Kathāmṛta - 76 - Śaktiyaśo-lambaka - The Stories of Unchaste Women and Fools

This article is part 76 of 119 in the series Kathāmṛta

Early next morning, the three men began their journey. After travelling for several hours, they came by a pond and rested there until the sun went down. At night, as the stars began to dot the night sky, they climbed up a tree on the shore and sat down on one of the branches. After a little while, they witnessed something miraculous. From the depths of the pond arose a man. From his mouth, he pulled out a woman and then a bed. As the three men perched atop the tree watched incredulously, the strange man went to sleep with his woman on that bed. Once the man was sound asleep, the woman spotted a traveller lying down under a tree nearby. The traveller softly asked the woman as to who she was. She replied coyly, “He’s Nāga, and I am his wife Nāgakanyā. You have nothing to fear. I have known ninety-nine travellers like you. You are the hundredth.” Right at that moment, Nāga woke up and became furious at what was transpiring right under his nose. He attacked them both and bit them hard. Nāga’s wife and the traveller were consumed by the poisonous flames raised by his bites and were soon reduced to ashes. Then he slowly waded into the pond and plunged back to his realm. Looking at this, Śaśi and the others thought: Even though this man safeguarded his wife within his own body, he was not able to ensure her chastity. This makes one wonder if it is even possible to guard one’s women when they are all by themselves at home? Culturing themselves with emotions like universal friendship, the three men eventually obtained peace of mind. Practicing renunciation and restraint in all their actions, they finally attained mokṣa. Their wicked wives soon came upon untold miseries due to their unscrupulousness and fell out of favour in both this world and the next. Thus it follows that excessive attachment to women is a harbinger of woes. The wise spurn such ways and attain salvation through renunciation.

After listening to this story, Naravāhanadatta went to sleep.

9. The following night, Gomukha narrated the next story to help Naravāhanadatta pass the time.

The Story of the Headless Man and the Unchaste Woman

Long ago, in a distant town lived a wealthy merchant. He had a son who was endowed with the grace of Bodhisattva. When the merchant’s wife died, he married another woman and drove out his son and daughter-in-law. The young couple roamed the woods in search of food and water. Bodhisattva cared for his wife so much that he would carve out and offer flesh from his own body to her, so that she never went hungry. On the eighth day, they came upon a stream, whose banks were lined with several fruit bearing trees. They camped there for the night. Next morning when Bodhisattva went to take a bath in the stream, he saw a man floating. His enemies had chopped off his limbs and had cast his trunk into the river. Yet, somehow he had clung on to dear life. Out of sympathy, Bodhisattva brought him to the bank and revived him. As time passed, one day when Bodhisattva was away to gather fruits, his wife began to desire the limbless, headless man. Having grown tired of her husband, she sent him one day to fetch a herb from a gorge nearby, on some pretext. Even as Bodhisattva was helping himself down using a rope, the vile woman cut off the rope, sending him into a free fall. He plunged to the river beneath with a loud splash. Miraculously, he survived. He was swept away by the swift currents but he luckily reached the shore near a town downstream. The king of that land was dead and the disheartened townsfolk had unchained the royal elephant to let it wander freely, now that it had no master. As fate would have it, the elephant came to the shore where a weary Bodhisattva lay. Lifting him up by its trunk, it gently placed him atop its back and ambled back to the capital. Awestruck by the sight of this, the citizens took it as a sign from the gods and decided to crown Bodhisattva their king. In the meanwhile, the deceitful wife earned her daily bread by carrying around the headless and limbless man, roaming the streets begging for alms, pretending to be a woman of unrivalled chastity. As fate would have it, she eventually came to the very city where Bodhisattva now reigned. When the tales of such a pious woman reached his ears, the king became curious to know who this devoted woman was and asked her to be brought before him. He recognised her as his wife and said, “Owing to the pāpa you have acquired for pushing your husband into the river, you will need to beg with this skull!” She fell unconscious upon hearing it. Ministers came to know about her, chopped her nose off and sent her away. This is what happens to the characterless women; wealth naturally comes to the peaceful ones.

The Story of a Lady, a Lion, Svarṇacūḍa, a Snake, and a Bodhisattva

A Bodhisattva was once walking through a forest when he heard someone call out from the depths of a well. He peeped inside and saw a lady fallen there. She said, “Mahātman! I have fallen here into the well along with a lion, a svarṇacūḍa bird, and a snake. Please rescue us!” The Bodhisattva tried to rescue them using the power of this tapas. However, he had lost the magical skill. He thought: She must be a lady of fallen character; as I spoke to her, I must have lost my powers. He pulled them out through a chain he made out of dry grass. They all bowed down to him in gratitude. He was stunned seeing that the birds and the animals were speaking like humans and sought to know more about them. The lion was a vidyādhara named Vajravega. As he was disobedient, he was cursed by his father. The snake was the son of a muni. Svarṇacūḍa was actually a vidyādhara named Rajatadoṣṭra. He once snatched away the piñjara that his elder sister was playing and was thus cursed. The boy had captured a snake with three faces and had used it to scare his companions. One of his companions had cursed him. The lady was the wife of a kṣatriya who was in the royal service. Her husband wanted to punish her, for she had an affair with another man. She had escaped from him at night and as she was blinded by the darkness, she fell into the well. Once the Bodhisattva got them out of the well, they were all to be liberated from their śāpa. They promised him that they would come whenever he required their help. The lady became the assistant of the queen of Gotravardhana. The Bodhisattva was hungry and thought of the lion. It gave him the flesh of a deer and went back as a vidyādhara. When the Bodhisattva thought of svarṇacūḍa, it brought him a chest full of gems and ornaments. Bodhisattva started trading the precious gems and ornaments and reached Gotravardhana’s city. He deposited the chest in the house of an old woman and went to the marketplace. There, he spotted the lady who he had rescued from the well. He informed her of the ornaments he had brought. She informed the queen, who in turn informed her husband. The king called for the Bodhisattva, took the precious items from him by force and put him behind bars. The Bodhisattva then thought of the snake. The snake told him, “I will go, captivate the king, and keep him arrested at a place. I will not free him unless you ask me to do so. Tell him that you are trying to rescue him, let the king give you half his kingdom.” Saying so, the snake went ahead and captured the king. Thus, the Bodhisattva procured half of the kingdom. The son of the sage was freed of his form as a snake.

