At the same spot on the bank of the River Sabarmati where Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad now stands, there once stood the ashram of the great sage, Dadhichi.
Once Indra, the king of the devas, was driven out of devaloka (abode of the gods) by an asura named Vritra. The asura possessed a boon because of which he could not be killed by any existing weapon or one made of wood or metal. Indra, who had lost all hope of recovering his kingdom, went to seek the aid of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu told Indra that only the weapon made from the bones of Dadhichi would defeat Vritra. Indra and the devas went to Dadhichi’s ashram on the banks of the River Sabarmati. Though Indra had once beheaded* the sage, He did not shy away from asking for the latter’s aid in defeating Vritra.
Dadhichi acceded to the devas’ request but said that he wished to go on a pilgrimage to all the holy rivers before he gave up his life. Since Indra did not want to spare any more time, he brought together all the waters of the holy rivers to Naimisharanya, thereby allowing the sage to have his wish fulfilled at once.
Dadhichi took his holy dips and started his meditation. He had no attachment for his body. He concentrated his mind solely on God. Slowly, he began to concentrate on his breath and finally he became one with the supreme power. Almost immediately wild animals came out of the forest and devoured his flesh and skin. Indra collected his bones and handed them to Vishwakarma, who fashioned a Vajra (a blunt weapon which had the combined features of a sword, a spear and a mace) out of Dadhichi’s spine. Indra killed the asura with the Vajra and once again reclaimed his place as the king of devaloka.
*Dadhichi was the son of the sage, Atharva. Once, Lord Indra had sworn that he would behead anybody who dared to preach Brahmavidya (literally, the science of Brahman or God) to the Ashwinikumaras, the divine twin horsemen. Since the Ashwinikumaras were vaidyas (physicians), Indra looked down upon them. The Ashwinikumaras begged Sage Dadhichi to teach them Brahmavidya. Since it was irreligious to not preach to someone who was really curious and willing to learn, the sage agreed. Knowing of Indra’s punishment that would be meted out to Dadhichi, the Ashwinikumaras cut off the sage’s head and kept it aside. They fixed a horse’s head onto his torso. Thus the horse-headed sage Dadhichi (hence known as Ashwashira) preached them the Brahmavidya. When Indra came to know about it, he beheaded Dadhichi with his sword. After He had left, the Ashwinikumaras refixed Dadhichi’s own head on to his torso.
READ MORE LEGENDS SUCH AS THIS ONE IN MY NEW BOOK, FLOW: RIVER LEGENDS FROM INDIA
There are many ways you can look at a river — the body of water, the rocks that are found in it, the topography of the land through which it flows, the shrines and towns that are built on its banks, the people who have had to swim or sail across it, the dams that are built on it and those who have drowned in it. Each river has a different story. Some have many stories. Flow is a collection of legends of the rivers of India. Some of these legends are very popular, others lost like the rivers themselves. Journey from the north to the south of the subcontinent through the course of this book to discover the hidden myths and histories of some of the very revered rivers of this ancient land.