Kathāmṛta - 39 - Madanamañcukā-lambaka - The Stories of Tejasvatī and Hariśarmā

This article is part 39 of 43 in the series Kathāmṛta

4. As Kaliṅgasenā stood on her balcony watching Somaprabhā fly away, a vidyādhara called Madanavega saw her and was awestruck by her beauty. But he thought it was not appropriate for him to be smitten by a mortal woman. He remembered Prajnapti, the goddess of intellect who appeared before him and told him that she was an apsaras born on the earth due to a curse. While this made him happy, no matter how much he wanted, he couldn’t just carry her away by force, for he carried a curse that would strike him dead if he were to force any woman. Determined to make Kaliṅgasenā his, he went to Ṛṣabhaparvata and began severe austerities propitiating Shiva. The lord appeared before him and said “The best match for Kaliṅgasenā’s beauty is Vatsarāja alone. But, out of fear of Vāsavadattā, he will not dare to openly accost her. Moreover, Kaliṅgasenā too, having heard of lavish praises of Vatsarāja heaped by Somaprabhā, will seek only him. Hence, before they enter into a wedlock, it’s best that you assume the form of Vatsarāja and approach her. Then in the pretext of being unable to suffer any more delay, marry her in the gāndharva way. In this way you may be able to obtain her!”.

Meanwhile, one day, Kaliṅgasenā confided in Somaprabhā, “It seems as though arrangements are being made for my marriage. Prasenajit has sent messengers from Śrāvastī seeking my hand. Father has given them his word of consent. Prasenajit is apparently a descendent of the same line as the famed Ambikā and Ambālikā of yore, who were grandmothers to the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas!”. Somaprabhā patiently listened to her and then said wistfully, “Dear friend! Attributes one looks for in a prospective bride groom are age, looks, family, character and wealth. Age is more important than anything else; I have seen Prasenajit – he is very old. What do we get by getting associated with his family? It is like seeing a dried up cluster of jasmine. Instead of him, if Vatsarāja becomes your husband, it would do good to you. There is none other who can match him in his charm, physical appearance, family background, valour, talent and wealth!’ Listening to these words, she lost her heart for Vatsarāja. Somaprabhā further narrated the whole story of Vatsarāja which made Kaliṅgasenā pine for him even more. She said – ‘the task will need to be carried out by a person like you, who is all-knowing, skilled and influential!’ Somaprabhā said – ‘This can happen only with the help of the divine’. With these words, she narrated the following story –

The story of Tejasvatī

There lived a king called Vikramasena in Ujjayinī. He had a beautiful daughter by name Tejasvatī. There was no suitable groom found for her. One day, she stood on the balcony of her house and saw a person walking the street who she thought would be the perfect match for her. She sent a word to him through her sakhi. He was not courageous. Therefore, she convinced him to stay in a temple nearby and asked him to meet the princess. Though he agreed, he did not come. Why would a frog need a lotus? By coincidence, a prince from a noble family was resting there. His father was dead and his kingdom was snatched away by his relatives. Thus, the prince was on his way to meet a king, who was a friend of his father. He was handsome. The princess went to the temple and he accepted her as his wife without much effort. The next day, she spoke to her father and the king agreed to give her hand in marriage to the prince. He also promised to help the prince by providing him with an army.

A minister who came to know this, said ‘Fate is always ready to help the noble in their good deeds. I’ll narrate a story about this. Pray, listen!’

The Story of Hariśarmā

There lived a brāhmaṇa by name Hariśarmā in a certain town. He was not well educated and was poor. He had no occupation and his house was full of children. Therefore, he went around begging for food, reached a city and took shelter under a rich person named Sthūladatta. The brāhmaṇa’s children took care of the cattle and accompanied them for grazing. His wife took care of the household chores. The brāhmaṇa too worked as a servant and lived in a shack nearby.

