Kathāmṛta - 61 - Alaṅkāravatī-lambaka - The Story of Samudraśūra

This article is part 61 of 66 in the series Kathāmṛta

Vīravara’s son woke up and quickly understood the situation and said, “Father! I am indeed fortunate to be of service for our master’s wellbeing! We owe him our daily bread - hence it is only fit that I serve him in his time of need! Take me along, by all means!”. Vīravara happily said “Truly you take after me, my son!”. The king who had followed Vīravara overheard all this and felt amazed at their courage. Vīravara took his son on his shoulders and his wife Dharmavatī took her daughter up her arms. When they reached the temple, the boy bowed down to Caṇḍī and prayed “Mother! I am offering myself to you in sacrifice. May this make our king live long! May he rule unhindered!”. Vīravara cried ‘May our king be graced with all auspicious things!” and in one swift stroke, cut off in his own son’s head. A voice from the sky thundered gravely ‘Bravo Vīravara! You sacrificed your son’s life to save your king!’. Vīravatī was unable to bear the ghastly event which unfolded right before her eyes. She hugged her dead brother’s head and wailed ‘Alas, my brother!’, and died right then and there, heart broken. Looking at this, overcome with sorrow, Dharmavatī addressed her husband: ‘Our king is safe! Now I will join my children in the pyre. This grieving innocent daughter of ours died unable to bear the loss of her brother. Having lost such precious children, what happiness should I look forward to and continue living?’. Vīravara replied ‘Dear one! Having lost both the children I know this world would be full of sorrows for you. Hence do as you please!’. Once the pyre was ready, Dharmavatī placed the lifeless bodies of the children on it and bowed down to her husband and said ‘May you be my husband in my next life as well! Glory to our king!’ and jumped into the fire. Observing all this unseen, Vikramatuṅga said to himself sadly ‘Alas! How do I ever repay this debt!’. Then Vīravara declared ‘My duty to my king is done! I have repaid the debt of bread! One ought to protect one’s family by all means, but now I have no one to call my own. What purpose do I have to live on? So let me offer myself as a gift to the goddess’. Just as he was about to bring down his sword upon his own neck, the voice from the sky cried again: ‘Stop my son! Away with this misadventure! I am pleased by your benignity and righteous courage! Ask what you want!’. A gladdened Vīravara implored: ‘If it pleases you mother, may our king Vikramatuṅga live happily for a hundred years! May my wife and children come back to life!”. The voice declared ‘So be it!’. In that very instant, Vīravara’s family was back by his side. Vīravara took them all home and then came right back to his post and stood guard as before at the palace door! The king was amazed having witnessed all this. He returned unobserved to the palace and asked aloud from the balcony: ‘Who’s at the main entrance!’ Vīravara answered ‘It is I Vīravara, lord! I saw the woman. She was perhaps a goddess; but she vanished as soon as I sighted her’. However, having witnessed the whole miraculous episode, the king felt ‘Ah! Such a great soul is this Vīravara! Even after accomplishing such a great deed, he prefers to not make it public! Not even the great oceans can equal his steadfastness, magnanimity, bravery and gratitude! How can I ever repay him, I wonder!’ and spent the rest of the night mesmerized. Next day the king narrated to his court Vīravara’s deeds of courage and crowned him the king. He showered him with plenty of riches including horses, elephants, precious jewels and gold. Thus Vīravara who was a brahmana, became a king. After narrating the tale, Gomukha said ‘Deva! Only the lucky can get such servants! Pralambabāhu too seems to be one such servant of the king.” Naravāhanadatta was happy upon hearing the story.

4. Once, Naravāhanadatta was out hunting. As he was exhausted, he drank water from a lake that he spotted and took a bath. On another edge of the shore, he saw four men with divine forms plucking golden lotuses. He grew curious, went to them and asked who they were. They said – “An island called Nārikela lies in the middle of the Mahāsāgara. The island has four mountains by name Maināka, Vṛśabha, Cakra and Balāka.. They are divine spots and we live there. We bear the names Rūpasiddhi, Pramāṇasiddhi, Jñānasiddhi and Devasiddhi. We have come here to pluck the golden flowers to worship Śrīhari who resides in the Śvetadvīpa. We will take you along with us if you wish to come!”

