In Tretayuga, there lived a famous king named Hariśchandra. He was a righteous soul, protector of the earth, beautiful, famous, and superior in every way. During his reign there was no famine, no one suffered from diseases, no people died untimely and the villagers never had any interest in unrighteousness. At that time people were never crazy about money.
One day, Maharaja Hariśchandra went to the forest for hunting and there, while running after the prey, he repeatedly heard the shrill voices of some women. They were saying, “Save us, save us.” The king gave up his hunting pursuit and spoke in the direction of voice: “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. Who is such a wicked person to do such injustice even during my reign?” Saying this, the king moved in that direction, following the cries of the women.
Actually, those feminine cries were an illusion created by Vighnaraja, the lord of the obstacles. Vighnaraja was trying to disturb the tapasya of the sage Viśwāmitra so that he would lose all his knowledge. When he saw Hariśchandra, he entered the king’s body and started abusing Viśwāmitra. This disturbed Viśwāmitra’s tapasya and destroyed all the knowledge that the sage had acquired during this tapasya.
Thereafter, when King Hariśchandra looked at Maharishi Viśwāmitra, he became very frightened and started trembling like a peepal leaf. Viśwāmitra spoke: “O evil soul! Keep standing.” The king humbly bowed at the sage’s feet and said: “Lord! Protecting the women was my dharma. You should not be angry at someone engaged in protecting dharma. According to Dharmashastra, it is appropriate for the king to give charity, protect, and fight with the bow.”
Viśwāmitra said: “O King! If you are afraid of injustice, then tell me quickly—to whom should donations be given? Who should be protected and with whom should be fought?”
Hariśchandra said: “Donations should be given to the best Brahmanas and other people whose livelihood has been destroyed. One should protect fearful creatures and always fight with enemies.”
Viśwāmitra said: “If you are a king and know the royal dharma very well, then I am a Brahmin give me Dakshina as per my wish.”
Hariśchandra said: “Lord! You should ask what I should give you without any doubt. If there is a rarest of rare things then consider it as a given.”
Viśwāmitra said: “Give me this entire earth including sea, mountains, villages, and cities. Surrender to me the entire kingdom including chariots, horses, elephants, storehouses, and treasures. Apart from this, whatever you have, give it to me. Just keep your wife, son, and body with yourself.”
The king said: “So be it”, with a happy mind. King Hariśchandra took his wife Shaibya and son Rohitaśva and was about to leave the kingdom when Viśwāmitra said: “Where are you going without giving me Dakśina for Rājsūya yajña?” Hariśchandra said that he did not have any possessions left, but promised to make another donation within a month.
Hariśchandra started living in penury with his wife and his family. His loyal subjects followed him. When Viśwāmitra saw the king with his subjects, he started cursing Hariśchandra for taking along his subjects (who were a part of the kingdom donated to the sage). The king then decided to leave the kingdom with his family.
After reaching Kashi, the king thought that Kashi did not belong to anyone as only Lord Shankar had the right to it; hence it was outside his donation. Therefore, he could live in Kashi. But as soon as he entered Kashi, he found Viśwāmitra already present there. The sage demanded the donation that the king had promised him. Hariśchandra pointed out that there was still some time left in the completion of one month. The sage agreed to come back at the next sunset and departed.
As the king’s hungry son cried for food, Hariśchandra worried about how would he be able to make a donation to the sage. His wife Shaivya suggested that he sell herself to get some money. “Maharaj! Stop worrying. Protect your truth. O best of mankind! There is no other dharma mentioned for a man greater than the protection of his truth.” After some hesitation, Hariśchandra accepted the proposal and sold her to an elderly man. Their child would not let go of his mother, so it was decided that he would accompany his mother (and an extra payment was made for him).
Soon after, Viśwāmitra appeared again and demanded the donation. Hariśchandra gave him all the money he had received from the sale of his wife and son. However, Viśwāmitra was not satisfied and demanded more. Hariśchandra then decided to sell himself. A chandala (who was Yama in disguise) offered to buy him, but Hariśchandra’s self-respect as a high-class Kshatriya would not allow this. He instead offered to be Viśwāmitra’s slave. Viśwāmitra agreed, but then declared “Since you are my slave, you must obey me. I sell you to this chandala in exchange for gold coins.” The chandala paid the sage and took Hariśchandra as a slave.
