Kathāmṛta - 50 - Ratnaprabhā-lambaka - The Story of Tapodatta

This article is part 50 of 91 in the series Kathāmṛta
The story continued from the previous episode...

The next day the wedding took place with Agni as the witness. It was like a rājahaṃsa – a royal swan - uniting with a lotus born in the marsh. He spent some time with her and then decided to go back to his place, Vardhamānapura along with her. Rūpaśikhā said, ‘This should happen covertly; my father shouldn’t even get a hint of it; he wouldn’t allow me; if he follows us, I’ll make his brain go dull.’ The next day she took a box filled with invaluable gems and a golden arrow and set out to Vardhamānapura along with Śṛṅgabhuja. Under the pretext of taking a stroll in the garden, they sped on her horse named Śaravega.

As soon as the rākṣasa came to know of this, he was enraged. He leapt to the skies and chased after them. Listening to the roar of the wind, Rūpaśikhā gathered that her father was coming after them. She immediately jumped off the horse and rendered her husband and the horse invisible through her magical powers. Quickly turning herself into a man, she borrowed an axe from someone nearby and stood there nonchalantly, chopping wood.

Soon, Agniśikha descended from the sky and roared “Did you see a young couple pass this way?”. Without losing her composure, she replied “Our beloved rākṣasa king Agniśikha is dead! We are cutting down wood for his funeral pyre. We saw nobody around here.” Listening to this, the rākṣasa was shocked. He said to himself “Oh no! Am I dead? What then is the point in pursuing that daughter of mine? I must go back to the city and check with my retinue” and rushed home. As soon as he got there, he ran up to his servants and anxiously inquired, “Am I dead?”. The attendants replied with polite laughter “No, O mighty king!”. Happy to discover that he was alive, the stubborn rākṣasa resumed his chase. Yet again, Rūpaśikhā used her spells to make her husband and the horse vanish and assumed the form of a man. She saw a traveller carrying a letter and borrowed it from him. Agniśikha soon landed right next to her and asked with blazing eyes, “Did you see a man and a woman pass by?” Without so much as even batting an eyelid, Rūpaśikhā replied “Actually I am in a hurry, so I could not notice anyone. Agniśikha’s enemies inflicted a grievous injury upon him in battle today. He is barely alive and has sent word for his brother Dhūmaśikha in order to hand over the reins of the kingdom to him!”. Alarmed at this, Agniśikha thought “What! Did my enemies put me on my deathbed?” and flew back home to check for himself. Again, everyone laughed at his questions. The bewildered Agniśikha couldn’t fathom what was going on and thought enough was enough. He gave up on his pursuit and decided to let his daughter go.

Meanwhile, Śṛṅgabhuja and Rūpaśikhā reached Vardhamānapura. King Vīrabhuja was overjoyed to have not only his son back, but also a beautiful daughter in law. He felt as if Kṛṣṇa and Satyabhāmā were in front of him. Śṛṅgabhuja narrated everything that had taken place. He had his elder brothers summoned and presented to the king the golden arrow right in front of them. The king thought, Just like how his elder brothers made the innocent Śṛṅgabhuja go away, did their mothers level false allegations on my beloved Guṇavarā? I must get to the bottom of this!

Vīrabhuja went to Ayaśolekhā’s mansion that evening and dined with her. The wicked Ayaśolekhā was so happy to host the king that she drank much wine and went to bed fully intoxicated. The king was fully alert and awake. Ayaśolekhā began to mumble in sleep. Soon she slurred, “If we didn’t bring blame upon Guṇavarā would the king have come here and honoured me thus?” The king was left in no doubt upon listening to her words. He was so enraged that went to his attendants right then and ordered: “Today marks the end of the tenure of Guṇavarā’s restriction to be in the prison to ward off evil. Let her take a ritual bath and join me!”

Queen Guṇavarā took the ritual dip and decked herself in her best ornaments and came to meet the king. Her joy knew no bounds as Śṛṅgabhuja and Rūpaśikhā came forward and bowed down to her, seeking her blessings. Listening to the story of all that had transpired, she turned to her son and praised Rūpaśikhā thus: “O my son, I am truly amazed at all that she has done for you! Courting danger to her own life, forsaking her own kith and kin, she has left everything for your sake! She must truly be a goddess who has come down from the heavens for you. Rūpaśikhā is a model for all virtuous women!”

