After he cured all of Guṇākara's wounds, Mṛgāṅkadatta continued on his voyage. One night, he was fast asleep under a tree in Vindhyāṭavi. When he was awakened from his sleep, he found that some stranger was asleep amidst them. When the blanket that covered him was removed and his face was revealed, it turned out to be his own minister Vicitrakatha! As soon as this was known, everyone became alert. He narrated his story in the following words:
The Story of Vicitrakatha
Deva! After we were separated owing to the curse of the nāga, I roamed about wildly and fell down unconscious the following day. A divine being took me, bathed me, fed me, and offered his hospitality; only then did he and his two wives partake of their meal. After dinner, I asked them, "Who are you? Why did you save my life; I had fallen down as good as dead! Since my lord and master is gone, it is better that I throw off this mortal coil!" That great soul said, "I am a yakṣa; these two are my wives. You are my esteemed guest. Who indeed does not have troubles in this world? Even a yakṣa like me had to suffer pain and sorrow." So saying, he narrated his story:
The Story of the Yakṣa named Aṭṭahāsa
In the city of Trigartanagara, there lived a brāhmaṇa youth by name Pavitradhara. Since he hailed from an extremely impoverished family, he was unable to spend time with the wealthy folk and went away to the forest. There, with the help of the mantra that his guru had taught him, he acquired power over a yakṣiṇī by name Saudāminī. She became his wife. But the couple did not have children and he grew worried. One day, the yakṣiṇī told him, “Āryaputra! Don’t worry on this count. We will have a son!” Then she narrated the following story:
I’m the only daughter of the yakṣa named Pṛthūdara; I happened to see another yakṣa named Aṭṭahāsa in Kailāsa; since we were a perfect match my father decided that we should marry each other. One day one of my friends, Kapiśabhrū came and told me, ‘my friend! I’ve some bad news to share; your would be husband Aṭṭahāsa and his younger brother Dīptasakha were posing as the king of yakṣas, Kubera and his son Nalakūbara. Nalakūbara noticed them and in anger he cursed them, ‘May you be born as a mortal!’ When they asked his forgiveness he said, ‘When you are born as a human, you shall - with your beloved yakṣinī - beget your brother as your son, then this curse will end!’ Soon after Aṭṭahāsa vanished!’ I informed this to my father and I’d been waiting for you since then; you are the same yakṣa Aṭṭahāsa and you are now born as a human!”
They begot a son at an appropriate time; thus his curse ended. The yakṣinī asked, ‘But why was the brother born as his son?’ The yakṣa replied thus:-
There is a brāhmaṇa in this town called Devadarśana; he is poor; he also has no progeny; to obtain riches and progeny he performed a tapas to propitiate Yajñeśvara. Agni appeared in his dreams and said, ‘You will never get a son through the usual means; but through a different path you’ll get one; he will also bring you out of poverty!’ since this had to come to fruition, when he was sleeping, Aṭṭahāsa and his wife came there, adorned their son with a gem studded necklace, and placed him on a huge vessel full of gold. Devadarśana saw the child, happy that whatever Agni told him in his dream had happened, adopted the child and named him Śrīdarśana. When he grew up to become a young man, Devadarśana took up a yātrā, reached Prayāga and discarded his mortal body there; his wife followed him by performing agnipraveśa. Even though a learned and wise man, Śrīdarśana without any good counsel, picked up gambling and other vices and lost all his money and became a beggar. His friend from the gambling den, Mukharaka, instilled confidence in him again, fed him and narrated the following story-
The story of Bhūnandana and Kumudinī
There lived a king who ruled the kingdom of Kāśmīra called Bhūnandana; one night he felt as though he was with a daitya woman; thinking that some divine woman might have deceived him, he went in search of her. When he reached a tīrthakṣetra called Kramasaras, a tapasvin took him to the Pātāla through his divine powers and showed him the same daitya woman. But when she offered him a meat-laden soup which also had liquor, he was disgusted and couldn’t drink it, causing her to pour the soup on him and walk away. He had to return back. But the liquor’s smell attracted bees which tormented him to no end. A young muni gave his kṛṣṇājina (deer skin) and told him to wrap it around himself to avoid the bees; he did likewise and then he performed a great penance to propitiate Mahādeva for twelve years. The daitya woman Kumudinī came by of her own accord to him.
