The Story of Bhavaśarmā
‘Dear friend, never get caught by women. Their minds are always hard to understand.’
A beautiful brāhmaṇa woman named Somadayā lived in Vārāṇasī. Unbeknownst to anyone, she was a yoginī. Egged on by fate, I came to befriend her and fell in love with her. One day, in a fit of jealousy and anger, I struck her. She could not tolerate me beating her but stomached her anger. The following day, under the pretext of love-play, she tied a rope around my neck. She sold me to a man who was taking care of camels and oxen for his livelihood. I worked for him by carrying heavy loads on my back. A yoginī by name Bandhamocanikā who saw me, figured out my past and understood that Somadayā had turned me into beasts of burden. When the master was away, she used a few mantras to free me from the rope tied to my neck. I got back my human form. The master thought that the ox had escaped and searched for me in the entire town.
As I was going away with Bandhamocanikā, Somadayā spotted me by chance and was enraged. She tried to scare Bandhamocanikā by saying ‘Why did you have to liberate this evil one from the life of an animal? Wait! I will get rid of you tomorrow morning!’
Bandhamocanikā told me – ‘Arya! Tomorrow morning, she will come to my house in the form of a black mare. When the two of us are fighting, you please kill the black coloured mare with a sword!’
The next morning, I went to Bandhamocanikā’s abode with a sword in my hand. Somadayā came to the place in the form of a black mare and Bandhamocanikā took the form of a mare, blood red in colour. As the two mares got into a combat, I did as I was instructed and got rid of the evil Somadayā. From that day on, I have never even thought about having any kind of association with ignoble women. Greed, impatience and magical tactics are the three evils that possess women and they scare the three worlds with their qualities
Therefore, don’t go behind Bandhudattā. Will a lady who does not love her husband, love anyone else? – he said. I did not pay heed to such words of advice and am suffering great troubles. Don’t tread my path. Anurāgaparā will certainly seek a vidyādhara – a person who belongs to her species. Just like a female bee seeks a different flower from time to time, a lady too desires newer husbands from time time. Listen to this advice of a friend!’ he tried to counsel me.
However, none of these words of Somasvāmī, who was in the form of a monkey, convinced Niścayadatta. Instead, he said, ‘She is born in the pure lineage of the Vidyādharapati. She will never cheat me’
By then, the western quarters turned red and the sun went behind the mountain, as though hoping the best for Niścayadatta.
As soon as it got dark, the yakṣiṇī Śṛṅgotpādinī came there, carried him on her back and took him away to Puṣkarāvati – the city of Anurāgaparā’s father, Vidyādharapati. Anurāgaparā got to know of his coming due to her skill in divine vidyās and married him as per the gāndharva tradition. She created a town using her vidyās and got him stationed there, without the knowledge of her parents.
One day, he brought up the topic of his friend who was a monkey and expressed his wish to free the friend of his birth as an ape. She said that she did not know the mantras required from such a liberation. It belongs to the domain of the yoginī. I’ll seek the help of my friend, a yogini named Bhadrarūpā and try to accomplish your desire. The two decided that they see the monkey – they travelled through the aerial path, saw him and returned.
On yet another day, when her husband expressed his wish to fly to see the monkey, Somasvāmī, Anurāgaparā said – ‘You travel alone today. I will teach you how to fly!’ She taught him the vidyās.
As he went to the monkey and was talking to him, Anurāgaparā was sitting in the garden. A young vidyādhara came there. Looking at him, Anurāgaparā asked his identity. In reply, the vidyādhara said – ‘I am Rājabhañjana, a vidyādhara. Why are you in relationship with men? Please marry me before your father gets to know of this!’ She was in agreement with that. The next moment, they become husband and wife.
When Niścayadatta returned home, Anurāgaparā did not pay enough attention to him. She slept under the pretext of a headache.
The following day, even as he left to visit the monkey, Anurāgaparā and the vidyādhara had a communion. Due to the power of her vidyās, she hid him in her thighs and fell asleep.
When Niścayadatta told the monkey that his wife was afflicted with bouts of headache, the wise monkey said – ‘Go now, pick her up and bring her here. I will display something surprising!’ Niścayadatta did accordingly.
The monkey, using its yoga-śakti revealed the vidyādhara who was hiding in Anurāgaparā’s thigh. Niścayadatta exclaimed – ‘Aha! What is this!’ The vidyādhara woke up jumped up and vanished into the skies.
Anurāgaparā felt embarrassed upon her secret being revealed.
Niścayadatta said – ‘How could you cheat me, when I had trusted you so much. It is, perhaps, easier to come up with a plan to tie mercury to one place, but there is no way one can control a woman’s mind’
Anurāgaparā had no words to answer him. She jumped up into the skies and returned to her town, weeping.
