Kathāmukhalambaka - 14 - The Story of Devasmitā, cont.

This article is part 14 of 42 in the series Kathāmṛta

Dhanadatta tried to convince him that his son is a suitable groom to his daughter. But Dharmagupta thought that Tāmraliptī was too far and did not agree to this proposal. Meanwhile Devasmitā, having seen Guhasena, was impressed by his qualities and handsomeness, informed through a messenger that she had fallen in love, eloped with him in the night to Tāmraliptī leaving behind all her relatives. There their wedding happened; they lived happily as husband and wife. After the demise of Dhanadatta, Guhasena had to go to the island of Kaṭāha on a business trip with his relatives; Devasmitā didn’t agree as she was frightened that in her absence he would succumb to temptation and will look out for other women; having no other choice, thinking that only the gods can help they went to the temple and started their vrata. Śiva came to them in their dreams, gave them a red lotus each and said, “Each of you keep one lotus for yourself; when you are far away and out of sight from each other, if one’s lotus withers, you will know that the other has erred!”. Following his words, they both kept their lotuses as though it was each other’s hearts. Guhasena proceeded to Kaṭāha and went around with his gemstone business, while Devasmitā remained in Tāmraliptī, ever vigilant, keeping an eye on the lotus. Meanwhile, seeing a lotus in Guhasena’s possession which was always fresh, intrigued by this, the merchants there took him to the tavern, made him drink excessively and asked him how the lotus remained fresh. He blurted out everything. As there was a lot of time left for his business to get over, four of those merchants set out to Tāmraliptī with the sole purpose of spoiling his wife. There they went to the house of a female hermit, Yogakaraṇḍikā, asked her help in lieu of riches. She told them that she is in just for the adventure and not after money. She narrated the story of her disciple called Siddhikarī who had already earned a lot of money.

Once, a merchant from the north had come here. This disciple of mine entered his household as a servant and gained his trust. One night, she stole all his gold and escaped on foot. A drummer saw her and pursued her with the intention of robbing her. She soon realized that she was being followed. Once they were outside the city, near a banyan tree, the cunning Siddhikarī addressed him thus: ‘Sir! I have quarrelled with my husband and have forsaken him. I wish to hang myself to death. Won’t you please help me by tying up a rope for me?’ Telling himself that she only made his job easier, the drummer decided not to bother himself with the effort of killing her. He quickly readied a noose for her. Then, Siddhikarī, asked him innocently, ‘Sir, how does one hang oneself? Can you please show me?’. The foolish drummer placed his drum on the ground, climbed atop it, wore the noose around his neck and just as he declared, ‘like so!’, Siddhikarī kicked the drum away and he was strangled to death.

By this time, the merchant came in search of Siddhikarī and spotted her near the tree from afar. Seeing this, she clambered up the tree and hid herself. When the merchant came close, he saw the drummer’s hanging body, but there was no sign of her. One of the servants hit upon the idea to climb up the tree and check. When he came up, Siddhikarī whispered to him, ‘Handsome sir! I am in love with you. Here, all this wealth is yours!’. Then she hugged him, and then, pretending to kiss him, bit off his tongue! Bleeding profusely from his mouth and shouting unintelligibly, the servant fell down hard. The trader saw this and thought ‘this must certainly be the doing of an evil spirit!’. Fearing for his life, the merchant ran away along with his servants. A little later, Siddhikarī slowly climbed down and came home with the treasure. Now, do you see how astute my disciple is? Thanks to her, I have no dearth of money.

Saying thus, Yogakaraṇḍikā pointed to them, her disciple Siddhikarī and asked them to explain their purpose. Then the merchants explained to Yogakaraṇḍikā, the purpose of their visit. She agreed to help them in their evil mission. Then one day, accompanied by Siddhikarī, she went to Devasmitā’s home. Looking at them both, Devasmitā’s dog which was tied at the entrance barked aloud. Then Devasmitā herself came out and invited the mendicant inside. Yogakaraṇḍikā blessed her and said: ‘For long have I wished to meet you. Today I saw you in my dream, and hence decided to call on you. Alas! I feel very sad to see you lonely. You are so young and beautiful!’ Then she spoke a few more words of formality and finally bade Devasmitā goodbye. Equipped with enough information, the very next day, a sly Yogakaraṇḍikā carried with her some pieces of meat mixed with chilly powder and went to Devasmitā’s home again. Unbeknownst to others, she offered the spiced up meat to the dog and went inside. As the dog gorged on them, its eyes and nose started to water up. Right then, Yogakaraṇḍikā looked at Devasmitā and began to sob. When asked as to what happened, she replied: ‘In my previous birth, your dog was my companion. Hearing it lament, I too felt like crying’. A puzzled Devasmitā came out and found that the dog was indeed wailing. Devasmitā asked what could be the meaning of this. Yogakaraṇḍikā then added: ‘In my past birth, the dog and I were the wives of a brahmana. Our husband used to travel often, upon the decree of the king. Whenever he was not in town, I would keep myself happy without any qualms. For, one must not deny one’s own senses their needs. In fact, one’s chief dharma is to ensure that one’s senses are not robbed of what is rightfully theirs. That is why I am a jātismarā - one who retains memories across births. My ignorant co-wife however cautiously protected her chastity. Consequently, she was reborn as a dog. However, it too can remember its past birth!

Upon hearing these words, Devasmitā thought – ‘What kind of dharma is this? She has come here with the motive of cheating me in some way’. She asked – “Bhagavatī! I had no knowledge of this dharma until now; could you not send a handsome man for me?” The praivrājikā said – “Alright then. Some traders have arrived from another island. I will send them”. With these words, she left for her home delighted.

Devasmitā realised that whoever these traders are, they have seen the unwithering lotus in Guhasena’s possession and have somehow extracted the story from him. With these thoughts, she called her maidens and said – “Prepare some liquor that is mixed with Dhattūra[1] and also quickly get a seal that has a dog’s paw on it made.”

Upon hearing the words of the Parivrājikā, the traders came forward one after the other. The Praivrājikā dressed one of the men in the disguise of her pupil and let him in the house of Devasmitā. One of the assistant maidens of Devasmitā welcomed the trader in disguise, made him drink the liquor and stamped his forehead with the seal of a dog’s paw. She also unclothed the fainted man and threw him into the ditches nearby.

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] Datura stramonium/metel, known by the common names thorn apple, jimsonweed (jimson weed) or devil's snare, known for its hallucinogenic properties, in the context of this story, it is most likely Datura metel.

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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சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
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உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
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