Kathāmṛta - 102 - Śaśāṅkavatī-lambaka - The Stories of Arthadatta and Viṣṇusvāmī

This article is part 102 of 119 in the series Kathāmṛta

Story 21

28. Trivikramasena, for the twenty-first time, hauled the corpse on his shoulder and head out. The vetāla began narrating yet another story:

There lived a merchant named Arthadatta in the city of Viśālanagara. He had only one child –  a daughter named Anaṅgamañjarī. He had her married to a merchant named Maṇivarmā who hailed from Tāmralipti. Since he was extremely attached to his daughter, he had made arrangements for his daughter and son-in-law to stay with him. She on her part too was extremely affectionate to her father; but she could not love her husband even a little. She only began hating him as the days passed by. Once, he went to Tāmralipti as he had a long-standing desire to visit his hometown. One day, Anaṅgamañjarī wore a dazzling silk saree and stood in the upper storey of her house, looking out of the window. At that moment, Kamalākara, the handsome and youthful son of the rāja-purohita of the town, was passing by the street along with his friends and happened to lay eyes on her; she too saw him; both were instantly smitten. She couldn’t find any way to resolve it and spent many a day in the pangs of separation and finally not able to bear the pain, decided to kill herself by hanging in the temple of devī Caṇḍī. One of her friends named Mālatī woke up, found that Anaṅgamañjarī was not in her bedroom, set out to search her whereabouts and found her. She heard everything and assured her that she would somehow bring Kamalākara to the same grove by the next night and brought her back to the palace. She went to Kamalākara’s house the next morning to find that he too was narrating about the separation he is enduring with great difficulty to his friend in the garden. Mālatī explained the situation of 

Anaṅgamañjarī to him and asked him to visit the garden near Arthadatta’s house in the evening where she would bring Anaṅgamañjarī. He did likewise, Mālatī took him to the nearby mango tree where Anaṅgamañjarī was waiting. As soon as she saw him she ran towards him and embraced him. In that excitement her life abruptly ended. Kamalākara saw that and cried, “Alas! Alas! What can I do!” placing her on his lap, embracing her and lamenting, he too died of sorrow. The morning, the gardener saw this and informed everyone, all the relatives and friends came there and lamented seeing the tragedy. All the people from the town gathered. Meanwhile Maṇivarmā who had gone out, came back, saw that his wife has died on the lap of another man, he too couldn’t bear the sorrow and died immediately. The gaṇas immediately requested devī Caṇḍī, “O mother! Isn’t Arthadatta a great devotee of yours! Shower your grace upon him!” she immediately brought back everyone’s life. They all just got up as though they were asleep. Everyone was astounded. Kamalākara went back ashamed. Arthadatta happily took his daughter and son-in-law home.

After narrating the story vetāla asked the king, “O king of kings! Tell me whose love was the most intense! If you don’t answer even if you know it, your head is split into pieces.” Vikrama replied, “I feel Maṇivarmā’s love is the most intense. In the case of the other two, it grew gradually in their situation of separation. But that wasn’t the case of Maṇivarmā; when he saw his dead wife on another man’s lap, instead of being angry he felt sad and died in that sorrow.”

Once he broke his silence vetāla instantly vanished and returned to the tree.

Story 22

29. Trivikrama went to the tree for the twenty-second time, brought down the corpse, placed it on his shoulders, and set out on his journey. The vetāla started narrating another story:-