Pointing that out, the monkey said, “In spite of my warnings you went chasing after her! Your heat of repentance is the fruit of the fire of your excessive desire!” Niścayadatta cast aside his sorrow and attachments and took refuge in Śiva.
Mokṣadā, a female ascetic who had come there, released Somasvāmī from his form as a monkey and made turned him back into a human. And in due course, by performing intense tapas, both Niścayadatta and Somasvāmī attained mukti.
Upon listening to this story, Gomukha said, “Thus, women are naturally lustful. Pativratās, who are akin to an embellishment to their clan, are few and far between, like a streak of moon in the sky.
Marubhūti, as if competing with Gomukha, said, “Women are lustful but it cannot be said that all women are unchaste. Even among courtesans one finds women with fortitude and loyalty. When such is the case, what to say of other women!” Then he narrated the following story –
Story of Madanamālā
There lived in Pāṭalīputra a king named Vikramāditya. He had two friends named Aśvapati and Gajapati. Trusting their strength and prowess, he took an oath in a hurry — "I will defeat King Narasiṃha of Pratiṣṭhāna, make him come to the door of my residence, and he must request my vandi-māgadhas to announce that he is my servant!"
When he launched an attack at Pratiṣṭhāna, a million-strong army defeated Vikramāditya, who ran back to Pāṭalīputra after being thoroughly routed. His friends went back to their hometowns. Then Vikramāditya thought, The enemy who cannot be conquered by might must be conquered by strategy.
Entrusting his kingdom to a few capable ministers, he set out in the disguise of a kārpaṭika along with a smart minister named Buddhivara, hundreds of princes and five brave men, seeking the patronage of the king. They arrived at Pratiṣṭhāna and went to the house of the famous courtesan Madanamālā. It was a huge mansion with seven zones and an upper storey. It had the royal grandeur of Indra's palace. The flags atop the building which were being swayed by the winds appeared as though they were inviting him. The main door of the mansion faced the east and was protected day and night by twenty thousand infantry.
When Madanamālā heard from her attendants the description of Vikramāditya who was in disguise, she surmised that he was an eminent personage in reality and she welcomed him with great courtesy, offering him royal hospitality. She offered daily subsistence to all the king's followers and ensured all conveniences for them. She gladly paid Vikramāditya’s men, just as he would have done by himself. Though in disguise, with her care, Vikramāditya lived the luxuries of an emperor. She refused to even look at other men, considering herself grateful to be in his company. She had fallen so madly in love with him that when King Narasiṃha came to her house, she cleverly concocted an excuse and sent him away.
Vikramāditya began to wonder how in the world could he repay her for all that she had done for him. The minister Buddhivara told him, "Mahārāja, why don't you give her a few of the priceless jewels that the bhikṣu Prapañcabuddhi had given you long back?" When the king heard the advice, he said at once, "Even if I gave her all those jewels, it would not be a worthy recompense." The minister asked, "O king, why did that bhikṣu take refuge in you?" and in response the king narrated that episode —
The bhikṣu came every day to the court and gave me a casket. I would hand it over unopened to the treasurer; this went on for a year. One day, the casket that he had given me happened to slip from my hands and fell to the ground. The casket broke into two and a brilliant jewel whose lustre resembled a burning ball of fire fell out of it. It split into two and out came a gem which shone like glowing coal. I ordered the other caskets which were given earlier to be brought to the court and upon opening them, we found that every casket had a similar gem; I called him and asked, ‘Why have you been doing this?’ He made me send all my associates away so that we could speak in privacy. He said, ‘On the Caturdaśī of the next dark fortnight, I’m seeking to master a special siddhi in the funeral grounds, I need your help to do that!’
Later that day, I finished my evening sandhyāvandana and dozed off. Śrīhari seated on his vehicle Garuḍa appeared in my dream and informed me, ‘Prapañcabuddhi is planning to sacrifice you during his maṇḍalārcanā; when he asks you to bow down and to perform namaskāra, ask him how it is to be done and when he is demonstrating it, chop his head off with his sword! You’ll gain the siddhi instead!’ saying so he vanished.
On the prescribed day after the first half of the night passed, I went alone to the funeral grounds armed with my sword. After all the rituals were completed, the śramaṇa said, ‘do a dīrghadaṇḍa-namaskāra with your forehead touching the floor! Both of us will be blessed with the siddhi!’ I asked him, ‘Demonstrate it!’ He did so and I chopped off the śramaṇa’s head in a flash! Soon after, I heard a voice from the skies, ‘O great king! I’m pleased by your act of sacrificing that rogue; you have now gained access to the siddhi of flight; I’m Kubera; ask me if you want anything else! With these words, Kubera appeared before me. I said, ‘Svāmīn! I’ll ask you when there is a requirement; please bestow upon me then!’ He said, ‘So be it!’ and vanished. I returned home.
