King Parikshit,the grandson of the Pandavas ruled Hastinapur after King Yudhishtar gave up the throne.
King Parikshit was a just and good king. However the Kali yuga had set in. Through a series of coincidences, King Parikshit was affected by Kali and misbehaved with a sage. Parikshit hung a snake around the neck of a sage Samika who was deep in meditation. The sage's son Sringan cursed Parikshit to die from a snake bite within seven days.
Parikshit who was already feeling remorseful at his despicable behaviour with his sage, came to know about the curse. Without hesitation Parikshit gave up the throne and crowned his son Janmejaya to be the king after him. Parikshit spent the remaining seven days listening to the stories of the Lord Krishna and the Pandavas. By the beginning of the seventh day, Parikshit had made peace with himself and was ready to accept his fate, no matter what....
True to the curse, on the evening of the seventh day, Parikshit was bitten by Takshak, the king of serpents and died....
Janmejaya was only 11 when he was crowned as the King of Hastinapur. Like his father before him, he also grew up to be a good and kind king. However for many years he remained unaware of the true reason of his father's death. Then one day a Sage Uttanka [who had a private grudge against Takshak] told King Janmejaya, the real cause of his father's death.
Furious Janmejaya ordered for the Snake Sacrifice. The yagna was horrific. The mantras were so powerful that nagas were dragged from all over the place and were killed in the yagna fire.
One of the very few serpents who was not dragged by the power of the yagna was Takshak. A young sage Astik informed King Janmejaya that Takshak was protected by Lord Indra, the king of the Devas.
Pleased by this information, Janmejaya promised to give Astik any boon he wanted.
Turning his attention to the Sacrifice, Janmejaya ordered for the mantra to drag both Indra and Takshak into the sacrificial fire. As the power of the mantra dragged both of them, Indra fearing for his own safety let go of Takshak. Takshak was about to fall into the fire, when Astik stopped the Naga with his powers.
Janmejaya looked angrily at Astik, 'He is the Naga....' Janmejaya angrily looked at Takshak trembling with rage, '...It was for killing him that I had organised the Sacrifice. Then why...?'
Astik looked firmly at Janmejaya. 'You promised that you would grant me any boon I want! This is the boon I wish. I wish that you stop the killing of the Nagas henceforth. Please do not kill Takshak and the other remaining nagas.'
Janmejaya looked at Astik and whispered. 'Who are you?'
Astik smiled. 'I am Astik! My father is Jaratkaru, a sage. My mother's name is also Jaratkaru. She is a Naga!' Astik shook his head as he looked at the terrified looking Takshak. He turned his attention to the angry looking Janmejaya, 'You have killed too many of my people, my king! Please stop this right now!'
Janmejaya was stumped. 'He killed my father!' Janmejaya yelled at Astik he pointed a trembling finger at Takshak.
Unruffled Astik asked him. 'Do you know about Indraprastha?'
Confused at the sudden change of topic by Astik, Janmejaya stared blankly at the sage.
Astik smiled sadly at Janmejaya. 'Do you know that Indraprastha, the place from where the Pandavas – your ancestors, ruled, was built on a place called Khandava forest?' Janmejaya looked at Astik as he continued. 'Khandava was the home of a thousands of Nagas, my king!' Astik held up his hands looking slightly embarrassed. 'Not many of them were good and they have performed many horrific deeds!' Astik shook his head as he continued. 'However Arjuna and Lord Krishna, helped Agni destroy the entire forest....' Astik whispered. 'Almost nobody survived the destruction.....'
Janmejaya looked at Astik blankly when Astik asked quietly. 'Was Takshak not entitled to revenge for the acts of your ancestors?'
Janmejaya was unable to speak when Astik asked another question. 'Your father misbehaved with a sage! Parikshit was cursed to die! Takshak was the medium by which the sentence was carried out! Do you think Takshak deserves to die for that?'
Janmejaya could not talk as he looked shamefaced.
Needless to say, the Snake Sacrifice was called off.
Sage Veda Vyasa with his student Vaisampayana came for the conclusion of the Snake Sacrifice. Janmejaya who had heard the words of Astik was now curious. He wanted to know in detail about his ancestors,who had fought the Mahabharatha war....
And so Janmejaya was the first person who heard the narration of the entire Mahabharatha by Vaisampayana......
As part of the story, Vaisampayana also narrated the story of the Golden Mongoose....
Once the Mahabharatha war was over, the victorious King Yudhishtara of Hastinapura performed a yagna for the well being of all his subjects. The yagna was conducted lavishly. Precious and expensive gifts were given away to everyone. The yagna was so grand that people would not stop singing praises of it…
As some people were speaking, there came a little mongoose. It was the strangest mongoose ever. One side of the mongoose looked plain and normal like any other mongoose. However much to the astonishment of everyone, the other side gleamed of pure gold!
The mongoose looked at everyone and rolled over the floor and looked at itself as if expecting a change in its appearance. It rolled over the floor again. Nothing happened. The mongoose looked at all the people and specifically looked at Yudhihstara and spoke:
‘Please....!' It said disdainfully. 'I can’t even imagine why people insist of calling this a great yagna! Why? This is just a mockery...a show!’ The mongoose shook his head angrily. ‘This is not a yagna!’