Naravāhanadatta left behind Gomukha and others on the shores of the lake and went ahead through the aerial path with them. He reached Śvetadvīpa and had the darśana of Śrīviṣṇu in his physical form. He saw him carrying śaṅkha, cakra, gadā and padma. He sang stutis to the lord. Viṣṇu, who was pleased with his stutis, asked Nārada to fetch four apsarās by name Devarūpā, Devarati, Devamālā and Devapriyā who were with Indra. He offered them to Naravāhanadatta. He called Mātali and asked him to drop them off at their home. Naravāhanadatta went to Nārikeladvīpa, stayed there for a few days with Rūpasiddhi and other new friends. He invited them to visit him in Kauśāmbī. They said “You are the best aspect and essence of your city. After having seen you, there is nothing else for us to do in your city! You should not forget us, that is our only request!”

Naravāhanadatta travelled further, reached the lake and asked Gomukha and the other men to head back to the city. He travelled in Indra’ chariot along with the apsarās back to his city of Kauśāmbī.

One day, as he was spending time with his friends in Alaṅkāravatī’s palace, he heard a commotion of musical instruments outside. He asked Hariśikha to find out what it was. He came back and told the kind – “Deva! There lives a trader by name Rudra in the city. He had been to Suvarṇadvīpa for trade and on his way back, his ship broke apart, causing immense loss of wealth to him. He somehow managed to survive and came back to the city six days back. A couple of days after he returned, he found precious treasure in his garden. He brought it to Vatsarāja and said that he would offer it to the king if he agreed. The king said ‘Fate has given you back what you lost in your shipwreck; no fool will snatch it away from you. Go enjoy the treasures you found in your own land!’ The merchant bowed down to the king, was extremely delighted and is going back home amidst the pomp of musical instruments!”

Naravāhanadatta was surprised and said – “Fate seems to be playing with the human. It took away wealth and gave it back in a different form immediately!”

Listening to this, Gomukha said “This is the nature of vidhi – Fate. Let me narrate the story of Samudraśūra! Listen,

The Story of Samudraśūra

Long ago, King Harṣavarman ruled over Harṣapura. In that city, there lived a wealthy merchant named Samudraśūra. Once, while on a trading sea-voyage to Suvarṇadvīpa, owing to the harsh winds, his boat collapsed and drowned just before his destination. As he swam in the water, he came across a floating corpse. Holding on to the dead body, he safely reached the sandy banks of Suvarṇadvīpa. He found a cloth tied in a knot around the corpse's waist. He untied the knot and found a jewel-studded necklace. When compared to the value of that necklace, all that he had lost in the sea was a mere blade of grass! He took the necklace with him and proceeded to the town of Kalaśapura and coming across a temple, decided to rest his tired limbs. He lied down and fell asleep at once. The town sentinels happened to see the jewel-studded necklace in his hand and exclaimed, "This is the selfsame necklace that once adorned our Princess Citrasenā's neck. This must be the thief who stole it!" They woke him up and apprehended him. They took him to the king's court where he narrated his tale at length. The king then held out the necklace for all the assembly to see and then said, "All that he has said is false! He is the thief!" Even as he spoke these words, a vulture swooped down and grabbed the shining object in its beak before flying away. The king sentenced the merchant to death. At that instant, an incorporeal voice was heard. It said, "O king! Don't have him killed! He is a merchant by name Samudraśūra who has travelled to your town from the city of Harṣapura. He is a noble soul. The thief who stole the necklace dived into the sea fearing the town sentinels and perished in the water. Lost at sea, this merchant reached your shores with the help of the thief's dead body. He took the necklace that was hidden in a knotted garment in the dead man's waist. This man is not a thief; send him with full honour!" He was released and from the money he received from the king, he purchased all that he desired and returned to his city. A few days later, as he was travelling with his caravan, one evening they came upon a dense forest and decided to spend the night there. They were attacked by a band of dacoits. As Samudraśūra was alert, he saw the impending danger and leaving all his belongings where they were, he escaped from the scene and finding a banyan tree, he climbed up and hid amidst its foliage. He spent the whole night there. When he awoke next morning, he saw something shining amidst the gaps between the leaves. Driven by curiosity, he approached the source of the lustre only to find the nest of the vulture. It was filled with various gems and jewellery. As he took out all the jewels, he found the same gem-studded necklace. He took them all to his native town and without any desire to earn further wealth, spent his life peacefully with his kinsmen. Thus, the game of fate is inscrutable. A fortunate man experiences both sorrow as well as happiness. —he said.

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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