(Khandava-daha Parva continued)
"Vaisampayana said, 'Then that Brahmana addressed Arjuna and Vasudeva of the Satwata race, saying, 'Ye who are now staying so near unto Khandava are the two foremost of heroes on earth. I am a voracious Brahmana that always eateth much. O thou of the Vrishni race, and O Partha, I solicit you to gratify me by giving me sufficient food.' Thus addressed by the Brahmana, Krishna and the son of Pandu answered him, saying, 'O, tell us what kind of food will gratify thee so that we may endeavour to give it thee.' The illustrious Brahmana, thus replied to, said unto those heroes who were enquiring after the kind of food he sought, 'I do not desire to eat ordinary food. Know that I am Agni! Give me that food which suiteth me. This forest of Khandava is always protected by Indra. And as it is protected by the illustrious one, I always fail to consume it. In that forest dwelleth, with his followers and family, a Naga, called Takshaka, who is the friend of Indra. It is for him that the wielder of the thunderbolt protecteth this forest. Many other creatures also are thus protected here for the sake of Takshaka. Desiring to consume the forest I succeed not in my attempts in consequence of Indra's prowess. Beholding me blazing forth, he always poureth upon me water from the clouds. Therefore, I succeed not in consuming the forest of Khandava, although I desire very much to do so. I have now come to you--you who are both skilled in weapons! If you help me I will surely consume this forest: for even this is the food that is desired by me! As ye are conversant with excellent weapons, I pray you to prevent those showers from descending and any of the creatures from escaping, when I begin to consume this forest!'
"Janamejaya said, 'Why did the illustrious Agni desire to consume the forest of Khandava that was filled with various living creatures and protected by the chief of the celestials? When Agni consumed in wrath the forest of Khandava, it is evident there was a grave cause. I desire, O Brahmana, to hear all this in detail from thee. Tell me, O sage, how the Khandava forest was consumed in days of yore.'
"Vaisampayana said, 'O chief of men, I will narrate to you the story of the conflagration of Khandava as told by Rishis in the Purana. It hath been heard, O king, in the Purana that there was a celebrated king of the name of Swetaki who was endued with strength and prowess and who was equal unto Indra himself. No one on earth has equalled him in sacrifices, charity, and intelligence. Swetaki performed the five great sacrifices and many others, at all of which the presents unto Brahmanas were large. The heart of that monarch, O king, was always set upon sacrifices, religious rites, and gifts of all kinds. And king Swetaki of great intelligence, assisted by his Ritwiks performed sacrifices for many long years, till those sacrificial priests with eyes afflicted by the continued smoke and becoming very weak, left that monarch, wishing never more to assist at his sacrifices. The king, however, repeatedly asked those Ritwiks to come to him. But they came not to his sacrifice in consequence of the painful state of their eyes. The king, therefore, invited at the command of his own Ritwiks, others like unto them, and completed the sacrifice that he had begun. After some days had elapsed, king Swetaki desired to perform another sacrifice which should extend for a hundred years. But the illustrious monarch obtained not any priest to assist him in it. The celebrated king then, with his friends and relatives, casting off all sloth, repeatedly courted his priests with great persistence, by bowing down unto them, by conciliatory speeches, and by gifts of wealth. All of them, however, refused to accomplish the purpose which that king of immeasurable energy had in view. Then that royal sage, getting angry, addressed those Brahmanas sitting in their asylums, and said, 'If, ye Brahmanas, I were a fallen person, or, if, I were wanting in homage and service to you, I should then deserve to be abandoned without scruple by you and by other Brahmanas at the same time. But as I am neither degraded nor wanting in homage to you, it behoveth you not to obstruct the performance by me of my sacrifice or to abandon me thus, ye foremost of Brahmanas, without adequate reason. I seek, ye Brahmanas, your protection! It behoveth you to be propitious unto me. But, ye foremost of Brahmanas, if you abandon me from enmity alone or any improper motive, I shall go unto other priests for their assistance in this sacrifice of mine, and conciliating them by sweet words and gifts, I shall represent unto them the business I have on hand, so that they may accomplish it.' Having said this, the monarch became silent. And, O chastiser of foes, when those priests well knew that they could not assist at the king's sacrifice, they pretended to be angry, and addressing that best of monarchs said, 'O best of kings, thy sacrifices are incessant! By assisting thee always, we have all been fatigued. And as we have been wearied in consequence of these labours, it behoveth thee to give us leave. O sinless one, from loss of judgment thou canst not wait (but urgest us repeatedly). Go unto Rudra! He will assist at thy sacrifice!' Hearing those words of censure and wrath, king Swetaki became angry. And the monarch wending to the mountains of Kailasa, devoted himself to asceticism there. And, O king, the monarch began to worship Mahadeva, with fixed attention, and by observing the most rigid vows. And foregoing all food at times, he passed a long period. The monarch ate only fruits and roots sometimes at the twelfth and sometimes at the sixteenth hour of the whole day. King Swetaki stood for six months, rapt in attention, with arms upraised and steadfast eyes, like the trunk of a tree or a column rooted to the ground. And, O Bharata, Sankara at last gratified with that tiger among kings, who was undergoing such hard penances, showed himself unto him. And the god spake unto the monarch in a calm and grave voice, saying, 'O tiger among kings, O chastiser of foes, I