26 Bhagavatha – Vamana Avatar.

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26 Bhagavatha - Vamana Avatar.

King Bali, the king of the demons was defeated and killed in the battle by Indra. Bali was brought back to life by the guru of the asuras, Shukracharya (and other descendants of the sage Bhrigu). They help him perform a sacrifice called Viswajit, intended to conquer the heavens. A majestic chariot emerged from the fire, fully equipped with armour and weaponry. Bali with his powerful generals and army, marched towards Amaravati, the prosperous capital city of Indra.
Indra, was amazed at Bali’s recovery and wondered what had made him so unconquerable. He seeks his guru Brihaspathi’s advice. Brihaspathi answered that Bali had been infused with the spiritual energy of Shukracharya and it would be near impossible to fight him now. He suggests that Indra and the other gods go into hiding until an opportune time – when Bali disobeys his guru Shukracharya. The gods leave their splendorous abode. Bali, the grandson of Prahlada, occupied Amaravati, which was deserted by the gods. Enjoying the most prosperous kingdom endowed with overflowing wealth, Bali felt he had accomplished all that he wanted.
Aditi, the mother of the gods, feels distressed that her sons have been hounded out of their abode by the asuras. Sage Kashyapa, her husband, visits her after a long time of abstract meditation. He asks her the cause for her grief. She answers that all their wealth and domain has been usurped by the mighty daityas. She pleads with her husband to find salutary means by which her sons, now exiled, will regain their fortune and glory. Kashyapa wonders at the maya of the Lord and speaks to her with a smile: “Worship Lord Vasudeva, dwelling in the heart of all living beings, for he is the only one who can fulfill your desires.” He also teaches her to observe the payovrata, a rigorous vow intended to propitiate the Lord — performed with milk-diet and with the mind focused the Lord for 12 days. With utmost discipline, Aditi performs the vow and the Lord Vasudeva manifests himself before her. “I know that you seek the triumphal glory of your sons. The asuras are now invincible, O celestial lady. Therefore, I shall be born to you as your son and redeem the glory of the devas.” And he disappears.
In due course, the Lord is born. Aditi and Kashyapa looked on in wonder, as Vasudeva assumes a very short stature, as that of a dwarf, Vamana. Eminent sages, lead by Kashyapa, invest him with the sacred thread. The gods honour him. Bhoomi gives him the deerskin, Chandra (moon god) gives him the sacred staff. Aditi gives him the loin cloth. Dhyauh (god presiding over the sky) gives him an umbrella. Brahma gives him a kamandalu, a wooden vessel to hold water. Saraswati gives him the aksha mala (a rosary). Kubera (god of wealth) gives him a vessel to receive alms. Uma, (mother of the universe), gives alms. The seven seers (sapta rishis) give him Kusha grass. Thus the brahmin boy, Vamana, began his worship of the fire every day.
Hearing that King Bali was propitiating the Lord, by means of an Aswamedha yagna (a sacrifice), Vamana proceeds to the Bhrigu-Kaccha, on the northern bank of river Narmada. The priests there and King Bali himself were amazed by Vamana’s splendour — as though he were the divine sage Sanatkumara himself. Overpowered by his lustre, the Bhrigus (Shukracharya) and King Bali welcome him. Bali washes the feet of Vamana as a mark of respect. Bali submits “Our land has been consecrated by your tiny feet. Pray, O brahman, take from me whatever you desire.”
Vamana glorifies the ancestors of Bali, Virochana and Prahlada. “O ruler of the asuras, I seek from you a strip of land, three paces long, as measured by my stride. I seek nothing else from your magnanimous self.”
Bali replies, “Your words, although commendable, is quite childish. How unwise of you to ask just three paces of land, when I could give you a whole continent. Please accept land enough to afford you a decent living.”
Vamana replies: “The dearest objects of the three worlds cannot satiate one who has not been able to subdue his senses and mind. Contentment with whatever is obtained by chance is conducive to liberation. Therefore I ask you only three paces of land from you.”
