Kathāmṛta - 26 - Naravāhanadattalambaka - Nārada's visit, The Story of Devadatta

This article is part 26 of 33 in the series Kathāmṛta

karṇa-tāla-balāghāta-
sīmantita-kulācalaḥ|
panthānam-iva siddhīnāṃ
diśaṃ jayati vighnajit||

(Kathā-sarit-sāgara 4.1.1)

Victory to that vanquisher of obstacles (i.e., Ganeśa), who has parted the mountains with the forceful flapping of his ears resulting in lines that seem like the paths of attainment!


1. And thus, while Vatsarāja was peacefully spending his days in food, drink, song and dance, hunting, and other activities, one day Nārada-muni came to his court. Having been received by him with great respect, Nārada said, “Vatsarāja! Long back, there lived an ancestor of yours by the name of Pāṇḍu. He had two wives: Kuntī and Mādrī. He had conquered the earth and once had set out to the forest for hunting. Having taken the form of deer, the sage Kindama and his wife were frolicking together. Pāṇḍu shot an arrow and killed them, only to get cursed by the sage: ‘Just like me, when you are in union with your wife, you shall die!’ From that moment on, he renounced all his pleasures and along with his wives went away to live in the peaceful forests. Even so, driven by the curse, one day he united with Mādrī and died instantaneously. Therefore it is said that hunting is a vice for kings. Let it go. There is a danger of losing life while hunting. I am telling you this because just like your ancestors you too are dear to me. You will beget a son who is possessed of Manmatha’s essence and who will become the emperor of the Vidyādharas. To attain him, let Vāsavadattā propitiate Śiva!” He informed Vāsavadattā of this and spent the whole day contemplating this. The next day, a brāhmaṇa lady along with two of her small children came to see him. Tormented by poverty and agony, she offered her salutations to him and said, “Mahārāja! I am a brāhmaṇa lady born in a noble family. Now I have fallen on bad times. Thanks to my good fortune, I gave birth to these twin boys. I don’t have food to eat nor do I have milk to feed them. Therefore I have come to you, who is compassionate to those who seek refuge! Do as you please!” The king’s heart melted upon listening to her story and he sent her along with a palace attendant to Vāsavadattā. The queen saw her and thought, What indeed shall we say of the game of Fate! Twin children for this emaciated women! And not even a single child for me, who has been constantly craving for a child! She then ensured that the lady had a bath, was given fresh clothes to wear, and fed well. After the lady had recovered a little, with a view to test her, the queen asked her, “O mother, will you tell me a story?” and in response she said this—

The Story of the Prince Devadatta

Long ago there lived a king called Jayadatta. He had a son named Devadatta. When he attained marriageable age, the king thought, Royal treasure is akin to a prostitute; it is verily fickle and ephemeral. The riches of a trader can be likened to a cultured lady from a good family; it is firm and stable. And so he got his son married to the daughter of Vasudatta, a prominent trader of Pāṭalīputra. A few days later, the trader (came to the palace and) took his daughter to his house. Around the same time, Jayadatta breathed his last and his cousins usurped the kingdom. The queen managed to escape with her son Devadatta to another kingdom. When they were safe, she told him: ‘Son, seek an audience with the emperor and request him for help. He will help you win back your kingdom’. To this, Devadatta replied: ‘Mother, how can I possibly meet him without an entourage of my own?’ The queen advised: ‘Why don’t you approach your father in law? With his help you can build one up and then present yourself to the emperor!’ Accordingly, Devadatta set out the next morning and reached his father in law’s town by evening. Having reached there though, he paused and hesitated to go further. After all, he was now fatherless and had become bereft of all his wealth. In such a state, if he were to tearfully knock on his father in law’s door at that unearthly hour, beseeching help, it would only show him in poor light. Devadatta felt weighed down. He sat down brooding on a bench outside a travellers’ home near his father in law’s house. Even as he sat there that night, pondering over what to do next, he saw a woman climb down a rope from the house. Decked all over in precious ornaments, she came down like a meteorite from the heavens. He was puzzled when he realized that it was his wife! Glancing at him, she asked: ‘who’s there?’ Devadatta replied meekly: ‘A traveller, madam’. Since he had grown weak and wore unkempt clothes, she didn’t recognize him at all. She walked right past him into the travellers’ home to a man, who was apparently waiting for her. The man angrily snapped at her: ‘what took you so long?’ He even kicked her for good measure. Surprisingly, this only made her only more affectionate towards him, as she tried to coyly appease him and then spent the whole night there. Observing what just transpired, a stunned Devadatta thought: ‘This is not the time to give in to anger. I am here for a different purpose! A crow will but seek out leftovers instead of the company of a cuckoo’. He decided to not do anything about it yet. After the couple stealthily went their ways in the early hours next morning, Devadatta noticed a jewel encrusted earring lying on the ground, which belonged to his wife. He picked it up and left for Kānyakubja where he pawned it for a hundred thousand gold coins. With that money, he bought horses and elephants to make ready his entourage. He then presented himself with grandeur to the emperor and managed to impress him enough to secure his help to win back his kingdom. Then, leading the emperor’s army from the front, Devadatta rode to his kingdom, vanquished his enemies and wrested back the kingdom which once belonged to his father.

Not one to forget his wife’s deceit, Devadatta got the pawned earring released and despatched it to his father in law, who in turn showed it to his daughter in bewilderment. She then remembered that fateful night she spent with her paramour. It dawned on her that the man she saw by the entrance of the traveller’s home was none other than her husband. She grew ashamed of her conduct and soon died heart broken unable to live with what she had done. Prince Devadatta married the emperor’s daughter and eventually inherited her rightful wealth and lived happily.

‘Thus, O queen,’ continued the brahmana woman, ‘a woman’s heart can be as hard as a diamond when it comes to accomplishing brave feats, but turns softer than a flower when misfortune befalls. Like rarely found pearls, very few people born to noble families light up this world with the glow of their good conduct and purity of mind. People who seek to rise up in life must never lose heart in tough times. In fact, the story of my life stands in testimony of this. Although fate often landed me in troubled times, I never parted with my conduct. I am sure that’s why I eventually came upon the good fortune of meeting you’. Then Vāsavadattā asked her to narrate her story, and she began -

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 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.

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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