Kathāmṛta - 43 - Madanamañcukā-lambaka - The Story of Mongoose, Rat, Owl, and Cat - The Story of Prasenajit

This article is part 43 of 49 in the series Kathāmṛta

The Story of the Mongoose, Rat, Owl, and Cat[1]

There was a large banyan tree just outside the town of Vidiśā. Taking shelter in the tree were four creatures: a mongoose, a rat, an owl, and a cat. In two burrows at its base lived the mongoose and the rat; the cat resided in the burrow which was in the middle of the tree; the owl resided in a hole which was towards the end of a branch; all the other three animals were predators of the rat; the cat was the predator of all the other three; fearing the cat, the rat, the mongoose and the owl would go out in search of food only in the night; cat would go out both in the day and night without any fear; one night the cat got trapped in a net spread by a hunter; the rat ventured out to search for food noticed it and started dancing with joy; by then both the owl and mongoose came out and saw the rat; seeing them the rat thought, ‘these two are afraid of the cat; if I venture close it can kill me even while being trapped; if I go farther the owl and mongoose will kill me; I’m trapped from all sides, where shall I go? OK, I’ll go towards the cat; it might spare me thinking that I can free it by chewing off the net!’ it ventured close to the cat and said, ‘I feel pained to see you being caught in this situation; I’ll help you escape; even enemies can be befriended if their conduct is void of deceit; but I can’t trust you without knowing your mind!’ The cat replied, ‘You have saved my life and so you are my friend from this moment; please believe me!’ The rat went near the trap which made the efforts of the owl and the mongoose futile, resulting in their retreat. The cat implored the rat, ‘My dear friend! The dawn approaches; make haste!’ The rat took it’s own time chewing off the net and finished it just in time while the hunter approached. The cat ran away as soon as it was free; the rat soon entered its hole; later when the cat approached the hole and called out asking it to come out, the rat shouted, ‘Due to extraordinary circumstances enemies do become friends; but that isn’t always the case!’ Thus even amidst enemies, with wisdom, small animals too can save themselves. Thus wisdom trumps strength my dear friend Yogeśvara! I’ll narrate one more story to substantiate this, do listen:-

The story of the wise king Prasenajit

Long ago, king Prasenajit ruled the kingdom of Śrāvasti. Once, a peculiar brāhmaṇa came to this kingdom. He would never accept anything from śūdras; realizing that he is a respectable person, a merchant made him reside in another brāhmaṇa’s house where he had the facilities for cooking his own food and means to earn through dakṣinā. With other merchants too pitching in, he earned a sum total of thousand dinars which he hid in a forest which he would visit daily to see the treasure. One day he saw that it had been emptied. He came back crying and said, ‘I’ll go on a yātrā and will die by fasting!’ The merchant and his friends became aware of his situation. They tried to console him but their efforts were in vain. The king got the news, intrigued, he came to the place. He asked the brāhmaṇa for some landmarks and clues as to where he had hidden his treasure, he replied, ‘I’d buried it under a plant!’ The king assured him, ‘I’ll find it; or I’ll reimburse your money through the royal treasury; don’t kill yourself for that!’ Later he went to the palace and informed his attendants that he has a headache and ordered all the healers in his kingdom to meet him in the palace. He questioned each of them in private, “Which medicines did you prescribe for each disease for each patient?”. One said “Two days ago, I gave a herb called nāgabalā[2] to the merchant Mātṛdatta”. The king then summoned the merchant and asked “Tell me exactly who gave you nāgabalā?”. He replied that it was his servant who brought it to him. The servant was ordered to present himself. The king thundered, “When you had gone to dig at the tree’s roots for nāgabalā, the bag of coins you unearthed belonged to the brāhmaṇa. You better bring it to me right away!” The servant became afraid and immediately did as ordered. The king then called the brāhmaṇa and handed his bag of money back to him. This is smartness. Of what use is valour in such situations? Hence, in my opinion, you should use your intellect and find a flaw in Kaliṅgasenā! But take care that we would deal with this only in a dharmic way.”