Bali laughingly says, ” Take as much as you will.” He takes a pot of water to make a solemn vow to grant him the land. His guru Shukracharya, interjects — “This dwarf is none other than Lord Vishnu, who has come to accomplish the purpose of the gods. I do not approve of what you have promised to him. He will snatch your throne, dominion, fortune and glory and bestow it to his brother Indra.”
Bali respectfully submits: ” Having promised the brahman, how can I go back on my word? When sage Dadhichi and King Shibi give away their own lives to living beings, what scruple can be there in giving away mere land? Therefore I shall give the promised land to this brahmachari, even if he is an enemy or Lord Vishnu himself.”
Disobeyed by his disciple, Shukracharya cursed the high-minded Bali, “You have grown so arrogant so as to violate my command. You shall soon fall from your high position for having disregarded us.”
Bali unmoved by the imprecation, worships Vamana by washing his feet, pours water from his right palm on to Vamana’s hand, to solemnise the gift.
Now Vamana proceeds to measure the three paces of land. The diminutive Vamana, grows and presents himself in his cosmic form. The asuras were seized with fear. With a single stride he measures the earth. With the second stride, he covers the whole of the heavens and the sky, that there was not an atom of space left for the third.
The Lord’s foot pierced through all the spheres and reaches Satyaloka, the abode of Brahma. Brahma along with sages Narada, Sanandana, Marichi and the others, bow to the foot of the Lord. The water from the kamandalu of Brahma, which washed the foot of the Lord came to be known as the holy Ganga. Jambavan, the king of the bears, circumambulates the Lord with the speed of thought.
Vamana, contracts his proportions and becomes diminutive again. Enraged that their master has been deceived by Vamana, the retinue of asura generals rush with weapons to strike at the divine dwarf. Vishnu’s attendants laughingly ward them away. Bali stops the asuras. ” Retreat, my fellow asuras. The same Lord who had been conducive to our growth and the decline of the gods, is proving the reverse now. None can override the time-spirit through physical strength. Therefore await the time when it turns to our advantage.” The asuras withdraw to the netherworld. Garuda binds Bali with the cords of Varuna.
Vamana claims the third pace of the promised land which is now non existent. Bali submits with a calm mind: “Pray, place your third step on my head. I regard as most laudable the punishment inflicted by the most worthy. You are indeed the greatest benefactor to us asuras.”
Vindhyavali, Bali’s wife prays to Vamana: ” O Lord! When there is nothing which one can rightfully call their own, what can they offer as a gift to you, who creates, protects and also destroys the Universe?”
Brahma asks Vamana to excuse Bali, who has already been stripped of everything, and hence no longer deserves punishment.
Vamana replies, ” O Brahma, I take away the fortune of whomsoever I show my grace to. A person with wealth and power becomes stiff with pride, and disregards the world and myself. This asura Bali has conquered my invincible maya (power of delusion). Despite the distress, he does not feel perplexed. Subjected to curse and bodily torture (being bound by the cord of Varuna), and deserted by his generals, this asura had a firm resolve and did not abandon truth. He has already achieved my realm, but since he wished to become Indra, he will rule under my protection during the time of Savarni manvantara. Until such time, he will occupy the subterranean region of Sutala, whose beauty has been enhanced by the architect of the gods, Viswakarma. Agonies of various kinds will never overtake the denizens of that region. Bali, may good betide you.”
Bali, overwhelmed, bows and prays to Vamana and prepares to enter the Sutala. Vamana asks Shukracharya and other priests to accomplish whatever has been left incomplete by Bali.
Vamana restores the sovereignty of the heavens, thus begged by him, to his elder brother Indra, and returns to his own realm.

