19. Vikramasena carried the vetāla for the ninth time on his back. The vetāla started narrating yet another story –
There lived a king named Vīradeva in Ujjayinī. He performed tapas and as a result, he begot two children – a son named Śūradeva and a daughter named Anaṅgaratī. As his daughter came of age, the king got portraits of several men and show them to her. As she did not like any of them, the king suggested that she could choose whoever she wanted in a svayamvara. Anaṅgaratī, who felt shy upon the proposal, said that she would be happy if she is given to a man who is smart and handsome. Many men came to her from dakṣiṇāpatha seeking her hand – they were brave, scholarly and handsome. The first one said – “I am a śūdra named Pañcapaṭṭiga. I do sewing for a job. Every day I weave five exquisite clothes; I offer one to the gods, the second I gift to brāhmaṇas, the third I keep for myself, the fourth I give my wife, and I sell the fifth; in this manner, I manage my family!" The second man said, "I am a vaiśya; I know the language of all animals and birds." The third man said, "My name is Khaḍgadhara and I am a kṣatriya; there is none who can match me in sword-fighting!" The fourth one said, "I am a brāhmaṇa named Jīvadatta; I can revive the dead." Listening to all their words, Vīradeva and his daughter were puzzled as to whom to choose.
Having narrated this tale, the vetāla asked, "Mahārāja! Tell me, which of the four men should Anaṅgaratī marry?" The king replied, "Sir! You are putting on a show of carrying out a conversation with me, merely to pass the time! Else, would you ask me a question that is far from being profound! Will a kṣatriya marry off his daughter to a śūdra weaver? And how indeed would he give her hand in marriage to a vaiśya? What is the use of all his knowledge of the language of animals and birds? And as for that brāhmaṇa who is familiar with aindrajāla (art of magic), he is a fallen fellow who has strayed from his svakarma. Therefore, it is right to give her in marriage to the kṣatriya by name Khaḍgadhara; he is from the same jāti and has pursued the vidyā aligned to his family; he is a courageous hero!"
When the king spoke thus, the betāla disappeared from the king's shoulder and went back to where he was earlier.
17. Trivikramasena, for the tenth time, picked up the corpse and heaved it onto his shoulder. As he set out, the vetāla narrated another story:
In Anantapura, there lived a wealthy merchant by name Arthadatta, who had a daughter by name Madanasenā. A youth by name Dharmadatta was besotted by her and wanted to marry her. So he asked for her hand in marriage. She said, "In a few days from now, I am slated to marry Samudradatta. So, I am another's now!" Having heard her words, he said, "If this is what you have to say, then I shall surely take my life!" She got scared and said, "Let me get married; then I shall come to you for sure!" He said, "Shall I partake of what has already been chewed?" She said, "I shall first come to you and then serve my husband!" After she promised thus, he went away. After the wedding, when she proceeded to the bed-room, she did not touch her husband. She told him about her promise to Dharmadatta and requested him to grant her permission to go ahead and keep her word. Realising that it was no use trying to restrain a woman who had given her heart to another, he gave her his consent. When she was walking alone in the middle of the night, she was accosted by a thief. When he caught her, she was ready to give away all her ornaments. But he was smitten by her beauty and said, "I don't want your ornaments, I want you!" Then she told him her story and then said, "I will keep up my promise and then come back to you. This is the truth!" The thief felt that she was being honest. He let her go. She went to Dharmadatta and then narrated the events that transpired. He thought for a moment and then said, "Mother! I am extremely delighted to see your integrity. You belong to another; what indeed is your work with me? Someone might notice us. So go away!” saying so he sent her away. The thief stayed and waited in the same place as before. “What happened there?” he asked, she informed him that Dharmadatta sent her away, listening to this the thief said, “Even I’m impressed by your truthfulness; you can go home with your ornaments!” He accompanied her to her home in a bid to protect her and he went away once she reached her home safely. Her husband, who had followed her throughout, had reached home earlier. When he asked her, she told everything without hiding anything from him. She looked the same as she was before. Her resplendent face looked the same; seeing her truthfulness and fidelity he was happy and they happily lived ever after.
Finishing the narration, the vetāla asked, “O rājā! Between the merchant and the thief, tell me whose sacrifice is more worthy! If you don’t reply even if you are aware of the correct answer, your head will burst into a hundred pieces!” The king replied, “The thief’s sacrifice is nobler; the husband who came to know that she desires someone else, let her go, but that isn’t a great deed; the other person wasn’t as anxious as before; he also was worried that the husband might lodge a complaint against him; on the other hand, the thief steals without any witnesses; he is an outlaw; his very occupation is wrong-doing; still he chose to release a woman on his own accord; thus his act is nobler!”
As soon as the king broke silence, the vetāla disappeared and returned to the original abode.
Trivikramasena, for the eleventh time, went to the tree and lowered the dead body onto his shoulders and started his journey. Vetāla started narrating another story:-
In Ujjayinī, there lived a king by name Dharmadhvaja. He had three wives, Indulekhā, Tārāvalī and Mṛgāṅkavatī. Once during the season of vasanta, he ventured on a pleasure trip along with his wives, roaming in the garden, in jest, he pulled the plaited hair of Indulekhā. The lily which adorned her ears fell upon her thighs causing an injury. Uttering a hā, he fell unconscious. The worried king and the attendants took care of her and she regained consciousness. After returning to the palace the royal physician applied medicines to heal the wound; during the night when the king was sleeping with the second wife Tārāvalī, moon rays entered through the terrace window under which they were sleeping. She woke up screaming, “Alas! My body is burnt!”; the king, surprised, woke up and saw blisters on her body. When asked she said, “wherever my body wasn’t covered by clothes, the moon rays have caused blisters there.” he ordered the attendants to make her sleep on lotus leaves and anoint her with sandalwood paste, he called for his third wife Mṛgāṅkavatī.
She stepped out of her mansion and started walking to the king’s quarters. Right then, in the silence of the night, from far away, came the sounds of a pestle pounding grains. As soon as the sound of the strikes reached her ears, she cried “Alas! I am dead!”, and sat down right there, with her hands shuddering. Her attendants quickly took her back to her room and gingerly placed her upon her bed. Then they checked her hands to see what had happened. To their shock, they saw boils on both of her palms. As soon as king Dharmadhvaja heard about it, he rushed to see Mṛgāṅkavatī. Upon seeing her wounds he felt very sad and asked the attendants to apply sandalwood paste on her palms. The king spent the whole night lamenting: “One of my queens was wounded due to the touch of a flower. The next one had boils on her body just because it was caressed by moonlight. And the last one had boils on her palms merely due to the sound of the pounding sticks. It’s really a problem that they are so delicate!”.
After narrating this story, the vetāla said “O king! Now tell me who among the three queens is the most delicate. If you know the answer and yet don’t speak, your head will crack into pieces”. The king replied, “Mṛgāṅkavatī is clearly the most delicate of them, for the boils on her palms were caused by the mere sounds of pestle strikes. The other two however needed actual contact with the lily and moonlight. So they are no match for her at all!” Just as he spoke those words, the vetāla vanished from the king’s shoulder and flew back to his 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