The prince rode with his army to the borders of Vidiśānagara and sent word through an emissary to king Meghamālin seeking the hand of princess Haṃsāvalī. An elated Meghamālin himself came to meet Kamalākara and said “O prince! You need not have ridden so far for this. You had to but only send a missive expressing this noble wish of yours. I am indeed in favour of this alliance. Let me tell you why. When Haṃsāvalī was only a little girl, I was worried as to who might someday marry her. So much, in fact, that I became bedridden with fever. One night, bhagavān Viṣṇu himself appeared in my dreams and addressed me thus: ‘O king, your illness will vanish in a moment, if your precious daughter Haṃsāvalī merely touches you. If her hand, rendered pious through her worship of me, were to touch any man afflicted with any kind of fever, he shall instantly become hale and hearty. So, worry not about her marriage. Prince Kamalākara is destined to be her husband. There will be some difficulties they will eventually surmount, however!’. Just as the lord said, as soon as Haṃsāvalī laid her magical hand upon me my sickness was cured. Thus, know your marriage to be divinely ordained. So I am hereby offering my daughter’s hand to you!” and then invited Kamalākara to his capital.
Soon, Haṃsāvalī came to know about all this. But she began to doubt if this Kamalākara was indeed the same one whose portrait she had seen, or if he was someone else who just happened to bear the same name. So she called her friend Kanakamañjarī and asked her to take a look at this stranger and report back. Kanakamañjarī disguised herself as an ascetic and went to see the prince. When she saw him, however, she was wonderstruck at how handsome he was and became infatuated with his highly attractive looks. She said to herself: “If I don’t unite with him, of what use is my birth? I shall leave no stone unturned until I make him mine”. She then played her ruse as the ascetic and mouthed a few words of blessings and gifted him a jewel and said “O king! If you wear this jewel on your person, your enemies’ weapons will be rendered ineffectual in battle. This is more useful to you than me, and thus I am giving you this!”. She then came back to the palace and told Haṃsāvalī, “My lady! When I had gone in the guise of an ascetic to the prince’s camp, the guard anxiously asked me if I knew how to perform an exorcism. When I answered in the affirmative, he ushered me in. My heart quivers even now, remembering what I saw there. I must however stay strong and tell you this openly since I am devoted to you. Prince Kamalākara is possessed by an evil spirit! I was frightened out of my wits, but I managed to tie my jewel around his neck and scamper out of there saying ‘I will turn up tomorrow to drive out the malevolent entity which afflicts the prince’. Now do what you think is right!”.
Haṃsāvalī, who was simple and straight forward by nature asked her – “ I will not marry another person. Therefore, I will need to lose my life or go to the forest. What shall I do about this?”
The māyāvinī, Kanakamañjarī said – “Let us get someone dressed like you right at the time of the wedding. When everyone else is busy with the festivities, you and I can silently escape!” Haṃsāvalī said – “In that case, you please put on my guise and get married. Who else is dearer to me than you?” She happily agreed with the proposition. On the day of the wedding, she got her dear friend Aśokakarikā dressed like herself and she dressed up like Haṃsāvalī. She instructed the real Haṃsāvalī – “Once it gets dark, please go away from here through the backdoor, such that no one will spot you. Hide in the hollow of the śālmali (silk-cotton) tree that grows on the outskirts of the town. I will come there!” Accordingly, she went there on the night of the wedding and found that the hollow within the tree was very dark. Scared, she sat atop a banyan tree that was close by. She hid behind the leaves of the tree.
Kamalākara married Kanakamañjarī who was in the disguise of Haṃsāvalī. As it was a sacred day, he left for his residence along with Aśokakarikā who was disguised as Kanakamañjarī. As they came near the silk-cotton tree, Kanakamañjarī said – “Āryaputra! In my dream, a rākṣasī appeared out of this silk-cotton tree and caught me. A brāhmaṇa came to my rescue at the right time. He said – ‘Mother! This tree needs to be burnt down. If any lady emerges out of the tree, she needs to be put back there and reduced to ashes. Only then can there be good.’ He vanished upon speaking these words. The next moment, I woke up; I was really scared!” He instructed his men to put the tree on fire. As she did not find Haṃsāvalī coming out of the tree, Kanakamañjarī thought that she was charred to death there and felt happy. After some days, he went to the Kosalanagara, the king crowned him and went away to perform tapas.
