Kathāmṛta - 42 - Madanamañcukā-lambaka - The Story of Śrutasena - The Story of the Three Brāhmaṇa Brothers

This article is part 42 of 42 in the series Kathāmṛta

7. Next day when Vatsarāja went to Vāsavadattā, he observed that she did not treat him any differently. He asked her cautiously, “Devi! Did you know that a princess called Kaliṅgasenā has come to marry me?” Without revealing her heartache, Vāsavadattā replied lovingly, “Yes my king. I have known. Indeed, it is as if Lakshmi herself has come! Through her, even her father, king Kaliṅgadatta, will be on your side. Although she is yearned for by many kings, she turned them all down in favour of my husband! Am I not fortunate?” Vatsarāja spent the night in her mansion. Sleep eluded him. In the middle of the night he was wide awake thinking to himself, “How magnanimous is my Vāsavadattā! She welcomes the woman who would be her co-wife and backs me even now! I wonder what kind of upheavals are really going on in her tender heart! Thanks to my good fortune she didn’t die of heartbreak when I married Padmāvatī. Now with Kaliṅgasenā in the picture, if something bad happens to Vāsavadattā, it would be the end of everything I hold dear! It is because of her that my son, my parents in law, Padmāvatī and why, my kingdom itself, thrive! That being so, how could I come to marry Kaliṅgasenā!” 

The next morning, Vatsarāja went to Padmāvatī’s palace. Even she treated him cordially, just like Vāsavadattā, and spoke similar words. When the king informed this to Yaugandharāyaṇa and sought his counsel. The wise minister said “O king! I am afraid this may not really be how your queens are feeling. It is quite possible that they have made up their minds to end their lives. When the husband dies or becomes interested in another woman, chaste wives forsake everything and ponder only over death and become gloomy and depressed. They cannot withstand the breaking of strong bonds of love”, and proceeded to narrate the story of Śrutasena.

The story of the king Śrutasena

Long ago, in Gokarṇapura lived a king called Śrutasena. His constant worry was that he did not have a wife who he deemed was his perfect match. One day when he was lost in this thought, a brahmana named Agniśarman called upon him. While talking to the king, the brāhmaṇa said – ‘O king! I will tell you the two astonishing things that I have seen. When I visited Pañca-tīrtha, the place where five apsaras were cursed by an ascetic to become crocodiles for disturbing his penance to be rescued by Arjuna during his tīrtha-yātrā, I saw a farmer singing as he was tilling his land. A brāhmaṇa who was passing by asked him for the way. The request did not even fall on his ears. The brāhmaṇa was angry. The farmer stopped singing and said – ‘Aha! What kind of a brāhmaṇa are you? You don’t even know the basics of dharma! You don’t understand even as much as a fool like me knows!’ The brāhmaṇa grew curious and asked – ‘What do you know?’ The farmer replied – ‘Come, sit here in the shade! I will tell you the story of the three brāhmaṇa brothers.

The story of the three brāhmaṇa brothers

The three brāhmaṇa brothers, Bramhadatta, Somadatta and Viśvadatta live here. The two older brothers are married and the youngest is not.  He works as per the instructions of his brothers. I am a farmer who works for them. The older brothers think that their younger brother is innocent, naïve and gentle by nature. One day, when he was invited by the wives of the older brothers, who wanted to have an affair with him, he turned their request down saying that they are like his mothers. However, they went to their husbands and complained that he invited them to have an illicit affair. The older ones were displeased with their brother and asked him to dig up and level an anthill that was in the middle of the farm. I told him that a kṛṣṇa-sarpa (venomous snake/cobra) lives there and it would be dangerous to dig up the anthill. He would not disobey his brothers and ended up digging the spot. He was pleased to find a pot full of gold there. Though I tried stopping him, he offered the treasure to his brothers. They offered one portion of the gold to him and planned to snatch it away from him by employing crooked means. They bid a few robbers to chop his limbs. He still did not get angry with his brothers. Because of his forbearance, his limbs grew back. From the time I saw this, I have given up anger. You haven’t been able to overcome your temper, though you are a tāpasa. He said that only a person who has overcome his anger will reach svarga. Saying so he left his mortal body and ascended to heaven. This is the first astonishment. The second one is as follows –

