Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 15 – Men and Women of the World, cont.

This article is part 15 of 18 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

Some people, even as they utter words as hurting as the kick of a donkey, say thus with knit faces: ‘I don’t retain any filth within; I don’t say one thing and mean another; I lay forth everything that’s inside, out in the open’. Saying so, they pat themselves in the back over their transparent and straightforward ways. This is not an admirable trait; for, after all, what issues out clearly shows what lay within, isn’t it? If one’s speech can hurt others, keeping it to oneself is the right thing to do; silence is golden. Thus, one must not resort to bad language and hurt feelings; one who scolds must be ready to be paid back in the same coin as well; for, it is like using a saw; it cuts both ways. Physical injury is temporary; it may even be cured through medicines. However, when the mind is hurt, the cure is not quick. How does one heal it? The Gita tells us (17-15): That which doesn’t hurt, yet is true, kind and sweet, is the tapas of word. ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d’, said the great poet Shakespeare. It is likewise with kindness; for, forced display of love would be nothing more than just an empty gesture. Once a woman applied for divorce saying her husband did not love her anymore. The husband argued in court that he did indeed love her. Both testimonies, however, were not substantiated. Since the court could only pronounce its judgement based on evidence, the judge declined to grant divorce and instead instructed the husband: “There is no evidence to back your claims. So, everyday going forward, you must kiss your wife in the morning and evening, and declare to her: ‘Oh! I love you so much!’” In order to save himself from trouble, let us assume that the husband obeys the decree; but what joy could this bring to the couple? The root of all kindness and cordiality in families is the mutual love between husband and wife, which then fans out to their children and issues out further. If the wife's false prestige, arrogance and vanity don’t give way to love, and the husband too is clueless, how could it possibly grow?

Unless the heart has matured to become tender, sweet and compassionate, of what use is any religious ritual or pilgrimage to various holy places? Of what use are the vratas and worshipping with lakhs of flowers or the turning of pages of the ‘Bhāgavata’ from one end to the other? Of what use is the repeated muttering of the various names of various deities? Ātmaguṇa (virtue of the soul) is the essence of dharma; like the thread which holds the flowers together, it is the quality which binds all dharmic endeavors; and even there, first comes compassion. That’s why all the dharmic gurus and authors of dharmic works starting from Buddha to Basavaṇṇa declared: ‘Compassion indeed is the root of dharma!’. In fact, compassion for the downtrodden, affection for the younger ones, friendship between colleagues, respect for the elders, devotion for the guru, romantic love between the husband and the wife – all these are essentially the same. The object is the same and its manifestations are many. This is the only means of softening the hardships of life, though it may not provide a permanent solution. If a person is gentle by nature and develops affection, the kind of happiness it gives him and to the others he is associated with cannot be procured by any other means. Offerings of expensive jewels, Pañcāmṛta and Śālyanna to the deity will have no meaning if the performer of the rituals lacks compassion, devotion and respect. Love is quite a rare thing in the world. It is like the flower of the jackfruit tree – even if it is not explicitly seen, what it results in is a delicious fruit (and that too is thorny on the outside and sticky inside); there are innumerable fruit-bearing trees. In cities today, we only find ornamental trees and plants – it adds beauty to the garden but serves no purpose. If there is no real love and a person only pretends as though he loves the other, it is akin to being a lion with a cow’s face. Such selfish love will only kindle ego. It results in ignorance and arrogance and breeds wickedness and artificiality. We, in fact, don’t need to resort to Kathā-sarit-sāgara and can see several such instances from our real life.

I hope women don’t feel dejected reading the discussion pursued so far. They can, instead, work towards developing an affectionate and objective approach towards the world. This way, women can create a new Kathā-sarit-sāgara and prove the words of the great poet false. The author of the Epic Mahābhārata is indeed blessed! There does not seem to be a crooked woman in his work. They are all kind, empathetic and are generous by nature. He even paints a positive picture of Kaikeyī  – she is full of affection – though she sends away her step-son to the forest, she asks her husband for the boon with a smiling face. On the contrary, the experience of reading the Kathā-sarit-sāgara is altogether on a discordant note. We are not, however, denying the fact that the work contains stories that depict bad men and well-natured women.

We don’t see any person in the entire Kathā-sarit-sāgara who remains unmarried. It does not speak of women with multiple husbands, either – that, in fact, is a feature special to Draupadī only. In the stories of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, we have women who desire several men; she may marry one man after the other – this is a different scenario. In the past, a wife was inevitable for śrauta and smārta-karmas (which included japa and tapas) – these were to be performed in the company of a saha-dharmiṇī. Many men married a second or a third time, when they found that they don’t have ‘a companion’ who can formally participate in the rituals along with them. Today, however, neither men nor women want to devote themselves to any such religious rites – they have no faith in rituals and think that it is of no use; rituals have lost their meaning and have become an unnecessary burden on today’s society. What exists today is a meaningless set of rituals, which are performed with extreme conservatism without any objective approach. This causes trouble to the doer and to everyone around him. It seems to be difficult to get married even for worldly requirements. Even people who have got married are only looking for ways to break out from the wedlock. Several times, a marriage results in a brāhmaṇa falling into the company of a vampire. For him to get rid of the evil in his life, he probably will need to take refuge in the widows.

People who don’t desire to get married, are driven to the decision due to the following reasons – it would be difficult for them to earn the right magnitude of livelihood that would allow them to run a family; they are not mentally prepared to suffer in the company of their spouse; they feel that they can procure the kind of food they want from the many hotels and it can be done so without any extra responsibilities attached. Marriage is not without happiness – “snigdhaṃ bhavaty-amṛta-kalpam-aho kaḻatram!” “anuraktāmṛtaṃ sā hi” (Kathā-sarit-sāgara 6.8.178). This, however, is a lucky draw – a test of one's fortunes – once the net is spread out, it is likely that a fish is caught! Just as with the stories from the Arabian Nights, a kettle with a genie arrested within it was also, perhaps, found!

पुमांसमाकुलं क्रूरा पतितं दुर्दशावटे।
जीवन्तमेव कुष्णाति काकीव कुकुटुम्बिनी ॥ 4.3.27

स्निग्धा कुलीना महती गृहिणी तापहारिणी ।
तरुच्छायेव मार्गस्था पुण्यैः कस्यापि जायते॥ 4.3.28

[A wicked woman picks on her husband who has been caught amidst troubles, just as a crow pecks a man fallen in a pit, even when he is alive! A friendly and large-hearted wife is akin to the cool shade of a large tree, which only a few lucky wayfarers come across and get to sit under]

It would also not be quite right to say that for marriage, the interference of the elders of the family and consulting the astrological charts is unnecessary – and also that a man and a woman should get to know each other first by spending time together and only then marriage needs to be decided. Couples undergo several years of courtship in the west and there are innumerable divorces that happen even after these periods of courtship. The eye which viewed the beloved before marriage is a blind one – the eye is blind to realities, is full of passion and can, at most, give a coloured vision. One should determine that he will, together with his spouse, sail the life’s boat and not let it sink; we should not let the boat break down under silly pretexts. This requires both the parties to cut down their egos and to develop qualities of compassion, patience, empathy and understanding. We will need to understand this and row the life’s boat with all effort. If not, the family boat gets broken down and will sink.

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.

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



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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