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25 Bhagavatha: Amritha and the Mohini avatara (The churning, part II)

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Vamana replies, ” O Brahma, I take away the fortune of whomsoever I show my grace to. A person with wealth and power becomes stiff with pride, and disregards the world and myself. This asura Bali has conquered my invincible maya (power of delusion). Despite the distress, he does not feel perplexed. Subjected to curse and bodily torture (being bound by the cord of Varuna), and deserted by his generals, this asura had a firm resolve and did not abandon truth. He has already achieved my realm, but since he wished to become Indra, he will rule under my protection during the time of Savarni manvantara. Until such time, he will occupy the subterranean region of Sutala, whose beauty has been enhanced by the architect of the gods, Viswakarma. Agonies of various kinds will never overtake the denizens of that region. Bali, may good betide you.”
Bali, overwhelmed, bows and prays to Vamana and prepares to enter the Sutala. Vamana asks Shukracharya and other priests to accomplish whatever has been left incomplete by Bali.
Vamana restores the sovereignty of the heavens, thus begged by him, to his elder brother Indra, and returns to his own realm.

25 Bhagavatha: Amritha and the Mohini avatara (The churning, part II)

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The devas continue their churning with renewed enthusiasm. Out of the churning, emerge Surabhi/ Kamadhenu, the cow of plenty, Ucchaishravas, the gleaming white horse, Airavata, a white elephant with four tusks, Kaustubha, a type of ruby, Parijata, a celestial tree, the Apsaras, the celestial nymphs with their unique charm and many other precious objects.
Then appears Ramaa, (Lakshmi) illuminating the entire area with her splendour. Struck by her supreme nobility and beauty, demons, men and the gods long for her except Vishnu.
Indra gives her a wonderful throne. The rivers in a personal form bring the sacred waters for ablutions. Gandharvas sing auspicious songs. The elephants guarding the four quarters bathe Lakshmi. The ocean presents her with yellow silk. Varuna presents her with a garland. Vishwakarma provides her with ornaments. Saraswati provides her with a pearl necklace. Brahma gives her a lotus, and the Nagas present her with ear rings. Holding a wreath of lotus flowers in her hand, she moves about gracefully, in search of a match for her – a person without blemish, one who is eternal, possessing everlasting virtues. She deliberates for long and finds Lord Vishnu to be perfect. She garlands him with a bashful smile and stands beside him. Vishnu makes his bosom her permanent abode. Ensconced there, Lakshmi promotes the welfare of everyone with her benign looks.
Then comes the moment everyone was waiting for.
Lord Vishnu appears in a dazzling form as Dhanvantari, holding a golden vessel which contained amritha (nectar). The asuras, eager to have the amrita, snatch the vessel and carry it away. A quarrel arose in their ranks as to who would get the nectar first. Amidst the confusion, Vishnu assumes the form of Mohini, an indescribably attractive damsel. They were overawed by her presence. She moves about among the demons, enticing them with her glances. With blinding passions in their hearts, they adore her with sweet words: “We, the sons of Kashyapa have exerted ourselves for this prize. O charming Lady, will you agree to distribute this nectar equitably amongst us?” Mohini laughs, ” You repose trust in me, a wanton woman?” The asuras feel reassured by her self deprecating humour. Mohini says she would oblige, provided they accept whatever she did, without any question. The asuras completely under her spell, agree, without much of a thought and hand over the amrita to her.
They all fast for a day, purify themselves with auspicious rites and prepare themselves for the much awaited event. Mohini, charm personified, walks in with the amrita kalasha. She seats the devas and the daityas in separate rows and begins to give the nectar first to the gods. The asuras are impatient but respect their promise. Swarbhanu (Rahu), a demon disguised as a god, sits between the Sun and the Moon. When it is Rahu’s turn for amrita, the Sun and moon point him out. Mohini slices his head off with the discus, Sudarshana. But due the effect of the nectar, he lived on in two parts as shadow planets, Rahu and ketu. The asuras realise they have been deceived. Mohini vanishes.
Hostilities break out between the demons and the gods. Reinvigorated by the amrita, the devas rage a dreadful battle against the asuras. The gods manage to defeat many a demon in the battlefield. Perceiving a complete annihilation of the demons, Brahma sends Narada as an emissary. Narada reasons with the gods: “Now that you have secured amritha with the grace of Srihari, and also been blessed by goddess Lakshmi, you should cease hostilities.”
Bowing to Narada’s wish, the gods give up their anger and stop the war. King Bali, killed in the battle, is taken to their preceptor, Sukracharya, who revives the king to life with his unique secret knowledge.
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What the allegorical story conveys:
Indra represents a person in high position. His negative thoughts (demons occupying his kingdom) spurn the spiritual thoughts (Durvasa) and he becomes weak.
The ocean of milk is the mind; the personality of the spiritual seeker. The turbulence arising in his mind during meditation is the churning.
Mandara mountain is the sense of ‘I’ within oneself (ahankara). It sinks as it is not steady and focused. The Lord helps it up. Vasuki the serpent is our will power. Kurma, the tortoise signifies the withdrawing of the senses inward for spiritual realisation. Kalakuta poison represents the foul thoughts and desires troubling the seeker’s mind. It is absorbed and eradicated by the eternal Guru, Shiva.
The treasures from the ocean (siddhis) are powers which accrue to the seeker that delay spiritual progress.
Chandra (moon) is fine mental creativity, distracted by undesirable thoughts (Rahu, the asura).
Lakshmi is prosperity personified, who is capricious and transitory until she becomes Vishnu’s consort.
Dhanvantari is the purified mind, which possesses the amrita (the state of complete fulfillment or bliss).
The gods and demons (devas and daityas) are the virtues and vices within us. Vishnu suggests that we harness the skills attributed to our negative thoughts for introspection.
Mohini is an illusory attraction. It shows how one should outwit the demons which disturb our thoughts.
The asuras, one’s lower mind, cannot discriminate using the buddhi (intellect). Agitation weakens their minds.

