In Treta Yuga, there was a king named Harishchandra of Surya Vamsha(dynasty). Once he was hunting in the Mahabahu forest when suddenly, he heard loud cries of a woman- ‘Save me! Save me!’ It was followed by the cries of many women. Hearing those cries, King Harishchandra shouted loudly- ‘Don’t be afraid’ and dashed in the direction of the cries. The cries however were an illusion created by Vighnaraj, the lord of the obstacles. At that time when King Harishchandra heard those cries, sage Vishwamitra was observing severe penance in the forest. In order to test Harishchandra’s virtuosity, Vighnaraj entered his body. As soon as Vighnaraj entered Harishchandra’s body, Harishchandra lost his temper and began to abuse Vishwamitra, which enraged him. His anger destroyed all the knowledge, he had acquired due to his severe penance. Seeing the angry Vishwamitra, King Harishchandra began to shiver. With folded hands, he begged Vishwamitra’s pardon. He said- ‘O great sage! It is my duty to protect the subjects. Kindly forgive me. Your wrath could greatly affect the performance of my duties as a king. Vishwamitra said- ‘O king! If you are a true follower of religion, tell me, who should be given a donation? Who should be protected and who should be fought with?’ Harishchandra answered- ‘O great penancer! Donations should be made only to such a Brahmin who indulges in fast and religious actions. Protection should be extended to those who are afraid and battle should be fought with enemies.’
Vishwamitra said- ‘If you are a religious king, give me Dakshaina (donation) as I am a Brahmin seeking salvation.’ Harishchandra said- ‘Tell me your desire. I am ready to grant it. Vishwamitra said- ‘O king! Just presume that I have received whatever you would donate me. Now, give me Dakshaina for the Rajsuya Yagya.’
Harishchandra said- ‘Ask me whatever you wish to have as the Dakshaina of Rajsuya Yagya.’ Vishwamitra said- ‘O king! Give me all you have except your own body, your wife and child.’ Feeling pleased, King Harishchandra granted what Vishwamitra desired. Vishwamitra said- ‘O king! Tell me, who is the lord of your kingdom?’ Harishchandra said- ‘Since the moment I have presented this kingdom to you, you are its master.’ Vishwamitra said- ‘If I am the master of this kingdom, what are you doing here? Leave at once! But before leaving, remove all your clothes,
ornaments and other royal insignia and go out wearing tree’s bark only.’
Thus after losing his kingdom, King Harishchandra got ready to leave with his wife Shaivya and son Rohit(Lohit) Vishwamitra then intercepted him and said- ‘Where are you going without paying a Dakshaina for Rajsuya Yagya. Harishchandra said- ‘O lord! I have donated my whole kingdom. Now only our bodies remain with us. What can I give you now?’ Vishwamitra said- ‘You cannot leave without paying a Dakshaina because you have promised me.’ Harishchandra said- ‘Don’t be angry, O Brahmin! I have nothing at present in my position but I will definitely pay you your Dakshaina in due time.’ Vishwamitra said angrily- ‘Specify the time period within which you will give me my Dakshaina or else be ready to get cursed by me.’ Harishchandra said- ‘I will pay the Dakshaina within a month.‘ Thereafter, Harishchandra started to live in seclusion with his wife and children. Seeing the king’s pitiable condition, his entire subjects began to follow him. Seeing their condition, Harishchandra halted and took a look on his subjects. At the same time, sage Vishwamitra also arrived there and began to curse Harishchandra for having attachment towards his subjects. Hearing the harsh words of Vishwamitra, Harishchandra left the kingdom with his wife Shaivya and son Rohit. To drive the king away as soon as possible, Vishwamitra began to beat the queen’s back with a stick.
After being thrown out from his kingdom by Vishwamitra, Harishchandra reached the holy town of Varanasi, which was an abode of Lord Mahadeva. There Harishchandra saw Vishwamitra standing before him. Vishwamitra said- ‘A month has been completed now. Now, give me my Dakshaina.’ Harishchandra said- ‘There is still half an hour in the completion of this month. Please wait. I will give your Dakshaina.’ Vishwamitra said- ‘I will come after half an hour.’
Saying this, Vishwamitra departed.
