But For A Fish!
The Story Of Rishi Saubhari
One of the points about distraction is that everything they do is destabilizing
– Bruce Sterling
During my recent visit to Vrindavan, I had the opportunity to visit Ramtal, a beautiful heritage site. Serene with lush green trees, flowering plants and a huge lily pond in the centre, the garden makes you forget the world outside. The smell of the earth, the colourful bowers, the falling of the leaves with the cooing of birds creates magic. A stone figure of Rishi Saubhari meditating under a banyan tree tells us that this is the place where one of the greatest ancient rishis Saubhari meditated for a thousand years in Satyug and performed several austerities.
During that period, Mandhata was the all-powerful emperor of Bharatvarsh. Once without rainfall, there was a long drought in his empire and on the advice of sage Narada, emperor Mandhata prayed to Rishi Saubhari, who performed a yagna in Ayodhya bringing in a heavy downpour of rain and restoring joy and prosperity of the land.
Saubhari Rishi, a great yogi, used to perform austerities submerged deep in the waters of Yamuna. He had a soft corner for the fish and other aquatic animals swimming and playing around him. He used to feed them and take care of them. Garuda, the vahana of Lord Vishnu was feeding on the fish and snakes in Ramanak isle. Seshnaag, on whom Lord Vishnu lays asleep, guided the snakes to surrender unto Rishi Saubhari. Saubhari gave them assurance and many snakes including the venomous serpent Kaliya took shelter there. Seeing the plight of these animals, the Rishi cursed Gaurda that if he ever crosses into Ramanak isle then he will be burnt to ashes. Henceforth, the snakes, fish and other aquatic animals in this area lived in peace without any fear.
Maya, the illusory power, finds her way and even the greatest of the greats have not been spared from her clutches. Brahmarshi Saubhari, who had achieved siddhis through tapas (austerity) was once taking a dip in the Yamuna river for bath when he got distracted by the sight a fish engaged in mating with his partner. And lo! there blossomed a desire in him to enjoy the same. The great rishi fell down from his high attainment in yoga and approached Emperor Mandhata with a wish to get married to one of his fifty daughters. The Emperor didn’t want to marry off his daughter to this old and infirm sage and humbly replied that he will hold a swayamvara for his daughters. Saubhari could read the mind of the king and at once by his yogic power transformed himself into an extremely handsome young prince. All the fifty daughters were mesmerised by his beauty and garlanded him as their husband.
Because Saubhari Muni was a great yogi, his severe austerities helped him build an opulent home with many parks, clear water lakes and gardens fragrant with varieties of flowers, where birds chirped and bees hummed, complete with properly dressed and decorated servants. Thus surrounded by lavish paraphernalia, the rishi was engaged in family affairs with his numerous wives.
adanta-gobhir visatam tamisram
punaḥ punas carvita-carvaṇanam
- Srimad Bhagavatam
A materialistic person tries to enjoy sense gratification in different bodily forms, life after life, but is still unsatisfied. Such a person, too addicted, progress toward hellish conditions and keeps chewing repeatedly which has already been chewed. When there is no sweetness left, his life becomes miserable.
Very soon Saubhari, who had tasted absolute joy before having immersed himself in meditation, lost interest in this material life that he had invited upon himself. Devastated and disappointed with his own action, he left for the forest.
ekas tapasvy aham athambhasi matsya-sangat pancasad asam uta parica-sahasra-sargah nantam vrajamy ubhaya-krtya-manorathanam maya-gunair hrta-matir visaye artha-bhavah
- Srimad Bhagavatam
Saurabhi Rishi thought, “In the beginning I was alone and was engaged in performing the austerities and meditated on the supreme soul. Distracted by a fish engaged in mating, I gave up all that I had acquired and was driven by the desire to get married. Then I became the husband of fifty wives, and from each of them I begot one hundred sons. My family thus increased to five thousand members. By the influence of the material desires, I came down from my austere life and thought that I would be happy in material life. But is there any end to my material desires for enjoyment, in this life and the next?”
Cursing himself, he reentered the forest for vanaprastha ashram, performed severe penances and engaged himself in the service of the Lord.
During excavation of the site, ancient Ramtal was found which is more than 2500 years old. Ancient foundation and walls were found around the Ramtal Kund. Ancient bricks were recovered. Also, 1.5 inch thick iron sheet was discovered underneath the ancient walls of Ramtal.
Ramtal, taken from My Vrindavan Diaries