Kathāmukhalambaka - 13 - The elopement of Vāsavadattā

This article is part 13 of 13 in the series Kathāmṛta

As the days went by, Vāsavadattā’s love for the king of the Vatsas increased; her affection and respect towards her parents decreased; she was ready to defy them, then Yaugandharāyaṇa arrived, and making himself visible only to Vatsarāja and Vasantaka, exclaimed, “Mahārāja! Caṇḍamahāsena has deceitfully captured you; he desires to send you home only after getting his daughter married off to you; but if we ourselves abduct her now and go away from here, that would be a fitting response to his arrogance; we will also avoid being derided for lacking in manliness and courage. He has gifted an elephant named Bhadravatī to his daughter; if one has to chase Bhadravatī and capture it, that is possibly only by the Naḍāgiri elephant; but Naḍāgiri even though swift enough, won’t fight against Bhadravatī; I’ve paid a great deal of money to Āṣāḍhaka—the mahout who rides Bhadravatī —and purchased his loyalty; he is firmly in my grip. At night, secretly mount that elephant and get away from here. Ihatya is the chief mahout who knows the secrets of elephants; for our plans to work, you should get him drunk and make him lose his consciousness. Then, come to Pulindarāja, who will be waiting for you in the forests of Vindhyā; I will go ahead of you to arrange for your security along the way.” Saying so, he went away. When Vatsarāja was alone with Vāsavadattā, he told her all this. She agreed and then called for Āṣāḍhaka, instructing him to be ready. Under the pretext of a devatā-pūjā [worship ritual] she invited all the mahouts and got them completely drunk. At night which was punctuated by roars of thunder, the elephant was made ready and asked to stand still, it trumpeted once; the chief mahout, expert in understanding elephants, heard the sound, exclaimed indistinctly even in his drunken stupor, “The female elephant is trumpetting because it is getting ready to traverse a distance of sixty-three yojanas[1]!” At that point his intellect was not sharp enough to analyze the situation, and his words didn’t reach the ears of the other mahouts who had fallen down drunk. Then Vatsarāja cut through the fetters using the implements indicated by Yaugandharāyaṇa; taking his vīṇā and his weapons he mounted the elephant along with Vāsavadattā and Vasantaka. Vāsavadattā’s friend Kāñcanamālā also accompanied them. The elephant went ahead, tore down the fortress door, made way for itself, and lunged forward. Vatsarāja killed the sentinels—Vīrabāhu and Tālabhaṭṭa —on duty. Āṣāḍhaka employed his goad and made the elephant run ahead. The city patrol saw the dead sentinels and reported the matter to the king. It became known that Vāsavadattā and Vatsarāja had escaped. With the entire town engulfed in chaos, Pālaka mounted Naḍāgiri and began chasing Vatsarāja. Shooting arrows one after another, Vatsarāja battled Pālaka. Naḍāgiri did not attack Bhadravatī. In the meantime, Gopālaka arrived and in deference to his father’s wishes took him [Pālaka] back. Subsequently Vatsarāja went ahead on his journey, free from anxiety, and by the following afternoon reached Vindhyāṭavi. After travelling sixty-three yojanas, the exhausted elephant drank water in a bid to ease its tiredness and fell down dead. While mourning for the loss of Bhadravatī, the king of Vatsas and Vāsavadattā heard a heavenly voice which said, “O king, I’m Māyāvatī, a vidyādharā, in the form of a female elephant due to a curse. I’m free now after helping you. I'll again be of help to your son to be, in the future. Vāsavadattā is no ordinary mortal, she is a goddess-incarnate”. Hearing this they were consoled. Then he sent word to Pulindarāja through Vasantaka and resumed the journey on foot along with Vāsavadattā. A gang of dacoits ambushed them and attacked. The king killed hundreds of them with arrows.

By then Pulindarāja, Yaugandharāyaṇa and Vasantaka arrived. Pulindarāja thrashed and shooed away the other thieves and took the King and Vāsavadattā with reverence to his village. Having got the information from the messenger who was sent by Yaugandharāyaṇa, the general, Rumaṇvān also arrived. Thus the forest itself became the capital. Upon the arrival of a trader from Ujjayinī, Vatsarāja enquired him about the events there. He said, “O king! Caṇḍamahāsena has nothing but affection for his son-in-law (you); therefore he has sent a messenger; he is following me but in secret; I’m here to inform you about this!”. Vatsarāja was happy to hear about this. He also informed Vāsavadattā about this. Vāsavadattā had left all her relatives when she eloped with Vatsarāja; still the wedding was due; thus she was ashamed on one hand; so she asked Vasantaka to narrate a story, to while away time. He narrated this:-

The story of Devasmitā

In the city of Tāmraliptī, lived a merchant, Dhanadatta. Worried about being childless, he approached the brāhmaṇas and asked, “What steps should I take to relieve myself from this misery?” They narrated this story.

[“It is not difficult to solve this if you follow the rituals in accordance with the scriptures. Once upon a time, there was a king who had 105 wives but was childless. By means of a yajña, a son was born. He was named Jantu. The boy —crawling on all fours —was bit on the thigh by an ant. The boy cried loudly. This caused huge commotion and all his wives wept in horror seeing that. The ant was removed and the boy was consoled, but the event made the king despair thinking that it is a misfortune to have only one son, as it causes only grief. He approached the brāhmaṇas who said, “There is only one solution for this problem. It is not an easy one. You should offer your only son as the Āhuti in the yajña, the fragrance which would emanate from it should be inhaled by your wives. If this is done, all your wives shall beget sons. The king followed their instructions and eventually all his wives begat sons.”][2]

“So by means of a yajña you can get a worthy progeny.” Dhanadatta was happy to know that he can have children. Following their instructions, he arranged for the yajña and a son was born. He named him Guhasena; The boy grew up. Dhanadatta took him along, to trade and also to find a bride for him, and went overseas. There he found Devasmitā, the daughter of another merchant, Dharmagupta.

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.


[1] Yojana is a measure of distance; different texts give different lengths but it is often equated to a distance of thirteen kilometers..

[2] This story is left out in Kathāmṛta by Prof. A R Krishna Shastri as it is obviously too terrifying! We add it here for the sake of completion.



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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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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