I reached the country of the king Vasantasena as I was wandering around during my tīrtha-yātrā. There, when I went to a satra for my meal, some brāhmaṇas exclaimed ‘Arya! Don’t take this path. There lives a princess by name Vidyuddyotā. Anybody who sees her, even if he is a great sage, will lose his heart for her. He will then turn mad and give up his life for her!’ I replied ‘This does not appear strange to me at all. Every day, I get to see the King Śrutasena who is like a second Manmatha. When he comes out of his royal quarters for festivals in the town, noble women are sent away as his sight might derail their character!’ As I was a person who was associated with you, they escorted me to the palace for my meal. There, I saw the princess who was beautiful like none other in the world. There was immense turmoil within me and I recovered after quite some time. I thought – If she becomes the wife of our king, he is going to forget the kingdom! Still, I told the king about her. If not, I was scared that it might end up like the tale of Unmādinī and Devasena.

[In the past, in the kingdom of King Devasena, there lived a lady by name Unmādinī, the daughter of a rich trader. The merchant promised the king that he would give his daughter in marriage to him. However, the Prime Minister thought that the king might lose himself in her, if he gets married. Therefore, he got a few brāhmaṇas to tell the king that she was not good looking. She married someone else. The king, who had only spotted her once through his window fell so much in love with her that he gave up his food and pleasurable activities; he also kept fainting over and over again.The woman's husband himself offered her to the king but the dhārmic king refused to accept her. Consumed by her thoughts, the king gave up his life.][1] I have narrated this tale to you, should a similar blunder occur and result in my being guilty of treachery!"

Upon listening to this, King Śrutasena became deeply passionate about Vidyuddyotā and at that very moment ordered the selfsame brāhmaṇa to have her brought to him. And the moment she arrived, he married her. After that, the two of them became as inseparable as the sun and its light. A few days after this, a maiden named Mātṛdattā, who was the daughter of a rich merchant, approached the king and seduced him. Fearing that he would commit adharma, the king accepted her as his wife. The moment she learnt of this, Vidyuddyotā died of a broken heart. The king placed her dead body on his lap and died lamenting. The merchant's daughter entered the fire after being thus widowed. Thus the king and the entire kingdom perished. Therefore, it is improper to sever the ties of deep love and especially incorrect to forget the love of the majestic and proud Vāsavadattā. If you do so, Vāsavadattā along with her inseparable friend and co-wife Padmāvatī would give up their lives. What would happen to Naravāhanadatta if he were to see that! And would you be able to bear the sight of it all! And how dignified and profound are the words uttered by the queens! Even mute animals know the importance of self-preservation, what more to say of an intelligent king such as yourself?" Vatsarāja regained his viveka and said, "Let it go! What do I have to gain by marrying Kaliṅgasenā? The jyotiṣas did well in giving a lagna in the distant future. And how much adharma will accrue if I abandon a maiden who has come to me with a proposal of marriage!" Yaugandharāyaṇa thought, With this, my task is complete! and saluting the king he went home. The king went to Vāsavadattā’s abode and said, "O my beloved! Just as water is to the lotus, so is your love to me. I need not mention this explicitly. You know this yourself. The obstinate Kaliṅgasenā barged into my home on her own. In the past, Rambhā came to Arjuna who was in the midst of his tapas and when she made advances, he refused. She cursed him to become a eunuch. That curse was endured by him when he lived incognito in the palace of Virāṭa and it miraculously ended after a year. Therefore I did not reject Kaliṅgasenā immediately; but I would not do anything without your permission.” With these words, he offered her solace and spent the night with her. Meanwhile, the brahma-rākṣasa appointed by Yaugandharāyaṇa came that very night and told him, "Neither outside or inside Kaliṅgasenā's house did I find anyone. But today, I heard an indistinct noise in the sky. In a bid to find out the source of that sound, I used all my magical learning but I was unsuccessful. Therefore I thought, This must be the sound made by a person with divine power who is roaming about in the sky enamoured by Kaliṅgasenā's beauty. I’ve overheard her friend Somaprabhā saying the same to her. Having decided thus, I came here to give you the news. Be that as it may, earlier in the day, you told the king ‘Even mute animals know the importance of self-preservation.’ If you have an example for that, pray tell me.” The minister narrated the following tale—

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.

Footnotes

[1]This story appears in detail in the Lāvāṇaka-lambaka

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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