Lāvaṇakalambaka - 20 - Ūrvaśī and Purūrava; Somaprabhā and Guhacandra

This article is part 20 of 33 in the series Kathāmṛta

One of the days following this, Vatsarāja had a lavish party where he enjoyed drinking with Vāsavadattā and Padmāvatī. Later he called for Gopālaka, Rumaṇvanta, Vasantaka, and Yaugandharāyaṇa at a place that was not very crowded.  During the course of his conversation with them, when the topic turned to his days of separation [from Vāsavadattā], he narrated this tale:

The Story of Ūrvaśī and Purūrava

Long ago, there lived a king named Purūrava, a devotee of Viṣṇu; he had the ability to freely move about even in svarga, just as he could on earth. One day, when he was in Nandana-vana, he spotted Ūrvaśī, who was like another arrow of Manmatha. He was immediately besotted by her. She too fell in love with him so deeply her companions – Rambhā and others started quivering out of fear. Longing for her embrace, the king fainted at the spot. Learning about this, Mahāviṣṇu sent word to Indra through Nārada and ensured that Ūrvaśī was married off to the king. Purūrava brought her to earth and lived happily, entangled in each other’s sight.

Once a great war broke out between the Devas and the Asuras; Indra sought Purūrava's help. After Māyādhara was vanquished in the war, a great festival of victory was held. During the festivities, while Rambhā was dancing [to entertain the Devas], Purūrava laughed. Enraged, Rambhā said, “What can you, a mere mortal, understand of the divine art of dance?” He replied, “Having been in the company of Ūrvaśī, I understand it better than even your guru Tumburu!” Upon hearing this, Tumburu was angered and cursed him with the words, “Until you worship Kṛṣṇa, may you be separated from Ūrvaśī!” Accordingly, a few gandharvas—invisible to the king—abducted Ūrvaśī. Thinking that her disappearance was the result of the curse, the king at once proceeded to the Badarikāśrama and began worshipping Hari. Traumatized by the separation from her beloved, Ūrvaśī had become pale and lifeless, and she lay like a woman in a painting in the land of the gandharvas. It was remarkable that she could hold on to her life; keenly anticipating salvation from the curse, she passed her days holding on to a strand of hope. After Purūrava worshipped Viṣṇu, the gandharvas set her free; after that, Purūrava lived with her in joy and peace.

After the king completed narrating this tale, Vāsavadattā felt ashamed that she had been unable to bear the pangs of separation as Ūrvaśī had done in the past. To console her, Yaugandharāyaṇa recounted the following story:

The story of Tejovatī and Vihitasena

Many years ago, king Vihitasena reigned over the kingdom of Timirānagarī, a residence of riches. He had a queen named Tejovatī who was so beautiful that people thought that she was an apsarā who had descended upon earth. The king was so enamoured with her that he never parted from her even for a single moment. He always desired to touch her and could not even tolerate her body being covered by clothes.

One day, the king fell ill due to a stomach ailment. Doctors attending upon him advised him to desist from being with his wife until he had recovered completely. The king did accordingly. However, due to this forced separation from her, he came down with a different affliction - one of the heart! Alarmed by this, the doctors who examined the king’s condition told his ministers, ‘this illness can be healed only by exposing our king to a sudden surge of fear or sorrow. There is no other cure for this!’ The ministers thought: ‘Our king knew no fear even when a huge snake chased him! He didn’t tremble even when the enemy’s armies had invaded the queens’ quarters. How can such a valorous man be made to give in to fear or sorrow?’

    The worried ministers consulted the queen. With her consent, it was decided that queen Tejovatī would be sequestered away safely and king Vihitasena would be told that she had died in a mishap. The ministers put this plan to work, and as expected, when the king heard this news, it threw him into a state of deep sorrow. Miraculously, just like the doctors had predicted, his heart ailment was cured! The elated ministers soon presented queen Tejovatī alive and well, in front of the king. When Vihitasena came to know what had happened, he didn’t lose his temper with queen Tejovatī at all. On the contrary, he came to respect his queen even more because of the sacrifices she had made for the sake of her king and the kingdom.

A dutiful queen is one who wouldn’t shy away from sacrificing her personal happiness to see such plans come to fruition, as opposed to one who merely utters sweet platitudes. A duty-minded person who does the best for the well-being of the kingdom is the right minister, rather than someone who merely carries out the king’s bidding like a servant.

    ‘Thus, O king’, said Yaugandharāyaṇa, ‘our queen Vāsavadattā only did us a favour and has committed no offence. In order for you to gain sovereignty over the world, we needed the king of Magadha on our side’. Listening to this, Vatsarāja agreed that it was a mistake on his part to speak senselessly as he did. He pacified them by saying it was his love for them which made him utter those words.

~

    The next day, a messenger from the king of Magadha arrived and sought an audience with Vatsarāja. When the messenger was ushered in, he delivered his master’s terse message to Vatsarāja thus: ‘O king! Your ministers have cheated me by playing this charade. Now I deem it your responsibility to conduct yourself in a way which does not cause me grief!’ The king treated the emissary with due respect and sent him to queen Padmāvatī so that he may hear for himself what she had to say. The gentle Padmāvatī, in the company of queen Vāsavadattā, met the messenger. The emissary conveyed to her, the words of the lord of Magadha thus: ‘O daughter! We were tricked into giving your hand in marriage to Vatsarāja. Your husband loves his other wife more. I am aggrieved because of this! Alas! Is this the punishment for begetting a girl child?’ Padmāvatī addressed the messenger thus: ‘Sir! Please convey this message of mine to my dear parents: Why are you dejected thus? My husband showers me with kindness. Queen Vāsavadattā loves me like a sister. Just as you want to know the truth, if you also desire that I don’t lose my life, please don’t think otherwise of my husband!’ The messenger was then bestowed with generous gifts by queen Vāsavadattā, and he soon carried Padmāvatī’s message back to his king.

