Thus after reuniting with his ministers, Mṛgāṅkadatta continued his journey through the jungles of the Vindhyās. When they reached a place which had ample shade and water, they took a bath and ate the fruits they had gathered. Right then, from behind a shrub nearby, they overheard someone talking. Out of curiosity they slowly went there. To their surprise they saw a huge elephant taking care of a tired blind man who lay on the ground. It was offering him fruits and water and fanning cool air upon him with its huge ears. The pachyderm then spoke just as clearly as a human would: “Are you feeling better now friend?”. Upon seeing that he had recovered a little, it continued: “Who are you? How did you manage to reach here despite being blind?”. The man replied:-
The story of Pracaṇḍaśakti
“In Ayodhyā lives a king called Amaradatta. He has a son named Mṛgāṅkadatta. I am Pracaṇḍaśakti, his servant. Due to unavoidable circumstances, the king had to send the prince away. Mṛgāṅkadatta started with ten of us in tow to Ujjayinī. On the way, due to the curse of a nāga, we got separated. The same curse made me blind and I have been roaming aimlessly ever since. I quenched my thirst whenever I could find some water. I survived by eating fruits and berries whenever I could find them. Now destiny has brought me here. I’d rather die of starvation or fall to my death in a gorge. However since fate has ordained for me to suffer more, how could even God grant me death? Now, thanks to your kindness my hunger is sated. Hopefully, I may even regain my sight. Who are you my dear sir? Perhaps a deva?”. Having listened to this, Mṛgāṅkadatta turned to his friends and said: “Alas! This is none other than our Pracaṇḍaśakti! How pitiful he looks! Let us not rush to talk to him yet. Who knows, perhaps the elephant may even restore his sight. If we move in now, it may walk away!”. Now the elephant introduced itself to Pracaṇḍaśakti:-
The story of Śīladhara and Satyadhara
In the town of Ekalavya lived a king called Śrutadhara. He had two wives, each of which gave birth to a son. After Śrutadhara died, his younger son Satyadhara drove out Śīladhara, the elder one and usurped the whole kingdom. An enraged Śīladhara undertook severe austerities to please lord Śiva. When the lord appeared, he begged him to turn him into a gandharva who could roam the skies and that one day he may kill his evil younger brother. Lord Śiva replied “Your wish will come true, but know that your younger brother Satyadhara is already dead. In the future he will be born in Rāḍhā as Samarabhaṭa, the dear son of king Ugrabhaṭa. You shall take birth as his elder brother Balabhīmabhaṭa and in due course of time, slay him and rule the kingdom. But since you undertook this penance out of vengeance, a sage’s curse shall befall you. You will lose your kingdom and turn into a wild elephant. But you will still have memories of past births and will be able to converse with men. A day will come when you will take care of a guest who is almost about to die out of fatigue and tell him your story. You will then turn a gandharva, and he too will be benefitted!” and vanished. Later Śīladhara threw himself into Gaṅgā and ended his life.
In Raḍhāpurī, king Ugrabhaṭa ruled happily accompanied by his queen Manoramā. One day a traveller called Lāsaka from a faraway land came to him and conducted the play of the grand episode where lord Viṣṇu took the form of the enchanting Mohinī and distributed Amṛta. In the play, his beautiful daughter Lāsyavatī, had donned the role of Amṛtikā. The king fell in love with her at once and married her. Manoramā gave birth to a son called Bhīmabhaṭa and Lāsyavatī to a son called Samarabhaṭa. Bhīmabhaṭa was better than his younger brother in all aspects. This led to some animosity between them. Once, the brothers got into a physical combat and Samarabhaṭa got hurt in the process. His mother cried, hugging him tight. The king consoled her, and offered his treasury and a hundred bodyguards to his younger son. It was as if there was no one who bothered about Bhīmabhaṭa. His mother said – “Dear child! You may please go to my father’s house in Pāṭalīputra. As he does not have any sons, he will offer his kingdom to you”. Bhīmabhaṭa considered going away as a sign of disloyalty to the country. The mother then said – “In that case, I will give you money. Arrange some bodyguards for yourself!” He felt that it would antagonise his father and refused to do so as well. The citizens of the kingdom who learnt about these things offered a lot of money to Bhīmabhaṭa, impressed with his qualities. Therefore, he remained in the city.
