The story of Harishchandra and Vishwamitra is a popular mythological tale from ancient Hindu texts. It is a story of sacrifice, virtue, and the importance of keeping one's word.
Let us know in detail what had exactly happened...
Harishchandra was an honest, noble king who lived in the Treta Yuga. His subjects enjoyed prosperity and peace. His queen was Shaivya (or Taramati) and son was named Rohitashva.
One day, while on a hunting expedition, he heard the cries of a woman asking for help, but it was an illusion created by Vighnaraja, the lord of obstacles. Vighnaraja was trying to disturb the tapasya of sage Vishwamitra. When he saw Harishchandra, he entered his body and started abusing Vishwamitra. This disturbed Vishwamitra's tapasya, and destroyed all the knowledge that Vishwamitra had acquired during this tapasya.
When Harishchandra came to his senses, he realized that Vishwamitra was extremely angry with him. He promised to fulfill any of the sage's desires to get rid of his guilt.
Vishwamitra demanded a dakshina of everything that the king possessed except himself, his wife & child, which Harishchandra agreed to.
The king with his wife and child was about to leave the kingdom when Vishwamitra asked for another donation. As he had nothing left, Harishchandra promised to give the dakshina within a month.
Time passed by and Vishwamitra came back for the dakshina. The wife suggested to sell off all her remaining jewellery but Vishwamitra was not happy. Finally on the insistence of his wife, he sold her along with their son to an old man as his maid.
But even that was not enough for the sage. A chandala (one who disposes corpses) offered to buy Harishchandra as a servant. The king refused and instead agreed to become Vishwamitra’s servant. Vishwamitra then sold off the king to the chandala for a big sum of money. One day while working, a woman came crying to him to cremate her son’s body who had died of snake bite. Soon the king realized that they were his own wife and son. Harishchandra, feeling helpless in his misery, considered ending his life. However, he came to the realization that his actions would only lead to further consequences in his next life.
At the same time, the queen prepared to perform the last rites for their deceased son. Harishchandra insisted that she could not proceed without paying the necessary fee.
Then, a group of devas, led by the god of righteousness, Dharma, and accompanied by Vishwamitra, appeared before them. They praised Harishchandra for his noble qualities and invited him to heaven.
Despite being invited to heaven, Harishchandra declined the offer unless his people, who mourned his departure from his kingdom, could join him. He believed that they deserved a share of his merits and that he could only go to heaven if they came with him.
Harishchandra appealed to Indra, the king of the gods, to allow his people to enter heaven, even if it was only for a day, & Indra agreed.