Kathāmukhalambaka - 12 - Rūpaṇikā's story, cont.

This article is part 12 of 13 in the series Kathāmṛta

Lohajaṅgha kept composure even as he entered Lanka and met King Vibhīṣaṇa at his palace. The king treated him with respect and asked: ‘O great brāhmaṇa, what brings you here?’ The cunning Lohajaṅgha answered: ‘O king, my hometown is Mathura. Being afflicted by poverty, I observed severe austerities without partaking of any food, in a temple there, to please Nārāyaṇa. One night, he came to me in my dreams and said: ‘Go to my devotee Vibhīṣaṇa. He will shower you with wealth’. I asked: ‘How can this be, O lord, given my lowliness compared to Vibhīṣaṇa’s stature?’. He then commanded me: ‘Go right now! You shall meet Vibhīṣaṇa!’. Later when I woke up, I found myself here! I don't know what happened!’. Taking him to be truly endowed with divine qualities, Vibhīṣaṇa asked him to stay with him for a few days. Later, fearing that if he were to send Lohajaṅgha home with the cannibal rākṣasas, he may be devoured, the king arranged for a bird which resided on the Svarṇa-mūla mountains, belonging to the lineage of Garuḍa himself, to fly him to Mathura. Lohajaṅgha rested in Lanka for a few days, gradually acquainting himself with the bird and flying around sitting atop it and was soon able to steer it comfortably.

One day, upon discovering that the land of Lanka was made of wood, out of curiosity, Lohajaṅgha asked Vibhīṣaṇa the reason for it. The king replied: “Long ago, Garuḍa, who was about to embark upon a journey in pursuit of Amṛta [which was the only way to free his mother Vinatā from bondage], to gain the required strength for this tough endeavour, asked his father Kaśyapa to help arrange food for him. Kaśyapa said: ‘There is a huge elephant and a turtle in the sea, their present form is the consequence of a curse. You can eat them’. Accordingly, Garuḍa swept them up, carried them between his beaks and sat upon a branch of one of the Kalpavṛkṣa[1] trees to make a meal of them. The branch however gave in due to his enormous weight. To protect the Vālakhilyas[2] who were performing penance clinging to that branch, he caught the branch and lowered it gently upon this uninhabited area. The kingdom of Lanka has been built over that very branch. This is why the land here is made of wood!” Then Vibhīṣaṇa gifted him plenty of precious jewels and golden Śaṅkha, Cakra, Gadā and Padma[3] which were offerings for Nārāyaṇa, the deity of the temple in Mathura.

Lohajaṅgha picked the things up, mounted the bird and flew over the seas. He reached the city of Mathura with very little effort. He tethered the bird to a dilapidated vihāra in the outskirts of the city and left all the gems at the place. He just took one gem with him, went into the city and visited shops to buy the necessary clothes and ornaments. He had his meal and also got food for the bird.

In the evening, he dressed himself up and carried a śaṅkha and a cakra in his hands. He flew towards Rūpaṇikā’s house and upon reaching the place, let out a deep cry. Rūpaṇikā rushed out hearing his cry and as she saw him, she thought it was Śrīmannārāyaṇa himself who had come there. He said “I am Hari, I have come for your sake”. She bowed down to him and reverentially said “O Lord, pray come in!” He went into the house, stayed with her and went back flying on the bird[4].

Rūpaṇikā thought ‘Now I’m the consort of the greatest of the deities, Viṣṇu himself, I am a devatā and hence I should stop conversing with these mere mortals’. The next morning her mother saw that she was silent and asked her the reason for it. After much persuasion, Rūpaṇikā, having a curtain separating her from her mother, told her everything that took place at night. The mother grew suspicious. That evening when she spotted Lohajaṅgha who came flying on the bird and also saw him going away the next morning, the mother told the daughter who was behind the curtain – “Daughter! With the blessings of the lord, you have become a devatā too. I am your mother and please convey a request to the deity on my behalf. Please request him to let me go to the svarga in this mortal body!”

Accordingly, Rūpaṇikā put forth the request to Lohajaṅgha the next night. In reply, Lohajaṅgha said – “Your mother is an evil woman and has committed tremendous pāpa. I will not be able to take her to the svarga in the form she is now. However, on the day of the Ekādaśī, the doors of the svarga will open. That day, many śiva-gaṇas enter svarga first, followed by others. If she too dresses herself up like one of those of the śiva-gaṇa, I can get her into svarga along with them. Therefore, remove all hair from her head except for five strands. Make her wear a garland of skulls. Get her naked and paint one half of her body with black colour and the other half red. If she dressed up in this manner, it will be easier for me to take her to the svarga along with the other gaṇas!”

The next day, Marakadaṃṣṭrā got prepared in the fashion she was asked to and waited to be taken to the svarga. That evening Lohajaṅgha took her on the bird and dropped her off on the garuḍa-stambha of the temple in the city. A wheel was at the top of the pillar and there was enough place for a person to stand there holding on to the wheel. ‘Wait here for a moment! I will bless the people of earth and get back’. Saying so, he went to the people and addressed them – ‘People of the city! Listen to me! The Mārī, the destroyer of worlds, is about to fall upon you all any moment. Thus, all of you should surrender to Nārāyaṇa!” Listening to this voice emanating from the skies, the devotees who had gathered there were terrified. They went to the vigraha of the deity and started reciting mantras. After having done so, he too took off his disguise and came amidst the people to watch the fun.

Marakadraṃṣṭrā who was atop the pillar thought, ‘The lord has not come back yet and I have not reached the svarga too!’ Unable to stand there for long, she cried out loud, ‘Alas! I am falling down! I am falling down’ Hearing her voice, the people spotted her and thought it must be the Mārī who was coming down upon them as per the prophecy of the incorporeal voice. They shouted back ‘Please don’t fall upon us, O Mother! Please don’t!’ They spent the entire night in fear that she might fall over them any moment.

As the sun rose the next morning, the people realised that the Mārī was actually Marakadaṃṣṭrā.

With their fears allayed, everyone had a hearty laugh. Rūpaṇikā also arrived; everyone came together and helped her get down; the king arrived; upon listening to her tale, they decided that only a siddha could be responsible for such an astounding feat and declared, “If the one who has outsmarted this fraudster appears before our eyes, we shall honour him with a Paṭṭa-bandhā[5]!” Then Lohajaṅgha presented himself in front of the king, narrated the events in detail, the king and the citizens honoured him with the Paṭṭa-bandhā. He then offered to the Supreme the śaṅkha-cakra-gadā-padma that Vibhīṣaṇa had sent, married Rūpaṇikā and lived happily ever after.

Upon listening to this story, Vāsavadattā was delighted.

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 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.

Footnotes

[1] Wish-fulfilling trees.

[2] Sages who are of the size of a human thumb who perform severe austerities by clinging to tree branches.

[3] Śaṅkha (conch), cakra (discus), gadā (mace), and padma (lotus) are the four divine objects held in the four hands of Lord Viṣṇu.

[4] Compare this to the Rathakāra-kaulika-kathā which is the 5th story in the Mitra-bheda section of the Pañca-tantra.

[5] A mark of honour, typically a turban/headgear used to coronate someone as a king, here it may mean that he was crowned as the king of the Mathura province.

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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