Long long ago, near about the beginning of Treta-yuga, there lived a good and brave king by the name Ikshvaku, the founder of the Solar Royal House or the Solar dynasty of kings (Surya Vansha). He had one hundred magnificent sons except the youngest, the hundredth one, who was a great fool and the most worthless. Ikshvaku named him Danda (alias Dandaka) because every one, including the king, thought that this ignorant and dull son would surely receive some dreadful punishment. The word Danda/Dandaka means a rod that symbolizes judicial authority and punishment. Danda as a staff or sceptre denotes a measure of power and sovereignty. Other meanings are: a stick, a staff, club, cudgel, a handle, the beam of a plough, a line, rope, a measure of time and a measure of length.
Fearful of Danda, Ikshvaku gifted to him the entire physiographic region lying between the mountains Vindhya and Riksha in the east-central India and got a capital city, Madhumanta, built for him from where Danda ruled. Ikshvaku chose Usanas(Shukra Bhargava or Shukracharya) as Danda’s guru. Everything appeared to be going well for Danda.
Then, one day, Danda decided to learn some Shastras and with that intent went to live in Shukra Bhargava’s hermitage which was located in the heart of the jungle surrounding Madhumanta. But Danda could not lead the disciplined life of the ashram. In that ashram, there was a beautiful girl by the name Araja. She was Shukracharya’s daughter. Once Danda happened to see her in a diaphanous garment which the pure-minded inmates wore in that place where no man usually set foot upon. On seeing her, Danda was overpowered with blind lust. Paying no attention, whatsoever, to Araja’s protestations, oppositions and screams, Danda was on her in a flash forcing her down and then thrust him into that virgin girl like fire. Having thus violated Araja who lay terror-stricken and numb with pain and shock, Danda left the ashram. Araja related the entire incident to her father who could see her shame and agony and also saw visible signs of the wicked Danda’s violent deed on her body.
Shukracharya flew into a rage and his eyes turned the colour of sunset. Crying out, he cursed Danda: ‘In 7 days, you and your kingdom, all your people and army, shall die. For a hundred yojanas around your city, all life will be consumed by a rain of fire and death shall rule this sinner’s kingdom.’ Pronouncing these words, Shukra Bhargava left for a secret place. The curse took its effect. All life was extinguished, Danda died and the entire kingdom Dandaka was laid to waste. Not long thereafter, the region turned into a dense wild forest, so dense that even the sunlight did not pass through. From that day, the forest came to be known as Dandakaranya which means Dandaka forest or ‘the jungle of punishment’. Dandakaranya is a compound word in Samskrit and consists of two words dandaka (punishment) and aranya (forest) which are blended according to a rule of sandhi(euphonic combination). The inhabitants of Dandakaranya are also referred to as Dandaka. There is a plant named Dandaka. In late 1950s, Dandakaranya was in the news for a project, by the Central Government, for rehabilitating the refugees from Pakistan.
In Treta yuga, Dandakaranya was a favourite ground for yogis and rishis to carry out their special training and concentration programmes. In the epic Ramayana, Rama and company spent 13 of their 14 years of exile period travelling around this region. Encounter of Rama and Lakhsmana with Surpanakha (Ravana’s sister) took place here. The forest ‘Panchavati’, where Rama and Sita lived temporarily, and whence Sita was abducted by Ravana was located in this Dandakaranya forest. During Ramayana period, Dandakaranya was part of Ravana’s empire and his appointee was Khara who was killed by Rama. A southern path through the Dandaka forest existed in those days and Rama might have taken that path to reach Deccan. I have a feeling that Ravana’s Suvarna Lanka was not where we think it was. Lanka was somewhere in the Deccan or on the east-central part of India.
During his years in this forest, Rama visited a number of ashramas, the most prominent of them being that of sage Agastya from whom Rama received 3 powerful weapons. This Agastya muni (sage) is the same person who spread Brahminical Hinduism in southern India (region south of the Vindhyas). The famed Sabari, a woman belonging to the Bhil tribe of aborigines, lived here in the hermitage of Matanga rishi. Ramachandra met her who received him with great devotion. Ramayana describes Dandakaranya to be home to many deadly creatures like ghouls, goblins, demons, pishachas. Dandakaranya was the abode of a demon (rakshasa) by the name Dandaka. Many exiled persons lived here and sages had to cross the forest to reach the Vindhya mountains. Thus Dandaka means 6 things: name of a person, name of a kingdom, name of a demon, inhabitants of Dandakaranya, name of a plant and punishment. According to me, for many years during Tretayuga, the word meant all the six things. One can conclude from all these that Dandakaranya was both a cursed as well as a holy forest.
The incident related above shows that Danda was not only a libertine of the highest class, but was completely devoid of the power of discrimination (viveka shakti). He led a voluptuous life through and through from a very young age and continued with that life-style even after he was made king of a new kingdom. (In Atharva-Veda, Danda, with the word vaitasa, means the penis.) Unbridled licentiousness was in his DNA. The crime he committed was not a sin; it was a monumental sin (maha-pataka) because the crime-scene was the holy place of a hermitage which belonged to his illustrious family guru (kulaguru)Shukracharya. Danda was a first quality murkha or a maha-murkha (great idiot).
The story conveys to us that adharma (unrighteous living) has already set in, though in a small way since Krita yuga had ended and Treta yuga had commenced. That is why the good king Ikshvaku neither awarded a death punishment on Danda nor exiled him to a forest. He merely segregated Danda from himself, his kingdom, and others. To use a language of bureaucracy, Danda’s was a punishment transfer meant to reform him, to mend him. But it is Danda’s misfortune that he did not improve and committed a gigantic blunder for which he dearly paid in the shape of a fair and just punishment. The example of Danda is an aberration, not one of common occurrence since it was the age of Treta when the level of righteousness (Dharma) was high. Things are very much different now-a-days and that is the reason the present time is called the age of Kali.
~ Dr. Sachidanand Das, PhD (Science), BSc (Gold Medallist in Physics), BSc (English, Sanskrit, Mathematics, Political Science, Economics), Government of India, Scientific Officer – G (Group A Officer at Entry, Retired)