Often are we encountered with the caution that destiny has the last laugh. Man is proposed to be helpless against the tide of destiny; a mere puppet in the hands of the task master, karma. While it is undeniable that the consequences of deeds of the past hold sway over all created beings, it is not necessarily true that karma is insurmountable. By the grace of the Supreme, by the compassion of the guru, and in extraordinary cases, by arduous effort, fate too is made to bow before man. Simply put, the ill effects of past actions can be mitigated and even surmounted, with the right effort or divine grace, suggest the Purāṇas. Here is an instance of one such extraordinary individual, Dhruva.
Svāyambhuva Manu had two valiant and pious sons, Priyavrata and Uttānapāda. Uttānapāda had two wives, Suruci and Sunīti. Valiant and pious as Uttānapāda was, he had one flaw. He was biased towards Suruci, his older wife, and was under her sway most times. Once, Uttama, the son born to the king and Suruci, sat in the lap of his father in court and was being coddled by Uttānapāda. Dhruva, the son of Sunīti and Uttānapāda, all of five years, walked in at this juncture. As is understandable, Dhruva looked at Uttama and desired to be cuddled by his father similarly. Too young to understand the undercurrent of favoritism and envy that riddled the king and queen, the innocent child walked towards Uttānapāda, desirous of ascending his father’s lap. To his dismay, Dhruva was met with uncharitable words from his step-mother. Suruci said to the tender lad, “child, you harbor unsustainable hope. Sure, you are the son of the king. However, you were not fortunate enough to have been born of my womb, and none other than a son of my womb is worthy of this throne”.
Deeply saddened by the acrid words of Suruci and the apathy of a father who was a prisoner to his wife’s opinions, Dhruva rushed to the inner chamber of his mother. Sunīti looked upon the drooping face and moist eyes of her dear son and asked him what the matter was. In response Dhruva narrated what had happened, and to his dismay, found his mother not enraged but helpless. She said to Dhruva, her eyes filled with sadness, “son, Suruci’s words are indeed true. Remember always, my son, that fortune is in proportion to one’s merits. Suruci’s merits are far greater than mine, and she enjoys the favor of the king, as a result. You are the unfortunate son of my womb, and not the fruit of the womb of your father’s favorite queen, Suruci. Hence, Dhruva, be content with what you have. If however, Suruci’s words continue to bring you pain, act in such a manner as to accumulate religious merit. This will draw prosperity and happiness to you”.
Dhruva was not comforted by the words of his mother. He said to her, “mother, I shall ensure through assiduous effort, that I attain to a state where the entire world reveres me. Let Uttama enjoy the throne bestowed upon him by his father. I desire nothing other than what my own actions can earn me”. With these words, the tender boy of five left the city and resorted to the thickets of a forest.
In the woods, he came across the Saptarṣis, seated on deer-hide and engaged in penance. Surprised that a tender lad of four or five and one who was clearly of royal descent wandered into the forest, they asked him why he was there. Dhruva responded that he desired to attain to a state that none had so far succeeded in attaining. Astonished by the words of the tender lad, the sages suggested that Dhruva propitiate lord Viṣṇu, without whose grace, they stated, Dhruva’s endeavor could never be achieved. They then said to him, “child, the mind must first forsake all other desires. It must then be fixed unshakably on Viṣṇu, who is the indweller of all created beings. With such an unwavering mind, repeat the mantra ‘om namo Vāsudevāya śuddha- jñāna-svarīpiṇe’. The lord is bound to be pleased”.
Grateful for the advice and the mantra, Dhruva saluted the sages with reverence and proceeded to Madhuvana upon the banks of Yamunā. He engaged in penance with a singular heart. Days turned into months and Dhruva was consumed with contemplation of the Supreme. Called upon with such earnestness, the lord could scarce resist Dhruva. Soon, he took residence in the heart of Dhruva, and the earth began to labor under the weight of the matchless Dhruva. The devas were alarmed, and they tried in myriad ways to break Dhruva’s concentration. Failing to do so, they pleaded with lord Viṣṇu to answer Dhruva’s prayers so that he would desist from penance. The lord appeared before Dhruva as requested by the devas but found that his physical presence too was insufficient to disturb Dhruva’s absorption. Dhruva remained consumed in contemplation.
The lord unsealed his rosy lips and called out to Dhruva in his nectarine voice. He said, “son of Uttānapāda, arise. Behold, I stand before you, eager to grant you any boon of your desire”. Hearing these words, Dhruva slowly opened his eyes. Overwhelmed by the sight he beheld, Dhruva sought first to be blessed with the ability to eulogize the Incomprehensible Supreme, who stood before him, personified. Blessed with the knowledge-bestowing touch of the divine conch, Dhruva began glorifying the lord. Urged on further to seek a boon, Dhruva said, “Supreme One, you are the indweller of my heart and are thus no foreigner to my desire. I was told by my step-mother that I do not deserve the throne of my father. I seek therefore, a station superior to everything in creation”. Said the lord in response, “Dhruva, a station by your name shall be assigned to you, that shall rest above the three worlds. The sun, the moon, the stars, the planets and the station of the Saptarṣis too shall remain inferior to yours. You shall remain in power for a period of a Kalpa”. Thus, Dhruva not only pleased the lord with his efforts, but also rewrote the course of fate. Rightfully indeed is it stated,
साहसे श्रीः प्रतिवसति
sāhase śrīḥ prativasati
In (brave) endeavor rests good fortune