24 Bhagavatha: The churning of the Ksheerasagar (part I)

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The sage Durvasa was returning from Vaikuntha with a garland bestowed on him by SriHari. He meets Indra who was on his Airavatha. He gives the flower garland to Indra. With disdain, Indra threw it on the head of Airavatha, which in turn, hurls it to the ground and tramples it. Angered, Durvasa curses Indra, that he and the world he ruled, would be divested of power and splendour.
The gods lose their glory and seek Brahma’s counsel. Brahma meditates on the Supreme. Hari says: “It is Amritha (nectar) which will help you regain your lost glory and make you immortal. But first you have to make peace with your cousins, the daityas (demons). You will obtain nectar only by churning the ocean of milk. Throw the medicinal herbs, grass and creepers into the ksheerasagar (ocean of milk). Place the mandara mountain as the churning rod, and churn it with the snake Vasuki as the rope. You should not be afraid of the severe poison which will emanate out of it, nor you should desire or be jealous with respect to objects arising out of the churning; it is those objects who will chose its owners. I will be there to help you in this endeavour.”
The gods conciliated the demons by speaking to their great king Bali about the churning of the ocean of milk.
Cultivating a friendship, they put forward their robust energies for the sake of amritha.
Together, they uproot the Mandara mountain and carry it to the ocean. Unable to withstand the weight, the exhausted gods and demons dropped it on the way, crushing and injuring many. They are disheartened. Hari appears on Garuda. He heals and revives all those who came under the impact of the mountain’s weight. He helps place the mountain on the seaside, with the help of Garuda. After the effort, Garuda withdraws, to make way for Vasuki (who was afraid of Garuda), to assume his role as the rope. Vasuki (assured of a share in the rewards) is twined around the mountain for the churning.
Srihari holds Vasuki at the fore part (the head) for the churning. The daityas consider it an insult to hold the other part, the tail of the snake, and refuse. Srihari smilingly concedes and the gods hold the tail of Vasuki. Thus defining their positions, the sons of sage Kashyapa, the devas and the daityas begin the churning with vigour.
But the mountain, having no support under the ocean, sank due to its massive weight. Lord Srihari, assuming the form of a giant tortoise, plunges into the ocean and bears up the mountain on his back. Enthused, the team begins to churn again. The thousand heads of Vasuki spewed fire and scorched the demons. Srihari manifests himself in both the devas and the daityas, stimulating their energies required for the churning. Also, he strengthens Vasuki with suspension of consciousness, to numb the pain rising out of his mammoth task. With one hand, Srihari also held the mountain at the top to prevent it from springing up. They continue churning for a long time, but there was no sign of any nectar. To speed up things, Srihari holds both ends of Vasuki with his arms and hastens the churning. This churning agitated all the creatures living in the ocean.
What first arose was the Kaalakuta, a deadly poison, which spread very fast, threating all life forms. They all appeal with prayers to Lord Siva. Siva tells his consort, “Observe, Bhavani, how the living beings are on the verge of a calamity in the form of the Kaalakuta poison. The virtuous protect others by sacrificing their own transient life. I hereby swallow this poison, to please Hari and ensure a prosperous life to all created beings.” With Bhavani’s consent, Siva squeezed into his palm the Kaalakuta and swallowed it out of compassion, the power of which even made an impact on the Supreme person’s throat, which turned blue. This spot became an ornament to that benevolent soul. He was hailed and glorified by the living beings as Neelkantha.(contd.– part II)

