Even though Mahabharata is majorly a story of Kaurava’s and Pandava’s, their exile and war. But, the actual Mahabharata text begins on a very different note. Not many people know how important role Takshaka the Serpent (Naga) King played in Mahabharata. At one point Bhishma’s prowess is compared with him. Takshaka, the Sanskrit language means the snake which can glide or fly.
The text of Mahabharata itself begins at the Sarpa-Satra yagya (Serpent Sacrifice) organized by Janamejaya, son of Parikshit and grandson of Abhimanyu, to kill all the snakes in the world to avenge Parikshit’s death. Finally, with force of this yagya Takshaka was brought to the fire. In the end, a learned boy named Astika intervenes and persuades Janamejaya to stop Sarpa-Satra. That’s when Vaishampayana the disciple of Krishna Dwaipayana (Vyasa) narrates the story of Janamejaya’s ancestors.
Takshaka ruled the kingdom near Kurukshetra i.e. Khandavprastha. It was supposed to inhabitable for humans. After Pandava’s were given to rule the Khandavprastha, Arjuna and Krishna went there to take a look. Arjuna using Agneyastra set the whole forest ablaze to kill all the snakes in the region. Mayasura used to live in the forest of Khandavprastha with Takshaka but, Arjuna saved the life of Mayasura. Takshaka had to live Khandavprastha and he settled down in the region far north-west to Kurukshetra. Interestingly the city built by Takshaka was called Takshashila (modern name of the city is Taxila). It is the same Takshashila which was famous for the ancient university.
Takshaka held grudge against Pandava’s and especially Arjuna. When the great-grandson of Arjuna, Parikshit was cursed by the sage that he will die due to the snake bite. When Takshaka found out about this curse he approached Parikshit in disguise and bites him. It is also said that he bribed the sages of the line of Kashyapa which were good at healing snake bites, making sure that Parikshit dies. To take the revenge of his father’s death, Janmejaya attacks Takshashila and destroyed whole Kingdom leaving Takshaka homeless. To avenge his father’s death Janmejaya takes the vow to kill all the snakes of the world and arranges for Sarpa-Satra. Finally, when Astika intervened, Janmejaya and Naga’s end enmity between them and began living peacefully once again. The day when Sarpa-Satra was stopped is celebrated as Nag-Panchami till date!
So this was how snakes of the world were saved. Takshaka no doubt, has an interesting story in Mahabharata!