As a young and diligent student in the ashrama of Rishi Veda, Uttanka found himself in a dilemma one day. His guru had to leave the hermitage to perform a sacrifice for the kings and had left Uttanka in charge. While Veda was away,  the women in the ashrama came to Uttanka with a request. The teacher’s wife had sent for him, she was in her fertile period and in the absence of the guru she had said that it was his duty to take his place in her bed. Uttanka was appalled at the suggestion and refused.

When Veda returned and heard the story, he commended his student and said that his time at the ashrama was now over and that he could go out into the world. But Uttanka asked, what would be the fee, the guru-dakshina? Veda was silent but when his student insisted,  he asked him to go ask his wife.

The teacher’s wife told him that she would like a pair of earrings that belonged to ksatriya king Pausya’s wife. These were to be worn for a yagna and that Uttanka should get them for her in time for the ceremony. The student set out on his journey as directed by his teacher’s wife and on the way met a rather large man mounted on a bull. The man stopped the young student in his tracks and said he should eat the bull’s dung and drink his urine before he went any further.

Uttanka was horrified and refused. But the man would not relent and finally convinced Uttanka by telling him that his teacher had done the same before him. At Pausya’s home, the earrings were handed over to him but the king said that these prized possessions were much sought after by Takshaka, the king of the nagas. So Uttanka would have to be very careful to keep them away from the snake-king as he turned back to go to his guru’s ashrama.

On his way back Uttanka found himself face to face with a naked ascetic. He immediately set down the earrings on the ground and went to wash himself off the impurities that had accrued upon such a vision. However, the moment he did that, the naked ascetic assumed his true form as Takshaka and fled with the earrings.

Takshaka dropped down a hole in the ground and Uttanka followed and sang many hymns in praise of the nagas and the naga loka, but there was no sign of the snake king. Uttanka however was bestowed with two visions: two women weaving black and white threads on a loom and a wheel being turned by six boys and a handsome man. Uttanka praised them all in the hymns he sang and then pleased with his words, the man asked him what he desired.

Uttanka related the entire story to the man at the wheel who had a strange request. But by now the student was no longer shocked by the improbable twists and turns that his journey had taken and he readily agreed. As instructed he blew into the anus of a horse and no sooner had he done that flames and smoke spewed out from every aperture in the animal’s body. The smoke drew the snake king out of his corner and he handed over the earrings to Uttanka, who climbed on to the smoke and fire issuing horse to ride back to the ashrama.

Uttanka arrived just in time for the earrings to find their way to his guru’s wife as she sat for the yagna. What did this all mean, the student asked his teacher. The huge man he met was Indra and the bull, Airavata and the dung and urine, amrita. Because he had eaten that, he could go to the netherworld (down the hole with Takshaka) and return alive. The women were Dhata and Vidhata, weaving the days and nights on their loom. The wheel was the year, the boys the seasons and the man, Parjanya (god of the rain, Indra) while the horse was Agni. And thus was the student’s initiation into life complete.

Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta

Source: The Sanskrit Epics’ Representation of Vedic Myths by Danielle Feller (story recorded in the Mahabharata)

Location: Pan India

Image source: Wikimedia Commons