Mukharaka finished the narration and took Śrīdarśana along with him and the city of Trigarśa.
One the way, Śrīdarśana’s biological parents Saudāminī and Aṭṭahāsa who were flying past in the sky saw his piteous state and addressed him thus, compassionately: “O Śrīdarśana! Your mother has buried her ornaments in your old house. Obtain them and go in peace to the kingdom of Mālava, which is ruled by king Śrīsena. Having suffered a lot due to his gambling habits from his early years, he has now set up a huge gambling den there. Gamblers are allowed to stay there and are treated to sumptuous meals. If you go there, good things shall happen to you”. Heeding to their advice, Śrīdarśana and Mukharaka embarked upon the journey to Mālava and came by a village along the way. It was bordered by a beautiful lake. The two friends washed their hands and drank a little water and sat down to rest. A little while later, a beautiful maiden came there to fetch water. She saw Śrīdarśana and grew fond of him and remarked “Oh no! Like a glow worm which is fatally attracted to fire, why would you come to this village where you’ll meet with nothing but danger!”. A curious Mukharaka asked: “Who are you? And what makes you say this?”. The lady replied: “In the colony named Sughosha lived a devout and scholarly brahmaṇa called Padmagarbha. He had a son named Mukharaka and a daughter, Padmiṣṭhā - that is me. My elder brother Mukharaka grew addicted to gambling at a very young age and left our home and went somewhere far away from our kingdom. That sorrow eventually led to my mother’s passing. Then my father brought us here to this village in search of Mukhuraka. This place is infested with a gang of devious thieves led by Vasubhūti, who happens to be a brahmaṇa, but only by birth and not deed. In fact, he killed his own father and confiscated all his wealth. Now he has imprisoned me and wants me to marry his son Subhuti. Vasubhūti’s son has gone somewhere and thanks to my luck, has not returned yet. If the wicked Vasubhūti ever lays his eyes upon you, that would indeed be the end of you. Now think of some way by which you may save yourselves from this grave danger!”. Thus Mukhuraka and Padmiṣṭhā, the long separated siblings, were reunited with each other and became overjoyed. Then the three of them put their heads together and came up with a plan to escape from the clutches of evil Vasubhūti. Accordingly, Śrīdarśana gave up food and water and laid down by the lake, pretending to be terminally ill. Mukharaka sat down at his feet, wailing. Padmiṣṭhā went to the king of thieves and said “There’s a wayfarer who is lying down sick at the lakeshore. He has an attendant with him!”. When a few thieves came by to deal with them, Mukharaka pleaded with them: “Dear sirs! This sick man is my brother. We started on a pilgrimage and my brother became sick along the way and is only hours away from death. Would you be kind enough to find us a devout brahmaṇa, to whom my brother could donate all his material possessions? He fears that he won’t live long enough to even see today’s sunset! I am grief stricken since I know not what to do in this strange land. Oh please find a good brahmaṇa and bring him here soon! When my brother dies, even I shall enter the funeral pyre and end my life. Please sirs, help him donate with his own hands before he breathes his last!”. The gullible thieves talked among themselves: “Why bother killing them now? If either of them is alive by tomorrow, we shall kill them both. Why should we incur the sin of killing brahmaṇas when they are about to die soon anyway?”. The thieves brought their chieftain Vasubhūti as the pious brahmaṇa to receive a few ornaments from Śrīdarśana as gifts. As night fell and the thieves slept soundly, Padmiṣṭhā came to Mukhuraka and Śrīdarśana. The trio started to walk to freedom and by the time the sun rose the next morning, they had reached a jungle. They journeyed that entire day. Later in the evening, they saw a light far away and hoped it may be a village. Śrīdarśana walked towards the beckoning light, hoping to secure something to eat, and eventually came to a bejewelled mansion.
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.