Naimiṣāraṇya is still existing in India, and in ancient times it was especially used for the meetings of great sages and saintly persons with the aim of understanding spiritual life and self-realization. When Lord Balarāma visited that place there was a great sacrifice being performed by a great assembly of transcendentalists. Such meetings were planned to last thousands of years. When Lord Balarāma arrived, all the participants in the meeting—great sages, ascetics, brāhmaṇas and learned scholars—immediately arose from their seats and welcomed Him with great honor and respect. Some offered Him respects by standing up and then paying obeisances, and those who were elderly great sages and brāhmaṇas offered Him blessings after standing up. After this formality, Lord Balarāma was offered a suitable seat, and everyone present worshiped Him. Everyone in the assembly stood up in the presence of Balarāma because they knew Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Education or learning means to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore, although Lord Balarāma appeared on the earth as a kṣatriya, all the brāhmaṇas and sages stood up because they knew who Lord Balarāma was.
Unfortunately, after being worshiped and seated in His place, Lord Balarāma saw Romaharṣaṇa, the disciple of Vyāsadeva (the literary incarnation of Godhead), still sitting on the vyāsāsana. He had neither gotten up from his seat nor offered Him respects. Because he was seated on the vyāsāsana, he foolishly thought himself greater than the Lord; therefore he did not get down from his seat or bow down before the Lord. Lord Balarāma then considered the history of Romaharṣaṇa: he was born in a sūta family, or a mixed family, born of a brāhmaṇa woman and a kṣatriya man. Therefore although Romaharṣaṇa considered Balarāma a kṣatriya, he should not have remained sitting on a higher seat; according to his position by birth he should not even have accepted the higher sitting position, because many learned brāhmaṇas and sages were present. Lord Balarāma also observed that Romaharṣaṇa not only refused to come down from his exalted seat but did not even stand up and offer his respects when Balarāmajī entered the assembly. Lord Balarāma did not like the audacity of Romaharṣaṇa and, becoming very angry at him, declared from His seat, "This man, Romaharṣaṇa, is so impudent that he has accepted a higher seat than that of all the respectable brāhmaṇas present here, although he was born in a degraded pratiloma family."
When a person is seated on the vyāsāsana, he does not generally have to stand to receive a particular person entering the assembly, but in this case the situation was different because Lord Baladeva is not an ordinary human being. Therefore, although Romaharṣaṇa Sūta was voted to the vyāsāsana by all the brāhmaṇas, he should have followed the behavior of other learned sages and brāhmaṇas present and should have known that Lord Balarāma is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Respects are always due Him, even though such respects can be avoided in the case of an ordinary man. The appearance of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma is especially meant for reestablishment of the religious principles. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, the highest religious principle is to surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam also confirms that the topmost perfection of religion is to be engaged in the devotional service of the Lord.
When Lord Balarāma saw that Romaharṣaṇa Sūta did not understand the highest principle of religion in spite of his having studied all the Vedas, He certainly could not support his position. Romaharṣaṇa Sūta had been given the chance to become a perfect brāhmaṇa, but because of his ill behavior in his relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his low birth was immediately remembered. Romaharṣaṇa Sūta had been given the position of a brāhmaṇa, but he had not been born in the family of a brāhmaṇa; he had been born in a pratiloma family. According to the Vedic concept, there are two kinds of mixed family heritage, called anuloma and pratiloma. When a male is united with a female of a lower caste, the offspring is called anuloma; but when a male unites with a woman of a higher caste, the offspring is called pratiloma. Romaharṣaṇa Sūta belonged to a pratiloma family because his father was a kṣatriya and his mother a brāhmaṇa. Because Romaharṣaṇa's transcendental realization was not perfect, Lord Balarāma remembered his pratiloma heritage. The idea is that any man may be given the chance to become a brāhmaṇa, but if he improperly uses the position of a brāhmaṇa without actual realization, then his elevation to the brahminical position is not valid.
After seeing the deficiency of realization in Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, Lord Balarāma decided to chastise him for being puffed up. Lord Balarāma therefore said, "This man is liable to be awarded the death punishment because although he has the good qualification of being a disciple of Lord Vyāsadeva, and although he has studied all the Vedic literature from this exalted personality, he was not submissive in the presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead." As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, a person who is actually a brāhmaṇa and is very learned must automatically become very gentle also. But although Romaharṣaṇa Sūta was very learned and had been given the chance to become a brāhmaṇa, he had not become gentle. From this we can understand that one who is puffed up by material acquisitions cannot acquire the gentle behavior befitting a brāhmaṇa. The learning of such a person is as good as a valuable jewel decorating the hood of a serpent. Despite the valuable jewel on the hood, a serpent is still a serpent and is as fearful as an ordinary serpent. If a person does not become meek and humble, all his studies of the Vedas and Purāṇas and his vast knowledge of the śāstras are simply outward dress, like the costume of a theatrical artist dancing on the stage. Lord Balarāma considered, "I have appeared in order to chastise false persons who are internally impure but externally pose themselves as very learned and religious. My killing of such persons is proper, to check them from further sinful activity."