23 Bhagavatha : Gajendra Moksha

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Indradyumna, was a Pandya king devoted to Lord Vishnu. The monarch turned an ascetic and had his hermitage in the Kulachala mountain. He continued his worship with a vow of silence with a subjugated mind. Sage Agasthya, happened to arrive there with his disciples. Finding Indradyumna not offering him water or any sort of welcome, the sage felt disrespected. He cursed Indradyumna. “Let him be born as an elephant, steeped in blinding ignorance.”
He was born as an elephant, Gajendra, and roamed about in the valley of the great mountain Trikuta. Leading a big herd of elephants and his young, he enjoyed life to the brim.
Once when he was sporting with his herd in a lake, a powerful alligator seized him by the foot. However much he tried, Gajendra could not extricate himself from the mighty jaws of the alligator. The female elephants, shrieked out of helplessness and the other elephants, trying their utmost to help him, gave up. Gajendra tried to pull himself outside and the alligator tried to pull him in. This tug of war continued for a long time.
Gajendra’s strength depleted, but the alligator’s strength kept increasing. The herd of elephants leave one by one, unable to help him, until he was left all alone. He thought, how can my kith and kin help me, when they have no power to extricate me from this entrapment of Providence… Only the ultimate refuge of all, Lord Vishnu will be able to help me. His remembrance of the Lord at the most appropriate time was due to his adoration of Lord Vishnu in his earlier birth as Indradyumna. He calls out the same prayer mentally, glorifying the compassionate qualities of the Lord. Lifting his trunk, he offers a lotus to him. In an instant, the Lord Srihari, manifests himself on Garuda, wielding his discus, Sudarshana. Gajendra, gathers enough strength and hails Lord Narayana, as the Adiguru (the preceptor of the universe). The Lord gets down from Garuda in a trice, and holding Gajendra’s trunk, pulls him out of the lake, along with the alligator. He extricates Gajendra from the hold of the alligator, whose jaws were rent open with the discus. Gajendra is transformed into a divine attendant of the Lord. The alligator was also redeemed — he regains his form as Huhu, a gandharva (celestial musician). He also pays obeisance to the Lord.
(Huhu, out of haughtiness, had played a prank, pulling the leg of the sage Devala from under the lake when he was bathing. The Sage cursed him to become an alligator).
And Lord Vishnu withdrew to his transcendent realm called Vaikuntha.

22 Bhagavatha – Narasimha and Prahlada

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22 Bhagavatha - Narasimha and Prahlada