When Vishwamitra left, Harishchandra started to worry as to what would happen to him in his next birth if he did not keep his promise made to a Brahmin. Seeing him perplexed, queen Shaivya tried to console him. She said- ‘Man requires a wife only to produce a child. Now we already have a child- Rohit. Hence I am no longer useful for you. You sell me and pay the acquired wealth as Dakshaina to the Brahmin.’ Harishchandra fainted after hearing his wife’s words. The queen began to wail at her husband’s condition. Thus wailing, the queen also fell unconscious. The little Rohit also felt perplexed by his parent’s condition. He began to cry- ‘O father! O mother! I am hungry. Give me food.’ At the same time, Vishwamitra arrived there in the guise of Kal. After sprinkling water on Harishchandra’s face, he made him conscious and said- ‘O king! Get up and pay my Dakshaina. Your sorrows will increase if you do not fulfil your promise.’
Harishchandra was regaining his consciousness slowly but seeing Vishwamitra he fainted once again. This further enraged Vishwamitra. He said- ‘O king! If you have even slightest of respect for Dharma, give my Dakshaina at once. I will wait till evening and curse you if you fail to pay my Dakshaina.’ Saying this Vishwamitra departed. The fear of the curse began to terrorise Harishchandra. Meanwhile the queen also regained consciousness. She once again insisted to sell her in order to pay the Dakshaina. This time, Harishchandra accepted her proposal and took the queen to the township. There addressing the crowd, he said- ‘O dear citizens, kindly listen to me. I am selling my wife who is dearer to me than my own life. Anybody interested in buying her, please do so before evening.’ An old Brahmin stepped forward from the crowd and said- ‘I will buy her.’ Hearing his words, Harishchandra became extremely sad that he could not even utter a word. The Brahmin then stuffed the money in the bark clothes of Harishchandra and began to drag the queen by her hair. The boy Rohit began to cry holding the hem of her mother. Seeing the condition of her son, the queen requested the Brahmin- ‘O Arya! Kindly let me see the face of
my child for once.’ Then the queen turned towards Rohit and said- ‘O son! Your mother is no longer free now. She has become a slave. Do not touch me because I have become an untouchable.’
Then the old Brahmin began to forcibly drag the queen with him. Rohit also followed them crying loudly for his mother. The old Brahmin angrily kicked him. But still the boy did not give up following them. At last, the queen requested the Brahmin- ‘O lord! I will not be able to serve you without my son. So kindly buy him also.’ Hearing the words of the queen, the Brahmin once again stuffed some more money in the clothes of Harishchandra and tied the boy with the queen and began to drag both of them. Meanwhile Vishwamitra also appeared there and demanded the Dakshaina. Harishchandra gave him all the money he had got from selling his wife and son.
Seeing that amount of money, Vishwamitra boiled with anger and said- ‘O wretched among the Kshatriyas! You call this small amount of money as Dakshaina! Now look at the powers of my penance.’ Harishchandra trembled with fear and said- ‘O lord! Please wait a little more.’ Vishwamitra said- ‘Now only, a quarter of the day remains. I will wait only for this period and not more.’ Saying this, Vishwamitra went away. With stooped face, Harishchandra once again said addressing the crowd- ‘Now I am available for sale. Whoever wishes to buy me, please come forward before sunset.’ Dharma in the guise of a Chandala stepped forward from the crowd. He had a huge stinking body. He said- ‘I will buy you.’ Harishchandra asked- ‘Who are you?’ The Chandala said- ‘I am a Chandala. My name is Praveer and I am the resident of this very town.’ Harishchandra thought- ‘It is better to accept the curse than accepting the slavery of a Chandala.’ At the same time, Vishwamitra also arrived there and said angrily- ‘This Chandala is ready to pay you a lot of money. Why don’t you then pay my Dakshaina?’ Harishchandra said- ‘O
lord! I am born in Suryavansh. Accepting the slavery of a Chandala causes great pain for me. I have no money now. Since now onwards, I will be your slave and do whatever you will ask me to do.’ Vishwamitra said- ‘If you are my slave and ready to obey me, then I sell you to this Chandala for 1000 gold coins. Go and become his slave.’ The Chandala then presented many villages that were spread over an area of 100 Yojans to Vishwamitra and tying Harishchandra with a rope dragged him to his town.
