Kathāmṛta - 113 - Suratamañjarī-laṃbaka - The story of Vāmadattā and the thief

This article is part 113 of 118 in the series Kathāmṛta

In answer, a resounding voice boomed in the sky: ‘O king! Your daughter was this fisherman’s wife in her previous birth. Long ago, in a village called Nāgasthala, there lived a virtuous brāhmaṇa called Baladhara. When his father passed away, his relatives robbed him of his entire inheritance. Baladhara became disillusioned and decided to give up his life, accompanied by his wife, on the banks of Gaṅgā. As he sat on the shore, he saw a few fishermen devouring fish. As he lay there overcome with extreme hunger, the last thought which passed through his mind before he died was the temptation to eat fish. Baladhara’s wife however never flinched in the face of death. She had undertaken severe austerities before following her husband into the next world. Since Baladhara’s resolve was tainted by temptation in his last moments, he was reborn in the family of a fisherman. His wife however, due to the merit she had accrued from her austerities, was born as your daughter. Now, if only she would offer half of her remaining lifespan, Baladhara who is now reborn as Suprahāra, will come back to life. Due to the power of her austerities and his pilgrimage to the shores of Gaṅgā, he will be your son-in-law and rule this land!’. Princess Māyāvatī was only too glad to part with half of her life to see her beloved Suprahāra rise up again. King Malayasiṃha then gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage and also turned over the reins of the kingdom to him. Suprahāra lived happily thereafter.

It follows, perhaps, that people fall in love, owing to intimacies which transcend births. Now, please allow me to narrate a story of a thief next:-

The story of Vāmadattā and the thief

Long ago, there was a king called Vīrabāhu who ruled the kingdom of Ayodhyā. One day, a delegation of citizens approached him in the court with a grievance. They said, “Your highness! There’s robbery in the city everyday. No matter how alert we are, we have been unable to apprehend the rogues responsible for this”. The king appointed additional spies to the dusk patrol. However, there was still no respite for the people of the city. Deciding to take the matters into his own hands, king Vīrabāhu began to patrol the streets at night himself. One night, he saw a man treading rather carefully on the ramparts, turning his neck from side to side like a lion scanning for prey. From his waist dangled a gleaming sword. The king approached him and asked ‘Who are you?’. The man retorted gutsily, ‘Who are you?’. The king replied ‘I am an adventurer and a thief. What about you?’. The man said, ‘I am a lone robber. I have plenty of wealth. Come with me to my home. I will give you enough to sate all your desires forever!’, and led him to a cellar hidden in the middle of the forest. When the thief went into the inner chamber of his den, a woman who stood guard there warned the king out of sympathy thus: ‘Sir, do you even realise where you are? Go away if you value your life. This man is treacherous. Fearing you may reveal his secrets, he is sure to kill you’.

He rushed out, went to the palace and came back to the spot with his army, accompanied by the commander-in-chief. The forces surrounded the place and captured the thief.
As they were bringing the thief down the merchants’ lane, the daughter of a merchant spotted him and fell in love immediately. She told her father – “Dad! If you wish to get me married, please do so with this man! If not, I will lose my life!’ She was adamant and wouldn’t listen to anyone. The merchant said – ‘I will give you crores of rupees. Please don’t desire a thief.’ The king did not accept the proposal. The thief was immediately raised on a spear. Vāmadattā, the merchant’s daughter brought the dead body of the thief and gave up her life with him.

Thus, animals become helpless because of the relationships they had in their previous lives. Who can overcome the inevitable? Can anyone stop it? It appears that your son Avantivardhana and Suratamañjarī have been destined to be married because of their relationship in one of their past lives. If not, why would a prince fall in love with a caṇḍāla? Let us request Utpalahasta to give her hand in marriage to the prince. Let us see what he has got to say.

The king sent a message to Utpalahasta asking for his daughter’s hand to his son in marriage. Utpalahasta sent a reply – ‘Only if eighteen thousand brāhmaṇas eat at my house, I will give my daughter in marriage to the prince!’ The king ordered the brāhmaṇas in the town to eat at Utpalahasta’s house. The brāhmaṇas couldn’t imagine eating at a caṇḍāla’s house nor could they ignore the king’s command. They sat down to perform tapas to Mahākāla. The deity appeared in their dreams and said – “You may eat at Utpalahasta’s house without any fear. He is a vidyādhara and not a caṇḍāla!” The brāhmaṇas then went to the king and said – “Ārya! Let Utpalahasta get clean food cooked in a place other than the locality of the caṇḍālas. We will eat the food”. The king got a huge mansion built for Utpalahasta, got food cooked by men who were clean and served it to the brāhmaṇas. After their meal, the Utpalahasta went to the king, bowed down to him and said – “Revered king! I have taken refuge in a vidyādhara named Gaurimuṇḍa. I am Mataṅgadeva. When he got to know that I had given birth to a daughter, Gaurimuṇḍa told me and told me confidentially – ‘Naravāhanadatta, the son of Vatsarāja is going to be our emperor. Go and kill him with your magic!’ As I set out for the job, Maheśvara appeared before me and said with a hūṅkāra – ‘Do you intend to perform a sinful act to a great man? You will fall down in the streets of Ujjayinī as a caṇḍāla with your current body! Only when you feed eighteen thousand brāhmaṇas of the city will you be free of your curse. You may give your daughter in marriage to the person who facilitates the feeding of the brāhmaṇas!’ With these words, Maheśvara vanished. I have come here as Utpalahasta. I have no relationship with these caṇḍālas. Thanks to your son, I am free of the curse. Look! I am giving my daughter in marriage to him. I will go back as a vidyādhara to serve Naravāhanadatta.” I have thus come here. Pālaka was happy to know the reality and got his son married to Suratamañjarī. Avantivardhana thus procured a vidyādharī as his wife and was happy that he got more than what he had ever desired.

Once, he slept with his wife on the upper storey of his house. The next morning, he woke up to see that she was not there; he searched for her and could not find a trace; his father was very worried as well.
“Who has entered the palace in the middle of the night and abducted her? The city is well guarded; certainly a person who is capable of flying in the air has kidnapped her.” When we were discussing thus, your Dhūmaśikha flew down from the sky, landed on the ground, took me and Avantivardhana with him.

When the assembly heard this story narrated by Bharatarohaka, they asked Mataṅgadeva, “To whom did you give Suratamañjarī?” He replied that he had given her hand in marriage to Avantivardhana. When Ityaka was asked, “Why did you abduct her?” he replied, “Her mother had promised me long back that she would be given in marriage to me.” The people in the assembly said, “When her father is alive, what is the value of her mother’s words! And what is the proof that she even promised you? She now belongs to another; what you have done is grave pāpa.” Naravāhanadatta was enraged and accorded him harsh punishment. But Kaśyapa and other sages came forward and beseeched, “Noble sir! Pardon just this one transgression; after all, he is your brother-in-law!” Accordingly, the king scolded him and sent him away. Then he sent Avantivardhana and his wife as well as Bharatarohaka to their town, escorted by Vāyupatha.

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.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading. So are the other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri

Author(s)

About:

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.

Prekshaa Publications

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