ABOUT 3,000 years ago, King Ashwasen ruled over the kingdom of Varanasi or Benaras, which is situated on the bank of River Ganga. He was a benevolent and popular ruler. His queen, Vamadevi gave birth to a son on the tenth day of the dark half month of Margashirsh. During her pregnancy, she had seen a snake slither past by her side. In the memory of this incident, the child was named Purshvakumar because purshva in Sanskrit language means ‘beside’.
Purshvakumar grew up in the midst of wealth and happiness. In course of time, he became a handsome young prince renowned for his valour and bravery. The queen wanted him to get married but he showed no interest in worldly life and much less in marriage. Both the king and the queen tried to persuade him to marry and at last convinced him to marry Princess Padmavati from a neighbouring kingdom. The wedding was performed with pomp and splendour and the young couple began to live happily together.
Meanwhile there lived just outside the kingdom a young mendicant named Kamath who had undertaken penance after leading a miserable life as an orphan. He drew many followers to him for his devotion and meditation. He decided to perform a panchagni (five-fire) penance. When Purshvakumar heard of him, he tried to dissuade him from performing the sacrificial fire, but Kamath refused to budge. Purshvakumar, through his extra-sensory perception, saw a snake in the wood being put in the sacrificial fire. He asked his men to take out that piece of wood and shear it carefully. To their surprise, out came a half-burnt snake from the burnt out wood. Purshvakumar recited the navaka mantra for the dying snake who took rebirth as Dharanendra, the Lord of Asurkumars.
Kamath became riled at this interference and took to more severe penance which he observed till the end of his life. He took rebirth as Meghmali, the Lord of Rain. Meanwile Purshvakumar, at the age of 30, renounced all his possessions and became a monk. When Meghmali saw him immersed in meditation, he decided to take his revenge. Through his supernatural powers, Meghmali brought forth elephants, lions, and snakes to frighten Purshvakumar from his meditation but he remained undeterred. Meghmali ultimately released heavy rains and the water reached Purshvakumar’s neck.
Dharanendra, who had not forgotten Purshvakumar’s kind deed to him, placed a lotus at his feet so that he would stay above water Then he spread his fangs all around him to protect him from the rain. Dharanendra severely admonished Meghmali, who could now see that his efforts were going in vain. So he withdrew all his supernatural powers.
Purshvakumar developed a higher purity of consciousness and ultimately attained nirvana on the 84th day of his renunciation. His parents and wife Padmavati too became his disciples. It is said that Purshvakumar attained nirvana at the age of 100 years on the Sametshikhar Hill in Bihar which is today a famous place of pilgrimage.