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Śiṣupāla – Redeeming Animosity

Says the peerless Tamil saint and poetess, Avvai, ‘செய்வன திருந்தச் செய்’ (seivana tirundas-sei), ‘do what you do, perfectly’. This adage is accurate in case of all human endeavors, and more so in the case of spiritual endeavors. No half-hearted attempt has ever been known to yield great results, and surprisingly, even animosity when directed at God whole-heartedly can result in a gratifying end. In short, complete absorption in an activity can result in the highest end, including in the earning of Divine grace.

This vital lesson in human endeavor is exemplified in the life of Śiṣupāla, the king of a kingdom called Cedi. In describing Śiṣupāla, Nammāzhvār states, “Śiṣupāla, who singed to the ears of all those who listened, with his unyielding expletives aimed at (Kṛṣṇa)”. The king of Cedi bore nothing but unmitigated animosity towards Kṛṣṇa. Wicked of deed and mean of spirit, Śiṣupāla was comrade of Rukmī. Rukmī was very keen that his lovely sister and the princess of Vidarbha, Rukmiṇī, should be given in marriage not to Kṛṣṇa, the cowherd, but to Śiṣupāla, the kṣatriya lord of the great kingdom of Cedi. Rukmiṇī however, would not hear of this. Her heart was consumed with the dark lord, and she surrendered unto the lord through an outpouring of her heart’s yearning in the form of a letter. Moved by Rukmiṇī’s love, Kṛṣṇa rushed to Vidarbha and carried her away, much to the chagrin of Rukmī, Śiṣupāla and all others who opposed the alliance. This blow to Śiṣupāla’s pride fanned his innate animosity towards Kṛṣṇa further, until it became all consuming. All Śiṣupāla could think about every waking moment, was how he would vanquish Kṛṣṇa.
His absorption in Kṛṣṇa became an unyielding constant, remaining in his conscious mind, every minute of every day, albeit murderous. In other words, he spent his lifetime, literally plotting to kill Kṛṣṇa. However, Śiṣupāla’s murderous intentions found no expression, for Kṛṣṇa’s valor was unmatched. The king of Cedi found himself met with disgrace every time he faced Kṛṣṇa in battle. The only expression Śiṣupāla could find for his pent up animosity, was verbal abuse.

In the court of Yudhiṣṭhira during the occasion of the Rājasūya-yāga soon after the war at Kurukṣetra, an argument broke out over who should be worshipped as the guest of honor. The Pāṇḍava, Sahadeva, rose and addressed the august gathering. He stated, “Acyuta must be honored, for he is the Supreme Being. His grace has resulted in the various activities we witness here today. If he is honored, all beings are honored, including ourselves”. Śiṣupāla who was amongst the gathering began shaking with rage. His eyes belying his murderous intentions, he said aloud for everyone to hear, “time is indeed powerful, for the wise are today swayed by the words of a mere boy. There are great men in this gathering today, who are worthy of worship of kings owing to their nobility and their learning. Why must the cowherd Kṛṣṇa who is a disgrace to his very family, be worshipped? He is as deserving of worship as a crow is deserving of the sacred offerings of sacrifices”. Dissatisfied with the expletives, Śiṣupāla continued in this vein, causing the members of the gathering great distress. People covered their ears, cringing from the unspeakable sin of denouncing the Supreme Being, and began walking away, afraid that the sin would accrue to them as well. The sons of the Pāṇḍavas took great offense to Śiṣupāla’s fulminations. Swords drawn ready to strike, they faced Śiṣupāla. The king of Cedi did not shy away from the challenge. He drew his sword and charged forth, his eyes aglow with fury and venom. The Supreme Lord knew that the moment for Śiṣupāla’s liberation was at hand. Recognizing that liberation could be Śiṣupāla’s only if his end were going to be at the hands of Kṛṣṇa, the lord flung his discus even before the sons of the Pāṇḍavas had a chance to strike. In a trice, the Sudarśana found its mark, and even as the gathering watched on, a glow emerged from the lifeless body of Śiṣupāla to merge in Kṛṣṇa.

Says the Śrīmadbhāgavatam in this regard,

जन्मत्रयानुगुणितवैरसंरब्धया धिया।
ध्यायंस्तन्मयतां यातो भावो हि भवकारणम्॥

janmatrayānuguṇitavairasaṁrabdhayā dhiyā|
dhyāyaṁstanmayatāṁ yāto bhāvo hi bhavakāraṇam||

With an intellect that had been addled by animosity that burgeoned over three births, he meditated (upon Kṛṣṇa) and merged (in Kṛṣṇa). Indeed, is the (consuming) sentiment (of the heart) the determinant of births.

Śrīmadbhāgavata, 10.74.46

In other words, the animosity Śiṣupāla harbored in his previous births, determined his present birth as Śiṣupāla, who was perfect in his animosity towards Kṛṣṇa, and it was that perfection of sentiment that resulted in his liberation.
Śiṣupāla was none other than Jaya, the attendant of the lord of Vaikuṇṭha, who had been cursed to assume three rākṣasic-births, and to attain the lord through animosity. Jaya was born first as Hiraṇyakaśipu and the lord as Nṛsimha slew him. He was next born as Rāvaṇa and the lord as Rāma vanquished him. He was finally born as Śiṣupāla and was slain by Kṛṣṇa to merge in the Supreme.
In the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa, sage Maitreya asks the great Parāśara why it is that Śiṣupāla alone merged in the lord, when Hiraṇyakaśipu and Rāvaṇa, though slain by the lord too, were forced to be reborn. Said Parāśara in response, “(even more than Hiraṇyakaśipu and Ravāṇa,) Śiṣupāla’s thoughts were constantly engrossed in the Supreme Being. He thus merged in the Supreme after death”. It is perfection in endeavor, in Śiṣupāla’s case animosity, that drew Divine grace upon him. Divine grace in turn resulted in liberation. Says Parāśara in the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa of Śiṣupāla’s complete absorption in his chosen endeavor of animosity,

शङ्खचक्रगदासिधरं अतिप्रौढवैरानुभावात्
अटन-भोजन-स्नानासन- शयनादिष्वशेषावस्थान्तरेषु

śaṅkhacakragadāsidharaṁ atiprauḍhavairānubhāvāt

He, the bearer of the (famed) conch, discus, the mace and the sword, never left his (Śiṣupāla’s) thoughts, who was driven by unmitigated animosity, while he wandered about, ate, bathed, sat, reclined, or engaged in anything else.

Viṣṇu-Purāṇa, 4.15.8


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