Mahabharata Anusasana Parva - Translation by KM Ganguly

Mahabharata Adiparva

Section XXVII

"Yudhishthira said, 'Thou O grandsire, art endued with wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures, with conduct and behaviour, with diverse kinds of excellent attributes, and also with years. Thou art distinguished above others by intelligence and wisdom and penances. I shall, therefore, O thou that art the foremost of all righteous men, desire to address enquiries to thee respecting Righteousness. There is not another man, O king, in all the worlds, who is worthier of being questioned on such subjects. O best of kings, how may one, if he happens to be a Kshatriya or a Vaisya or a Sudra, succeed in acquiring the status of a Brahmana? It behoveth thee to tell me the means. Is it by penances the most austere, or by religious acts, or by knowledge of the scriptures, that a person belonging to any of the three inferior orders succeeds in acquiring the status of a Brahmana? Do tell me this, O grandsire!' "Bhishma said, 'The status of a Brahmana, O Yudhishthira, is incapable of acquisition by a person belonging to any of the three other orders. That status is the highest with respect to all creatures. Travelling through innumerable orders of existence, by undergoing repeated births, one at last, in some birth, becomes born as a Brahmana. In this connection is cited an old history, O Yudhishthira, of a conversation between Matanga and a she-ass. Once on a time a Brahmana obtained a son who, though procreated by a person belonging to a different order, had, however, the rites of infancy and youth performed in pursuance of the ordinances laid down for Brahmanas. The child was called by the name of Matanga and was possessed of every accomplishment. His father, desiring to perform a sacrifice, ordered him, O scorcher of foes, to collect the articles required for the act. Having received the command of his father, he set out for the purpose, riding on a car of great speed, drawn by an ass. It so happened that the ass yoked unto that car was of tender years. Instead therefore, of obeying the reins, the animal bore away the car to the vicinity of its dam, viz., the she-ass that had brought it forth. Matanga, dissatisfied with this, began to strike repeatedly the animal with his goad on its nose. Beholding those marks of violence on her child's nose, the she-ass, full of affection for him, said--Do not grieve, O child, for his treatment. A chandala it is that is driving thee. There is no severity in a Brahmana. The Brahmana is said to be the friend of all creatures. He is the teacher also of all creatures and their ruler. Can he chastise any creature so cruelly? This fellow, however, is of sinful deeds. He hath no compassion to show unto even a creature of such tender years as thou. He is simply proving the order of his birth by conducting himself in this way. The nature which he hath derived from his sire forbids the rise of those sentiments of pity and kindness that are natural to the Brahmana. Hearing these harsh words of the she-ass, Matanga quickly, came down from the car and addressing the she-ass, said,--Tell me, O blessed dame, by what fault is my mother stained? How dost thou know that I am a Chandala? Do thou answer me without delay. How, indeed, dost thou know that I am a Chandala? How has my status as a Brahmana been lost? O thou of great wisdom, tell me all this in detail, from beginning to end.'

"The she-ass said, Begotten thou wert, upon a Brahmana woman excited with desire, by a Sudra following the profession of a barber. Thou art, therefore, a Chandala by birth. The status of Brahmana thou hast not at all.'

"Brahmana continued, 'Thus addressed by the she-ass, Matanga retraced his way homewards. Seeing him return, his father said,--I had employed thee in the difficult task of gathering the requisites of my intended sacrifice. Why hast thou come back without having accomplished thy charge? Is it the case that all is not right with thee?

"Matanga said, 'How can he who belongs to no definite order of birth, or to an order that is very low be regarded as all right and happy? How, O father, can that person be happy whose mother is stained? O father, this she-ass, who seems to be more than a human being, tells me that I have been begotten upon a Brahmani woman by a Sudra. I shall, for this reason, undergo the severest penances.--Having said these words to his father, and firmly resolved upon what he had said he proceeded to the great forest and began to undergo the austerest of penances. Setting himself to the performance of those penances for the purpose of happily acquiring the status of a Brahmana, Matanga began to scorch the very deities by the severity of his asceticism. Unto him thus engaged in penances, the chief of the celestials, viz., Indra, appeared and said,--Why, O Matanga, dost thou pass thy time in such grief, abstaining from all kinds of human enjoyments? I shall give thee boons. Do thou name the boons thou desirest. Do not delay, but tell me what is in thy breast. Even if that be unattainable, I shall yet bestow it on thee.'

"Matanga said, 'Desirous of attaining to the status of Brahmana I have begun to practise these penances. After having obtained it, I shall go home. Even this is the boon solicited by me.'

"Bhishma continued, 'Hearing these words of his, Purandara said unto him. The status of a Brahmana, O Matanga, which thou desirest to acquire is really unattainable by thee. It is true, thou desirest to acquire it, but then it is incapable of acquisition by persons begotten on uncleansed souls. O thou of foolish understanding, thou art sure to meet with destruction if thou persistest in this pursuit. Desist, therefore, from this vain endeavour without any delay. This object of thy desire, viz., the status of a Brahmana, which is the foremost of everything, is incapable of being won by penances. Therefore, by coveting that foremost status, thou wilt incur sure destruction. One born as a Chandala can never attain to that status which is regarded as the most sacred among the deities and Asuras and human beings!'"