Kathāmukhalambaka - 15 - The Story of Śaktimatī, The Wedding of Vāsavadattā

This article is part 15 of 42 in the series Kathāmṛta

The next morning, when he regained his senses, the man was ashamed looking at his state. He cleaned up and rushed to Parivrājikā's house. He tied his head with a piece of cloth to hide the embarrassing seal and pretended to have a severe headache. He wanted the rest of them to face the kind of humiliation he had undergone. He said, ‘As I was returning from her place, thieves robbed me of all my belongings.’

The next three nights, the other three traders visited Devasmitā just like he did. All of them were rewarded with similar treatment. They decided that the sanyāsinī should also be punished in a similar fashion and did not mention anything to her. They left her without divulging any details about the kind of treatment they received at Devasmitā’s house.

A few days later, when the sanyāsinī along with her female student visited Devasmitā’s house, she received them with courtesy, fed them with the same intoxicating liquor. She got their noses chopped off and threw them into a dirty pit. She then grew anxious that these traders might find her husband and kill him. She informed her mother-in-law of her worry. Listening to this, the mother-in-law said – “Whatever you have done is correct; but what if my son falls into some kind of trouble because of your acts?”

Devasmitā said – “I will safeguard my husband just like the shrewd Śaktimatī, who protected her spouse using her clever mind”. To placate her mother-in-law, she narrated the following story:

The Story of Śaktimatī

There is a temple dedicated to a Yakṣa called Maṇibhadra in our town which was established by our ancestors. The temple is known to be a sacred place and people keep visiting it to fulfil their vows. If any man was caught in an illicit affair with a lady anywhere in the country, it was the norm of the land to keep him along with the lady arrested in the inner chambers of that temple for that night and on the next morning, to take him to the king’s court, declare his sin and get him punished.

One night, a trader by the name Samudra-datta was caught in the company of another woman. The town guards locked him up in the Yakṣa-gṛha and went away after deciding that they’d take him to the king, the next morning. This news fell on the ears of his wife Śaktimatī. She was intelligent and was devoted to her husband. She immediately picked up materials needed to perform pooja and rushed to the temple along with her ceṭis [female associates]. The purohita who was eager to receive the dakṣiṇā opened the door of the temple and let them in. Śaktimatī saw the lady who was with her husband and gave her own clothes to her. She asked the lady to dress up herself to resemble Śaktimatī and sent her away to her house. Accordingly, the lady who had an illicit affair with Samudra-datta went away with the associates in the disguise of Śaktimatī. As per her plan, the real Śaktimatī stayed with her husband locked up in the temple.

The next morning when the king’s men came there, they saw that the merchant was with his wife. The king who came to know of this punished the guards instead of punishing Samudra-datta. The merchant was freed. Thus with timely wisdom and quick thinking Śaktimatī saved her husband from disaster.

Devasmitā narrated this tale and transgressing the boundaries of her mother-in-law’s permission, she and her ceṭis dressed up as merchants and proceeded to the island of Kaṭāha for trade. There, among the merchants, she saw her husband; he too saw her and thought, “Who is this merchant? His face closely resembles my wife’s, doesn’t it?” But he couldn’t recognize her. She met the king and told him that he must assemble all the townsfolk at a place and also that she wished to address them. With great curiosity, the king called for an assembly of the townspeople; she said, “Four of my slaves have come here and mixed with the people; they must be gathered together!” and pointed to the four men who had come to her town. Enraged, the merchants of the town who were gathered there said, “These are all children of merchants; how did they ever become slaves?” She said, “If you don’t believe my words, then take a close look at their foreheads; there is a mark of a dog’s paw.” All the four of them had worn a cloth-turban wrapped around their heads to hide their marks and when they were made to remove that, the marks became manifest. The merchants were ashamed. Astonished, the king asked what the matter was and Devasmitā recounted all the incidents preceding that. Everyone had a hearty laugh. The king said, “You were right in claiming that these are your slaves!” The merchants coughed up a great deal of money to secure their release. The king too honoured Devasmitā. She took all that money and returned home along with her husband. After that, they simply would not be without the other. Devī! Thus, women from respectable families, having attained single-minded focus through their pure character and courage, serve their husbands. For a chaste wife, her husband is indeed the Supreme being!—Vasantaka said. Hearing this story, Vāsavadattā finally got over the shame and embarrassment which bothered her as she had left her parents and relatives for Udayana.

The wedding of Vāsavadattā

Even as Vastarāja was at Vindhyāṭavi, a messenger of Caṇḍamahāsena came to him, bowed down, and said, “King Caṇḍamahāsena has given the following message to you: It is appropriate that you have run away with Vāsavadattā; that is the very reason I had you brought here; I thought it would not be suitable to get her married to you while I had imprisoned you and so I remained silent; now, don’t get married to her violating tradition and fate in haste; have patience and wait awhile; my son Gopālaka will arrive there soon enough and will offer her hand in marriage to you by following the right protocol.” Vāsavadattā was delighted to hear this. Soon after, Vastarāja told the messenger, “Remain here until Gopālaka arrives; bring him and Puḷindarāja with you!” and left for Kauśāmbi along with his army and Vāsavadattā. On the way, he rested for a night in a palace belonging to Rumaṇvān, and reached Kauśāmbi. The citizens of the town were ecstatic upon seeing him return along with a wife. The royal palace that had been slumbering all these days suddenly felt awake and alive. Gopālaka arrived within two days and having married off his sister, he gave the newly married couple various gifts that his father had given. It was a happy reunion for Vāsavadattā with her relatives. The king of Vatsas then honoured Gopālaka and Puḷindarāja. He then entrusted Yaugandharāyaṇa and Rumaṇvān with the task of honouring the townsfolk, the kings and the vassals who were present in a manner that befitted their worth and stature. Yaugandharāyaṇa told Rumaṇvan, “The king has given us an extremely difficult task; it is not easy to make people happy. Even a child if displeased would create a huge mischief, what of grown men with ego! One misstep and great anger could erupt.” and he went on to narrate the tale of a child displeased—the tale of Bālavinaṣṭaka.

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.

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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