Mṛgāṅkadatta spent the night there and left for Ujjayini the following morning. On his way, he saw a terrible-looking person carrying away his minister Vikramakesarin in the skies. Looking at Mṛgāṅkadatta, he stopped at the point and let the minister down. Vikramakesarin prostrated at the king’s feet. They embraced each other. Then he told the man who had brought him, “You may reappear when I think of you. Now carry on!” before sending him away. Mṛgāṅkadatta was seated with everyone else, overcome by curiosity, asked Vikramakesarin to narrate his story, which he did:
Story of Vikramakesarin
Deva! Having been separated from you owing to the śāpa (curse) of the nāga (divine serpent) I wandered about here and there and finally thought to myself, Let me go to Ujjayinī; I will anyway find him there, and I proceeded in that direction. I then came upon a village called Brahmasthala. I perched myself at the foot of a tree next to a lake. An old brāhmaṇa who had been bitten by a snake came to me and said, "Sir! Get up from this place! Else, you too will incur a fate similar to mine. There is a great serpent coiled here, which has bitten me and I am on my way to jump into the lake and take my life." I dissuaded him from taking this rash step and counteracted the effect of the poison by the use of mantras. He then asked me with great affection my story. "Sir! You have granted me the gift of life; therefore, I shall give you the upadeśa of a vetāla-nātha-mantra, which has come down to me from my father! Here, take it! Indeed, it will be invaluable for people like you, who are endowed with sattva!" I said, "Here I am, separated from Mṛgāṅkadatta; what in the world can I do with a vetāla!" He laughed and said, "What are you saying! Don't you know that you can get whatever you desire with the help of a vetāla? Long ago, King Trivikramasena obtained the wealth and sovereignty of the vidyādharas. Let me tell you his story," he said and narrated the following tale:
Story of Trivikramasena
There is a town called Pratiṣṭhāna on the banks of the Godāvarī river. It was ruled by a famous king by the name of Trivikramasena. Every day, as soon as he entered the āsthāna (royal assembly), a mendicant named Kṣāntiśīla would offer a fruit to the king after paying his respects. This went on for ten years. One day, the mendicant offered the fruit to the king as was usual, and the king gave the fruit to a pet monkey that had unexpectedly escaped from the clasp of its keepers and proceeded towards the king. When the monkey started eating the fruit, a priceless jewel fell out of it. When the king saw it, he called for his kośādhyakṣa (the director of the treasury) and asked, "What have you done with all the fruits that the mendicant has been giving me over the years?" He had been throwing them in one corner of the treasury every day. When they went to inspect the place in the treasury, they found that the fruits had rotted away and the heap of brilliant jewels lay in a corner. Those jewels were brought to the king, who was delighted to see them. Then he gifted those jewels to the treasurer. The following day, when the mendicant came to the āsthāna, the king asked, "Noble mendicant! Why do you spend so much wealth and give me an offering every day? If you don't tell me the reason, then I shall refuse to accept the fruit today!" The mendicant replied, "Mahārāja! I need the help of a courageous hero in the performance of a sādhāna to acquire a mantra; that assistance, I request from you!" The king agreed and the mendicant said, "Then, on the night of the following bahula-caturdaśī, you must come to the cemetery. There you will find me under a banyan tree."
The king followed his instructions, in the evening, he wore black clothes, held a sword in his hand and ventured out of the city incognito and reached the banyan tree where he saw the mendicant. He was happy to see him and he said, ‘O king! If you venture towards the south, you’ll find a śimśapā tree. On the tree hangs a dead body. Bring that to me!’ The king likewise went to the tree, cut off the rope which had fastened the body to the tree, and the body fell down and shrieked. He touched the body to check if it was still living, it sent out a boisterous laugh. The king realized that it was a vetāla, but unperturbed he said, Why do you laugh? Let’s go!’ As soon as he talked the body again flew up and attached itself to the tree. The king didn't give up. He again climbed the tree, brought down the body and started his walk back without talking. The vetāla which resided in the body started talking, ‘O king, to pass time on the way let me narrate a story.’ It started narrating the story:-
The Vetāla-pañcavimśati. Story 1
There lived a king named Pratāpamakuṭa in the kingdom of Vāranāsī; he had a son named Vajramakuṭa. The son of the minister named Buddhiśarīra was his close friend. Once while hunting they ventured deep into the forest and they saw a lake. There a divine beauty had arrived to take bath, the prince and the beauty saw each other and were instantly smitten; the lady took out a lily which she had decorated her locks with, placed it on her ear and then she bit another; she decorated her hair again with a lotus and placed her hand on her heart; then she went away without speaking anything.
The prince returned to the city but was incessantly thinking about her and asked his friend, ‘I couldn’t get any information about her!’ he replied, ‘Didn’t you understand her signs? By placing the lily on her ear she meant that she is from the kingdom ruled by Karṇotpala, by biting it she revealed that she is the daughter of Dantaghāṭaka, by decorating her locks with a lotus she hinted that her name is Padmāvatī, By placing her hand on her heart she suggested that you are her very life.’ the prince decided to proceed further and he along with his friend again ventured out in the pretext of hunting, on the way they rode rapidly to purposely lose their attendants and went to the kingdom of Kaliṅga. Karṇotpala was indeed the king. They found where Dantaghāṭaka resided and found a place nearby which was owned by an old lady and stayed there in secret. Buddhiśarīra asked the old woman, ‘O mother do you know Dantaghāṭaka?’ She said, ‘Of course I know him. I was Padmāvatī’s nanny.’ he replied, ‘Can you please go and inform Padmāvatī that the prince she saw in the forest is here?’ He also assured her that they’ll give her money. She agreed and informed Padmāvatī, who as though enraged, slapped her cheeks and sent her back. The prince was disappointed. But Buddhiśarīra was delighted. “Look at this! Smearing powdered camphor on her palms, she has left the imprint of her all ten fingers on the old woman’s face. What she means is that this is the waxing phase of the moon and there are still ten days to go before you may meet her”, he explained. When the waning fortnight started, they sent the old woman again. This time, Padmāvatī herself brought the matter up. She then dipped three of her fingers in the juice of lac and slapped the old woman on her chest. Observing the mark of three fingers, the minister’s son Buddhiśarīra understood that Padmāvatī is having her menstrual cycle and would want to wait for another three days. When the old woman visited again after three days, Padmāvatī received her cordially and treated her to tasty food and royal courtesies and stayed by her side through the day. Just after sunset, upon receiving word that a rut elephant was running amok, she grew afraid and told the old woman:“Do not leave through the front door. Instead use the rope ladder hung from the window to get down to the garden. My friends will help you down”. Upon hearing what transpired, the wise Buddhiśarīra interpreted it for his friend, prince Vajramakuṭa. He said “Today your wish will be fulfilled. You must go to the King’s garden tonight. Then climb up the rope ladder to Padmāvatī’s chambers!”. Vajramakuṭa did exactly that and found that the attendants of Padmāvatī stood watch on the roof and even helped him up. After spending a blissful few days with Padmāvatī, Vajramakuṭa told her: “My friend Buddhiśarīra, the minister’s son, came away with me, but is now living alone in the house of your old nanny. I need to talk to him. I promise you that I’ll return soon” and started getting ready to leave. A curious Padmāvatī asked “Did you decipher my signals yourself or did your friend interpret them for you?”. Vajramakuṭa replied “All of this is the work of the wise Buddhiśarīra. Truth be told, I could not understand the signals at all”.
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.