Haṃsāvalī watched everything that transpired from the top of the banyan tree. She felt deceived and decided to give up her life by falling into the fire that was kindled to burn the ‘rākṣasī’. She thought she could repay the debt she owed to the tree which was burnt without reason. The next moment, wisdom dawned upon her; she thought – ‘What will I gain by dying? If I am alive, I can at least seek revenge. Moreover, Śrīviṣṇu had told my father that Haṃsāvalī will marry Kamalākara but there will be troubles in the process. Therefore, let me go away elsewhere for a while and wait!” She found a serene forest, took up residence there and prayed to Śrīviṣṇu to gain Kamalākara as her husband.
Back at Kosala, Kamalākara was afflicted with a severe fever, which would manifest every fourth day (quartan fever). Looking at this, the fake Haṃsāvalī got scared. She was also afraid that the reality will be revealed during his illness. She thought that before the king recalled that with Haṃsāvalī’s touch he can be cured, she should cure him in some other way. She decided to invoke a jvaraceṭaka (a malevolent being capable of curing fever) and sacrifice Aśokakarikā in the process. She went with her maid to Śivālaya, offering a goat as bali there. She performed pūjā to the Śivaliṅga with its blood, flesh and heart. She made the image of jvaraceṭaka out of flour, invoked it there, performed pūjā and asked Aśokakarikā to bow down before the image. When she threw herself on the floor to offer salutations, she [Kanakamañjarī] struck the back of her neck with a sword; but fortunately it only gashed her shoulder and wounded her, by which time she screamed aloud in pain. People ran to her help and seeing the fierce Kanakamañjarī with a sword in her hand, they thought that she was a rākṣasī and mauled her. The news reached the ears of Kamalākara. He learnt everything from Aśokakarikā. In the meantime, Kanakamañjarī succumbed to her wounds and breathed her last. At that point, the king lamented thus: “Oh no! I burnt the poor Haṃsāvalī with my own hands!” Once again, he recollected Viṣṇu’s promise that ‘Haṃsāvalī will marry Kamalākara and none else; it may take time and the path may be cumbersome’ and called for the noble bard. Along with the bard he set out in search of Haṃsāvalī and finally came upon the spot where she was performing tapas. When she saw the two of them, she was overcome with sorrow and swooned. Kamalākara tended to her and took her along with him to his kingdom. He called Meghamālin and then married her with great pomp and show. He lived happily with her.
Thus, when adversity strikes if one is courageous, everything is attainable. Therefore, don't take your life; if you remain alive, you will attain your lord – saying so, he prevented the suicide before going on his way. I went to Ujjayinī in search of you - continued Bhīmaparākrama.
When I could not find you there, I gave money to a woman for food and accomodation, and lived in her house. At night, I fell asleep but was disturbed; I awoke with a start and found the woman chanting some mantras surreptitiously while scattering fistfuls of barley and wheat grains all over her house. In the wink of an eye the grains sprouted, grew tall, and ripened. She harvested it, threshed it, powdered it, made flour out of it, and finally boiled it. Following that, she stepped out to have a bath. I surmised that she was a śākinī [demoness, attendant of Durgā]. I quietly got up, tiptoed to the bowl of flour she had prepared. I exchanged the bowl of flour that she had created with the bowl of flour that was inside the house. After this, I silently went back to sleep as if nothing happened. She woke me up in the morning and offered me the flour. She also ate along with me. She didn’t know that I had exchanged the containers. Therefore, she ended up eating the flour that was created by the mantras. The moment she ate it, she turned into a goat. I sold the goat to a butcher; the butcher's wife looked at me and said, “You have cheated my friend; you will receive appropriate punishment!” Thus she threatened me. I left the spot and went to a Banyan tree outside the precincts of the city and fell asleep due to exhaustion. The butcher's wife followed me and tied that thread around my neck. When I woke up in the morning, I found that I had turned into a peacock. But I had all my past memories and knowledge. A few days later, a hunter trapped me and sold me to Cūḍaketu, a sentinel of the king of the Kirātas. He gifted the peacock to his wife. She had me put in a cage and treated me as a pet. Today, the Divine sent you and with the thread removed from my neck, I have got back my human form.
To be continued...
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.