Kathāmṛta - 53 - Ratnaprabhā-lambaka - The Story of Karpūrikā’s Past Life

This article is part 53 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

Naravāhanadatta and Gomukha bathed in the garden well, partook their meals in the middle court of the palace, drank well, and ate tāmbūla. That night, besotted by Karpūrikā, Naravāhanadatta was unable to fall asleep and Rājyadhara told him, "Why do you worry? You will obtain your beloved. Lakṣmī herself woos those with sattva and good character. I have seen this with my own eyes!" Then he narrated the following tale:

The Story of Sukhadhana

King Kāñcīrāja, whom I alluded to earlier, had a wealthy doorkeeper named Arthalobha. He was a merchant engaged in trade. He distrusted his servants and so he had placed his beautiful wife Mānaparā in charge of the business. She did not like the job. But all men fell for her good looks and sweet talk and soon the business flourished. She was able to buy and sell not just clothes but also elephants, horses, jewels, and many other items. Her husband was overjoyed.

One day, a wealthy merchant named Sukhadhana came there from a foreign land. Arthalobha called his wife and said, “Beloved one, that merchant has brought with him twenty thousand horses and innumerable silk clothes. Go and purchase five thousand horses and ten thousand sets of silk garments from him! Along with the five thousand horses that I own, I will add those five thousand horses and sell them all to the king!” She went to Sukhadhana as instructed. Even as she began selecting the horses to purchase, Sukhadhana was besotted with her charms. He called her aside in private and said, “I shall not sell a single horse or garment to you for money. If you will spend a night with me, I will give you five hundred horses and a thousand pairs of silk clothes!” She returned home and told her husband about the proposal. He said, “If the returns are going to be so high, what's the harm in it? Go there and return home in the morning!” When Mānaparā heard these ignoble words, she thought, Fie upon this wretched husband of mine who is ready to sell his wife's honour! He has been destroyed by avarice! That magnanimous gentleman who is willing to give hundreds of horses and thousands of silk garments to spend a single night with me – let him be my husband from now on! Thinking thus, she went to Sukhadhana.

He was delighted and he sent with her to be given to her husband, horses and clothes as much as he had promised. Arthalobha sent his guards to fetch her the next day. She said, I’ve been bought and enjoyed by someone else! He is my husband now; would it be prudent to go to my former husband, tell me sirs!’ The husband wanted to bring her back forcibly. His friend Harabala restrained him saying, ‘That would be futile my friend; he is brave; your wife has seen his munificence and has been attracted to him; he is strong; has an able group of attendants with him; you wouldn’t be able to fight him; the king might also become unfavourable knowing that you have sold your wife; so keep quiet and don’t turn the situation into a scandal!’ But Arthalobha didn’t listen; he fought him taking the help of his attendants, lost and complained to the king. The king wanted to imprison Sukhadhana, one of his ministers Sandhāna stopped him and said, ‘That is not so easy; he has eleven attendants; more than one lakh horses; also we aren’t aware of the actual events; it wouldn’t have happened without any reason; let’s send a messenger to him and listen to his version!’ A messenger was sent and Mānaparā came forth and told everything. After listening to it the king himself visited Sukhadhana’s residence accompanied by Arthalobha. Mānaparā bowed to the king with respect and narrated the whole story. Arthalobha kept his silence, the king asked her what should be done. She said, ‘When there were no difficulties at all, he sold me; how can I go back to live with such an avaricious coward!’ With the king’s consent, the two men rode on their horses and battled it out. Arthalobha was beaten again. His attendants took him home. The king congratulated Sukhadhana and gave him back the gifts he had given. He also ordered that all the property belonging to Arthalobha should be taken away and he appointed someone else in his place.

 Thus wives of persons devoid of strength and character desert them; their riches also would go away. The opposite happens to people of capability and character.--- he said.

Naravāhanadatta slept that night. The next day he flew across the ocean to reach Karpūrasaṃbhavapura in vimāna of Rājyadhara with Gomukha. They reached an old woman’s house and asked her, ‘O Ārye! Who is the king? How many children does he have? She replied, ‘The king of this place is called Karpūraka. By the grace of Śiva, he has a daughter named Karpūrikā; Śaṅkara also had told the king in his dream – ‘Your daughter’s husband will win over the kingdom of the vidyādharas’. At her birth, she was so charming that it appeared as though, because of her beauty, lamps let out sighs that manifested in the form of soot - karpūra. She grew up like moonlight to everyone’s eyes. Now, Karpūrikā is of a marriageable age; but she isn’t interested in marrying; when my daughter, who is her friend, asked her why, she said the following story---

The Story of Karpūrikā’s Past Life

My friend! There is a reason for this from my past life; since I can remember my previous lives, I’ll narrate this, listen to me: there is a huge sandalwood tree near the great ocean. There is a lake of lotuses near it and I was a female swan who lived there. My beloved husband rāja-haṃsa – the royal swan - and I made the sandalwood tree as our residence. The ocean overflowed, flooded and took away all my young ones. Deeply pained by the loss, I sat crying before a Śiva-liṅga on the shore.

