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Lost and Found: The Universal Biography of Two Swans

Article of the Month - November 2007
Viewed 30847 times since 2nd Oct, 2008

There was once a king named Puranjan. He had a friend whose name was ‘unknown.’ The king wandered all around the world in search of a city to dwell in. When however he failed to find a suitable place to live, he became somewhat disappointed. He had rejected all available cities as unsuitable for fulfillment of his many desires.

Thus wandering, he came to the south of the Himalayas and saw a city with nine gates, which possessed all the characteristics that a good city should have. It was surrounded by gardens, watchtowers, moats, windows etc and it had houses with crests of gold, silver and iron.

It was there that the king laid his eyes on a charming damsel of superb beauty. She was accompanied by ten servants, each of whom was the husband of a hundred ladies. The woman, in search of a suitable husband for herself, was protected on all sides by a five-hooded serpent. She was of an attractive dark complexion and was wearing a yellow colored sari. She had well-formed hips bound with a girdle of gold, and when she walked, the tinkling of her anklets made her seem like a goddess.

Bashful, she modestly attempted to cover with one end of her garment, her symmetrical, closely knit spherical breasts, which indicated the advent of youth.

The great hero Puranjan stood defeated, wounded by the affectionate arrows of her sidelong glances, fired from the bows of her eyebrows which made lively amorous movements. He addressed her in a sweet, winning voice:

"Who are you, Oh beautiful lady with eyes like the lotus petals? Whose daughter are you? Where are you coming from? O gentle lady, what do you desire to do on the outskirts of this city? Who are these ten servants of yours? Who is this eleventh great warrior commanding your ten servants? Who are these women with you and who is this serpent preceding you? Are you the goddess of bashfulness, Or Parvati, Saraswati or Lakshmi? Please show favor and live with me in this city, because the playful movement of your eyebrows and bashful loving smile is piercing my heart."

When the king thus cravingly solicited her, the lady greeted him with a smile, and said:

"O valiant monarch, we do not know who is our progenitor. Nor do we know our or your family name. I only know that we are all here in this city today, and don’t even know who has made this city. These men and women with me are all my friends and this snake stands guard when I go to sleep. I am glad that you have come. God bless you. Whatever sensual pleasures you desire, I will secure for you with the help of my kinsmen. Therefore, please occupy this city with nine gates, enjoying for a hundred years all the pleasures I will secure for you. Oh mighty warrior, which girl will not accept a husband as famous, good looking and loving like you? Which woman would not be tempted to cling to your soft, circular serpent like arms? Indeed, you seem to wander around the earth only to relieve the mental anguish of husbandless women like me."

Hence, the couple entered into a mutual agreement, and enjoyed various pleasures there for a hundred years. Thus the king was beguiled, and with his mind given totally over to sense gratification, did exactly what his queen did. For example, when she would drink wine, he too would get drunk and intoxicated, when she ate, he too ate, when she he sang, he too sang, and when she wept, he too shed tears.

Exuding Innocence (No Monkey Business)
Exuding Innocence (No Monkey Business)







In this way, the king, captivated by the queen, totally identified himself with her, and lost his original nature, and though unwilling, simply imitated the acts of his queen helplessly, like a domesticated monkey kept for amusement.







The Symbolism Behind this Narrative:

Each of us is actually Puranjan. Every living entity is supposed to be the king of its own body since it has the full freedom to use the body as it likes. We usually engage our body for sense gratification only. One who identifies himself solely with the body, not realizing that he is actually the spirit soul living within it, such an individual, enamored by the dictation of the senses, is a materialist, devoid of inner knowledge. A materialistic person utilizes his senses according to his whims, much as a king mistakes his royal position for his personal property and misuses his treasury for sense gratification.

Nonetheless, he has a friend whom he does not know. Deluded by the blinding glare of our desires, we forget that we have an eternal friend in god, present as the Super Soul, situated within the heart of everybody. Actually, we think of ourselves as "masters," however, we are not masters, but eternal servants of god. When, under the influence of our innumerable desires, we abandon the shelter of god, we have to but wander around in numerous births and bodies, until we come to the human form, which can serve as a vehicle for both gratification of the senses or salvation.

The walls are nothing but the skin protecting our bodies. The high parts of the body like the nose are compared to towers. The wrinkles and depressions on various parts of the body are the moats and canals; the eyes represent windows, and the eyelids protective gates. The three metals – gold, silver and iron – signify the three modes of nature – sattva, rajas and tamas respectively.

The tempting, beautiful woman represents intelligence (buddhi), searching for a suitable husband (jiva). This indicates that intelligence cannot operate without consciousness. The two symmetrical and taut breasts, placed side by side symbolize the twin attributes of attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesha). The intelligence tries hard to hide the fact that it these two emotions which govern each and every of its impulse.

