If you travel to Lucknow, it is possible that you will pass a forest known by the name of Naimish-aranya, the forest of King Nimi, on the banks of the river Gomti.
This is the forest where the stories of the eighteen Mahapuranas, and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana were narrated by story-tellers to sages.
According to the Hindu Puranas, it is believed that there are four great yugas – the Satya Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the Dwapara Yuga and the Kali Yuga.
In the Satya Yuga, people generally lived very happily and in harmony with each other and with nature and all the realms were open to all the people.
As the other yugas came, people got more corrupt and the other realms other than the Earth were closed down to people, because people focused more and more only on materialistic pleasures.
It is also believed that the present age is the Kali Yuga which is considered to be the Dark Age of Sin.
The new yuga was started by Manu who was the son of Lord Surya, the Sun God.
Nimi was the grandson of Manu. Hence, he is a king of the Suryavamsha (Solar dynasty) featured in Hindu mythology.
He is considered to be the first king of the Videha kingdom and is regarded to be the ancestor to the Janaka lineage of Mithila.
Once Nimi wanted to perform a particularly difficult fire sacrifice – a yagna which could go on for many years (500 years). The yagna if successful would benefit Nimi’s people enormously.
However as Nimi continued with the preparations for the yagna, he realized that he had a serious problem. The yagna was not an ordinary fire sacrifice and he needed an exceptionally powerful sage as the presiding priest for it & decided on Sage Vasishta.
Nimi searched everywhere and finally settled on Sage Vasishta to be the presiding sage.
“Great Sage. I am performing a yagna for the benefit of my people. Kindly preside over it.”
Vasishta frowned. “When are you going to start the yagna?”
“As soon as possible sir,” Nimi said surprised.
Vasishta’s face dropped. “I am afraid I cannot come now. You see, Indra, the king of the Devas is performing a yagna now. I have promised him that I would preside over his yagna. I cannot break my word to him.”
Nimi was silent as he studied the sage. The sage could complete Indra’s yagna and then come to perform his Yagna he thought.
But Indra’s yagna could go on for a very long time. Nimi’s yagna was meant for the welfare of his people. Could he afford to wait for the sage?
Sage Vasishta was also thinking. The King has come to me first and he has come to me with all humility, love and respect. I cannot turn him back empty-handed. I will go to his yagna immediately after I finish Indra’s yagna.
Despite thinking, neither said anything and both walked their ways.
Indra’s yagna went on for a long time. Finally, Sage Vasishta was happy because he had completed the laborious and tedious yagna of Lord Indra.
As soon as Indra’s yagna was over, the first thought which occurred to Sage Vasishta was King Nimi’s request. Vasishta immediately set out to perform the yagna there.
On reaching Nimi’s kingdom, however, Sage Vasishta was in for a shock. King Nimi had already started the yagna with Sage Gautham as the presiding priest.
Sage Vasishta was fuming when he saw this. He felt that the King had deliberately insulted him by starting the yagna without him.
In anger, the sage cursed King Nimi. As a result, Nimi became an entity that was not bound by flesh and bone.
“You do not even have the courtesy to wait for the sage whom you came to first. Such a man like you does not need a body. I curse you, King Nimi – you will be without a body.”
King Nimi was sleeping when Sage Vasishta had come to the palace and he knew nothing of the angry sage and the curse. However, that did not prevent the curse from coming true.
King Nimi’s soul left the sleeping body. King Nimi woke up with a start when he realized that something was different.
He looked down and saw his own lifeless body and he saw that his loving subjects had surrounded the body and they were weeping. Confused he closed his eyes and meditated.
Thus, King Nimi was left without his body to heaven with Indra and stayed there for 9,000,000 years.
The power of the king was considerable and he was able to realise what had gone wrong. He angrily realized that sage Vasishta had been unreasonable.
Nimi was a king and was duty-bound to do everything in his power for the benefit of his people. If he had waited for the sage, his people had to wait longer and as a king, he could not allow that.
“I had acted correctly and the sage had cursed me for it.”
Unable to control himself, the angry Nimi cursed Sage Vasishta back.
“You are unreasonable. I had to perform the yagna for the well-being of my people. You were wrong in expecting me to wait for you. Sage Vasishta, I curse you that you would also be without a body.”
The king had been a just and firm king and he had considerable spiritual prowess. His words also came true and Sage Vasishta’s soul left the body.
Sage Vasishta was again reborn and regained use of his body, many years later.
King Nimi’s spirit (jiva) did not travel to the kingdom of the dead. Instead, it got access to the divine world — the world without boundaries and hierarchies, the world without name or form, the world that defies time and space.
Nimi roamed around in the form of a spirit and immersed himself in the Brahman (the Force which runs within us all). And now that he was not bound by his body or his responsibilities, he found the true joy of being one with the Brahman.
The king became more and more strong spiritually, as he meditated continuously.
However, King Nimi’s people were very unhappy. They could not believe that the king who had looked after them like a father was no more.
They preserved the body of the King with oils and scents and continued the yagna with more vigour. Once the yagna was completed, the Devas came in for their offering. At that time the people presented their plea before the Devas.
“Our King was the greatest king in the world. He performed this yagna for our benefit. It was because of the yagna that his lifeless body lay there. Please help us.”
“What do you want?” The Devas asked them.
“Let the King’s spirit be reunited with the body. We want our king back.”
Pleased with the love of the people, the Devas agreed to the request. Using their powers they summoned the King’s soul and were about to put it back in the preserved body when the king yelled.
“PLEASE NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT!”
The Devas were astonished when the king looked at them with a forlorn expression.
“I am now free. I do not wish to have any more bondage. Please do not put me back in that body. I wish to continue to be free and become part of the Brahman.”
“Your people wish that you have to be with them. That is the reason we are doing this.”
Nimi looked at his people and memories of his subjects came to him as if from another life. But he realized that these people genuinely loved him. He turned to the Devas and smiled at them.
“If these people want me to be with them, I will. But not in the way they wish.”
The Devas were surprised.
“I have lived like a spirit for too long and I cannot be attached to a body. However, I wish to be a part of my people. I wish to be in a spirit form with them always.”
The Devas granted this boon and even now Nimi is said to stay on the eyelids of people. (It is said that people open and close their eyelids because Nimi stays there.
In fact, the time it takes to open and close the eyelids is called “Nimisha” in Sanskrit.)
Though Nimi’s people realized that their beloved king would always be with them, they needed a real king.
Without a king, they could not fight the thieves and the bandits who repeatedly threatened to loot the kingdom. So they approached the sages for another remedy.
The sages looked at the King’s body and decided that the body itself could be used to create another king. Using the powers of the mind, they churned the body of the dead king and from it, a glowing person emerged.
The glowing man was named Kushadhwaja and was crowned as the king of the kingdom.
Kushadhwaja was just and firm and he kept his people very happy and prosperous.
However, Kushadhwaja was not known by this name.
Because he was born from a dead body, Kushadhwaja was known as Vaideha which in Sanskrit means son of the man without a body.
And because Kushadhwaja was born without an actual father or mother he was called Janaka (The man without a progenitor).
Kushadhwaja was also born from the churning of the mind and hence was called Mithi, meaning “born by churning.”
It was in the line of Kushadhwaja that there was born another great king with complete spiritual awareness.
Though his actual name was Siradhwaja, this king was better known by the name of his ancestor – Vaideha Janaka from Mithila – the father of Sita – the protagonist of the epic of Ramayana.
The account of Nimi is described by Rama to Lakshmana in the Uttara Kanda of Ramayana.