Introduction to the Kathāmṛta - Part 16 - Marriage and Life

This article is part 16 of 20 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

If milk needs to get fermented into curd, both the milk and the curd should be of the right quality and quantity. Neither should cause imbalance – there will be no curd either if the milk is boiled too much or if the fermenting curd is sour – it is the same with a family – for it to function well, both the parties should gel well with each other – one person’s loss of wisdom is sufficient for the equilibrium to be disturbed[1]. One party becoming crooked will sink the family. For a person of the lowly character, gossip and petty fights are pleasurable – he cannot tolerate another’s happiness. They find happiness in the suffering of the other; the richness or poverty that he is subject to, does not matter to him at all – Duryodhana is the best example for this – can a person like him, who is filled with animosity, jealousy and cruelty, even be called a human? Such people are worse than wild animals! What kind of comfort will they be able to get in their lives? What pleasure will their children find? Where is the satisfaction?

The west says that marriages are made in Heaven – this true only to the extent that the marriage proposals take their birth in their prayer halls and gets formalised there as well. The rest of the import of the statement needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. I say this because in practise, their behaviour is totally on orthogonal to the saying. They act as though everything gets decided on earth.

Happiness in marriage requires a generous self-abandonment, endless tolerance and gentleness, politeness of the heart … Marriage is an art which involves both pain and joy. The difficulties of life do not end but begin with marriage. It takes two to make marriage a success, but one can make it a failure - Religion and Society, p. 160

The Kathā-sarit-sāgara has investigated the reason behind the troubles between a couple and it has arrived at the conclusion that saṃskāras and previous lives play a major role in it. Can everyone ever procure a bowl of beads to learn this? Even if they find such a magical bowl, will they be able to find the best match for their lives?

The jyotiś-śāstra classifies Aśvina and other nakṣatras into horse, elephant, goat, dog, cat, snake, rat, buffalo, tiger, deer, ox, mongoose, lion and monkey. It is a rule that the husband and the wife should not belong to categories of stars which correspond to animals that are enemies by nature.  Even where the rules are meticulously followed, there is no guarantee that the worldly happiness is always obtained.

In summary, worldly life is not a bed of roses, everything isn’t in our control. Each one of us has a set of problems. Wisdom would lead to a somewhat satisfied and happy life. If we are on the righteous path, God will help us; if not now, we can be happy, at least, in the next life---such belief would lead to contentment. This world, for most people, is like a dense forest; you renounce everything there, find contentment in whatever you get and live like an ascetic (i)----- No soft clothes? Tree barks are enough! Deerskin is sufficient! No hairdressers? Let the moustache and beard grow, let hair turn into matted locks! No restaurants or hotels? Roots/berries and fruits are sufficient! No vehicles and tarred roads? Legs and muddy paths are enough! No taps and flushing facilities? No need, aren’t the lakes and ponds enough? No skyscrapers? Thatched huts are sufficient! Wild animals like tigers, bears and snakes reside in the vicinity? Let them live; let them also find food! Amidst all these, wisdom or stupidity or peace or restraint, whatever is in our fate let us accept them and experience them and finally die someday! There ends the story. Or we should live like demons; hunting each and every animal till there are no more left, consuming their raw meat, kill indiscriminately, just like the trees of the forest, like the thorny bushes, be calamitous to the whole world, following ‘Consume everything, consume the oceans as well’ (sarva bhakayāmi sāgara bhakayāmi) and live demonic life.

Those few people who have found happiness in life, say this world is filled with happiness! They are the proverbial ostriches with their head buried deep inside the sand! “Humans are eternally sad” , “This life is filled with sorrow”. The very existence as the khyā philosophy says is like the dark cloud of difficulties, once in a while with a flash of lightning; that also is best to be seen from afar! Proximity means death. This might be termed pessimism; someone who has only suffered, has become like a torn slipper or a blunt broom after heavy use, the other way might seem like meaningless optimism! The space is filled with darkness, isn’t it? Sun might, rarely provide, light like a transient candle for a few seconds; that will not as well, happen if the earth turns its face away; rest of the infinite space is only darkness, isn’t it? ‘Should swim and finally cross/win’(īsabeku iddu jayisabeku), say some - those with great fortitude; they are people who have plunged and struggled a lot; have learnt to swim only after a great effort! That too is a kind of stubbornness! Can everyone become experts in swimming? Even for such experts, to what extent is crossing and winning possible? When I was still a young boy, some youth, who had cleared civil services exam, freshly appointed as the assistant commissioner, twenty five years of age, well-built and handsome, drowned while swimming in a lake; on the banks, his young wife, helpless, saw him as an onlooker does; lots of servants etc are all present; but who can do anything in such a situation? A whirlpool? A crocodile? Who knows what pulled him down? He wasn’t a naive swimmer, nor a weakling! Why throw a man in the waters! Why prescribe him to swim and win? By not swimming and drowning themselves so many people have found peace! If at all it is mandatory to swim, why don’t we become fish or frogs? Even then is there safety? Big fish is the death of small fish. Like Bālavinaṣṭaka rarely someone, would have the wisdom to think on their feet immediately in the time of trouble, execute the solution and lucky enough to escape;  If she was completely stone hearted, she could have killed the boy; her husband could have died with grief. However, an utter rogue like Mūladeva gets outsmarted by an old woman and a girl and is made to eat humble pie [the story of Mūladeva].

In this collection of stories, we see many people getting dejected and trying to take their own lives; however there are elders to dissuade them saying: “Resort not to extreme steps, jīvan bhadrāṇi paśyati [जीवन् भद्राणि पश्यति] [it is by living that one sees auspicious things]”, and there are friends who come to help; then there are sages, who through their gifts of prescience, foresee a good ’morrow and instil courage in them. Why should we be afraid if we know in our hearts, that in this world full of hardships, our woes will surely end and we won’t succumb to them; that the darkness will pass and we shall see light at the end of the tunnel? However, such friends and preceptors are seen only in stories. Even so, for someone who is whittled down by adversities, it sends forth a ray of hope and a shower of courage. Only the blessed ones, however, receive it. Who knows what one must do to be worthy of it!


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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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


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इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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