‘Now I want to use that favour to help Madanamālā. Buddhivara, please set forth to Pāṭalīputra along with the princes. I’ll come after my work is done here.’ With these words, he made them leave.
The following day in a bid to help Madanamālā, he entered the nitya-devārcanāgāra – the pūjā room and invoked Kubera while meditating. He requested, ‘Give me five human size mūrtis made of gold; if any of their parts are chopped, they should grow again.’ Kubera agreed to his request and granted him.
The king flew back to Pāṭalīputra. Madanamālā upon noticing that her beloved didn’t come out of the pūjā room entered and saw that he was not present but there were five huge golden mūrtis instead. She thought, My beloved should be a gandharva or vidyādhara; he has given me these mūrtis as a gift; but what use do I have of them if he is not there with me! She sent her attendants to search for him. When he was not found she became sad and vowed, ‘If I don’t see my beloved within six months, I’ll donate everything I possess and will kill myself by entering into agni!’
She then donated every day in his name. Once she cut off chooped of the arms of a mūrti for the purpose of dāna. The next day it had regrown! The same thing happened with the other mūrtis too. Upon realizing that they are inexhaustible, she started donating to the brāhmaṇas as many numbers of arms equal to the number of the branches of Vedas they had studied. The news about such a donation spree spread like wildfire in a few days.
Hearing about this, a brāhmaṇa named Saṅgrāmadatta from Pāṭalīputra, who had studied all the four Vedas received four arms in charity. He brought them back of two camels, came to the king Vikramāditya and narrated everything that had taken place. He added - ‘!’ He told him about Madanamālā’s vow. The brāhmaṇa said – ‘Madanamālā has owed to give up her life if she does not see her beloved in six month’s time. She loses her balance even as she walks and though she has grown frail out of fasting, she still looks beautiful. As she has been offering dāna, her hands are wet. She is in pain like a swarm of bees. Even if her beloved is a noble person, I consider him an evil soul. It is because of him that she is about to give up her life. I cannot safeguard the four golden arms. I wish to accomplish a dhārmic endeavour by building an accommodation for wayfarers. I appeal to the king’s generosity in this matter King Vikramāditya gave his assent and orders to have all the required arrangements made to aid in Saṅgrāmadatta ’s mission.
Next, eager to see his beloved Madanamālā, the king flew to Pratiṣṭhāna and saw to his dismay that she had grown pale and lean like the sliver of the new moon. A wonderstruck Madanamālā couldn’t believe her eyes even as her beloved stood before her. She rushed into his arms and held him tight. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she protested “How did you find it in your heart to desert my faultless self so cruelly!”. The king tried to console her saying “Come O dear one, allow me to explain myself” and led her in. Revealing his true identity, the king Vikramāditya told Madanamālā about the oath he had sworn in the matter of Narasiṃharāja.
The clever Madanamālā summoned her vandhis and commanded them thus: “When Narasiṃharāja comes here, you must first proclaim: ‘Lord! Your devotee and faithful friend Narasiṃharāja is here!’, and only then allow him in! If he were to inquire as to who was inside, you must immediately answer ‘King Vikramāditya!’”.
Everyday, as was her wont, Madanamālā gave away alms to the needy with no holds barred. Soon, the word of her generosity reached king Narasiṃharāja. His curiosity piqued, the king arrived to see for himself if the stories of such rare largesse where untold riches were being distributed were indeed true. Even as Narasiṃharāja was about to enter the mansion, Madanamālā’s guards stopped him. Primed for this very moment, the vandhis exclaimed loudly “Lord! Your devotee and faithful friend Narasiṃharāja is here!” The puzzled king asked “Who is inside?” Upon being told that it was none other than King Vikramāditya, he thought to himself Ah! So he has finally fulfilled his oath! He is courageous indeed, for he got the better of me in this manner! and went in. The kings saw each other. Their eyes met and each smiled at the other with mutual admiration. Vikramāditya rose up and embraced Narasiṃharāja. After they were done exchanging pleasantries and inquiring about each other’s well-being, Narasiṃharāja asked Vikramāditya “How did you come to acquire these golden images?” Vikramāditya narrated the amazing story of how he killed the śramaṇa and attained the power to roam the skies. He also said that a pleased Kubera had bestowed upon him the enchanted golden idols.
Realising the potency of Vikramāditya’s magical powers, Narasiṃharāja forged strong bonds of friendship with him. He invited him to his palace and treated him to royal hospitality and honour before eventually bidding him goodbye.
Madanamālā, of course, could not bear to live without Vikramāditya. She soon gave away all her much-vaunted material possessions and travelled to Pāṭalīputra with her beloved to start a new chapter of her life.
Having narrated this extraordinary story, Marubhūti told Naravāhanadatta, “Lord! Thus, when even veśyās can be magnanimous and can possess unwavering love in their hearts, what is left to say of the virtuous women born in genteel families!”
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.