Five Fire Penance of Goddess Uma

five fire

Written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1124; Dated :– 22nd June 2014.

N.B. If you want to reproduce this article, please email me for permission. Previously I gave blank cheque to some people. They have been uploading all the 1100 posts from my blogs which is not allowed from now onwards. You must get written permission from me for each and every article separately. swami_48@yahoo.com

Kalidasa , the greatest of the Indian poets, describes about some strange ancient customs: Five Fire Penance (Panchagni) and Sword in the Bed/Asi dhara Vrata. Kumarila Bhatta, a contemporary of Adi Shankara, burnt himself to death in slow burning paddy husk. Hindu Yogis and saints had a very firm conviction and will power to undergo such an ordeal to achieve higher things in life. None of these hurt them because of their yogic practices.

I already wrote about the great penance undertaken by Bhageeratha and Arjuna standing on one leg to bring down River Ganga to earth and to attain Pasupata Astra from Lord Shiva.
panchagni1

People who want to achieve something great in life lighted fire on four directions and stood amidst the four fires on one leg. Sun, which is the fifth fire, was scorching them from above. Their mind is so focussed into God that they would not feel the burning. It is also a symbolic penance which means they are out of the five bad qualities: Kama (lust), Krodha (anger) Lobha (greed), Matha (Ego) and Mathcharya (attachment).

Kalidasa in ‘Kumarasambhava’ describes Uma’s penance in beautiful verses:
“In summer, she of sweet smiles and a delicate waist, sitting in the midst of four blazing fires, gazed at the sun with her sight not directed to anything else; having got the better of his lustre that dazzles the eye”. (5-20)

“Her face greatly scorched by the rays of the sun in that manner, bore the beauty of a day lotus; but gradually, only round the long corners of her eyes, dark colour made its appearance”. (5-21)

five fire 3
“The sternest severity of austerities lies in subsisting on leaves, fallen free from the trees on their own accord; but that also she spurned; hence that gentle talker was named ‘Aparna’ (leafless) by those conversant with history (5-28)

((I agree with scholars who date Kalidasa to first or second century BCE. I have proved it right on the basis of the use of his 200+similes (out of 1000+ similes) by the Sangam Tamil poets. They are not found in Prakrit Gatha Sapta Sati or any other Sanskrit books)).

5 fire
InMadhya Pradesh Temple.

Asi Dhara Vrata (Sharp Sword Edge Vow)
It is like standing on the sharp edge of a sword. The meaning is it is difficult to maintain that balance or it would hurt if slipped. A bachelor can lie in the same bed with a beautiful girl but yet never swerve from the vow of chastity. It is said that a sword will be placed in between them in the bed according to the commentator (Raghuvamsa 13-67).

When Rama returned to Ayodhya after 14 year stay in the forest, he saw Bharata walking towards him. He praised Bharata as practising Asidhara Vratam, without enjoying the Rajyalakshmi (Kingdom or Earth is praised as Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth in Hindu scriptures).

ujjain1960s5fire
Five Fire Penance in Ujjain.

Tamil Kings Fast unto Death
Tamil Kings Kopperum Choza and Neduncheralatha of Sangam age also followed similar type of vow. They sat facing North on the banks of a river and fast unto death. They were also holding a sword in their hands, probably meaning the same, i.e. sharp edged vow. Verses in Purananuru 65 (by Kazath thalaiyar) and Akananuru 55 (by Mamulanar) are about the Chera King Neduncheralathan who died facing North. When such a great person sacrificed his life, scholars and general public joined them and made it a “mass suicide”. We see it when Lord Rama drowned himself in the Sarayu River and in the Tamil Kings’ deaths. Lot of Tamil poets and scholars joined them in the fast unto death ceremony. In Tamil it is called “Vaal Vatakkiruthal”, meaning Facing North with a Sword.

Brahma,panchaishti
Brahma in Panchaishti village.

KumarilaBhatta’s Sacrifice
Kumarila Bhatta was a great scholar with whom Adi Shankara wanted to debate Advaita philosophy. He directed him to his disciple Mandana Mishra because, Kumarila was dying in burning paddy husk. When people wanted to get rid of sins they must undergo due punishment to ‘spend’ their sins. So they fast unto death facing the Holy direction North or walk towards North till their bodies fall on earth (like the Pandabva brothers) or drown themselves in a holy river (like king Aja and Rama). Kumarila Bhatta chose the method of self immolation. He placed himself in a pile of paddy husk and lighted it on four directions. It would slowly burn him to ashes. It would not hurt anyone who practises Yoga. Yogis would not feel any body pain.
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Pictures are taken from Divyadarsanam and other websites;thanks.

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