The Story of Harasvāmī
A mendicant named Harasvāmī lived in the town of Kusumapura. His abode was a humble hut on the shores of the Gaṅgā. He lived on alms and had earned renown as a venerable sage. Kusumapura however had its share of rogues who were unhappy with Harasvāmī being held in high esteem by the people of the town.
One day when he was on his way to seek alms, one of those evil men remarked loudly: ‘Did you know that this rogue mendicant has gobbled up all the little children of our noble town?’ Taking cue from this, another wicked man added: ‘It’s true! Even I have heard of this!” A third one joined and declared: “Yes, indeed!”. It is only true that the abuses hurled by the wicked at the virtuous only grow manifold. So, when this falsehood spread around the town like a wildfire, the townsfolk completely stopped sending their children out! Then the brāhmaṇas of the town gathered and came to the conclusion that Harasvāmī must be cast out of Kusumapura. However, they feared for their own lives and hence sent word through messengers. They stood afar and cried: ‘O Harasvāmī, you have been devouring our children. Hence we have unanimously decided that you must leave our town immediately and never come back!” When the poor bewildered mendicant tried to approach them to talk, they ran helter-skelter in fear and some of them even clambered up the maṭha. Those believe rumours, afterall, cannot think on their own! Maintaining his composure, Harasvāmī called each one of them by their names and tried to reason with them thus: ‘What madness is this! What has come over you? Why do you stare at each other thus? Just calm down and tell me now, how many and whose children am I supposed to have gobbled?’ Then the men gawked at one another for a while and then slowly began talking. They soon realized that in fact none of the townsfolk had really lost their children. The children were all hale and hearty. Then they climbed down the maṭha one by one and talked to the other people of the town. It was soon quite evident that, after all, nobody had really lost their children. Relieved that he was at last rid of this unjust infamy, Harasvāmī started to pack his belongings and leave town, for he didn’t wish to live amidst such fools. Having finally come back to their senses, the brāhmaṇas and vaiśyas of Kusumapura approached the noble mendicant with folded hands and bowed down before him and begged him to stay. A kind Harasvāmī eventually relented to their earnest pleas and stayed back in Kusumapura. In this manner, when the wicked see a noble soul or a good deed, they are overcome by hatred and make false accusations on the good men.
Having narrated this story, king Paropakārī said: ‘O daughter! If I am to have peace of mind, please don’t stay unmarried for too long in your youth!’ Kanakarekhā replied: ‘Dear father, do search for a brāhmaṇa or a kṣatriya who has been to Kanakapurī and entrust my hand to him. I have already given my assent, have I not!’
Starting from that day, the king not only asked anyone who visited his city, “Have you seen Kanakapurī?” but also proclaimed all around that he would get his daughter married to the person who has seen Kanakapurī and would make him the crown prince.
2. Śaktideva who was insulted by the princess decided: I should somehow try and locate the city, or I must give up my life in my attempt! With this thought, he travelled to the south from the Vardhamānapura and reached the Vindhyā forest. He spotted a lake there and took a dip in it. He went to an āśrama in its vicinity and found an aged ṛṣi called Sūryatapas, who was seated below a peepul tree and surrounded by other tapasvīs. He bowed down to him and received great hospitality. He then asked the sage Sūryatapas the means to reach Kanakapurī. The sage replied, “My dear, I have been in this āśrama for eight hundred years, but have never heard of the name of such a town.” Listening to this, Śaktideva declared, “In that case, giving up my life is the right option!” Upon hearing this, the sage said, “If so, listen to me. About three hundred yojanas from here, there is a city called Kāmpilya. There is a mountain called Uttara located there. In an āśrama in the mountain, my elder brother by name Dīrghatapas exists. He is senior to me. Ask him. He might know something about this!”
Accordingly, he set out on the next day. He passed through several difficult stretches of land and finally arrived at Kāmpilya. He went up the mountain Uttara and met the sage Dīrghatapas. When he posed the question to him, the sage replied, “I am getting to hear the name for the first time now. It is probably located on an island far away! I’ll suggest an idea. There exists an island named Utsthala in the middle of the sea. The rich king of Nishadhas by name Satyavrata lives there. He keeps traveling across islands. He might have seen or heard of the city. Therefore, first head to the Viṭaṅkapura that is on the seashore. Join the ship of a merchant who is heading to Utpala-dvīpa. You might get your answer from him!’ As per the sage’s advice, Śaktideva left for Viṭaṅkapura, met an overseas merchant by name Samudradatta and befriended him. He boarded the merchant’s ship to get to Utpala-dvīpa but just before he reached the island, the ship got caught in a whirlwind. The shop broke into pieces. The merchant caught hold of a wooden plank. A huge fish swallowed Śaktideva and was caught by fishermen, who spotted it in the vicinity of Utpala-dvīpa. As it was a huge fish, they offered it as a tribute to their king. The king, who was curious about the animal had it cut open and Śaktideva came out of it at once. He narrated his life’s story and the king said “I am Satyavrata. You are in Utpala-dvīpa. I have not seen the city of Kanakapurī. However, I have heard that it lies on another island. That is all I know!” Śaktideva was disappointed at getting to know just this much. The king Satyavrata said, “Respected one! You don’t have to worry. Stay here tonight. Let us think of a plan in the morning!’ He sent Śaktideva to a brāhmaṇa-maṭha for his meal. There, Śaktideva happened to speak to a person by name Viṣṇudatta and told him about his family background. Upon hearing this, Viṣṇudatta embraced him and let out tears of joy. He said ‘O dear child! You are my maternal uncle’s son. You and I were born in the same province. I left my hometown in my younger days and came here. Please stay here. Merchants and traders keep coming here from different islands. One of them might tell us about the city you are looking for!’ He made Śaktideva stay there and took care of him well. Finding a relative in a foreign land is like finding amrita in a desert!
This serendipitous joy seemed to be an indication of things to come. Enveloped by those thoughts, he did not get a wink of sleep that night.
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.