Kathāmṛta - 25 - Lāvaṇakalambaka - The Story of Phalabhūti

This article is part 25 of 42 in the series Kathāmṛta

Vatsarāja called Yaugandharāyaṇa in secret and said, “My friend! Thanks to your political acumen all kings have been defeated. I don’t think anyone will betray me. But I still have my doubts about Brahmadatta!” He replied, “O king! I know Brahmadatta won’t betray you for sure; if he does it would be his death!” Saying so he narrated the following story —


The Story of Phalabhūti

Once upon a time, there lived a brāhmaṇa named Agnidatta in Padma-deśa. He had two sons, Somadatta and Vaiśvānaradatta. The elder one was foolish, ill-behaved; the younger one was intelligent, well-behaved. After their father passed away they split the agrahāra which was their patriarchal property and led their lives.

The younger son received royal honour and patronage; the elder one was overindulgent and akin to a kṣatriya he spent his time in constant quarrel and combat. Once, his father's friend happened to see him closely involved with some śūdras and rebuked him, “O fool, being the son of Agnidatta why on earth are you behaving like a śūdra? Aren’t you ashamed looking at your revered younger brother, who is worthy of worship?” Enraged, he went and kicked the brāhmaṇa. With the help of eyewitnesses and solid evidence, that brāhmaṇa went to the king and lodged a formal complaint. When the king’s men came to capture Somadatta, his associates launched an attack on them. The king sent further reinforcements and had him captured; overcome by anger, he sentenced him to death by impaling. While he was to be impaled on the spike, he felt as if someone pushed him from behind and fell to the ground. As the executioners tried to raise him up and impale him on the spike a second time, they were temporarily blinded. Upon hearing this news, his younger brother Vaiśvānaradatta made a plea to the king. And so Somadatta was released. Having been humiliated thus, he decided to leave the kingdom and go to an alien land. But his friends and relatives did not give their consent; and so he abandoned his share of the agrahāra, proceeded to the forest with his wife, and after finding arable land somewhere, settled there. At the centre of the land there was a huge banyan tree; having invoked and worshipped the adhidevatā of the tree, he began farming. The foot of the tree became his home. Just as the grains and crops were harvested and the fruits collected, the soldiers of the neighbouring kingdom came there and looted the produce. Without losing heart, he brought home the remaining; overcome by worry, he lay down unable to sleep. At that point, a voice from within the tree said, “O Somadatta! Go to King Ādityaprabha of Śrīkaṇṭha-deśa; at the door of his palace, recite all the sandhyāgnihotra mantras and say, ‘I am a brāhmaṇa named Phalabhūti; all of you listen to what I have to say – ‘Whoever does good, good will happen to him; whoever does evil, evil will happen to him!’ Keep saying that; good things will happen to you. I am a yakṣa!” Thus spake the incorporeal voice. Accordingly, the next morning he left along with his wife and went to the kingdom of Śrīkaṇṭha. When he began incessantly repeating the words: “Whoever does good, good will happen to him; whoever does evil, evil will happen to him!,” the king's curiosity was aroused. He called for the man and asked him his story; but even there, he repeated the same words. The king laughed and granted him clothes, ornaments, and villages. Thus by the grace of the yakṣa, he became wealthy overnight. But he did not stop chanting the previous utterance. That became the cause of earning the king's trust and he became renowned as one who was dear to the king. Once the king had gone hunting and upon his return, rushed to the inner quarters of his queen; there he saw his wife Kuvalayāvalī engaging in the worship of the Supreme: in the midst of colourful raṅgolis, she lay stark naked with dishevelled hair, half-closed eyes, and her forehead awash with red vermillion powder; she was seated on the floor chanting some mantras! In front of her there lay offerings of flesh and wine! No sooner than she saw the king, she got up and rushed to get dressed. When the king asked her what all that was about, she requested him to first grant her abhaya and then said, “Lord! I was performing worship for your growth and betterment!” Then she began narrating the details behind it —

Long back, when I still a young girl, while I was running about in my father's pleasure garden, a few of my playmates called me and said, “In this grove, amidst these trees, there is an image of Vināyaka; if you worship it, you will get a good husband apparently; come, let us all go and worship him!”

