In the Sixth Canto, 17th Chapter, there is a description of King Citraketu who was travelling in space in his airship, surrounded by hundreds of beautiful celestial women, called Vidyādharīs, who are famous for their melodious singing. Citraketu engaged in the kīrtana of Bhagavān, accompanied by these beautiful lady singers.
By Satyanarayana Dasa
In the Sixth Canto, 17th Chapter, there is a description of King Citraketu who was travelling in space in his airship, surrounded by hundreds of beautiful celestial women, called Vidyādharīs, who are famous for their melodious singing. Citraketu engaged in the kīrtana of Bhagavān, accompanied by these beautiful lady singers. One day, from his airship, he looked down and saw Lord Śiva surrounded by various sages, Siddhas and Cāraṇas. The thing that amused him was that, even while sittingin the midst of this august assembly, Śiva was embracing his wife Pārvatī. King Citraketu could not stop himself from commenting, and ridiculed Śiva in front of everyone. “Just see,” he exclaimed, “He is the teacher of the world and speaks on the principles of dharma. He wears the matted hair of a renunciate, and yet he sits in the assembly like a shameless lusty person, with his wife on his lap. Indeed, even a common materialistic person does not behave like this openly.”
Lord Śiva laughed in a grave voice, and then remained silent. Everyone in the assembly was also silent, but goddess Pārvatī could not tolerate an insult to her husband. She spoke up, praising the greatness of Lord Śiva, questioned the impudence of Citraketu, and angrily cursed him to become an asura.
Citraketu got down from his airship to pay humble respects to Mother Pārvatī, touching his head to her feet. “Please do not be upset with me,” he said. “Forgive me for my sharp words. I do not ask you to free me from your curse, but I just want you to give up your anger at me.”
Having pleased Śiva and Pārvatī with his humility and prayers, Citraketu left in his airship. Then Lord Śiva explained the greatness of Vaiṣṇavas who are not afraid of anything and consider happiness and distress, birth and death, curse and blessings as same.
This incident is very puzzling. Citraketu knew that Śiva was Kandarpa, the “Killer of Cupid,” and beyond any taint of lust, so why did he criticize or taunt him so impudently?
Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī answers by explaining that there are several reasons. Citraketu and Lord Śiva both are devotees of Bhagavān Saṅkarṣaṇa and thus they are like godbrothers. Citraketu did not want his senior godbrother to be criticized by ignorant people, so he tried to curb Śiva’s behavior that foolish people would misunderstand.
This is why he addressed Śiva as “loka-guru” (teacher of the world). He knows that Śiva is beyond lust, and therefore it does not make any difference where or when he embraces his wife, but he did not want people who are not free from sexual desire to cite his behavior as justification for their own licentiousness. Citraketu’s comment was not made as a mundane critic. It was spoken out of love with the intention to safeguard Lord Śiva’s reputation and also to restrain the general populace from justifying their improper behavior. Because Citraketu and Śiva were intimate friends and because Citraketu had spoken out of love, his harsh words only brought pleasure to Śiva and therefore Śiva’s reaction was that he laughed and kept silence.
Later on, when Citraketu was cursed by Pārvatī, Lord Śiva spoke about the glories of Vaiṣṇavas. The hidden meaning of Lord Śiva’s instruction was, “O my dear Pārvatī, why are you losing your temper unnecessarily?”
He told her, “Look, I laughed and kept silent. By this I conveyed the following reply to Citraketu: O friend, I agree. I am exactly as you have portrayed me. But at least I am not a hypocrite like you, who portray yourself as a devout follower of Saṅkarṣaṇa, but secretly you enjoy with hundreds of Vidyādharīs. I am just the opposite. I portray myself as a lusty being, sitting with my wife in my arms, but in truth I am a renounced person. We are opposites: You advertise yourself as a bhakta and hide your sense enjoyment; I display myself as an enjoyer and hide my bhakti. This is the difference between you and me.”
This was the internal rasa that Lord Śiva relished with Citraketu, but Pārvatī could not understand it and therefore lost her temper, creating a disturbance. Lord Śiva was actually disturbed by Pārvatī’s interruption and not by the harsh words of Citraketu. The 36th text of this chapter implies that Pārvatī was extremely surprised when she understood this internal dealing of rasa between Śiva and Citraketu. “Citraketu is just a kṣatriya and became a devotee only recently,” she thought. “How strange that he could have such an intimate, sweet exchange with my husband, who is an eternal and unparalleled devotee of Śrī Bhagavān!”
The Glory of Bhakti
Another meaning behind this episode is that Śrī Kṛṣṇa wanted Citraketu to return to Him, but Citraketu was preoccupied in singing and wandering with the Vidyādharīs. Therefore, he got Citraketu cursed so he would more quickly reach his abode and be his associate.
As a result of Pārvatī’s curse, Citraketu became Vṛtrasura. While living as Vṛtrasura, Citraketu’s eagerness to be with Kṛṣṇa increased dramatically. Indeed, when he finally gained the audience of Śrī Bhagavān, Vṛtrasura spoke some of the most beautiful prayers of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.
This story of Vṛtrasura brings out the glory of bhakti, which is not dependent on anything material, such as birth, character, or even the acquired material body. It is to establish this fact that goddess Pārvatī cursed Citraketu.
The prayers of Vṛtrasura will be the subject of the next article.
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