In ancient times, there lived a sage called Rishi Vibhandaka. He was a great yogi and through his deep penances had achieved a highly exalted state of spiritual evolution. Indra, the King of Gods, began to feel threatened in his heavenly realm hence he sent the celestial dancer Urvashi to distract and seduce the Rishi. After the Rishi had fallen prey to sensual desires, a child was born to them and was named Rishyasringa. Once her mission was completed Urvashi left them both and returned to her celestial kingdom. The Rishi was so remorseful at his folly that he hated women folk and took the boy to a forest and raised him there isolated from society. The boy grew up totally unaware of the existence of the female gender and identity and spent all his time in deep meditation. His spiritual upbringing, purity and chastity led to the acquisition of great miraculous powers and a high level of spiritual stature.
Romapada was the king of Anga. Once, the Kingdom of Anga suffered from famine and drought. He was advised to bring into the city a chaste and pure Brahmin to perform ceremonies to alleviate the suffering of the people. They realised that Rishyasringa was the only sage who had achieved this highly exalted state. Romapada had a daughter named Shantha. King Romapada was a close friend of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Some versions state that Shantha was actually the child of King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya and was adopted by King Romapada who felt that since Dasharatha had three wives he would eventually have many children. Shantha too was happy in the kingdom of Anga and loved Romapada as her own father. She grew up to be a beautiful and intelligent girl. Romapada wished to bring Rishyasringa to his kingdom. On hearing about the young sage Shantha wished to be married to him. She informed her father of her decision. But they were in a quandary and did not know how to lure him from the forest without incurring the wrath of his father Sage Vibhandaka.
Princess Shanta being very intelligent formulated a strategy to succeed in this venture. She ordered the building of a huge ship by the King’s architects. Then it was filled with beautiful plants and flowers and in the centre a hermitage was built to make the whole scene look like an Ashram. A number of courtesans on Shanta’s instructions were then sent afloat on the ship towards the forests where Rishyasringa lived. From afar they observed the routine of Vibhandaka and Rishyasringa. They observed that everyday in the afternoon Vibhandaka went deeper into the forests to meditate while Rishyasringa stayed behind to clean the place and tend the fire. The next afternoon one of the courtesans went to their hermitage. Rishyasringa on seeing her was amazed for he had never seen anyone other than his father and he came forward and welcomed her into the ashram and offered her some fruits. The courtesan had brought tasty food from the ship which she offered to Rishyasringa who was surprised at its beautiful flavour and taste. Realising that Sage Vibhandaka would soon return the courtesan then took her leave. Rishyasringa asked her to return the next day. After she left he was deep in his thoughts and Vibhandaka on his return was amazed to see that the ashram had not been cleaned nor had the fires been tended. His son described to him in a daze about his unknown guest. Immediately Vibhandaka knew that a woman had set foot into their ashram. He angrily asked his son to stop seeing her and to drive her away. But noticing his son’s reaction he decided to go in search of the woman himself and drive her away. The courtesan was waiting for him to leave and the moment he left she entered the ashram. Rishyasringa could not bear to send her away nor face his father’s wrath. He urged her to take him away to her place. When she took him to the huge ashram in the ship, Rishyasringa was surprised to see such a beautiful place. The ship then set sail towards the Kingdom of Anga. As soon as Rishyasringa stepped into Anga the heavens opened up, and it began to rain. Everyone in the Kingdom was overjoyed. The King received the young sage with honour and reverence and on meeting Princess Shantha he realised that not only was she beautiful but also strong and intelligent. He then decided to live with her for the rest of his life in the kingdom of Anga.
Meanwhile, Sage Vibhandaka through his divine vision realised that this was the handiwork of the King of Anga and set out towards his kingdom. However, Romapada and Shanta had anticipated Vibhandaka’s anger and Vibhandaka found many handsome gifts of cows, etc. waiting for him on the route to the Kingdom. His anger cooled down and on reaching the Kingdom he found his son with a crown on his head along with a beautiful and intelligent daughter in law. Both of them offered humble salutations at his feet and Vibhandaka was happy. He blessed them and returned to the forest.
Meanwhile, King Dasharatha had no children and was becoming extremely anxious. He was advised to invite Sage Rishyasringa to perform the Putrakameshti Yagna. When Rishyasringa heard the invitation, he divined that this was the reason for which he was brought from the forest, as an instrument to bring about the birth of the Lord. He performed the difficult Yagna with ease as he possessed immense powers of penance. After the successful completion of the Yagna, he and Shantha retired to the forest where he continued his penances and meditations.
Stories in Indian mythology are great lessons in moral character and have come down for generations and have been preserved in the Sanskrit epics. These stories impart values and convey maxims and principles to guide mankind in their daily lives.