Actually, this large lizard was King Nṛga, and when questioned by the Supreme Personality of Godhead he immediately bowed down before the Lord, touching to the ground the helmet on his head, which was as dazzling as the sunshine. In this way, he first offered his respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord. He then said, “My dear Lord, I am King Nṛga, the son of King Ikṣvāku. If you have ever taken account of all charitably disposed men, I am sure You must have heard my name. My Lord, You are the supreme witness. You are aware of every bit of work done by the living entities—past, present and future. Nothing can be hidden from Your eternal cognizance. Still, You have ordered me to explain my history, and I shall therefore narrate the full story.”
King Nṛga proceeded to narrate the history of his degradation, caused by his karma-kāṇḍa activities. He said that he had been very charitably disposed and had given away so many cows that the total was equal to the number of particles of dust on the earth, stars in the sky or drops of water in a rainfall. According to the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies, a man who is charitably disposed is recommended to give cows to the brāhmaṇas. From King Nṛga’s statement, it appears that he followed this principle earnestly; however, as a result of a slight discrepancy he was forced to take birth as a lizard. Therefore it is recommended by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gītā that one who is charitably disposed and desires to derive the benefit of his charity should offer his gifts to please Kṛṣṇa. To give charity means to perform pious activities by which one may be elevated to the higher planetary systems; but promotion to the heavenly planets is no guarantee that one will never fall down. Rather, the example of King Nṛga definitely proves that fruitive activities, even if very pious, cannot give us eternal blissful life. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, the result of work, either pious or impious, is sure to bind a man unless the work is discharged as yajña on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
King Nṛga said that the cows he had given in charity were not ordinary cows. Each one was very young and had given birth to only one calf. They were full of milk, very peaceful, and healthy. All the cows were purchased with money earned legally. Furthermore, their horns were gold-plated, their hooves were bedecked with silver plating, and they were covered with necklaces and with silken wrappers embroidered with pearls. He stated that these valuably decorated cows had not been given to any worthless persons but had been distributed to first-class brāhmaṇas, whom he had also decorated with nice garments and gold ornaments. The brāhmaṇas were well qualified, and since none of them were rich, their family members were always in want for the necessities of life. A real brāhmaṇa never hoards money for a luxurious life, like the kṣatriyas or the vaiśyas, but always keeps himself poverty-stricken, knowing that money diverts the mind to materialistic ways of life. To live in this way is the vow of a qualified brāhmaṇa, and all of these brāhmaṇas were well situated in that exalted vow. They were well learned in Vedic knowledge. They executed the required austerities and penances in their lives and were liberal, meeting the standard of qualified brāhmaṇas. They were equally friendly to everyone; above all, they were young and quite fit to act as qualified brāhmaṇas. Besides the cows, they were also given land, gold, houses, horses and elephants. Those who were not married were given wives, maidservants, grain, silver, utensils, garments, jewels, household furniture, chariots, etc. This charity was nicely performed as a sacrifice according to the Vedic rituals. The King also stated that not only had he bestowed gifts upon the brāhmaṇas, but he had performed other pious activities, such as digging wells, planting trees on the roadside and installing ponds along the highways.
The King continued: “In spite of all this, unfortunately one of the brāhmaṇas’ cows that I had given in charity chanced to enter amongst my other cows. Not knowing this, I again gave it in charity, to another brāhmaṇa. As the cow was being taken away by this brāhmaṇa, its former master claimed it as his own, stating, ‘This cow was formerly given to me, so how is it that you are taking it away?’ Thus there was arguing and fighting between the two brāhmaṇas, and they came before me and charged that I had taken back a cow I had previously given in charity.” To give something to someone and then to take it back is considered a great sin, especially in dealing with a brāhmaṇa. When both brāhmaṇas charged the King with the same complaint, he was simply puzzled as to how it had happened. Thereafter, with great humility, the King offered each of them 100,000 cows in exchange for the one cow that was causing the fight between them. He prayed to them that he was their servant and that there had been some mistake. Thus, in order to rectify it, he prayed that they be very kind upon him and accept his offer in exchange for the cow. The King fervently appealed to the brāhmaṇas not to cause his downfall into hell because of this mistake. A brāhmaṇa’s property is called brahma-sva, and according to Manu’s law it cannot be acquired even by the government. Both brāhmaṇas, however, insisted that the cow was theirs and could not be taken back under any condition; neither of them agreed to exchange it for the 100,000 cows. Thus disagreeing with the King’s proposal, the two brāhmaṇas left the place in anger, thinking that their lawful possession had been usurped.