Kathāpīṭhalambaka - 1- Śiva Starts Narrating a Story

This article is part 1 of 97 in the series Kathāmṛta

इदं गुरु-गिरीन्द्रजा प्रणय-मन्दरान्दोलनात्
पुरा किल कथामृतं हर-मुखाम्बुधेरुद्गतं |
प्रसह्य रसयन्ति ये विगतविघ्नलब्धर्धयो
धुरं दधति वैबुधीं भुवि भवप्रसादेन ते ||

Long ago this kathāmṛta (literally 'story-nectar') rose up from the mouth of Śiva churned by Pārvatī’s love acting as the Mount Mandara. Those of this world who partake of it are, through the grace of Śiva, instantly rid of obstacles and blessed with prosperity and vested with knowledge.

श्रियं दिशतु वः शम्भोः श्यामः कण्ठो मनोभुवा |
अङ्कस्थपार्वतीदृष्टिपाशैरिव विवेष्टितः ||

May the neck of Śaṃbhu, which appears dark, as though because of Manmatha's fetters consisting of the glances of Pārvatī who is seated on his lap.

संध्यानृत्तोत्सवे ताराः करेणोद्धूय विघ्नजित् |
सीत्कारसीकरैरन्याः कल्पयन्निव पातु वः ||

In the dance of twilight, may Gaṇeśa, who having swept away the stars with the movements of his trunk, seems to create new ones through his sneeze, protect you!

1[1]. There is the mountain named Himavat, the majestic overlord of all the mountains, the abode of the gandharvas, kinnaras and vidyādharas. His glory made the mother of three worlds Bhavānī saw fit to become his daughter. The great peak Kailāsa, a part of Himavat, resides there reaching the skies, laughing with its snowy sparkle at Mandara as if mocking it for not being able to match its whiteness in spite of being immersed in the milky ocean during the churning for amṛta. On that Kailāsa, dwells Śiva, beloved of Pārvatī.

Once upon a time, goddess Pārvatī asked Parameśvara to tell her a new and entertaining story. Parameśvara replied, "Dear one! What, after all, is there that is not known to you?" She, however, did not relent. Thus, in order to regale Pārvatī, Śiva succinctly narrated her very own story –

Earlier Brahmā and Nārāyaṇa, wandering the earth, reached the foothills of the Himalayas. There they saw a huge jvālā-liṅga (a fiery, brilliant Śivaliṅga). In order to locate its extremities, one of them went up, and the other went down. But they couldn’t find its ends. Then they undertook austerities, in response to which I appeared before them. When I asked them what they wished for, Brahmā said, "Be a son to me!" Due to this greed, he turned unworthy of worship. Nārāyaṇa, however, said, "O Supreme one! May I be blessed by serving you!" Hence he was reborn as you. Thus, you are Nārāyaṇa himself in the form of my Śakti. You were my consort in your previous life too. Upon listening to this, Pārvatī asked, "How did I come to be your wife earlier?" Śiva then recounted the stories of destruction of Dakṣa’s yajña, the burning of Kāma, the marriage of Girijā, and concluded saying, "That’s all! What more is left to say?"

An angered Pārvatī retorted, "Is this the good story you promised to tell me?" Śiva then pacified and promised her that he would tell her a divine story. Ordering Nandin not to let anyone in, Pārvatī shut the door herself.

Īśvara began to recount the tale. “Devas are always happy, and humans are always unhappy and thus their stories are not fascinating; so I will tell you the tales of vidyādharas!" At that very moment, one of Śiva’s gaṇas called Puṣpadanta arrived at the door. Nandin, however, stopped him and turned him away. Puṣpadanta thought to himself, "Why am I, for no no apparent reason, barred from entering?" Out of curiosity, he turned invisible, entered, and stealthily listened to the captivating story of the seven vidyādharas. Upon returning home, Puṣpadanta narrated the story to his wife, Jayā, who in turn, being Pārvatī’s assistant, repeated the story back to Pārvatī. Angered, Pārvatī went to Śiva and expressed her displeasure. "You told me that this story is entirely original! But even Jayā knows it!” Upon [divine] meditation Śiva learnt what happened and narrated to Pārvatī what really transpired. Summoning Puṣpadanta, Pārvatī cursed him to be born as a human. When Mālyavanta, another of Śiva’s gaṇas, supplicated her on behalf of Puṣpadanta, Pārvatī cursed him too. Eventually relenting to Jayā’s prayers, Pārvatī said, "In the forests of the Vindhyas, there is a piśāca called Kāṇabhūti, who is actually a yakṣa named Supratīka. He had a friend called Sthūlaśiras. Looking at Supratīka's friendship with that sinful rākṣasa, Kubera cursed him to be born as a piśāca in the Vindhya forest. Puṣpadanta will be relieved of his curse upon narrating this story to Kāṇabhūti, who in turn will be rid of his curse when he tells this story to Mālyavanta. Finally, Mālyavanta will be relieved of his curse as well, after disseminating this story around the world and making it popular." The gaṇas dazzled like lightning and vanished. Puṣpadanta was born as Vararuci in Kauśāmbi and Mālyavanta was born as Guṇāḍhya in the town of Supratiṣṭhā.

2-5. Vararuci became popular as 'Kātyāyana' and served as the minister to King Nanda. Later, he became disenchanted and came to see Vindhyavāsinī. She appeared in his dream and said, "Go to Kāṇabhūti who lives in the forests of Vindhyā!" Obeying her words, Vararuci went to the woods. After wandering about, he came to a peepal tree where he saw the piśāca Kāṇabhūti seated among hundreds of other piśācas. Kāṇabhūti bowed down to Vararuci and told him that he was waiting for Puṣpadanta. This caused Vararuci to recollect the story of his previous birth. Revealing himself to be Puṣpadanta, he then proceeded to narrate to Kāṇabhūti, the seven vast stories comprising seven hundred thousand ślokas. Thereafterwards, upon being requested by Kāṇabhūti, he recounted the story of his life in detail.

To be continued...

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj,  Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar. Starting this Friday, stories from the Kathāmṛta will be published every week. These will be appended with stories from the original Kathā-sarit-sāgara (of Soma-deva) with additional notes from Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī (of Kṣemendra) and Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha (of Budha-svāmin).

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.



[1]These numbers indicate the taraṅgas of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara.




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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