There lived a brāhmaṇa named Viṣṇusvāmī in the city of Kusumapura. He had four sons. Since he died before they came of age, whatever assets he had were snatched by his brothers. Then, seeing no other option, the children decided to move to their maternal uncle’s house. Sheltered under his root, they studied the vedas. As time passed, they noticed that nobody really cared about them. Therefore, one day, they got together and discussed among themselves. The eldest one addressed his brothers: “It’s but our fate. Even if we tried to do something, will we ever succeed? For instance, just today, feeling very depressed, I went to the cemetery in order to hang myself to death. The accursed rope snapped and I fell down. A kind stranger released the noose from my neck. He then fanned some air upon me and said ‘Dear man, why would you take such an extreme step? If you are sad for some reason, why don’t you undertake some virtuous activities - for there is no better cure than this for sadness. By taking your own life, why do you wish to land in hell?’ He thus tried to put some good sense into me. I then realised that without God’s will, one cannot even die, and hence returned home”. The four brothers then concluded that they should take up some occupation and for that they needed to pursue studies of their chosen branches of knowledge. They decided to leave immediately to acquire knowledge and agreed upon a date and place to come back and meet one another. Accordingly, each of them went in a different direction, acquired mastery over their chosen area of study and finally returned as agreed upon earlier. When they met at last, they happily greeted each other and began to discuss what each of them had learnt. The first brother said “If I am given a small piece of an animal’s bone, I can conjure up the right kind of flesh and sinew around it”. The second one said “I can develop skin and hair on top of it”. The third one said “I can grow all of that animal’s limbs thereafter”. The last one said “I can turn such a lifeless body alive!”. Then, eager to demonstrate the prowess of their knowledge, they stepped into a forest in search of a piece of bone. As fate would have it, they came upon a fragment of a lion’s bone. Without realising which animal’s bone it was, they decided to use it to showcase their skills. The first brother gave it flesh. The second one constructed the skin and hair on it. The third one gave it limbs. They saw that what was once merely a shard of bone, was now a lion’s body. The fourth one enthusiastically brought the dead lion to life. The now alive beast let out a ferocious roar and lunged upon the four brothers and soon devoured them all before slowly walking back into the forest. This was only expected - for can those who are foolish enough to bring a merciless carnivore back to life expect to live long enough to tell the tale? Thus it follows that only if fate were to nurture the tree of man’s will by watering it with good sense, would it bear fruit.

Thus concluding the story, the vetāla said “O king! Among the four brothers, who do you think is at fault? If you know the answer and yet choose to not speak, your head will shatter into a hundred pieces!”. The king answered: “O vetāla, the one who brought the lion back to life is the culprit. The others did not know which animal it was, and they gave it flesh, skin, hair and limbs. Now even after seeing what lay before them was a lion, the fourth brother, unable to curb his foolish enthusiasm to demonstrate his expertise, was solely responsible for brahma-hatyā (brahmaṇa-killing)”. As he uttered those words, the vetāla vanished from his shoulder and flew back to his original station.

Story 23

30. King Trivikramasena, for the twenty third time, heaved the corpse onto his shoulder and began to walk. The vetāla began to narrate another story:-

In the town of Śobhāvatī lived a brāhmaṇa named Yajñasoma, who was an expert of vedas. In his old age, he was blessed with a son named Devasoma. The son, who was an epitome of humility and wisdom passed away due to fever at the age of sixteen. The parents were in deep sorrow. Their releatives consoled them and they took the dead body of the boy to the cremation ground. There, an old man by name Vāmaśiva, who happened to be a pāśupata-yogī, was performing tapas. He instructed his student – ‘Go see what’s the commotion there!’ The student replied – ‘I cannot go. I will need to head out to beg for food. It is getting late!’ They started arguing on the same matter. The student, feeling agitated, left the guru and went his way. The tāpasa got up and came to examine the situation. Looking at the corpse of the young boy, the old man decided that he could try entering it. He cried, uncontrollably and then jumped around. Then, he gave away his body through yoga and entered the body of the boy. The next moment, Devasoma got up with a yawn, as though waking up from sleep. Everyone was thrilled looking at this. The tāpasa, who now resided in the boy’s body said “I had gone to a different world; there, Shiva commanded me to take up the Mahā-pāśupata-vrata and granted me life.” Having declared so, he sent everybody home, put his earlier boy into a pit and went away.

Having thus narrated a tale, the vetāla asked, “Mahārāja! Why did the yogi cry? Why did he dance? If you don’t answer even if you know the answer, you head will break apart!” The king replied, “I attained siddhi in this body; my body was nurtured by my parents in my childhood. I have to leave this and away! – with this in his mind, he cried. It is difficult to give up attachment to one’s body. He jumped around in joy as he thought that he will achieve much more in the new body. Who does not like youthhood?”

As he spoke this way, the vetāla vanished from the king’s shoulders and went back to its original place.


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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