Kathāmṛta - 56 - Alaṅkāravatī-lambaka - The Story of Alaṅkāravatī and the Rāmāyaṇa

This article is part 56 of 60 in the series Kathāmṛta

निशुम्भभरनम्रोर्वीखर्विताः पर्वता अपि |
यं नमन्तीव नृत्यन्तं नमामस्तं विनायकम् ||

[Owing to the crushing weight capable of bending even the earth, the mountains too seem to bow down, we salute that dancing Vināyaka]

1. Once, Naravāhanadatta ventured out for hunting along with his friend Gomukha and entered into the dense forest. Mesmerised by the divine music accompanied by vīṇā in the forest, they followed the direction of the music and came to a temple dedicated to Śiva. A divine woman, young and beautiful, along with her friends was playing the vīṇā. Both were smitten seeing each other. Gomukha was about to inquire one of her friends as to who she is, another elderly vidyādharā woman descended from the sky. The young woman prostrated before her. The elderly woman blessed her saying, ‘Let the king of vidyādharas become your husband!’ Naravāhanadatta too prostrated before the woman and asked her, ‘O mother! Who is this young lady? How is she related to you?’ she replied thus:-

There is a town named Sundarapura in the Himālayas. There lives a chief of vidyādharas named Alaṅkāraśīla. He begot a son named Dharmaśīla through his wife Kāñcanaprabhā, he was named so as Umā announced in the chief’s dream that his son will always adhere to dharma. He grew up, after education and attainment of youth, he was crowned as the heir apparent. Later the king had a daughter; as soon as she was born, there was a divine voice from the sky which declared, ‘She will become the wife of Naravāhanadatta, the king of vidyādharas!’ She was named as Alaṅkāravatī and she grew up. She was educated and attained youth, she started visiting various temples dedicated to Śiva. Meanwhile, Dharmaśīla became indifferent to worldly pleasures, despite being in prime youth, decided to renounce the world and wanted to perform tapas. He didn’t listen to his father’s counsel. His father said, ‘If you are already having so much vairāgya, shouldn’t I, being so old, have it?’ He called his wife and said, ‘In one year, Alaṅkāravatī’s destiny is to get married; she should be married to Naravāhanadatta; he will then rule our kingdom!’, and with his son he too renounced the kingdom and went on to perform austerities. While Alaṅkāravatī continued visiting and worshipping many Śiva temples, Prajñapti-vidyā instructed her thus, ‘Go to Kashmir and worship Śiva in the temples located there; you’d get the king of vidyādharas easily!’ As instructed she visited places like Nandi-kṣetra, Mahādevagiri, Amara-parvata, Sureśvarī, Vijaya, Kapaṭeśvara along with her mother. She is the same Alaṅkāravatī; I’m her mother Kāñcanaprabhā; she had come to this temple without informing me; I got to know of it through Prajñapti-vidyā that she is here and so are you. Now please follow the divine voice and marry her; tomorrow is the auspicious time; now set forth to Kauśāmbī; we shall also leave now; tomorrow morning the king Alaṅkāraśīla will come from the tapovana and give her hand in marriage to you.

Hearing these words both Alaṅkāravatī and Naravāhanadatta had indescribable feelings; they were torn at the very thought of having to spend the night away from each other. Later that evening, seeing tears in their eyes, Kāñcanaprabhā remarked: ‘Cast off this sullenness! Can you not bravely bear separation for even one night? Courageous are those who are ready to suffer separation despite having no inkling of when they may reunite with their loved ones. Let me tell you the immortal story of Rāmabhadra and Sītādevī, do listen!’ and proceeded to narrate -

The story of Rāmāyaṇa

[Translators' note: The story of Rāmāyaṇa which appears in Kathāsaritsāgara differs considerably from the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa in the portions related to Uttara-kāṇḍa. The episode of Ṭīṭhibha birds, the creation of Kuśa by Vālmīki and the Naramedha doesn't appear there, instead both Lava and Kuśa are born together as twins, Rāma performs Aśvamedha. The same episode which appears in Alaṅkāravatī-lambaka (lambaka 15) of Bṛhatkathāmañjarī is more faithful to Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa]