In the Chandala’s house, Harishchandra contemplated- ‘The queen must be thinking that I would soon get her freed from the slavery of the old Brahmin after paying his dues. But she does not know that I myself have become the slave of a Chandala.’ After a few days, the Chandala appointed Harishchandra as the supervisor of the cremation place and instructed him to be there present all the time and to cremate each dead body only after thorough investigation. He also instructed him to collect the toll for cremating every dead body and divide it in such a way that one sixth part of the toll goes to the king and from the remaining five parts, three parts should be
reserved for him he should take only the remaining two parts as his remuneration. Since that day, Harishchandra began to live in the cremation ground. He always remembered the glorious days of his kingdom, his queen and his son. He had great regret that just because of the anger of Vishwamitra, he lost everything. Very soon, his new found occupation began to show on his appearance. His hair grew long and was unkempt, his body dry and stinking. In this guise, he began to roam in the cremation ground always carrying a stick in his hand. His whole day passed
in the assessment of the cremation toll and its division among the various claimants. He had lost his mental stature as he even forgot the count of the days and could not distinguish between the day and night.
One day, a snake bit Rohit as a result of which, he died. Shaivya brought Rohit, crying and wailing to the cremation ground. Even in the unkempt guise, she recognised Harishchandra. Hearing her wailing, Harishchandra went near her expecting to get the clothes of the deceased. There he saw a woman carrying a dead boy wrapped in a black cloth. He could not recognise queen Shaivya but the royal appearance of the boy forced him to think- ‘To which royal family did this unfortunate boy belong to? How pitiable, the cruel Kal did not even spare this boy. My son Rohit would have attained the same age by now.’ His silence further hurt the queen who said- ‘O lord! O king! How come, you have been living here without caring for your wife and son? We have already lost our kingdom. Now, we have lost our son also. O destiny! Did you not destroy everything of Harishchandra?’ Harishchandra began to think who that woman could be and who that dead boy was? ‘Isn’t she my wife?’ Thus recognising his wife and dead son,
Harishchandra began to cry loudly and fainted. The queen after seeing her husband’s condition fainted too. After sometime both of them regained their consciousness. Then the king took the dead boy in his lap and once again fainted. Queen Shaivya began to wonder why Harishchandra was staying in the cremation ground. For a moment, she forgot her sorrow and began to look at her fainted husband. Then she noticed the stick in Harishchandra’s hand. Usually Chandalas used to carry that kind of stick. She became dejected with the thought that she had become the wife of a Chandala. She then began to curse the destiny and began to wail embracing King
Harishchandra and said- ‘O king! I don’t know whether I am dreaming or it is a reality. I have lost the power of thinking.’
Hearing the words of the queen, the king opened his eyes and narrated the whole events that led to his becoming a Chandala. Then the queen narrated her experiences and how their son Rohit died because of snakebite. Harishchandra fell on the ground and began to hug his dead son. He was wailing- ‘How unfortunate I am that even my wishes are not under my control. Without the permission of the Chandala, I cannot even commit self- immolation. But now, I will not differentiate between the sin and virtuosity. I will destroy my body in the pyre of my son.’ The queen said- ‘O king! I am also unable to bear the burden of sorrows. I will also commit immolation with you. Then all three of us will stay unitedly in the heaven. It won’t matter to us even if we suffer the tortures of hell.’ Then the king arranged a huge pyre and put his dead son on it. With the queen, he began to pray to God. Just then all the deities arrived there led by Dharma. Sage Vishwamitra also accompanied them. They praised Harishchandra. Then Dharma, Indra and Vishwamitra came closer to the king.
Dharma said- ‘O king! You have satisfied me with your merits like patience, endurance, truthfulness etc.’ Indra said- ‘Harishchandra, you are very fortunate. You have won our hearts along with your wife and son. You have even won the heaven with your action. I invite you to stay in heaven along with your wife and son.’ Then Indra sprinkled ambrosia on the dead Rohit. Rohit got up and sat up in no time. Harishchandra, his wife and son Rohit were clad in divine clothes and garlands. Indra invited them to stay in the heaven forever but Harishchandra said- ‘O king of the deities! Without the permission of this Chandala, I cannot go anywhere.
‘Dharma said- ‘O king! I had learnt in advance about the miseries you would suffer in future. That’s why I took the guise of a Chandala and showed you all the grotesque action.’ Indra once again invited them to heaven but once again, Harishchandra refused saying that in Koshal, people must have been living mournfully in his absence. ‘I cannot leave them in that pitiable condition to enjoy the comforts of the heaven’, said Harishchandra. Then, Indra, Dharma and Vishwamitra led Harishchandra to Ayodhya, the capital of Koshal. There they carried out the
coronation of Rohit. Thereafter, they took Harishchandra and his queen Shaivya to the heaven.
Till now, we can able to see the place in Varanasi where the King Harishchandra use to work under chandala, with a name called Harishchandra Ghat(one of the ghat out of total 18 ghats).