Let me tell you an interesting story with a slight twist to the tale at its tail-end!
|Pic 1 - A sculpture of Sage Sri Rishyashringa in the temple at Kigga|
This is the myth of Sage Rishyasringa. Sage Rishyasringa was the son of Sage Vibhandaka and apsara Urvashi. Once Urvashi was sent by Lord Indra to seduce Sage Vibhandaka and disturb his penance, by which he could have attained powers which Indra perceived as dangerous to the gods. Having broken Vibhandaka’s penance, Urvashi manages to seduce the sage, and from their union, begets a child who strangely, was born with a horn on his head. (Another version says that the child was born out of a doe, who had consumed the life-giving fluid of Vibhandaka which fell into the river on seeing Urvashi, and thus the horn) The child was thus named Rishyasringa (rishi – sage, shringa – deer horns). Sometimes he is even referred to as Ekshringa, implying that he had one horn.
Soon after giving birth to the child, Urvashi goes back to the heavens, her task accomplished. This leaves Vibhandaka very bitter and he takes a dislike to the entire woman-kind. Since, his penance was disturbed by a woman, and he was left with a motherless child, he decided to bring up his son in the absence of any woman. Vibhandaka set up his hermitage in the midst of a jungle and started living there with his son, Rishyasringa, who was educated on all the scriptures and Vedas, but had not seen any human being (read women) besides his father.
Once there was a famine, in the nearby kingdom of Anga (present day Bihar), ruled by King Lomapada. The King was advised that there would be rains in his kingdom only if a Brahmin who had observed absolute chastity visited the kingdom and was referred to Rishyasringa. The king sent beautiful damsels to fetch Rishyasringa from the jungle and Rishyasringa was surprised to see the lovely ladies as he had never seen such beauty in his life. Fortunately, Sage Vibhandaka was not in the hermitage and on hearing the need, Rishyasringa, came along with the ladies. No sooner had he stepped on to the grounds of Anga, there was a heavy downpour. The King was pleased and so were his subjects.
The king decided to offer his daughter, Shanta, to the sage as a wife. Later Sage Vibhandaka came to know about the ploy and was extremely angry. But he accepted everything as fate and concluded that this was inevitable and that the principle of male and female forces can never be separated, no matter what. Rishyasringa and Shanta got married and stayed on at Anga, till it was time for their vanaprashtha, retirement to the jungles.
King Dasharath of Ayodhya was a friend of King Lomapada and was without any heir, in spite of having three wives. When Dasharath was advised to perform a Putra-kameshti (for begetting a son) Yagna, it was decided that they would invite Sage Rishyasringa to perform the yagna. If was after this yagna, that Dasharath was blessed with the birth of his four sons, Ram, Lakshaman, Bharat and Shatrughan.
|Pic 2 - Royal queens of Dasaratha in front of Sage Rishyasringa; sculptures on outer wall of Ramachandra temple in Hampi,Karnataka,India|
Did I hear, so what is the twist?
This daughter of King Lomapada, Shanta, was actually the daughter of King Dasharath! It is said, that Dasharath and Kaushalya, the first wife of the King (and Lord Ram’s mother) had a daughter who was born with a defect in her legs. The medics of the times could not do anything to remedy the defect, till Sage Vasishtha suggested that the daughter be ‘donated’ or given for adoption to some divine couple. Thus Shanta was given to King Lomapada and soon Shanta was cured of her handicap and later married to Sage Rishyasringa. This means that Shanta was none other than Lord Rama’s elder sister and the first born of King Dasharath.
Some versions do not mention anything about the handicap. The Queen of Anga, was Vershini who was also the elder sister of Kaushalya. Once in Ayodhya, Vershini asked for an offspring, in jest, since she too had no child. To this King Dasharath agreed to allow his daughter, Shanta, to be adopted. The famine in Anga is also partly blamed on Shanta. According to this version, once when Shanta and King Lompada were busy talking, a Brahmin approached the King for some help for the forthcoming monsoon. The king was too busy to speak to him, which infuriated the Brahmin, who left the palace. This further angered Lord Indra, who decided to withhold the rains!
This raises a few questions. Why has there been no focus on Shanta in the entire Ramayana, except for some obscure places prior to the Putra-kameshti yagna to be performed by King Dasharatha and that too not at the primary level, but with reference to Sage Rishyasringa? Is the handicap attributed as the main cause for adoption an afterthought or was it true? The adoptive parents were to be a divine couple, but there was nothing divine about King Lomapada and Queen Vershini. Does this in any form say something about the unwanted-ness of the girl child or is it something not worth debating? Though Valmiki Ramayana does not focus much on Shanta, except for a conversation between Dasharath and Sumantra prior to the yagna, Bhagvata Purana talks about Shanta.
|Shiva-Linga of Sage Rishyashringa|
In the town of Kigga, near Sringeri in modern day Karnataka, India, is a temple of Sri Malahanikareswhwara. ‘Shingeri’ also derives its name from Rishyasringa. The shiv-linga in the temple is supposed to be the linga which was worshipped by Sage Vibhandaka and later Sage Rishyasringa. After living his life, Rishyasringa is supposed to have disappeared in the linga and thus the linga is supposed to have a horn. There exists another such temple in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh which has the idols of Rishyasringa and Shanta!
Picture Courtesy -
Pic 1 & Shiv Linga - Courtesy - www.sringeri.net
Pic 2 - The Hindu