Kathāmṛta - 101 - Śaśāṅkavatī-lambaka - The Stories of Candraprabhā and Brahma-rākṣasa

This article is part 101 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

Story 19

26. Trivikramasena, for the nineteenth time, picked up the corpse and heaved it onto his shoulder before setting out. The vetāla began narrating another tale:

There lived a trader named Dhanapāla in the town of Tāmralipti. He had a daughter named Dhanavatī. Just as she attained marriageable age, he passed away. His relatives looted his wealth. The trader's wife Padmāvatī collected all the jewels and ornaments that she possessed and left home one night along with her daughter. As they were walking out of their town, by sheer happenstance, groping in the darkness, she happened to bump into the shoulder of a thief who had been punished by impalement. He shouted in great pain, "Alas! Who the hell is this? Who rubs salt on my wounds?" he screamed. The merchant’s wife inquired, “Who are you?” he replied, “I’m a thief; I’ve been punished by impalement; but this wretched life won’t go. Who are you, where are you going?” By then the moon rose and visibility had increased, he noticed Dhanavatī and said, “I’ll give a thousand gold coins! Will you give me your daughter?” The mother smiled and said, “What would you do with her in the condition you are?” He replied, “My life is about to end; but I don't have progeny; there is no sadgati without progeny; if by my permission she begets a son he would become my son (kṣetraja) as per dharmaśāstras!'' She agreed due to her greed and gave her daughter in marriage. He gave the landmarks of a banyan tree where he had buried some treasure and said, “Once I’m dead, cremate me, after asthivisarjana, set off to Vakrolakapura and reside there; it is ruled by the king Sūryaprabha and it is safe” He died after partaking of water offered by them, they cremated him, finished the last rites, went to Vakrolakapura, bought a house and stayed there. There was a brāhmaṇa youth called Manassvāmī who was handsome and erudite; he had his sights on Hamsāvalī who was a veśyā; she would charge five hundred for a night. Unable to procure so much money he would worry about the situation. Dhanavatī saw him and said to her mother, “Look at that brāhmaṇa youth, isn’t he handsome!” She remembered the words of the thief and wrote to him. He said he’d agree if he could get five hundred from her. She agreed and spent a night with him. Manassvāmin woke up in the morning and headed out. Dhanavatī became pregnant and in due course she beget a son endowed with great qualities. One night the mother-daughter duo had the same dream, where Bhagavān Śiva appeared and said “Tomorrow morning take this child and place him near the palace of Sūryaprabha along with a thousand gold coins; this would lead to the welfare of all!” they obeyed his orders and did likewise. Śiva also appeared in the dream of Sūryaprabha and instructed him, “O king! Wake up! There is a child near the main entrance of your palace with gold! Bring it in and adopt it!” The king who was childless was delighted. He ran to the entrance, held the child, declared a grand utsava for twelve days and named the child as Candraprabhā. Once he came of age he made him the king, went to the puṇyabhūmi Kāśī, performed rigorous tapas and cast away his mortal body. Candraprabhā called his ministers and revealed his plans to go to Kāśī, perform the last rites of his father and also finish the tīrthayātra. They objected, “O king! How can one leave their kingdom unprotected? The last rites can be arranged to be performed by someone else! Is there a better tīrthayātra than following svadharma? The path is dangerous; a king should always take care of his safety!” He disagreed, “I will be leaving for Kāśi to perform the last rites of my father. I have made up my mind - there are no two ways about it. Even pilgrimage should be undertaken when one’s body is capable. When the body becomes weak with age, who knows what will happen! I need you to do whatever it takes to protect the kingdom”, he said and went on his way.

