Kathāmṛta - 130 - The Story of the Bṛhatkathā-śloka-saṅgraha

This article is part 130 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

Then he thought, ‘Fie upon me – I brought this allegation upon myself! Or why should I blame myself? The king was happy for a long time. Which other prince achieved so much, uprooted both the internal and external enemies with great tact? Did any of them take great care such that the varṇāśrama-dharma was followed without lapses? Who else has a son like Avantivardhana who is blessed with such noble qualities? Let all these be so; hasn’t Naravāhanadatta recognised me as the emperor? Only negative was the lack of service rendered to the tapovanas, now due to the ministers that too will be done!’ Thus firmly deciding about his future he issued orders to his ministers to prepare the throne. Once they departed, he shaved his head, discarded his royal robes and wore the tree barks fit for tapasvins, got a kamaṇḍala, teary eyed, placing his hand on his chest, as the whole assembly watched, he entered the palace. Pālaka saw him and at once, his face withered. He stood there stunned. Seeing him thus, Gopāla said, ‘Dear brother! If you become the king, due to the blessing of our father and Vatsarāja upon you, whose reputation is unblemished, due to your flawless character, people will accept you without second thoughts; they’ll be happy that the wretched punisher of his own father is gone.  My counsel is this; to ensure the sustenance of varṇāśrama-dharma accept this throne which had been your father’s! You should make these words of mine true. People of your caliber should not deliberate much on the words which I’ve spoken.’ Pālaka kept his head low for a moment and was trying to come up with an answer. Gopāla saw this and feigning anger he said, ‘Ascend the throne! What use do you find in searching for answers? Even if you can come up with hundred answers you would be helpless just like one would be against the torrential flow of the Ṣoṇā river in the rainy season. The brāhmaṇas placing the purohita in the forefront, approached him, choked, teary eyed, and said, ‘As a younger brother he has to obey your command, but how can we remain silent? While the elder brother is alive, ascending the throne is akin to having an affair with the brother’s wife. When you are alive, he thinks that enjoying the Rājyalakṣmī will bring him disrepute. So let go of this terrible vow. Let our tears transform into tears of joy!’ The king folded his hands and said, ‘Please don’t hurt me with your words! Fully knowing his capability, I’m delegating this responsibility to him. Since I’m the fallen one, taking over the kingdom won’t bring him any disrepute. When I utter the word ‘fallen’ all of you are closing your ears. But what people allege that I’ve killed my father isn’t false. I’m going away to cleanse myself from that grave error by undergoing prāyaścitta. Please don’t stop me. If I’ve adhered to dharma while ruling the kingdom, please accept Pālaka as the king!’ Then he turned to Pālaka and said, ‘Please look after Avantivardhana with love and affection as I would!’

With a forced laughter, Pālaka said ‘O king! Why shouldn’t prince Avanti-vardhana be king? We know from the past that even kings who have qualified younger brothers, turn over their kingdom to their children’. Gopāla replied, ‘My dear brother, when you become old and my son comes of age, I am sure you shall do what is right!’. Thus, he silenced everyone and crowned Pālaka king. He then spent that night in the city and departed the next morning to the forests.

Thus ends the first chapter of Bṛhatkathā-śloka-saṅgraha composed by Budhasvāmī

 

Chapter 2

Saddened by the separation from his beloved brother, King Pālaka all but gave up his kingly duties. Soon, a delegation of citizens with the chief priest at its head approached him and delivered this message: ‘After swearing to your brother that you will take up the reins of the kingdom, does it behove of you to drown yourself thus in sorrow? How will the kingdom be managed, if such be the situation? While any king who reigns is said to incur one sixth of his subjects’ sins, the king who neglects his kingdom is bound to incur the entire gamut of his people’s sins. Now, if you wish to not incur sin, but instead acquire merit, you must keep not only the kingdom’s people happy, but also be happy yourself. Otherwise your people will surely abandon this kingdom and migrate elsewhere. Your situation will be akin to that of a wretched beggar from whose plate a crow steals a delicacy and flies away’. Upbraided thus, Pālaka grew afraid and assumed charge. This made his subjects happy. 

One day, he summoned brāhmaṇas and enquired about the nuances of dharma. They said, ‘O king, you are a wise man. We are sure that there is no facet of dharma not known to you. Still, since you have asked us, we will formally answer you. Know that men are swayed by passion. Hence, their word is not infallible. The sāṅkhyas though do not speak of action. Thus, it’s only the vedas that have the final say on dharma!’ Swayed by their words, Pālaka took refuge in rituals and gave up his royal duties. Looking at this, the ministers became anxious and said ‘The brāhmaṇas lifted you from the quagmire of sorrow. Now who will free you from this quagmire of rituals? It is very important for kings to pursue righteous desires ‘kāma’ through just means, ‘artha’. Chasing a ‘pure’ dharma bereft of such artha and kāma is simply an undertaking in futility’ Now, Pālaka was swayed by these words to the other extreme. That night, he settled down in the inner chambers of the palace. The next morning, he arose and completed his bath and rituals. Then he arrived at the royal court, met the few subjects who had assembled there at the appointed hour, and then sent them away. Next, whilst it was still early in the day, he ordered his ministers to make arrangements to serve food and drink for the public in the gardens. The entire city’s people of all ages became elated at the king’s largesse, and enjoyed all the apparel, ornaments, flowers, food and drink that were freely offered. Along with drinks, the people were entertained to melodious notes of the Veena and other musical instruments, and songs, and plays performed by actors. After spending the entire day with fun and frolic, the townsfolk returned to their homes as dusk fell. King Pālaka however was not done yet. He went to the queens’ chambers, listened to some more music, watched a play enacted by only women performers, drank wine heartily with his wives and then finally went to sleep out of sheer exhaustion. Thus, as he indulged more and more in sensual pleasures, the more did his cravings increase.

 

The current article is a translation of Prof. A R Krishnasastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta. The translation has been rendered by Raghavendra G S, 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. Krishnasastri

 

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.

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