Destiny - can we change it?

Ever since the birth of civilization, there has been this question of whether destiny or fate is more powerful than man's effort. Sometimes the greatest of human efforts doesnt seem to result in a favourable outcome. Many a time, people become successful by accident. Swami Vivekananda once said, "Man is the maker of his own destiny." If a calamity strikes, you hear people say, "Oh it is your fate! This is destiny."
It is in this context that I want to put down a few thoughts. I would like to take your attention to two stories from the Mahabharata where human effort seems to have conquered destiny or faith.

The story of Savitri and Satyavan:
This is a famous story from the Mahabharata. There lived a king called Ashwapati who had a beautiful daughter named Savitri. One day, Sage Narada visits Ashwapati and asks him about the marriage of his daughter. King Ashwapati replies that he was yet to find a worthy suitor for his daughter who is so rich in character and virtue as she is. Sage Narada asks him to take Savitri's opinion on this matter and she replies that she has heard of a young prince by name Satyavan. However, Ashwapati knew that Satyavan's father, Dyumatsena, had lost his kingdom and was now in the forest with his wife and son. Not only that, he had also lost his eyes. In addition, Sage Narada also tells them that Satyavan was destined to live only for a year more. However, Savitri insists that once she has set her mind on a man, it is improper for her to accept another as a husband.
So, when his daughter had expressed her desire, Ashwapati set out to meet the blind king, Dyumatsena. Although Dyumatsena expresses his concerns that she was a royal princess and that they had lost their kingdom and were leading an ascetic life, Ashwapati replies that it was the honour and adherence to Dharma (righteousness) that mattered to him and not the riches and palaces - perhaps something modern parents should note. Finally Dyumatsena agrees and the match gets finalized. She is sent with all the bridal paraphernalia and on reaching her new home - a thatched hut, she takes off all her bridal fineries and dresses herself in simple clothes and begins to take care of the household chores. She wins everyone's heart with her dedicated service. All the while, at the back of her mind, she was counting the days as only she knew that the destined date of Satyavan's departure was fast approaching. When there were only four days left for Satyavan's final day in his earthly sojourn, Savitri took upon herself a vow. Dyumatsena felt that she was being too harsh on herself since the vow involved fasting and rigorours austerities. However, Savitri pleaded that she be allowed to undertake the vow as it was for everyone's good. Dyumatsena finally agreed.

Lord Yama comes to take
Satyavan's life

The morning of Satyavan’s predicted death, Savitri asked for her father-in-law’s permission to accompany her husband into the forest. Since she had never asked for anything during the entire year she had spent at the hermitage, Dyumatsena granted her wish. She accompanied Satyavan to the forest where he was going to gather firewood for the daily prayer offerings and for cooking. They conversed happily as they went into the woods. As Satyavan was splitting the wood with his axe, he suddenly felt weak and his head started reeling. He lay down with his head on Savitri's lap. No later did this happen, Savitri saw in front of her an effulgent being. She knew that he was none other than Lord
Yama - the god of Death. Lord Yama accosted her and told her that he himself had come to take the prana (vital life force) of Satyavan because he was such a pious soul who always spoke the truth and adhered to Dharma. Savitri, he said, was able to see Yama because of her piety and because she was a great ascetic herself. Savitri gently puts her husband's head down and respectfully pays her obeisances to the god of death. She then starts praising Yama and begins to follow him. Yama starts walking towards another world and is surprised to see that Savitri is able to follow him. All the while, Savitri converses intelligently, reverentially and speaks of Yama highly saying that it is her great good fortune to be able to see him and walk with him. Yama is pleased and grants her a boon with the rider that she should not ask for her husband's life. Savitri replies that her father in law's kingdom and eyes should be restored. However, the conversation doesn't stop and she continues to follow Yama. When he asks her to give up the futile attempt, she replies that he was the god of Dharma (righteousness) and it was only right for her to follow her husband, therefore he should not object to it. Pleased, Yama asks her to seek another boon - again excepting her husband's life. She then asks for a boon for her father to have sons since he had none. Yama grants the boon. As they walk together, Savitri says that according to the shastras, anyone who walk 7 steps together and exchange 7 words are considered friends. Since she has been walking with the god of Dharma so far, their friendship was established. This time Yama is extremely pleased and asks her to seek a boon without any riders. She then asks for children for her and her husband. Knowing fully well that this is not possible without bringing Satyavan back to life, Yama resuscitates him and also grants him a 400 year lifespan. Thus, Savitri achieved the impossible by bringing Satyavan back to life. Her name and glory are spoken of to this day. She was able to overturn the destined event.