King Candraprabha went to Kāśi and dispersed his father’s remains in the Gaṅgā. He then travelled to Gayāśira and Dharmāraṇya and finally reached Gayākūpa, where he undertook the rites to offer oblation to his departed father. As the offering was about to be made, he was taken aback when he saw not one, but three outstretched hands to receive it. An astonished Candraprabha asked the brahmaṇas nearby, which of the three hands he should make the offering to. They said, pointing one by one to each hand: “This one has a wedge fashioned out of metal - so it belongs to a thief. The next one has a pavitra - this must belong to a brahmaṇa. The last one has a ring and bears auspicious marks - so this surely belongs to a king. However, we cannot say as to which one you must make the offering to!”. Candraprabhā was left confused and the problem remained unresolved.

Finishing the story here, the vetāla said “O king! Can you tell whose hand Candraprabha must make the offering to? I warn you - if you know the answer but still choose to not state it, your head will shatter into shards”. King Trivikramasena replied “O vetāla, the offering has to be made to the thief. This is because Candraprabha is a kṣetraja progeny of his. For the others, Candraprabhā is not a son. Let me explain. Although the brahmaṇa was his biological father, he had only sold himself for money for the night spent - so he cannot truly be the father. King Sūryaprabha on the other hand, had ensured that Candraprabha was raised with all the scripture-ordained sacred rituals performed at the appropriate stages of upbringing. He would have been the father, if only he had not taken the money with which the baby was found. Sūryaprabha however took the money and made use of it as he brought up Candraprabhā - so he too is not the true father. Next, one must remember that Hiraṇyavatī had given away Candraprabha’s mother to the thief in the ritualistic way of offering her hand in marriage, sanctified with flowing sacred water. The thief had paid in gold and received their word in return, that in his name, a son would be obtained. This makes Candraprabhā the son of the thief - a kṣetraja progeny. The oblation must be offered to the thief - this is my opinion!”.

Since king Trivikramasena spoke, the vetāla vanished from his shoulder and flew back to his original station.


Story 20

27. For the twentieth time, Trivikramasena heaved the corpse onto his shoulder and started to walk. The vetāla began to narrate another story:-

In the city of Citrakūṭa, there lived a king called Candrāvaloka. He had all the wealth in the world, but was still unhappy for he didn’t have a queen worthy of him. One day, in order to take his mind off this grief, he rode to the forest for a hunt. During the hunt, he accidentally dug his heels to his ride’s sides. The horse reared and took off sans control, and rushed deep into the forest. It eventually slowed down as they approached a big lake. Candrāvaloka got down, led his horse to quench its thirst from the lake’s pellucid waters, and then waded into it to bathe and rid himself of his weariness. He then sat down and leaned back, taking in the scenic beauty. Right about then, he saw an ascetic maiden dressed in bark-clothing along with her friend, standing under an ashoka tree. He got up and walked to them and introduced himself. He came to know that the maiden was the daughter of sage Kaṇva. Her mother was Menakā. The friend said “Her name is Indīvaraprabhā. She had come here to bathe. Her father’s hermitage is close-by”. Indīvaraprabhā and Candrāvaloka gazed upon each other, and instantly fell in love. Candrāvaloka accompanied them back to sage Kaṇva’s hermitage. Leaving his horse outside, he went in to meet the sage and bowed down to him. The venerable sage welcomed him and said “My dear man, why do you needlessly hurt the animals living in the forest? Practice archery and usage of weapons; enjoy pleasures of the kingdom and gain a good named. Give up hunting! Don’t you know the tragedy Pāṇḍu had to face because of hunting?” They advised him gently. The king replied at once – “Mahāprasāda! I will not hunt hereafter!” The sage was pleased and asked – “What do you wish for a boon?” The king sought the hand of Indīvaraprabhā in marriage. The sage was pleased that she had found a good husband and got her married. The king headed back to his native place with her.

