The eighth chapter of this canto describes Maharaja Sagara and his attempt to execute a great horse sacrifice. Maharaja Sagara was an exalted pious king, but Lord Indra became fearful of his pious activities, feeling his own position as king of Svarga would be rivaled. This illustrates that even greatly pious activities create reactions that keep one bound by maya, even for one elevated to the exalted post of king of Heaven.
After Lord Indra had stolen the sacrificial horse, he took it to the ashram of Kapila Muni. Later, when the sons of Sagara Maharaja where searching the earth, they came there and saw the horse. Being influenced by the mode of passion, they could not recognize Lord Kapila but mistook Him to be a thief. With great anger, they ran toward Him with upraised weapons, eager to kill Him. He then opened His eyes.
This incident illustrates, as Srila Prabhupada mentions, that no one, not even the son or disciple of great persons, can understand God or the pure devotee unless he first frees himself from the modes of nature, particularly the influences of passion and ignorance, by chanting Hare Krishna and following the regulative principles. “One who stays within the influence of the three material modes is unable to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (SB. 9.8.23, Purport) Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, sattvat sanjayte jnanam: “From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops…” (Bg. 14.17) Srila Prabhupada explains that it is therefore the duty of a devotee to control his senses and mind through sadhana-bhakti. In this way, we become freed from the lower modes of nature and are elevated to sattva-guna, and then to transcendental goodness.
(From this story it would seem that bogus yogis and sadhus have been around for a long time. Otherwise, why did the sons of Sagara jump to the conclusion that Kapila Rishi was a fake? In other places in the Bhagavatam, we find that Agastya Rishi thought Maharaja Indradyumna was faking samadhi with eyes closed to avoid serving his exalted guest. He therefore cursed Indradyumna Maharaja to become a “dull elephant”. Similarly, Maharaja Pariksit, while severely thirsty after hunting in the forest, thought a devotee sage was faking samadhi to avoid receiving him. He therefore insulted the sage and was cursed to die by the sage’s son. Before meeting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Srila Prabhupada himself was suspicious of so-called sadhus because he had seen that most of them were fakes. These incidents illustrate the importance of being able to recognize genuine devotees. Those under the influence of passion or ignorance lose their finer intelligence and often end up creating offenses.)
All these sons of King Sagara where immediately burnt to ashes by heat from within their own bodies. Some commentators mistakenly suggest that Kapila Rishi burnt them to ashes with His glance as soon as He opened His eyes, but authorized Bhagavatam commentators understand, just as Srimad-Bhagavatam states, “Because the sons of Sagara Maharaja had offended a great personality, the heat of their bodies had increased, and they were burnt to ashes.” (SB.9.9.12) Srila Prabhupada explains that a great devotee or avatar like Kapila Deva is never affected by anger in the mode of ignorance. (The rare phenomenon of “spontaneous human combustion” has been documented even in modern times. Scientists are perplexed how it happens, since the body is 70 percent water.)
We can just imagine what will be the fate of this modern civilization, wherein it is quite legal to publicly blaspheme pure devotees like the Prophet Mohammed, Jesus Christ or Lord Buddha. Although other types of “hate speech”, “terroristic threatening”, as well as libel and slander of famous movie stars and politicians is illegal, every scum bag has the legal right to blaspheme God and His pure devotees – even though this may cause mayhem, terrorism and riots. This story of the sons of Sagara shows how dangerous it is to offend great personalities. When conditioned souls fail to distinguish between genuine sadhus and posers, they are prone to create harmful reactions, which are often more severe than ordinary bad karma.
Later Amsuman, a grandson of Maharaja Sagara, went to the ashram of Lord Kapila and saw the horse. Amsuman immediately recognized Lord Kapila as the Personality of Godhead and offered Him prayers. In this way he pleased the Lord and retrieved the sacrificial horse.
Later, when Maharaja Sagara left this world, Amsuman became king and spent his whole life trying to bring the Ganges down from Svarga – because Lord Kapila had told him that Ganges water was the only way to deliver his uncles who had been burnt to ashes. Later, Amsuman’s son Dilipa also tried his whole life but could not bring down the Ganges from heaven. Finally, after performing many austere vows, Maharaja Bhagiratha, a great-great-grandson of King Sagara, was able to bring the Ganges to earth and save his forefathers.
One of the descendants of Maharaja Bhagiratha was Maharaja Khatvanga, who pleased the demigods with his great prowess in fighting demons on their behalf. When they offered him any benediction he wanted, he asked them to tell him when he would die. Upon hearing that he only had a short time to live, he immediately returned to South India to prepare to leave his body in full Krishna consciousness.
In South India, ancient temples keep records of their origins and important events related to the temple. When Maharaja Khatvanga wanted to become totally fixed in Krishna consciousness, he apparently decided to build a temple to establish Deities of Lord Narasimha Deva and Lord Varaha Deva. This amazing temple and effulgent Deities are still visible on the lovely banks of the holy Swarna River near the ocean just north of Sri Krishna Udupi Kshetra. This chapter of King Khatvanga’s history is not specifically mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam but is found in the temple’s historical records. However, in the purports to these verses on Maharaja Khatvanga, Srila Prabhupada hints at this specific history: “A devotee may be engaged in earning money, but he uses that money for propagating the Krishna consciousness movement by constructing large temples and establishing worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Khatvanga Maharaja, therefore, was not a materialist.” (SB.9.9.44, Purport) “Maharaja Khatvanga accepted the shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and because of his full surrender he achieved perfection.” (SB.9.9.49, Purport).