#1 THE UNDERWORLD KING
A sage called Shukracharya emerged from the limpid waters of a lake upon the back of a giant crocodile named Damstra. Swiftly had they shot through the reservoir which connected two worlds, the sage and the crocodile, like a divine shaft released by Shambhu from the Underworld, and arrived on the secret island of Eshanya. Yet it was early, as far as their arrivals at the shores of the mysterious lake went, for the sun-globe was still visible in the sky and had not yet reddened the earthly firmament.
Churning his life airs, Shukracharya stoked the fires within his body and dried the water off his skin. Then he got down from the crocodile upon the golden banks of the lake and surveyed the forest around him.
It was not yet time for the ritual worship of his beloved deity, the four-handed idol of Nataraj, for Nataraj didn’t expect his services for one muhurt yet. Of course, idols normally didn’t expect anything, seeing as how they were made of gold, stone, wood or jewels (Shukra’s idol was made of jewels) but this one managed to express such things nevertheless, and more. Shukra believed it was more due to the mystic, divine power of the forest-island than his own devotion, but he was infinitely glad about it either way. Only, whenever Damstra, the crocodile, accompanied him to His sacred grove, did the deity remain lifeless. Otherwise He talked and laughed with Shukra in the most astonishing way.
Shukra looked to his left, the direction of South, a direction he’d never explored before, and found tall trees swaying silently in the distance. A cool breeze imbrued with sweet fragrances blew from the direction, as though beckoning him.
In the past Shukra had only ever ventured North – the direction of his deity in this forest. But, today, he looked south. There might be a grove of Champaka trees there…or a forest of Bilva, he thought, as he surveyed the tall swaying trees, whose flowers and leaves are respectively dear to Shankara.
He turned to the crocodile. “Damstra, stay here.”
The crocodile nodded his heavy, black head but Shukra continued to look upon him. “Last time I saw you holding one of the wild crocodiles in your jaws, as if you were ready to swallow it. Why do you do such things?”
The beast tossed its scaly head as if shaking it in denial. “I never wanted to do it, Maharaj. They took me to be an ordinary reptile like them and came to challenge me. I merely expanded my body and displayed my strength. Would you rather me sit still and do nothing? Your mount?”
“Of course not,” Shukra said at once. “You must defend yourself… I only ask that you don’t kill anything here, in this sacred place.”
“Of course, Maharaj,” the crocodile said.
“Very well. Rest awhile.”
The crocodile nodded and began to lumber away lazily on its four, bent legs.
Shukracharya gripped his golden stick firmly and began to walk towards the forest in the south, treading upon fine gravel in his wooden sandals. He passed Palash trees laden with startling red flowers and Kadamb trees, whose sweet fragrance hung heavy in the air, causing fat bumblebees to buzz lazily around him.
He must’ve walked for a long time, because when he turned back, the lake and the forest had disappeared from view. As he looked around he saw shrubs and standing plants growing in clusters. It was a most wonderful thing. Lost as he’d been in thoughts about Uma-Mahesvara, the Mother and Father of creation, Shukracharya had lost track of time and surroundings.
One should not wonder how such a thing can happen with great sages like Shukracharya. While dwelling on the enchanting forms of God, sometimes the sage’s senses stop perceiving the outer world altogether, just as a deplorable lusty man becomes blind to everything on the way to his lover’s house. Indeed, Shukracharya had been intoxicated with God at the time and he missed this great wonder.
But now he looked very carefully around him. Where trees had been at least a yojan near the lake, were mere shrubs and plants here.
What strange wonder is this? he thought. Everything is so small!
Shukra could have uprooted a tree with his two fingers by exerting only a bit of force. He looked closer and was still astonished further! Verily, surrounding him on all sides, were hills and mountains…only they were as high as his waist.
He could have sat upon them like a throne, or beat them to crumbling rocks with his stick.
But there was no mistaking it; Shukra had entered the dimension of the humans.
Currently, the age of Kuli was extant upon Earth. And the trees, mountains, rivers…verily, the Earth itself had reduced in size and stature, mimicking the dwarfing of humans, animals and other living beings. He’d entered such a wild country, unknown to god, demon, sage or mystic travelers.
He rejoiced in his heart, thanking his Lord, Nataraja, again and again. For long had he been searching for a site to establish a city for his disciples, the daityas, who lived in the under-world. And this island was perfect – for it opened into the human dimension.
The eternal Mahesvara, who resided under the Earth in the world of Vital, had told Shukra of the pass to this island, called Eshanya, from the Underworld. It was a purely confidential exchange, not known to even the most devoted attendants of the wild Lord. And so Shukracharya used to come up every 14th night of the Magha-Krishna-Paksa, the fortnight of the waning moon in the month of Magha, and worship Nataraja, the deity of Eshanya, personally.
