Back in the royal palace of Magadha, Vāsavadattā tried to contain her sorrow. She sought solace in gazing upon the paintings depicting Sītā’s woes in the period where she was separated from Rāma. Looking at her beauty and conduct, Padmāvatī was convinced that Avantikā was a high-born lady and treated her accordingly. The princess felt Avantikā’s looks betrayed her noble origins and she had disguised herself, just as Draupadī had in Virāṭa’s palace!
One day, out of affection for Padmāvatī, Vāsavadattā wove a magic garland that would never wither. She gifted her the garland and also adorned the princess’ forehead with a tilaka that would never fade. Vāsavadattā had acquired these skills from Vatsarāja. When Padmāvatī’s mother saw this and inquired, the princess replied, ‘There is a lady named Avantikā under my care. It was she who did this!’ The queen mother then said: ‘I think she is a goddess. I don’t think a mere human could do this! Divine beings and sages often test the virtuous by disguising themselves and at times, try to cheat humans. Let me tell you a story related to this!’
Then the queen began narrating this tale -
The story of Durvāsa and Kuntī
‘Long ago, there lived a king called Kuntibhoja. One day the sage Durvāsa visited him and stayed in his palace. The king instructed his daughter Kuntī to serve the sage. Kuntī devoted herself completely to his service and this made the king proud. Sage Durvāsa however was not easy to please.
One day, as he was about to leave for his daily ablutions, he commanded Kuntī to prepare sweet pāyasa and have it ready by the time he returned. Kuntī did as she was told and had delicious pāyasa ready by the time Durvāsa came back. She offered a bowl of the delicacy to the sage, but it was so hot that he couldn’t hold it in his hand for long. As he wondered where to place it, he moved his eyes towards Kuntī’s back. She understood his intent and offered to bear the bowl on her back. The sage then proceeded to partake of the pāyasa to his heart’s content and drank it off the hot bowl resting on Kuntī’s back. As was bound to happen, the princess’ back got badly burnt. She bore the searing pain without uttering a word of complaint. Her devoted service pleased the sage so much that he granted her an invaluable boon.
The lady Avantikā who is in your care could likewise be a divine being. Hence, dear daughter, be sure to treat her well.’ - said the queen to her daughter Padmāvatī.
Accordingly, princess Padmāvatī cared for Vāsavadattā and treated her with great respect. Vāsavadattā, however, grew pale due to the pangs of separation from her beloved husband. Nevertheless, Vasantaka’s antics used to occasionally brought a smile on her face.
Back at Lāvaṇaka, Vatsarāja who had just gotten back from the hunt, received the shocking news that the queen’s chambers were reduced to ashes. His ministers tearfully told him that the queen and Vasantaka were charred to death.
As soon as he heard the news, he fainted; even after recovering, his heart knew no solace and was burning with pain; he cried, he lamented; thoughts of killing himself passed his mind; the very next second, he remembered Nārada’s prophecy that he would beget a son from Vāsavadattā who would grow to become the king of vidyādharas; the prophecy can never go wrong; Nārada had also mentioned that there would be some trouble for some time.
‘Gopālaka doesn’t seem to be that greatly worried. Yugandharāyaṇa and others too seem to have retained their composure. Vāsavadattā is probably alive; It appears like some strategy devised by the ministers; I might get to see her again. Let me wait and watch!’ he consoled himself thinking thus.
Gopālaka too sent his spies to his kingdom to inform his parents about the real nature of the events. He wanted to make them aware of the reality and gain courage.
The king of Magadha received the news from his spies who he had stationed at Lāvāṇaka . He sent his messengers to inform Kauṣāṃbī that he was willing to give his daughter Padmāvatī in marriage to Udayana. When Udayana agreed, Yaugandharāyaṇa fixed an auspicious lagna and sent the messenger back with an invite. It was planned that the wedding would happen on the seventh day starting from the particular day. The minister had also mentioned that it would be easy for the king to overcome the pain of losing Vāsavadattā, if the wedding took place at the earliest. The king of Magadha happily agreed and started making arrangements for the event. Padmāvatī too was happy that she was marrying someone she loved.
The news struck Vāsavadattā as if by a spear. Vasantaka tried to console her by saying - ‘With this the enemy will be turned into a friend; your husband will still remain the same.’
As the wedding day approached Vāsavadattā placed a tilaka that could never be erased on Padmāvatī’s forehead, and gave her a garland made of flowers that would remain eternally fresh. These caught the Udayana’s eye as soon as he saw Padmāvatī and made him wonder, ‘Who might have done these! These are skills that I had acquired’ The wedding took place as per the lagna. Vatsarāja holding Padmāvatī hand appeared like his first move in conquering the entire world.
