19. Trivikramasena took the corpse on his shoulder for the twelfth time and started to walk. The vetāla began to narrate another story:-
In the land of Aṅga lived a king called Yaśaḥketu. He had turned over the reins of the kingdom to his minister Dīrghadarśi and was living a life of unrestrained pleasure and indulgence with women. The people however mockingly gossipped that the minister had wilfully got their king addicted to pleasure women in order to enjoy the kingdom for himself. In order to rid himself of ill-repute, Dīrghadarśi conferred with his wife one day on what they should do. She suggested that it may be better if they left town for a few days on the pretext of pilgrimage. The minister agreed. He took permission from the king and began his travels. After roaming around many cities, he reached the kingdom of Puṇḍra and stayed in a Śiva temple. There, he befriended a merchant called Nidhidatta who used to come to worship the lord. Dīrghadarśi soon accompanied him to Suvarṇadvīpa, where stayed for some time doing business. One fine day he decided to return and made arrangements for travel aboard a ship. On the ordained day, the boat set sail. As hours passed, the shoreline disappeared and the ship reached deep waters. Suddenly Dīrghadarśi saw a wish fulfilling tree right in the middle of the ocean. It had branches of solid gold, sprouts made of corals and fruits made of precious stones. Atop the tree was laid a cot encrusted with jewels. A divinely beautiful maiden sat on it playing the veena and singing melodiously this verse:
यत्कर्मभीजमुप्तं येन पुरा निश्चितं स तद्भुङ्क्ते |
पूर्वकृतस्य हि शक्यो विधिनापि न कर्तुमन्यथाभावः ||
yatkarmabhījamuptaṃ yena purā niścitaṃ sa tadbhuṅkte |
pūrvakṛtasya hi śakyo vidhināpi na kartumanyathābhāvaḥ ||
As one decides first and then scatters the seeds of karma, so does he consume its fruits. Not even fate can turn otherwise, the deeds of one’s past.
And then the very next instant, she went under the water along with the cot and the tree. Looking at Dīrghadarśī who was stunned by this, the sailors said “This may be new for you, but we keep seeing this!”. Once they reached the shores of Puṇḍra, Dīrghadarśī took leave of Nidhidatta and began his journey back to his hometown in Aṅga. When he got there, everyone welcomed him back with a lot of love and respect. King Yaśaḥketu was very curious and he asked him about his travels. As soon as Dīrghadarśī narrated to him about the divine maiden, the king was filled with a desire to see her. He handed over the responsibility of his kingdom to his minister and set out alone one night. On his way, he came across a sage called Kuśanābha. As per his suggestion, he travelled to Suvarṇadvīpa with a merchant named Lakṣmīdatta. On his way, he came across the kalpavṛkṣa and the divine woman. She said –
यत्कर्मबीजमुप्तं येन पुरा निश्चितं स तद्भुङ्क्ते।
पूर्वकृतस्य हि शक्यो विधिनापि न कर्तुमन्यथाभावः॥
तस्माद्यत्र यथा यद्भवितव्यं यस्य दैवयोगेन।
तत्र तथा तत्प्राप्त्यै विवशोऽसौ नीयतेऽत्र न भ्रान्तिः॥
yatkarmabījamuptaṃ yena purā niścitaṃ sa tadbhuṅkte|
pūrvakṛtasya hi śakyo vidhināpi na kartumanyathābhāvaḥ||
tasmādyatra yathā yadbhavitavyaṃ yasya daivayogena|
tatra tathā tatprāptyai vivaśo'sau nīyate'tra na bhrāntiḥ||
The king was stunned hearing this. He exclaimed – “Samudrarāja! You hid her and cheated Hari!” As she got into the waters, the king jumped in as well. Lakṣmīdatta was shocked. By then, he heard an incorporeal voice – “Ārya! Don’t worry. He is a lord called Yaśaḥketu. He was in the disguise of a tāpasa. He had come here for the sake of a women. She was his wife in her previous birth. He will take her back to his kingdom of Aṅga!” Upon hearing that, the merchant went ahead without any worry.
As Yaśaḥketu went into the ocean, he found a city there. He couldn’t find anyone in any in any of the houses. He spotted a building decked in gems, went in and found her there. After exchanging pleasantries, the king narrated his tale and asked her who she was. She said - “I am the daughter of the king of vidyādharas called Mṛgāṅkasena. My name is Mṛgāṅkavatī. I don’t know where my father and the rest of the citizens went away leaving me all alone here. Therefore, I climbed up this kalpavṛkṣa and am narrating the play of fate.” When he asked her to be his wife, she said, “So be it. However, each aṣṭamī and caturdaśī, I will go out of the city. Thus, I won’t be with you four days a month. You should not come in the way”. He agreed and underwent a gāndharva-vivāha with her.
