Kavasa Ailusa or Kavasa the son of Ilusa is an interesting story about a Vedic seer who was banished from the community of sages. The story is found in Aitareya Brahamana.

Kavasa was the son of a shudra woman and a Brahmin, though the two were not married. She was probably a servant at the Brahmin’s house as Kavasa has been referred to as dasya-putra. Kavasa was never allowed to mingle with the Brahmins and was never allowed to enter places which were inhabited by the sages and the sort.

Once during a sacrifice, the sages noticed Kavasa sitting amongst them. This angered the sages and they forcibly banished him to a desert so that he would die of thirst. His being not qualified to participate in the sacrifice can be because of his mother being a shudra and a reference of him being a gambler, more about the gambling, later.

It was at the desert that a hymn was revealed to him, which is known as the Aponaptrīya hymn. (This hymn is mentioned in the Rig Veda 10.30.1-15). When he recited the hymn, the river Saraswati is supposed to have started to flow around him, both quenching his thirst and making the desert fertile. When the sages noticed this, they are supposed to have accepted their mistake and respectfully inducted Kavasa in their fold and invited him to participate in the sacrifice. Since the gods had favoured Kavasa by revealing hymns to him, who were they to keep him away from the sacrifice.

The story of Kavasa Ailusa is supposed to be an indication of the flexibility of beliefs in the Vedic times. If something was proven incorrect, the correction was immediately made and accepted. It also presented the possibility of a person being a Vedic seer while being the son of a shudra.

One of the major contributions of Kavasa is what has come to be known as the Gamblers Hymn, which is addressed to the seed of aksa (seed of Terminalia bellirica), which was used to make the ancient dice. In the hymn, Kavasa himself is the person, who is suffering the ill effects of gambling. He is the one, who is addicted to gambling and losing his wife in the game and ending up in heavy debt, followed by being hated by his neighbours and being disowned by his family – all this to bring out the ill effects of gambling. Interestingly, this is the first time there seems to be any reference of gambling being bad for the society, which Sage Vyasa, who is supposed to have arranged the four Vedas, might have used as a template to base Yudhishtir’s character in the epic of Mahabharata.

Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Source: Aitareya Brahamana
Location: Pan-India
Image details: Ancient Dice, Google Images