Kathāpīṭhalambaka - 4 - The Story of Pāṇini and Vararuci

This article is part 4 of 42 in the series Kathāmṛta

Vararuci's narration continues...

Once, when I had gone out to watch the Indradhvajotsava, I happened to spot Upavarṣa’s daughter Upakośā. We fell in love with each other. I got married to her, invited my mother and lead my family life with them. I won over Pāṇini in a debate. Parameśvara uttered a ‘huṅkāra’ when this happened and I forgot the Aindra-vyākaraṇa that I had mastered. Pāṇini then won over us in the debate. I made arrangements for the welfare of my family and went to the Himālayas to perform tapas for Śiva.


The Story of Pāṇini

With time, Varṣopādhyāya started getting more and more students. Pāṇini, a dumb head, was one of his devout student, who worked hard to take care of the teacher. He had intense desire to procure knowledge but wasn’t able to do so and was upset quite often about his inability. As per the advice of Varṣopādhyāya’s wife, he went to the Himālaya to perform tapas. He won Śiva’s heart with his intense tapas and procured knowledge that would lay the grammatical foundation for all streams of learning.

Once he returned, Pāṇini invited me for a debate. Our discussions went on for seven days and on the eighth day, I defeated him in the debate. On that day, Śambhu let out a thundering ‘huṅkāra’ from the skies – because of this, the Aindra-vyākaraṇa that I had studied vanished from the earth. We all lost to Pāṇini and appeared like fools before him.

I was dejected. I handed over the responsibility of taking care of my house to a rich man by name Hiraṇyagupta, informed Upakośā of the same and went empty-stomach to the Himālaya to gain the favour of Śaṅkara. I performed intense tapas there, having given up even the consumption of food.

With Śiva’s blessings, I learned Pāṇini’s vyākaraṇa and with his permission, completed the work on vyākaraṇa. Varṣopādhyāya desired to learn the new vyākaraṇa from us. later on, the deity kumārasvāmi himself blessed him with the knowledge of the new system of grammar. when Vyāḍi and Indradatta asked the Guru about gurudakṣiṇa, he asked for a crore gold coins.

There after, Vyāḍi, Indradatta and I wanted to earn money to pay our guru-dakṣiṇa. We set up a camp in Ayodhya for the purpose. We set out to see Nanda but by the time we reached there, he had passed away. Seeing this, Indradatta, with his power of yoga, gave up his body in a dilapidated temple and entered Nanda’s body. Vyāḍi safe-guarded Indradatta’s body in the temple. I requested Yogananda to help me offer gurudakṣiṇa to my teacher – he commanded his minister Śakaṭāla to hand over one crore gold coins to me. I got my money but Śakaṭāla, who suspected parakāyapraveśa got Indradatta’s body cremated. As Vyāḍi left the place to offer guru-dakṣiṇa to his teacher, Yogananda made Vararuci the mantri. He also accused Śakaṭāla for having cremated an orphaned body of a brāhmaṇa – he had him and his sons thrown into a deep well.[1]

Vyāḍi offered the guru-dakṣiṇā and went away to perform tapas. After that Yogananda came to Pāṭalīputra. I was a minister there.

In the course of time, Yogananda became overcome by lust and was unrestrained in his indulgences. Therefore, I felt that it would be good to have Śakaṭālana’s help and therefore, brought him back and reinstated him as the minister. He was waiting for the right ocassion and behaved with great courtesy.

One day when Yogananda was travelling outside the city, he saw a hand rise in the Gaṅgā that had all the five fingers clasped tightly in a fist. At once, he called me and asked me what that meant. In a response to that, I showed two fingers and the hand disappeared. The king was further surprised and asked me what that meant. I said, “That hand suggested the following – ‘If five people get together in this world, is anything impossible?’ and I showed two fingers to indicate ‘It suffices if two people of one mind unite -  nothing would be impossible for them!’ ”

Once, a queen of Yogananda cast a glance at a brāhmaṇa who was walking (in the street) below her quarters (antaḥpura). He too lifted his neck and glanced at her. Merely because of this petty reason, the king ordered that the brāhmaṇa should be executed. When he was being taken to the gallows, a fish that lay dead in a shop began laughing. The king came to know of this. At once he had the execution stopped and asked how and why the dead fish laughed. The next morning I went to him and said, “The fish laughed knowing that ‘the antaḥpura is filled with various other men, disguised as women; not knowing this, the king has ordered for the execution of an innocent brāhmaṇa!’” This turned out to be true and the brāhmaṇa was set free.

On another occasion, an artiste painted a picture of Yogananda and his wife. It appeared as though it was alive, though immobile. The king, who was pleased with outcome generously rewarded the painter and hung the painting to a wall in his chamber. On a certain ocassion, I spotted the painting. Seeing the rest of the characteristics of the queen, I guessed that there must be a mole on her waist and added it there. The picture then felt complete but the king was deluded with the thought – “The presence of a mole at her waist is a secret; how did he come to know of it? He must have access to the antaḥpura; how else did he know that the antaḥpura was filled with men?” Angered with me, he ordered Śakaṭālana to have me executed.


To be continued...

The current article is a translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’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. Read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri here.



[1] Śakaṭāla and his sons

Śakaṭāla and his hundred sons who were thrown into the deep well were given only a fistful of flour every day. Looking at this crooked nature of the king, Śakaṭāla told his children – “Sons! With this amount of food being thrown at us by the king’s men, it is difficult even for one person to survive. It is needless to say that it will not suffice for all of us. Therefore, one of you mix the flour with water and consume it. The survivor should be strong enough to avenge the injustice heaped upon us. The sons said – “Father! You are the only one capable to do so. You consume the food” Starting that day, only Śakaṭāla consumed flour and water. Even as he saw, his hundred sons passed away one after the other right before his eyes




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.

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