After having narrated this, Gomukha started narrating the story of the fools.

The Story of the Fools (Continued)

A śramaṇa was once bitten by a dog and was wounded. He thought: Everyone who sees me keeps asking what wound is this; I have to tell the same to each one of them. Instead, I will inform everyone at once! He then proceeded to his vihāra and started beating the drum that lay on the roof. Concerned about what had transpired, everyone rushed to the spot. Addressing all of them he said in a loud voice, “Look here! A dog bit me and it has left me wounded. All of you take a good look at it! Don’t come to me one by one and ask me about it!” They all said, “Such a huge fracas for such a small thing!” and went away laughing.

Once, a miser was eating raw flour without even adding salt to it; he fed the same tasteless flour to his wife too. They knew not even the taste of cooked rice. This being the case, one day, driven by some stroke of destiny, he asked his wife to make kheer. As she was cooking the sweet-dish, a friend came to their house without prior notice. Fearing that he would have to share the sweet-dish with the guest, he lay down on his bed and held his breath. His wife screamed, “Oh my! You are gone!” and began wailing. The friend suspected this to be play-acting and he screamed, “Oh my friend! Why did you die?” He then sat down by the bed, shedding tears. Hearing the news of his death, his relatives started pouring in. Even so, fearing that he would have to share the kheer, he lay down motionless. They tied up his ‘corpse,’ took him to the cemetery, and placed him on the funeral platform. At that point, his wife whispered in his ears that they were getting ready to set fire to the pyre. Even then, he did not flinch. Unwilling to share the sweet-dish, he gave up his life. All that he had accumulated with his years of hard work went away to the undeserving.

In a maṭha in Ujjayinī, there lived an innocent teacher. He was unable to sleep properly owing to the infestation of rats. A friend of his, who saw his plight, suggested that he raise a cat. He had no idea what a cat was. He asked, “What does a cat look like? Where can I get one?” His friend replied, “It is ash-coloured, with shining eyes; the fur on its back is hairy and soft; you will find it walking about on the streets.” He then called his disciples and said, “Now that you know the characteristics of a cat, go and catch one somewhere!” They went searching here and there, and finally they found a boy on the street who was dressed in deerskin. Thinking that this was a cat, they caught him and brought him to their teacher. The next day, the teacher’s friend came there and said, “A cat is a four-legged creature, not a two-legged human! Don’t you know even that!” They said, “Well, in that case we shall go in search of such a creature!” and released the boy from the ropes that they had tied him with.

In a maṭha, there once lived a chief who was utterly naive. Having heard that the dharmaśāstras hail the construction of a lake as a great act of puṇya, he had a lake constructed near his maṭha. One day when he went to see the lake, he found that some mud had been dug and removed. Another day, mud had been taken out from another spot. Wondering who could be behind this, he spent the entire day waiting to catch the culprit. Suddenly a bull descended from the sky and began ploughing the region with its horns. “This is a bull descended from svarga-loka! Why not go with it to svarga?” Thinking this, he held on to its tail. It flew along with him and in a flash reached Kailāsa. There he feasted and drank to his heart’s content and when he desired to reunite with his family and friends, he held the tail of the bull and returned to earth. Having learnt of his experience, they pleaded with him: “Take us also with you and treat us to some heavenly modakas!” He consented. He held onto the tail of the bull; one of them held on to his legs; the third man held the legs of the second. Like this a human chain was formed and they were flying in the sky. One of them asked the chief, “How big were the modakas you ate?” He replied by showing their size using both his arms stretched – “They were this huge!” thus releasing the tail which he had held before. All of them fell down and died.

Another fool was lost and asked for directions, the passer-by showed a tree and said, “Just go along, up the tree, and you’ll find the way!” He took it literally and held on to a branch of the tree like a pendulum; below that was a river. A mahout brought an elephant there so that it could bathe. The fool saw him and called out, “Oh noble soul! Help me get down!” The mahout held on to him with both his hands, the elephant meanwhile ran away; to attract some other people who might rescue them he asked the mahout, “If you can sing, please sing loudly! Hope someone might come and rescue us!” When he sang, the fool applauded in appreciation and released his grip on the branch. Immediately both fell into the river and drowned.

Naravāhanadatta fell asleep listening to the story.

To be contiuned...

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.

Prekshaa Publications

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சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
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