Long ago, Daśaratha, the king of Ayodhyā had four valiant sons. They were Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Bharata and Śatrughna. Rāma, the eldest, was lord Viṣṇu himself who had taken birth on earth to slay the vain demon king Rāvaṇa. Sītā, the daughter of king Janaka was Rāma’s wife. Rāma loved Sītā more than he did his own life. As if goaded by fate, Daśaratha bequeathed his kingdom to Bharata and sent Rāma along with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa to forest.

For several years, Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sītā lived the lives of ascetics in the forest, supporting each other. One day, the evil Rāvaṇa abducted Sītā through sorcery. He killed the venerable vulture Jaṭāyu who tried heroically to stop him. The demon then flew to his home Laṅkā with Sītā as his captive. Separated from his beloved Sītā, Rāma’s rage and sorrow knew no bounds. Eventually, supported by his able brother Lakṣmaṇa and valorous Hanūmān, he befriended Sugrīva, the exiled prince of Kiṣkindhā and entered into a pact with him. Always true to his word, Rāma soon dispatched Vāli, the evil elder brother of Sugrīva, to the abode of Yama and then crowned Sugrīva the king of Kiṣkindhā. Next he had Māruti lead the troops in search for Sītā and soon learned about where she was held captive. Rāma, along with the army of Sugrīva, lost no time in marching to the southern ocean. There he had a bridge built across the ocean to Laṅkā. Rāma and the huge army of battle hardened apes crossed over into Rāvaṇa’s land and there ensued a terrible war. Victory was Rāma’s. He delivered Rāvaṇa to his death in single combat and freed his beloved Sītā. Rāma then installed the demon king’s younger brother, the righteous Vibhīṣaṇa on the throne of Laṅkā and returned to Ayodhyā. The noble Bharata who had been waiting with bated breath for his beloved elder brother to return home, was only too happy to hand over reins of the kingdom to him. The whole kingdom of Ayodhyā rejoiced at the return of their much loved Rāma. As time passed, Sītā became pregnant and this brought boundless joy to the clan and kingdom!

King Rāma often toured around his kingdom with a small retinue to learn about his people’s ways and their pulse. On one such occasion, he observed a man casting his wife out of his house, accusing her of having been in another man’s house. She cried ‘Lord Rāma did not forsake his Sītā although she was in the house of a demon. Look ye at this man, who is trying to outdo Rāma himself by banishing me who had but visited the home of a kinsman!’. Listening to these words, Rāma’s heart sank and he became dejected. After returning home, he mulled over what had happened and eventually gave in to his fear of infamy. With a heavy heart, he banished Sītā to the forest - for he who seeks glory will suffer separation but cannot withstand infamy.

An abandoned and pregnant Sītā, as if ordained by destiny, reached the hermitage of sage Vālmīki. The venerable ṛśi consoled her and granted her refuge. This became a bone of contention among some of the sages in the hermitage. They talked among themselves thusly: ‘Sītā must have surely done something wrong. If not, why would a husband like Rāma forsake her? If we are to look at her everyday, even we may incur sin. It does not seem like Vālmīki will ever cast her out. He can rid himself of his sins through penances, but what about us? It may be better for us to seek another āśrama.’ Learning about such gossip, Vālmīki summoned them all and declared: ‘Sītā is blameless. Let there be no doubt about this. Know that I have learned this through divine meditation’. The ascetics were still not inclined to heed to the words of noble Vālmīki. A desolate Sītā cried, ‘O venerable one! Please test my conduct as you deem fit. If you find me unchaste, then by all means, do have my head lopped off!’ Listening to her despondent words, the hard hearted sages became compassionate and said ‘There is a stream nearby called Ṭīṭhibhasaras. Eons ago, in that very place, a Ṭīṭhibha bird suspected his wife of infidelity and accused her. The female bird went to the Lokapālas (guardians of the world) seeking help. A stream was created for her to prove her chastity. May the wife of Rāma too demonstrate her virtuousness likewise!’ Sītā took up the challenge and went to the stream accompanied by the curious sages. There she exclaimed, ‘O mother Vasundharā (earth)! May I cross this stream unhurt, if my heart never dwelled upon any man other than my Rāma, even in my dreams, even for an instant’ and stepped into the stream. Just as Sītā’s gentle foot touched the gushing waters, everyone was wonderstruck as Goddess earth herself appeared. She cradled her poor deserted daughter in her arms and placed her affectionately on her lap, and then majestically glided over to the other side of the stream.