“When I was weeping inconsolably, my husband came and rebuked me saying ‘Come on, get up and get over it! Why cry so hard over the children we’ve already lost? We will sire more! As long as we are alive, what is not possible?’ Upon listening to his words, I concluded that all men are hard hearted! They have no empathy for wife and children! I didn’t want such a husband, nor a life like this. In my next birth I’d be a princess. One who remembered her past lives! With this in mind, I prayed to my Śiva-liṅga, fixed my mind upon the lord, and threw myself into the ocean. Through the grace of lord Śiva, I was reborn here in Karpūra-saṃbhava-pura. However, since my memories transcend births, I am still haunted by the heartless treatment meted out by my husband in my past life. I know I won’t be happy with any man in this birth. Thus, I have resolved to never enter into wedlock. Beyond this, it’s gods’ will”.

Next day, Naravāhanadatta disguised himself as a pious ascetic and roamed about with Gomukha in front of the palace crying out loudly ‘O, Haṃsi! O, Hamsi!’. Karpūrikā’s maids informed her about this. Her curiosity piqued, she summoned him im. When she asked him why he was crying thus, Naravāhanadatta repeated the same words. Gomukha replied on his friend’s behalf: “Devi! Allow me to explain. In his past life, he was a swan who lived in a sandalwood tree on the sea shore. Due to fate’s cruelty, his children were washed away by the ocean. Unable to bear this grief, his wife cast herself into the sea and gave up her life. The sad swan prayed to Śiva to be born again with memory of past birth and wished for the same life partner. Overcome with pangs of separation, he too then threw himself into the ocean and died. A heavenly voice from the skies then declared: ‘When he is reborn as the son of Vatsarāja, he will become the emperor of vidyādharas’. My friend is Vatsarāja’s heir apparent and is married to Madana-mañcukā and Ratnaprabhā. But he still misses the swan who was his mate in his previous birth and feels sad all the time. Recently when he had gone on a hunt, an ascetic woman saw him and reminded him of his previous birth. She told me ‘His swan wife from previous birth is now reborn as Karpūrikā. He may secure her hand if he were to travel to Karpūra-saṃbhava-pura’. At that very moment we embarked upon a dangerous journey. Without fearing for our lives, we crossed hundreds of forests and came to the shoreline. From there we ascended Rājyadhara’s aircraft, crossed the ocean of untold depths and landed here. It’s his unfulfilled yearning for his mate of the past that’s making him wander about delusionally shouting ‘O Haṃsi!!’. Now having seen you, I am coming to believe that his miseries have truly ended!”.

Listening to this amazing story, Karpūrikā thought Oh, how much āryaputra loves me – I caused his disinterestedness in the world!. She treated Naravāhanadatta with great hospitality, personally taking charge of making arrangements for his comfortable stay. This soon reached King Karpūraka’s ears and he came to see what was going on. After hearing what they had to say, he became happy. He blessed the couple and formalised their union by holding their marriage in accordance with the traditions. Their union was akin to that of a mādhavī creeper and vasantotsava.

 After a few days, when Naravāhanadatta desired to depart for Kauśāmbi, Karpūrikā said “Dear husband, we need a bigger aircraft than the one you flew in on. Prāṇadhara makes the best flying machines in our kingdom. I will have a big one built by him!". She sent for the airship maker and gave him the necessary orders. Naravāhanadatta also learned that Prāṇadhara was the elder brother of Rājyadhara. In no time a huge airship was ready for flight. Naravāhanadatta, Karpūrikā, their servants and Gomukha all boarded the aircraft. Prāṇadhara himself piloted it. They flew via Hemapura and soon reached Kauśāmbi. The people of Kauśāmbi were both happy and astonished when they heard of their king’s adventure. Everyone thought that it was amazing that Naravāhanadatta who had gone on a hunt, listened to the words of an ascetic, then took off in someone’s aircraft, married a beautiful and worthy woman and returned home in a huge flying machine. They concluded that destiny takes upon itself the responsibility of delivering the best of prosperities to those imbued with sublime qualities.

Karpūrikā wrote a letter to her father, King Karpūraka saying that he did not have to worry in her regard. She also added that there was no need to worry about Lakṣmī who has taken residence with Viṣṇu. She handed over the letter to a messenger who along with Prāṇadhara, flew away to Karpūra-saṃbhava-pura. After completing his task, one Prāṇadhara felicitated Rājyadhara, sought the king’s permission and took refuge in Naravāhanadatta’s kingdom. The King Naravāhanadatta got a house built near the royal palace for him and also got him employed.

Naravāhanadatta travelled the skies in the aircrafts built by Prāṇadhara. It appeared as though he was practising flying in the skies, as he was going to be the emperor of the vidyādharas in the future. The son of Vatsarāja, thus spent days of joy with his queens Ratnaprabhā, Madanamañcukā and Karpurīkā

Here ends the seventh – the Ratnaprabhālambaka

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




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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