have been gratified with thee for thy asceticism! Blest be thou! Ask now the boon that thou, O king, desirest.' Hearing these words of Rudra of immeasurable energy, the royal sage bowed unto that deity and replied, saying, 'O illustrious one, O thou that art worshipped by the three worlds, if thou hast been gratified with me, then, O god of gods, assist me thyself, O lord of the celestials, in my sacrifice!' Hearing these words spoken by the monarch, the illustrious god was gratified, and smilingly said, 'We do not ourselves assist at sacrifices: but as thou, O king, hast undergone severe penances, desirous of obtaining a boon, I will, O chastiser of foes, assist at thy sacrifice, upon, O king, this condition.' And Rudra continued, 'If, O king of kings, thou canst, for twelve years, pour without intermission libations of clarified butter into the fire, thyself leading all the while the life of a Brahmacharin with rapt attention, then thou shalt obtain from me what thou askest.' King Swetaki, thus addressed by Rudra, did all that he was directed to do by the wielder of the trident. And after twelve years had elapsed, he again came unto Maheswara. And Sankara, the Creator of the worlds upon seeing Swetaki, that excellent monarch, immediately said, in great gratification, 'I have been gratified by thee, O best of kings, with this thy own act! But, O chastiser of foes, the duty of assisting at sacrifices properly belongeth to Brahmanas. Therefore, O oppressor of foes, I will not myself assist at thy sacrifice today. There is on earth an exalted Brahmana who is even a portion of my own self. He is known by the name of Durvasa. Even that Brahmana endued with great energy will assist you in thy sacrifice. Let, therefore, every preparation be made.' Hearing these words uttered by Rudra, the king, returning to his own capital, began to collect all that was necessary. After everything had been collected, the monarch again presented himself before Rudra and said, 'Every necessary article hath been collected, and all my preparations are complete, through thy grace, O god of gods! Let me, therefore, be installed at the sacrifice tomorrow.' Having heard these words of that illustrious king, Rudra summoned Durvasa before him and said. 'This, O Durvasa, is that best of monarchs called Swetaki. At my command, O best of Brahmanas, assist even this king in his sacrifice.' And the Rishi Durvasa said unto Rudra, 'So be it.' Then the sacrifice for which king Swetaki had made those preparations, took place. And the illustrious monarch's sacrifice was performed according to the ordinance and in proper season. And the gifts, on that occasion, unto the Brahmanas were large. And after that monarch's sacrifice had come to an end, all the other priests who had come to assist at it went away with Durvasa's leave. All other Sadasyas also of immeasurable energy, who had been installed at that sacrifice, then went away. That exalted monarch then entered his own palace, worshipped by exalted Brahmanas conversant with the Vedas, eulogised by chanters of panegyrical hymns and congratulated by the citizens.
"Such was the history of that best of monarchs, the royal sage Swetaki, who, when the time came, ascended to heaven, having won great renown on earth, and accompanied by the Ritwiks and the Sadasyas that had helped him in life.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'At that sacrifice of Swetaki, Agni had drunk clarified butter for twelve years. Indeed, clarified butter had been poured into Agni's mouth in a continuous stream for that period. Having drunk so much butter, Agni, satiated, desired not to drink butter again from the hand of anybody else at any other sacrifice. Agni became pale, having lost his colour, and he could not shine as before. He felt a loss of appetite from surfeit, and his energy itself decreased and sickness afflicted him. Then when the drinker of sacrificial libations perceived that his energy was gradually diminishing, he went to the sacred abode of Brahman that is worshipped by all. Approaching the great Deity seated on his seat, Agni said, 'O exalted one, Swetaki hath (by his sacrifice) gratified me to excess. Even now I am suffering from surfeit which I cannot dispel. O Lord of the universe, I am being reduced both in splendour and strength. I desire to regain, through thy grace, my own permanent nature.' Hearing these words from Hutavaha, the illustrious Creator of all things smilingly replied unto him, saying, 'O exalted one, thou hast eaten, for twelve years, a continuous stream of sacrificial butter poured into thy mouth! It is for this that illness hath seized thee. But, O Agni, grieve not for it. Thou shalt soon regain thy own nature. I shall dispel this surfeit of thine and the time for it is even come. The dreadful forest Khandava, that abode of the enemies of the gods, which thou hadst of old once consumed to ashes at the request of the gods, hath now become the home of numerous creatures. When thou will have eaten the fat of those creatures, thou shalt regain thy own nature. Proceed thither in haste to consume that forest with its living population. Thou wilt then be cured of thy malady.' Hearing the words that fell from the lips of the Supreme Deity, Hutasana proceeded with great speed and soon reached the forest of Khandava in great vigour. Arrived there, he suddenly blazed forth in anger, assisted by Vayu. Beholding Khandava on fire the dwellers (in the forest) that were there, made great efforts to extinguish the conflagration. Elephants by hundreds of thousands, speeding in anger, brought water in their trunks and scattered it upon the fire. Thousands of many-hooded snakes, mad with anger, hastily began to scatter upon fire much water from those many hoods of theirs. And so, O bull of Bharata's race, the other creatures dwelling in that forest, by various appliances and efforts, soon extinguished the fire. In this way, Agni blazed forth in Khandava repeatedly, even for seven times. And it was in this way that the blazing fire was extinguished there as often by the denizens of that forest.'"