Upamanyu: The great Guru-Bhakta

Kuldip Khajuria
Ayodha Dhaumya was a great Vedic-teacher. He had many disciples who became eminent personalities through their tutelage under him. A hard task master, he expected a total commitment from his disciples in matter of Service and Obedience. Only when a student stood up to his expectations that he blessed them unstintingly which made them great in course of time.
Among his disciples, Aruni and Upamanyu are quite well known. Upamanyu’s name is found in Vamsa Brahamana of Sama Veda, and it is believed that he- belonged to Kamboja. His father was sage Vyaghrapada, but some other traditions say that he was the son of Vasu who was the son of the sage Vashishtha. It is also believed that Upamanyu was one of the great sages of Shaivaism, and is credited with discovering the mantra- Namah shivaya.
Upamanyu’s journey to greatness began with his arrival at the portals of the hermitage of his teacher Ayodha Dhaumya. Little did the young student know of forging that he would have to undergo in the furnace of discipline at the hermitage, and the hammering of his teacher’s instructions. Neither did he know that by taking the different path of complete Submission and obedience to the words of his teacher, he had unknowingly steeped on the corridor of perpetual fame.
In the traditional Indian system of training, intellect is called grahana dharana samarthayam- ‘ The capacity to grasp and retain what is learnt’. The reason why many intelligent people fail to acquire knowledge is that they do not have the power to retain what they acquire. One can develop this power of retention of knowledge only when a person his humbled towards his teacher as also towards the subject of study. Humility and Obedience make him receptive and enhance his retentive capacity. A person bereft of these pre requisites is like a shallow vessel which cannot hold much water. This is how shraddha (faith and respect) vinaya (humility), and patrata (competence) are the foundation of learning process. Upamanyu exemplified a complete obedience to the Guru’s commands, and also the results born of such obedience.
He came to Ashrama(hermitage) as young boy- with a healthy strong body. As was customary, he was asked to do various household chores in the Ashrama which included collecting bhiksha(sacred alms), and tending the Ashrama cows. The young aspirant gave himself to the Ashrama life with due respect, humility and sincerity.
Upamanyu’s devotion to His Guru
One day when the boy returned from the forest with the cows, his teacher asked, ‘ Upamanyu, my child, Upon what do you, support yourself ? You look so exceedingly plump.’
Upamanyu: ‘Sir, I support myself by begging.’
Dhaumya: ‘ What is obtained in alms, should not be used by you without offering it to me.’
The next day Upamanyu did as he had received as bhiksha. But, the teacher took the whole of it, without leaving anything for the young boy.
After some days, teacher noted that the boy still looked as well fed as ever. When questioned, Upamanyu answered that he went a- second time round the village asking for alms.
Dhaumya: ‘This is not the way in which you should have obeyed me.By asking for alms a second time, you are diminishing the support of those who live by begging. By behaving in such a fashion, you have shown yourself to be a covetous person.’
Upamanyu bowed low before his teacher in complete agreement. How could a seeker after the knowledge of the Vedas afford to be greedy or -covetous.? Satisfaction with what one received in the normal way was the right way to higher life.
The life continued without any support for Upamanyu. However, once when the boy was returning from the forest with his cows, the teacher noted that the boy continued to look as fat as he looked earlier; When asked to explain, Upamanyu replied, ‘Sir, I now Live upon the milk of these cows’.
Dhaumya was naturally annoyed, ‘ It is not proper for you to appropriate the milk of my- cows without having first obtained my permission.’
The disciple understood his mistake and decided not to act so in future. With this resolve he went to the forest next day. In the evening, when he returned, he did not look famished, and so the teacher asked him:
‘ Upamanyu, my child, you no longer eat of the alms, nor do you go out to beg a second time, not even do you drink of the milk of my cows; yet you, look fresh. By what means do you Contrive to live now?
‘Sir I swallow the froth that, these calves throw out while sucking from their mother.’
Dhaunmya: ‘These generous calves throw out large quantities of forth out of compassion for you. Would you stand in the way of their full meals by acting as you are acting? Know that it is wrong for you drink the froth, thrown out by the calves from their mouth while sucking milk’.
Without hesitation, Upamanyu again decided to change his ways and he had reverence for whatever his teacher said, he went away, without once considering what he would eat the next days. No grains, no Liquid, not even foam! Life was going to be difficult for this would be saint. But he was not going to stir an inch from his cherished values of obedience.
What Devotion to Guru Can Do?
Finally one day oppressed by hunger, the Upamanyu ate the leaves of arka (Asclepias gigantica) plants in the forest. These plants are wild and poisonous. Immediately after eating these leaves, Upamanyu’s eyes got effected by the pungent, acrimonious, and saline properties of the leaves, and he became blind. If that was not enough, he fell into a pit and he was crawling about to find the way. The young boy have come to seek the light of wisdom, but instead lost the Light of his eyes! He lay in that deep, dark hole, probably lost forever.
In the evening that day Ayodha Dhaumya noted the absence of Upamanyu and thought that probably the boy was piqued at the instructions of his teacher. To make up for his cruelty, the teacher immediately set off for the forest with some of his disciples, but the young boy was nowhere to seen. The search party was then started shouting Upamanyu’s name in the hope of getting a reply. Finally- they discovered him in the pit in which he had fallen- helpless, blind, alone.
When the teacher came to know all that had happened, he told Upamanyu; ‘Glorify the twin Ashwins, the physicians of gods, and they will restore your sight; thus directed, Upamanyu recited some of the mantras of the Rig veda to glorify the twin Ashwins;
The prayer that was uttered by Upamanyu had poetic beauty, anguish of a tormented soul, and the power of the Vedic mantras which can bring to life anything, anywhere, if chanted properly. The grace of his teacher, Ayodha dhaunmya, was on the young boy, and he was able to chant the mantras in the prefect way. The result came that very moment, the twin Ashwins appeared before the distressed boy and said, ‘we are pleased with you. Here is a cake for you. Take and eat it. You will be cured of your blindness.’
The time of test for the young sage had come. He was suffering from the blindness, was praying with all earnestness, and was now in the possession of the divine medicine. But, ‘No! He could not eat the cake without first offering it to the teacher, as his teacher had instructed him earlier. He said, ‘Your words, O Ashwins, have never proved untrue. But without first offering this cake to my preceptor I dare not take it.’
Ashwins told him, ‘Formerely, your teacher had invoked us and we had given him a cake like this, and he had taken it without offering to his master. So, you may also do as your teacher did;
Upamanyu reflected: ‘A disciple must not do what his teacher does, but should do only what his teacher ask him to do. Keeping this hold tradition of Obedience alive- Upamanyu- said, ‘O Ashwins, I ask for your pardon. Without offering it to my preceptor, I cannot take this cake.
Ashwins were greatly pleased by the words of this obedient young sage, who despite all his sufferings had refused to budge from the path of his shraddha and obedience of his teacher. Filled with admiration for the boy, the twin Gods blessed him thus:
We are pleased with this devotion of yours towards your teacher. You will be restored to sight and in future you will have a good fortune. Also, your master’s teeth are of black iron, but yours will become that of Gold.
The boy now returned to the hermitage where his teacher blessed him.
You will obtain propriety even as the Ashwins have said. In addition, all the Vedas and all the dhramashashtras{scriptures} will shine in you.
It was thus that great sage was born entirely by the virtue of obedience to guru. The Vedic prayers composed by Upamanyu are – still sung by those who are conversant in the Vedas.
The author is the devotee of Sri Ramakrishna Mission, Jammu Branch.


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