The ten servants are the ten sense organs (five for working; and five for knowledge). All the ten senses work under the aegis of the mind – the eleventh mighty warrior. The hundreds of women the senses are married to are none other than the numerous desires plaguing each of the sense organs. The five-hooded serpent symbolizes the five vital airs (pranas) sustaining the body.

The king believes the ladies’ attempt to cover her bosom as a sincere attempt at modesty and thus addresses her as the "goddess of bashfulness." However, the most beautiful part of this symbolic narrative occurs when he thinks her to be either the goddess Parvati, Lakshmi or Saraswati. This is but the three-way unfolding of our desires.

Goddess Parvati
Goddess Parvati






We sometimes wish to obtain a beautiful wife, for which Goddess Parvati needs to be worshipped.








Saraswati: Goddess of Learning and Art with Peacock
Saraswati: Goddess of Learning and Art with Peacock







At other times we want to become learned, for that there is Goddess Saraswati,







Goddess Lakshmi
Goddess Lakshmi






and for material prosperity of course, there is Devi Lakshmi. All the enquires made by the king in this single sentence point out to his bewilderment, not knowing in which direction his intellect should take.






In the world, whether one is a man or a woman, one wants to enjoy. A man wants to enjoy a beautiful woman, while a woman wants to enjoy a powerful man. Every living being who possesses this desire is a purusha (dweller in the city (pura)), the enjoyer. Superficially it appears that the woman is the enjoyed and the man the enjoyer, but internally, everyone is an enjoyer.

The king’s enquiry regarding the woman’s origins is the eternal enquiry of the embodied soul put to the intellect, but the intelligence is unable to fathom its own origins. She frankly states that she knows nothing about where she has come from. When the jiva identifies itself totally with the buddhi, does this not become the existential position of all of us?

Indeed the soul confines itself to a body only because of the residual desires (vasanas) of the jiva, and the buddhi gives him the proper direction in which he can gratify his senses to their best capacity. This is the maximum it can do.

King Puranjan represents the ordinary living being and the woman signifies the intelligence of the ordinary being. Combined, the living entity enjoys his material senses and the intelligence supplies all the paraphernalia for his enjoyment.

What Happened Next?

Leading a life of indulgence devoted to each other, the king, bound in the embrace of his young wife, forgot all about the inexorably rapid course of time. Overwhelmed by ignorance, the king considered his queen to be the highest objective of his life (purushartha), and forgot all about his real transcendental self. His mind thus clouded with passion, his youth passed away as if in half a moment.

Puranjan begot through his queen a large number of sons and daughters, all of whom he married off to suitable spouses. Each of his offspring then gave birth to numerous of their own and thus the king’s clan multiplied manifold, filling the whole earth. With each of his near and dear ones, the king formed a bond of attachment and possessiveness.

Then came that period of life, which is not welcomed by those who are attached to the fulfillment of physical desires.

There was another king named Chanda-vega (swift aggression). He had a force of three hundred and sixty soldiers (days in an year), paired to each of whom were as many female soldiers (nights). The two battalions daily took rotations to plunder the city of Puranjan, which was so full of objects for material enjoyment. The serpent guard resisted the aggression, and fought single handedly the opposing army of 720 soldiers. When however, the snake gradually began to lose its strength, Puranjan along with his relatives became anxious.

The Story of the Daughter of Time – Kala Kanya

There was a certain daughter of kala (time), who was once touring the three worlds for a husband. However, nobody welcomed her proposal. Due to her misfortune, she came to be known as Dur-bhaga – ‘the unfortunate one.’

She finally approached the king of ‘fear’, and proposed to him. The latter however realized that the daughter of time was none other than old age, and if he courted her, he would grow old and weak himself.

The king of ‘fear’ thus made her his sister, and told her that since no one in this world would mate with her willingly she would not now have to restrict herself to one individual, but rather attack and partake each and every individual as a suitor; in other words, the whole manifested world would now be her playground.

The king of ‘fear’ then instructed his brother named ‘fatal fever’ to accompany them, and the three of them, along with their formidable army (physical and mental ailments), then entered city of Puranjan, through all the available gates.

The city being thus devastated, Puranjan, who had become excessively attached to it underwent numerous agonies. Now clasped in the arms of the daughter of time (rather than his beloved wife), bereft of his splendor, king Puranjan found himself deprived of his powers. He found that at this stage his capital city was nearly razed and that his sons, grandsons and servants had become disrespectful, and his wife had become affectionless towards him. All relationships he had cherished throughout his life now stood exposed, and reduced to their core, revealed their essence-less nature.

