Triśaṅku

(‘one who had committed three śaṅkus or sins’)

There can be no better example for human frailty than that of Triśaṅku (a king of the Ikṣvāku race), who happened to be the father of Hariścandra, the redoubtable champion of satya or truth. That his father Nibandhana had christened him ‘Satyavrata’ (= one who follows truth religiously) might be construed as adding insult to injury!

Since the prince Satyavrata had committed three śaṅkus or sins—adultery, killing a cow and eating its flesh—he came to be known as Triśaṅku.

Once he decided to perform a sacrifice that would enable him to go to svarga (heaven), keeping his physical body intact. The well-known sage Viśvāmitra agreed to do it for him. However, the gods in heaven refused to come and accept his offerings. Incensed by this, Viśvāmitra started sending Triśaṅku to svarga, by the power of his tapas or austerities. When Satyavrata was halfway through his upward journey, he was cursed by Indra to fall on earth, upside down. Viśvāmitra came to his rescue again by stopping him in the middle of the sky and started creating a separate heaven for his sake! Alarmed by this, the gods of heaven under Indra’s leadership pleaded with the sage that Triśaṅku, because of his threefold sin, was unfit to enter heaven. As a compromise it was agreed that Triśaṅku would stay where he was, surrounded by his own world of stars.

Triśaṅku-svarga has now become a byword for anything which is ‘neither here, nor there’ (vide Rāmāyaṇa, Bālakāṇḍa 57 and 60).