Trivikramasena carried the dead body on his shoulder for a fourth time. The vetāla started narrating another story.
A valorous king called Śūdraka lived in a town called Śobhāvatī. A brāhmaṇa named Vīravara, who hailed from the Mālava province came to him looking for a job. His wife was called Dharmavatī, son was Sattvavara and daughter was called Vīravatī. This was his family. He came to the king carrying a shield in his hand and a sword tied to his hip. He told the king that he would work for him if he would pay him hundred dinars per day. His physique betrayed his strength and valour. Thus, the king agreed to pay him whatever he asked and appointed him. The king wondered why he needed so much money for a family for four people. He wanted to figure out if the brāhmaṇa wasted the money or put it to good use – he set some spies to watch over him.
In the morning, Vīravara met the king and stood holding his weapons at the siṃhadvāra – the main entrance to the palace. He waited till noon. Having received the day’s salary, he would hand over a hundred dinars to his wife to cover the expenses for food. He spent another hundred dinars for his clothes and cosmetics. Another hundred dinars went for the pūjā he performed to Śiva and Viṣṇu. He offered two hundred dinars to brāhmaṇas and beggars who were in need. He would then perform agnikārya and other daily rituals, have his dinner and wait alone at the siṃhadvāra, holding a sword in his hand. The king was pleased upon hearing about his routine from his spies. He developed a lot of respect for the brāhmaṇa.
One night, it rained heavily and it was all dark. The king called out from the higher stories – “Who is at the siṃhadvāra?” Vīra replied, “I am here!” The king was surprised. In the meantime, from afar the wailing of a woman was heard and the king Śūdraka said, "There is nobody in my land who is either sad or decrepit or helpless. That being the case, who could be this weeping woman?" Pondering thus, he called for Vīravara and ordered, "Who is crying? And why is she crying? Go and find out!" At once, he set out with a sword in his hand, hardly caring for the rumbling of thunder, flashes of lightning, gusts of wind, or heavy rain. Seeing that, the king was smitten by compassion and curiosity, and so he too brandished a sword and secretly followed Vīravara. Following the trail of the plaintive cries, Vīravara reached a small lake outside the city. In the middle of the lake there was a solitary woman who stood and cried, "O hero! O compassionate one! O renunciate! How can I live without you? Where can I go?" When Vīravara asked her who she was, she replied, "I am Bhūdevī, the earth; my dharma-pati is Śūdraka, the king of the land. Three days from now, he will meet his death. If such a husband were to die, how can I get another one who is that noble? Thus, I am weeping." Vīravara said, "O Mother! Is there any possible way to save the life of the king?" Bhūdevī said, "There is only one way out. If you offer your son Sattvavara's life as bali to Caṇḍikādevī, the kuladevatā of the king, then he will live a hundred years more. If you desire to undertake it, then do it right away!" Vīravara accepted the terms and immediately went home. He woke up his wife and son and told them what had just transpired. His son was unfazed and said, "Father! If the king will survive by the offering of my life, then truly my life has found its purpose! It will be a great chance to repay the anna-ṛṇa that we owe him. Therefore, let us not waste any time!" Vīravara carried their son while his wife carried their daughter as they proceeded to the Caṇḍikā devasthāna. The king was closely following them. Vīravara put down his son in the devasthāna and immediately he told the Devī with folded hands, "Mother! Behold, I now offer my head to you; as a result of this, let King Śūdraka live another hundred years and continue ruling this land!" Vīravara severed his son's head and offered it to the goddess. At once, an incorporeal voice was heard: "Vīravara! Will there ever be a more loyal devotee of the king than you! You offered your only son's head as bali to the goddess so that Śūdraka may live to be a hundred! Hail!" At that point, the little Vīravatī fell on her elder brother's corpse and embracing his severed head, breathed her last, heartbroken. Dharmavatī told her husband, "We have done what is best for the emperor. This innocent girl lost her life owing to the sorrow of losing her brother. After losing my children, will I remain alive? You should have severed my head right at the beginning; but the goddess didn't want that. In any case, if you now grant me permission, I shall alight the funeral pyre of my children." Vīravara said, "Yes, you do that! If others could have offered their lives as bali, do you think I would have done what I did?" Saying so, he arranged the firewood and set it alight. He then placed the corpses of the children on the pyre. The wife offered her salutations to Caṇḍikā and to her husband before jumping into the fire and offering her life. Vīravara thought, "The duties towards the king have been fulfilled. The ṛṇa of food has been repaid; what shall I do, existing all by myself? Therefore, I shall offer my life to the goddess too and please her!" Then he chopped off his own head with his sword.
Śūdraka, who was silently witnessing all these events was overcome by sorrow and surprise. He thought, "Alas! What has this man done for my sake! I had never seen something like this before nor heard about such a thing; if I am unable to do anything in return for this great favour, what sort of kingship is mine? How different would I be from a lowly animal?” Walking up to the goddess’ image, he raised his sword over his neck and cried, “Mother! Accept the head of this devotee of yours, and if it pleases you, pray, bring back to life the brāhmaṇa who gave up his life for me, along with his family!” Just as the king Śūdraka was about to bring down his sword upon his neck, an invisible voice rang: “O king! Stop this misadventure. Your virtuousness has pleased me. May Vīravara, along with his wife and children live again!”. As soon as those words were uttered, those who were dead came back to life. The king who witnessed this miracle, wept tears of joy. A stunned Vīravara rose up. Looking at his wife and children he said, “What is all this! Weren’t you all burnt to ashes? I too had chopped off my own head! How, then, am I still alive? Am I hallucinating or is this the grace of the goddess?” He soon concluded that it was indeed the goddess’ blessing and bowed down to her. He took his wife and children home and returned to the palace to resume his watch at the siṃhadvāra. Right then, king Śūdraka, who had returned to the palace unseen by them, shouted from his balcony: “Who guards the lion’s gate?”. Vīravara answered “I do, lord! Following your command, I went in search of that woman. She looked like a rākṣasī to me, but then she suddenly disappeared”. The king was astonished at this, for he had seen with his own eyes all that had transpired. He said to himself: “Aha! What composure, fortitude and magnanimity! The virtuous perform extraordinary deeds, but never breathe a word about them”. Then he quietly went back to bed. The next morning when Vīravara came to meet the king, the latter explained all that had transpired the previous night to his ministers in great detail. They all became awestruck. A grateful Śūdraka gave Vīravara, lordship over Lāṭa including Karṇāṭa. Both remained happy forever.
Finishing the story thus, the vetāla asked Trivikramasena: “O king! Who is the most courageous among them all? If you don’t answer my question, your head will split into a hundred pieces!”. The king replied “Śūdraka is the most courageous one!”. Vetāla retorted “Why not Vīravara? There can be none more courageous than him. Was his wife any less brave? Which mother would ever agree to have her own son killed? What about Sattvavara? How could a boy so young be endowed with such fortitude? Leaving them all aside, why do you shower praises on Śūdraka instead?”. The king countered: “It’s not like that! Vīravara had undertaken a vow that he, along with his wife and children, would protect the king from all perils. His wife was born to a virtuous family, and she was a pious woman. What greater dharma was there for her, than following her husband’s footsteps? Their children would naturally be virtuous just like Vīravara and his wife - for as is the fibre, so is the fabric. The king who put his own life on the line for the servant who gave up his life for his king, is the most extraordinary!”
Since Trivikramasena broke silence, the vetāla vanished from his shoulder and flew back to his original station.
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