All the munis bowed down to the great pativratā and cursed Rāma for having disposed of her. Sītā then said – “Please don’t wish evil for my Ārya-putra. You may please curse me, I am a pāpiṣṭhā. I beg you with folded hands!” The munis were pleased and blessed her. They wished that she could beget a son at the earliest. She stayed at the āśrama and begot a son. The sage Vālmīki named the child Lava.

One day, when she had carried the child to bath with her. Vālmīki chanced upon her hut and saw that the child was missing. He thought – she always goes alone to bathe, leaving her child behind. Where has the child gone today? Some wild animal must have abducted it. Therefore, I will create another child, lest she might give up her life once she comes back from her bath. He prepared a pavitra out of a darbhā grass and created a child which resembled Lava.

Sītā came back and asked – “My child is with me; who is this”

The muni then understood what had just happened. He said – “Dear one! You are lucky to have got this second child! As it is born out of a kuśa, I have named him Kuśa!”

Sītā took care of her sons. Even as kids they mastered several branches of knowledge and acquired divine weapons.

Once, they killed and ate a deer that was a pet of the āśrama. They used as a toy the liṅga that Vālmīki had placed for pūjā. The sage was deeply hurt. He said – “Let Kuśa go to Kubera’s lake and fetch golden lotuses from there. He should also go to his garden and bring mandāra flowers. Let the boys perform pūjā to the liṅga. That will help them overcome their pāpa.” Sītā too supported the idea.

Though a young boy, Lava went to Kubera’s garden, killed the yakṣas there and picked up flowers. Tired on his way back, he lay down under a tree and fell asleep.

In the meantime, Rāma was preparing for a Naramedha and was looking for a suitable person. Lakṣmaṇa who was on the search spotted Lava, invited him for a battle and caused him to faint using the mohanāstra. He brought him to Ayodhyā.

Sītā was worried that her son had not returned. Vālmīki, a jñānī, called Kuśa and said – “Lakṣmaṇa has put him in fetters and taken him to Ayodhyā. Go rescue him using these divine arrows!” He handed over special arrows to Kuśa.

Accordingly, Kuśa went to Ayodhyā, challenged the yajña and defeated Lakṣmaṇa using his divine arrows. Rāma then came there to fight and was defeated by the same arrows. He asked Kuśa – “Who are you? What is your intent?”

Kuśa said – “My elder brother has been abducted by Lakṣmaṇa. I have come here to rescue him. I am Kuśa. Our mother Jānakī tells us that we are the sons of Rāma”

Rāma was moved to tears. He brought Lava there, hugged his sons tight and said – “I am that criminal Rāma!”

The townsfolk assembled there, looked at the boys and started praising Sītā. Rāma invited Sītā back from Vālmīki’s āśrama, handed over the kingdom to his sons and lived happily ever after with his wife.”

Thus, the brave endures the pain of separation for a long time.

The current article is a translation of Prof. A R Krishnasastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta along with additional segments added from the original Kathā-sarit-sāgara (of Soma-deva). Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī (of Kṣemendra) and Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha (of Budha-svāmin) have also been referred to. The translation has been rendered by Raghavendra GS, Arjun Bharadwaj, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading. So are the other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Prekshaa Publications

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