A few days later, it was the caturdaśī of kṛṣṇa-pakṣa. She then said – “I have to go somewhere for some work; you please stay back here. There is a building made of spaṭika here. Don’t go there – you may fall into the well by mistake there. If you fall into it, you will go back to the bhū-loka!” With these words, she left the city. The king, holding a sword in his hand, followed her without her getting to know. As they went further, he saw a rakshasa who appeared there screaming, caught hold of Mṛgāṅkavatī, put her into his mouth and swallowed her. The enraged king rushed to him and chopped his head off. Mṛgāṅkavatī came out through his body. The king rushed to her, embraced and exclaimed – “My dear one! Is this an illusion or a dream!” She replied – “Mahārāja! This is neither an illusion nor a dream. I was cursed by my father – the king of vidyādharas. The following is the reason behind the curse – Though he had sons, he never ate without me, out of his love for me. On a caturdaśī, I came here and performed puja to Gaurī all day. My father waited for me and as I did not return, he remained hungry the entire day. Thus, when I went home in the evening, he was angry and said – “"Henceforth, live alone in this town; on the days of aṣṭamī and caturdaśī, when you step out of town to perform Śiva-pūjā, just as hunger consumed me now, a rākṣasa will consume you then. You will tear apart his heart and come out. When King Yaśaḥketu of the kingdom of Aṅga comes there and kills the rākṣasa, then you will be freed of your śāpa; then you will recollect this śāpa as well as the various vidyās that you have learnt." Saying so, he went away to the earthly realm. I will now go and meet my father; if you so desire, you may return to your kingdom or stay here; do as you like!" When she said this, the king was dejected; he begged her to stay with him for at least another week. She consented. He spent six days there with her and on the seventh day, he cleverly plotted to bring her near the mechanised well; then he held her in tight embrace and jumped into the well. When they awoke, they found themselves in the pond of his royal garden. When the garden guards saw them, they sent word to the minister at once. Everyone was delighted. After a week, the vidyādharī was eager to go to her father but sadly she had forgotten the vidyā of flying. As a result, she was depressed but the king was in joyful spirits. Looking at this, the minister went back home and that very night succumbed to a fatal heart attack. Yaśaḥketu himself managed the affairs of his kingdom and ruled for a long time.
Having thus completed narrating the tale, the vetāla said, "Mahārāja! Why did the minister die of a heart attack? Is it because the king experienced a sudden change of fortune? Or is it because he did not get that divine damsel for himself? Or is it because he would lose out on royal enjoyments now that the king had returned? If you don't answer me, your head will break into pieces!" The king replied, "That minister was of pure character [and cared about the welfare of the State]; his death by heart attack was not due to any of the reasons that you stated. In the past, when the king was infatuated by an ordinary woman, he grossly neglected the affairs of the kingdom; what now with a divine damsel by his side! What will be the fate of the country! However hard I try, whatever I do, this is not something that I can change! Thinking thus, he must have suffered a heart attack!"
When the king gave this answer, at once the vetāla left his shoulder and went back to the place he was earlier.
20. Trivikramasena, for the thirteenth time, picked up the corpse and heaved it upon his shoulder before setting out. The vetāla began narrating yet another tale:
There lived a brāhmaṇa named Devasvāmī in Vārāṇasī. Once, his son Harisvāmī lay asleep [along with his wife] on the ledge of the terrace of his house on a beautiful moonlit night. A vidyādhara named Madanavega who was flying in the sky saw Harisvāmī's wife and carried her away. When Harisvāmī woke up, he found his wife missing. He was greatly pained by her absence and set out on a tīrtha-yātrā. One day, famished by hunger, he stood outside the house of a brāhmaṇa named Padmanābha; the lady of the house thought, "The stomach is a terrible thing; hunger can suck out the life of anyone!" and overcome by compassion, she gave him a vessel full of sanctified rice. He took the vessel and kept it under a Banyan tree near a pond and went to wash his limbs in the water. Meanwhile a vulture with a snake in its beak came from somewhere and sat on that tree; while the snake was wriggling in fear of death, some of its saliva infused with venom fell into the food which was kept below. The brāhmaṇa ate it and was instantly killed by the venom. The Fate being unfavourable, even the food (paramānna) made of milk, ghee and sugar too resulted in death.