By then, Surakṣita, the guardian of the inner chambers, whom the king had ordered to undertake a tīrtha-yātrā, had returned. He came to the king and queen and bowed down to them. Vīrabhuja received him with full honour and the first command he pronounced upon him was to throw all his other queens into the dungeon. Listening to this, Guṇavarā fell to the king’s feet and cried “Deva! Put me in the dungeon for however long you want, but I beseech you to forgive their transgressions! Look at them - they are ashamed of what they have done and are scared out of their wits. I cannot bear to see them thus”. King Vīrabhuja reluctantly assented and thus the kind Guṇavarā saved her co-wives from a ghastly fate. She thus avoided them being punished. They were ashamed, hung their head low and returned to their houses with no face to show. The king called Nirvāsabhuja and others and said – “Don’t stay here! Go on a tīrtha-yātrā! Go right away!” Śṛṅgabhuja requested his father to pardon their crime. Everyone developed affection for him for the nobility and generosity he had displayed. The following day, the king named Śṛṅgabhuja as his successor. Though he was the youngest son, he was found to possess the best of qualities. The prince went on a digvijaya, conquered many provinces and lived happily with Rūpaśikhā.

After narrating this story, Hariśika said – ‘Like Guṇavarā and Rūpaśikhā, a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, both being pativratās will live loyal to their husbands’.

The following day, Gomukha and others came to see Naravāhanadatta who was staying in Ratnaprabhā’s house. Marubhūti arrived a little late and he had not yet gained control over his senses after having gotten drunk. He was walked with faltering steps. The flowers that he wore and the sandal paste on his body were still visible. His speech was funny. Gomukha saw him and said – ‘You are the son of Yaugandharāyaṇa and don’t you even know these basics? You are drunk in the morning and are visiting the king in such a state!’ Marubhūti was angry listening to his words. He replied – ‘Let the lord say these words or let some other older person in the assembly should say it. You are the son of Ityaka – what authority have you got to punish me?’ Gomukha said with a smile – ‘The king does not reprimand an undisciplined person, but his men do so. It is true that I am the son of Itayaka. You are mantri-vṛṣabha. Your laziness and immoral behaviour are enough evidence for that. You lack horns on your head!’ Marubhūti said –‘You are called Gomukha and you are fit to be a bull. Still, you are not tamed, this is because of your missed birth!’ Everyone assembled there laughed. Gomukha said- ‘This Marubhūti is a gem; a diamond that cannot be cut; how can any good quality enter such a hard person? A puruṣa-ratna which can be refined is of a different kind!’ With these words, he narrated the following story

The Story of Taopdatta

In the city of Pratiṣṭhāna, lived a brāhmaṇa by name Tapodatta. Though the father toiled hard, he did not learn anything in his childhood. As he grew up, he was looked down upon by everyone else, repented for his attitude and went to the banks of river Gaṅgā to acquire knowledge. He performed intense tapas there. Looking at him, Indra appeared in the disguise of a brāhmaṇa. He stood before him and started picking handfuls of sand on the banks of the river and then threw it into the river. Looking at this, Tapodatta gave up his silence and asked out of curiosity – ‘O brāhmaṇa! What are you doing?’ Indra, who was in disguise, replied – ‘I am building a bridge to Gaṅgā. This will help animals cross over!’ Tapodatta said ‘You fool! If you throw sand into the flowing river, will it not get carried away by the waters?’ The brāhmaṇa replied – ‘In that case, if you simply perform vrata and upāsana without studying anything, can you gain any knowledge?’

It is akin to painting pictures on the canvas of the sky! If one could become erudite without reading or writing a single letter of the alphabet, then nobody in the world would engage in study!” Tapodatta deeply reflected upon those words, gave up his tapas, and returned home.

He [Gomukha] said, “In this manner, it is easy to instruct a man of viveka but that Marubhūti lacks wisdom and so it is impossible to make him listen to reason. He will simply get enraged if one tries to teach him anything.”

Hariśikha said, “Deva! It is indeed easy to instruct one endowed with awareness and wisdom.” and then narrated the following story —

 

The Story of Virūpaśarmā

Once upon a time there lived in Vārāṇasī a deformed and poverty-stricken brāhmaṇa named Virūpaśarmā. Craving for beauty and wealth, he went to a tapovana and began performing rigorous tapas. Indra came in the form of a diseased and deformed jackal and stood before the brāhmaṇa. The jackal's body was covered by a swarm of flies. Looking at that Virūpaśarmā thought, Owing to the karmas of previous births, such creatures too are born in this world. In comparison with this, my troubles and worries are trivial! Well, at least Brahmā did not make me like this creature! He gave up his tapas and went back home. — so said Hariśikha.

Marubhūti was further enraged. He roared, “For people like you, power resides in words alone. For truly valiant warriors endowed with great physical strength, it is an insult to cross swords with weaklings and word-warriors such as yourself!” Upon uttering these words, Marubhūti was ready to enter into a physical fight but Naravāhanadatta comforted him. Everyone returned to their homes.

The following day, when they all assembled in the court, Marubhūti hung his head down with shame. Looking at him, Ratnaprabhā said, “Ārya-putra! You are truly fortunate to have your childhood friends as ministers. They too are fortunate to have their childhood friend as the king of the land. This is indeed a fortuitous result of the (good) karmas from former births!” When he heard these words, Tapantaka remarked, “It is true that he has become our king owing to karmas of a previous birth!”

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

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.

Prekshaa Publications

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