The story of Markandeya:
Mrikandu rishi and his wife Marudmati worshipped Shiva and sought from him the boon of begetting a son. As a result he was given the choice of either a gifted son, but with a short life on earth or a child of low intelligence but with a long life. Mrikandu rishi chose the former, and was blessed with Markandeya, an exemplary son, destined to die at the age of 12.

Markandeya grew up to be a great devotee of Shiva and on the day of his destined death he continued his worship of Shiva in his form of Shivalingam. The messengers of Yama, the god of death were unable to take away his life because of his great devotion and continual worship of Shiva. Yama then came in person to take away Markandeya's life, and sprung his noose around the young sage's neck. However, Markandeya was hugging the Shivalingam and the noose fell around the Shivalingam as well. Lord Shiva then appeared on the scene and Yama was astonished. Lord Shiva being the overlord among the pantheon of gods instructed Yama to return and granted everlasting life to Markandeya. He is said to be still living and is considered a Chiranjeevi (deathless). Thus Markandeya who later became a great Rishi overturned destiny by the grace of God.

Lord Shiva appears to protect Markandeya

Case in Point
Let us now analyse the two stories and see how and when it is possible to overcome destiny and write your own. There are two principal conclusions that can be drawn from these stories. One - by strict adherence to Dharma, never swerving from your path and being steadfast in your vows, it is possible to change your destiny.
Two - by the grace of God, by steadfast devotion and complete faith in God, it is possible to change your destiny.
However, it is important to note that both of these are not so easy and man can actually be the maker of his own destiny when he has mastery over himself. There have been any number of cases where God's grace has changed the destiny of someone as in the case of Kuchela whose rags to riches story by the grace of Lord Krishna is a case in point. There have been a couple of instances where I have noticed how Swami changed someone's destiny and blessed people:

Sai's blessing
This incident was narrated by my classmate when in college in Swami's presence. There was a lady from Punjab who had come with her four daughters in law. As luck would have it, none of them had children. The lady pleaded with Swami during darshan saying that they were childless. Swami looked at her nonchalantly and said, "What can I do? It is not in their fate," The lady then replied, "Swami, you are God. Change the lines on their forehead and rewrite their fate so that they have a son each." Swami blessed all four of them by placing His hand on their heads. The next year, all four of them came with a son each to seek Swami's blessings.
As Swami often says and I quote, "If you have Swami's 'anugraha' (grace), that is more powerful than all the 'grahas' (planets) put together."
The other incident I heard recently is from an interview of an ex-student by name Sai Krishna Justa. He was in school when I was studying MBA in Swami's college. He has been an extremely gifted singer. However, I came to know of the story of his birth only when I heard him on Radiosai. Apparently his parents had given birth to a still born child and had come to Puttaparthi a few months after that. Swami called them in for an interview and they expressed their grief and anguish over the incident. At the end of the interview, Swami asked them what they wanted and they asked for a child. Swami then said to them that He will give them the same child and that child was none other than Sai Krishna Justa. That was quite a revelation. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that those yogis who have some small karma left over take upon themselves a body for a very short while and therefore are still born since they have overcome all karmas with that. But, Swami could change the fate of this child to be born and live a life and I am sure Swami will take care of the Karma part too!

All said and done, I would like to conclude by saying destiny is certainly all powerful and the cases quoted above may well nigh be just exceptions. But, nevertheless it is not like we don't stand a chance against it. It is not what hits you in life that matters. Its about how you can take that hit and still keep going.

"Fate is the result of your own actions. Everything you did in the past has a result, just as everything you do now has a result, and that in turn will have effects on your body and your life. Every thought, every word and every deed of yours always come back to you. So it is not fate that controls you, it is you who control fate." - Baba


This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Very nice thoughts...indeed very well written malik end
Venu said…
Thanks Paaji...the take was from your speech in Swami's presence as you would've made out :)
Excellent article...

The way you ended your article with such a powerful quote of Swami is indeed commendable...
Venu said…
Thanks brother Churchill. Swami's line is always the punchline..
Viswanath said…
Well written and nice to read Venu. When there is discriminative power given to mankind, it must be used in a proper way and not to put everything on fate. I can compare it to a remote controlled video game. Though everything is programmed, you still have the control to play the game in the right spirit.
Meenaa N said…

I am looking for a reliable nadi reader @ Vaitheeswaran Koil, any reference is welcome.

Aum Sai Ram
Amit said…
That was Beautiful. On fate or destiny, you once mentioned about 1) The Example of an animal being tied to a pole and the animal having it's free will around the circle of pole. 2) The characters being pre-destined and we choosing the characters we want to be.
Yes Amit. Those were examples that Swami had Himself given during an interview. Thanks for reminding me. I think that should constitute another blog now :)

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