Kathāmṛta - 68 - Śaktiyaśo-lambaka - The Story of Īśvaravarmā and Sundarī

This article is part 68 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

10. Śaktiyaśo-lambaka


अवारणीयं रिपुभिर्-वारणीयं करं नुमः |

हेरम्बस्य ससिन्दूरम्-असिन्दूरम्-अघच्छिदं ||


avāraṇīyaṃ ripubhir-vāraṇīyaṃ karaṃ numaḥ |

herambasya sasindūram-asindūram-aghacchidaṃ ||


Let us pray to the trunk of elephant-faced Gaṇeśa, which his enemies find unopposable! 

It is red lustred due to the sindūra and destroys all pāpas.


पायाद्-वः पुरदाहाय शंभोः संदधतः शरं |

समं-व्यग्रेषु नेत्रेषु तृतीयम्-अधिकं स्फुरत् ||


pāyād-vaḥ pura-dāhāya śaṃbhoḥ saṃdadhataḥ śaraṃ |

samaṃ-vyagreṣu netreṣu tṛtīyam-adhikaṃ sphurat ||


May Śaṃbhu’s ready arrow protect you all! Aimed intently through his three eyes - even more so through his shining third eye - it was primed to set ablaze the Tripuras!


रक्तारुणा नृसिंहस्य कुटिला विद्विषो वधे |

नख-श्रेणी च दृष्टिश्-च निहन्तु दुरितानि वः ||


raktāruṇā nṛsiṃhasya kuṭilā vidviṣo vadhe |

nakha-śreṇī ca dṛṣṭiś-ca nihantu duritāni vaḥ ||


May the eyes and curled rows of nails of Nṛsiṃha rendered red-hued through slaying of the evil foe, rend all your difficulties.

One day when Naravāhanadatta was in his father’s court, a merchant called Ratnadatta who lived in the same city paid a visit. The merchant said “Lord! There is a destitute man called Vasudhara who makes his living as a porter. I noticed that he had risen from rags to riches all of a sudden. Out of curiosity I went to his house and gave him food and drink to elicit the truth. It worked, for when he was intoxicated, he revealed the secret behind his sudden rise to wealth. He said ‘Near the palace door, I came upon a precious bracelet adorned with jewels. I plucked out one of the embedded precious stones and sold it to Hiraṇyagupta. He agreed to a price of one lakh dīnāras for it. Thanks to this, I am a happy man today’ and then showed me the bracelet. Imagine my shock, your highness, when I saw your name engraved on it!”. Listening to this Vatsarāja summoned both Hiraṇyagupta and the porter.

Upon seeing the bracelet, the king said to himself ‘Ah! When I had gone about the town it must have slipped off my hand somehow’. The men of the court quizzed the porter: ‘How did you dare to take the bracelet bearing the king’s name?’ The man replied ‘Lords! I am but a beast of burden. Little do I know how to read. I am struggling with poverty every day and thus when I chanced upon this bracelet, I just picked it up’. Next it was the turn of the merchant Hiraṇyagupta to be interrogated. Said he: ‘I bought this jewel from Vasudhara for a fair price, and moreover there was no indication that this belonged to the king. I gave the porter five thousand dīnāras and the rest of the money still remains with me’. The wise Yaugandharāyaṇa who listened to all this spoke: ‘No one is at fault here. The porter did not steal it - he merely picked up what someone had lost on the street. The merchant Hiraṇyagupta has paid a fair price for the jewel, and hence even he is not guilty’. The king agreed with the prime minister. Then Vatsarāja paid five thousand dīnāras to Hiraṇyagupta and got back the jewel of his bracelet. He also obtained the bracelet itself from the porter Vasudhara and allowed him to leave. The porter had to be happy with the five thousand he obtained from Hiraṇyagupta. Without any fear in his heart, with his head held high, Vasudhara went home.

The king concluded in his mind that the merchant Ratnadatta who came in with the complaint was an untrustworthy and sinful man. However, thinking of the future when he may have some use for him, the king sent him off with due respect. After everyone had left, Vasantaka came to the king and said ‘Ah! If divine grace is not upon one’s head, even the wealth one lands goes away! The story of Bhadraghaṭa is similar to that of this porter Vasudhara!’’ and proceeded to narrate the following story :-


The Story of Śubhadatta who lost Bhadraghaṭa

There lived a man called Śubhadatta in Pāṭaliputra. He made his living by selling logs of wood which he cut in the forest every day. Once, when he was deep in the forest, he was fortunate to spot four yakṣas who were dressed in divine garments. They spoke to him with great affection, helped him overcome all fear and felt sorry for his poverty. They said – “Will you stay here working for us? We will make sure that your family faces no troubles.” He agreed and started serving them. He made arrangements for their food and bathing. When it was lunch time, they commanded him – “Serve us from the bhadraghaṭa”. That was an empty vessel. When he stood near it, dumbfounded, knowing not what to do, they asked – “Why do you delay? If you put your hand into the vessel, you will get whatever you want!” Accordingly, he served them with whatever they wished for and also had his meal.

