The Mahabharata/Book 1: Adi Parva/Section XXXVI
(Astika Parva continued)
"Saunaka said, 'O child, thou hast named many of the serpents gifted with great energy and incapable of being easily overcome. What did they do after hearing of that curse?'
"Sauti said, 'The illustrious Sesha amongst them, of great renown, leaving his mother practised hard penances, living upon air and rigidly observing his vows. He practised these ascetic devotions, repairing to Gandhamadana, Vadri, Gokarna, the woods of Pushkara, and the foot of Himavat. And he passed his days in those sacred regions, some of which were sacred for their water and others for their soil in the rigid observance of his vows, with singleness of aim, and his passions under complete control. And the Grandsire of all, Brahma, saw that ascetic with knotted hair, clad in rags, and his flesh, skin, and sinews dried up owing to the hard penances he was practising. And the Grandsire addressing him, that penance-practising one of great fortitude, said, 'What is that thorn doest, O Sesha? Let the welfare of the creatures of the worlds also engage thy thoughts. O sinless one, thou art afflicting all creatures by thy hard penances. O Sesha, tell me the desire implanted in thy breast.'
"And Sesha replied, 'My uterine brothers are all of wicked hearts. I do not desire to live amongst them. Let this be sanctioned by thee. Like enemies they are always jealous of one another. I am, therefore, engaged in ascetic devotions. I will not see them even. They never show any kindness for Vinata and her son. Indeed, Vinata's son capable of ranging through the skies, is another brother of ours. They always envy him. And he, too, is much stronger owing to the bestowal of that boon by our father, the high-souled Kasyapa. For these, I engaged in ascetic penances, and I will cast off this body of mine, so that I may avoid companionship with them, even in another state of life.'
"Unto Sesha who had said so, the Grandsire said, 'O Sesha, I know the behaviour of all thy brothers and their great danger owing to their offence against their mother. But O Snake, a remedy (for this) hath been provided by me even beforehand. It behoveth thee not to grieve for thy brothers. O Sesha, ask of me the boon thou desirest. I have been highly gratified with thee and I will grant thee today a boon. O best of snakes, it is fortunate that thy heart hath been set on virtue. Let thy heart be more and more firmly set on virtue.'
"Then Sesha replied, 'O divine Grandsire, this is the boon desired by me; viz., may my heart always delight in virtue and in blessed ascetic penances, O Lord of all!'
"Brahman said, 'O Sesha, I am exceedingly gratified with this thy self-denial and love of peace. But, at my command, let this act be done by thee for the good of my creatures. Bear thou, O Sesha, properly and well this Earth so unsteady with her mountains and forests, her seas and towns and retreats, so that she may be steady.'
"Sesha said, 'O divine Lord of all creatures, O bestower of boons, O lord of the Earth, lord of every created thing, lord of the universe, I will, even as thou sayest hold the Earth steady. Therefore, O lord of all creatures, place her on my head.'
"Brahman said, 'O best of snakes, go underneath the Earth. She will herself give thee a crevice to pass through. And, O Sesha, by holding the Earth, thou shalt certainly do what is prized by me very greatly.'
"Sauti continued, 'Then the elder brother of the king of the snakes, entering a hole, passed to the other side of the Earth, and holding her, supported with his head that goddess with her belt of seas passing all round.'
"Brahman said, 'O Sesha, O best of snakes, thou art the god Dharma, because alone, with thy huge body, thou supportest the Earth with everything on her, even as I myself, or Valavit (Indra), can.'
"Sauti continued, 'The snake, Sesha, the lord Ananta, of great prowess, lives underneath the Earth, alone supporting the world at the command of Brahman. And the illustrious Grandsire, the best of the immortals, then gave unto Ananta the bird of fair feathers, viz., the son of Vinata, for Ananta's help.'"
So ends the thirty-sixth section in the Astika Parva of the Adi Parva.
Next: Section XXXVII