“Yatra yajña-patiḥ sākṣād bhagavān harir īśvaraḥ
Anvabhūyata sarvātmā sarva-loka-guruḥ prabhuḥ
The Supreme Lord exists in the form of Yagna. He is the Lord of all Yagnas. He is the father of all the worlds. He is the repository of all energies. Such Lord Mahavishnu appeared in the Yagna being performed by Prithu.
Along with Him, Brahma, Rudra, the Guardian-deities of the world and their subordinates together with their troops arrived. Gandharvas, Apsarasās and Maharishis extolled His greatness.
Accomplished siddhas, celestials such as vidhyādharas, the devotees belonging to the demon race, Yakshas, Srihari’s primary attendants Nanda and Sunanda, Maharishi Kapila, Nārada Maharishi, Dattātreya who is the leader of great Yogis, Maharishi Sanaka and his brothers as well as other ardent devotees who desired to serve Him, accompanied Srihari to the sacrificial hall.
Mother Earth ensured that all ingredients necessary for purposes of Yagna were available in plenty. Like the wish-fulfilling cow Kāmadhenu, she ensured that all necessities of Prithu were taken care of.
Milk, curd, pānakam, ghee and other liquids flowed like rivers. Oceans supplied precious gems and pearls. Mountains supplied 4 types of edible substances i.e. foods that can be tasted through the tongue, foods that could be chewed, juices that could be sipped and foods that could be drunk. Vassal kings presented many royal gifts.
Prithu dedicatedly conducted the Yagna in a grand manner while worshipping that Supreme Lord who cannot be understood through any visible direct proofs (pratyakshāsi pramāna). Indra, the Lord of heaven, could not tolerate Prithu’s prosperity and the grand manner in which he was conducting the Yagnas. He created obstacles.
While Prithu was engrossed in worshipping Srihari during the 100th Ashwamedha Yāga, Indra, the Lord of heaven, who was filled with feelings of jealousy, invisibly stole the sacrificial horse. He disguised as a pākahnḍa so that he could not be recognized. Taking the sacrificial horse, he quickly disappeared through the path of the skies.
Pākhanḍa is an imposter who fools people by disguising as a righteous religious person and who presents his unrighteous activities as righteous. His actions are all unrighteous. But he projects them as if they are righteous, so much so that others get carried away by his activities and accept them as dharmic.
The venerable Sage Atri who noticed Indra’s dishonest activity instantly alerted Prithu’s son. Prithu’s son, who was a supreme warrior, was angered. Screaming ‘wait, wait’ he chased Indra. However, seeing Indra who was disguised like a saint with Vibhuti on his forehead and with long braids, Prithu’s son mistook him for a righteous person and hence did not direct his arrow towards Indra.
Noticing this hesitancy in releasing the arrow, Maharishi Atri cautioned him and said, “My son, this Indra is the worst among all Devatas. He has arrived here solely for disrupting this Yagna. Therefore, go ahead and kill him”.
Hearing this Prithu’s son was even more infuriated with Indra. Just as the vulture Jatayu furiously attacked Ravana, he pounced upon Indra who was fleeing at the great speeds. Indra then abandoned his disguise. Leaving the horse there he became invisible. Prithu’s son, the great hero, returned back to the sacrificial hall with the horse.
Appreciating his might and valour, the Maharishis named him Vijitāśva. Vijitāśva means ‘conqueror of the horse’.
Indra however did not give up. He now created impenetrable darkness and then stole the horse that was tied with the help of golden ropes to a pole and quickly fled. Maharishi Atri again pointed out to Vijitāśva that Indra was fleeing with the horse. As Indra had once again disguised himself as a righteous religious ascetic and was holding a staff with a skull, Vijitāśva hesitated to kill him.
Seeing this, Maharishi Atri once again advised Vijitaśva to kill Indra. With this he was angered and instantly he readied his bow. Indra immediately gave up his disguise. Leaving the horse he disappeared. The valourous Vijitāśva returned back with the horse to the sacrificial hall.
Those impure disguises which Indra had donned for the purposes of stealing the horse, symbolize sin. This is stated in the Shastras.