The mysterious birth and life of Veda Vyasa

According to Hindu mythology, Vyasa is considered one among seven immortals (Chiranjivis). Vyasa is the author of Vedas, Puranas and Mahabharata including Bhagavad Gita. He is the son of Satyavati and Maharishi Parashara. The festival, Guru Purnima is dedicated to Veda Vyasa. It is also known as Vyasa Purnima which happens to the birthday of Vyasa. Guru Purnima is a festival which is dedicated to all Guru’s (teachers), which comes on the full moon day (Purnima) in the Hindu month of Ashadha (June–July) as it is known in the Hindu calendar. Vyasa took his birth at the end of Dwapara Yuga. He is the greatest Gurus in ancient Hindu traditions. Vyasa is the great-grandson of Vasishta and the grandson of Shakti. Vyasa will also become one of the Saptarishi in the 8th Manvantara.

Maharishi Parashar had performed severe penance to Lord Shiva, Shiva granted a boon to Parashar that, he would be blessed with a son who would be a Brahmarshi, equal to Vashistha and would be famous for his knowledge. Sage Vasishtha raised Parashara because he lost his father at an early age. Parashara himself was a very learned person and a man of immense knowledge. Parashara has the supreme authorities on astrology and his book “Parashara Hora” is a textbook on astrology even in the modern age. He has also written a scripture known as “Parashara Smriti” which is held in such high esteem that, it is even quoted by modern scholars on sociology and ethics. Once Parashar had to cross river Yamuna, he took a ferry which was rowed by a young woman called Satyavati or Matsyagandha. Satyavati was a daughter of Uparichara Vasu and cursed nymph (Apsara) Adrika who had taken the form of a fish. Satyavati was adopted daughter of the chieftain of fishers called Dasaraj. Since she was born from a fish, she constantly emanated the smell of a fish hence, she was called Matsyagandha. Maharishi Parashar got attracted to the girl. The sage solicited Satyavati to satisfy his sexual needs. Satyawati hesitated, but, agreed with conditions:

  • Satyavati told Rishi “It is broad daylight, open boat and Rishis are standing on the bank of the river. How can we have intercourse when they are looking at us?”

To this, Parashar surrounded the entire area with fog and also created an island in the middle of the river.

  • Satyavati was worried that she would lose her virginity, and she can’t face society.

The sage promised her, he would keep secret and her virginity would be intact. The sage used certain spell (mantra) on a flower and threw it over Satyavati which resulted in her having everlasting sweet aroma emitting from her body. Thus, Matsyagandha was transformed into Yojana Ganda (she whose fragrance can be smelled from across a Yojana, Yojana is used to measure a distance of about 12-15 km). She was also known as Gandhavati or Kasturi-Gandhi (“musk-fragrant”). The sage also told that the son born from their union would be as famous as the great sage.

Satyavati gave birth to a baby boy on the same day on an island in the Yamuna. This baby boy became famous as Vyasa. Vyasa was born in a place called Kalpi (Kalpi is a city in Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh). Vyasa was initially called Krishna Dvaipayana. He was born as dark-complexioned like his mother so he was called Krishna and since, he was born on an island he was called Dvaipayana. Vyasa was also called as Badarayana since the isle in which Vyasa was born was covered by Badara (Indian jujube) trees. As the boy grew up, sage Parashara had a bath in river Yamuna and took Vyasa along with him. Parashara never met Satyavati again. Before leaving, Vyasa promised his mother to return when she would need him. At a very tender age, Vyasa left for the forest to perform Akhanda Tapas or continuous penance. Vyasa is believed to have built Gurukul on the bank of river Ganga.

Satyavati was then, married to Kuru king Santanu and had two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Both Chitrangada and Vichitravirya had an untimely death. For preserving the Kuru dynasty, Satyavati called Vyasa and coaxed him to have niyoga with his brother’s widows. Vyasa unwillingly agreed to the niyoga. However, during consummation older queen Ambika closed her eyes seeing Vyasa’s dark appearance as a result Dhritarashtra was born blind. Satyavati considered such an heir to be an unworthy king, so she asked Vyasa to have niyoga with her other daughter-in-law. During Niyoga, Ambalika fell pale seeing Vyasa, as a result, Pandu was born pale. Again Satyavati, requested Ambika to have Niyoga with Vyasa, she remembered Vyasa’s grim appearance so, she sent her maid Parishrami in her place. Parishrami had a most intelligent son called Vidura from Vyasa. Apart from these three sons, Vyasa also had a son called Shuka from his wife Pinjala.

The Brahma Sutras was written by Vyasa. He is the classifier of 4 Vedas, hence he was called Veda Vyasa. Vyasa is also credited, with the writing of the 18 major Puranas. Vyasa is also the author of Yoga-Bhashya, a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Vyasa’s last work was the Bhagavata, which he undertook at the instigation of Devarshi Narada. He is the author of the Mahabharata. Mahabharata is considered as the longest poem ever written with 100,000 slokas or over 200,000 individual verse lines and at about 1.8 million words in total. When Vyasa, wanted to write this Jaya (Mahabarata was initially called as Jaya) he goes near Brahma for help. Brahma suggests Vyasa, to approach Ganesh. Ganesha agreed with one condition that he will write only if Vyasa narrates the story without any pause, to which Vyasa imposes a counter-condition that Ganesha must understand the verse and transcribes them to which Ganesha agrees. Sanskrit used in Mahabharata is very complicated when compared to Ramayana, which Ganesha was unable to keep up with, this gave Vyasa enough time to think, hence the condition of no pause of Ganesha was largely negated. Eighteen chapters of Vyasa’s Jaya constitutes the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of the Hindus.

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