Kathāmṛta - 92 - Śaśāṅkavatī-lambaka - The Story of Mandāravatī

This article is part 92 of 96 in the series Kathāmṛta

After listening to these words, Padmāvatī thought for a while and said “It wasn’t right of you to tell me only now about your friend. I consider him now as my elder brother. So, mustn’t I receive him with due honours?”

That evening, Vajramukuṭa went back and explained everything to Buddhiśarīra. The next morning when they had completed their ablutions and other rituals and were just sitting down to talk, a friend of Padmāvatī came and asked about the welfare of Buddhiśarīra and gave him a bowl of sweet rice, betel leaves and other gifts. Then, in order to ensure that the prince would not eat it, she smartly said that Padmāvatī was waiting for Vajramukuṭa for lunch. After she left, Buddhiśarīra told the prince: “See my lord! I will show you something interesting. Since I was able to understand all her signals, she thinks of me as a rogue and wishes to kill me and has hence sent me this poisoned food. You see, as long as I am around, she thinks your heart will never be fully set upon her and you may anytime return back to Vārāṇasi along with me”. To prove his point, he took a morsel of the sweet dish and placed it in front of a stray dog. The dog ate it and sure enough, fell down dead. Coincidentally at the same time, they heard commotion outside. When they stepped out, they heard someone exclaim: “Alas! The son of our king Karṇotpala is dead!” Upon listening to this, Buddhiśarīra happily devised a plan. He handed a trident to Vajramukuṭa and said, “You must go to Padmāvatī’s house tonight. Play coy and see to it that she gets intoxicated. Once she is in stupor, make a mark with this trident upon her waist and relieve her of her ornaments and bring them here”. The prince did exactly as he was told. Then Buddhiśarīra dressed himself up as an ascetic. Before he proceeded to the cremation ground, he made the prince disguise himself as his disciple and handed him Padmāvatī’s pearl necklace and said “Take this to the market and show it around as if you intend to sell it. Ask for a huge sum in exchange. That will ensure that nobody will attempt to buy it. There will however be a crowd of curious men wanting to take a look and soon the word will travel. Then if the city’s guards confront you, just tell them confidently that your teacher gave this to you to sell.”

You may boldly say “Our guru gave this to us and asked us to sell it. Let them come to me”. He saw him off with these words. He did accordingly.

The city guards who heard that there was a theft at Dantaghāṭaka’s house were looking for the thief, caught him and brought him to the chief of the town. He saw the prince in the guise of a tapasvī and asked “Svāmin! Where did you find this? This jewellery was lost from Dantaghāṭaka’s house yesterday!” The prince said – “This was given to me by my guru; come, ask him!”

The head of the city went to the cremation ground, bowed down and spoke to the minister’s son, who was also in the guise of a tapasvī – “Svāmin! Where did you get this pearl necklace that your student wears?” He replied – “I am a tapasvī who roams around in the forest; I happened to stay in the town’s cremation ground last night; a few yoginīs appeared there. One of them brought with her the king’s son, extracted his lotus-like heart and offered it to Bhairava. She was drunk and intoxicated; she tried to pull away the japa-mālā from me; she turned away from me with a crooked expression; I stuck at her waist using my triśūla and procured her necklace; this is how I got the string of pearls. I am a tapasvī. What will I do with a pearl necklace? I therefore sent it to be sold!” The town-chief reported this to the king. Upon listening to this, the king got Padmāvatī examined by her female assistants and confirmed that her waist bore the marks of a triśūla. He decided that she was a ḍākinī and was the killer of his son. He got her thrown out of the town.

Padmāvatī was in deep sorrow and roamed around the forest that evening. The prince and the son of the minister appeared before her in their real form. They rescued her on horseback and escorted her to their town. The prince lived happily with her. Dantaghāṭaka and his wife passed away thinking that she was consumed by wild animals.

