Raja Parikshit and snake sacrifice
Birth and formative years
Parikshit was born to Uttara and Abhimanyu. He was the grandson of Arjuna and he was saved by Lord Krishna in the womb of his mother, when Ashwaththama directed Brahmastra on him.
Since the baby had been protected by Vishnu in his form of Krishna, the brahmanas proposed that he should be named Vishnurata, that is, protected by Vishnu. But the baby had met Krishna inside Uttara’s womb and had become devoted to Krishna. Whenever the child met someone, he tested to see if the person he had just met was indeed the person whom he had met inside the womb. The word for a test is pariksha. Thus it was that Vishnurata came to be popularly known as Parikshit.
Marriage and ascendancy to throne
He married Iravati, the daughter of Prince Uttar. Parikshit and Iravati had four sons, the most important of whom was Janmejaya. Parikshit also performed three ashvamedha yajnas (horse sacrifices) on the banks of the river Ganga. Prikshit’s guru (teacher) was Kripacharya.
Parikshit became the successor of Pandavas when they decided to leave for heavens.
Sage Samika in meditation and the unfortunate snake incident
One day, while travelling through the forest, he became very exhausted and entered the hut of a sage named Samika as he was thirsty. He found the sage in deep meditation. He paid his respects several times but as there was no response. Frustrated, he took a dead snake and threw it around the sage’s neck.
Later when the sage’s son, Sringin, heard of this incident he cursed the king to die of snake bite on the seventh day.
Discourse of Bhagwata Purana
Following this incident, the king handed over throne to his son Janamejaya and spent next seven days listening to the discourses of Sage Śuka dev (son of Ved Vyasa). This book compiled as the Bhagavata Purana.
Having heard the Bhagavata Purana. Parikshit worshipped Shukadeva. He told the sage that he was no longer frightened of being bitten to death by a snake. He had learnt the nature of the atman and the brahman. When Shukadeva left, Parikshit sat down and began to meditate. Takshaka disguised himself as a brahman in order to get near the king. He then bit the king and Parikshit died.
Sarp yagna by Janmejaya
Parikshit’s son Janmejaya was furious. He resolved to perform a snake sacrifice (sarpa yajna) at which all the snakes would be killed. They would be consumed in the fire of the yajna. Takshaka fled to Indra for protection. Janmejaya urged his brahmins to chant the most powerful mantras, so that he could not be spared. Janmejaya finally stopped the sacrifice when Brihaspati interceded on behalf of the snakes.
Janmejaya is regarded as the first rules of kaliyuga and it is said that Mahabharata was first recited to him by Vaishampayana, a disciple of Vyasa.