On his way home, he found a huge peepal tree and pond nearby. He drank water from the pond and rested below the tree. The couple spent the night on a bed of flowers under the tree. The next morning, as the king set out with his wife and retinue, he was stopped by a brahma-rākṣasa who looked like a cloud of destruction. He roared – “I am a brahma-rākṣasa named Jvaalaamkha. This peepal tree is my residence. While I was away at night, you dared to occupy the tree? I will tear your heart open and drink your blood!” The king said – “O dear! Please forgive me – I slept here out of my ignorance. Am I not a guest, who has come to your abode seeking refuge? I will bring anyone who you desire as a prey to you; give up your anger and be kind to us!”  The brahma-rākṣasa regained composure and said – “Why not? In the next seven days you should offer me a brāhmaṇa boy of age seven or eight years. He must be brave and wise. He must wholeheartedly offer himself to you; his mother should hold his hands and father his legs – you should chop off his head and offer it to me. If not, I will kill you and your family right away!” The king agreed and the brahma-rākṣasa vanished from the place. The king then thought ‘Alas! I got addicted to hunting and desire – I am not caught in a web of troubles!’ He returned with his wife to his town. His kingdom was thrilled seeing that the king had married a lady who was a good match for him.

The next morning, the king called the minister and told him in private everything that had transpired. His minister by name Sumati filled him with courage. He got a golden image of a boy aged about seven sculpted. He got it decked in gems and paraded it around villages and towns.  He also got an announcement made – “If a boy volunteers to get sacrificed for the brahma-rākṣasa, his parents will be rewarded with a hundred villages and also the idol of this boy, decked in precious gems. The parents will need to hold on to the limbs of the boy when he is being sacrificed.” As this announcement was being made in an agrahāra, a brave boy came forward and said – “I will come. I will convince my parents!” He came home, stood with folded hands before his parents and said – “Please permit me. This will pay for my debt – this will also help another person. You will be able to overcome your poverty!” Would the parents agree? “Why this stupidity? Are you possessed by an evil spirit? What are you saying? Would any parent get his child killed for the sake of money?” He did not let go; they had to give consent despite writhing and pleading. Everyone came to Citrakūṭa. The delighted king had the boy garlanded and seated atop a royal elephant; he then led the parents to the residence of the brahma-rākṣasa. When the brahma-rākṣasa appeared before their eyes, the king said, "Sir, here I have brought the nara-bali [human offering] that you desired. Today is the seventh day. Please accept this!" The brahma-rākṣasa licked his lips in anticipation and looked at the boy. Without the slightest fear or lament, the boy thought to himself with great satisfaction: "The puṇya that I shall earn from this dāna of my body need not grant me the wealth of either svarga that is bereft of helping others or even mokṣa; let me take birth on the earth time and again in a body that will be of some use to the world." At once, the skies were filled with vimānas. The devatās showered him with flowers. With the brahma-rākṣasa in front, the mother held the boy's hands; the father held his legs; the king held his neck. At that moment, the boy laughed. Looking at that, the brahma-rākṣasa as well as the others were dumbstruck, bowed down to the boy, and looked at his face in wonder.

Having concluded the tale thus, the vetāla said, "Mahārāja! Why did the boy laugh at that dire moment, even as he lay in the jaws of death? If you know the answer but remain silent, your head will break into pieces." The king replied, "Any helpless creature, when it is afraid, it screams "Father! Mother!" owing to basic instincts. If one is an orphan, the king is designated to protect such a helpless person. And if the king's support is also missing, then one takes refuge in some devatā. But for this boy, despite all these beings present with him, things turned out unfavourable. His own parents held him by the hands and legs; as for the king, he held the neck of the child in order to save his own skin. The brahma-rākṣasa, a devatā no less, was ready to consume him. This ephemeral, disease-prone, pain-suffering body that meets its end in such disgust – does one have to be so obsessed with it? When even Brahmā-Viṣṇu-Maheśvara eventually meet their end, what sort of body-lust do these people possess, in a vain attempt to hold on to their short-lived bodies! Isn't this moha? Being thus surprised and also delighted that his wish was being fulfilled, the boy gave out a laugh!"

No sooner than the king uttered these words, the vetāla left the king's shoulder and returned 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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