Śaṅkhadatta, a brāhmaṇa who was a friend to the brothers was also known to be brave, youthful and wealthy. He tried advising Samarabhaṭa – “Ārya! It is not right to develop animosity with your elder brother. It is not dharma. You cannot harm him in any way; you will only earn a bad name, finally.” Samarabhaṭa would not listen to any good counsel. He scolded his friend and sent him away. When a fool is given advice, it will only result in anger and not in peace. Therefore, Śaṅkhadatta sided with Bhīmabhaṭa.
Once, a trader brought a beautiful horse, which had all the signs of auspiciousness including a cūḍāmaṇi (crest jewel) and aṅgada (armlet). Bhīmabhaṭa intended to buy it but, in the meantime, Samarabhaṭa got the news and he promised twice the price and started looking for the trader. But, the horse would not come under his control. This led to a fight between the brothers; their supporters joined the fight and it resulted in a battle. Samarabhaṭa let go of the horse and was retreating. Śaṅkhadatta chased after him and was about to kill him; Bhīmabhaṭa stopped him by saying that killing Samarabhaṭa would upset the king. Samarabhaṭa went to the king, with his body injured and bleeding. A brāhmaṇa came to discreetly to Bhīmabhaṭa and said – “O dear! Your mother Manoramā, your father’s minister – Sumati and the purohita – Yajuḥsvāmī have sent you a message through me. They say, ‘Child! Because of this fight, your father has turned into your enemy. If you wish to protect the dharma and your own life, and if you consider us your well-wishers, listen to us. As soon as the sun sets this evening, leave this place and rush to your grandfather’s house.’ They have also sent me a treasure chest filled with gold and gems!” Bhīmabhaṭa agreed and sent his reply. He got on to the horse. Śaṅkhadatta followed him on another horse. As they were passing through a forest, a couple of lions attacked them; holding swords in their hands, they lunged on the lions, killing them but their horses, whose bellies had been ripped by the lions, died. They had to proceed further on foot. They reached the banks of the Gaṅgā and saw a lone brāhmaṇa boy in a hut. They went up to him and asked him who he was. He narrated his story thus:
I am the son of Śrīkaṇṭha, who was a resident of Kāśī; my name is Nīlakaṇṭha. Having finished my studies in the gurukula, by the time I returned home all my relatives and friends were dead. Orphaned and desolate, without the slightest interest in starting a family, I came here to perform tapas. Gaṅgā appeared in my dream and said, "Take this fruit; until your desires are fulfilled eat these fruits and stay here!" Accordingly, I am staying here, subsisting on the fruits that come floating on the Gaṅgā every day.
When he heard this, Bhīmabhaṭa gave him the money that his mother had given him. When he went further ahead, he came to the river. There was no means to cross the river, so the two of them tied their swords to their heads, dived into the water and started swimming. In the middle of the river, the water current was powerful and it carried them in different directions; they separated. By the time he reached the shore, Bhīmabhaṭa was all alone. Even after waiting for a long time, Śaṅkhadatta was not to be seen. Fearing that Śaṅkhadatta had drowned in the river, Bhīmabhaṭa was in despair and got ready to jump in the river to take his life. Just at that moment, Gaṅgā-devī emerged from the middle of the river and said, "Don't be hasty! Your friend is alive; very soon, both of you shall meet. Take these two vidyās known as Pratiloma and Viloma! If you apply the vidyā of Anuloma, you will become invisible; if you apply Viloma, you can take any form you like. By the influence of this knowledge, you will become king!" She then did the mantropadeśa (formal initiation into the sacred hymn) and disappeared. From there, he proceeded all alone in search of his friend and reached the kingdom of Lāṭa. In search of a devālaya to stay for the night, he finally ended up at a gambling den. There he found men who had worn only a single piece of cloth around their waist but their delighted faces and well-built bodies suggested that they must be wealthy and prosperous. He sat down to play with them, won the gamble, and earned all their ill-gotten wealth. They were all depressed and were getting prepared to leave for their homes when Bhīmabhaṭa stopped them at the door and said, "Where are you all going? Please take your money before you leave! What can I do with all this money? I would have given it off to my friends and associates; now, are you all not my friends?" Saying so, he set out to give away all his money. They were ashamed and said, "It is not the dharma of gambling to give away the wealth that one has won; but you are voluntarily sharing it; we shall humbly accept it with the hope that our friendship remains forever!" He agreed to that and they took him to a garden and organised a get-together for him. He narrated his story to them and then asked them to tell him their story; then, Akṣakṣapaṇa narrated his tale:
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.