Mahabharata Parva 21: The Lokapala Sabhakhyana Parva

Mahabharata Parvas - Lokapala Sabhakhyana - Featured Image - Picture of a tree in full bloom

The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.

The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.

In this post, we will summarize the Lokapala Sabhakhyana Parva.

(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)

Narada’s Accomplishments

A few days after Yudhishthir’s entry into the Maya Sabha, Narada pays him a visit. There is a description in this part of the text of the sage’s many accomplishments.

Since we generally do not know much about Narada and think of him as nothing more than a rabble-rouser, I thought it would be nice to record all the qualities that he possesses.

  • To start off, he is conversant with the Vedas and the Upanishads and the Puranas. This is pretty much default state for any sage of that time.
  • He is a historian, which means he has uncanny knowledge of all that has occurred through the various epochs (kalpas).
  • He knows all the tenets of the nyayashastra, the science of morality and ethics.
  • He possesses knowledge of the six Angas: pronunciation, grammar, prosody, comprehension of terms, description of religious rites, and astronomy.
  • He is an expert at studying contradictory texts and reconciling them.
  • In the social sciences, he is the accepted master at differentiating between general principles and their application to specific cases. He interprets contraries by reference to differences in situation and relative status.
  • He is a logician: distinguishing between correct and incorrect statements, drawing inferences from evidence, distinguishing between inferior and superior things.
  • He is an accomplished debater; he is capable of successfully matching Brihaspati in argument, in matters as diverse as politics, philosophy, religion, wealth, pleasure and salvation.
  • He has deep knowledge of war craft and the six sciences of treaty, war, military campaigns, maintenance of posts, ambush strategy, and reserves.
  • He is a good musician as well, and along with Tumbura is used to giving recitals in Indra’s court. He carries a deep love for learning and art.

Narada, therefore, is a man for all seasons, a thorough master of just about every branch of learning.

At his arrival, the Pandavas welcome him with due respect. After the pleasantries have been exchanged, Narada proceeds to describe all the great halls occupied by the gods.

Lokapala Sabhakhyana means ‘the story of sabhas owned by rulers of the world’.

Pushkaramalini the First

The assembly hall of Indra (says Narada unto Yudhishthir), the king of the gods, is called Pushkaramalini. It is possessed of the splendour of the sun, and it was built by Sakra himself.

It is capable of going anywhere at will with the help of Indra’s magic, and its dimensions are a hundred and fifty yojanas in length, a hundred yojanas in breadth, and five yojanas in height. (One yojana is about 13 kilometres.)

Here in this hall sits Indra with his wife Sachi, dressed in robes of pure white and decked with floral wreaths of many colours. And he is waited upon by the Marutas, the Siddhyas, the Saadhyas, the celestial sages, and his fellow gods.

Many Gandharvas and Apsaras dance and create music for the enjoyment of all the celestials in attendance.

The one name that is rather significant among those present in Pushkaramalini is that of Harishchandra the king. He is the only one among human Kshatriyas that has succeeded in gaining a place of respect in Indra’s court.

Yudhishthir also asks Narada about him, and extracts from the sage the story of hardships and strict adherence to dharma that typified the famous king.

The Hall of Yama

The main difference  between the hall of Yama (whose name Narada does not give) and that of Indra is that this one appears to be built with the fulfilment of desire foremost in the mind.

This hall is bright as burnished gold, and covers an area more than a hundred yojanas. It is neither very cool nor very hot, and there is no grief or weakness of age or hunger or thirst.

Nothing disagreeable is found here, and every possible object of desire – both human and celestial – is present.

The people here are mostly great kings and royal sages that have lived illustrious lives in the past. Yayati, Nahusha and Puru. Rama and Lakshmana, the sons of Dasharatha. Dushyanta and Parashurama. Uparichara (Satyavati’s father), Nala, Shantanu and Pandu.

Kala and Mrityu (Time and Death) are two other notable entities always present at Yama’s hall.

It is said that Kala and Mrityu are forever in Yama’s sights, and the former presides over the wheel of time, making sure that the yugas and kalpas follow one another in perfect synchrony, as intended by the Prajapati.

This hall also functions as a large administrative centre, with a large team of people who are tasked with weighing the virtues and sins of the thousands of people who die every moment and walk through the gates.

Pushkaramalini the Other

Varuna, the god of the sea, also has a palace called Pushkaramalini. And since it’s actually present in the waters, the name might be more suited here than it is in Indra’s case.

The theme here appears to be white, which is in sharp contrast with the kind of people who wait upon the lord here: the Daityas, the Nagas, and generally races that you would classify as unpleasant.

Surrounding it on all four sides are massive trees of various colours – blue and yellow and black and white and red and green – that house hundreds of thousands of birds.

When you approach this Pushkaramalini, the first sounds you will hear are not of chanting or conversation but the sweet melodies of koels.

Vasuki and Takshaka are here almost constantly, though Takshaka is also a close friend of Indra, so it is reasonable to assume that he spends at least some of his time in the heavens.

Most of the famous sons of Kadru have made their home here, and wait upon Varuna.

Of the Daityas, Prahlada and Bali are probably the most well-known. The former is the son of Hiranyakashyapa, the supreme Vishnu devotee who is rescued from his father by the Narasimha avatar.

Bali, his grandson, becomes a great king in his time but is subjugated by the Vamana avatar, where Vishnu visits the emperor in the garb of a Brahmin boy and asks for three paces of land as dakshina.