The Dwarapalakas of Vishnu were born as asuras Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, due to the curse of the sages Sanatkumaras. Hiranyaksha, who was younger, was killed by Vishnu as Varaha. Hiranyakashipu who felt miserable, consoles his brother’s wife Rushabhanu, and also his sons. He comforts his mother Diti, with words steeped in Dharma. “Do not grieve for Hiranyakasha whose death was brave and praiseworthy. The soul is eternal and transcendant, taintless and free from decay. Living beings dwell together and are parted by Providence on account of their past actions.”
But Hirankashipu himself was agonised and vows to avenge his brother. He implores the danavas in his court: “You all shall go to earth and destroy everything that sustains the memory of Lord Hari.”
Hiranyakashipu, in the quest for invincibility, practices austerities of the severest type until Brahma appeared. Blessing Hiranyakashipu, whose body was eaten away by ants, Brahma sprinkles water on him. He emerges as fire from fuel, endowed with great power, youth and an appearance like gold. He hails Brahma as the Supreme and seeks boons. “Let not my death be through any being created by you. Let there be no death indoors or outdoors, by day or by night, nor by weapons, neither in earth nor in air, neither from men nor animals, neither from animate or inanimate things, nor from gods, asuras or the nagas. Let me have undisputed Lordship.”
Meanwhile, Prahlada was born to his wife kayadhu. He was born with Lord Hari firmly established in his mind.
Hiranyakashipu, armed with the boons secured from Brahma, subjugates the three worlds and establishes himself as the sovereign ruler.
When Prahlada was five years old, Hiranyakashipu sends Prahlada to the sons of Shukracharya, Shanda and Amarka for their education. Prahlada who was a devotee by nature, grasped all that he was taught but never approved of it.
Once, the teachers brings Prahlada to the court of Hiranyakashipu. The king lovingly takes Prahlada on his lap and asks him what he regarded as good for him. Prahlada replies that all embodied souls should seek refuge in the Lord.
Hiranyakashipu gets angry and rebukes the gurus. The gurus refuse to have taught any such thing. Prahlada is sent away again for proper training.
His gurus intimidate him with caning and teach him what was mandated by the king. But Prahlada saw Hari in those gurus too and in his surroundings. He was averse to the distinction between a friend and a foe. In the course of his stay in the hermitage of the gurus, Prahlada preaches the glory of the Lord to the other asura children too.
Repeatedly, Prahlada was asked by his father after regular intervals about his learning, and every time, Prahlada tells only about the glory of Hari, who was present everywhere. At this point, Hiranyakashipu could not take it any longer and begins his attempts to kill Prahlada by various methods. Every time he is miraculously saved, Hari being entrenched in his heart.
Hiranyakashipu screams, “you are my son and you are preaching to me about Hari? Where is your protector?”
Prahlada replies, ” He is everywhere. In every atom.”
Hiranyakashipu says, ” If he is everywhere, why don’t I see him in this pillar?”
Prahlada replies with conviction, ” Of course, he is present.”
Hiranyakashipu, drawing his sword, sprang up from his throne and knocked at the pillar with his fist. He heard an explosion as though the cosmic shell had cracked. Out of the pillar, roaring like thunder, emerges an incandescent figure, a queer beast, neither an animal nor a man. It was the Lord, in the man-lion form of Narasimha. With a shrill laughter, he seized the demon, who was darting up and down with the swiftness of a hawk, and at the doorway of the hall, slung him across his thighs. It was evening then. And with his sharp nails and teeth, tore apart the asura, whose skin could not be scratched even by Indra’s vajra. He also had satisfied all the conditions which he had sought as a boon.
The devas lead by Brahma and even Lakshmi feared to go near Narasimha, as his anger did not subside. Brahma asks Prahlada to speak to Narasimha. Prahlada goes near the Lord and prostrates. Looking at Prahlada, Narasimha’s anger vanished. He took Prahlada on his lap and started to lick him, as a lion would do to its cub.
Prahlada extolls him. Narasimha, pleased with his foremost devotee, offers to give him any boon which he would seek. Prahlada replies that he is a devotee without any craving or desire. “One who seeks worldly blessings from you, is but a businessman. If you still wish to bestow a boon, let it be that no desire may ever sprout in my heart. And also forgive my father, who was ignorant of your divine glory and spoke ill of you.”
Narasimha says, “Your father and twenty-one generations before him have been purified because you were born unto this home, my child. Perform his obsequies and also occupy the throne of your father. With your mind fixed on me, dear son, perform your duties as directed by the exponents of the vedas. You will be a role model for all my devotees.”
Narasimha also asks Brahma to desist from giving any more of such boons to the asuras, as they are evil by nature. Then Narasimha disappeared.
Prahlada is crowned king and he rules according to dharma.

21 Bhagavatha — Atri and Anasuya

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21 Bhagavatha -- Atri and Anasuya

Atri is one of the saptarishis. He is believed to be the manasaputra of Brahma. (Atri, meaning one who is
free from the three gunas, emerged from the eyes of Brahma). His wife is Anasuya, daughter of Kardama Prajapati (Anasuya – free from jealousy).
Atri’s austerities were legend. It is said that when he controlled his breath through pranayama, smoke emanated from his head.
Anasuya was an embodiment of chastity. Once, in order to glorify her chastity to the world, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva visit Anasuya’s ashram as Brahmins and seek bhiksha (for food) with the condition that she should serve it without any clothes on. Anasuya without any hesitation agrees. She invokes her devotion to her husband and sprinkles some water on her divine guests, who become small babies. The trio blessed them with three sons, Datta (a manifestation of the three forms of the Lord, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva), Sage Durvasa (one who was free from vasana), and Soma (the moon god).