Even then the miserable king still hankered after the long-lost physical pleasures. Just then arrived the ‘fatal fever,’ and burned down the entire city (meaning the high temperature of Puranjan’s body). In those last moments the tired serpent defending the city was trembling with severe agonies and wished to escape from the city much like a snake in the hollow of a burning tree. The last thoughts of the wretched Puranjan were as follows:

"When I have departed to the next world, how will my wife, ever so anxious for the welfare of her children, live without me? She is so devoted to me that she does not eat until I have taken my own food. She gets afraid when I am angry and when reproached by me, she keeps quiet in fear. When I am on a wrong path, she brings me to the correct one, when I am away from home for many days she becomes emaciated because of sorrow."

As he had brooded over his virtuous wife at the end moment of his life, he became a woman in the next birth, and became a virtuous wife himself, having children and descendants of his own. When the husband of this woman died, she (Puranjan) wept bitterly. Just then, her ‘unknown’ friend came near and questioned her, saying:

Swan Couple
Swan Couple

"Dear friend who are you? Who is this man you are lamenting for? Don’t you know me? I am the same friend with whom you used to move about before. You left me when you went in search of earthly pleasures. Overpowered by the woman who was the mistress of the dwelling you forgot your own divine companion. You are not the wife of this man nor anybody’s husband. Actually, you and I are both swans. I am you, and you are none other than me. Those who are wise never perceive even the slightest difference between the two of us."



Krishna's Gita Updesha
Krishna's Gita Updesha

The Bhagavata Purana says that all men in this world were women in their previous births, and vice versa. Each died thinking about the opposite sex. That is how the world is, so there is no point in considering anyone higher or lower than the other. Superiority has nothing to do with the sex of a person. It is not the name, religion, or sect which makes anybody superior or inferior, because the essence of everybody is the Supreme Soul, which is to be remembered always, to regain our original nature as swans soaring freely in the boundless realms. Actually god is always there working with (and for) us, but remains unknown. For example, we eat food, but it is god who digests it. Krishna says clearly enough in the Bhagavad Gita: "I live in all living beings as the fire of life digesting the food eaten by them." (15.14)

When we attach ourselves too much to the illusory world of maya, thinking it to be our ‘essential’ nature, this obsession dominates our thoughts so much so that like Puranjan above, the ordinary mortal dies worrying about others. Actually, nobody needs to worry about anybody, but rather one needs to dwell on one’s own self, which is none other than the Universal Soul, and thereby are united two long lost friends.

(The story of Puranjan occurs in detail in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana Book IV, Chapters 25-39)

References and Further Reading:

  • Devi, Shrimati Dayakanti. Shrimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (With Word to Word Meaning in 8 Volumes): Allahabad, 1993.
  • Dogre, Shri Ramachandra Keshav. Shrimad Bhagavat Rahasya (Collection of Discourses): Delhi
  • Goswami, C.L. and Shastri, M.A. Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (English Translation in Two Volumes) Gorakhpur, 2005.
  • Prabhupada, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Srimad Bhagavatam (43 Volumes): Mumbai.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhagavata Vimarsha (Collection of Discourses in Two Volumes): Mumbai, 2003.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhagawatamrit (The Elixir of the Bhagwat) Mumbai, 2005.
  • Tagare, G.V. (tr). The Bhagavata Purana (5 Volumes (Annotated)) Delhi, 2002.
  • Tejomayananda, Swami. Shrimad Bhagavata Pravachan (Discourses on The Shrimad Bhagavata Purana): Mumbai, 2006.
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  • thanks, i liked the last quote about women and men thinking about incarnating as the other... it reminded me of a hindu master i sat with, in a small group about ten years ago, the most enlightened man i ever met.... a woman in the group asked him why there were very few female buddha's, he replied...

    "the teachings of men, of kings, kingdom ARE FOR men, women are already born Enlightened, thats why they are women.
    by : ) Mary on 21st Nov 2007
  • "Food for Thought". Nice article...thank you.
    by Kim on 21st Nov 2007
  • Thank you! I really enjoyed it. I am myself approaching old age and my body reminds me each day (or each day I attempt to do something I could have done easily in an earlier time). Thus I am concentrating on spiritual texts and spiritual life and trying to not waste so much time and energies on material pursuits any longer. This was a timely reminder and encouragement. Thank you again.
    by Karunamayi on 19th Nov 2007
  • Just few words to tell you that I really appreciate your letters, comforting to know that some people care about values other than materialistic consumption.

    Thank you very much!
    by Leo on 17th Nov 2007
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