पातु वस्ताण्डवोड्डीनगण्डसिन्दूरमण्डनः ।
वान्ताभिपीतप्रत्यूहप्रताप इव विघ्नजित् ॥
May Gaṇeśa, the destroyer of obstacles, protect you, the effusing vermillion on his temples during his tāṇḍava, looks like the fiery prowess of all impediments he has swallowed.
1. Once during the Vasanta, Naravāhanadatta who was sporting with his wives and ministers on the banks of the river Gaṅgā, addressed his ministers, “This forest is filled with flowers with fragrance; there is cool breeze from the south; the directions are all spotless; cuckoos sing melodiously; is there a dearth of anything? Only problem is separation from our beloved; this is true even for the birds and animals; see that cuckoo, it's reminiscing about its beloved and is crying!” Gomukha seconded his opinion, “Yes Prabhu! Let me narrate that incident which happened in Śrāvasti. Please lend me your ears!” He narrated the story–
The story of Śūrasena and Suṣeṇā
There lived a village head named Śūrasena. He had a wife called Suṣeṇā who was dearer to him than his very life. Once he had to go to the king’s cantonment. His wife said, “Āryaputra! Don’t leave me alone; I won’t be able to survive for a second without you.” he said, “My dear! If the king orders, can I violate it? Don’t you know this? I’m in his control!” she said with tears in her eyes, “If you have to go then I’ll bear the separation somehow; but you shouldn’t stay there for even a single day in the season of Vasanta!” he replied, “My dear! So be it; however busy I’m, however important might be the work I’m entrusted with, I’ll return on the first day of Caitra!” She somehow braved the separation, and counted the days, waiting for the duration to get over. The song of the cuckoo and the buzzing of the bees conveyed to her the arrival of Vasanta. On Caitra śuddha pāḍyamī, she assumed that her husband would return, so she anointed herself with oil, took bath, worshipped Manmatha, decked up like a bride and waited for him. Dusk approached but her husband was not to be seen; she thought, “O my beloved hasn’t come; instead it's my death which has arrived; someone who is immersed in serving others, will they have love for their own?” and she was in deep sorrow. Śūrasena, who didn’t want to arrive late, had meanwhile obtained permission from the king, took the swiftest camel available, travelled fast and arrived by the next dawn. To his agony, he saw his beloved all decked up, lying lifeless! He put her on his thighs and soon he too met the same fate! Later due to the grace of devī Caṇḍī, they both were revived. Thereafter they never left each other for even a single day.
After listening to this story, Naravāhanadatta’s mind became very agitated. The soul of the virtuous seems to possess the power to sense impending good or evil! That night, he dreamt about a dark woman dragging his father away towards the south. He suddenly woke up with anxiety and invoked the deity of knowledge of ‘prajñapti’ and inquired about his father’s well being. The deity said “Lord! Your father was in Kauśāṃbī when he received a messenger from Ujjayinī. The messenger conveyed that Caṇḍa-mahāsena was no more and queen Aṅgāravatī followed her husband on the pyre, observing ‘satī’. Upon hearing this news, Vatsarāja fainted. Vāsavadattā too was very aggrieved at the demise of her parents. When the ministers revived Vatsarāja, he affectionately addressed Gopālaka who stood nearby: ‘Go to Ujjayinī. Rule your father’s kingdom. The messenger says that the subjects await you eagerly!’. Gopālaka replied, ‘I cannot live without any of you. I don’t want to go to Ujjayinī, now that my father is no more. Let my younger brother Pālaka, who is already there, become the king; I will assent to it’. Vatsarāja soon dispatched Rumaṇvān along with some of his ministers to Ujjayinī to relay Gopālaka’s wishes. Then he summoned Yaugandharāyaṇa along with a few other ministers and said, ‘I find that this worldly glory, at long last, is devoid of all essence! I have concluded my reign. I have enjoyed this life, conquered my foes and even lived long enough to see my son win lordship over vidyādharas. Old age has now caught up with me. I will hence go to mount Kalañjara and cast off this mortal coil and attain union with the lord’s feet’. Hearing these words, everyone cried unanimously: ‘As the master wishes! With your permission, we too shall follow your footsteps!’. Vatsarāja then turned to Gopālaka and said ‘For me Naravāhanadatta is no different from you. So Gopālaka, take over this kingdom of mine! Protect Kauśāṃbī!’. A teary eyed Gopālaka replied: ‘May the fate which befalls you befall me too! I cannot live without all of you!’