He served them with intense devotion and sincerity for a month. They were pleased with him and asked – “Tell us what you want!” He sought the bhadraghaṭa. They said – “It is difficult to protect this pot. If it breaks apart, it will run away from you. Therefore, ask for something else.” He insisted that he wanted the pot and nothing else. They granted it to him as per his wish.

He brought the magic pot home and got whatever he wanted from it. He felt that its speciality would be discovered if he kept it apart from the other vessels and placed it amidst the usual kitchenware.

Once, when he was intoxicated, his relatives asked him – “How did you procure so much wealth?” He not only told them about the magic pot, but also picked it up and started dancing with it on his shoulders. As he was intoxicated, he missed a step, the pot fell off his shoulders onto the floor and broke apart into pieces. The next moment, the pieces got together and the pot went away from him. He got back to his original state of penury


Vatsarāja heard this story and got up to take a bath. Naravāhanadatta had his bath, finished his rituals and returned home with his friends.


That night, when he was sleeping alone, Marubhūti spoke to him – “Deva! How come you have not asked anyone from the antaḥpura to be with you? You don’t seem to be falling asleep. Are you interested in a prostitute? Never hold them in good regard!” He narrated the story:

The Story of Īśvaravarmā and Sundarī

There lived a merchant named Ratnavarmā in Citrakūṭa and he had a son called Īśvaravarmā. When his son was of age, Ratnavarmā thought – He is the only son I have. He has fallen trap to a prostitute. Let me make a kuṭṭanī teach him a lesson – prostitutes should be made to cheat him! With this idea in mind, he sent his son to a kuṭṭanī named Yamajihvā. He had kept aside a thousand dinars as the prize for the act. She made Īśvaravarmā stay with her for a year and taught him the lore of prostitutes. He sought five crores of investment from his father and set out with other merchants to Svarṇa-dvīpa and reached Kāñcanapura on the way.

In the temple of that town there was a dancing-girl named Sundarī. Īśvaravarmā saw her dance, he was besotted by her beauty and youth. All the training given by the kuṭṭanī vanished into thin air! Having kept all his treasure and goods in his encampment, he proceeded at once to her abode. Sundarī's mother Makarakaṭī welcomed him with great hospitality and then sent him to her daughter. She was extremely clever; she displayed great affection to him. She would not leave his side for even a moment. The night was spent thus and so also the following day. He was unable to separate himself from her. Having spent two days with her, he gifted her ornaments and jewels worth twenty-five lakhs. She said, “I have a surplus of wealth but it is people like you that I really desired. And once I have won over a great man like you, what need do I have for wealth?” Saying such words of formality, she took all that wealth. Lost in the joy of her song and dance, he spent two months. In that time, two crores of his wealth had been gifted to Sundarī. At that point, his friend Arthadatta came to him and said, “Noble sir! After spending so much time and effort learning the tricks of the trade from the kuṭṭanī has all proven to be futile! You will lose all your money here. And so, at least now let us go away from here. If you father learns of this, will he remain silent?” He replied, “It is true that one should not place one's faith in courtezans but Sundarī is different; she is nothing like the regular prostitute. If I were to go away from her for even a moment, she would give up her life! Therefore, if we must go, let us at least inform her.” Accordingly, Arthadatta told Sundarī and her mother, “Īśvaravarmā truly loves you, Sundarī; but he has to go on a commercial voyage to Svarṇadvīpa. He will earn a great deal of wealth there and return to you, only to spend all his time with you in great comfort. Therefore, you must grant him permission!” When Sundarī heard this, she shed copious tears. Amidst her sobs, she said, “You know what I am going to say. Who truly knows what is in my heart! Therefore, let it happen as Fate has ordained!” Her mother comforted her and said, “Why are you so sad? Be brave! Let your lover complete his voyage and return. He will never leave you!” From that moment onwards, as if engulfed by sorrow, Sundarī gave up all food and drink. She paid no heed to music and dance. On the appointed day of Īśvaravarmā's departure, Sundarī and her mother followed him all the way to the outskirts of the town and upon finding a well of water, Sundarī promptly jumped into it. There was a huge clamour. Īśvaravarmā rushed to the spot and fell in a swoon upon realizing what had transpired. Makarakaṭī had her aides climb down the well. They brought her out saying, “By good fortune, she has survived! She lives and breathes!” Īśvaravarmā was delighted. He was convinced of her love and he accompanied her back to her abode. He spent another month with her and the remaining three crores also went to her. Soon enough, she had him thrown out of her house. Arthadatta and others went to his father and reported the matter. Ratnavarmā was deeply pained and complained to Yamajihvā, “You extracted a great deal of money from me and supposedly taught the boy the tricks he needed to know but all that has been a huge waste! Makarakaṭī has effortlessly relieved him of all his wealth and goods.” He then narrated the incident in detail. She said, “Call for your son. I will teach him how to seize all her wealth!” Arthadatta went to Kāñcanapura, drove some sense into Īśvaravarmā's head and brought him back to his father's house.

