Kathāmṛta - 37 - Madanamañcukā-lambaka - The Story of the Prince and the Sons of the Merchant, the Piśāca and the Brāhmaṇa

This article is part 37 of 42 in the series Kathāmṛta

Kaliṅgasenā grew up. Once while she was playing on the terrace, Somaprabhā, the daughter of Mayāsura saw her and thought, ‘Who is this girl who is radiant like the Moon? I think we were friends in our past lives; or else why would I feel so much affection towards her!’ She came down and became friends with her. Then she said, “Living with princes is an ordeal; they are quickly angered from even trivial mistakes; I’ll narrate you the story of the prince and the sons of the merchant. —

The story of the prince and the sons of the merchant

King Guḍhasena of Puṣkarāvati had a son. Since the prince was his only son, the king wouldn’t ever say or do anything no matter what the boy did. The impetuous prince had befriended the son of the town’s merchant Brahmadatta. As years rolled by, the prince came to a marriageable age and his wedding was arranged. On the planned day, along with his friend, the prince embarked on his journey with his retinue, for the city of Ahicchatra, where his wedding was to be held. On the way, as the sun descended, the tired travellers camped for the night on the banks of the river Ikṣumatī. When nearly everyone was asleep, the prince was beseeched by his nanny who found sleep to be elusive, to narrate a story. The prince acquiesced and began to tell a story, but soon fell fast asleep due to the sheer exhaustion from a long day of travel. The nanny too fell into deep slumber before long. The prince’s friend however couldn’t sleep, and lay there idly staring at the stars, even as the hours passed. He was suddenly brought out of his languor by a voice in the sky which complained, ‘Curses upon this miscreant who slept off without completing the captivating story! Come morning, if he ever wears this necklace, may he die!’ Another voice added: ‘If he manages to survive the call of the necklace, may he be enticed to pluck a fruit from a cursed mango tree and drop dead!’ Yet another one proclaimed, ‘Should he make it past the tree, may the roof of the marriage hall he is to enter tomorrow, crash down upon him and crush him to death!’ Boomed another voice: ‘If he escapes that as well, at night, as he is about to go to bed, may he sneeze hard a hundred times! Then, unless for every sneeze of his, someone blesses him by uttering ‘śatāyus’, may he die a horrible death. And if some rogue has heard our curses and tries to reveal all this to the prince beforehand, may he be stuck down dead too!’

Upon hearing such terrible oaths, the merchant’s son became worried. He said to himself, ‘Oh, to hell with this story! The gods who came to listen to the tale ended up hurling curses simply because their curiosity about the story wasn’t sated. I must save my friend somehow! I cannot but disclose any of this to him, or else it will be the end of me.’, and he spent the rest of the night planning what to do the next day.

In the morning when they were about to resume their onward journey, the prince saw the cursed necklace and instinctively reached out to make it his. His friend stopped him by saying ‘This has to be sorcery! Otherwise, wouldn’t the other soldiers have seen it too?, The prince concurred and hence evaded the first swing of death. A little way further, they came upon a mango tree. The alert son of the merchant saw to it that the prince did not pluck a fruit from it. Eventually when they arrived at the destination, just as they came to the marriage hall, the merchant’s son stalled the prince for a little while on some pretext. Within moments, right in front of their eyes, the roof of the hall crashed and the wedding venue turned into rubble. Unbeknownst to the prince, his friend had been a lifesaver. Still, it was not yet over since there was one last curse to be surmounted. The prince’s wedding turned out to be a grand event, and celebrations continued late into the evening. As night fell, the jubilation subsided. When the time came for the prince and his bride to retire to their private chambers, the merchant’s son lay there secretly in wait, to save his friend from a horrible death. As soon as the prince sat on his bed, the last curse took effect and he started sneezing relentlessly. A hundred times did the prince sneeze, and for each one of them did the merchant’s son utter the benedictory ‘śatāyus’ to save his life. Finally after it was all over, as the prince was recuperating, the merchant’s son came out from his hiding place. The prince who was unaware of how his friend had saved him from a certain death, flew into a rage upon seeing him emerge from a corner of his private chambers, that too on his wedding night! In a fit of anger he called for his guards and thundered, ‘This ingrate lay hiding in my bedroom. Arrest him and throw him into a cell. We will deal with him tomorrow!’

The next morning the prince had death sentence pronounced upon the merchant’s son. The sentence was to be carried out the same day. When he was being dragged in chains for his execution, the unfortunate man begged his executioners ‘Pray take me to the prince! I have to explain to him why I had to do what I did. Just grant me that one wish, I beg you. After that, you may do your duty of lopping my head off!’ They reluctantly agreed and hesitatingly brought him to the prince. The merchant’s son calmly narrated the whole episode of the curses of the gods and how he had saved the prince’s life multiple times. Since the prince had seen the wedding hall collapse with his own eyes, he came to believe his friend’s words and finally granted him a royal pardon.

Upon returning to the city of Puṣkarāvati with his head intact, the merchant’s son married a maiden from a respectable family and went on to live a long and happy life. Thus, as you can see, princes are like elephants in rut. They don’t often know what is good for them. Being friends with them is like being friends with a betāla. This is why I say, do not ever let go of my friendship for their sake”, concluded Somaprabhā. To this, princess Kaliṅgasenā replied “Betalas are piśācas. I don’t think princes are like them. Let me narrate you a story —

The story of the piśāca and the brāhmaṇa

There lived a brāhmaṇa in an agrahāra by name Yajñasthala. One day, when he was chopping firewood, he hurt himself in the thigh and that resulted in a wound. He tried all kinds of remedies, but nothing helped and it turned into an ulcer. A friend who saw this told him that if he could please a piśāca, the ulcer would get cured. He said – ‘Get up early in the morning. With your śikhā left loose, go out with two fistfuls of rice and put it in the city square. Come back without ever casting a glance behind you. Keep doing this until the piśāca appears before you and promises to cure the ulcer.’ He also taught him the mantra thought would work well with the method.

The brāhmaṇa did as instructed and pleased the piśāca. The piśāca appeared before him. It brought medicinal herbs from the Himalayas, applied it on to the wound and cured it. It however did not let him free. ‘Show me another ulcer like this; I will cure that as well. If not, I will kill you!’ it declared. The brāhmaṇa got scared and asked for a week’s time. He, however was sacred for his life (Kaliṅgasenā was embarrassed to tell the story further as she found it gross. She remained quiet for a moment and continued).

His daughter, who had left the house, saw her father, the brāhmaṇa worried for not having found another ulcer. She said – ‘Father! Send the piśāca to me informing that I have an ulcer. Ask the piśāca to cure the ulcer. I will then cheat it and send it away.’ When piśāca came the daughter took it to her room and showed her private parts and asked the piśāca to cure that ‘ulcer’. The piśāca couldn’t do it and it ran away. The brāhmaṇa was now relieved.

Even if princes attempt to perform misdeeds, we must try and rectify them intelligently”- she said. Somaprabhā was happy listening to the story. In the evening, she took leave of her friend and flew away to her place..

The following day, Somaprabhā brought with her a chest full of mechanised dolls. As soon as she activated one of the dolls, it flew to the sky and brought with it a floral garland. Another one, when activated, brought a drink with it. Another danced and yet another spoke. In this manner, Somaprabhā displayed their skill, spent some time with her and returned home.

To be continued...

The current article is a translation of Prof. A R Krishnasastri’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 Raghavendra GS, Arjun Bharadwaj, 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.



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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