Markandeya Purana (initial parts of Markandeya Purana)
Markandeya says- 'O Muni ! Presently I am engaged in evening worship. Hence I do not have time to narrate these things in detail. But I am telling you about the birds which will narrate you the entire content of Mahabharat. Those birds will also remove all your doubts. Sons of the great bird Drona- Pingaksha, Vibodha, Suputra, Sumuka etc. stay in the caves among the hills of Vindhyachala. They are proficient in Vedas. Go and ask them, they will remove all your doubts.'
Markandeya's words surprised Jaimini. To confirm, he asked again- 'It is surprising that the birds could narrate the content of Mahabharat just like human beings. It is even more surprising that they are proficient in Vedas knowledge, which is even rare to find among humans. Kindly tell me how did they come to acquire such profound knowledge despite having being born in the form of birds. Why do you call them as the sons of Drona?'
Markandeya says- 'Long ago, a strange event took place in Nandanvana involving Indra, Devarishi Narada and some of the elves. One day, Indra was enjoying his time in the Nandanvana forest along with his elves. At the same time Narada also arrived there. Indra welcomed and offered him a seat. The elves also greeted Narada. Indra then said- 'Munivara! Tell me what you desire now? If you desire to listen to a song, should I order the Gandharvas or if you wish to watch the dance, should I order one of my elves, Menaka, Rambha, Mishrakeshi or Urvashi? Any of these four can perform a seducing dance before you.'
Narada expressed his desire to watch the dance of an elf, who was superior in beauty to the other elves. This led to a row among the elves. Each one of them was proud of her beauty and talent. Narada then advised them to test their beauty by breaking sage Durvaasa's penance who was at that time staying on a hilltop. All the elves expressed their inability to perform this task successfully. Only an elf named Vapu, driven by her haughtiness accepted to break the penance of sage Durvaasa.
Accordingly she reached the hill where Durvaasa was staying and began to sing an infatuating song in her sweet voice. Very soon, the song began to show its effect on Durvaasa. Attracted by the sweet voice, Durvaasa went in search of the origin of the voice and found Vapu singing at a distance. Durvaasa understood that the elf had come to break his penance. Angrily, he cursed the elf that she would take birth in the lineage of the birds for sixteen years, she would not bear a child and ultimately would be killed by a weapon to regain her heavenly abode. After saying this, sage Durvaasa migrated to Akashganga.
BIRTH OF FOUR BIRDS
Markandeya says - 'In the lineage of the avian King Garuda, there were two brothers- Kanka and Kandhara. One day, Kanka visited Kailasha Parvata where a demon Vidrayudrupa, who was a slave of Kubera, was enjoying privacy with his wife and drinking wine. Seeing Kanka, the demon showed his displeasure at his arrival at an improper time. But Kanka boldly asserted his right on the mountain as according to him, it belonged to all. The infuriated demon decapitated Kanka with his sword.
Hearing the news of his brother's killing, Kandhara resolved to kill the demon. After performing the last rites of his brother, he also arrived on the mountain where the demon Vidrayudrupa was still drinking wine with his wife. The demon lost his temper again. Kandhara then challenged the demon to have a fight with him. A fierce battle ensued between them. Ultimately, Kandhara killed the demon. The demon's wife- Madanika finding herself in a helpless situation accepted Kandhara as her husband. Thus, Kandhara returned to his palace with a newly found wife. Madanika was in fact the daughter of Menaka, the elf and could change her guise at will. After marrying Kandhara, she took the guise of the bird. The bird Madanika was born as elf - Vapu in her next birth due to the curse of sage Durvaasa. Kandhara named her Taarakashi.
A Brahmin named Mandapala had four sons. Drona was the youngest among them and proficient in scriptures, Vedas etc. Kandhara married his daughter, Taarakashi to Drona. After their marriage, Drona and Taarakashi were spending their time happily. Taarakashi conceived during the same time when the battle of Mahabharata was going on. As destiny would have it, Taarakashi flew over the battlefield where she saw Arjuna and Bhagadatta, the king of Pragajyotishpura, fighting valiantly against each other. Accidentally an arrow aimed at Bhagadatta went in the direction of Taarakashi and struck her in the abdomen and tore it apart. As a result of this, four eggs fell on the ground. At the same time, a huge bell fell from Supratika's neck, the elephant of Bhagadatta, and covered the eggs safely.