Kubera’s Mansion

The mansion of Kubera is a hundred yojanas in length and seventy in breadth. Kubera himself has built it using his ascetic power.

The building is on the very tip of the highest mountain peak in the city of Alaka, deep within the Himalayas. On first glance, it appears as if the construction is part of the firmament, and its roofs resemble clouds.

Some people speculate whether this great hall in which Kubera holds sway floats in mid-air, capable of flying anywhere its master wishes.

Kubera is the lord of some of the lesser known races of human beings in that time: the Yakshas, the Kinnaras and the Kimpurushas.

The last two are considered subdivisions of the same race, and their primary distinguishing feature is that they are half-humans, half-birds.

The chief of the Kinnaras is Bhagadatta, and that of the Kimpurushas is Druma. Both these men, along with their chief ministers and citizens, reside here in this hall, waiting upon Kubera.

Shiva and Parvati apparently are good friends with the god of wealth, and spend a significant amount of time at this place.

Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is a permanent resident at this hall. If she is not sitting at the feet of Vishnu on Adisesha floating on the ocean of milk, you will most likely find her here in Alaka.

All the great mountains in their human form stay here, too. If you time your visit well, you can nod a greeting at Himavat, shake hands with Gandhamadana, and even manage a small conversation with Meru himself.

The Vindhyas are present in their great number, so is Mandara the churning rod during the events of the Kurma avatar, and all the eastern and western hills of Aryavarta.

The Hall of Brahma

Ending this sequence of descriptions of various halls is that of Brahma, the Creator. Narada tells Yudhishthir that he himself was not granted permission to visit this mansion until he had chanted the Brahma vow for a thousand consecutive years.

It is only at the end of this penance that Vaivaswata, the sun god, appears before Narada and takes him to the abode of Brahma.

This is the spiritual center of the three worlds. You will find here the top echelon of gods and sages. Kashyapa, Bhrigu, Atri, Vasishtha, Gautama, Angirasa and Pulastya are the chief among the rishis that sit in council with Brahma.

The Valakhilyas, thumb-sized men of deep wisdom that we encountered in the story of Garuda, are also present.

In human form are found the science of healing, the knowledge of all sacrifices, the declarations of purpose, the vital principles of ethics, wealth, religion, joy, desire, aversion, asceticism and tranquillity – they all wait upon the supreme deity.

The four Vedas and their many branches, the moon with all the stars in their various constellations, the planets, and virtues such as understanding, patience, memory, wisdom, intelligence and forgiveness are present.

In structure the hall of Brahma is indeterminate; that means it cannot be described in any one way. Its dimensions seem to expand whenever necessary, and change form at the will of its creator.

The colours are fluid, the shapes are malleable, and the material with which it is constructed seems solid one moment, liquid the next, and composed of nothing but air at other times.

There are no columns or walls to be seen; the entire structure appears to be one giant meadow open to the elements, yet it remains comfortable in all seasons.

About Harishchandra

After listening to Narada’s description of the five great halls of the universe, Yudhishthir says:

‘When you spoke of the kings at Indra’s place, you mentioned a king called Harishchandra. Why is it that he alone among the kings has attained the company of Indra?’

In reply, Narada tells Yudhishthir that the primary reason for this is that Harishchandra, in his time, had performed the great sacrifice of Rajasuya.

‘Only he among thousands of kings of Aryavarta had the purity and strength of mind and body to perform this arduous task, Yudhishthir,’ says Narada.

‘And therefore, he alone among thousands of kings has been invited to sit in Indra’s hall. If you wish to attain the same status, then you too must perform the Rajasuya.’

Narada also tells Yudhishthir that he had had occasion to speak to Pandu just before he left from heaven. ‘He told me to remind you of the benefits of performing this sacrifice, my son.

‘Remember that all your Pitris will profit from this deed, no matter where they might be. Your father Pandu might even be allowed into the land of Indra due to the virtue accrued by your deeds.’

Narada Leaves

Saying so, Narada leaves, and for a long time, Yudhishthir allows this thought to stew in his mind. Meanwhile, he implements much of the advice given to him by Narada on the conduct of a king and on good governance.

As a result, the people of Indraprastha become happier than ever. There is abundance of food in the entire kingdom; peace and justice reign everywhere, and the power of the Kuru kingdom grows manifold in all spheres.

After a suitable time has passed, Yudhishthir gathers his councillors and puts to them the proposal of performing the Rajasuya. ‘I believe that we have made ourselves worthy of this great quest,’ he tells them.

‘Ever since the great sage Narada left us, we have made strides forward in every dimension that he had pointed out. This, however, is my opinion.

‘What do you, my advisers, have to say? Shall we commit ourselves to performing the Rajasuya for the good of my father?’

Krishna’s Advice

The rest of the Pandavas and the ministers consulted by Yudhishthir enthusiastically agree with the king, and preparations begin for the momentous occasion.

The king himself, though, begins to have second thoughts on whether he is being too hasty in taking such a step, and he invites Krishna to Indraprastha to discuss the matter.

When Krishna arrives, Yudhishthir says to him over a private meeting: ‘The kingdom of Indraprastha desires to perform the Rajasuya, Krishna. But it seems to be that it is a matter not governed by desire alone.

‘Am I worthy enough to helm such a pious ceremony? Do we have the wherewithal to surpass all the difficulties that will come in the way during the sacrifice itself? I will do whatever you tell me is right, O Keshava. Please advise me.’

With this question of Yudhishthir, the Lokapala Sabhakhyana Parva ends.