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XVIII. The Escape of Takshaka
When Vyasa yielded thus to his importunity, Parikshith who was all attention replied in a voice choked with emotion, "Master! I do not see clearly the reason why my grandfather destroyed the Khandavavana (the Khandava forest) by means of a conflagration. Tell me how Lord Krishna helped him in the exploit. Make me happy by relating to me this episode". Parikshith fell at the sage's feet and prayed that this may be described to him. Vyasa complimented him and said, "Right, you have made a request which does credit to you. I shall comply."
He continued, "Once, when Krishna and Arjuna were resting happily on the sands of Yamuna, oblivious of the world and its tangles, an aged Brahmin approached them and said, 'Son! I am starving. Give me a little food to appease my hunger. Otherwise I cannot keep myself alive.' At these words, they were suddenly made aware of a strange presence. Though outwardly he appeared natural, there was a divine effulgence around him which marked him out as some one apart. Meanwhile, Krishna came forward and accosted him. 'Great Brahmin! You do not appear merely human. You will not be satisfied with ordinary food, I can surmise. Ask me the food that you desire for; I shall certainly give you that'. Arjuna stood at a distance watching this conversation with amazement. For, he heard Krishna, who allayed the hunger of all beings in all the worlds, asking this lean hungry Brahmin what food will satisfy him! Krishna was enquiring so quietly and with so much consideration that Arjuna was filled with curiosity and surprise."
"The Brahmin suddenly burst into laughter and said, 'Lord! Do you not recognise me? There is nothing in this world - nay - in all the fourteen worlds that is beyond your ken. I am Prana, one vital principle; in your creation I am Agni the fire-principle. I regret to inform you that even I have fallen ill. To cure my indigestion, I feel I must consume the arboreal juice of the Khandava forest. That forest must be burnt in flames. That alone can appease my hunger and restore my appetite.'"
"At this, Krishna asked him, 'Well, consume it; why did you come to Me for this? This is indeed amazing; you have power to reduce the universe into ash! Why do you crave another's help?' When Krishna asked him thus, pretending ignorance, Agni answered, 'Lord! You know everything. Does not the great serpent, Thakshaka live in this Khandavavana, with his kith and kin, his attendants and associates? Indra, the god of rain, is his close friend; so, He has undertaken the responsibility of guarding that forest against fire and other calamities. He has given his word of honour that he will save the forest and thus, save Thakshaka. So, as soon as I start eating up the forest, Indra will send his minions and soak the place with rain. I will be so scotched into inaction that I cannot eat any more. So, I am taking refuge in You'."