And today, he’d found that it provided access to the human world – that too a region different from Bharat altogether!
Shukracharya turned on his heel at once and flew Northwards through the sky by virtue of his mystic power. Ahead of him he saw the forest of Eshanya again, covering the horizon and rising into the sky. Soon he found Damstra, too, lazing on the golden sands beside the lake, his black jaws wide open under the sun.
The crocodile snapped his mouth shut the moment he spotted Shukra and skipped to the edge of the waters, thrusting a volley of sand up into the air behind him with his legs.
“What’s the matter, Maharaj?” he shouted.
“Nothing, you stay there!”
Shukra continued flying North at the speed of wind until he reached the outskirts of the sacred grove. There he landed just before the entrance, which was flanked by massive Malati trees, and entered the woodlet quietly. It was completely shaded from the sunlight, except the altar in the middle where the divine deity stood.
Although a large Banyan tree, towering four yojan into the skies, sheltered Nataraj throughout the day, its thick branches and roots couldn’t stop the slant rays of the sun in the evening.
Shukracharya looked upon the deity, whose coral body was glowing yellow in the flood of sunlight. His limbs, studded with large rubies and diamonds, glittered in myriad shades of red and white against the dull, grey bark of the tree.
The idol of Nataraj was always in a state of tandav, the dance of destruction, with His left foot raised and His four hands carrying the fires of destruction, dumru, etc.
Shukracharya placed his stick on the side and prostrated before the idol on the soft ground. At once the deity brought His left foot down and stood ordinarily…or as ordinarily as Shankara could stand. The samvartaka fire blazed and cackled dangerously in His small hand, appearing like the sun reduced to a ball of divine fire.
“My dear Shukra,” Sri Nataraja said in a deep voice that rolled across the grove and sent all of Shukra’s body hair standing on their ends. “Rise up.”
“Maharaj,” Shukra said in a trembling voice, trying to contain the ecstasy he was feeling, with shivers running across his every limb. “I – I’ve found… I’ve found…”
Nataraj laughed sonorously, filling the divine grove with his thunderous sound. Shukra’s ears were thrilled beyond experience. Abandoning all reason, they turned towards the direction of the sound, eager to hear it more and more.
“My dear Shukra,” the eternal Lord said again in a sweet voice full of love. Shukracharya could barely stand now. His vision of the glowing deity was blurring, because of the tears welling up in his eyes. “I know what’s in your mind,” Nataraj said.
“You seek My permission to bring the daityas here; this site called Eshanya, from where the world of humans can be entered. At the same time, you are afraid that the demons will spoil My abode, which has been hidden for millions of years from all eyes.”
“Well, abandon all fear and bring them up, dear friend. I will at once create a site for them, within the soil of my own place, yet different from it at the same time. Although this grove and Myself will be accessible to you always, we will remain invisible to your disciples, the daityas. So bring them up, Bhargava, and let them flourish here, for I’ll tell you a secret which my servant has told me. The naagas are rising through the worlds. They plan to occupy all of the subterranean regions. Soon, Atal will be overcome by the serpents. Better you bring them here, than have them die out below. For even though he doesn’t look it, Drumila is My great devotee at heart. Let him flourish and abound here freely.”
Shukra heard all this with great attention and care and folded his hands in front of His Lord. “As You wish, Maharaj.”
With a heavy heart Shukra then turned around. Even though he was gladdened by his Lord’s wish, he was morose about leaving Him. Concentrating his mind and shaking off the remnants of divine ecstasy, Shukra flew towards the lake, where his crocodile lay. Without delay, he then waded through the waters of the lake once again and swam downwards, to the world of Atal.
 An epithet of Shiva, the deity of Universal destruction.
 The life breath which permeated the body and suspended the spirit-soul within it.
 A form of Lord Shankara.
 1 muhurt = 49 min.
 1 yojan = 6 miles.
 The last, and the worst, of the four ages of men.
 Another form/name of Shiva.
 1 yojan = 8 miles.
 Shiva was white in color in Person.
 A sound instrument which made sounds resembling those of the drum. Nataraj played the dumru during His work of destruction.
 The aforesaid fire of destruction.
 An epithet for the descendents of sage Bhrigu. For Shukra, it could be applied directly, however, seeing as how he was the son of Bhrigu.
 Vasuki, the high-Emperor of the naagas or giant serpents, eternally served Shankara in another, much smaller form, staying coiled around His neck as an ornament. Even though Vasuki was peace-loving and satisfied with whatever he had, the same couldn’t be said of his sons and relatives, the naag Kings spread across the lowest worlds of Creation.