The chandala employed Hariśchandra as a worker at his cremation ground. He directed Hariśchandra to collect fees for everybody cremated there. A part of the fee would go to the chandala, a part would be given to the local king, and the rest would be Hariśchandra’s remuneration. Hariśchandra started living and working at the cremation ground. One day, he dreamed about his previous lifetimes and realized that his current condition was a result of his past sins. During this nightmare, he also saw his queen crying before him. When he woke up, he saw his queen actually crying before him. She held the dead body of their son, who had died of a snake bite.
The queen said: “O king! I cannot bear this burden of sorrow.” Hariśchandra and his wife decided to enter the burning pyre of their son. They made a pyre and placed his son on it and with folded hands along with his wife, remembered the Lord of all, Supreme Soul Narayana Srihari, was about to enter the pyre. At that moment, Indra and all the demigods immediately came there.
The demigods spoke: “O King, listen to us, on your remembrance, all the demigods have appeared here. Here is Grandfather Brahmaji and here is Dharma. Apart from these, Sadhyagan, Vishvedev, Marudgan, and Lokpal have also arrived with their vehicles. Naga, Siddha, Gandharva, Rudra, Ashwini Kumar, and many demigods are present here. Also, Viśwāmitra is present here”. Then Dharma said: “O King! Don’t give up your life. I have come to you in person. You have satisfied me with your qualities like forgiveness, and sensual control.”
Indra then said: “O great soul Hariśchandra! You have gained authority over the universe along with your wife and son. Rajan! Take your wife and son and go to heaven, which you have achieved through your good deeds and which is very rare for other people.”
After this, Indra rained nectar from the sky on the pyre. The trumpets of the demigods rang loudly. Thus, in the company of the demigods gathered there, Rohitaśva son of the king, came alive. His body was soft and healthy. There was happiness in his senses and mind. King Hariśchandra immediately hugged him. Together they became full of brilliance Other divine necklaces and clothes started adorning his body. The king became healthy and immersed in bliss. At that time Indra again said to him: “Mahabhag! Go to the heavenly planets are enjoy the fruits of your deeds.”
Hariśchandra said: “Devaraj! I will not be able to go to the world of demigods without obtaining permission from my master chandala and without getting relief from his debt.”
Dharma said: “Rajan! Knowing about your future crisis, I manifested myself in the form of a chandala and displayed his nature.”
Hariśchandra said: “Devraj! You are pleased with me, so I humbly request to you. All the people of Ayodhya are mourning my separation. How will I leave them today and go to the heavenly world? Just like killing a Brahmin, killing a Guru, killing a cow, and killing a woman, abandoning the surrendered is also considered a great sin. One who abandons the surrendered who is blameless and unworthy of abandonment, does not see happiness anywhere in this world or the next world; That’s why Indra you return to heaven. If they can go to heaven then I will also go; otherwise, I am willing to go to hell with them.”
Indra said: “King! All these people have different types of virtues and sins. Then how can you make heaven everyone’s enjoyment?”
Hariśchandra said: “Indra! The king enjoys his kingdom due to the influence of his relatives. The subjects are also the king’s relatives. With their help, the king performs big sacrifices. I have done all this with the help of the people of Ayodhya, hence I cannot abandon my benefactors due to the greed for heaven. Devesh! If I have done any good deed, donation, or sacrifice, then I should get the fruits of all that along with them.”
Hearing this, Indra, Dharma, and Viśwāmitra became very happy in their hearts. Devendra, who was kind to the people, brought millions of aircraft from heaven to earth. Then after entering the city of Ayodhya consisting of all four varnas and ashrams, Devraj Indra said to the people standing next to King Hariśchandra: “People! All of you come quickly. Through the blessings of Dharma, all of you have attained a very rare paradise.”
To please King Hariśchandra, the great ascetic Viśwāmitra brought Prince Rohitaśva to the most beautiful Ayodhyapuri and anointed him on the throne there. All the relatives including the king were very happy after the coronation of Rohitaśva along with the sages and Siddhas.
Moral of the story
Hariśchandra is the epitome of honesty and charity without expecting any name or fame. The story describes that he is not just a king in name, but also by his deeds. Hariśchandra belongs to the Surya Dynasty in which lord Ram appeared. Many great kings in his lineage gave up their lives to keep their vows. The character of Hariśchandra demonstrates how selfless the king should be. Also, if truthfulness and honesty are shown for the right purpose then definitely the results are good.