"Yudhishthira said, 'I ask, O chief of Bharata's race, what is the origin of the saying, about discharging all duties jointly at the time of a person's taking the hand of his spouse in marriage? Is that saying in respect of discharging all duties together, due only to what is laid down by the great Rishis in days of yore, or does it refer to the duty of begetting offspring from religious motives, or has it reference to only the carnal pleasure that is expected from such union? I he doubt that fills my mind in this respect is very great. What is spoken of as joint duties by the sages is in my consideration incorrect. That which is called in this world the union for practising all duties together ceases with death and is not to be seen to subsist hereafter. This union for practising all duties together leads to heaven. But heaven, O grandsire, is attained to by persons that are dead. Of a married couple it is seen that only one dies at a time. Where does the other then remain? Do tell me this. Men attain to diverse kinds of fruits by practising diverse kinds of duties. The occupations again, to which men betake themselves are of diverse kinds. Diverse, again, are the hells to which they go in consequence of such diversity of duties and acts. Women, in particular, the Rishis have said, are false in behaviour. When human beings are such, and when women in particular have been declared in the ordinances to be false, how, O sire, can there be a union between the sexes for purposes of practising all duties together? In the very Vedas one may read that women are false. The word 'Duty', as used in the Vedas, seems to have been coined in the first instance for general application (so that it is applied to practices that have no merit in them). Hence the application of that word to the rites of marriage is, instead of being correct, only a form of speech forcibly applied where application it has none. The subject seems to me to be inexplicable although I reflect upon it incessantly. O grandsire, O thou of great wisdom, it behoveth thee to expound this to me in detail, clearly and according to what has been laid down in the Sruti. In fact, do thou explain to me what its characteristics are, and the way in which it has come to pass!'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is cited the old narrative of the discourse between Ashtavakra and the lady known by the name of Disa. In days of yore Ashtavakra of severe penances, desirous of marriage, begged the high-souled Rishi Vadanya of his daughter. The name by which the damsel was known was Suprabha. In beauty she was unrivalled on Earth. In virtues, dignity, conduct, and manners, she was superior to all the girls. By a glance alone that girl of beautiful eyes had robbed him of his heart even as a delightful grove in spring, adorned with flowers, robs the spectator of his heart. The Rishi addressed Ashtavakra and said,--Yes, I shall bestow my daughter on thee. Listen, however, to me. Make a journey to the sacred North. Thou
wilt see many things there!'
"Ashtavakra said, 'It behoveth thee to tell me what I shall see in that region. Indeed, I am ready to execute whatever command may be laid upon me by thee.'"
"Vadanya said, 'Passing over the dominions of the lord of Treasures thou will cross the Himavat mountains. Thou wilt then behold the plateau on which Rudra resides. It is inhabited by Siddhas and Charanas. It abounds with the associates of Mahadeva, frolicsome and fond of dance and possessed of diverse forms. It is peopled with also many Pisachas, O master, of diverse forms and all daubed with fragrant powders of diverse hues, and dancing with joyous hearts in accompaniment with instruments of different kinds made of brass. Surrounded by these who move with electric rapidity in the mazes of the dance or refrain at times altogether from forward or backward or transverse motion of every kind, Mahadeva dwells there. That delightful spot on the mountains, we have heard, is the favourite abode of the great Deity. It is said that that great god as also his associates are always present there. It was there that the goddess Uma practised the severest austerities for the sake of (obtaining for her lord) the three-eyed Deity. Hence, it is said, that spot is much liked by both Mahadeva and Uma. In days of yore there, on the heights of the Mahaparswa, which are situate to the north of the mountains sacred to Mahadeva, the sessions, and the last Night, and many deities, and many human beings also (of the foremost order), in their embodied forms, had adored Mahadeva. Thou shalt cross that region also in thy northward journey. Thou will then see a beautiful and charming forest blue of hue and resembling a mass of clouds. There, in that forest, thou wilt behold a beautiful female ascetic looking like Sree herself. Venerable in age and highly blessed, she is in the observance of the Diksha. Beholding her there thou shouldst duly worship her with reverence. Returning to this place after having beheld her, thou wilt take the hand of my daughter in marriage. If thou wanteth to make this agreement, proceed then on thy journey and do what I command thee.'"
