Introduction: This is the start of a new series compiling and retelling stories from the Puranas, simply and without distortion or substantive embellishment. This episode comes from the beginning of the Markandeya Purana. The quotes cited are from Bibek Debroy’s excellent translation of the Markandeya Purana.
The Pregnant Bird Witnesses the Great Battles at Kuruskhetra
Once upon a time, Drona — no, not that Drona who taught the Pandavas; this Drona was the youngest son of the rishi Mandapala — married a beautiful bird-woman named Tarkshi. The word ‘tarkshi’ means ‘bird’. The name was apt for this erstwhile apsara who had been cursed by the ever-irritable Durvasa Muni to be reborn as a bird. The story of that curse is also narrated in the Markandeya Purana.
One day, Tarkshsi traveled to Kurukshetra. She was three-months pregnant at the time. Who can say why she made the journey to that most perilous of places? Perhaps she sensed that some of the most pivotal moments of human history were to play out there and wanted to witness them. And she did indeed witness some of the most intense, dramatic, nerve-wracking battles fought during the Mahabharata war. One such battle, between Bhagadatta and Arjuna, raged on the twelfth of the eighteen days of war.
Bhagadatta was a renowned warrior, famed for his prowess fighting on the back of his elephant, the majestic Supratika. Many valorous horses and elephants have their own names, a sign of the honor and respect accorded to them by our ancients.
In the course of the battle, Bhagadatta had fired the Vaishnavastra, the divine mantra-charged weapon of Narayana, at Arjuna. Before Arjuna could counter it, Krishna stood up from his charioteer’s position and let the weapon strike his chest. As soon as the Vaishnavastra made contact with Krishna’s chest, it morphed into a garland and fell around Krishna’s neck — the weapon of Narayana reabsorbed into His avatar, the part dissolved into its whole.
Eventually, Arjuna would go on to behead Bhagadatta and win the fight.
In the course of that battle, Arjuna shot an arrow that hit Tarkshi’s side. As she fell to her death, four moon-colored eggs fell from her stomach, cushioned on the ground by the…