Each of our lives is time bound. It is said that human lives are decided by Lord Brahma at the time of birth. Many of us desire to live for a long time, if not forever. We can see examples of Asuras all through our Puranas who desired immortality. They requested for boons which they thought would make it difficult for anyone to kill them; in other words grant them immortality. The reality, though, is that the earth is called ‘Mrutyuloka’ because death is certain for anyone who is born here. However, some people are blessed with a long life, close to immortality.
Chiranjeevi is a combination of the words ‘Chiran’ meaning long and ‘Jeevi’ which means living or life. A chiranjeevi is one who is blessed to live till the end of this kalpa on the earth; in other words those persons who would be physically present on the earth till the time Kaliyuga comes to an end and Pralaya is caused by Mahadev opening His third eye. Here’s a list of eight persons, called Ashta-Chiranjeevis, who have been given the boon to inhabit earth till the end of this Yuga.
1) Maharishi Veda Vyasa: Born as Krishna Dwaipayana to Rishi Parashar and Satyavati, Maharishi Vyasa compiled the Vedas, Puranas and narrated the Mahabharata, as witnessed by him, to Shri Ganesha who wrote it down. He is said to be an ‘Ansh’ (some say an avatar) of Shri Vishnu. Although, he is counted as one of the Chiranjeevis, he walked the earth only till the beginning of Kaliyuga.
2) Shri Parashurama: He was the sixth avatar of Shri Vishnu born to Rishi Jamadagni. He was a great devotee of Mahadev and was also known for his short temper. He is called Parashurama because he wields an axe gifted to him by none other than Lord Shiva Himself. He learnt the art of warfare from Mahadev and had acquired the knowledge of all astras (divine weapons) and shastras (weapons of warfare). He was the first Brahma-Kshatriya and one who not just vowed but in fact actually rid the world of Kshatriyas at one point in time. He was the Guru of both Bhishma and Karna. Shastras say that He would be back at the end of Kaliyuga as the teacher of Shri Vishnu’s final avatar Kalki.
3) Shri Hanuman: The son of Kesari and Anjana. He is called the son of Pawan Deva (God of Wind) who carried him to the womb of Anjana. He is said to be an ‘Ansh’ of Shiva. He was a great devotee of Shri Ram and dedicated His life in the service of the latter. He lived through the Tretayuga serving Shri Ram and decided to reside on the earth where Shri Ram would be remembered, till the end of time. He visited His brother Bhima during Dwaparyuga and was present in the ‘Dhwaja’ of the Pandava camp.
4) Rishi Markandeya: Markandeya, son of Rishi Mrgandu, was wise, intelligent and showed prodigious religious inclination. He was, however, not to have a long life. When the time for his death, at the age of sixteen, arrived Yama and his Dhoots came to take the boy away. Markandeya, wanting to serve his parents, would not agree to go and fell at the feet of Lord Shiva. It is said that he held the Shiva Linga tightly such that Yama had to throw His pasha (noose) around the Linga as well. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Shiva granted him immortality. It was Rishi Markandeya who composed the Maha Mrutyunjay Mantra that grants immunity from ‘akal mrutyu’ (death before time).
5) Chakravati Mahabali: The Asura king ruled over present day Kerala. He was known to be a just ruler who was loved by his people. He was the grandson of Prahlad and courageous as well devotional. Fearing his growing power, Indra seeks the help of Shri Vishnu to stop the might of Bali. Shri Vishnu then takes the avatar of Vamana, tiny man, and asks Bali to give him all that He can cover with three steps. He covers the earth and sky with the first two steps and Bali then offers Vamana his head for the third step. He pushes Bali down to Patal loka but grants him the boon to visit his people once every year till the end of this Kalpa. The day Chakravati Mahabali comes back to visit his people is celebrated as Onam in Kerala.
6) Vibishana: The younger brother of Ravana who was on the side of Shri Rama during the war between two. It is said that Shri Rama blessed Vibishana with immortality in return for his help. He ruled Lanka after Ravana’s death.
7) Kripacharya: He was the Kul Guru of the Kurus of Hastinapur from the rule of Shantanu. He is the son of Rishi Shardwan and twin of Drona’s wife Kripi. He and his sister were born when the semen of the great Rishi dropped on a weed, after an Apsara sent by Indra failed to seduce him into submission. Kripacharya was the first teacher of Pandavas and Kauravas before Dronacharya took over. He was not just intelligent but also impartial towards his wards. He is believed to be immortal because his wasn’t born from a womb. Shastras say he will be one of the Saptarishis of the eight Manvantara.
8) Ashwathama: The Son of Dronacharya and Kripi, sister of Kripacharya was a saint himself who later came to rule the half kingdom acquired by Drona from Raja Dhrupad. In a true sense he is a Brahma-Kshatriya who was well versed both in the shastras and art of warfare. He was a close friend of Duryodhan. His immortality is not a boon but a curse. He broke all rules of war to kill the five sons of Draupadi and even used the Brahmastra against Abhimanyu’s yet to be born child. Shri Krishna cursed him for this cruel act of his by taking away the gem on his forehead, which Ashwathama was born with. The scar and pain would remind him of his gruesome act forever. He would will have to live in misery and pain till the end of time.
There is a mantra with the names of the seven Chiranjeevis (excluding Rishi Markandeya) that one may recite for luck and longevity. Immortality may be a boon or curse depending on what one goes through. Most humans not just desire a long life but are scared of death too. Whether or not one gets to live a long life it is more important to make the years in our life count. What Shri Adi Shankara could achieve in a short span of life, many saints couldn’t even if they lived long. One of the important things to learn from the Chiranjeevis is that devotion, intellect and humility opens the doors to a life of happiness and bless; else life is an endless misery with the pain of our misdeeds haunting us forever!!!