Immortals of Indian Mythology: Sage Vyas
Born as Krishna Dvaipayana, Sage Vyas is the codifier of the Holy Vedas.
Apantaratamas is the title given to Vyasa, a great sage. He is said to have been born on the utterance of the word bhu by Lord Vishnu. The sage is also known as Saraswat, as he was absolutely free from inner darkness or ignorance and one who was aware and knower of the past, the present, and the future. As is the recurrent observation with almost everything in the ancient Hindu scriptures, the names of sages, names of Gods and other characters are not arbitrary but almost always have a deeper meaning and reasons.
He is also one of the Seven Great Sages of this "Yuga"(i.e. Kaliyuga) of this Manvantara. Yugas are epochs of time, based on the celestial cycles of the Milky Way. Explaining Yugas and Manvantaras is beyond the scope of this article, but it is definitely worth the time spent on it.
Vyasa is the father of Dhritarashtra and Pandu. These two were the fathers of the Kauravas and Pandavas between whom the great battle of Mahabharata was fought.
So generally speaking, he is a know-all character of Hindu mythology and can be argued as one of the most learned characters of Hindu mythology ever.
Birth Place and Names
Birth Name and derivatives:
Sage Veda Vyasa which is the most common name used for him literally means Saint Vyasa, the splitter of the Vedas(ancient books of knowledge in Hindu mythology).
He was Dark-skinned and hence can be called Krishna(dark skinned) and Dwaipayana(island born). The other names that are used for him are as follows:
Badarajana: (This name is debatable)
Satyavati suta: Son of Satyavati.
Parasarya: Born of Parasara or Parashara.
Parasaratmaja: Almost the same as above.
His lineage can be traced as follows:
Place of Birth
The most commonly accepted birthplace is said to be the modern town of Damauli in the Tanahu district of Nepal at the confluence of two rivers Seti and Madi.
One of the alternative theories suggests he was born on an island on the Yamuna river in Kalpriya Nagari, the modern-day town of Kalpi city in India.
A third theory suggests his birth at Manegaon. It is located near the Nepal-China border in present-day Nepal along the road from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Local records are said to support this history, saying that this was the ashrama of Parasara Muni at the time Vyasa was conceived. (It is near Badrinath, a famous shrine.)
Descendants of Vyasa
Vyasa was the father of four sons namely:
Vidura, Shuka, Dhritarashtra, and Pandu
Pandu: He is the father of the Pandavas including Arjuna and Yudhishthira.
Dhritarashtra: He is the father of the hundred Kauravas including Duryodhana, the arch-enemy of the Pandavas in the epic war of Mahabharata.
Vidura: A very learned person who played an important role as a counselor to the Pandavas in Mahabharata.
Shuka/Suka: Perhaps least known of the sons of Vyasa, Suka is said to be the spiritual heir of Vyasa.
Birth of Dhritarashtra, Pandu, and Vidura:
Vichitravirya was the brother of Vyasa and ruler of Hastinapura(present-day Meerut in India) who died at an early age and childless. To ensure the continuity of royal lineage, Vyasa's mother, Satyavati summoned him and requested him to impregnate his wives Ambika and Ambalika. Vyasa being a hermit was not too pleased with the idea and was reluctant to do so but eventually relented. Vyasa by appearance was a fearsome and unkempt person. So Ambika closed her eyes and Ambalika turned pale when they encountered Vyasa. On this, Vyasa told his mother that the child of these Queens would be unfit as they will be blind(Dhritarashtra) and pale(Pandu) respectively.
Fearing their sons to be unworthy heir, Satyavati requested Ambika to again bear a son, however, Ambika sent her maid instead who was neither afraid and rather felt blessed. Thus the maid Parishrama gave birth to Vidura
Birth of Shuka:
while the above are his sons, Vyasa had another son names Shuka who is considered his true spiritual heir. There are different versions of how Shuka was born.
Shuka was born to the daughter of sage Jabali, named Pinjala and Vyasa.