Sthūladatta’s daughter was to be married and the day of her wedding arrived. Several people assembled for the ceremony. Hariśarmā was under the impression that his family too could partake of the feast and would be provided with a meal with abundant ghee and meat. However, no one even remembered him. He was distressed and told his wife – ‘I am reduced to this state because of my poverty and stupidity. Therefore, I will fake knowledge. Sthūladatta might gain some respect for me. When you get a chance, please do tell everyone that I am a great scholar!’

The following night when everyone was asleep, he stole the groom’s horse and hid it in a distant place. The next morning, seeing that the horse has vanished, fearing that the theft was an inauspicious omen, Sthūladatta was immersed in searching for it when Hariśarmā’s wife came and spoke to him thus, ‘Ask my husband; he knows astrology.’ When Hariśarmā was brought in and asked, he drew some lines faking his expertise, said, ‘The thieves have hid the horse along the southern boundary! Bring it back before today’s evening; otherwise it would go beyond your reach!’ Listening to him a search party was organised who went in that direction and brought the horse back. Everyone was impressed with Hariśarmā’s astrological prowess and praised him. People started respecting him for being a scholar. Sthūladatta also gave him respect and support which resulted in a life of luxury. Few days after this incident, the royal treasury was looted; The king at once remembered Hariśarmā’s astrological knowledge and called him to solve this. Hariśarmā replied that he'll give his opinion the next day to bide time. Unwilling to send him, the king placed him under surveillance in the palace. This crime was committed by Jihvā and her brother who were serving the palace. She was curious what Hariśarmā would tell the next day, so hiding near the door, she was spying. Meanwhile Hariśarmā cursed his own tongue[1], ‘O you wretched tongue of mine! What did you do in greed! Now suffer the consequences!’ She was stunned, thinking that Hariśarmā’s prowess had caught her act and there was no escape, she fell on his feet begging, ‘I’m Jihvā! The thief; you caught me! I’ve buried the treasure beneath the pomegranate tree in the garden behind this house; please spare me; take this small amount of gold I have instead.’ Puffed with pride, he replied, ‘Run! Run for your life! I know everything! I have spared you since you have surrendered!’ She did likewise. Hariśarmā spent the night thinking, ‘If fate itself is on my side even the impossible becomes easy; what to say if the thief herself confessed while I was scolding my tongue! If I escape from this calamity I guess I win.’ In the morning, he informed the king that the loot was buried beneath the pomegranate tree and the thief had taken a small part of it. The happy king was about to give him some land and the right to collect taxes. His minister stopped him saying, ‘I feel he might be in cahoots with the thieves! Is it humanly possible to possess such prophetic knowledge? Let us test him in a different way next week.’ Following his advice the king got his servants to bring a pot and placed a frog inside it. He called Hariśarmā to the court and said, ‘Tell me what is there inside this pot and you’ll be rewarded’ Hearing this, understanding that his luck has finally deserted him and his end is imminent, he lamented, ‘O you stupid frog[2]! All of a sudden if you find yourself this pot, your destruction is indeed assured!’ (Maṇḍūka was the nickname given to him by his father when he was a child in jest. He was addressing himself thus in this moment of sorrow) Hearing this everyone was astonished, ‘He should be an extraordinary scholar; how else would he know about the frog!’ The king gifted him with a lot of precious things along with a few villages. Thus in a moment, Hariśarmā became a vassal king. Thus fate has an undeniable role in finding the fruits of one’s endeavours. That is the reason when your daughter went in search for someone else, the fate dealt something else resulting in a perfect match for her in the guise of Somadatta – the minister ended his narration Vikramasena gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to the prince and also his support for him to regain his kingdom. The prince finally got back his kingdom and happily lived with his wife. O Kaliṅgasenā what can I do without the help of fate! – she said. Hearing the words Somaprabhā, Kaliṅgasenā was overwhelmed with the thoughts of Vatsarāja. It was evening by then which meant Somaprabhā had to return to her place.

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.


[1]In Sanskrit Jihvā means tongue

[2]In Sanskrit Maṇḍūka means frog



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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