Kathāpīṭhalambaka - 3 - The Story of the City of Pāṭalīputra

This article is part 3 of 5 in the series Kathāmṛta

There is a sacred tīrtha called Kanakhala near Gaṅgādvāra. In the past, a divine elephant called Kāñcanapāta broke open a mountain and let the Gaṅgā flow into the plains from there. In the region to the south of this town, a brāhmaṇa lived with his wife and performed tapas. He had three sons. After his death, his sons went to a place called Rājagṛha and acquired a lot of knowledge there. Though they became well educated, they were in immense pain, considering themselves as orphans. They headed towards Dakṣiṇāpatha seeking the darśana of Kumāra-svāmī. They arrived at a town called Ciñcinī at the sea shore and stayed in the house of a brāhmaṇa named Bhojika. He then gave away his three daughters in marriage to these men and went away to the banks of Gaṅgā to perform tapas. The three men lived in their father-in-law’s house. Once, however, there was a great famine and knowing not what to do, they went away from the town leaving their pious wives behind.

The second one among the three sisters was pregnant when the three men left. The women took refuge in the house of a brāhmaṇa named Yajña-datta and kept longing for the company of their husbands. Once when Pārvatī was moving about in the skies along with Parameśvara, she spotted the baby. Overcome with great compassion, she said, “Lord! Look there. The women have so much of affection for the boy. They are living with the hope that he will take care of them one day. Please make sure that he protects his mothers.” Parameśvara said, “In his previous life, he worshipped me with great devotion along with his wife. He has my blessings. His wife has already taken birth as the daughter of Mahendra-varma. She has been named Pāṭalī and she will be his wife in the current birth too.” Saying so, he appeared in the dream of all the three women and said, “Name your little one as ‘Putraka’ (meaning ‘the beloved son’). Every day, a lakh gold coins will appear by his head as he sleeps and wake up!"

And so, the women procured a lot of gold and Putraka grew up to be a king. Their host, Yajña-datta told him, “O king! Your fathers went away from this town owing to a famine. Please be magnanimous and donate generously to the brāhmaṇas!”

Yajña-datta narrated a story to Putraka

The Story of Brahma-datta

There lived a king by name Brahma-datta in Vārāṇasī. One night, he spotted a haṃsa-couple flying in the skies. The birds were golden in colour and there were hundreds of other rāja-haṃsas flying along with the couple. The golden birds looked like a streak of lightning amidst white clouds. The king felt intense desire to see those two haṃsas again. He lost interest in all royal pleasures and after consulting his ministers, he created a lake which was a peaceful retreat for all animals. As days rolled on, the two haṃsas arrived at the lake. The king noticed their arrival. After they gained trust in him, the haṃsas narrated the manner in which they got a golden body.

“We were crows in our previous life. We fought with each other for a piece of food and lost our lives in a deserted Śivālaya. We were born again in a lake in the vicinity as golden swans yet again.”

“Thus, you too will get back your father and uncles by performing great dāna," said Yajña-datta to Putraka.

Putraka donated a lot of wealth to the brāhmaṇas and learning this, his father and uncles returned. The three men were evil by their very nature and became desirous of possessing the kingdom. With the intention to eliminate Putraka, they took him to the temple of Vindhya-vāsinī on the pretext of seeking the darśana of the deity. As Putraka entered the garbha-gṛha, he was attacked by the men appointed by his father and uncles to murder him. A shocked Putraka asked them, “Why do you attempt to kill me?” The men replied, “We have been paid in gold by your father and uncles to perform this task!” Devī Vindhya-vāsinī then took control of their minds and the smart Putraka said, “I will give you my necklace studded with precious gems. Please let me free. I won’t utter a word about this elsewhere. I will go away from here.” Agreeing to the proposal, the men came out of the temple and announced that they had murdered Putraka.

As the three brothers returned to their capital, the ministers realised that they had come to the place desirous of the kingdom. They got them murdered.

A dejected Putraka started roaming about, all alone, in the Vindhyāṭavī. Once, he found two men fighting with each other and asked them who they were. They replied, “We are the sons of Mayāsura. We are fighting over the wealth that our father has left for us. He has left behind a vessel, a pair of sandals, and this stick. A person who wears the sandals can fly in the skies and whatever is written with the stick will come true. Any kind of food that you desire to eat will get filled in the vessel on its own.”

Putraka said, “If that is the case, why would you fight? You can compete with each other in a running race – the winner can possess the objects!” The fools agreed and set out on a race.

Putraka took hold of the objects and flew far away, covering a great distance. He spotted a city called Ākarṣikā and descended there. He thought to himself, “Prostitutes are cheats. And brāhmaṇas, just like my father and uncles, can dupe others. Vaiśyas are always after money. Whose house shall I reside in?” Thinking thus, he landed near a dilapidated house in a deserted place. He saw an old woman there. He offered her a lot of money, pleased her, and received her affectionate hospitality. He stayed at her place for a long period of time. The old lady, who was delighted, once told him, “Dear child! I have always been worried that you don’t have a wife who befits you. There is a maiden by name Pāṭalī here, in this city. She is the daughter of the king and she's under protection in a multi-storied harem called ‘Ratna.’

As Putraka heard this from the old lady, Manmatha, the deity of love, entered through his ears and resided in his heart. Putraka said, “I should really see the girl today!” That night, Putraka flew to the residence of the princess and entered her quarters through a window. He saw her beautiful form that looked like the very embodiment of Manmatha. As he wondered how to wake her up, he heard the security guard singing – “To wake this beautiful one up in solitude, she, who is asleep letting out gentle sounds, is the fructification of the lives of several men!" This song worked like a pretext for Purtaka’s next set of actions. He embraced the lady. His limbs seemed weak out of mild tremor, due to excitement.

The princess opened her eyes and looked at him; as their eyes met, shyness and embarrassment competed with one another to occupy her sight. The two of them spoke to each other at length and got married in the gāndharva manner, right away. Saying that he would return soon, Putraka went back to the old lady’s house in the last leg of the night.

Putraka started visiting Pāṭalī every night. One day, the security guards noticed love-marks on her body and reported this to the king. To discover who was responsible for this, the king let a woman spy upon his daughter at night. The lady used ālaktaka colour (a kind of red dye) on Putraka’s clothes to trace his identity. They discovered that he lived at the old lady’s and brought him to the king’s court the next morning.

Seeing that the king was angry with them, Putraka flew to the residence of the princess and told her, “People have discovered our love affair. Come, let’s escape from here. When his beloved was tired, they landed on the banks of the river Gaṅgā. He provided her with food which manifested in the magic vessel. As per her request, he drew a big city along with the four-fold army, using the magic stick. This manifested as a city and Putraka became its king. He expanded his kingdom until the oceans. This city came to be called Pāṭalīputra and became the playground for Lakṣmī and Sarasvatī.

To be continued...

The current article is an addition to the English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta.  This section has been taken 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 translation has been rendered by Arjun Bharadwaj, Raghavendra GS, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading. Read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri here.

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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