vashishtha has also been corroborated in some sense by other vedic references also. Brihad Devta 6.46 refers that King Naahushah approached different rivers to receive their waters for his Yagna, but all the rivers told him in negative and suggested to approach Sarasvati river. Naahushah approached Sarasvati, pleased her with his praises and got his desirables. Subsequently, Vashishtha composed the praises of Naahusah in his verses which appear in Rigveda 7.95-96 and reference to Naahushah in these appears in 7.95.2.

            Regarding the recitation of words srip by Nahusha and becoming a snake by curse, the movement of planets earth etc. is called sarpana in puranic literature. This sarpana or movement can be confined in our body to nerve currents which may start at one place and finish at another, without completing a full cycle. The spread in horizontal direction can be completed only when one’s consciousness revolves around some center, like planets.  What is the real meaning of sarpana in the anecdote of Nahusha, is yet to be explored.

            Regarding the interpretation of word Nahusha, one interpretation has been offered by Vashishtha in puranas that one who is not affected by happiness or sorrow, is Na – hush. The other interpretation can be attempted on the basis of the root Ghudi which means ringing of the bells. One who is free from the enjoyment can be called Na-ghush or no sound. This interpretation also seems to get support from the utterances of Nahush to Yudhishthira. In lower sense, Na-ghush can be said to be one who has attained the heights in his penance, but has not been able to spread his happiness in horizontal direction(Ghosh or naad ).

            There is a story in Mahabharata Anushasan parva 94.28 in relation to the theft of lotuses of sage Agastya. On this, Nahusha swears that

Atithih griha samstho astu kaamvrittastu deekshitah. Vidyaam prayachchtu bhrito yaste harati pushkaram.

Here the fact of a guest being confined to only home may be interpreted in different ways . One interpretation is that somebody comes as a guest and becomes the owner of the house by force. The other interpretation is that in Soma yaga, soma is purchased and it is placed in the vedi and is treated only as a guest, one who may come by chance and not regularly. This is not touched and special penance is performed to be able to offer this soma to gods as oblation ( In vedic literature, one task of Nahusha is to compel demonical powers to offer oblation to gods).

            In Mahabharata Anushasana parva 51, there is a story that Chyavana rishi was making penance under water when fishermen caught him along with fishes. Then Nahusha buys Chyavana at the cost of a cow. The same story has been repeated in puranas in the name of Nabhaga buying seer Aapastamba from the fishermen. This indicates that there may be a relation between the qualities of Nahusha and Naabhaaga . This relation has rightly been elaborated in the published book of Dr. Shraddha Chauhan .The task of Nahusha is to protect the process of what seeps from the highest state of human being, which is called the state of trance or samadhi, or golden treasure. This requires that one like Nahusha is efficient in both the processes – in going to trance and coming back from there.

            There can be a simple interpretation of the story of Nahusha. Nahusha is a state of mind which is firmly established in trance or samadhi.  Nahusha is the son of Aayu. Aayu is a state where all the layers or koshas of the human development have been bonded together. If these layers like lowest layer of gross matter or Annamaya kosha, higher layer of mind or manomaya kosha, highest layer of trance etc. are not bonded together, one’s mind can not be in a rest state in trance. Then, important son of Nahusha is Yayaati. The main part of  word Yayaati is yati, going. This indicates the act of an established mind in going towards worldly objects and enjoy them. The five sons of  yayaati may be symbolic of the different states his different layers of  individuality, out of which only Puuru proves to be of help to him. This Puuru may be symbolic of one who fulfills the desires, the highest state or golden treasure of human being.

            The eternal tree in the story of Nahusha is supposed to provide exactly what is desired from it. In spiritual sense, if one wants to fulfill his desires without help from outside, one has to improve his retention power(Dharanaa) to a large extent. The beauty which appeared from eternal tree may not be important, but the type of beauty- Ashoka, where there is no sorrow – is important in context of Nahusha.

The above write up is a sample of  the topics being covered in Hindi language by the authors under the guidance of Dr. Fatah Singh. For further readings, one can go through the following published books:

1.Puraan Vishaya Anukramanika from A to E(Puranic Subject Index with vedic commentaries)

(Radha Gupta, J-178, HIG Colony, Indore, India, 342011) Price Rs.70/-

(Published with financial assistance from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi)

2.Puraan Vishaya Anukramanika from EE to U(Puranic Subject Index with vedic commentaries)

(Parimal Publications, 27-28, Shakti Nagar, Delhi – 110007)Price Rs.140/-

(Published with financial assistance from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan)

3. Purano me Vedic Sandarbh(Vedic References in Puranas)

(Parimal Publications, 27-28, Shakti Nagar, Delhi – 110007)Price Rs.50/-

(Published with financial assistance from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan)

4. Puranic Subject Index from A to M

(Parimal Publications, under print)