Kathāmṛta - 65 - Alaṅkāravatī-lambaka - The Stories of Dharmavyādha, Tribhuvana and Nala

This article is part 65 of 96 in the series Kathāmṛta

The Story of Dharmavyādha

In the past, when a certain sage who was wandering through a forest and sat down below a tree, a balāka bird’s droppings happened to fall upon him. He was enraged and stared at the bird angrily. As soon as his eyes fell on the bird, it got reduced to ashes. He felt proud of the strength of his tapas.

One day, he sought alms at the house of a brāhmaṇa in the city. The lady of the house said – “Please wait for a while; I will finish serving my husband and attend to you!”

He was angry and looked at her with ferocious eyes. She laughed and said – “O mune! I am not the balāka bird! Please have patience!”

Hearing this, he thought – how did she get to know thus? This is really surprising! He waited at her door.

After she finished serving her husband, the lady came to the sage and offered him alms. He spoke with folded hands – “O mother! Pray tell me, how did you get to know about my killing of the balāka bird? I will receive the alms only after you educate me about it”

She said – “Ārya! I don’t know any dharma other than devotion to my husband. It is because of this strength of mine that I got to know your act. Go, visit the meat vendor – Dharmavyādha. You will gain śreyas out of it, you will be able to overcome your ego!”

Accordingly, the sage went to visit Dharmavyādha who was seated at his shop selling flesh. As soon as he saw the sage, he exclaimed – “O brāhmaṇa! Did the pativratā send you here?” The astonished sage asked him – “You are a dealer of flesh – how did you get to know this?” Dharmavyādha said “I am devoted to my parents – they are the universe to me. I take a bath after giving them a bath. I eat after feeding them their meal. I sleep only after they go to bed. Therefore, I have acquired this knowledge. I sell the meat that others bring to me, having killed animals – I sell it as sva-dharma and not out of desire for money. Neither I nor the pativratā are arrogant about possessing a lot of wealth. Ego is an impediment of right knowledge. Therefore, you too should give up your ego and pride – this will purify you. Perform your dharma – you will realise the parañjyoti with you!”

The sage followed Dharmavyādha to his house, saw his behaviour and lifestyle and was extremely pleased. He went back to the forest, followed the advice of the Dharmavyādha and became a siddha. The pativratā and Dharmavyādha too attained great siddhi because of their performance of dharma.

This is the greatness of those who are devoted to their husband and their parents. Therefore, come with me! Meet your mother who is craving to see you!

Mahīpāla informed this to his dharma-pitā Anantasvāmin, handed over the responsibility of the kingdom and visited his mother in the village. Devamatī felt so pleased to look at her son that it was like the cuckoo meeting the vasanta season. He stayed with his mother for a few days.

Back at Tārāpura, his wife was in deep agony because of her separation from her husband. He had told her that he was going away for a specific task and there was no need to worry about him. Still, she could not bring peace to her mind. She asked every brāhmaṇa who was returning from a foreign land about her husband. They all said that they had not seen him and also advised her not to lose heart. They also tried to instill confidence in her by saying that those who do good deeds will eventually reap positive fruits. One brāhmaṇa named Saṅgamadatta narrated the following story to instill courage in her.

Once I was roaming around, and I reached the Mānasa lake near Himālaya. Through the crystal clear waters I saw a gem studded house, suddenly a man equipped with a sword emerged out along with a group of celestial beauties. As he rejoiced in their company in the garden with merry making and drinking I observed him. Suddenly I found another man who approached me. When he met me I narrated what I’d seen. When I showed him, he saw the man in the Mānasa lake along with the divine beauties, enjoying their company and started narrating to me a story which is as follows.

I’m a king named Tribhuvana ruling a kingdom which is also named Tribhuvana. A pāśupata sādhu visited me once and asked me help to retrieve a sword in a cave. I agreed to help and he took me to the forest that night, conducted various homas, lo and behold an opening appeared! He said, ‘O king! You enter first and retrieve the sword. Once you have done it, promise me that you’ll help me gain entry.’ I promised him and entered the opening to find a palace of jewels. The chief among the asura beauties saw me and was smitten. She took me and handed over the sword to me. She said, ‘This will give you the power of flight and other such magical powers!’ While I stayed with her I remembered my promise and to fulfil it I came back to the pāśupata and took him into the cave. There I stayed happily with the lady. Once when I was intoxicated, the vile pāśupata took the sword and with its power he threw me out. Since then I’ve been searching for that wretch in every cave for twelve years. Today I see him here sporting with that lady. Now I shall have my revenge! By then the pāśupata was intoxicated and fell asleep. Tribhuvana retrieved the sword and also got back the asura lady. He kicked the pāśupata to wake him up but didn’t kill him. But he was in grief after losing the magical powers. The ungrateful will find comeuppance eventually. Having seen this I’ve arrived here, you’ll be reunited with your beloved, Mahīpāla since the people following dharma would eventually earn fruits of their good conduct.

The next day another brāhmaṇa named Sumanas visited her. When she again asked him the same question, he replied that, ‘I’ve not seen your husband but the separated will eventually be reunited even if it takes a long time, as a proof I’ll narrate the story of Nala –

The Story of Nala

Long ago there lived a king named Nala in the kingdom of Niṣadha. In beauty and looks, he surpassed Manmatha, the god of love. As he was in the quest of finding a suitable wife, he learnt that Damayantī, the daughter of King Bhīma of Vidarbha, was the perfect match for him. Bhīma too realized that Nala was the ideal suitor for his daughter. This being the case, one day when Damayantī was engaged in water sports in a lake of their city, she came across a great swan that was feasting on lotuses. She threw her upper garment on it and captured the bird. The swan said, “Princess! I shall help you, so let me go! There is a king named Nala and he is sought after even by divine damsels. You are the ideal bride for him and he, the perfect suitor to you. I shall become an emissary of love for you!” Damayantī agreed and let the swan loose. The swan flew at once to the land of Niṣadha and descended upon a lake where Nala was engaged in water sports. Upon seeing the stately swan, Nala was overcome with curiosity; he too threw his upper garment at it and captured it. The swan said, “O noble king! Set me free, for I am about to confer upon you a favour. King Bhīma or Vidarbha has a daughter named Damayantī, who is a veritable Tilottamā on earth. Even the divine beings are desirous of her. When I described your greatness to her, she was besotted and has chosen you. I have come here to inform you of that.” He said, “If that be so, then truly I am fortunate!” and set the bird free. The swan went and reported this to Damayantī, who then passed on this information to her father through her mother. He then arranged for a svayaṃvara and invited all the kings. The enthusiastic Nala also set out on the journey to Bhīma’s kingdom. Indra and other lokapālas learnt from Nārada that Nala and Damayantī had already chosen each other in their hearts. At that point, Indra, Vāyu, Yama, Agni, and Varuṇa confronted Nala even as he was travelling to Vidarbha and said, “Noble king! Go to Damayantī and tell her, ‘Choose any one among the five of us; what value is there in selecting Nala, who is but a human! Men are mortal, deities are immortal!’ We have given you a boon that you will be able to meet her without being seen.” He said, “So be it!”

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



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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