After the battle of Mahabharata was over, a sage Shami visited the battlefield. There he happened to spot the bell and heard faint chirping coming from underneath the bell. The sage removed the bell and discovered four wingless chicks beneath it. Surprisingly he said to his disciples- 'Look! Falling of these eggs and getting safely covered by the bell simultaneously shows that these chicks are no ordinary birds.' Then he instructed his disciples to carry the eggs to the hermitage and keep it securely at a place safe from predators. The disciples did as told.
BIRDS MIGRATE TO VINDHYACHALA
Sage Shami thereafter began to foster the chicks in his hermitage. With time, the chicks grew feathers and began to fly here and there. But every time the birds went out, they returned to the hermitage by evening. The birds also gained Vedic knowledge by hearing the discourses, which sage Shami used to give daily to his disciples.
One day, when sage Shami was preaching his disciples, the birds arrived there and said- 'O great sage! You are like our father because you have protected us. You are our teacher also because we have gained knowledge from you. Now we have grown up, kindly tell us what should we do?'. The birds speaking like learned people amazed the sage as well as his disciple.
He asked the birds- 'Tell us, how did you speak so clearly and is there any curse behind your present condition?'. The birds replied- 'O sage! Long ago, there used to live a sage, Vipulasavana. He had two sons- Sukarisha and Tumabaru. In our previous birth, we were the sons of Sukarisha. When our father and uncle performed Yagya, we brought them all the required materials. One day, Indra arrived at our hermitage disguised as an aged bird. The aged bird was starving, hence we requested our father to provide him with some food. Upon enquiring by our father, the bird expressed his desire to eat human flesh. Our father tried to dissuade the bird but it did not give up its insistence. Then our father called us and said that he had promised the bird to feed it with human flesh. So, we were asked to donate our body in order to satisfy the bird's hunger. But being frightened, we expressed our inability to meet the demand of the starving bird. This infuriated our father for we were violating his promise that he had made to the bird. He then cursed us to take birth as birds in our next life and himself got ready to donate his body. As our father was breathing his last, Indra resumed his real self and said- 'O great sage! I took this guise only to test your character. Kindly forgive me and tell me what you desire now?' Indra blessed our father to have divine knowledge and penance free from all obstacles. Thereafter we also fell at our father's feet and begged for his pardon. We requested him to take back his words but he said that his words would not go futile. But still he blessed us to have supreme knowledge even in the form of birds.'
Concluding their talk, the birds said- 'O lord! Thus controlled by destiny, our father cursed us. After sometime, we took birth in bird form in the battlefield where you found us and fostered us in your hermitage. Now we are strong enough to fly long distances. So kindly free us from your obligation.'
Hearing the words of the birds, sage Shami said to his disciples- 'Look! I had already told you that these birds were no ordinary creatures. They even survived the battle of Mahabharat. It shows their greatness.' Then sage Shami granted them permission to migrate to the Vindhyachala. The birds decided to pass their time by studying the Vedas and doing penance as long as they stayed there.
DIVINE PLAYS OF GOD
Sage Jaimini reached Vindhyachala and arrived before the birds as per Markandeya's instructions. He said- 'O birds! I am Jaimini, the disciple of Vedavyasa. I have come here with a desire to have your glimpse.' The birds welcomed him saying- 'It is our great fortune that you have arrived here. Your arrival has made us feel as if God himself has arrived.' Jaimini said- 'O learned birds! Kindly listen to the purpose of my visit. Sage Markandeya instructed me to come here and see you. You kindly answer my questions that I have in the context of Mahabharat.' The birds assured him of every possible explanation as per their knowledge. Sage Jaimini proceeded- 'Why did Lord take human incarnation even though He is the cause of the origin, perpetuation and destruction of the universe? How did Draupadi come to be the queen of five Pandavas? How did Balaram expiate for the sin of killing a Brahmin? How were Draupadi's sons attain martyrdom? Kindly narrate all these things in detail.'
