Kathāmukhalambaka - 7 - The birth of Udayana

This article is part 7 of 73 in the series Kathāmṛta

गौरीनवपरिष्वङ्गे विभोः स्वेदाम्बु पातु वः |
नेत्राग्निभीत्या कामेन वारुणास्त्रमिवाहितं ||

May the sweat beads adorning Shiva, brought about by his embrace of Gauri, protect you. It seems as though Kāma, fearful of Shiva’s fiery third eye, released Varuna-astra!

There is a big city called Kauśāmbi in the kingdom of Vatsa, which was created as an earthly competitor to the heavens by the creator, as though to keep the pride of the heavens in check. It was ruled by king Śatānīka, son of Janamejaya who was the son of Parīkṣita and the grandson of Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, who’s might was tested against the wielder of the Pināka bow. His queen was Viṣṇumatī. They were childless. During a hunting expedition, the king happened to meet the great Ṛṣi Śāṇḍilya. The Ṛṣi learning that the king is desirous of a worthy heir, made the queen partake of caru[1] sanctified by the mantras and they were eventually blessed with a son named Sahasrānīka. When the time was right, Śatānīka declared his son as the heir apparent and continued to reign, but only in name.

One day, Indra reached out for the king’s help through his charioteer Mātali when the battle between Devas and Asuras was about to ensue. Śatānīka, after having entrusted the kingdom to his ministers and commanders, left the kingdom to take part in the battle. Yugandhara the chief among his ministers and Supratīka the commander in chief took over the duties of the kingdom. The king slew innumerable Asuras who were led by their king, Yamadaṃṣṭra but he, however, met his end on the battlefield.

After this, Sahasrānīka took over the reins of the kingdom. Indra sent Mātali to invite Sahasrānīka to the feast arranged in heaven to celebrate the victory over the Asuras, since his father Śatānīka played an important role in it. Sahasrānīka came to Amarāvatī and saw various deities sporting with their consorts in the celestial garden named Nandana. He felt lonely seeing them. Indra perceiving his thoughts said, “O King! Your desire will be fulfilled. There is already someone on the earth who is fit to be your wife.” saying so he narrated the story of Vidhūma.

“Once upon a time, when I visited Brahmā, the creator and grandsire, a Vasu by the name Vidhūma also came there. Also came the Apsaras by the name Alambuṣā. Her clothes were blown aside by the wind, seeing which Vidhūma was overpowered by desire. The Apsaras too was smitten seeing him. Brahmā having seen this, turned towards me. By his gaze itself I understood his thoughts and cursed them both for their misconduct, ‘Be born on earth as man and wife!’”

“You are Vidhūma, Alambuṣā is born as Mṛgāvatī, the daughter of Kṛtavarmā, the king of Ayodhya. She will be your wife.” Indra sent off Sahasrānīka to his capital, after honouring him, along with his charioteer Mātali. As he was about to leave, the Apsaras Tilottamā spoke, “Please stop for a moment, I want to tell you something.” But the king was deeply immersed in his thoughts about Mṛgāvatī and so didn’t hear her words. This enraged Tilottamā and she cursed him, “O king! You shall be separated from her for fourteen years, about whom you are so engrossed that you don’t pay attention to my words.” While Mātali heard her words, the king who was yearning for Mṛgāvatī didn’t even hear the curse. While his chariot stopped at Kauśāmbi his heart raced to Ayodhya. The king after consulting his ministers Yugandhara and others sent a messenger to Ayodhya seeking Mṛgāvatī’s hand in marriage. Kṛtavarmā consulted his wife Kalāvatī, who narrated her dream in which a learned brahmin appeared and told her that Mṛgāvatī’s destiny was to be the wife of Sahasrānīka and so the marital alliance has her consent. Thus their wedding took place which resembled the union of learning and intelligence.

Not long after, the ministers too begot sons. Yugandhara had a son named Yaugandharāyaṇa, Supratīka had a son Rumaṇvān, the king’s Narma-saciva[2] had a son named Vasantaka. Eventually, Mṛgāvatī became pregnant. During the course of pregnancy, she developed craving to bathe in a pond filled with blood. The king fulfilled her desire by providing her with a pond filled with juice of lac instead of blood. When the queen was bathing in the pond, a bird of Garuḍa's lineage mistook her for a chunk of meat and carried her away. The king set off in search of her. Then, Mātali arrived and informed him that they were fated to be separated for some time, due to the curse of Tilottamā. The king somehow held on to his life knowing that he will be reunited with his wife in the future.

The bird set Mṛgāvatī down on the Udayaparvata. However, upon realizing that she was alive, it left her unharmed and flew away. While she was frightened, being alone on top of the treacherous mountain, weeping, a huge serpent desirous of devouring her, sprang upon her. Immediately a heavenly being appeared, slew the serpent and disappeared in a flash. Pining for Sahasrānīka, not being able to bear separation, she threw herself on the path of a wild elephant assuming it would trample her to death. Even the elephant spared her out of compassion! She prepared herself to jump off from a cliff to die, weeping in the memory of her beloved. An ascetic boy who then happened to be wandering by in search of food, spotted her and took her to the hermitage of Ṛṣi Jamadagni. Jamadagni understood everything and assured her that she would give birth to an illustrious son, and would be reunited with her beloved. The queen stayed in his care and in due course of time, gave birth to a son named Udayana. Jamadagni saw to it that all the prescribed rituals for the boy’s welfare were conducted. He also took over the responsibility for the prince’s learning.

One day, in order to secure freedom for a snake held captive by a hunter, Udayana paid with his bracelet gifted by his mother, which bore the name of King Sahasrānīka. That snake was none other than Vasunemi, the elder brother of Vāsukī. A happy Vasunemi gifted Udayana with a Vīṇā called Ghoṣavatī, and garland of unfading flowers. Later, when the hunter returned to the city and went to sell the bracelet, he was apprehended by the officers of the palace who then presented him to the king. Having learnt from the hunter as to what transpired, the king made preparations to travel to the mount Udaya. Just then, a divine voice sounded thus: “O king! Your curse has been broken. Your wife Mṛgāvatī and your son are in the hermitage of Jamadagni on Udayaparvata!”.

The king set out to Udayaparvata with his army, travelled far and camped near a lake in the forest. the exhausted king reclined on his bed and asked Saṅgataka, a storyteller who had accompanied him, to regale him with an entertaining story to soothe his anxiety about whether he will find his beloved or not. Saṅgataka began by saying that union and separation are inevitable in people’s lives. He then proceeded to narrate the story of Śrīdatta.

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]The food prepared for Homa and partaken after being offered as Āhuti to the deities.

[2]The close companion of the king whose primary duty is to keep the king in good spirits. Closest equivalent in english is the court jester. But the similarity is superficial.



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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