Story of King Parikshita and Beginning of Dark Age (Kali Yuga)
Five Pandavas and their wife Draupadi survived in the Great War of Mahabharata, while all the Kauravas and the sons of Pandavas died. Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna, also died. However, Uttara, wife of Abhimanyu, was carrying the seed of her husband in her womb. Although Ashwatthama, son of Guru Drona, tried to kill the fetus in the womb of Uttara, Sri Krishna revived the child with his spiritual power.
The child of Uttara and Abhimanyu was born as Parikshita. Then in Dwaraka Sri Krishna left the mortal body after being hit by a poisonous arrow of a hunter. This is the story of the period C. 3200 BCE. Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, descended with the demise of Sri Krishna.
Story of King Parikshita
The child Parikshita grew as a healthy, intelligent, and brave prince. He succeeded King Yudhishthira, the Pandava King, to the throne of Hastinapur. For many years, Parikshita ruled with love, care, and compassion towards all. All over, in his kingdom, there was peace and prosperity.
In such an atmosphere of righteousness (dharma), Kali, representing the sinful elements of lust and greed, jealousy and hatred, found it extremely difficult to establish his rule. Therefore, he decided to play tricks to corrupt the king and the people of Hastinapur.
Kali went on rampage with killing of fetuses, insulting the Brahmins, and injuring the cows. To put an end to the atrocious and malicious Kali, King Parikshita one day confronts the Kali and decides to put and end to his life. Kali begs for the pardon and agrees to leave the kingdom of Hastinapur. However, taking advantage of the softhearted King Parikshita, the clever Kali asks for some place to reside. Parikshita permits him to dwell in the places like wine shops and gambling dens, houses of ill repute and prostitution, and in greed and corruption.
As gold is taken to be the symbol of 'greed and corruption', Kali, without any delay, entered the golden crown of the King! King Parikshita was unaware of this clever ploy of Kali. Thus, whenever the king wore the golden crown on his head his mind wavered and he had such thoughts as lust, greed, indecision, and indiscretion.
In such a state of mind, once the king, with the royal crown over his head, went for hunting. After a strenuous day in the forest he did not find any game despite long chases. Tired and dejected the king reached the hut of a sage in the hope of some refreshments and cold drinking water.
The ashram belonged to a sage of high austerity and wisdom. However, when king Parikshita reached there the sage was in a state of deep meditation, in fact in samadhi. He was oblivious to the outer senses and therefore was not aware of the entry of the King in his ashram.
The king called out, "Is anyone home?" Getting no reply, the king entered the hut and saw the sage sitting in verandah in deep introversion. Normally the king would have bowed down and left without disturbing the Yogi, but on that fateful day due to the presence of Kali in his crown, the refusal of the sage to welcome him annoyed the king in its extreme. He took sage's trance as his insult and shouted, "O fool, get up. Respect your king. Why are you sitting like a dead stone?" But how could a person in samadhi know outer world!
Seeing no movements on the part of the sage, the King lost his temper and mental poise. The king saw a dead snake lying near the seat of the sage. And no one knows what went through the mind of the king; he picked up the dead snake and put it around the neck of the sage. Thus having insulted the sage, the king returned to his palace.
After some time the son of the sage returned from his errand, and was shocked to see the dead snake around his father's neck. Exasperated, the son sent the deadly curse, "Whosoever has done this ghastly act that person will be killed within seven days by the poisonous bite of Serpent Takshaka Nag." He uttered these words thrice and completed his vow by reciting a mantra to invite the deadly serpent to do his duty. The truthful and agitated son's words were sure to be true!
After some time the sage came out from his trance and found his son extremely upset on certain matter. "What is troubling you my son", inquired the father. The son narrated the whole episode of his father's samadhi and finding the dead snake around his neck. He also told his father how he had sent the deadly curse to end the life the miscreant. The senior sage was extremely saddened at the hasty and immature behavior of his son, but could do nothing then.
The beginning of Dark Age (Kali Yuga)
Here on returning to his palace as soon as King Parikshita removed his crown, as soon as he was freed from the deluding influence of Kali, he regretted the act of putting the dead snake around sage's neck. He was contemplating to go to the ashram to beg pardon for his misadventure when the news reached the palace of the curse sent on the person involved in the misdeed. The king knew now that he had only seven days to live!
The king realized the power of Kali and his clever ploy. The king was not so much afraid of the death but was more concerned about the very short time he had to undertake any measure as an appropriate penance. The scripture had ordained every noble soul to seek liberation from the snares of worldliness before death, but the king had no time. Who would impart him that Ultimate Knowledge of God in such a short period of seven days!
Thus dejected the king called his advisers to his chamber. Many suggestions and advice were given, but of no avail. The tired king went to the sage and falling at his feet begged, "O, noble sage, I have committed a great mistake, but no mistake is big enough that no solution can be found to rectify it. I beg of you to tell me about the path of liberation now that I have only seven days to live."
(The Discourses that leads to Liberation)
The compassionate sage was touched to the heart; he pacified the king and said, "O noble king, great harm is done to you by the hasty behavior of my immature son. But as you rightly said, there is a solution for your predicament. If you sincerely listen the nectar-like words and stories of Bhagavatam your life will be fulfilled."
However, for this the king must renounce his luxury of the palace, and as a sadhaka should approach the sage Shukadeva with due humility and yearning. The king therefore, decided to follow the path of renunciation and devotion for his final liberation.
The sage Shukadeva was a Paramhamsa, a realized soul, with tremendous spiritual power and devotion to God. With his companions he was camping on the banks of Holy Ganges when the king reached there. Prostrating before the sage, king Parikshita, now a spiritual aspirant saluted the sage with a humble request to enlighten him about highest Truth, about God, and about Atman and Paramatman. He told the sage he had only seven days to get this knowledge. "Be graceful, O kind-hearted soul and lead me from darkness to light."
The all-compassionate Shukadeva was moved with the intensity and sincerity of cry of the king, which came from the depth of the heart. Assuring the king the sage said, "O king, do not grieve and do not fear. For in this Dark Age of Kali I have found a simple and sure method to reach the God. Leading simple life, serving the needy and in distress, renouncing all worldly desires and getting immersed in the repetition of Lord's Name one can cross the ocean of worldliness -the samsara-sagara- and reach the blissful abode in the Heaven-Vaikuntha. Even if one just listens to the stories of the Lord his grief is conquered and the person starts experiencing bliss.
Thus all arrangements were made; the stage was decorated for Shukadeva to take his seat and deliver his daily discourses. From morning to noon and from afternoon to evening, in two sessions, the stories of God's incarnation and Lila were recited with great devotion. Gradually the dirt of worldliness and ignorance was wiped out and the king Parikshita tasted the nectar of pure joy. He was soon freed from all worldly anxieties and troubles. His mind became purer and on the seventh day he was already 'Free'. The serpent Takshaka reached the king in a disguised form of a worm in a fruit and bit the king on the seventh day. But it was too late! The king had already reached the abode of Lord at Vaikuntha!