Kapila, the historical founder of the Samkhya school of philosophy (dars´ana), lived long enough before the Epics and Purânas only to have his name be coopted and given a set of myths. In the Purânas Kapila became a master yogi as well as a master magician.
He was said to be a partial incarnation of Vishnu in one section of the Mahâbhârata and a worshipper of S´iva in another. Born very close to the beginning of this age, Kapila engaged in such severe austerities (tapas) that he developed the power to incinerate things with a glance.
Some versions stated that Vishnu had incarnated to kill the sixty thousand sons of King Asamañjasa. Others make the sons’ own behavior in the presence of a great sage the cause of their death. Kapila had chosen Pâtâla (hell) to practice tapas. Meanwhile on earth, King Asamañjasa had lost his wild stallion in the middle of a horse sacrifice (as´va-medha).
Indra had stolen it and hid it beside Kapila. The king sent his sixty thousand sons throughout the world and then into the netherworlds to find his horse. They found it near Kapila and disturbed his austerities.
That seemed enough reason to incinerate all of them. Their ashes lay in the underworld through four generations until King Bhagîratha did two one-thousand-year penances in order to win the boon of bringing the Gangâ to earth (and to hell, according to this version) with sufficient water to complete the funeral rituals.