This story appears in Sambava Parva / Adi Parva of the great epic, Mahabharata. Sage Mandavya was sitting in deep meditation at the entrance of his hermitage at the foot of a tree in the forest, with his arms upraised. He had been in that state for years together. But tumultuous things started happening around him of which he was totally oblivious of. A few robbers with their loot had strayed in that direction on being pursued by the king’s soldiers. The robbers found the asceti’s hermitage and took refuge inside. The soldiers tracked down the robbers to the hermitage and questioned the sage about them. But the Rishi was still in his trance and hence gave no response. But they eventually caught the robbers concealed in his hut. Under those circumstances, they mistook the Rishi as an accomplice of the thieves (thieves masquerading as sadhus, babas and Godmen had been prevalent even during the days of Mahabharata, perhaps!).
The thieves along with the Rishi were taken and arraigned before the king who sentenced all of them to be executed by impaling. Punishing the convicts by impaling with a stake was prevalent in those days in Bharathavarsha, similar to crucifixion in Roman Empire. The virtuous sage, though impaled on the stake, did not die. Since he was in yoga when he was impaled he remained alive by the power of yoga. Thereupon he summoned a few other rishis to the scene, who were aghast at the development.
The king got to know of the miraculous survival of the sage and came rushing to meet Mandavya. He begged forgiveness for his grave error in his dispensation of justice. Mandavya generously forgave him without handing out the customary curse, as is the wont of the rishis in general! The king then tried to get the stake out of the torso of the sage but in vain since it got entrenched in his body. So as a compromise, the part of the stake that was protruding from the body was sawed off. Thus the sage Mandavya had to live with a stake sticking out of his back from then on. Hence he came to be known in all the three worlds by the name of “Ani-Mandavya” (Mandavya with the stake within – “Ani” meaning a nail or something sharp). Some chronicles say that he used to hang his flower basket on that “ani”!
The sage went on with his penance and ultimately went to the abode of the God of Justice (dharma). He confronted the Dharmaraj with the question as to why such a severe punishment was meted out to him for no fault of his, in spite of his high level asceticism. His pointed query was what sin he had committed to deserve such a grave torture with a stake. The God of Justice replied that a little insect (a dragonfly perhaps) was once pierced by Mandavya with a blade of grass when he was a child. He also apprised him of the rule that a sinful act multiplieth in respect of the woe it bringeth in its train.
On hearing this, Sage Mandavya replied with indignation that the scriptures do not take into cognizance any wrongful act committed by a child up to the age of twelve of his age from birth as sinful. And hence the God of Justice had erred terribly. The punishment that had been inflicted on hi for such a venial offence was disproportionate in severity and unjustified as well. He then cursed the Dharmaraj to be born on earth in a lower social order (Sudra caste). On account of this curse, Dharma Devata came to be born as Vidura, as the story of Mahabharatha goes.
The sage also established a dictum that a wrong act as per the code of ethical conduct – the Dharma Sastra, shall not be considered sinful if committed by one below the AGE OF FOURTEEN. Hindu Sanatana Dharma of our motherland (Hindu Law) was based on Hindu scriptures. These are Vedas, Upanishads, Dharma Sastras, Itihasas and Puranas. When Indian Penal Code and various other laws were drafted, many of the elements of code enshrined in the Sastras and scriptures were incorporated in them. In the same vein, the aspect of juvenile delinquency was also considered and codified in accordance with the Mandavya’s dictum, as illustrated below:
- Section 82 of Indian Penal Code exonerates a child under ‘seven years’ of age from criminal liability.
- Section 83 of IPC extends this benefit of immunity to those who are above seven years but under twelve years of age, if they have not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his conduct on that occasion.
- Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (successor to the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986) defines a “juvenile” for the purpose of this act as “a minor (below 18 years) who has supposedly violated the provisions of Indian law”.
- The Act aims to promote child friendly juvenile justice in the country. Some important points highlighted in the Act are:
- A child who has allegedly executed a crime is known as ‘child in conflict with law’ and not a criminal or accused.
- A juvenile can be detained, but cannot be arrested.
- A juvenile cannot be put under trial, but only under inquiry.
- A juvenile who is kept in police custody shall be presented before the Juvenile Justice Board and shall not be produced before any regular Court of Magistrate.
The fundamental postulate for the exemption given to a juvenile is that he is not equipped with the knowledge of discrimination between right and wrong and that he will be incapable of fully understanding the seriousness and consequences of his own actions and hence he should be exempted from any punishment for such acts. If that is true, what about your actions in the previous birth? Why our scriptures have held that you can’t escape from retribution for the sins committed by us in our previous birth, of which you have knowledge and on which we have no control?
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Ramana Maharishi languished from cancer and Swami Vivekananda suffered from acute asthma and various other ailments before dying prematurely at 39. Why such suffering to these men of high level of dharma? The answer given is that it is their destiny dictated by their “Prarabdha Karma”, from the effect of which no mortal (or even immortals) can escape. It is akin to an arrow shot from a bow, according to our Upanishads.
When the mind or soul of one is unaware of what happened in his previous birth is it fair to make him suffer for the sins supposedly committed by him in those previous births? Is it not downright ridiculous?
Mandavya is believed to have visited Bangalore and there is a deity of the sage in the Someswara Temple (Mandavya Pratishtha) at Ulsoor, Bangalore. More information can be got from this site
- The Morning Mantra
- Paralysis of choice