"Ashtavakra said, 'So be it. I shall do thy bidding. Verily, I shall proceed to that region which thou speakest of, O thou of righteous soul. On thy side, let thy words, accord with truth.'"
"Bhishma continued, "The illustrious Ashtavakra set out on his journey. He proceeded more and more towards the north and at last reached the Himavat mountains peopled by Siddhas and Charanas. Arrived at the Himavat mountains, that foremost of Brahamanas then came upon the sacred river Vahuda whose waters produce great merit. He bathed in one of the delightful Tirthas of that river, which was free from mud, and
gratified the deities with oblations of water. His ablutions being over, he spread a quantity of Kusa grass and laid himself down upon it for resting awhile at his ease. Passing the night in this way, the Brahmana rose with the day. He once more performed his ablutions in the sacred waters of the Vahuda and then ignited his homa fire and worshipped it with the aid of many foremost of Vedic mantras. He then worshipped with due rites both Rudra and his spouse Uma, and rested for some more time by the side of that lake in the course of the Vahuda whose shores he had reached. Refreshed by such rest, he set out from that region and then proceeded towards Kailasa. He then beheld a gate of gold that seemed to blaze with beauty. He saw also the Mandakini and the Nalini of the high-souled Kuvera, the Lord of Treasures. Beholding the Rishi arrived there, all the Rakshasas having Manibhadra for their head, who were engaged in protecting that lake abounding with beautiful lotuses, came out in a body for welcoming and honouring the illustrious traveller. The Rishi worshipped in return those Rakshasas of terrible prowess and asked them to report, without delay, his arrival unto the Lord of Treasures. Requested by him to do this, those Rakshasas, O king, said unto him,--King Vaisravana, without waiting for the news from us, is coming of his own accord to thy presence. The illustrious Lord of Treasures is well acquainted with the object of this thy journey. Behold him,--that blessed Master,--who blazes with his own energy. Then king Vaisravana, approaching the faultless Ashtavakra, duly enquired about his welfare. The usual enquiries of politeness being over, the Lord of Treasures then addressed the regenerate Rishi, saying,--Welcome art thou here. Do tell me what it is thou seekest at my hands. Inform me of it. I shall, O regenerate one, accomplish whatever thou mayst bid me to accomplish. Do thou enter my abode as pleases thee, O foremost of Brahamanas. Duly entertained by me, and after thy business is accomplished, thou mayst go without any obstacles being placed in thy way.--Having said these words, Kuvera took the hand of that foremost of Brahmanas and led him into his palace. He offered him his own seat as also water to wash his feet and the Arghya made of the usual ingredients. After the two had taken their seats, the Yakshas of Kuvera headed by Manibhadra, and many Gandharvas and Kinnaras, also sat down before them. After all of them had taken their seats, the Lord of Treasures said these words,--Understanding what thy pleasure is, the diverse tribes of Apsaras will commence their dance. It is meet that I should entertain thee with hospitality and that thou shouldst be served with proper ministrations.
