Lord Balarama Visits the Sacrifice at Naimiṣāraṇya and Kills Romaharsana Suta with a Piece of Straw
“In the case of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, although he was very learned and had been given the chance to become a brāhmaṇa, he had not become gentle. From this we can understand that when one is puffed up by material acquisition, he cannot acquire the gentle behavior befitting a brāhmaṇa. The learning of such a person is as good as a valuable jewel decorating the hood of a serpent. Despite the valuable jewel on the hood, a serpent is still a serpent and is as fearful as an ordinary serpent. If a person does not become meek and humble, all his studies of the Vedas and Purāṇas and his vast knowledge in the śāstras become simply outward dress, like the costume of a theatrical artist dancing on the stage.”
From Krishna Book Chapter 78
Once upon a time, Lord Balarāma heard that there was an arrangement being made for a fight between the two rival parties in the Kuru dynasty, one headed by Duryodhana and the other by the Pāṇḍavas. He did not like the idea that He was to be only a mediator to stop the fighting. Finding it unbearable not to take an active part on behalf of either of the parties, He left Dvārakā on the plea of visiting various holy places of pilgrimage. He first of all visited the place of pilgrimage known as Prabhāsakṣetra. He took His bath there, and He pacified the local brāhmaṇas and offered oblations to the demigods, pitās, great sages and people in general, in accordance with Vedic ritualistic ceremonies. That is the Vedic method of visiting holy places. After this, accompanied by some respectable brāhmaṇas, He decided to visit different places on the bank of the river Sarasvatī. He gradually visited such places as Pṛthūdaka, Bindusara, Tritakūpa, Sudarśanatīrtha, Viśālatīrtha, Brahmatīrtha and Cakratīrtha. Besides these, He also visited all the holy places on the bank of Sarasvatī River running toward the east. After this He visited all the principal holy places on the bank of the Yamunā and on the bank of the Ganges. Thus He gradually came to the holy place known as Naimiṣāraṇya.
This holy place, Naimiṣāraṇya, is still existing in India, and in ancient times it was especially used for the meetings of great sages and saintly persons with the aim of understanding spiritual life and self-realization. When Lord Balarāma visited that place there was a great sacrifice being performed by a great assembly of transcendentalists. Such meetings were planned to last thousands of years. When Lord Balarāma arrived, all the participants of the meeting–great sages, ascetics, brāhmaṇas and learned scholars–immediately arose from their seats and welcomed Him with great honor and respect. Some offered Him respectful obeisances, and those who were elderly great sages and brāhmaṇas offered Him blessings by standing up. After this formality, Lord Balarāma was offered a suitable seat, and everyone present worshiped Him. Everyone in the assembly stood up in the presence of Balarāma because they knew Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Education or learning means to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore, although Lord Balarāma appeared on the earth as a kṣatriya, all the brāhmaṇas and sages stood up because they knew who Lord Balarāma was.
Unfortunately, after being worshiped and seated at His place, Lord Balarāma saw Romaharṣaṇa, the disciple of Vyāsadeva (the literary incarnation of Godhead), still sitting on the Vyāsāsana. He had neither gotten up from his seat nor offered Him respects. Because he was seated on the Vyāsāsana, he foolishly thought himself greater than the Lord; therefore he did not get down from his seat or bow down before the Lord. Lord Balarāma then considered the history of Romaharṣaṇa: he was born in a sūta family or a mixed family, born of a brāhmaṇa woman and kṣatriya man. Therefore although Romaharṣaṇa considered Balarāma a kṣatriya, he should not have remained sitting on a higher seat. Lord Balarāma considered that Romaharṣaṇa, according to his position by birth, should not have accepted the higher sitting position, because there were many learned brāhmaṇas and sages present. He also observed that Romaharṣaṇa not only did not come down from his exalted seat, but he did not even stand up and offer his respects when Balarāmajī entered the assembly. Lord Balarāma did not like the audacity of Romaharṣaṇa, and He became very angry with him.
