Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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SAGARA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] A king of Ayodhya, of the Solar race, and son of King Bahu, who was driven out of his dominions by the Haihayas. Bahu took refuge in the forest with his wives. Sagara's mother was then pregnant, and a rival wife, being jealous, gave her a drug to prevent her delivery. This poison confined the child in the womb for seven years, and in the interim Bahu died. The pregnant wife wished to ascend his pyre, but the sage Aurva forbade her, predicting that she would give birth to a valiant universal monarch. When the child was born, Aurva gave him the name of Sagara (sa, 'with,' and gara, 'poison').

The child grew up, and having heard his father's history, he vowed that he would exterminate the Haihayas and the other barbarians, and recover his ancestral kingdom. He obtained from Aurva the Agneyastra or fire weapon, and, armed with this, he put nearly the whole of the Haihayas to death and regained his throne.

He would also "have destroyed the Sakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Paradas, and Pahlavas," but they applied to Vasishtha, Sagara's family priest, and he induced Sagara to spare them, but "he made the Yavanas shave their heads entirely; the Sakas he compelled to shave (the upper) half of their heads; the Paradas wore their hair long; and the Pahlavas let their beards grow in obedience to his commands."

Sagara married two wives, Sumati, the daughter of Kasyapa, and Kesini, the daughter of Raja Vidarbha, but having no children, he besought the sage Aurva for this boon. Aurva promised that one wife should have one son; the other, sixty thousand. Kesini chose the one, and her son was Asamanjas, through whom the royal line was continued. Sumati had sixty thousand sons. Asamanjas was a wild immoral youth, and his father abandoned him. The other sixty thousand sons followed the courses of their brother, and their impiety was such that the gods complained of them to the sage Kapila and the god Vishnu.

Sagara engaged in the performance of and Aswamedha or sacrifice of a horse, but although the animal was guarded by his sixty thousand sons, it was carried off to Patala. Sagara directed his sons to recover it. They dug their way to the infernal regions, and there they found the horse grazing and the sage Kapila seated close by engaged in meditation. Conceiving him to be the thief, they menaced him with their weapons. Disturbed from his devotions, "he looked upon them for an instant, and they were reduced to ashes by the (sacred) flame that darted from his person." Their remains were discovered by Ansumat, the son of Asamanjas, who prayed Kapila that the victims of his wrath might be raised through his favour to heaven. Kapila promised that the grandson of Ansumat should be the means of accomplishing this by bringing down the river of heaven. Ansumat then returned to Sagara, who completed his sacrifice, and he gave the name of Sagara to the chasm which his sons had dug, and Sagara means 'ocean.' The son of Ansumat was Dilipa, and his son was Bhagiratha.

The devotion of Bhagiratha brought down from heaven the holy Ganges, which flows from the toe of Vishnu, and its waters having laved the ashes of the sons of Sagara, cleansed from them all impurity. Their Manes were thus made fit for the exequial ceremonies and for admission into Swarga. The Ganges received the name of Sagara in honour of Sagara, and Bhagirathi from the name of the devout king whose prayers brought her down to earth.

The Harivansa adds another marvel to the story. Sagara's wife Sumati was delivered of a gourd containing sixty thousand seeds, which became embryos and grew. Sagara at first placed them in vessels of milk, but afterwards each one had a separate nurse, and at ten months they all ran about. The name of Sagara is frequently cited in deeds conveying grants of land in honour of his generosity in respect of such gifts.

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM