Kathāmṛta - 100 - Śaśāṅkavatī-lambaka - The Story of Yaśodhana and the Story of Candrasvāmī

This article is part 100 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

Story 17

24. Trivikramasena put the corpse on his shoulder for the seventeenth time and started to walk. The vetāla started to narrate another story:-

The kingdom of Kanakapura was ruled by a king called Yaśodhana. There was a merchant in his kingdom who had a daughter named Unmādinī. When she came of age, the merchant came to the king and said “Lord, I have a gem of a daughter. I didn’t want to give her away in marriage to anyone without your knowledge. The king is the lord of all that is precious in the kingdom. It is up to you, your majesty, whether you want to accept her hand or not!”. The king sent a few brāhmaṇas to meet her and get back to him. The brāhmaṇas saw Unmādinī and thought “If our king marries someone as astoundingly beautiful as her, will he ever look after the kingdom and the subjects?”. So they returned to the king and lied to him that she was unattractive. The king turned down the merchant, who then had Unmādinī married to Baladhara, the commander-in-chief of the army.

Months passed and spring arrived. King Yaśodhana decided to ride his royal elephant to participate in the festivities on the occasion of Vasantotsava, the spring festival. Soon, a proclamation was made: “May all virtuous womenfolk stay indoors so as to not be swayed into temptation by gazing upon king Yaśodhana!”. Unmādinī, who was upset at having been rejected by the king, apparently because she was not beautiful enough, walked up to the terrace of her house and stood there so that the king may see her. The king saw her and went nearly mad, enchanted by her beauty. When he made inquiries, he became aware that it was the same lady whom he had once rejected. He immediately banished those brāhmaṇas from his kingdom forever and became lost in the thoughts of Unmādinī. When those who were close to him came to know of this, they said “Why do you worry, lord? You can make her yours even now!”. Since king Yaśodhana always trod the righteous path, he rejected their advice. When this reached the ears of the commander-in-chief Baladhara, he came to the king and said “Lord! Isn’t your servant’s woman, yours too? I am myself offering her to you. Please do not say no. However, if you think this is not the right way, I will offer her to the temple as a devadasi. Your accepting a devadasi would not tantamount to a sin!”. The king did not budge. He remarked angrily: “As a king, do you think I would allow myself to do something so unrighteous? If I were to deviate from the right path, then who in our kingdom will stay within the bounds of dharma? Baladhara, you are devoted to me. But what you are asking of me is blatantly sinful. If you ever forsake your wife, I will never forgive you. I would rather die than bring myself to tread the path of adharma”. Even when all the citizens - both common and noble - came together and pressed king Yaśodhana to do Baladhara’s bidding, he was resolute in his decision. However, he was no longer a happy man, for he could not forget Unmādinī either. He couldn’t survive this episode for long, and died within a few days. Immensely saddened by all this, the faithful Baladhara too gave up his life by entering fire.

Finishing the story thus, the vetāla said “O king! Who is greater among the two - king Yaśodhana or his commander-in-chief Baladhara? If you don’t answer me, your head will shatter into pieces!”. King Trivikramasena replied “Yaśodhana is more virtuous!”

“Why not the commander-in-chief? He came here saying that he will get such a wife to his king. He entered fire. What is so great about the king disposing off an innocent girl?” The king replied – “What is so surprising in the behaviour of a commander-in-chief who is born in a great family and is devoted to the king. It is the duty of the king’s men to protect the king even at the cost of their lives. Kings may throw away the chain of dharma, like an elephant in rut. As soon as the waters of paṭṭābhiṣeka falls on their head, it even washes away all their wisdom. The cāmaras that are fanned around their heads blow away all the sane advice given by the old and the wise, just as a flies and dust go away. Kings like Nahuṣa, who were once the conquerors of the world, were subject to immense trouble due to their lust. This lord did not lend his heart to the intoxicated. He did not tread the evil path. Therefore, I consider him a noble soul.”