Vyasa had always desired a son, however, he lived the life of a hermit. After receiving instructions from Narada, Vyasa performed penance for over a year on the peak of Mahameru mountain and worshipped Mahadeva and Mahadevi. He recited the one-word mantra 'Om' which is the very seed of words. Pleased with his penance and devotion Lord Shiva appeared and blessed him, that he will have a son who will be very wise and a learned person. By the great effulgence of Vyasa, Indra, the God of Heavens got upset and nervous. He sent a celestial nymph to disturb Vyasa. One day while preparing the sticks for producing fire, Vyasa began thinking about a son. He thought that fire can be produced by rubbing two sticks together but how can he who was a hermit and had no woman give birth to a son. While immersed in deep thoughts, Ghrataci appeared beside him. Vyasa did not like the presence of Ghrataci. Fearing his anger, disheveled looks, and the curse, Ghrataci turns into a parrot and flew away. Vyasa on seeing the flight of the parrot and influenced by the presence of Ghrataci lost control and had seminal emission which fell on the sticks which were used to ignite a fire. From that fire appeared Shuka, a son of divine luster.
The Thought behind the birth of Shuka:
Vyasa continued his life as a priest and teacher in the forests learning Vedas on the banks of the Saraswati river. Once when he was doing penance, he witnessed two sparrows feeding their newborn nestlings. They did that with utmost care and attention. The young sparrows then hid under the wings of their father and mother and enjoyed admiring the surroundings from there. Looking at the beautiful sight of selfless love, Vyasa had a longing for a son.
The legend of Mount Meru
(This has no reference to Veda Vyasa and is added just as an additional note. Source: Wikipedia.)
The legend of Mount Meru is also interesting. Ancient legends describe moving some parts of Mount Meru to Java. They explain how Lord Shiva ordered Brahma and Vishnu to fill the island of Java with human beings. However, Java was a free-floating island in the ocean without any stability. to make the island stable, the Gods decided to nail the island to earth by moving parts of Meru mountain in Jambudweepa (India) and attaching it to Java. The resultant mountain is Mount Semeru, the tallest mountain in Java.
Mahabharata and other literature
Vyasa is considered to date a very learned person and is attributed to the greatest literature written in ancient India.
Altogether he and his disciples are credited with the writing of the following works:
He codified the Vedas into four divisions(1131 sakhas or recensions) namely Rig(21 sakhas), Yajur(101 sakhas), Sama (1000 sakhas) and Atharva(9 sakhas).
He also wrote Brahma Sutra. 555 sutras or aphorisms integrating the messages of Upanishads relating to life, the universe, and the cosmos. He wrote 18 Mahapuranas like Brahma purana Padma purana, Bhagwat purana, Siva puran, Skanda purana, Garuda purana, Brahmand purana, etc. Of these, Vishnu Purana was compiled by Vyasa's father but was edited and presented why Vyasa.
Mahabharata and Lord Ganesha:
Vyasa is credited with writing the epic tale of Mahabharata. While writing, Vyasa needed the assistance of another learned person who would transcribe that which Vyasa dictates. Lord Ganesha was the person suitable for the role. On asking for the help of Lord Ganesha, he put a condition that Vyasa will narrate the whole story without a pause. On that, Vyasa agreed to do so, given the condition that Lord Ganesha must understand each verse before he transcribed it. Ganesha agreed to this condition and together they then wrote Mahabharata, Upanishads, and 18 Puranas. It took them 3 years to complete Mahabharata. Mahabharata is said to have been written in the year 3100 BC and was written before it occurred as Veda Vyasa was the knower of the future.
Vyasa and Lord Ganesha
Vyasa is considered to be an immortal soul and is said to be present even today living as a hermit. Chiranjeevi is someone who is bestowed with immorality. ( if interested, i have written another article on Vyasa and other Chiranjeevis here:
As with all other mythical stories I have written, the stories sound incredulous! So much so that we call them not stories but legends. But some evidences are irrefutable. Like even today we have the tale of Mahabharata, Upanishads, and Vedas, and other Puranas, if at least partially documented and available for narration. Vyasa is considered as one of the most learned people in all the ancient Indian legends and his work shaped the knowledge and faith of what we today call modern India and if I may dare say, to a lot extend, even the world. Respect to the greatest teacher of all time.