The birds say- 'The omnipotent, omniscient and the omnipresent Almighty God is worshipped even by the deities. We salute that Lord Vishnu who is the originator of this universe and who pervades everywhere. We salute Brahma from whose four mouths, the Vedas appeared and sanctified all the three worlds. We bow down at the feet of Mahadeva. Those sages who have metaphysical knowledge assert that Narayana exists in four forms, which are both tangible and intangible. His first form is Vasudeva, appearance of who is more imaginative in nature. This form exists everywhere and in every ages.
The second form of Narayana is the one that bears the earth on his head. This form of god is known as Shesha. Being Taamasi in nature, this form has taken a serpent incarnation. The third form of God exhibits his divine power and plays. It fosters all the creatures, protects religion, and is known as Pradyumna. Yet another form of God known as Aniruddha rests on the serpent's bed in the abysmal depth of water. It carries out the task of creation.
The third form of God destroys the irreligious demons. In the past, this same form rescued the earth from the abyss in the incarnation of a boar (Varaha avatara) and killed the demon King Hiranyakashipu in the form of Narasimha (lion face with human body). This same form of God has appeared now in Lord Krishna's incarnation.
DRAUPADI'S FIVE HUSBANDS
The birds say- 'Frightened by the severe penance of Trishira, Indra killed him to protect his authority and power. But the sin of killing a Brahmin took away Indra's radiance. Trishira was the son of Twashta. Twashta became furious at his son's death. He plucked one strand of hair from his hair-lock and offered it in the sacrificial fire. This resulted into the creation of a formidable and strong demon named Vritarasura. This demon was created with the objective of killing Indra.
Learning about the birth of Vritarasura, Indra sent Saptarishis as emissaries to work out a pact with the demon. The Saptarishis effected a friendship between Indra and Vritarasura. But Indra had other ideas. He took Vritarasura by surprise and killed him. This deceitful action of Indra further enraged the clans of the demons. Soon the atrocities of the demons increased to unbearable limits. Even Prithvi felt unable to bear the burden of their atrocities. She approached the deities and requested them to get her rid of the burden.
Thus, to relieve Prithvi of her burden, the deities began to take incarnation on earth. Dharma and Vayu implanted Indra's radiance in the womb of Kunti. This resulted in the birth of Yudhishthira and Bheema. Then Indra himself produced Arjuna from Kunti. Nakul and Sahadev were born because of Indra's radiance implanted by Ashwini kumaras in the womb of Madri. Thus all the five Pandavas originated from the same source even though they appeared as distinct entities, whereas Draupadi was none other than Shuchi (or Sachi), the wife of Indra, produced from the altar in Drupada's palace. In human incarnation, Draupadi got five Pandavas as her husband.
EXPIATION OF BALARAMA
Shri Krishna's brother Balaram had remained impartial in the battle of Mahabharat. Instead of championing the cause either for the Pandavas or for the Kauravas, he had preferred to go on a pilgrimage. His wife Revati also accompanied him on this pilgrimage. Once while travelling, Balarama drank toddy and entered a beautiful garden known as Raivata. Taking a stroll, Balarama and Revati then reached a hut.
In the hut, many Brahmins were sitting and listening to Sutaji's oration. When the Brahmins saw Balarama, they stood up and felicitated him. Only Sutaji did not stand up. Balarama felt insulted and at once killed him. When Balarama regained his composure after the intoxication receded, he felt guilty for his deed. His belief that killing of Suta would enable him to attain a place in Brahma Loka proved to be based on false notion as the Brahmins had shunned him for his deed.
After Balarama realised his folly, he began to curse himself and resolved to observe a twelve-year long fast in order to expiate for his sin. Thereafter, Balarama migrated to a place of pilgrimage known as Pratiloma Saraswati to carry out his expiation.