The vetāla finished the narration and asked the king, “O king! Yama couldn’t decide who was responsible for the death of the brāhmaṇa. If you know the answer and yet don’t speak, your head will crack into pieces!” The king replied, “Whom shall we blame indeed! Shall we hold the snake guilty? Alas! What did it do? It was in the clutches of its mortal enemy, so we can’t blame it. Is the vulture at fault? But it just found some food and it was in the process of eating it. Should we blame the couple who gave the food? How does that add up? They gave the food fully adhering to dharma. If anyone would incur brahmahatyādoṣa, it is the foolish people who would blame anyone of them here without giving due thought; that’s my opinion!”
Since he broke his silence, the vetāla vanished from his shoulders and returned to its original abode.
Trivikramasena, for the fourteenth time, went to the tree and lowered the corpse onto his shoulders and started his journey. Vetāla started narrating another story:-
In Ayodhyā there lived a wealthy merchant called Ratnadatta. He had a beautiful daughter named Ratnavatī. Being impressed by both her beauty and conduct, not just merchants, even kings were lining up to ask her hand in marriage. But she hated men. She adamantly refused to marry. Even if he is Indra, the king of svarga; I wouldn’t marry; I’d rather die. Meanwhile the city witnessed multiple thefts; the thief was uncatchable; the king himself ventured out in the night to catch him and seeing him one night, he followed him; he introduced himself as another thief and found his underground hideout in the forest, and sent his army to capture him. The thief fought bravely and defeated everyone, finally the king himself fought him and finally captured him. He was taken out in the city to be punished by impalement in public. His body was filled with scratches and injuries and was laden with mud, seeing him Ratnavatī was instantly smitten. She told her father to request for his release so that she can marry him. Taken aback he said, “What are you saying! You refused even emperors who sought you and now you want to marry a thief who is being taken to the place of execution!” she was adamant: “Go to the king at once and secure his release; if not I’ll have no choice but to join him on his journey to the otherworld by sahagamana…
King Vīraketu refused to release the thief Ekavīra even when Ratnadatta vowed that he was ready to part with his entire wealth for it. How could he - for after all, he had staked his own life to fight and bring to knees this hardened criminal who had robbed the whole town. The king declared that he wouldn’t let Ekavīra off even if he was offered crores of coins. The unsuccessful merchant returned home, a sad man. Ratnavatī then decided to take matters into her own hands. She took her ritual bath, draped herself with a turmeric-coloured saree and started to walk towards the cremation grounds. Her parents, along with the rest of the family accompanied her, wailing loudly. The thief who had been impaled just then, listened to this story. He shed a tear for a moment and then in the next, laughed and breathed his last.
Ratnavatī had Ekavīra’s body placed on the funeral pyre. She then solemnly sat alongside her beloved, ready to be consumed by the fires to join him in the next world. Seeing her resoluteness, Bhairava, the lord of the cremation grounds, addressed her invisibly: “I am moved by your devotion to your husband! Seek a boon!”. She bowed down to him and said, “Lord! My father does not have male progeny. If I die, he will pine for me and will soon die. May he be blessed with a hundred male children!” Bhairava assented and said “Seek another boon Ratnavatī, for I don’t deem merely one is enough for someone endowed with blessed qualities as you are!”. She said “Lord, if you are pleased with me, may my husband live and lead a righteous life!” Bhairava replied “So be it; may your husband rise up unscathed, and tread the path of dharma. May king Vīraketu be happy!”. The thief came back to life. His body did not bear even a single scratch. Ratnadatta jubilantly led them to his home and soon got them married. Their relatives rejoiced. In due course of time, Ratnavatī gave birth to strong male children. Vīraketu even appointed Ekavīra his commander-in-chief and kept him close. Ekavīra, on his part, treaded the right path and lived a happy life.
Thus concluding the story, the vetāla said “O king! Looking at Ratnavatī who came along with her parents to the cremation grounds, why did the impaled thief cry initially? And then why did he laugh the next moment? If you know the answer and yet remain silent, your head will split into shards!”. The king answered, “Ekavīra felt sad thinking how he could ever repay the debt of the benevolent Ratnadatta, whom fate had brought as an accidental friend. But then, seeing the maiden who had rejected many kings and emperors, only to fall madly in love with him, he thought the mind of a woman is strange indeed and laughed in wonder.”
Since Trivikramasena spoke, the vetāla vanished from his 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