When a person is seated on the Vyāsāsana, he does not generally have to stand up to receive a particular person entering the assembly, but in this case the situation was different because Lord Baladeva is not an ordinary human being. Therefore, although Romaharṣaṇa Sūta was voted to the Vyāsāsana by all the brāhmaṇas, he should have followed the behavior of other learned sages and brāhmaṇas who were present and should have known that Lord Balarāma is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Respects are always due Him, even though such respects can be avoided in the case of an ordinary man. The appearances of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma are especially meant for reestablishment of the religious principles. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, the highest religious principle is to surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is also confirmed in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that the topmost perfection of religiousness is to be engaged in the devotional service of the Lord.
When Lord Balarāma saw that Romaharṣaṇa Sūta did not understand the highest principle of religiousness in spite of having studied all the Vedas, He certainly could not support his position. Romaharṣaṇa Sūta had been given a chance to become a perfect brāhmaṇa, but because of his ill behavior in his relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his low birth was immediately remembered. Romaharṣaṇa Sūta had been given the position of a brāhmaṇa, but he had not been born in the family of a brāhmaṇa; he had been born in a pratiloma family. According to the Vedic concept, there are two kinds of mixed family heritage. They are called anuloma and pratiloma. When a male is united with a female of a lower caste, the offspring is called anuloma; but when a male unites with a woman of a higher caste, the offspring is called pratiloma. Romaharṣaṇa Sūta belonged to the pratiloma family because his father was a kṣatriya and his mother a brāhmaṇa. Because Romaharṣaṇa’s transcendental realization was not perfect, Lord Balarāma remembered his pratiloma heritage. The idea is that any man can be given the chance to become a brāhmaṇa, but if he improperly uses the position of a brāhmaṇa without actual realization, then his elevation to the brahminical position is not valid.
After seeing the deficiency of realization in Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, Lord Balarāma decided to chastise him for being puffed up. Lord Balarāma therefore said, “This man is liable to be awarded the death punishment because, although he has the good qualification of being a disciple of Lord Vyāsadeva and although he has studied all the Vedic literature from this exalted personality, he was not submissive in the presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, a person who is actually a brāhmaṇa and is very learned must automatically become very gentle also. In the case of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, although he was very learned and had been given the chance to become a brāhmaṇa, he had not become gentle. From this we can understand that when one is puffed up by material acquisition, he cannot acquire the gentle behavior befitting a brāhmaṇa. The learning of such a person is as good as a valuable jewel decorating the hood of a serpent. Despite the valuable jewel on the hood, a serpent is still a serpent and is as fearful as an ordinary serpent. If a person does not become meek and humble, all his studies of the Vedas and Purāṇas and his vast knowledge in the śāstras become simply outward dress, like the costume of a theatrical artist dancing on the stage. Lord Balarāma began to consider thus: “I have appeared in order to chastise false persons who are internally impure but externally pose themselves to be very learned and religious. My killing of such persons is proper to check them from further sinful activity.”
Lord Balarāma had avoided taking part in the Battle of Kurukṣetra, and yet because of His position, the reestablishment of religious principles was His prime duty. Considering these points, He killed Romaharṣaṇa Sūta simply by striking him with a kuśa straw, which was nothing but a blade of grass. If someone questions how Lord Balarāma could kill Romaharṣaṇa Sūta simply by striking him with a blade of kuśa grass, the answer is given in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by the use of the word prabhu (master). The Lord’s position is always transcendental, and because He is omnipotent He can act as He likes without being obliged to the material laws and principles. Thus it was possible for Him to kill Romaharṣaṇa Sūta simply by striking him with a blade of kuśa grass.