. To this, feigning anger, Vatsarāja retorted: ‘What is this? Have you already turned disobedient? Ah, but of course! Now that I don’t wield authority anymore, why would anyone defer to my wishes!’, and turned his face away. Gopālaka reluctantly agreed to stay back in Kauśāṃbī. Then Vatsarāja, accompanied by Vāsavadattā and Padmavati, mounted his royal elephant and departed for mount Kalañjara. Upon reaching his destination, he offered prayers to lord Śiva, took up Ghoṣavatī, his ever-favourite vīṇā and with his wives next to him and ministers behind him, he jumped off the precipice. Immediately a flying chariot appeared and carried them all to heaven”. When Naravāhanadatta further inquired about what happened to Gopālaka, the deity said “He summoned Pālaka from Ujjayinī and entrusted the kingdom of Kauśāṃbī to him. Then, overcome with dispassion, he went to the Kāśyapāśrama in mount Asita. There he wears garments fashioned out of bark and lives among the sages”. Naravāhanadatta made ritual offerings to his departed parents and then went to the Kāśyapāśrama. There he saw his uncle Gopālaka and begged him to come away with him. Gopālaka replied ‘Child! Having seen you now, my heart is already content! But then again, if you love me so much, stay with me in this āśrama till the end of monsoon!’. Naravāhanadatta acceded to his uncle’s request and stayed back with his retinue.
2. One day, Naravāhanadatta’s commander in chief Hariśikhā walked in and said “Lord! Earlier tonight, when I was on the terrace, I saw a divine being carrying away a woman. She was wailing ‘Alas! Dear husband, where are you!’. Accompanied by a few others, I gave him a chase and thundered: ‘Alas evil one! Why are you abducting a helpless lady? Birds and animals too are dhārmic in Naravāhanadatta’s kingdom,’ We got him down. We later discovered that he was my brother-in-law Ityaka. I asked him – “Who is she? Why are you carrying her away?” In reply, he said – “She is Suratamañjarī, the daughter of Mataṅgadeva. Her mother had promised me that she would be given in marriage to me. However, her father gave her away to some unknown man. I have, thus, brought her here. Is it wrong to get my wife?” Suratakumārī said – ‘There lived a king named Pālaka in Ujjayinī; he had a son named Avantivardhana; I was married to him; once, when I was sleeping next to him, this evil guy kidnapped me!’ I have brought them here to the custody of the lord. You may decide the best”. Naravāhanadatta asked Gopālaka if that was true and he replied – “I know nothing of this; I learned only now that Pālaka’s son was married to her. You may summon the prince and the minister Bharataroha. We will get to know the reality from them. Accordingly, the king sent Dhūmaśika to Ujjayinī and got them to his kingdom.
Bharatarohaka said the following – “Deva! Once, the citizens of Ujjayinī requested Pālaka – ‘We will need to perform a festival called Udaka-dāna now. If the lord does not know the reason behind the celebration of the festival, let us narrate. In the past, your father Caṇḍamahāsena worshipped devī Caṇḍī to procure a powerful sword and a loving wife. The devī was pleased, blessed him with a sword and said – ‘Dear child! You will soon kill an asura named Aṅgāraka and marry his daughter, Aṅgāravatī!’ In the meantime, the king noticed that all heads of town who visited him were killed by some animal. To figure out the reason, Caṇḍamahāsena went alone at night and spotted a pāradārika (adulterer). He fought and killed him. The next moment, a rākṣasa emerged from his neck. Looking at him, the king thought that the rākṣasa was the reason for the death of many of his visitors. When he was about to kill him, the rākṣasa said – ‘King! Don’t kill me! I haven’t killed the heads of the towns!’ When the king asked who it was, the rākṣasa said – ‘An asura named Aṅgāraka lives in the pātāla. He surfaces on the earth at night and consumes the town-heads. He kidnaps princesses and makes them the assistants of his daughter, Aṅgāravatī. You should catch him when he roams the forest and eliminate him!’ The king let him free. Once, when the king was out hunting in the forest, he spotted a huge boar. He wondered if a boar can really be so big and also suspected that it could be the magic of Aṅgāraka. He shot an arrow at the boar. The animal cared little for the arrow, pushed away his chariot and entered a large burrow.
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 G S, Arjun Bharadwaj, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar. We thank Dr. Shankar Rajaraman for his timely help.