Two Takeaways From The Story of Vatapi and Ilvala

[Rama-Lakshmana]“The sage Agastya is of such a purified nature that in his hermitage a liar cannot live, nor a deceitful person, nor a wicked person, nor one that is committed to sinful activity.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.90)

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नात्र जीवेन्मृषावादी क्रूरो वा यदि वा शठः।
नृशंसः कामवृत्तो वा मुनिरेष तथाविधः।।

nātra jīvenmṛṣāvādī krūro vā yadi vā śaṭhaḥ।
nṛśaṃsaḥ kāmavṛtto vā munireṣa tathāvidhaḥ।।

Rakshasas were doing what they are known to do. They are so degraded that they have no problem eating human flesh. Cannibals who cannot very well mix amongst human society with their tendencies displayed out in the open. They cannot wear their desires on their sleeves, so to speak.

The case of Vatapi and Ilvala. These brothers had a game. One would transform into a goat. The other would then supposedly kill the goat and cook it for offering as food to guests. The unsuspecting priestly person would then consume the flesh of Ilvala, except the Rakshasa was not actually dead.

Vatapi would call out to Ilvala. The brother would then burst through the stomach of the person who just feasted. It was a game of sorts, with the ultimate objective of satisfying the senses.

Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, one time retold this story to His younger brother Lakshmana. The context was Agastya Rishi. Known as the jar-born one, he is very dear to the protector of the saints. Though a brahmana by occupation, he is not entirely helpless against enemy attack.

[Agastya Rishi]Vatapi and Ilvala tried the same game on him once. That was the last time. Vatapi was indeed dead inside of the sage’s stomach. When Ilvala rushed in anger to attack Agastya, the sage burned him to ashes through a simple glance.

1. Sinful behavior sticks together

If a person is bad in one area, it is likely they are the same in others. As an example, if someone is known for being unfaithful to their wife, through having multiple affairs, it is not surprising to learn that they also cheat customers and clients while running the business. Dishonesty is rarely exclusive to one area.

If Rakshasas are known to eat human flesh, it is not surprising that they would take deceptive measures to attain their goals. From the Ramayana poem of Valmiki, we learn that Rakshasas display false images, something like the illusion employed by magicians, to dispirit would-be attackers. Something analogous in modern-day life is the newspapers and television news stations piling on a particular person about a supposed transgression, calling it “racist” and “hateful”, when no one thought so previously, when they first heard the same words.

2. Take food from a trustworthy source

Shri Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita that the saintly people avoid sin in the eating process since they take what remains from yajna, which is sacrifice.

यज्ञ-शिष्टाशिनः सन्तो
मुच्यन्ते सर्व-किल्बिषैः
भुञ्जते ते त्व् अघं पापा
ये पचन्त्य् आत्म-कारणात्

yajña-śiṣṭāśinaḥ santo
mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā
ye pacanty ātma-kāraṇāt

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)

Otherwise, the karma of the preparer enters the food and can have a deleterious effect on anyone who consumes thereafter. The meat-eating practiced in ancient times had a link to yajna; and so brahmanas were generally absolved of the sin involved with killing an animal.

In this case we see that the source was not trustworthy. The saints were fooled into eating something worse than meat. They were tricked through the allure of the senses.

Sometimes a person is helpless; the food they receive is out of their control. Those who stay connected in consciousness to the Supreme Lord get protection. Agastya’s piety is so high that the most sinful in society cannot make an impact on him.

[Rama-Lakshmana]Saints like Agastya do not protect just themselves. They work for the overall welfare of society. They glorify Shri Rama and pass on recorded observations for future generations to relish. They foresee the bleak conditions of the Kali Yuga and therefore understand the importance of chanting the holy name for staying above the dark influence of Rakshasas and those like them: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Rakshasa brothers game to play,
One the other’s name to say.

Then out of the stomach to burst,
With this routine well-versed.

But when on Agastya to try,
Who of piety high.

Then forever stopped,
He with one glance dropped.

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