The well-known asura king Hiranyakashipu, killed by Vishnu in the avatar of Narasimha, had a famous son Prahlada, who succeeded his father to the throne.
“Prahlada” recounted Vidura, “had a son called Virochana. There ensured a conflict between Virochana and Sudhanva, son of Angirasa, over a damsel each wanted to marry.
In order to resolve who was greater than the other, they decided to seek the Prahlada’s verdict. They had also resolved that whosoever got an unfavourable verdict would give up life itself. That was their mutual but fatal pact.
“Both claimed superiority over each other over issues like education and strength. We have heard that they staked their very life only because their fanaticism regarding their individual superiority lead to illogical conflict and egoistic claims. Finally, they went to Prahlada for a decision,” Vidura narrated further:
“Maharaja!” both said to Prahlada, “who do you think is superior to the other between ourselves? You must answer this question. You should not utter a lie.”
Prahlada was taken aback by the mutual conflict between Virochana and Sudhanva. He turned towards Sudhanva. Anger was writ large on the latter’s face. He was inflamed like the veritable inferno during a global fire.
“If you give a false verdict,” said Sudhanva at the top of his voice, “or refrain from giving a verdict, Indira shall break your head, with his weapon of Vajraayudha, into a hundred pieces.”
The asura king was seen to shiver literally like the thin leaves of a fig tree that shake violently from forces of wind.
Prahlada decided to seek Kashyapa Maharshi’s advice. Accordingly he went to him at once and with folded hands, stood before him and said:
“Great one! You are a knower of dharma. You are fully conversant with the dharmic code governing suras, asuras and brahmanas. All are following your teachings of righteousness in this regard. I have been caught in the role of duty and placed on the horns of dilemma. In such a situation, I request you kindly to enlighten me regarding what punishment will be given to me if I do not reply to the question on the edifice of dharma and what kind of sin will overtake me if I give a false verdict?”
“If a person”, said Kashyapa “despite having known the correct answer on a question, remains silent either on account of provocation, fear or greed, he will be subjected to the painful pull of many a powerful noose of Varuna. Similarly, a person will be bound by the same spell, if in spite of his being brought to give evidence as an eye-witness to an event, he tenders evidence to please both the parties without placing matters beyond all shadow of doubt and penumbra of suspicion like the wavering and dangling ears of cows. Only one among the thousand nooses of Varuna in a year will release the hold and so it is all the more necessary for the knowledgeable one to speak the truth without concealing anything, without fear or favour.”
Subtleties of dharma
“If righteousness gets stabbed by a weapon called unrighteousness and enters the court hall, then it is the duty of the members to redress the grievance just as it is necessary to remove the blood-stained garment and assuage the physical wound. If there is a lapse, then the blood-stained cloth will have the capacity to stab the very members!” said the Sage, suggesting that the sinful deed of dereliction of duty will be shared by the virtuous members adorning the assembly.”
“When an unrighteous act has taken place in an assembly,” continued Kashyapa, “if the doer of the crime is not condemned and if all those present choose to remain silent, then half of the associated sin will afflict the chairman of the assembly, a quarter of it will go the wrong-doer and the remaining (quarter) to the witnessing members. If, on the other hand, if the chairman and members pull up the erring author and condemn the sinful act, both the chairman and the members will be absolved of the sin and the whole burden accrues to the doer.”
“Prahlada!” asserted Kashyapa, “If ever there is a question on the true import of dharma, whoever gives an answer contrary to the code of dharma will have the effect of effacing the good fortunes (punya) acquired by his ancestors during seven previous generations and to be acquired by descendants of seven succeeding generations.”
Tendering false evidence
What is the extent and seriousness of the crime of tendering false evidence? Kashyapa Maharshi equates it with the sins of those who suffer from terrible privations and difficulties flowing from such serious crimes.
“One who has lost all the wealth”, Kashyapa started elaborating the serious ones. “One who has lost a son, one who is immersed in debt, one who does not stand to enjoy the fruits of labour, one forsaken by a friend, one who has lost her husband, one who has been deprived of all possessions as a result of the ruler’s wrath, one who has the mortification of seeing a second (another) wife of one’s husband, one who cannot bear a child, one who has been caught in the jaws of a tiger and one who has lost all for tendering false evidence – the sorrows and miserable lot of all these people, according to gods, rank equally. All these sorrows afflict one who tenders false evidence“. In order to be eligible to give evidence, one must have been an eye-witness. One must hear the arguments and counter-arguments. Then the cream of truth of the matter must be churned out of them. The witness must speak the truth and never untruth; on no account should the witness remain silent, whatever the ostensible reason. One who sticks to truthful deposition never stands the risk of losing anything – righteous behavior or rightful possessions.”
As soon as Kashyapa concluded his enlightening discourse, Prahlada called his son Virochana and Angirasa’s son Sudhanva to receive his verdict on the question posed by them.
“Virochana!” he said to his son, “Angirasa is greater than me. Accordingly, his son Sudhanva, is greater than you. Even his mother is greater than your mother. Sudhanva, therefore, is the lord of your life.”
Sudhanva was carried away by Prahlada’s words of impartiality. Supremely happy he said to him:
“Putrasneham parityajya yastvam dharma vyavasthitaha;
Anujaanaami tae putram jeevatvesha shatam samaaha.
Prahlada! “As you have given the verdict by adhering to dharma untroubled by considerations of natural attachment towards son, I allow your son to live freely. May he live a hundred years!”
Sudhanva then took leave of them and left for his ashram.