The next day Gomukha and other friends of Naravāhanadatta came to see him. The door keeper made them wait till she obtained the permission and then allowed them inside. Ratnaprabhā ordered the door keeper thus, ‘Henceforth don’t make them wait; they are close friends of my husband; we don’t insist on such strict protocols and protection for the inner chambers.’ She then addressed her beloved, ‘O son of noble one! Since this came up I want to tell you something; it is a norm to protect women; but such protection arising from ignorance or envy doesn’t serve the purpose; for noble women their conduct itself is an infallible protection; who can stop an overflowing river or a woman? Even the creator Brahmā can’t save a wanton woman.’ to substantiate it she narrated a story--
The Story of the King Ratnādhipati
There is an island called Ratnakūṭa; it was ruled by a devoted vaiṣṇava king called Ratnādhipati. He performed severe austerities to please Viṣṇu and he obtained boons which allowed him to conquer the whole earth and also marry all the princesses. Viṣṇu told him, ‘Tomorrow morning, a white elephant will come to you; it is capable of flight; you can mount on it and travel to any kingdom and defeat the ruler there; the defeated king would offer his daughter’s hand to you in marriage.’ He did as told and was able to conquer everyone and he married eighty thousand princesses.
Once when he was making his visits to various distant islands and on his way back, a bird which was a descendent of Garuḍa pounced upon his elephant and struck its head with its beak. The elephant fainted and couldn’t be revived. Five days passed with it lying on the earth without partaking of food or water, the dejected king too stopped eating and to appease the deities of the cardinal directions. He positioned his sword to cut off his head as an offering and said, ‘O Dikpālakas! Give me some solution for my predicament or I’ll cut off my head!’ Immediately a heavenly voice cautioned him thus, ‘Stop right there, O king! The elephant will be revived if it is touched by a pativratā.’
The elephant will rise if any woman who has unwaveringly walked the righteous path of a dutiful wife were to touch it!” thundered the voice from the heavens. Gladdened at this, the king sent for his chief queen Amṛtalatā. To his shock, even as the queen touched it, the elephant just sat there on its knees. Then, one by one, each one of his eighty thousand wives took their turns. But the pachyderm did not move. Next, the king had all the women of the town give a go, but to no avail. The king was utterly dismayed. He cried “Are there no virtuous wives in our entire city!”
Around that time, a merchant called Harṣagupta had arrived from Tāmralipti. His servant Śīlavatī had come to know of the king’s predicament and was in the crowd. She stepped forward and asked out of curiosity “May I give it a try?” The king assented. Śīlavatī had but barely touched the elephant, and lo, behold! It miraculously rose up the very next instant! King Ratnādhipati’s joy knew no bounds. He felicitated her and gifted her with innumerable precious stones. He also offered his gratitude to her master, Harṣagupta. Disappointed with his queens, he first made arrangements for their comfortable living for the future and separated from them. The king summoned Śīlavatī in secret and asked her respectfully, “Lady, is there a comely maiden from your mother’s lineage who might be the right woman for me? If there is one, can you help me marry her? She would also be a righteous woman like you, I am sure of it!”. Śīlavatī replied “O king, in Tāmralipti, I have a sister called Rājadattā. If you wish, you may seek her hand”.
King Ratnādhipati departed the very next morning for Tāmralipti on his elephant, accompanied by Harṣagupta and Śīlavatī. There he consulted reputed astrologers to firm up an auspicious date and time to marry Rājadattā. The astrologers studied the stars of the prospective couple and declared “O king! We don’t see an auspicious day available for your wedding in the next three months! We must warn you. If you marry her before then, Rājadattā stands to lose her piety!” The king couldn’t bear to be alone for so long. He thought, “Rājadattā would never become an adulteress! For, after all, isn’t she the sister of the virtuous Śīlavatī? I shall make arrangements to ensure such a thing never comes to pass. I will have her sequestered on an island right in the middle of the ocean in a mansion protected by moats all around. She will have only women for companions. If there is no man around to even look at, how could even the possibility of infidelity ever arise?” Thus, disregarding the advice of the astrologers, king Ratnādhipati soon married Rājadattā. Then, right in accordance with his plan, he had her safely ensconced with a contingent of all female attendants on a faraway island which was hard to access. He had at his beck and call, his magical elephant which he used to ferry to them whatever they needed. The king would spend his nights with Rājadattā on the island and fly back to Ratnakūṭa the next morning, to resume his kingly duties.
