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Vishnu's paradise, Vaikuntha, is the pivot of the cosmos. It stands on the ocean of milk, radiant with golden spires, sparkling gems and bright banners. Here Vishnu, ruler of the universe, holds court with Lakshmi by his side, ensuring that dharma is respected by one and all.
When order prevails, Vishnu rests in peace on the coils of Ananta-Sesha, the divine serpent.
When dharma is threatened, Vishnu rides into battle on the celestial bird Garuda to set things right.
Sesha and Garuda were both sons of Kashyapa, the celestial sage, by his wives Kadru and Vinata.
Kadru, mother of serpents, once said that Ucchaishrava, the divine stallion, had a black tail.
Vinata, mother of birds, believed the celestial horse was spotlessly white. She was so confident that she chirped, "If you can prove that Ucchaishrava has even a single black hair on its tail, I will be your slave."
Kadru secretly summoned her children and hissed, "Go and cling to the tail of Ucchaishrava as it rides past the horizon at dawn tomorrow." The serpents obeyed so that the next day, from afar, the divine horse appeared to have a black tail.
By this deceit, Kadru won the wager and made Vinata her slave.
Sesha, eldest of the serpents, did not approve of his Mother's trickery. He broke all ties with his siblings and his conniving mother.
Sesha's nobility so pleased Kashyapa that he said, "You will be the support of the cosmos. Your mighty hood will be the foundation of the universe. On your coils will rest the lord of the world, Vishnu himself."
Kadru meanwhile demanded the elixir amrita as the price of Vinata's freedom.
So the eagle Garuda, mightiest of Vinata's sans, swooped down upon Amravati, the city of the gods, in search of the celestial drink. He found it in a well of fire guarded by two huge dragons.
Garuda flapped his great wings to put out the fire, pecked the dragons to death and flew off with the pot of elixir. Indra tried to stop him with his dreaded thunderbolt, the vajra, but it barely managed to singe one of the mighty bird's feathers.
Having secured the release of his mother with the stolen nectar, Garuda told Kadru and her sons, "You must not drink divine nectar with unwashed lips."
The serpents saw sense in Garuda's advice. They rushed to a nearby river to wash their mouths leaving the pot of nectar unguarded on the river bank.
While they were away, Garuda summoned Indra to reclaim the pot of amrita and take it back to the heavens.
Thus did Garuda manage to free his mother without letting the serpents take a sip of nectar.
"Why did you not sip the amrita yourself?" asked Vishnu.
Garuda replied, "I do not take what is not mine."
Pleased with this reply, Vishnu said, "Your nobility matches your brawn and brain. Would a worthy bird like you consider being my mount?"
"Only if you let serpents become my natural food," requested Garuda.
"So be it," said Vishnu.
Garuda became Vishnu's vahana and his insignia, appearing on the lord's banner.
There are seven gates round Vaikuntha. Those who renounce lust, anger, greed, pride, attachment and envy can cross the first six. At the seventh stand the doorkeepers Jaya and Vijaya permitting entry to only those who have transcended the fear of death and the passion for life.
Sanaka, Sananda, Sanatana and Sanatkumar, renounced the world as soon as they were born and decided to go Vaikuntha. But they were stopped at the gates by Jaya and Vijaya who said, "How can we let you enter, you who have had no taste of life or death?"
Three times did the children try to enter Vaikuntha; three times they were stopped by Jaya and Vijaya.
Piqued, the four kumars cursed the divine doorkeepers, "You have, like demons, blocked our spiritual journey into the abode of the lord. May you therefore become asuras three times over."
Vishnu rushed to the gates of Vaikuntha to console Jaya and Vijaya who were only doing their duty. Said the lord, "Even as demons, you will be my gatekeepers, embodying the six emotions that shut the doors of Vaikuntha. I will fight you, destroy you and show man the road to my paradise."
Jaya and Vijaya were reborn as the lustful Hirartyaksha, the wrathful Hiranyakashipu, the greedy Kartaviryarjuna, the proud Ravana, the obsessive Kamsa and the jealous Sishupala who were killed by the lord in his incarnations as Varaha, Narasimha, Parashurama, Rama and Krishna.
Ajamila lived a wanton life, drinking, gambling, disrespecting elders and neglecting his family. As he lay dying, he called out to his son: "Narayana, Narayana, please come here."
The boy paid no heed to his father's request.
He shouted again, "Narayana, Narayana, please come here." The boy still did not come. And so Ajamila breathed his last, mumbling "Narayana, Narayana."
Yama, the god of death, decided that Ajamila who had done not one good deed in his entire life should spend the rest of eternity suffering in hell.
As his dreaded Yama-dootas rushed towards Ajamila's corpse to collect his soul, they were stopped by Vishnu-dootas, the lord's angels who said, "By chanting the name of Narayana in his last moments, Ajamila has performed one pious act and must therefore be given a chance to redeem himself." -
The two groups of divinities fought until the will of Vishnu prevailed. Ajamila was allowed to be reborn.
In gratitude, Ajamila spent his next life in piety, continence, charity and reverence making up for all that he had done in his previous existence. Ultimately he was given salvation, and allowed to reside in the blissful heart of Vishnu.
In Vaikuntha, he would regale his lord Vishnu with his merry tales. "I described Ahalya's beauty to Indra until he began lusting for that married woman... Daksha hates Shiva after I reported how Shiva ridicules him ... I spoke about Jamadagni's cow with so many superlatives that Kartaviryarjuna wants to steal it now ... I made Shreedevi jealous of Bhoodevi ... I put the fear of death in the heart of Kamsa . I praised the pompous Ravana into believing that he was greater than the gods. . ."
"Why do you do this, Narada?" asked Vishnu.
"Cause so much trouble."
"I don't do anything. I merely test their faith in you. If they were truly your devotees, would any of them be lustful, wrathful, greedy, envious, frightened or proud?"
Vishnu burst out laughing and blessed his dearest devotee who kept chanting, "Narayana, Narayana".
"What is maya?" asked Narada.
"Before I reply, will you fetch me some water?" requested the lord pointing to a river.
Narada did as he was told. But on his way back, he saw a beautiful woman. Smitten by her beauty, he begged the woman to marry him. She agreed.
Narada built a house for his wife on the banks of the river. She bore him many children. Loved by his wife, adored by his sons and daughters, Narada forgot all about his mission to fetch water for Vishnu.
In time, Narada's children had children of their own. Surrounded by his grandchildren, Narada felt happy and secure. Nothing could go wrong.
Suddenly, the sky was covered with dark clouds. There was thunder, lightning, rain. The river rose in flood, broke its banks and washed away Narada's house, drowning everyone he loved, everything he possessed. Narada himself was swept away by the river.
"Help, help. Somebody please help me," he cried. Vishnu immediately stretched out his hand and pulled Narada out of the river.
Back in Vaikuntha, Vishnu asked, "Where is my water?" "How can you be so remorseless?
How can you ask me for water when I have lost my entire family?"
Vishnu smiled. "Calm down, Narada. Tell me, where did your family come from? From me. Where has to gone? Into me. I am the only reality, the only entity in the cosmos that is eternal and unchanging. Everything else is an illusion a mirage, constantly slipping out of one's grasp. You, my greatest devotee, knew that. Yet, enchanted by the pleasures of worldly life, you forgot all about me. You deluded yourself into believing that your world and your life was all that mattered, that nothing else was of any consequence. As far as you were concerned the material world was infallible, invulnerable, perfect. That is maya."
Writer Name:- Devdutt Pattanaik