Early next morning Śiva came to the maṭha. Mādhava hailed a messenger in the morning and ordered him – “Take this pair of clothes, hand it over to the rāja-purohita Śaṅkara-svāmī and tell him, ‘A prince named Mādhava, having been defeated by his cousins, has come from the Dakṣiṇāpatha, bringing along with him the immense wealth that once belonged to his father. There are other men of royal birth who have come with him as well. He to serve his highness. Therefore, he expresses his ardent desire to meet you.’ Speak these words with great courtesy!” Having been ordered thus, the messenger carried out his task.
Looking at the gift offered to him, the purohita at once believed his words. Dāna alone is the medicine that will attract one with great aspiration! The next day, Mādhava dressed up like a prince and made his lackies don the clothes of regal attendants. Holding the royal insignia and other emblems, he went with his retinue to the purohita’s house. He got up at once and welcomed the ‘prince’ Mādhava, who spoke with him for a while before returning to his own residence. The next morning, he made a gift of another pair of clothes to the purohita and then went to meet him. He said, “I desire to serve the king. Therefore, I have taken refuge in you. I don’t have a deficit of money!" Having heard these words, the purohita was overcome by greed for wealth and promptly reported the matter to the king. The king consented. In the late afternoon, the purohita escorted Mādhava and his retinue to the king and introduced him with great respect. The king too fell for his expensive garments, offered him immense honour, and created an official position for him in the vicinity of the throne. From then on, his business during the day would be with the king and at night, strategizing and planning along with Śiva.
In due course, desirous of great wealth, the purohita made Mādhava a permanent guest in his house. It was like a tree giving shelter to a bandicoot in its roots. Mādhava brought a treasure chest filled with artificial gems and jewellery and had it placed in the purohita’s room for safekeeping. On some pretext, Mādhava would open the treasure chest and every time the purohita ogled at it with his mouth wide open like a cow looking at green grass. After trust had been firmly established, Mādhava reduced his intake of food and water, step by step, and soon pretended to be unwell and bed-ridden. One day, he called the purohita and said, “The condition of my body has worsened. Therefore, I wish to invite a brāhmaṇa and donate all my wealth. Owing to that, let me attain sadgati here and hereafter! What’s the use of wealth with such fragile health?” Saying so, he bowed down to the purohita’s feet and offered his salutations. But whichever brāhmaṇa the purohita would bring, Mādhava would reject him saying, “Isn’t there a brāhmaṇa superior to this one?” Looking at that, one of his crafty lackeys who was nearby told the purohita, “He won’t accept ordinary brāhmaṇas. If you can invite a Śiva-tapasvī from the banks of the Siprā river, then he might give his approval!” At that, Mādhava said, “Yes, that will work. They are truly without peer!” The purohita went to Śiva, who was deep in japa with his eyes closed. Offering his salutations, the purohita said with great courtesy, “Svamī! If your venerable self will not get angry then I wish to make a request.” In response, Śiva simply moved his lips without uttering a word. Deeming that to be a grant of permission, the purohita said, “There is a rich prince named Mādhava who has come here from dakṣiṇa-deśa. Afflicted by ill-health, he has decided to donate all his wealth. If your kind self will consent to it, he shall then give you as dāna all the invaluable gems and jewellery that he has in his possession!” Slowly, Śiva gave up his vow of silence and said, “O brāhmaṇa! What is the use of all that for someone like me, who is a brahmacārī living on alms?”
The purohita replied saying, “Why do you say so? Even married people who adhere to their dharma of serving the deities, ancestors, and guests will attain mokṣa. Gṛhasthāśrama (being a householder) is indeed the best among all the āśramas!” Śiva replied, “How would I get married? I won’t marry anyone who isn’t from a good background.” Listening to that, thinking all the money will finally come to him, that greedy purohita replied, “If that is your concern, I have a daughter named Vinayasvāminī who is beautiful. I’ll give her to you in marriage. You can accept charity from Mādhava and I’ll take care of the rest!” Śiva replied, “If this is indeed your decision and if you are adamant, I’ll follow it! But I don’t know anything when it comes to handling money. I’m an ascetic. I’ll just follow your words. You can handle those things as you please!” The purohita concurred and gave his daughter to him in marriage whom he had brought up going through great difficulties.
The next day Śiva was taken to Mādhava who prostrated before him and gave away everything he had in his treasury as dāna to Śiva. After receiving it, Śiva gave it to the purohita saying, “I have no idea how to handle these things! Please take care of these.” The purohita replied, “Had I not told you earlier that I shall handle them! I’ll take care of it,’ and added everything to his own coffers. He also got his daughter married to the Śiva and it was like losing hard earned wealth out of foolishness. Mādhava meanwhile pretended to be able to eat food and appeared to regain his health. He said that it was the fruits of his dāna. He praised Śiva saying, “Due to your influence, my health is back to normal!” and displayed his deep friendship of gratitude to Śiva. After a few days, Śiva told the purohita, “How many more days would I live on your mercy? Why won’t you buy everything I received through dāna and give me some money?” The purohita agreed and donated all his wealth to Śiva, under the impression that the value of the treasure was much more than his combined wealth. They got the required paperwork done. Śiva got immense wealth through this deal and became a householder. Mādhava also joined him and they would spend the money they got from the purohita as per their requirement and lived happily.
Days rolled on. Once, the purohita was in dire need of money. He took all those ornaments that he had bought from Śiva to a merchant to sell them. Looking at them, the merchant declared them to be fake. He also saw the other ornaments and told him that all of them were glass beads coloured in various hues; they were neither gems nor the rest of it was gold. The purohita was shocked. He went back to Śiva and asked him to take those back and return all his money. He said, “Will the money stay for so long? I’ve used all of it!” The purohita quarrelled with him and then took him along with Mādhava to the king’s court with a complaint against them. Śiva declared his innocence saying, “O king! I’ve been an ascetic since my childhood. It was he who forced me to accept these by means of dāna. I don’t know anything about ornaments and precious gems. While accepting them I had already informed him about my naivety and had asked him to handle them. He had agreed. Once I received them, I handed it all to him. He then gave me as much money he deemed them to be worthy. I have all the relevant documents! Mādhava also said similar things: “I’m not guilty. I’ve not taken a single coin from either Śiva or the purohita.
I retrieved my ancestral wealth which was put away in safekeeping with someone and offered it to the brāhmaṇa. If my gold and precious stones are truly not genuine, may the merit of having offered mere glass and brass accrue to me. I for one, only believe in giving with a pure heart! Also, as everyone knows, I have been cured of my severe ailment’, he said. The king and his ministers burst out laughing. The courtiers declared that there has been no wrong committed by either Mādhava or Śiva. Seeing no other recourse available to him, the purohita left quietly with a dejected face. The two rogues then lived happily, entertaining the king and keeping themselves in his good graces.
Kanakarekhā narrated this story and said: ‘This brāhmaṇa too is lying about having seen Kanakapurī, just so he may obtain my hand. In the future, please do not be over-anxious regarding my marriage. I will remain a spinster if it is my destiny, let us see what the future holds’.
To this, the king said with a heavy heart: ‘Dear daughter! A woman in her youth should not remain unwed for long; people with envy in their hearts are bound to gossip repugnantly behind our backs. Know that the world blames the virtuous only more!’
To be continued...
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.