Thus addressed, the ascetic Ashtavakra said, in a sweet voice, Let the dance proceed. Then Urvara and Misrakesi, and Rambha and Urvasi, and Alumvusha and Ghritachi, and Chitra and Chitrangada and Ruchi, and Manohara and Sukesi and Sumukhi and Hasini and Prabha, and Vidyuta, and Prasami and Danta and Vidyota and Rati,--these and many other beautiful Apsaras began to dance. The Gandharvas played on diverse kinds of musical instruments. After such excellent music and dance had commenced, the Rishi Ashtavakra of severe penances unconsciously passed a full celestial year there in the abode of king Vaisravana. Then king Vaisravana said unto the Rishi,--O learned Brahmana, behold, a little more than a year has passed away since thy arrival here. This music and dance, especially known by the name of Gandharva, is a stealer of the heart (and of time). Do thou act as thou wishes or let this go on if that be thy pleasure. Thou art my guest and, therefore, worthy of adoration. This is my house. Givest thou thy commands. We are all bound to thee. The illustrious Ashtavakra, thus addressed by king Vaisravana, replied unto him, with a pleased heart, saying,--I have been duly honoured by thee. I desire now, O Lord of Treasures, to go hence. Indeed, I am highly pleased. All this befits thee, O Lord of Treasures. Through thy grace, O illustrious one, and agreeably to the command of the high-souled Rishi Vadanya, I shall now proceed to my journey's end. Let growth and prosperity be thine.--Having said these words, the illustrious Rishi set out of Kuvera's abode and proceeded northwards. He crossed the Kailasa and the Mandara as also the golden mountains. Beyond those high and great mountains is situated that excellent region where Mahadeva, dressed as an humble ascetic, has taken up his residence. He circumambulated the spot, with concentrated mind, bending his head in reverence the while. Descending then on the Earth, he considered himself sanctified for having obtained a sight of that holy spot which is the abode of Mahadeva. Having circumambulated that mountain thrice, the Rishi, with face turned towards the north, proceeded with a joyous heart. He then beheld another forest that was very delightful in aspect. It was adorned with the fruits and roots of every season, and it resounded with the music of winged warblers numbering by thousands. There were many delightful groves throughout the forest. The illustrious Rishi then beheld a charming hermitage. The Rishi saw also many golden hills decked with gems and possessed of diverse forms. In the begemmed soil he saw many lakes and tanks also. And he saw diverse other objects that were exceedingly delightful. Beholding these things, the mind of that Rishi of cleansed soul became filled with joy. He then saw a beautiful mansion made of gold and adorned with gems of many kinds. Of wonderful structure, that mansion surpassed the place of Kuvera himself in every respect. Around it there were many hills and mounts of jewels and gems. Many beautiful cars and many heaps of diverse kinds of jewels also were visible in that
place. The Rishi beheld there the river Mandakini whose waters were strewn with many Mandara flowers. Many gems also were seen there that were self-luminous, and the soil all around was decked with diamonds of diverse species. The palatial mansion which the Rishi saw contained many chambers whose arches were embellished with various kinds of stones. Those chambers were adorned also with nets of pearls interspersed with jewels and gems of different species. Diverse kinds of beautiful objects capable of stealing the heart and the eye, surrounded that palace. That delightful retreat was inhabited by numerous Rishis. Beholding these beautiful sights all around, the Rishi began to think where he would take shelter. Proceeding then to the gate of the mansion, he uttered these words:--Let those that live here know that a guest has come (desirous of shelter). Hearing the voice of the Rishi, a number of maidens came out together from that palace. They were seven in number, O King, of different styles of beauty, all of them were exceedingly charming. Every one of those maidens upon whom the Rishi cast his eyes, stole his heart. The sage could not, with even his best efforts, control his mind. Indeed, at the sight of those maidens of very superior beauty, his heart lost all its tranquillity. Seeing himself yielding to such influences, the Rishi made a vigorous effort and possessed as he was of great wisdom he at last succeeded in controlling himself. Those damsels then addressed the Rishi, saying,--Let the illustrious one enter. Filled with curiosity in respect of those exceedingly beautiful damsels as also of that palatial mansion, the regenerate Rishi entered as he was bidden. Entering the mansion he beheld an old lady, with indications of decrepitude, attired in white robes and adorned with every kind of ornament. The Rishi blessed her, saying,--Good be to you.--The old lady returned his good wishes in proper form. Rising up, she offered a seat to the Rishi. Having taken his seat, Ashtavakra said,--Let all the damsels go to their respective quarters. Only let one stay here. Let that one remain here who is possessed of wisdom and who has tranquillity of heart. Indeed, let all the others go away at their will.