I asked them: ‘Is it really true that one gets a good husband if one worships Vināyaka?’ To this they replied: ‘What are you even saying? We must pray to Vināyaka for any of our efforts to succeed! Long ago, even Pārvatī, in order to beget Kumārasvāmī, had to pray to Ganapati. Later on, Indra too, with Kumārasvāmī at the helm of his army in his battle with Tārakāsura, had to pray to Gaṇeśa. Thus, without worshipping Gaṇeśa, the efforts of even the devas don’t bear fruit’. Then, as they suggested, I prayed to Vināyaka. Later when I looked up, I was astonished to see my friends joyfully flying around in the sky! Overcome with curiosity, I asked them as to how they came to acquire this amazing power. They said that they have mastered the Ḍākinī-mantra, with the help and guidance of a brāhmaṇa woman called Kālarātri. It was this mantra that endowed them with the power to take to the skies. I too expressed my desire to learn how to fly like them. In order to make this happen, they brought the hideous looking Kālarātri before me. She agreed to help me realize my dream. First, she bathed me and made me pray to Gaṇeśa. Then, sitting me down in the nude on the maṇḍala, she had me perform the worship of Bhairava and instructed me the mantra. After that, as part of the ritual, she gave me to eat, the human flesh offered in sacrifice. Upon doing her bidding, the very next moment I was able to fly around like a bird! After roaming the skies along with my friends delightfully, I flew back home. Thus, at a young age did I become a Ḍākinī-empress. My friends and I have devoured many humans. And although I am a disciple of Kālarātri, know me to be more powerful than her. The reason for this is that I have diligently guarded my chastity. Kālarātri on the other hand had fallen in love with a disciple of her husband, and had subjected him to every conceivable cruelty. The poor disciple however withstood all the torture meted out to him because he saw Kālarātri as the wife of his revered teacher. One day by happenstance, he eavesdropped on her chanting the mantras and furtively mastered them. He then used those mantras to traverse the skies and soon acquired immense wealth. What you saw me perform earlier was the same ritual. I was trying to lure a man using my mantras, in order to sacrifice him. I beseech you to join me. If you refuse, I will surely give up my life’. In his greed, the king gave his assent and joined his wife Kuvalayāvalī in this gruesome ritual. The elated queen said: ‘I was reeling in Phalabhūti who serves you, using my mantra. It is however proving to be difficult. Let us instead get the job done through one of the cooks’. Then they hatched up an evil plan to do away with Phalabhūti. Setting the wheels in motion, they summoned the royal cook named Sāhasika and said: “Tomorrow, someone will approach you and utter the words: ‘The king and queen will be here for lunch. Be sure to have it all ready quickly!’ You must kill that person then and there without any hesitation. Then you must secretly cook their flesh and serve it to us!”

Next morning, the king ordered Phalabhūti: ‘Go to the kitchen and tell the Sāhasika that the queen and I will be coming for lunch, and ask him to have it all ready quickly!’ Accordingly, Phalabhūti headed towards the kitchen. However, as fate would have it, he was stopped on the way by the king’s son, Candraprabha. The prince said: ‘Phalabhūti, I shall go to the kitchen and relay the order. I want you to take this gold and get a pair of earrings made, just like the ones we had got done for father earlier’. Then the unlucky Candraprabha went to the kitchen and delivered to Sāhasika the fateful message. The cook immediately killed him by slicing off his neck and cooked his flesh as he was commanded. The king and the queen who had no inkling of what had happened, partook of the food which Sāhasika had prepared. Bright and early the next morning, to their shock, Phalabhūti presented himself with the earrings.

After getting all the information from him the king lamented, ‘O my son! You are gone!’, and collapsed. He chided himself and his wife; he called upon his ministers and narrated everything to them, “Phalabhūti would always say, ‘If you do good, good things would happen to you, if you do bad things, similarly you’d be subjected to bad things!’ If we throw the ball towards the wall, it will bounce back towards us. ‘Set out to kill a brāhmaṇa, instead I made someone kill my own son and also ate him.’ Now with no other progeny, the king gave the kingdom to Phalabhūti and to atone himself, he along with his queen entered into the sacrificial fire (Agnipraveśa). 


Narrating this story, Yaugandharāyaṇa said, ‘O king! Even after defeating Brahmadatta, you’ve only shown him affection; even after this if he betrays you then he will inflict calamity upon himself.’ Vatsarāja was satisfied. Thus after completing his victory tour, he left Lāvāṇaka and set out to his capital, Kauśāmbī. He was given a grand welcome by his subjects and vassals. The vandimāgadhas sang paeans. He ascended the throne acquired by his ancestors along with great assets, and donated all the money he got as charity. Finally he left the responsibility of the kingdom to Yaugandharāyaṇa and Rumaṇvān and indulged himself in drinking and merrymaking and lived happily.


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.




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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