This is the story of Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra, a legendary Indian king, who is renowned for his truthfulness, Sacrifice, and Commitment. At the cost of these qualities, let us look at what he had undergone through in his life.
Raja Harischandra Story
One day the celestial court of Devendra assembled for a meeting. In the midst of several activities, some earthly matters came up for discussion. Devendra pondered if there were any truthful men present on earth. To this, the sage Vasishta said: “Yes, there is a truthful man named Harischandra, the son of Satyavrata” and praised the king’s honesty and noble character.
Vasishta’s words infuriated the sage Vishwamitra. He denied the fact and promises to prove that Harishchandra is not of noble character, hence decided to test him with the help of other gods.
On the other hand, Harishchandra was an honest and noble king of Treta Yuga and ruled Ayodhya wisely. His people lived with prosperity and serenity. The king was well-known for his truthfulness who never lied and always kept his promise. He who had a loving wife Shaivya, an adorable son Rohitaswa and many subjects behind him, was ignorant of the oaths and counter-oaths taken by the sages in Indra’s court.
Meanwhile, Vishwamitra, back to earth, carefully observed Harischandra’s policies, his manners, and ways. He seriously thought of all the ideas through which he could tempt the king into the path of falsehood.
Plan of Vishwamitra to Test Raja Harischandra
One day, Vishwamitra was performing meditation in a forest. On the same day, Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra went on for hunting, had overheard the cries of a random woman pleading for help. As the king was all armed, he progressed in the direction the sound appeared. The sound was nothing but a hallucination created by the sage so that the king would disturb his tapasya. As predicted, the king disrupted the Vishwamitra’s tapasya, and faced his aggrievance.
When Raja Harishchandra came back to his senses, he became aware that the sage was very angry with him, and asked for forgiveness. He accepted to satisfy the sage’s desires in order to get rid of his fault. Vishwamitra demanded dakshina and asked to give him everything he had. Being righteous, Raja Harishchandra instantly accepted it by letting go of all his possessions and presented his entire kingdom to the sage and left away along with his family.
As he was about to leave the palace with his family, Vishwamitra demanded another donation, to which the king promised and confirmed to fulfill the promise within a month.
Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra
After losing all his possessions, the king had arrived in the holy city of Varanasi, the only place out of the influence of the sage. In Kashi, he was unable to earn anything and the end of one month period is also approaching. The sage again appeared and demanded remaining donation. Harishchandra pleaded for still time that is left in the completion of the month.
The sage agreed and departed. Looking at his son crying for food, and Harischandra worrying about the donation, his wife Shaivya cleverly suggested the king to sell her and acquire the remaining money. After certain hesitation, Raja Harishchandra accepted the idea and sold her to a Brahmin along with the child. Shaivya worked as a servant in the Brahmin’s house who was an evil ‘avatar’ of Vishwamitra, and harassed both the mother and son endlessly and slaved them from morning to evening.
Truthful King – Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra
Brahmin Slaving Rohitaswa
Soon later, Vishwamitra arrived again and asked for the donation. After giving all the money he had got from selling his wife, still, Vishwamitra was unsatisfied with the donation, and wanted more. Harishchandra then determined to sell himself to an outcaste chandala, who offered gold coins in exchange for him and took along Harishchandra with him. The chandala appointed Harishchandra as a worker at his cremation ground and directed him to collect fees for everybody cremated there.
Chandala offering Gold Coins to Vishwamitra in exchange to Harishchandra
The Death of Raja Harishchandra’s Son Rohitaswa
While plucking flower’s for his master’s prayers, Harishchandra’s son dies due to a snake bite. Even to go out to cremate the body, Shaivya had to obtain her master’s permission. He was too hard-hearted and gave her permission only after the day’s assigned charges were finished. Her misery was grief-stricken and at the end of the day, she went to the same cremation grounds where Raja Harishchandra is working.
Harischandra was dreaming of all the past incidents of his life and realized that his present situation is all the consequences of his past sins. In the nightmare, he also saw his wife weeping before him. Once he woke up, he noticed a lady carrying a dead body of a boy wiping tears in front of him.
She had zero penny in her hand to execute the rituals, and Raja Harishchandra failed to recognize his own wife and son. He advises the lady to sell off her Mangalsutra, to pay the expenses. Having been granted by the boon that only her husband can see her mangalsutra, the lady recognizes Harishchandra as his husband and makes him aware of all the mishaps.
Offer From the Gods TO Raja Harishchandra
Going through all his misfortune, Harishchandra considered to commit suicide, but then he discerned that he must pay for his sins in the next life, if not now. Haishchandra, due to his loyal nature towards the owner, refused to cremate the body without desiring money, requests his wife to pay the amount to finish the cremation.
All the Lords appeared infront of Harishchandra
Shaivya too was a dedicated wife and did not want her husband to give up his duty and hence, in turn, she offered all she has, a saree, and a cloth that covered the dead body of her son. Harishchandra receives the offering, but before he could start with the ritual of cremation, the lord Vishnu, Indra and several other Hindu deities along with the sage Vishwamitra appeared in front of them and praised Harishchandra for his determination and allegiance.
They bring Harishchandra’s son back to life. They also offered the king and queen, the way to live in heaven.
All the Lords appeared infront of Raja Harishchandra
Harishchandra declines it stating that he is bound to his master. The sage, then reveals that the guard is actually Yama, in disguise. Yama allows the king to accept the offer.
Being Kshatriya, Harishchandra still rejects the offer, saying that he cannot leave behind his followers and come to heaven by himself. The gods decline the happening. However, Harischandra accepts to pass all his good virtues to his people and take their sins on him for the rest of the life. The gods were very pleased by the act of Harischandra’s. Hence, they agreed to offer heavenly abode to the king, the queen including all their subjects.
As Harishchandra and his family progressed with the test conducted by the gods; and had displayed great morals and righteousness, all the gods were pleased and blessed them by showering flowers.
The sage Vasishta was all pleased by his disciple’s noble conduct and felt proud of the king.
As one can observe
All the sufferings imposed on Raja Harischandra by the sage were actually a blessing in disguise, as they demonstrate a good example of king’s truthfulness to the entire world, making the name ‘Harishchandra’ as a synonymous for truthfulness and honesty. It was this story that aided Yudhishtira to get over his adversities. Again, it was this story which showed the path of truth to Gandhiji.
This story of Raja Harischandra observes undying interest, still today, illuminating lives of many. It took its birth in the Vedas, flourished through the Puranas, and finally entered into cascades of poetry, and is still enriching the life of many throughout the world. The story will surely prevail for as much time as the value of truth continues.