Yudhishtara was so pained by the words of the mongoose that he did not pause to think as to how it was that the mongoose had spoken. He looked at all the people. ‘I have followed all the rules required to be followed during the yagna. I have religiously done everything that you people told me...' Yudhishtara looked at all the assembled people, '...then why is this mongoose telling me these things?’
The people who had assembled turned to the mongoose. ‘Foolish Mongoose! This is the most glorious yagna of all times. It marks the end of the greatest war ever. Do you know how much wealth King Yudhishtara has given away to the poor and the needy. And you have the audacity to tell us…that this is not even a yagna…How dare you?’ All of them looked threateningly at the mongoose.
The mongoose looked at all the people assembled and smiled a little mysteriously. 'I will tell you a story. You can then decide about the greatness of this yagna...'
And so saying the mongoose told them a story.
'There once lived a very poor man in a small village. He had his wife, son and daughter-in-law living with him. They lived in a hand-to-mouth existence. But because the entire family was inclined spiritually, none of them bothered about their poverty..
Unfortunately a great famine struck the kingdom. The poor family which already had very little food now starved almost daily. Unable to bear the suffering of his family, the old man went out and with great difficulty got some rice for the family.
His wife and daughter-in-law cooked the food and divided the food into four parts, one for each one of them.
As they were about to eat the food, much to the surprise of everyone, someone knocked their door.
Surprised, the old man opened the door. Outside he saw a weary traveler looking almost half dead from hunger and fatigue. The old man immediately brought the man inside. After allowing the man to wash himself, the old man spoke to the man. 'Sir!' The old man said. 'You look hungry...'
The weary traveler sadly nodded his head. 'I have been wandering for several days now without any food...'
The old man without even a slightest hesitation offered the traveler his food. 'You have come to my house at the right time. We were about to have our meal. Please have my portion of the food and satisfy yourself!'
Without pausing to think, the traveler seemed to eat the old man's portion of food. The others in the family watched the guest eating, leaving their own food untouched. The traveler however did not seem to be satisfied. He looked at the old man guiltily as if he was still hungry.
The old man's wife came forward and offered the guest her portion of the food. The old man looked distraught that his shriveled wife was handing over her pitiful portion of the food to the traveler. He took her aside and spoke to her.
'You do not have to do this....' The old man said. 'He is our guest. I have given him my portion of the food....But you....'
His wife smiled. 'I am your wife....I have promised to take part in your life through everything....If you are willing to stay hungry for feeding a guest, I think it is my duty to do the same...'
The traveler ate the second portion of food. Needless to say the traveler was still hungry.
The old man looked unhappy when the son gave the guest his portion of the food. The father shook his head emphatically when the son held up his hands. 'Father! Mother! You are my parents...You are my world. I have learnt that it is the duty of a child to fulfill the wishes of the parents. You wish to feed the guest and are even willing to give up your portion of the food to satisfy his hunger. Now it is my turn to fulfill my parent's desire and make sure our guest is happy....'
The traveler had the third portion and still looked hungry. The daughter-in-law came forward. Seeing this, the other three came forward feeling terrible. The old man shook his head. 'My daughter....I cannot let you starve...It is wrong...' The old woman and the son also shook their head.
The daughter-in-law smiled. 'Father! The sacrifice that the three of you have made is the greatest sacrifice in the world....Nothing can come close to it. I wish to be a part of this yagna...Please give my portion of the food to the guest and let us satisfy his hunger....'
Though the other three tried to talk the daughter-in-law out of the act, she remained adamant and the fourth portion of the food also went to the traveler.
A great hush fell over the assembly in the yagna hall of Yudhishtara. Everybody was now listening to the story of the strange mongoose as it continued.
The traveler was thoroughly satisfied and he was about to go out of the house. In that instant the house was ablaze with a brilliant light. The Gods who had come in the guise of the traveler blessed the entire family. 'You have performed the greatest yagna in the world. For this you have attained moksha....Come!'
The people in the Yudhishtara's yagna heard in utter amazement as the mongoose continued. 'I happened to be passing the house at that time. When I saw the family attain moksha, I saw some scrap of food which the family had given to the traveler lying on the floor. Accidentally I fell on the food .
The mongoose shook his head as he saw his body. 'The side of my body which fell on the food, was transformed into gold!' The mongoose said as he showed everyone his shining gleaming coat on one side. 'There was no more food left...So I could not transform the other side of my body and it remains normal...'
The mongoose smiled a little sadly. 'Since then I have been traveling all over the earth from one yagna to another, in the hope that I may see another yagna, which was as great as the one performed by the old man and his family. The mongoose pointed to himself. 'And I am still waiting.... I thought so many people were singing praises of your yagna, probably that would be the other yagna that I am looking for...But I guess...' The mongoose looked at King Yudhishtara. 'Your yagna is not as great as the one performed by the family of a poor man....'
Before King Yudhishtara could react to the sentence, the mongoose vanished form there!
Yudhishtara realized the hard truth finally. The only thing necessary for a yagna was a good heart and pure soul.. not money or riches or following rules and regulations....Yudhishtara realized that he had not conducted a yagna, he was merely showing off his wealth.......