It seemed as though Vatsarāja’s eyes, which always desired to see only Vāsavadattā, could not bear this sight. They filled themselves with tears, thanks to the smoke emerging from the homa. While performing the agni-pradakṣiṇa, Padmāvatī’s face had turned red and it appeared as though she had grown angry having gotten to know her husband’s heart.
After the wedding ritual, though Udayana let free his hands free of his newly wedded wife, but his heart could not let go of Vāsavadattā even for a second. The king of Magadha gifted his son-in-law with so many gems that it appeared as if the earth would get bereft of all precious stones. Yaugandharāyaṇa also made the king of Magadha pledge over fire (agni-sākṣi) that he will never cheat Vatsarāja.
The wedding ceremony was also filled with donation of lavish clothes, melodious signing of musicians and brilliant dance by women.
Vāsavadattā, who remained away from the celebrations, just for the sake of the welfare of her husband was like the moon during the day.
Yaugandharāyaṇa knew that if the king entered the inner quarters of the palace, he would figure that Vāsavadattā was alive and this would lead to chaos. He, thus, asked the king of Magadha to see off the newly wedded couple on the day of the wedding. The king agreed, arranged a banquet for his daughter and son-in-law and then sent them off along with his ministers and family. Vāsavadattā and Vasantaka too followed them in discretion. When they reached Lāvāṇaka, the king along with his newly wedded wife retired to his tent. Vāsavadattā met her brother Gopālaka, embraced him and sobbed. Yaugandharāyaṇa and Rumaṇvān came to know about this and they too arrived there.
In the meantime, the chamberlain complained to Padmāvatī, ‘Avantikā has abandoned us all and has gone to Gopālaka’s house for some reason!’ A suspicious Padmāvatī, unmindful of the presence of Udayana, ordered the chamberlain to tell Avantikā in person, ‘You have been placed under our protection; Do you have anything to do with Gopālaka? You should always remain by my side.’
A while later, Udayana asked Padmāvatī, ‘Who placed the tilaka on your forehead? Who gave you the garland?’
‘It was given to me by Avantikā – a lady placed under my protection by a brāhmaṇa’
As soon as he heard this, he thought this should be Vāsavadattā and came to Gopālaka’s house. The chamberlain was still waiting outside. As soon as he barged in, he saw Vāsavadattā. Overcome by poisonous grief, he fell unconscious. Vāsavadattā saw Udayana like a moon which had just been freed from eclipse. Shee lamented and rolled over the floor cursing her conduct. Yaugandharāyaṇa also shed a tear looking at the agony of the couple.
Listening to this commotion Padmāvatī too was shaken and rushed to the spot. One by one, she learnt the whole story. She too was reduced to the state that Vāsavadattā was in.
Vāsavadattā began lamenting, “What is the purpose of my being alive, having inflicted so much pain and anguish on my husband?”
Yaugandharāyaṇa said in great earnest, “Deva! If you were to be married to Padmāvatī, [it was prophesied that] you would attain the kingdom and so I undertook whatever I did; the noble Devī [Vāsavadattā] is not at fault! Padmāvatī stands as a testimony to our Devī’s character!”
Padmāvatī said, “In upholding the fact that she is of pure character, I am willing to be subjected to a enter the fire!”
Vatsarāja exclaimed, “I am the culprit! Wasn't it for my sake that Devī had to put up with such hardships!”
Vāsavadattā said, “I shall undergo a trial by fire so that the king's mind is at rest!”
Yaugandharāyaṇa then performed a ācamana [purificatory sipping of water] and turning towards the East, he roared, “O lokapālakas, the protectors of the worlds! Should I have acted with welfare in mind and should the Devī be blemishless in character, then please proclaim so!”
At once, an incorporeal voice said, “O king! You are blessed to have a friend like Yaugandharāyaṇa and such a wife like Vāsavadattā, who was a devatā in her previous life! She is faultless!”
They all heard the voice which resounded like a fresh cloud. Like peacocks with their faces raised up towards the sky derive pleasure from the mild thundering of new clouds, they all relished the message and got relieved of the heat in their hearts.Vatsarāja profusely praised Yaugandharāyaṇa's plans and actions. He felt as if he can conqoured the entire earth. He spent his days happily with his two wives who were like Rati and Nirvṛti.
To be continued...
The current article is a translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta along with additional segments added from the original Kathā-sarit-sāgara (of Soma-deva). Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī (of Kṣemendra) and Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha (of Budha-svāmin) have also been referred to. The translation has been rendered by Arjun Bharadwaj, Raghavendra GS, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.