At the death of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, everyone present became much aggrieved, and there was roaring and crying. Although all the brāhmaṇas and sages present there knew Lord Balarāma to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they did not hesitate to protest the Lord’s action, and they humbly submitted, “Our dear Lord, we think that Your action is not in line with the religious principles. Dear Lord Yadunandana, we may inform You that we brāhmaṇas posted Romaharṣaṇa Sūta on that exalted position for the duration of this great sacrifice. He was seated on the Vyāsāsana by our election, and when one is seated on the Vyāsāsana, it is improper for him to stand up to receive a person. Moreover, we awarded Romaharṣaṇa Sūta an undisturbed duration of life. Under the circumstances, since Your Lordship has killed him without knowing all these facts, we think that Your action has been equal to that of killing a brāhmaṇa. Dear Lord, deliverer of all fallen souls, we know certainly that You are the knower of all Vedic principles. You are the master of all mystic powers; therefore ordinarly the Vedic injunctions cannot be applied to Your personality. But we request that You show Your causeless mercy upon others by kindly atoning for this killing of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta. We do not, however, suggest what kind of act You should perform to atone for killing him; we simply suggest that some method of atonement be adopted by You so that others may follow Your action. What is done by a great personality is followed by the ordinary man.”
The Lord replied, “Yes, I must atone for this action, which may have been proper for Me, but is improper for others; therefore, I think it is My duty to execute a suitable act of atonement enjoined in the authorized scriptures. Simultaneously I can also give this Romaharṣaṇa Sūta life again, with a span of long duration, sufficient strength, and full power of the senses. Not only this, if you desire I shall be glad to award him anything else which you may ask. I shall be very glad to grant all these boons in order to fulfill your desires.”
This statement of Lord Balarāma definitely confirms that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is free to act in any way. Although it may be considered that His killing of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta was improper, He could immediately counteract the action with greater profit to all. Therefore, one should not imitate the actions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; one should simply follow the instructions of the Lord. All the great learned sages present realized that although they considered the action of Lord Balarāma to be improper, the Lord was able to immediately compensate with greater profits. Not wanting to detract from the mission of the Lord in killing Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, all of them prayed, “Our dear Lord, the uncommon use of Your kuśa weapon to kill Romaharṣaṇa Sūta may remain as it is; because of Your desire to kill him, he should not be brought to life again. At the same time Your Lordship may remember that we sages and brāhmaṇas voluntarily gave him long life; therefore, such a benediction should not be nullified.” Thus the request of all the learned brāhmaṇas in the assembly was ambiguous because they wanted to keep intact the benediction given by them that Romaharṣaṇa Sūta would continue to live until the end of the great sacrifice, but at the same time they did not want to nullify Balarāma’s killing him.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead therefore solved the problem in a manner befitting His exalted position, and said, “Because the son is produced from the body of the father, it is the injunction of the Vedas that the son is the father’s representative. Therefore I say that Ugraśravā Sūta, the son of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, should henceforth take his father’s position and continue the discourses on the Purāṇas, and because you wanted Romaharṣaṇa to have a long duration of life, this benediction will be transferred to his son. The son, Ugraśravā, will therefore have all the facilities you offered—long duration of life in a good and healthy body, without any disturbances and full strength of all the senses.”
Lord Balarāma then implored all the sages and brāhmaṇas that aside from the benediction offered to the son of Romaharṣaṇa, they should ask from Him any other benediction, and He would be prepared to fulfill it immediately. The Lord thus placed Himself in the position of an ordinary kṣatriya and informed the sages that He did not know in what way He could atone for His killing of Romaharṣaṇa, but whatever they would suggest He would be glad to accept.
The brāhmaṇas could understand the purpose of the Lord, and thus, they suggested that He atone for His action in a manner which would be beneficial for them. They said, “Our dear Lord, there is a demon of the name Balvala. He is the son of Ilvala, but he is a very powerful demon, and he visits this sacred place of sacrifice every fortnight on the full moon and moonless days and creates a great disturbance to the discharge of our duties in the sacrifice. O descendant of the Daśārha family, we all request You to kill this demon. We think that if You kindly kill him, that will be Your atonement on our behalf. The demon occasionally comes here and profusely throws upon us contaminated, impure things like puss, blood, stool, urine and wine, and he pollutes this sacred place by showering such filth upon us. After killing Balvala, You may continue touring all these sacred places of pilgrimage for twelve months, and in that way You will be completely freed from all contamination. That is our prescription.”