King Sagar lived peacefully with his family. Gradually, as his sons became older, the king saw that they were turning out to be rather wild and unruly. They showed no signs of politeness or good upbringing.
One day, his son Asmanjas behaved so badly with the king that in a fit of anger the king told him to leave the kingdom. The king’s other queen named Sumati had 60,000 sons, almost the size of an army. How could he throw them out? Instead they all could have overpowered him and occupied his throne. So he had no alternative but to tolerate them.
One day, King Sagar decided to hold an ashwamedha yajna (a horse is set free and as far as it reaches is considered the border of the king’s kingdom) to establish his power over the empire. He called his 60,000 sons and said, “In a month’s time I plan to hold an ashwamedha yajna. I would like you all to guard my white horse very carefully. Let it not escape nor be stolen.”
The sons willingly agreed and kept a watch on him day and night. On keeping a watch over the horse continuously for so long, they all fell asleep one day. The next morning they found the horse missing. They were terribly worried as they did not know how to face the king. However, the king came to know of it and called his sons. They all rushed to given their explanation, “Father, we were all guarding the horse but it seems to have escaped or has been stolen when we fell asleep.”
The king told them, “I know the horse is neither on Earth, nor in Heaven. It must be in the netherworld then. Go and find my horse.”
The princes left and began to dig deep into the earth till they reached the netherworld. In the dark interior they saw the white horse standing proudly with Sage Kapila sitting in front, in deep mediation. They all thought, “So the sage had stolen our horse. He is a thief. Look how calmly he sits as through nothing has happened.”
One of the princes suggested, “Let us kill him.”
Another prince added, “No, let me pierce my dagger into him.”
The third prince said, “I am very angry with him. Let me throttle him.”
The sage opened his eyes and saw 60,000 young men peeping and peering at him. He flew into a rage; a wild rage that slowly began to burn all the 60,000 of them.
Meanwhile King Sagar waited impatiently for his sons to return. After some time he sent Asmanjas’s son Ansumat to go in search of his sons. Ansumat searched everywhere and on reaching the netherworld, he discovered the body parts of his uncles burning. Their bodies were burning as they were dying slowly, bit by bit.
He immediately went and fell at Sage Kapila’s feet and begged, “Please I beg of you, do forgive my uncles as they had no idea as to what they were doing. Do restore them to life, else my father will die of sorrow.”
Sage Kapila looked at him with kind eyes and said, “To take them to Earth, you will have to bring down the river of Heaven on Earth. Meanwhile, you can take the horse with you to give it to the king.”
Ansumat returned with the horse and the ashwamedha yajna was completed.
King Sagar, however, was very sad as none of his sons was left with him. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he remembered them till an ocean (i.e. Sagar) was formed.