By Swami Harshananda
Significance of Name Hariścandra
In religion and society, the name ‘Hariścandra’ has become synonymous with satya or truth. A person observing truthful means is called as ‘Satya-Hariścandra’. The various legends we come across in our religious literature probably refer to more than one Hariścandra.
Hariścandra as per Aitareya Brāhmana
The Aitareya Brāhmana denotes the story of one Hariścandra. He was a king of the Ikṣvāku dynasty. He had no children. He prayed to Varuṇa that if he got son, he would sacrifice him to Varuṇa. He was granted the boon. He named his son ‘Rohitāśva’. The king went on delaying the sacrifice. Hence Varuṇa made him ill. To get rid of it, Hariścandra bought a brāhmaṇa boy named Sunaśśepha and sacrificed him to Varuṇa. However, the pathetic prayers of this boy melted the heart of Varuṇa who released him. The boy was adopted by the sage Viśvāmitra who was conducting the sacrifice for Hariścandra.
Hariścandra as per Sage Vasiṣṭha
The sage Vasiṣṭha had declared that the king Hariścandra of solar dynasty, son of Triśaṅku was the most truthful person on earth. Viśvāmitra, who could not bear his bete noire’s confidence in Hariścandra, vowed to disprove it. Due to his malicious machinations, Hariścandra lost his kingdom and wealth and was banished and forced to go to Kāśī. There, he had to sell his wife Candramati and son Rohitāśva to a rich man to pay his dues to the sage. Then he was employed by the care-taker of a crematory as his assistant. His son Rohitāśva died of snake-bite and his wife was charged with murder by the local king. She was sentenced to death and brought to the cremation ground. Hariścandra had to behead her. As he was about to strike, gods and sages appeared on the scene and prevented it. They brought Rohitāśva back to life and restored the kingdom to Hariścandra. Viśvāmitra had to concede defeat.
- Aitareya Brāhmana 7.18
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore