Kathāpīṭhalambaka - 2 - The Story of Vararuci

This article is part 2 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

The Story of Vararuci

In Kauśāmbi, there lived a brāhmaṇa named Somadatta; his wife was called Vasudattā; I am their son. Having lost my father when I was still a child, I was brought up by my mother who underwent several hardships working as a servant. One day, two brāhmaṇas traveling from a land far away, camped overnight at our home. That night, upon hearing the sound of drums outside, my mother told me: ‘Child! Your father’s friend Nanda must be dancing!” I replied: “Mother, I will go there and watch it. Once I return home, I will re-enact it for you!”

The brāhmaṇas were surprised to hear this.

My mother said: “There is no doubt about it. If the boy listens to something even once, he grasps it!”.

In order to put this to test, one of the brāhmaṇas recited ‘Prātiśākhya’. I repeated it back to him verbatim. Then I took them with me to watch the dance and then came home and demonstrated it in front of my mother. From this they concluded that I am ekaśrutadhara (one who can master anything by listening to it just once).

Then, one of the brāhmaṇas bowed down to my mother and said: “Mother, in the town of Vetasa, there lived two brāhmaṇa brothers called Devasvāmin and Karambhaka. We are their sons. This is Indradatta and I am Vyāḍi. After our parents passed away, although we were rich, we wanted to gain knowledge. We thus performed tapas to Kumārasvāmī. The lord appeared to us in our dream and told us that there is a certain brāhmaṇa by name Varṣa in Pāṭalīpura and we were to go to him and get educated in all lores. We went there and asked for the brāhmaṇa. The people of the town told us ‘There indeed lives a brāhmaṇa by the name of Varṣa in this town, but he is a dullard!’ We thought we should examine this further and went to his house.The house was filled with burrows of rats and the walls were all cracked and appeared as though they would fall apart any moment. The roof was gone and he lived right under the sun. Varṣa was sitting in such a house performing dhyāna. His wife, who wore a dirty garment, appeared like an abode where poverty had taken residence by choice, as it had found her to be full of virtues. She served as our host. We bowed down before her and told her about the reason for our visit. We also told her what we had heard from the people in the town.

She said – ‘Respected ones! Why should I feel embarrassed before you? I’ll tell you, pray listen! There lives a brāhmaṇa by name Śaṅkarasvāmī in this town. My husband and another person by name Upavarṣa are his sons. This one is a fool and is poor. His younger brother, Upavarṣa is just the opposite. During one of the rainy seasons, my husband brought home a durdāna (bad, ill-offered dāna) in the form of a sweet dish (tambiṭṭu) that was offered to him by my sister-in-law (co-sister). I condemned him for this because such a dāna is offered only to fools[1]. My husband who was saddened by this, performed tapas to Kumārasvāmī and acquired all streams of knowledge. The lord commanded my husband that all his learning should be offered to an ekaśrutadhara (a person who can remember what is told right upon the first hearing). He happily narrated all this to me and since then has been performing japa and dhyāna. Thus, if you can find a person who is an ekaśrutadhara somewhere and bring him here, your purpose will be fulfilled as well!’ To help her, we offered her a hundred gold coins and left the place.

We toured all over the country and did not find an ekaśrutadhara. We got tired of our search and have come to your place. Here, we found your son. If you can send him with us, we will gain a treasure-trove of wealth!”

Our mother replied – “This clarifies it all. I believe you. When this boy was born, I heard an incorporeal voice, which said - ‘He is a śrutadhara; he will acquire a lot of knowledge from Varṣa; he will lay foundations for and propagate vyākaraṇa-śāstra (grammar) in the world; since he will like only the best of things, he will become famous by the name Vararuci!’ As the boy grew up, I have been thinking day and night – ‘Where indeed is this teacher by name Varṣa?’ Today, I am pleased to hear this from you. You may certainly take him with you!” she said.

Vyāḍi paid a lot of money and got my upanayana performed. As soon as we reached the place, Varṣopādhyāya understood that we had come there as per the command of Skanda. He uttered the syllable Om with his divine voice and started with his lessons. I was able to grasp the lesson right on the first hearing, while Vyāḍi needed two and Indradatta learnt it on the third retelling. Brāhmaṇas who were amazed upon listening to his divine voice, came in groups from all over the country to see the upādhyāya and heap praises upon him. They bowed down to him and worshiped him. The impact of the boon of Kumārasvāmī fell upon the king’s ears too – he filled Varṣa’s house with a lot of wealth.[2]

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] The original ślokas are as follows:

कताचिदथ संप्राप्ता प्रावृट् तस्यां च योषितः।

सगुडं पिष्टरचितं गुह्यरूपं जुगुप्सितम् ॥ 56 ||


कृत्वा मूर्खाय विप्राय ददत्येव कृते हि ताः।

शीतकाले निदाघे च स्नानक्लेशक्लमापहम्॥ 57 ||


दत्तं न प्रतिपद्यन्त इत्याचारो हि कुत्सितः।

तद्देवगृहिण्या मे दत्तमस्मै सदक्षिणम्॥ 58 ||

This seems to be a peculiar tradition. N.M.P has written a long note on this – pages 13-15. The following is an excerpt for his writing –

“According to Dulaure, in 1825 such cakes were still commonly made at certain times, the male being symbolised at Brinves and other localities of Lower Limousin while the female emblem was adopted at Clermount, in Auvergue, as well as other places.”

[2] There is a sub-story that comes here which tells us how the city got the name ‘Pāṭalīputra’. This was narrated by Varṣa Upādhyāya, apparently. ‘Pāṭalī’ was the name of a princess – the daughter of a king. ‘Putra’ was the name of a brāhmaṇa’s son. Though his father had abandoned the child, Pārvatī and Parameśvara had ensured that there would be some gold coins underneath his pillow every day. He later acquired vessel, stick and footwear from Maya’s children. He procured the princess Pāṭalī’ with the help of his pādukas (footwear), went with her to the banks of river Gaṅgā and drew a city with the stick. The sketch of the city actually manifested to be a real one. He got his food from the vessel. As the city belong to Pāṭalī and Putra, it got the name ‘Pāṭalīputra’. There are few sub-stories that come along with this.





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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