As the king spoke these words, the vetāla flew away from the king’s shoulders and went back to its original place.

Story 18

25. Trivikramasena carried the corpse for the eighteenth time on his shoulders. The vetāla started narrating another story

There lived a king called Candraprabha in the city of Ujjayinī. Candrasvāmī, his minister’s son lost all his belongings in a gamble. The players of the gamble chased after him until the forest. Candrasvāmī went into a dilapidated Shiva temple and sat there, worried. At night, a tāpasa happened to come there. Seeing that Candrasvāmī was starving, the tāpasa offered him a part of the food that he had gathered from the bhikṣā.  However, he did not accept the offer. He then invoked the iṣṭasampādanī-vidyā and requested for fulfilling the guest’s wishes. A city built of gold arose there. It had a garden. Beautiful women were the hosts – they came to him and said, “Get up. Take bath, have your meal.” He wore divine clothes and had his food. A charming lady became his companion. He ate fruits, had tāmbūla and spent the night in a relaxed manner. He woke up the next morning and saw that he was in the same old Śivālaya. There was no city, divine family and such! He was distressed and told his pain to the tāpasa. The tāpasa said – “Stay here. You will experience the same kind of pleasure this night too!” He spent several nights in luxury there. One day, he prayed the tāpasa – “Svāmin! Please teach me this vidyā!” The tāpasa replied – “Ārya! This is very difficult to achieve. This has to be realised by staying underwater. If you keep performing japa, māyā will obscure and come in the way of siddhi. It will appear as though he is born again as an infant, grows up into a lad and turns into a youth. Later, he marries, procures children. This birth gets forgotten; when the guru alerts him, he will bravely enter agni in the māyā and come out from water.  This cannot be achieved in any other way. If it is taught to an undeserving student, the guru will lose his skill too!”

Candrasvāmī said, "Please don't worry; I will do exactly as you have instructed." Following this, the ascetic did mantropadeśa [teaching of a sacred formula] and said, "I shall remain here; when I give the sign, enter the sacred fire!" Candrasvāmī entered the water and began his japa forgot all about his present birth; he experienced being born as another's son, getting married and begetting offspring, going through the various joys and sorrows of life along with his parents as well as his wife and children – he became one with that experience. Then, the guru used the powers of his vidyā and gave him the warning; he realised instantly that all that experience was just a web of māyā and he got ready to enter the sacred fire. All his gurus, elders, relatives, and friends forbade him from doing so. When he neared the pyre, he saw his aged parents and infant children crying. His wife was ready to take her life! Looking at that his heart melted and he thought, "Alas! If I give up my life, all my relatives will die with me; who knows indeed if the words of the guru are true or false! Should I or should I not enter the fire? After everything has been proven to be true, will that not be the truth? Therefore, I shall jump into the fire." At once, he entered agni. Soon after, the fire became cool. The māyā was gone. He arose from the river and came ashore. He paid obeisance to his guru and narrated the events that led up to the fire becoming cold. The ascetic heard that and said, "My good man, something has gone drastically wrong; else, the fire would not have turned cold." He then invoked his vidyā to get to the bottom of the mystery. But try as he may, he was unable to invoke his knowledge! Neither was he able to recollect his learning nor were his students able to do so! They went away with a puzzled look on their faces.

Thus completing the tale, the vetāla said, "Mahārāja! Although their instructions were followed diligently, why did they both lose their learning? If you know the answer and remain silent, your head will burst into pieces!" The king said, "Merely by accomplishing complex actions, one doesn't attain siddhi. It needs both the purification by sattva and inner fortitude. That foolish brāhmaṇa's mind vacillated this way and that even after he had been warned, and owing to his fickleness, he did not attain the vidyā. And for having tried to grant the sacred knowledge to an undeserving fellow, the guru also lost the vidyā."

No sooner than he gave this reply, the vetāla magically went away from the king's shoulder to the place where he was before.

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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