HARISCHANDRA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] Twenty-eighth king of the Solar race, and son of Trisanku. He was celebrated for his piety and justice. There are several legends about him.
The Aitareya Brahmana tells the story of his purchasing Sunahsephas to be offered up as a vicarious sacrifice for his own son.
The Mahabharata relates that he was raised to the heaven of Indra for his performance of the Rajasuya sacrifice and for his unbounded liberality. The Markandeya Purana expands the story at considerable length. One day while Harischandra was hunting he heard female lamentations, which proceeded "from the Sciences, who were being masterd by the austerely fervid sage Vishvamitra, and were crying out in alarm at his superiority." Harischandra, as defender of the distressed, went to the rescue, but Vishvamitra was so provoked by his interference that the Sciences instantly perished, and Harischandra was reduced to a stated of abject helplessness. Vishvamitra demanded the sacrificial gift due to him as a Brahman, and the king offered him whatever he might choose to ask, "gold, his own son, wife, body, life, kingdom, good fortune," whatever was dearest. Vishvamitra stripped him of wealth and kingdom, leaving him nothing but a garment of bark and his wife and son. In a state of destitution he left his kingdom and Vishvamitra struck Saibya, the queen, with his staff to hasten her reluctant departure.
To escape from his oppressor he proceeded to the holy city of Benares , but the relentless sage was waiting for him and demanded the completion of the gift. With bitter grief wife and child were sold, and there remained only himself. Dharma, the god of justice, appeared in the form of a hideous and offensive Chandala, and offered to buy him. Notwithstanding the exile's repugnance and horror, Vishvamitra insisted upon the sale, and Harischandra was carried off "bound, beaten, confused, and afflicted," to the abode of the Chandala. He was sent by his master to steal grave-clothes from a cemetery. In this horrid place and degrading work he spent twelve months. His wife then came to the cemetery to perform the obsequies of her son, who had died from the bite of a serpent. They recognized each other, and Harischandra and his wife resolved to die upon the funeral pyre of their son, though he hesitated to take away his own life without the consent of his master.
After all was prepared, he gave himself up to meditation on Vishnu. The gods then arrived, headed by Dharma and accompanied by Vishvamitra. Dharma entreated him to refrain from his intention, and Indra informed him "that he, his wife, and son, had conquered heaver by their good works." Harischandra declared that he could not go to heaven without the permission of his master the Chandala, Dharma then revealed himself. When this difficulty was removed, Harischandra objected to go to heaven without his faithful subjects. "This request was granted by Indra, and after Vishvamitra had inaugurated Rohitaswa, the king's son, to be his successor, Harischandra, his friends, and followers all ascended in company to heaven."
There he was induced by the sage Narada to boast of his merits, and this led to his expulsion from heaven. As he was falling he repented of his fault and was forgiven. His downward course was arrested, and he and his followers dwell in an aerial city, which, according to popular belief, is still visible occasionally in mid-air.
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