Lord Balarāma had avoided taking part in the Battle of Kurukṣetra, and yet because of His position as an incarnation, the reestablishment of religious principles was His prime duty. Considering these points, He killed Romaharṣaṇa Sūta simply by striking him with a kuśa straw, which was nothing but a blade of grass. If someone questions how Lord Balarāma could kill Romaharṣaṇa Sūta simply by striking him with a blade of kuśa grass, the answer is given in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by the use of the word prabhu ("master"). The Lord's position is always transcendental, and because He is omnipotent He can act as He likes, without being obliged to follow the material laws and principles. Thus it was possible for Him to kill Romaharṣaṇa Sūta simply by striking him with a blade of kuśa grass.
At the death of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, everyone present became much aggrieved and cried out, "Alas! Alas!" Although all the brāhmaṇas and sages present knew Lord Balarāma to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they did not hesitate to protest the Lord's action. They humbly submitted, "Our dear Lord, we think that Your action is not in line with the religious principles. Dear Lord Yadunandana, we may inform You that we brāhmaṇas posted Romaharṣaṇa Sūta on that exalted position for the duration of this great sacrifice. He was seated on the vyāsāsana by our election, and when one is seated on the vyāsāsana, it is improper for him to stand up to receive a person. Moreover, we awarded Romaharṣaṇa Sūta an undisturbed duration of life. Under the circumstances, since Your Lordship has killed him without knowing all these facts, we think that Your action is equal to killing a brāhmaṇa. Dear Lord, deliverer of all fallen souls, we know for certain that You are the knower of all Vedic principles. You are the master of all mystic powers; therefore the Vedic injunctions cannot ordinarily be applied to You. But we respectfully advise You to show Your causeless mercy upon others by kindly atoning for this killing of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta. We do not, however, suggest what kind of act You should perform to atone for killing him; we simply suggest that You adopt some method of atonement so that others may follow Your action. What is done by a great personality is followed by the ordinary man."
The Lord replied, "Yes, I must atone for this action, which may have been proper for Me but is improper for others; therefore, I think it is My duty to execute a suitable act of atonement enjoined in the authorized scriptures. Simultaneously I can also give this Romaharṣaṇa Sūta life again, with a span of long duration, sufficient strength and full power of the senses. Not only this, but if you desire I shall be glad to award him anything else you may ask. I shall be very glad to grant all these boons to fulfill your desires."
This statement by Lord Balarāma definitely confirms that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is free to act in any way. Although His killing of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta may be considered improper, He could immediately counteract it with greater profit to all. Therefore, one should not imitate the actions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; one should simply follow the instructions of the Lord. All the great, learned sages present realized that although they considered the action of Lord Balarāma improper, the Lord was immediately able to compensate with greater profits. Not wanting to detract from the mission of the Lord in killing Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, all of them prayed, "Our dear Lord, the uncommon use of Your kuśa weapon to kill Romaharṣaṇa Sūta may remain as it is; because You desired to kill him, he should not be brought to life again. At the same time, Your Lordship may remember that we sages and brāhmaṇas voluntarily gave him long life; therefore, such a benediction should not be nullified." Thus the request of all the learned brāhmaṇas in the assembly was ambiguous because they wanted to keep intact their benediction that Romaharṣaṇa Sūta would continue to live until the end of the great sacrifice, but at the same time they did not want to nullify Balarāma's killing him.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead therefore solved the problem in a manner befitting His exalted position. He said, “Because the son is produced from the body of the father, the Vedas enjoin that the son is the father's representative. Therefore I say that Ugraśravā Sūta, the son of Romaharṣaṇa Sūta, should henceforth take his father's position and continue the discourses on the Purāṇas, and because you wanted Romaharṣaṇa to have a long duration of life, this benediction will be transferred to his son. The son, Ugraśravā, will therefore have all the facilities you offered—a long duration of life in a good and healthy body, with no disturbances and full strength of all the senses.”
Lord Balarāma then implored all the sages and brāhmaṇas that aside from the benediction offered to the son of Romaharṣaṇa, they should ask from Him any other benediction, and He would be prepared to fulfill it immediately. The Lord thus placed Himself in the position of an ordinary kṣatriya and informed the sages that He did not know in what way He could atone for His killing of Romaharṣaṇa, but whatever they would suggest He would be glad to accept.
The brāhmaṇas could understand the purpose of the Lord, and thus they suggested that He atone in a manner beneficial to them. They said, "Our dear Lord, there is a very powerful demon of the name Balvala. He is the son of Ilvala, and he visits this sacred place of sacrifice every fortnight on the full moon and moonless days and creates a great disturbance to the discharge of our duties in the sacrifice. O descendant of the Daśārha family, we all request You to kill this demon. We think that if You kindly kill him, that will be Your atonement on our behalf. The demon occasionally comes here and profusely throws upon us contaminated, impure things like pus, blood, stool, urine and wine; he pollutes this sacred place by showering such filth upon us. After killing Balvala, You may continue touring all the sacred places of pilgrimage for twelve months, and in that way You will be completely freed from all contamination. That is our prescription."