Since he was the only son, his father didn’t scold him and took him to Yamajihvā. She listened to everything which had transpired and said, ‘It’s my mistake; I forgot to inform about this deceit; Makarakaṭī had tightened the net inside the well; so Sundarī was saved; there is a retort to all this.’ She then called her attendant and made her bring her monkey named Āla. She gave it a thousand dinars and ordered it, ‘swallow them,’ and the monkey obeyed her. Then she said, ‘My boy! Give him twenty, give this fellow twenty-five, that fellow sixty, the other fellow hundred!’ As per her orders the monkey would spit out the exact number of dinars. She showed this to Īśvaravarmān and said, ‘Take this monkey along and go to Sundarī’s house; make the monkey swallow money apriori and ask it give money whenever you want; it will spit out; tell her this monkey’s name is Cintāmaṇi (the wish-fulfilling gem); she will give everything in her possession and will buy it; take all that money, make the monkey swallow whatever is required for two days and escape from there!’ His father gave him two crores. He took all of it, and along with the monkey he reached Sundarī’s house. She feigned happiness seeing him and welcomed him. Īśvaravarmā in a bid to gain her confidence played along and called Arthadatta and said, ‘Bring the monkey Āla.’ He made it swallow a few thousand dinars and brought it. Īśvaravarmā ordered it. ‘My boy! Āla! Give three hundred for food and hundred for tāmbūla expenses! Give hundred to mother Makarakaṭī! Give hundred for the brāhmaṇas! Give a thousand to Sundarī!’ This was one fortnight. Sundarī and her mother were impressed, ‘This Cintāmaṇi seems to be some siddha in the form of monkey; everyday it is giving us a thousand dinars! If we can get this all our wishes will be fulfilled!’ One day after lunch when Īśvaravarmān was resting, they brought this up. He smiled and said, ‘This is everything to my father; it is not possible to give it away’ Sundarī, ‘I’ll give you five crores for this; give it to me!’ He replied, ‘Leave alone five crores; even if you give everything you possess or even this city it's not possible!’ Sundarī persisted, ‘I’ll give everything I have; even if my mother is angered by this I won’t care! Give me this monkey!’ saying so she prostrated before him. Then Arthadatta and others said, ‘Poor soul, she is pleading so much give it!’ Then he made it swallow two thousand dinars, took all her possessions and set off to Svarṇadvīpa on a business venture. The monkey gave them a thousand dinars per day for two days. The third day it didn’t. Sundarī punched the monkey in anger. Enraged it bit and scratched her face and her mother's face too. Makarakaṭī, face bleeding, brought a stick and thrashed it; the monkey died. Seeing that, disheartened that they lost everything they were on the verge of committing suicide. 

Thus, Īśvaravarmā recovered using the monkey Ala, all the monies which Makarakaṭī had taken away by putting to use a net - a jāla. When people came to know of this, they gossiped amidst fits of laughter thus: ‘She knew to use a ‘jāla’ (net) to cheat the next man, but she failed to see a scam devised using ‘āla’ and fell for it!’ Within a short span of time, Īśvaravarmā made a lot of money in Svarṇadvīpa and then went to Citrakūṭa. His father Ratnavarmā welcomed him grandly and even felicitated Yamajihvā wholeheartedly. Īśvaravarmā overcame his weakness for whores and finally began living respectably at home, with his family.

After retelling this story, Marubhūti said: ‘Thus in women, my lord, we see only charade, and there’s not even a grain of truth in what they forswear. Hence those who seek righteous welfare should never play with the fire that the vile women truly are’. Listening to this story of ‘āla’ and ‘jāla’, Naravāhanadatta and Gomukha laughed in agreement.

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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சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...