So, the Divine Mother narrates the incident which heralded the beginning of the Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga began about 5600 years ago. 36 years after the Mahabharata, the Pandavas crowned Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna, as the king and retired from the kingdom. For 60 years, King Parikshit ruled very well.
Then, one day when he was hunting in the forest, he felt very hungry and thirsty. As he began to look for water, he found a hermitage where he saw a Sage sitting in meditation.
Though his eyes were half open, he was utterly still and did not acknowledge the presence of the king. The king waited for two hours, but the Sage did not come out of his meditative trance. Finally, in frustration and anger, King Parikshit picked up a dead snake lying near the Sage and garlanded him with it. The Sage still did not move. So, the king rode back to his palace and forgot all about the incident.
This Sage had a son called Sage Shringi who came to the hermitage soon after the king left. Seeing the dead snake around his father’s neck and learning about the king’s insulting behaviour from a neighbour, he was furious. Not willing to condone the Guru Nindana [unpardonable insolence and contempt shown towards the Guru] in which King Parikshit had indulged, he cursed the king saying - “May he die in seven days through the bite of a most poisonous snake.”
When King Parikshit learnt about the curse of Sage Shringi, he built a fortress which had seven high encircling walls and seven storeys. He placed guards everywhere and sat in the seventh storey of the fort, surrounding himself with all the antidotes for snake poison that he could find. In the meanwhile, the gigantic poisonous snake, Takshaka, the king of Nagas, who was activated by the Sage’s curse, slithered towards the palace with the intention of biting the king.
On the way he met a Brahmin called Kashyapa [not the Saptarshi who is the originator of the Kashyapa Sutras] who was also going to the palace carrying the herb Mrityu Sanjeevini. He was well versed with the science of how to use this herb with the right incantations to revive the dead. Kashyapa was going there with the intention of reviving the king after he died from the snake bite.
Takshaka and Kashyapa had a contest to see whether the herb worked in spite of the snake’s extremely poisonous bite. Takshaka bit a huge banyan tree nearby and infused it with his poison.
Within a few minutes the tree shrivelled, dried up, burst into flames and was reduced to ashes. Then,Kashyapa used the herb with incantations on the pile of ashes. In a few minutes, the tree sprouted from the ashes and grew back to its original stature. Now that Kashyapa was sure that he would be able to revive King Parikshit, he looked at the king’s destiny and said - “The king is destined to die from snake bite. If I save him, I will be flouting the vidhi niyama (law of fate and destiny). Therefore I will not save him. Takshaka, do your duty according to the vidhi niyama and dharma. Go and bite the king.”
The attendants of Takshaka assumed the form of fruits and flowers, and Takshaka hid himself amongst them as a small worm. When this harmless looking basket of fruits and flowers was carried to the king, Takshaka emerged from it and bit the king who succumbed to the snake bite.
The instant King Parikshit garlanded the Sage who was a Jnani with a dead snake, insolently expressing his contempt for Jnana or knowledge, the Kali Yuga began. It is thus a characteristic of the Kali Yuga that human beings are contemptuous of Jnana or knowledge of the Self because they do not realise its true value.
Also, in the previous yugas, even if the lifespan of a soul had expired, it could be extended by various means.
However, in the Kali Yuga, nobody but the Guru has the authority to do this. (That is why the Brahmin Kashyapa decided not to save the king.)
Extract from ‘The book of direct truths, subtle truths and the mystical truths of Devi Mahatmyam’ by Shri Shri Nimishananda