The story of Shveta is documented in the scriptures, but it holds a special place in my heart because it was passed on to me through the guru-disciple lineage. This story marks the beginning of shakti sadhana—more precisely, the practice of Sri Vidya—and leads us directly to masters such as Suratha, Sumedha, and Parashurama.

This story marks the beginning of shakti sadhana—more precisely, the practice of Sri Vidya.

The story of Shveta opens with another sage, Agastya, who is known for his adventurous deeds as well as for his spiritual wisdom and power. Agastya is one of the 12 Sri Vidya masters and the foremost among the 84 siddhas revered throughout India, Tibet, and the Himalayan kingdoms.

Agastya Meets a Celestial Being

One day, while Agastya was wandering through the dense forests of southern India, he came upon an ashram on the shore of a lake. Agastya found this ashram bewildering. There was no sign that any creature—human or non-human—was living there, yet it was beautifully maintained. Although he felt somewhat uncomfortable about staying in a place when its owner was absent, the sun was setting so he settled down for the night. The next morning he went down to the lake to bathe before resuming his journey. There he came upon the corpse of a large, healthy-looking man lying on the shore. He examined it but could find no sign of disease, injury, or poison.

As Agastya was trying to unravel this mystery, a resplendent being descended from the sky. He landed on the surface of the lake, immersed himself in the water, then walked directly to the corpse, tore it open, and began to eat. When he finished and turned to walk away, the corpse reconstituted itself. The mysterious being again entered the lake to bathe and then appeared about to ascend once more.

Seeing this, Agastya spoke: “Please wait a few moments and tell me who you are. The aura around you tells me you are a celestial being but your actions are strange and your diet barbaric. Who are you? Why must you live like this?”

The Mystery Unraveled

“You do not seem to be an ordinary person either,” the radiant being replied. “No ordinary creatures—human or animal—can reach this place, nor can I be seen by them. I am a celestial being with a sad history. I was king of Vidarbha until the day I appointed my younger brother king and dedicated my life to spiritual pursuits. I mastered the science of longevity and then became absorbed in intense meditation. At the end of my life, I left my body in a yogic manner. Due to the knowledge and purity gained through my spiritual practice, I went to heaven.

“There I was surprised to find myself suffering from hunger and thirst. When I asked the lord of heaven why this was so, he explained that in my life, both as a king and as an ascetic, I never shared anything with anyone. I was interested only in my own personal happiness. Even my renunciation of the crown was motivated by personal pleasure—freedom from the headache of ruling a kingdom and fulfillment of my desire not to be bothered by anyone. The lord of heaven told me that for this reason the only food I was entitled to was the body on which I had lavished such attention and care. He assured me it would not decay but would remain an inexhaustible source of nourishment. He also told me that the great sage Agastya would bring me deliverance. Years have passed; I have been living on my own corpse and waiting for Agastya.”

It is the selfless act of giving and serving that becomes the source of true peace and happiness.

“I am Agastya,” the sage said. “Please tell me how I can help you.”

The celestial being fell at Agastya’s feet and asked him to accept the ornaments he was wearing. As soon as he placed them on Agastya’s outstretched palms, the corpse vanished and the celestial being ascended to heaven.

This celestial being is King Shveta of Vidarbha, a region in central India. The younger brother who inherited Shveta’s kingdom is Suratha, a sage who, in the fullness of time, met his master, Sumedha, and was initiated into Sri Vidya, the practice at the heart of our tradition.

Love and Serve Others Selflessly

With this story I was reminded by my master, and my master by his master, that the best way to love and serve God is to love and serve others selflessly. Worshipping God with ritual paraphernalia is like children building castles in the sand. Renunciation can free you from your troubling relationships, but it cannot free you from your karmic burdens. Similarly, dispassion can bring contentment only at the level of the intellect. It is charity—the selfless act of giving and serving—that becomes the source of true peace and happiness.

More in this Series

Sages of Sri Vidya