The Story of Ahalyā and Devendra
Once upon a time there lived a great seer named Gautama and he was sentient of things from times past, present, and future. He had a wife named Ahalyā, whose beauty surpassed that of the apsarās.
Once, Devendra caught a glimpse of her, was besotted by her beauty, and desired her. The minds of the lords, blinded by riches, takes to immoral paths from time to time, indeed! Ahalyā refused his proposals.
Gautama learnt about this through the power of his tapas and promptly arrived there. Indra got scared and immediately took the form of a cat.
Gautama asked, “Who’s this?” and she replied, “Majjāra!” (In Prakrit, the word ‘majjāra’ = mārjāra = cat but in Sanskrit ‘majjāra’ = mat + jāra = ‘my lover’).
The sage said that indeed he is your lover and laughed, even as he cursed her with the words: “O woman of sinful character! Become a stone until you obtain the darśana of Śrīrāma!”
He cursed Indra as well – “Let your body be filled with a thousand vaginas, and when you spot Tillotamā, let them all turn into eyes!”
Thus pronouncing these curses, he went away to perform tapas.
In this manner, any wicked deed done by anyone, always has consequences in the person. What you sow, that you shall reap. – saying so he completed his narration.
Vasantaka also said – “You both were devatās in your previous lives and were siblings as well. You have come down to the earth due to a curse. Therefore, your hearts must comfort each other and have no animosity”
Upon listening to this tale, whatever little jealousy and envy that Vāsavadattā and Padmāvatī had vanished.
The king of Magadha also got to know about the good qualities of Vāsavadattā through the messenger sent by Padmāvatī to him.
On another day, Yaugandharāyaṇa spoke to the King Vatsarāja in the presence of the Queen and others of the royal family. He said ‘Lord! Why shouldn’t we return to Kauśāmbī? Though the king of Magadha has been deceived, I don’t any reason to be scared of him. All animosity between us has vanished with the proposal of your wedding to his daughter – this has worked as a sāmopāya. I have stayed here for this long to find out from my spies if he is embittered at heart due to these events”
In the meanwhile, a messenger from the king of Magadha arrived, saluted Vatsarāja and said – “The king of Magadha said the following upon hearing the message sent by Padmāvatī to him – ‘I have understood it all. There is nothing more that needs to be said. I am pleased with you. You may go ahead with the task you have taken up. I’ll support you in the endeavour’.” Vatsarāja was gratified upon hearing the message, which was like a flower borne by the tree of political genius of Yaugandharāyaṇa. Vāsavadattā asked Padmāvatī to adequately reward the messenger.
Right after he departed, a messenger from Caṇḍamahāsena was shown in. He bowed to the king and said: ‘Greetings my Lord! King Caṇḍamahāsena wishes to convey this message to you: O king, Yaugandharāyaṇa, through his astuteness, has proved to be a most excellent minister for you! And blessed is Vāsavadattā, who, through her devotion towards you, has ensured that our honour among the virtuous stands enhanced! As for me, Padmāvatī and Vāsavadattā are no different. I feel their hearts are but one! O king, may our next endeavour commence at once without any hesitation!’ Listening to these words of his father-in-law, king Udayana became very happy. Vāsavadattā’s love for her husband only became deeper, and so did her trust in the wise minister Yaugandharāyaṇa. The emissary was richly felicitated and sent back with due honour. Vatsarāja and his retinue soon started their journey towards Kauśāmbi.
The following day, Vatsarāja, along with his queens and ministers, left for Kauśāmbi. His army took the lead and it appeared like roaring waves of the ocean. The king riding on his elephant looked like the Sun riding in the sky along with the eastern mountain from where he rises. He was under a white umbrella that appeared like the moon which had come down to serve him with the impression that he had conquered the brilliance of the Sun. Subordinate kings surrounded Vatsarāja like several stars gathering around the Dhruva star. The queens who followed him on two elephants appeared like Śrīdevī and Bhūdevī. The king was constantly praised by his men. In a few days, he reached his capital city which was in a festive mood. The city itself seemed to have come alive. It seemed to be clad in red garments because of the flags that were raised above the buildings, had its eyes widened in the form of peep holes in the houses, was speaking through the delighted voices of its people and laughed with its teeth made of white sky-scrapers. Their entry into the city was a scene to behold.
