There is a lake and a thirteenth century temple dedicated to Sage Parashara at 2730 metres above sea level in the Himachal range of the Himalayas, about 120 kms from Manali town.
It took us about 5 hours to reach the lake from Manali town. There were practically no tourists that we encountered on the way. Villages lay behind roughly hewn paths that we saw meander behind high rocks, we saw shepherds sunning on rocks that hung out as dangerous cliffs while their sheep climbed precipitous slopes. Brooks flowed between cracks carrying water that melted down from peaks somewhere far away, we drove through such streams that were pebbled neat with round stones.
As we drove higher, deeper into the rolls of mountains we had only the clouds for company.
When we reached the destination the view of the lake and the temple was breathtaking, nothing close to what I imagined. The lake looked like a luminent drop of large pearl teasing light on its surface.
The temple was more tantalising than the lake, for a moment it was revealed when the clouds lifted
at another, the temple pulled its hat down the ears
and then it was perfect when the lake reflected the beautiful temple.
This was the place the Rig Vedic sage Parashara meditated, and the temple from the 13th century was built in the fashion of Buddhist pagodas with wood (a single deodar tree) and stone slats.
Sage Parashara was the grandson of Sage Vasishta and the son of Shakti Muni. Parashara was a teacher of great repute, he was what was called a travelling preceptor. He is believed to be the author of several works, one being on astrology, and the other called ‘Parashara Smriti’ is a handbook on code of living. There are several references to Sage Parashara in the Vedas where he is alluded to as the speaker on various instances or as a teacher addressing his disciples. There is also an opinion that there were many Parasharas because the historical dates of the works attributed to him do not match.
Vedic period is dated roughly 1500 BCE to 700 BCE. The epic period when ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ were written/compiled is attributed approximately to 500 BCE to 400 BCE, and the Puranas were compiled during the Gupta period around 400 CE. Compilation or documentation of the Vedas, epics and Puranas should not be confused with the time that these works were created. None of the Vedas or epics or Puranas were created at a specific historical time, they were created over a period of time and remained in oral form before being compiled/written/redacted.
Parashara who probably lived in the Vedic period (or even before) is fleshed out in the epic ‘Mahabharata’ where he is the lover of Satyavati, the beautiful daughter of a fisherman chieftan.
Here are my interpretations of Satyavati and Parashara and their love child Vyasa.
PARASHARA AND SATYAVATI
He seeks her in the crevices under the arms –
smell of fish, the river bed, weeds that dance in the water;
she ferries him across the Ganga, dreams in her eyes
like the distant moon, blue in a honeyed night.
In the velvety darkness through speeding currents
in the folds of her misted skin he inhales
the smell of worms and algae that swim
in the depths of her eyes; as the pool of passion
surges and stirs, he ingests fragrance of the musk
under her breasts that roll down the waist like heads of
sleepy children. She is no longer a secret he carries
in his loins, she has spilled into kingdoms far and in history.
SATYAVATI AND VYASA
The man from the mountains
ferreted out the fish girl; feet sore
with calluses, he descended the hills
like a mountain lion and sniffed her skin
scaled in water. (He stepped out the river boat
water at the bottom slurped, a hood over
his head he disappeared beyond the copse
to a path that took him again to the mountains.)
Like a sprig of herb ruffled by breeze
smelling of radiance, in the warmth
between her legs she cradled silence.
A word snarled in skeins of sounds
swelled in her belly, looped into tales
till the tangles stretched her uterus;
her story got written in her womb
where the Kuru dynasty swam:
Vyasa birthed Satyavati and the Kuru clan,
blurring who mothered whom.
Read more about Satyavati here.
For convenience I could write Vyasa is the author of the epic ‘Mahabharata’. Vyasa narrated the story through dialogues between two characters – the blind king Dhritrashtra and his charioteer. Vyasa’s version of the epic is called ‘Jaya’ . Vyasa narrated the story to his disciple Vaishampayana who inturn narrated the story to Janamejaya, the great grandson of Arjuna, the Pandava prince. The version of the epic by Vaishampayana is called ‘Bharata’. This version of the story is embedded in the narration of Ugrashrava (a suta / storyteller) who recited the tale many years later to sages gathered at the Naimisha forest. Ugrashrava’s version of the epic came to be called ‘The Mahabharata’. These are the three major redactions of the epic leaving aside the innumerable interpolations in the text through the ages.
My world of stories and my creative subconscious is arid without Vyasa and Mahabharata. But who is Vyasa, are Parashara and Satyavati only characters in a story? Parashara is mentioned in the Vedic verses and Vyasa who is the author of a story is also a character in the story, and great attention has been paid to construct his identity in this story within the story. Is master storytelling all about the manner legends and myths fudge history?
Actually I did not burden my brain with all these questions when I was up there. I was busy with these: