One day the celestial court of Devendra
had assembled. In the midst of several activities there, some earthly matters also came up
for discussion. Devendra wondered if there were any truthful human beings on earth. The
sage Vasishta stood up and said: "Yes, there are truthful men on earth."
"Who could it be?" mused Devendra. Vasishta mentioned the name of Harischandra,
the son of Satyavrata. Vasishta's words infuriated the sage Vishwamitra: "He who
could not keep up his word to the God Varuna- how cans anybody call him a truthful man?
Don't you know that he was a victim of dropsy owing to the curse of God Varuna? "
"All that happened in his past life and it does not interest me. I aver that he
has now become a truthful man. He does not so much as utter a single lie."
"Suppose some one catches him uttering a lie...?
The sage Vasishta, who had complete trust in Harischandra, spoke with confidence:
"if he were to tell a lie and if he were to be found dishonest at any time, I shall
take this oath: I shall let my plait of hair fly unkempt, and bare-bodied I shall walk
away southwardly, drinking toddy from a cast-away human skull."
The sage Narada, who was close by, said to Vishwamitra: "Now, sup posing
Harischandra adhered to truth unswervingly, what would be your oath?
" I shall give away to Harischandra half the quantum of the divine fruits, and
grace I have earned in my life and I will make him world renowned," said Vishwamitra
swearing an oath I the court of Indra.
The selfishness and egotism I these two sages caused untold hardship to Harischandra.
His ordeal began.