The entourage was received with warmth by the citizens. Women rushed to the peep holes of their houses to behold the entry of royalty into the city. A lady’s eyes followed the king with delight and it appeared as though it was trying to tell the blind ears about the king’s homecoming. Another lady rushed to the window and her pearl necklace broke apart as she hurried – the disentangled pearls appeared like her tears of joy oozing out of her heart.
The king, who appeared like Manmatha, proceeded to spend the rest of the day with his queens who were love and joy personified, merrily treating himself to drink and sporting.
The Story of the Cowherd King Devasena
One day, when the king was seated in his court along with his minsters, a brāhmaṇa rushed to the palace and wailed loudly: ‘Alas! Alas! Fie upon the cowherd boys who chopped off my son’s legs for no reason!’ Moved by the brāhmaṇa’s plight, the king immediately gave orders and soon had the culprits apprehended and presented to him. When interrogated before the king, the accused cowherd boys said: ‘Lord! We were all playing with our mate Devasena donning the role of the king. Whenever we do this, nobody transgresses his commands. Today that brāhmaṇa boy passed by the forest but he hardly cared to pay respects to our king! When we warned him to correct his offensive behaviour, he dared to first ignore us and then even mocked us - he laughed and walked away. Our king Devasena decided to punish the insolent boy for his grave offence and ordered us to cut off his legs. We duly followed our king’s orders, for how could one ever disobey a royal decree?’
Yaugandharāyaṇa having listened to these unbelievable words, quietly whispered into the king’s ears: ‘Your highness, I am positive that there is some hidden treasure in the place where these boys play. If a mere cowherd is able to command his friends to commit such a deed and what’s more, they obey him to the letter, it must be the effect of the treasure buried there. I think we should go there right away and take a look at it ourselves!’
Vatsarāja had severe punishment meted out to the boys for their heinous deed. Later, accompanied by his trusted ministers and guards, he went to the said place and ordered an excavation. Soon, a stone idol was unearthed. To everyone’s amazement, it magically transformed to a yakṣa who bowed to Vatsarāja and said: ‘O King! I was entrusted with the responsibility of watching over this treasure buried here by your grandfather. Today I have fulfilled my mission. This treasure is yours now!’ The yakṣa then vanished into thin air.
Vatsarāja’s men started digging further and they eventually came upon a majestically bejewelled throne and a huge cache of useen riches. Like the saying goes, when lady luck smiles, riches rain down! Yaugandharāyaṇa suggested that the king should lose no time in taking to the new throne, for after all, it was his inheritance. Vatsarāja however had other ideas. He said: ‘Dear Yaugandharāyaṇa, my ancestors sat upon this throne only after they had conquered the earth by vanquishing their foes. For me to be truly worthy of it, I must first accomplish a similar feat of valour. Only when that glory is mine shall I ascend the throne of my ancestors!’ These words gladdened Yaugandharāyaṇa’s heart. He said: ‘May it be so, my king! Let us rally the men and prepare to march eastwards without delay!’ To this, the king asked: ‘Why east specifically?’ The minister replied: ‘The north is detested for its mleccha connection; the west is revered only at sunset; the south is not preferred, for not only is it the home of the rākṣasas but also because it is abode of Yama. East however is where the sun rises. It is presided over by Indra, and what is more, it is the path of Gaṅgā. This is why it is deemed the most auspicious of directions. Remember O king, your own ancestors lived in Hastināpura which was on the banks of the Gaṅgā, although eventually Śatānīka settled in Kauśāmbi taken in by its beauty. A kingdom is born and sustained by the dint of human endeavour; without it, the land alone isn’t much by itself!
The king said, ‘What you say is true; for virtuous and capable, human endeavour is the only source of fortune!’ saying so, he narrated the story of the brave Vidūṣaka.
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 Arjun Bharadwaj, Raghavendra GS, 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.