जयत्यकालेऽपि सृजन् सन्धामिव गजाननः॥
Victory to Gajānana, who reddens the sky with sindhūra
scattered by the wind from the constant flapping of his ears,
creating a sense of sunset even when it’s not the hour of dusk!
1. One day when Naravāhanadatta was in his father's assembly hall, a divine personage descended from the sky and introduced himself as Vajraprabha, a king of the vidyādharas, hailing from the city of Vajrakūṭa. He said that he had come to pay respects to Naravāhanadatta, who was slated to be the emperor of the vidyādharas in the future. He added that Naravāhanadatta was created by Śambhu and was born out of a part of Kāma-deva. HE said, “Previously, in the divine era, I was a mortal named Sūryaprabha – I became an emperor of the vidyādharas through the grace of Śiva. However, I ruled as the emperor of the southern regions alone. It is only possible for Naravāhanadatta to reign as the emperor of both the northern and southern regions - extremely fortunate and noble.” When Naravāhanadatta asked him how Sūryaprabha, a mere mortal, gained the overlordship of the vidyādharas, Vajraprabha said:
The Story of Sūryaprabha
Long ago, in the country of Madra, there was a town called Śākala. It was ruled by a king called Candraprabha, the son of Aṅgāraprabha. He begot a representant son named Sūryaprabha through his queen Kīrtimatī. He became learned at a young age and by the time he was a lad of sixteen, he was anointed the crown-prince. Bhāsa, Prabhāsa, Siddhārtha, Prahasta, and other sons of ministers became his councillors. Upon Śiva's orders, the asura Maya took him to the realm of pātāḷa and instructed him in various arts and sciences. He also gave him a vimāna called Bhūtāsana. He then brought Sūryaprabha to his father's house riding that celestial chariot. After his return, he took his friends on his vimāna and roamed the skies to his heart’s content.
Wherever a princess laid eyes on him, she would be besotted by him and seek his hand in marriage. Thus, he married the following princesses: 1. Madanasenā, the daughter of King Vīrabhaṭa of Tāmralipti; 2. Candrikāvatī, the daughter of King Subhaṭa of the Western borders; 3. Varuṇasenā, the daughter of King Kumbhīra of Kāñcī; 4. Sulocanā, the daughter of King Paurava of Lāvāṇaka; 5. Vidyunmālā, the daughter of King Suroha of China; 6. Kāntimatī, the daughter of King Kāntisena of Śrīkaṇṭha; 7. Purapuṣṭhā, the daughter of King Janamejaya of Kauśāmbi; 8. Tārāvalī, the daughter of King Rambha of Vajrasāra; and 9. Vilāsinī, the sister of King Sahasrāyudha. Owing to the power of his varied knowledge, he was able to cohabit with all of them at once (taking on multiple bodies). He enjoyed his times with them by moving about in the skies and engaged in singing and drinking. Sūryaprabha, who was good at painting drew the pictures of vidyādhara women and kindled playful anger in his wives. He derived pleasure watching the frown on his wives’ faces and their red eyes. He was pleased listening to the angry words uttered through the faltering lips of his wives.
2. One day, when Candraprabha and Sūryaprabha, along with their ministers, were seated in the assembly hall engaged in discussion, the earth in front of them cleft open and a fragrant breeze emanated from within. Along with that, the asura Maya rose up, seated himself on a jewelled throne, and said, “You have experienced all the enjoyments of the earth and you have exhausted them; now it is time to think about the luxuries of other worlds. We shall pay a visit to Sumeru, the king of the Vidyādharas and then go ahead to defeat Śrutaśarmān in order to rule over the Vidyādharas!” In the meantime, Devarṣi Nārada descended from the sky and said, “Indra, the lord of the devas, has sent me here, with the words: As per the command of Maheśvara, you are trying to help Sūryaprabha, who has turned into a human to become the emperor of the vidyādharas. That is not right. We have granted Śrutaśarmā the emperorship of the vidyādharas. If you wish to stand against us and do adharma, it is going to be fatal to you!”
Maya said – “Didn’t Nahuṣa and the other attain the Indra-padavi in the past? Who is Indra before the command of Maheśvara? Why is our effort adharma? Are we trying to abduct the wives of maharṣis? Are we performing brahma-hatyā? We are doing the task we have taken up; let Indra do whatever he wishes to!”
Hearing this, Nārada left the place.
Maya filled them with courage – “There are innumerable daityas and dānavas under the leadership of Bali. We have the support of Parameśvara. Fear not!”
Friends and relatives of Candraprabha gathered together. Maya said to the king – “Sūryaprabha and you were my sons in your past life. You were called Sumuṇḍīka and Sunītha, respectively.
You lost your life in the battle with the devas and are now born as father and son. I have protected your bodies in the pātāḷa-loka. If you get back there and reunite with your bodies through yoga-shakti, you will procure immense strength and brilliance. Sūryaprabha will become the Khecareśvara – the lord of the flying beings – in this very body!” He thus revealed an important secret to them.