Observing that Padmāvatī was worried a lot for her family back home in Magadha, Vāsavadattā summoned Vasantaka and asked him to narrate a story to entertain her. Vasantaka narrated this story -

 

The Story of Somaprabhā and Guhacandra

In Pāṭaliputra, there lived a wealthy merchant called Dharmagupta. He had a beautiful daughter called Somaprabhā. A miracle took place at her birth. Dharmagupta’s house was brilliantly lit up in a flash. To everyone’s amazement, the new-born sat up and spoke. A scared Dharmagupta bowed down to her and asked: ‘O revered goddess!  You have incarnated in my house – pray tell us who you are!’

She said, ‘I’ll bring good fortune to you by staying in your house; please don’t give me away to anyone!’

Dharmagupta was frightened. He hid the child and spread a rumour that the child was dead.

The child grew up into a beautiful and charming girl. Once as she stood in the balcony watching the Vasantotsava, she was spotted by Guhacandra, the son of a merchant. He fell in love at first sight and returned home enchanted by her beauty. His father, Guhasena, having learnt the reason for his son’s distress, went to Dharmagupta’s house and asked his daughter’s hand in marriage for his son. Dharmagupta told him that he had no daughter at all.

Guessing that he might have hid his daughter, Guhasena approached the king who he knew well. He gave the king a precious gem as a gift, asking him to help him secure Somaprabhā as his son’s wife. The king directed the head of the city to take action.

 The head of the city with the aid of several soldiers swamped Dharmagupta’s house and held his neck as if to squeeze his life out. Somaprabhā requested her father, ‘Why should you suffer for me? Give me to Guhacandra, but make my in-laws swear that he will invite me to bed!’ Guhasena happy within himself thought – ‘Let the wedding take place, rest can be sorted out later.’

 Soon after the wedding, Guhasena instructed his son, ‘Take her to the bedroom, let us see what she’ll do! How would a husband not touch his wife!’

Upon hearing this Somaprabhā saw gave her father-in-law a menacing glance and gestured her index finger as though suggesting a command of Yama.. The next moment, Guhasena collapsed and died. Everyone was frightened.

Guhacandra thought to himself, ‘O God! We have brought home the goddess of death!’

Without conjugal happiness, emaciated, he took a vow to perform daily samārādhana for brāhmaṇas. Somaprabhā also offered them dakṣiṇā, all in silence.

Once, an old brāhmaṇa who had come for the samārādhana was surprised seeing her divine beauty. He asked Guhacandra, ‘Who is this girl? How is she related to you?’ Guhacandra narrated his travails to him. The brāhmaṇa initiated him to a mantra for the worship of Agni. Guhacandra worshipped Agni chanting the mantra and the deity manifested before him. He said, ‘I’ll come to your house in the form of a brāhmaṇa, partake of meals, stay overnight and I’ll help you achieve your goal!’

Accordingly, Agni came and stayed there for the night. After the first quarter of night, Somaprabhā got up and left the house. The brāhmaṇa woke Guhacandra up and said, ‘Follow me! You’ll get to know your wife’s secret!’ They both were transformed into bees and followed her. She crossed the outskirts of the town, reached a big banyan tree and climbed it. There another woman resembling her was seated on a divine seat. Flute, vīṇā and other musical instruments resounded the environment. She appeared like the full moon light and had attendants fanning her. Somaprabhā sat beside her, sharing half her seat. Guhachandra, who watched the two women of equal brilliance felt that the night was adorned with three moons. The women had a sumptuous meal and drank divine wine. Then she said, ‘O sister! Today a resplendent brāhmaṇa has come home and for some reason, my heart has some suspicion. I’ll go home.’, with these words, she climbed down.

Guhacandra and the brāhmaṇa who were in the form of bees, returned home and slept as though they knew nothing about the events of the night.

She entered the house from the back door. Then the brāhmaṇa said, ‘Now do you understand? Your wife is no mortal. She is a divine being. The other one is her elder sister; how would a divine damsel cohabit with a mere human? I’ll teach you a mantra and a scheme for this. If they are used in tandem, it will have the effect of the wind stoking the flames.” Saying so, he taught both the mantra and the plan and vanished from the place.

Guhacandra inscribed the mantra on the door of her room. In the evening, as per the plan, he decorated himself beautifully and sat down chatting with a prostitute who bore close resemblance to his wife. Since the mantra had already begun to have its effect, she renounced her drink and asked with envy, “Who is she?” He said, “She is a prostitute. We have fallen in love with each other. I’ll be going to her house tonight!” Turning her eyes, face, and hands away, she said, “Oh that’s the reason for all this decoration? Why do you need her? Come to me! I am your wife.” Thus, owing to the potency of the mantra, she came under his control. Guhacandra went to her quarters and enjoyed the best of pleasures. In this manner, she was captured using a mantra and lost her connect with the world of devas. Guhacandra lived in her company happily ever after.

 

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.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading. So are the other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri.

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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