--Thus addressed, all those damsels circumambulated the Rishi and then left the chamber. Only that aged lady remained there. The day quickly passed and night came. The Rishi seated on a splendid bed, addressed the old lady, saying,--O blessed lady, the night is deepening. Do thou address thyself to sleep. Their conversation being thus put a stop to by the Rishi, the old lady laid herself down on an excellent bed of great splendour. Soon after, she rose from her bed and pretending to tremble with cold, she left it for going to the bed of the Rishi. The illustrious Ashtavakra welcomed her with courtesy. The lady however, stretching her arms, tenderly embraced the Rishi, O foremost of men. Beholding the Rishi quite unmoved and as inanimate as a piece of wood, she became very sorry and began to converse with him. There is no pleasure, save that which waits upon Kama (desire), which women can derive from a person of the other sex. I am now under the influence of desire. I seek thee for that reason. Do thou seek me in return. Be cheerful, O learned Rishi, and unite thyself with me. Do thou embrace me, O learned one, for I desire thee greatly. O thou of righteous soul, even this union with me is the excellent and desirable reward of those severe penances which thou hast undergone. At the first sight I have become disposed to seek thee. Do thou also seek me. All this wealth, and everything else of value that thou seest here are mine. Do thou verily become the lord of all this along with my person and heart. I shall gratify every wish of thine. Do thou sport with me, therefore, in these delightful forest, O Brahmana, that are capable of granting every wish. I shall yield thee complete obedience in everything, and thou shall sport with me according to thy pleasure. All objects of desire that are human or that appertain to heaven shall be enjoyed by us. There is no pleasure more agreeable to women (than that which is derivable from the companionship of a person of the other sex). Verily, congress with a person of the opposite sex is the most delicious fruit of joy that we can reap. When urged by the god of desire, women become very capricious. At such times they do not feel any pain, even if they walk over a desert of burning sand.'"
"Ashtavakra said, 'O blessed lady, I never approach one that is another's spouse. One's congress with another man's wife is condemned by persons conversant with the scriptures on morality. I am an utter stranger to enjoyments of every kind. O blessed lady, know that I have become desirous of wedlock for obtaining offspring. I swear by truth itself. Through the aid of offspring righteously obtained, I shall proceed to those regions of felicity which cannot be attained without such aid. O good lady, know what is consistent with morality, and knowing it, desist from thy efforts.'"
"The lady said, 'The very deities of wind and fire and water, or the other celestials, O regenerate one, are not so agreeable to women as the deity of desire. Verily, women are exceedingly fond of sexual congress. Among a thousand women, or, perhaps, among hundreds of thousands, sometimes only one may be found that is devoted to her husband. When under the influence of desire, they care not for family or father or mother or brother or husband or sons or husband's brother (but pursue the way that desire points out). Verily, in pursuit of what they consider happiness, they destroy the family (to which they belong by birth or marriage) even as many queenly rivers eat away the banks that contain them. The Creator himself had said this, quickly marking the faults of women.'"
"Bhishma continued, 'The Rishi, bent upon finding out the faults of women, then addressed that lady, saying,--Cease to speak to me in this
strain. Yearning springs from liking. Tell me what (else) I am to do. --That lady then said in return,--O illustrious one, thou shalt see according to time and place (as do whether I have anything agreeable in me). Do thou only live here (for some time). O highly blessed one, and I shall regard myself amply rewarded.--Thus addressed by her, the regenerate Rishi, O Yudhishthira, expressed his resolution to comply with her request, saying,--Verily, I shall dwell with thee in this place as long as I can venture to do so.--The Rishi then, beholding that lady afflicted with decrepitude, began to reflect earnestly on the matter. He seemed to be even tortured by his thoughts. The eyes of that foremost of Brahmanas failed to derive any delight from those parts of that lady's person whereupon they were cast. On the other hand, his glances seemed to be dispelled by the ugliness of those particular limbs.--This lady is certainly the goddess of this palace. Has she been made ugly through some curse. It is not proper that I should hastily ascertain the cause of this.--Reflecting upon this in the secrecy of his heart, and curious to know the reason, the Rishi passed the rest of that day in an anxious state. The lady then addressed him, saying,--O illustrious one, behold the aspect of the Sun reddened by the evening clouds. What service shall I do unto thee.--The Rishi addressed her, saying,--.'Fetch water for my ablutions. Having bathed, I shall say my evening prayers, restraining my tongue and the senses.'"