Trivikramasena, for the third time, took the dead body, placed it on his shoulders and set out. The vetāla started narrating another story:-
There lived a king named Vikramakesari in the kingdom of Pāṭalīputra. He had a pet parrot named Vidagdhacūḍāmaṇi which was adept in all the śāstras. Following his wise counsel, he married a princess named Candraprabhā from Magadha. She also possessed a parrot called Somikā which was similarly well-versed in everything. Both the birds resided in the same cage. Once Vidagdhacūḍāmaṇi addressed Somikā thus, ‘we can stay together, eat and sleep in the same place.’ Somikā disagreed, ‘I don’t even like the company of men; they are wicked, ungrateful!’ Vidagdhacūḍāmaṇi retorted, ‘No men aren’t wicked; women are stone-hearted!’ They took this argument to the king. If the male wins the female has to marry, otherwise the male has to become the servant of the female. The king asked Somikā, ‘Tell me how men are ungrateful!’ Somikā narrated a story:-
There lived a merchant named Arthadatta in the town of Kāmandikā. He had a son named Dhanadatta. After his father’s demise, Dhanadatta fell into bad company, lost all his fortune in gambling and other vices, not worthy of even showing his face to others, he fled to another town named Candanapura . He sought refuge at another merchant’s place and tried to find some food. The merchant heard all his difficulties and since he was from a noble family he gave his daughter Ratnāvalī’s hand in marriage to Dhanadatta. He stayed in his in-laws place for some time and forgetting all his past, he wanted to return to his hometown. The merchant agreed and sent his daughter along with him and an old woman. On their way they encountered a forest where Dhanadatta made his wife take off all her ornaments and hand it over to him under the pretext of thieves who might be lurking around. Then when they reached a precipice, he pushed both his wife and the old woman down. See how malicious are men! They are wicked and ungrateful! The old woman died; his wife however was caught between the vegetation midway and survived. She held onto them and slowly came up; battered and bruised; she returned home. When her parents who were frightened asked her what had happened, she told them, ‘On the way we were caught by some thieves; they tied your son-in-law and took him away; even though I fell into the precipice I didn’t die; some compassionate passerby helped me to come up; I came here!’ Her parents consoled her and made her stay in her native place.
After going back to his hometown of Kāmandikā, Dhanadatta again gambled away all his wealth. He then made the dastardly plan of going back to his father in law’s house and telling him that Ratnāvalī was in Kāmandikā. And then he planned to somehow extract more money from his merchant father-in-law. When Dhanadatta reached Candanapura, Ratnāvalī saw him from afar. She ran to him and fell upon his feet. (For after all, regardless of how villainous her husband is, a chaste wife still dotes on him!). Dhanadatta became tense upon seeing her alive. Ratnāvalī however gave him courage and told him that she had lied to her father that they had been attacked by thieves. The merchant was elated to know that his son-in-law had escaped alive from the clutches of the murderous thieves. He invited all his friends and relatives and celebrated with great pomp and fervour. Dhanadatta was a relieved man. He soon shed off all his fears and worries and began to live peacefully under his father in law’s roof. After a few days, do you know what that butcher did! One’s tongue revolts at narrating it. However, since it’s a story, one must spell it out! Dhanadatta killed his pious wife Ratnāvalī in cold blood, even as she was lying right next to him. He stole her ornaments and went back to Kāmandikā. Men are such incorrigible sinners!
Thus did the female parrot finish its story. Then the king turned to the male parrot and said “Now let us hear your story”. The bird replied: “Lord! Women are very bold, characterless and sinners who will never reform!”, and proceeded to narrate the following story:-
In the town of Harṣavatī a multi-millionaire merchant called Dharmadatta lived. He had a beautiful daughter named Vasudattā. Dharmadatta had her married to Samudradatta of Tāmralipti, a handsome, young, faultless son of a merchant. Once when Samudradatta had left Vasudattā at her mother’s home in order to go to Tāmralipti on business, she became fond of a handsome youth and began an illicit relationship with him. When her husband returned, Vasudattā felt that she did not like him anymore. That night, she pretended to be fast asleep. A tired Samudradatta too went to bed early. Amidst all this, a thief intent on stealing valuables, made a hole on a wall of their house and came in quietly. Right then, Vasudattā was departing to meet her paramour. Seeing her leave, the thief thought “She’s going somewhere decked in all the valuables I wish to rob. There’s nothing for me here. So let me follow her and see where she goes!”, and began to trail her furtively. Vasudattā went to the garden nearby and was shocked to see her paramour hanging dead from a tree. The city’s guards had seen him roaming about in the dead of the night and had concluded that he was a thief and had caught and hanged him to death. The grief stricken Vasudattā brought him down and put her face upon his and began to wail loudly. At that time, a vetāla (ghoul) who had entered his body rose up and bit her nose clean off. Shrieking with pain, she checked if her lover was still alive - only to find that he wasn’t. The vetāla was gone by then. Then she went back to her house, entered the room where her innocent husband lay asleep and started shouting loudly: “Alas! This evil husband of mine cut off my nose!”. Listening to her cries, everyone came running. Samudradatta too woke up and was taken aback at the sight of his noseless wife. Dharmadatta saw his daughter’s state and his wrath fell on Samudradatta. He had his son-in-law bound for betraying his daughter and dragged in front of the king. The pleas of the innocent Samudradatta fell on deaf ears. The king summarily decreed that he must be put to death by impaling. When the king’s guards were walking Samudradatta to the execution ground, the thief intervened and addressed them thus: “Sirs, this man is guiltless; why do you wish to kill him! I know what really happened. Pray, take me to the king and I shall explain everything!”. When the guards took him to the king, the thief narrated in entirety the extraordinary events of the night without skipping even the minutest detail.
It was seen that her nose was still in the mouth of the corpse. Therefore, the king released the man, got his wife’s ears chopped off and threw them out of his town. He punished Dharmadatta and made the thief the purādhyakṣa. Women are like this – they are crooked by nature and are stone-hearted.
After narrating this story, the male parrot turned into a gandharva called citraratha and the female parrot into his wife Tilottamā. The two were thus liberated from their curse and flew into the sky. Yet, the riddle was not resolved.
After having narrated the story, the vetāla said – “Mahārāja! Tell me, who are the real pāpīs – men or women? If you don’t tell though you know the answer, your head with break apart into pieces!”
The king said – “Women are the pāpīs. Among men, there are a few who are of an ill character. Nevertheless, women have always remained the same!”
As the king spoke so, the vetāla flew away from his shoulders and went back to its original place.
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