There used to be a sage named Koushika. Koushika had seven sons named Svasripa, Krodhana, Himsra, Pishuna, Kavi, Vagadushta and Pitrivarti. These sons all became disciples of the sage Garga. After Koushika died, there was a terrible drought on earth. Famine raged and people went hungry. Garga had asked his disciples to tend to his cattle and the seven brothers had taken the cattle to the forest so that they might browse on the grass that grew there. The brothers suffered so much from hunger that they decided to slay one of the cows and eat it.
“Killing a cow would be a sin,” remarked the youngest. “If we have to kill the cow, let us at least perform its funeral ceremony. Perhaps that will reduce the severity of the sin that we are committing.” The other brothers agreed to this. The funeral rites of the cow were observed. It was then killed and eaten. The brothers returned to Garga and told him. “A cow has been killed and eaten by a tiger.”
Garga saw no reason to disbelieve them. But the sin remained a sin. And as a consequence of having committed a crime, the brothers were born as hunters in their next lies. But they were born as jatismaras. That is, they remembered the incidents of their earlier lives. Since the brothers remembed what they had been in their earlier lives, they saw no reason to live as hunters. They therefore fasted until they died. They were next reborn as deer. But the deer continued to be jatismaras and fasted to death. The brothers were reborn as birds. Four of the brothers continued to be detached from material pursuits and spent their time in meditation. But the three remaining brothers were not so lucky.
The king of Panchala had once come to the forest with his retinue. The king’s name was Vibhraja. One of the birds was struck by the king’s pomp and glory and wished to be born as a king in his next life. King Vibhraja and two ministers with him and all the soldiers seemed to be following the instructions of the ministers. Accordingly, two of the birds desired to be born as ministers in their next lives.
The one who wished to be a king was born as Brahmadatta, King Vibhraja’s son. The two who desired to be born as ministers became Pundarika and Suvalaka, the sons of the two ministers whom they had seen. The remaining three brothers were not attached to material pursuits and were born as brahmanas (the first of the four classes). Brahmadatta married Kalyani. You will never guess who Kayanti had been in her earlier .life She had been the cow whom the brothers had killed.
What was most remarkable was the fact that Brahmadatta could understand the languages of all living beings. Brahmadatta and Kalyani were once taking a walk in their garden. Brahmadata heard two ants conversing. Since he could understand the languages of all living beings, he could follow what the ants were saying.
“Why are you angry with me?’ asked the male ant. “Why are you refusing to speak to me?”
“Go away and do not pester me,” replied the female ant. “You say you love me very much. And yet, when you got some grains of sugar yesterday, you gave them to another ant and not to me. I refuse to speak to you.”
“That was my mistake,” said the male ant. “I thought that it was you to whom I was giving the grains of sugar. I will never make such a mistake in the future. Please pardon me and smile. I cannot bear to see you so angry.” The ants made up.
The conversation made Brahmadatta laugh. Kalyani naturally wanted to know why Brahmadatta was laughing and the king reported the entire conversation to his wife. But Kalyani refused to believe her husband. “How can any man understand the language of ants?” she wanted to know. “You are lying. You must have been laughing at me.”
Brahmadatta tried to convince his wife, but Kalyani would not listen. The king did not know what to do. But while he was sleeping, he dreamt that Vishnu appeared before him and told him to wait till the next morning. Brahmadatta’s mind would be set at rest then.Four of the brothers had been born as brahmanas. They had been born as the sons of a brahmana named Sudaridra and were named Dhritimana, Tattvadarshi, Vidyachanda and Tapotsuka. Since they were born as jatismaras, they remembered their earlier lives and had no desire to tied down by material pursuits. They wanted to retire to the forest and meditate.
But Sudaridra tried to restrain his sons. “How can you do that?” he asked “How can you retire to the forest to meditate? Your duty is to look after me in my old age. If you do not look after, I shall starve to death. Please do not commit that sin.”
“You will not starve to death,” replied his sons. “Go to King Brahmadatta and ask him for wealth. He will give you gold and villages. Tell him to remember the sage Garga, the hunters, the deer and the birds. The four sons went away to the foest. Sudarida came to meet the king. He met the king on the day following Brahmadatta’s dream. Sudaridra’s words reminded Brahmadatta of what he had been in his earlier lives. He was ashamed that he had forgotten those incidents and had become addicted to material pursuits. He decided to join his brothers in the forest. He gave Sudaridra as much wealth as the brahmana wanted and handed over the kingdom to the prince, Vishvaksena. The brothers Pundarika and Suvalaka also accompanied Brahmadatta to the forest. It was thus that Koushika’s seven sons eventually attained salvation. “There is one thing we do not understand,” said the sages. “How came Brahmadatta to understand the languages of all living beings?” “That is easily explained.” Replied Lomaharshana. “King Vibraja had prayed to Vishnu that he might obtain such a son and the boon was granted.”