Days passed. Then one night the king had a terrible nightmare and woke up with a start. To shake it off, both the king and Rājadattā drank too much wine and went back to bed. When the sun rose the next morning, Rājadattā was still in an intoxicated state. Despite this, the king left her and flew back to Ratnakūṭa in order to attend to his royal duties. Overlordship is after all, very addictive.
Meanwhile, back on the island, when all the maid servants were busy with their chores, as fate would have it, right at the door of Rājadattā’s chambers, a stranger arrived. She was taken aback to see a man whom she had never met before, standing right at her door. She confronted him and asked who he was and how he managed to get there. The stranger replied “O lady, I hail from Mathurāpura. My name is Pavanasena. I used to be a merchant. After my father’s passing, my cousins and relatives deceived me of my wealth and I was reduced to a state of penury. Mustering courage, I went overseas, took up odd jobs, toiled long and hard every day and managed to save some money. Just as I had accumulated enough to start my own business, I was robbed during my journey. Dejected, I wandered the streets begging for alms and somehow reached Kanakakṣetra, a place renowned for its jewels. I tried to follow the footsteps of many men who had successfully found their fortune in Kanakakṣetra. I secured a tract of land on contract and started excavating it to unearth precious stones. Alas! Such was my ill luck that not even one precious stone came my way. Unable to bear this series of misfortunes which beset me at every step of my way, I decided to end my miserable life. Hence ,I set up a pyre at the sea shore and was about to jump into it when a merchant named Jīvadatta stopped me. The kind man offered me a job and took me aboard his ship and we set sail for Svarṇadvīpa.The ship broke down, mid-way. I caught hold of a plank floating in the ocean and landed in the vicinity of the forest that lies on the shore of this island. I spotted this house from there and have come here. I am pleased to see you and you appear like a shower of amṛta to me!”
She welcomed him and got him seated on the bed. She was alone and drunk. There was nothing to worry about – a young man had come as well. When these are the prevailing conditions, character will not remain strong and not for long.
The king, who grew curious came there and was surprised to see her with a man. Looking at this, he thought – ‘Is it even possible to clasp strong wind in one’s arms? The gaṇaka (fortuneteller) had told me at the very beginning and this is going to be the result. I let her stay thinking that she is the younger sister of the noble girl, but I forgot that poison can also take birth with amṛta. Well, no human effort can undo what Fate has in store.’ With these thoughts, he let the merchant free.
The merchant caught hold of the same plank that had brought him to safety. He floated on the surface of the ocean clinging on to it. He spotted a boat at a distance and called for help. The owner of the ship was a person by name Krodhavarmā, who picked him up and put him in his ship. None can say who will die at the hands of whom and in what way! Pavanasena tried to please Krodhavarmā’s wife and was thrown into the ocean by him. He died drowning in the ocean.
Elsewhere, the King Ratnādhipati escorted Ratnadattā, handed her over to her sister and narrated everything that had taken place. Thereafter, he offered his kingdom and its wealth to Śīlavatī and brāhmaṇas. He wanted to retire to a tapovana as he was in deep sorrow. He got an elephant as the means for his transport and all of a sudden, it turned into a divine being. The king was astonished and asked – “What is this! Who are you?” The divine person replied – “You and I are gandharvas and I am your elder brother. My name is Somaprabha and you are Devaprabha. Once, when your wife Rājavatī, you and I were performing arcanā in the Keśavālaya which was the residence of many siddhas, one of them stared at your wife who was singing. You were enraged and said – ‘Being a siddha, is it right for you to stare at another’s woman in this manner?’ He replied ‘O fool! I was carried away by her music and I did not eye her out of lust! You are filled with jealousy. I curse you and your wife to take birth in the human world! You will see her in the company of another man.’ I was very angry. I struck him using a white elephant doll that was in my hand. He cursed me – ‘You be born as a white elephant in the human world and become the vehicle of your brother. He will procure eighty thousand wives and they will be revealed to the world as characterless women. Thereafter, he will marry his real wife! He will then realise that she too is a woman of tainted character and start heading towards tapovana, dejected. That is when my curse will end and you will be liberated.’ The very next moment, Ratnādhipati and Rājadattā overcame their human body, turned into gandharvas and went to the Malaya Mountains. Śīlavatī got the wealth that she wanted, reached Tāmpralipti and performed dhārmic activities there.
After narrating this story, Ratnaprabhā said – “None can force a woman to tread the path of dharma. It is only her sattva that can protect her. If men feel jealous, they will be gifted with sorrow and animosity!”
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.