Kathāmṛta - 95 - Śaśāṅkavatī-lambaka - Stories of Harisvāmī and Yaśaḥketu

This article is part 95 of 133 in the series Kathāmṛta

Story 5

12. For the fifth time, king Trivikramasena took the corpse upon his shoulder and started to walk. The vetāla began to narrate another story:-

Long ago, Ujjainī was ruled by a king called Puṇyasena. He had a minister named Harisvāmī who had a son Devasvāmī and a daughter Somaprabhā. When Somaprabhā came of age, she told her parents and elder brother that she would only marry someone who was either valorous or wise or a man of science.

One day when Harisvāmī was visiting a kingdom of the south, a brāhmaṇa met him and sought the hand of Somaprabhā. Harisvāmī said “I will give my daughter’s hand in marriage only to a man who is gallant or wise or a scientist. Which one would you say you are?”. The brāhmaṇa stated that he was a scientist and proceeded to demonstrate his skills. He quickly built a flying chariot and invited Harisvāmī to board it with him. The brāhmaṇa grabbed the reins and the vehicle soon rose into the clouds. Within moments he gave Harisvāmī a tour of heaven and all the other divine realms. Harisvāmī became happy and promised the brāhmaṇa the hand of Somaprabhā on the seventh day from that morning.

Around the same time, another brāhmaṇa came to Ujjainī and met Devasvāmī, the elder brother of Somaprabhā. He too asked for the hand of Somaprabhā. Devasvāmi replied, “Somaprabhā shall marry a man who is either valiant or wise or a scientist. Which one are you?”. The brāhmaṇa averred that he was valorous and put forth a strong display of his expertise in martial arts. An impressed Devasvāmī promised him that he will give his sister’s hand in marriage on the seventh day thereon.

One the same day, yet another brāhmaṇa met Harisvāmī’s wife and expressed his wish to marry Somaprabhā. He was a wise man who knew both the past and the future. Harisvāmī’s wife gave her assent and promised Somaprabhā’s hand on the seventh day thence.

Next day when Harisvāmī returned, he told his family about his promise to the scientist. Then his wife and son said that they too had promised someone Somaprabhā’s hand. Harisvāmi grew worried thinking about the promises they had made. On the seventh morning, all the three brāhmaṇas reached Harisvāmī’s house. At the same time, Somaprabhā somehow vanished without a trace! They searched everywhere but could not find her. Harisvāmī then asked the man who knew the past and the future: “Sir! Would you be able to tell where my daughter is?”. He meditated for a moment and replied “A rākṣasa named Dhūmaśikha has abducted her. He holds her captive in his hideout in the forests of the Vindhyās!”. Harisvāmi’s heart sank upon hearing this. He cried “Alas, how do we find her? How will her marriage happen now?”. The scientist asked Harisvāmī to take heart and asked him, the wise man and the valorous man to ascend his chariot. Within moments they leapt into the air and soon reached the Vindhyā forests. The valorous brāhmaṇa fell upon the rākṣasa and despatched him to his death and rescued Somaprabhā. Then all of them boarded the chariot and flew back to Harisvāmī’s abode. Then, as the moment of the wedding arrived, all the three brāhmaṇas began to quarrel. The wise one exclaimed “If I wasn’t there, nobody would have known where Somaprabhā was. I am the one who located her. So she belongs to me!”. The scientist retorted “Without my chariot, could we have gone and come back so fast? Would it have been possible to defeat the rākṣasa who fought from his chariot? She is mine by right!” The valorous man said “If I didn’t slay the rākṣasa in battle, you both couldn’t have brought Somaprabhā back. So, I am the one who should marry her!”. Seeing them quarrel this way, Harisvāmī was caught in a dilemma and didn’t know what to do.

Having thus narrated the story, the vetāla said, “Mahārāja! Tell me who should the girl be given to? If you don’t answer even though you know the answer, you head will break apart!”

The king replied – “She should be given to the valorous one. He cared little for his own life, fought the rākṣasa with immense valour and won over the girl. The jñānī and vijñānī only helped him in the task. Blacksmiths and carpenters only provide the tools, isn’t it?”

As the king spoke these words, the vetāla vanished from his back and returned to its earlier place.


Story 6

Trivikramasena set out for the sixth time carrying the vetāla on his back. The vetāla started narrating yet another story –

A king called Yaśaḥketu ruled from a city called Śobhāvatī.  The place had a temple dedicated to the devī Gaurī. A pond called Gaurītīrtha was right next to it. People from different parts of the country arrived there on the āṣāḍha-śuddha ekādaśī to take a dip in the pond.

Once, Dhavala, the young son of a laundryman came there. He spotted a girl called Madanasundarī, who belonged to the same caste as him. Her father was known to his mother – therefore, marrying her posed no challenge to him. The couple started living in the boy’s house.

One day, the girl’s parents called for their daughter and son-in-law. As they arrived at the temple to Gaurī, Dhavala said – “Let us have a darśana of the deity before we proceed.” His brother-in-law asked – “Why should so many of us go there empty handed? I will go alone and get the darśana of the devī. You two may wait here”. Saying so, he went into the temple. There, he saw a mūrti of Cāmuṇḍikā devī with eighteen arms – at her feet lay a dead Mahiṣāsura. Looking at this, a thought occurred to him – “Different people come here to offer different kinds of bali to this devī  – they sacrifice different lives. I can offer myself to her and attain siddhi!” He picked up the sword that lay in the garbhagṛha and chopped his head off. As his brother-in-law did not return for a long time, Dhavala came looking for him. He saw his brother-in-law dead – his head was severed. He was overcome with immense grief and chopped his head off too. Observing that her husband and brother, both did not return, Madanasundarī went into the temple, saw them dead and cried out,  “Alas! What a tragedy!”  She decided to give up her life too – she bowed down to the devī  and prayed – “I wish to have them as my husband and brother in the next life too!” She got ready to hang herself up to the Ashoka tree. As she was about to give her life up, she heard an incorporeal voice – “O daughter! Don’t do this! I am pleased seeing the immense sattva that you embody. Throw away the rope. Bring together the heads and the bodies that have been split apart. Your brother and husband will come back to life!” She was thrilled upon hearing this. In her excitement, she joined her husband’s head and her brother’s body and brother’s head to her husband’s body.

They both regained life and gained consciousness. All of them offered their salutations to devī and went home. On the way back, she realised her mistake. She was dumbfounded and unsure of what she must do next.

Thus narrating a tale, the vetāla said, "Mahārāja! Of the two, which one is her husband? If you know the answer but refuse to speak, your head will break into pieces." King Trivikramasena said, "The one to whose body the husband's head has been attached is indeed her husband! Among all the organs of the body, the head is the most important; that is the source of one's identity!"

The king having given this answer, the vetāla yet again disappeared from the king's shoulders and reached his original spot.


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.

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