After having narrated the story, the vetāla asked – “O king! A doubt has raised up in my mind – you will need to clarify it. You heard from the story that the couple passed away – who incurs the pāpa of having caused their death – the prince or the minister's son? Or does Padmāvatī incur the pāpa? You are smart; tell me. If you refrain yourselves from telling, even though you know the answer, your head will break apart into a hundred pieces. Trivikramasena, who was scared of being cursed said – “Ārya, yogeśvara! None of them incur pāpa; it is the king Karṇotpala who will incur all the pāpa. It is the duty of the minister’s son to please him – he did that very well; therefore, the minister’s son does not incur papa. Padmāvatī and the prince were in deep love and had lost all the wisdom; they were concerned only about their own welfare; Karṇotpala, the king had no sense of rāja-nīti; he should have set spies to find out about his citizens and he should have figured out the evil ones; he did not think this way – therefore, he incurs all the pāpa!”

As the king spoke, breaking his silence, the vetāla left him and flew away


Trivikramasena looked for the vetāla below the coral tree; he saw a dead body crying out there. He carried it on his shoulder and went ahead without speaking.

Then the vetāla said, "O revered king! It is unfair and unfortunate that you were troubled. Let it be so; let me tell you a story to delight your mind. Listen!" So saying, he began narrating the next story:

There lies an agrahāra on the banks of River Kālindī. It is called Brahmasthala. A brāhmaṇa named Agnisvāmī lived there; he had a beautiful daughter by name Mandāravatī. When she grew up to be a maiden, three brāhmaṇa boys from Kānyakubja came to her father, seeking her hand in marriage. All three were endowed with noble qualities; but each one was obstinate—even at the risk of losing his own life—that she was not to be given in marriage to either of the others. Agnisvāmī bemoaned his plight and did not wish to give his daughter’s hand to any of them. The three of them just stationed themselves there, spending day and night admiring the beauty of the damsel. During this time, one day, Mandāravatī contracted a fever and succumbed to the disease. One of them took her bones to immerse in the Gaṅgā, the second one built a hut over her ashes and lived there, while the third one became an ascetic and went far away. He roamed about from town to town, city to city, and one day he happened to be hosted in the house of a brāhmaṇa in the village of Vakrolaka. Even as he was partaking of his meal in that house, he heard the loud screams of a child, who began throwing a fit. The child would not sober down even after great attempts were made to assuage him. The lady of the house lost her temper and threw the child into a blazing fire. Within moments, it turned into ashes. Seeing this, the guest was shocked beyond belief. He declared, "Fie upon me, I have come to a brahma-rākṣasa's house! I will not continue eating this food cooked by pāpa!" At that point, the master of the house offered him some solace and said, "I will bring it back to life by reciting the mṛta-sañjīvinī mantra! Just see my prowess in mantra-śakti!" He took out his book of mantras and read out the appropriate verse even as he imbued a pinch of mud with the charm and threw that on the ashes of the dead child. At once, the child came back to life. Relieved at the sight, the ascetic resumed eating. He spent the night there and the next morning, he picked up the book of mantras that was kept on the nāgadanta (ivory bracket) and walked day and night to reach the cemetery where the ashes of his beloved lay. By that time, the brāhmaṇa lad who had gone to the Gaṅgā also returned. The three of them met and had the hut removed from the spot where her ashes were strewn. The third brāhmaṇa said, "Now, I shall bring Mandāravatī back to life!" and then read out the chosen mantra from the book of charms and imbuing a pinch of mud with the mantra, he put it on the ashes. Mandāravatī appeared as gold in a crucible, emerging even more beautiful than she was earlier. The moment the three of them laid eyes on her, yet again the fight began as to who would wed her. One of them said, "I have attained her by the power of my mantra!" Another said, "She is mine; she was vivified owing to the puṇya of my tīrthayātrā!" Yet another said, "I was the one who preserved her ashes as if they were my very life and that is how you even got the opportunity to bring her back to life!"

Thus concluding his tale, the vetāla said, "Mahārāja! How should their quarrel be sorted out? Whom should she marry? If you know the answer and yet choose to remain mute, then your head will burst into a hundred bits!" The king replied, "The one who toiled to bring her back to life is akin to a father. The one who took her bones to immerse in the Gaṅgā is akin to a son. The one who was so besotted by her that he made her ashes his very bed and slept in the cemetery is fit to be her husband! He behaves based on the love and affection he has towards her!” 

Since Trivikramasena broke his silence, the vetāla took off from his shoulders and returned to the tree again.


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.

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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