The following day, he asked the king and his antaḥpura to stay away and entered the pātāḷa through a burrow. There, they drunk sudhā-rasa from a well made of vaiḍūrya – this helped them get a divine body and immense strength. Maya’s wife, Līlāvatī was delighted upon seeing her children and blessed them. Following this, they went down to the third pātāḷa -loka and met Bali and Prahlāda there. Sūryaprabha married Prahlāda’s daughter Mahallikā and Hiraṇyākṣa’s grand-daughter Kalāvatī. Additionally, several other rākṣasīs became his wives – they included Kumudāvatī and Manovatī. They all climbed upon a vimāna, went up to the Mt. Sumeru and bowed down to Diti, Danu and Kaśyapa who they saw there. As they were being blessed by the elders, Indra arrived there.
Indra was angry seeing Sūryaprabha there. He said – ‘This seems to be the boy who wishes to become the emperor of the vidyādharas. Why wouldn’t he wish for the Indra-padavi too, not being content about the emperorship of the vidyādharas?
Maya said – ‘Devendra! Just as your Devendra-padavi has been ordained by Parameśvara, so has his position as the emperor of the vidyādharas.;
Indra pulled out his vajrāyudha. Kaśyapa got angry and let out a powerful and scary hum. Indra got scared of being cursed and turned silent. Kaśyapa and Aditi counselled Indra. Looking at Maya who was patient and tolerant, Kaśyapa gave him a boon – ‘Child! May you be immortal, have an imperishable body made of diamond. May Sunita and Sūryaprabha not find defeat!”
3. From there, they came to the place where the kings were stationed. They were in great pain and reported that Śrutaśarmā abducted the wives of Sūryaprabha. Upon hearing this, Sūryaprabha made up his mind to wage a war on Śrutaśarmā immediately. Maya said that was not required, took him to pātāḷa and handed over Madanasenā and others who were there. They were all pregnant. They desired to witness a major war. Following this, they met Sumeru, the leader of vidyādharas and procured a large army. Sūryaprabha armed himself with celestial quivers and bows. He even gained mastery over the powers to enchant and transform beings. After that, keeping with the customs, he sent Prahasta as a messenger to Śrutaśarmā to deliver the challenge. His message was succinct and clear: ‘Through the grace of Lord Shiva I have mastered different sciences and acquired invaluable allies. If you are ready for battle, come and face me, and I shall slay you. However, if you surrender, I will spare your life!’ To this, an angry Śrutaśarmā exclaimed ‘This insignificant nobody dares to command us vidyādharas!’. He promptly rejected the emissary’s offer and sent him back. There was no turning back now. Prabhāsa became the commander in chief of Sūryaprabha’s army. On the night before the battle, Sūryaprabha observed traditional austeries (raṇa dīkṣā) and slept on kuśa grass.
4-5. As the sun rose the next morning, the armies faced each other near Trikūṭācala which was close to the home of Śrutaśarmā. The armies arrayed in different formations and clashed fiercely. Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Rudra accompanied by many devas, asuras, yakṣas, the reptiles and gandharvas assembled in the skies eagerly to watch the battle.
6. After the second day of battle ended, the armies retired to their camps. Sūryaprabha could not sleep. He called his counsel Vītabhīti and asked him to narrate a story to pass time. The minister narrated-
The Story of Guṇaśarmā
Long ago, Ujjayinī was ruled by king Mahāsena. He had a beautiful wife called Aśokavatī. In Mahāsena’s patronage lived a brahmana named Guṇaśarmā. He was valorous, handsome, knowledgeable in the vedas and an expert in fine arts as well as martial arts. One day when they were discussing dance, the king and queen asked him: ‘Guṇaśarmā, you are easily the most knowledgeable man we have known. Is dance also one of your skills?’. To this he smiled and replied: ‘Yes your majesties. However, I am unable to shed my inhibition and perform in front of people, especially you the royal couple’. The king’s curiosity was piqued. He exclaimed stubbornly: ‘This is not a formal stage for you to be embarrassed, dear Guṇaśarmā. This is after all a gathering of only friends - your privacy is guarded. For a moment, think of me not as your king, but as your friend. There’s nothing here to tie you down with formalities!’. Guṇaśarmā had to give in and he delivered an exhilarating performance. The minds of king Mahāsena and queen Aśokavatī swayed as the graceful Guṇaśarmā danced. After the recital, the king gave him a veena and asked him if he could play it. Guṇaśarmā assented and started to tune the instrument. After strumming its strings a little, Guṇaśarmā declared: ‘Lord! I think there’s a dog’s hair that has defiled this instrument. I shouldn’t want to play it. Can your majesty please have another one brought?’ The curious king summoned his servants and had the string cleaned and rubbed dry. They finally saw the thin sliver of hair just like Guṇaśarmā had averred. The king was wonderstruck and got him another veena. As Guṇaśarmā set about playing the veena, it felt as if the waves of the heavenly Ganga were cleansing one’s ears. King Mahāsena didn’t stop there. In order to test Guṇaśarmā’s prowess in martial arts next, he set up a stringent test. The king went after him with various weapons and Guṇaśarmā was to defend himself with his bare hands. Guṇaśarmā managed to evade every swing and strike. He eventually disarmed and bound the king himself! Queen Aśokavatī who stood observing all this was smitten with him. She even went so far as to even persuade the king to have Guṇaśarmā teach her how to play the veena. When the king asked, Guṇaśarmā replied politely, ‘Why not your highness! We should start on an auspicious day!’ and went home. However, he had felt the queen’s eyes all over him and correctly suspected her intentions. Apprehensive of the ills that this portended, he kept postponing the day of commencing the lessons.
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.