Kaliṅgasenā used to frequently gaze upon Vatsarāja from the roof of her palace and was tormented by the pangs of separation. Neither the garlands made of lotus fibres, nor the sandal ointments brought her any relief. When this was the situation, one day, Madanavega disguised himself as Vatsarāja and came to her mansion. The guards had no clue about his true identity and hence let him in with due respect. Kaliṅgasenā’s joy knew no bounds. She welcomed him and treated him with utmost respect. Madanavega took Kaliṅgasenā into confidence and coaxed her into marrying him in the gāndharva way. As fate would have it, at this very moment, the invisible brahma-rākṣasa arrived. He witnessed everything and felt very sad, for he mistook the impostor Madanavega for Vatsarāja himself. He rushed back to Yaugandharāyaṇa and informed him of the unfortunate development. The wise Yaugandharāyaṇa however had his doubts. Based on his intuition, the brahma-rākṣasa went to Vāsavadattā’s palace and was amazed to see that Vatsarāja was right there! Heaving a sigh of relief, he came to the inevitable conclusion that the man with Kaliṅgasenā was an impostor. He knew that the impostor’s true form would become apparent at night, when he would go to sleep. The brahma-rākṣasa patiently waited and eventually saw the true form of Madanavega. He happily reported this back to Yaugandharāyaṇa.

The next morning, Yaugandharāyaṇa broached the topic of Kaliṅgasenā cautiously and told Vatsarāja: “My king, I am sorry to tell you this, but the lady takes too much liberty. She is not worthy of you. Initially she went to see Prasenajit. Since he was old, she came to you since you are handsome. Now she is interested in some other man!” The king wondered aloud “Who is capable of entering my inner chambers?” Yaugandharāyaṇa replied “Your majesty! I intend to get to the bottom of this tonight, personally. She is sought after by even devas and siddhas. Mere humans don’t stand a chance in preventing their movement” They both decided to go to Kaliṅgasenā’s mansion that night and see of themselves. Yaugandharāyaṇa then went to Vāsavadattā and said “O queen, I had promised you that other than Padmāvatī, I won’t let anyone else be a queen to our king. I have kept my word!” and told her the entire episode of Kaliṅgasenā.

Later that night Vatsarāja and Yaugandharāyaṇa went to Kaliṅgasenā’s mansion. They saw Madanavega asleep in bed with Kaliṅgasenā. The king was enraged and wanted to slay him, but Madanavega’s divine powers woke him up. He immediately jumped to the skies. Kaliṅgasenā woke up with a start and asked Vatsarāja, “My lord! You were right next to me a moment ago. When did you go to fetch your minister?” Yaugandharāyaṇa answered her question: “Kaliṅgasenā! An impostor disguised himself as king Vatsarāja and has married you. The man you entered into a wedlock with, is not my king!” Listening to this, Kaliṅgasenā felt as if a spear had pierced her heart. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she pleadingly asked Vatsarāja “Although you married me in the gāndharva way, did you forget everything just like how Duśyanta forgot Śakuntalā?” The king lowered his head and replied gravely “I swear to you - I never married you. I came in just moments ago!” The minister then walked a dejected Vatsarāja back to his palace.

Kaliṅgasenā stunned by these developments, not knowing what to do next, finally gathered some composure and looking at the sky she said – ‘Let the person who married me under the disguise of Vatsarāja appear before me. He is my real husband.’ Madanavega then appeared in his divine form, decked with ornaments. He told her everything that had transpired in the past. He narrated how he had seen her in her father’s house, performed tapas to Śiva and was granted a boon by the deity. Then, as he had come to know that she was in love with Vatsarāja, he had come before her in the guise of the king and married her. She was consoled to some extent. Madanavega too tried to cajole her, filled her with courage and showered heaps and heaps of gold. She too developed devotion towards him as her husband. He bid farewell to her, informing that he would be back soon. She could not go along with him as she was a human. She could not return to her father’s place, either as she had come away from there out of love for her man. She made up her mind that she would stay right there. Madanavega too agreed to the idea.

Days rolled on. One night, Vatsarāja recollected the beauty of Kaliṅgasenā and visited her. He expressed his love to her and she said that she was already married to another man. She added that she would give up her life if she was forced and narrated this story.

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]This story is found in Mahābhārata and Pañca-tantra too

[2]Uraria Lagopodioides



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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