Once a brāhmaṇa came to him. His hair stood on their ends. The king asked him, ‘Why such hair?’ The brāhmaṇa then started narrating his story–
The Story of Devasvāmī
Deva! In Pāṭalīputra, there lived a brāhmaṇa named Agnisvāmī who was also an agnihotrī. I’m his son Devasvāmī. I married a girl from some distant land. Since she was not mature, she stayed in her father’s place. Once she became attained puberty, I went with my attendant and a horse to bring her home. My father-in-law hosted me, and finally sent his daughter along with a female attendant with me. On the way, she climbed down from the horse and said that she would drink water from a nearby stream. Since she didn’t return after a long time, I sent my attendant to find her. He also didn’t return, so I requested the female attendant to look after the horse and I set out to find them. I saw that my wife had eaten my attendant and only his bones remained! Her mouth was red with blood! Terrified I ran back towards the horse, her female attendant too had eaten the horse! With no other option I ran again for my dear life. My hairs which all rose due to that fear have stayed like this since then! Svāmin should help me–he said.
The king helped him come out of the fear and said, “The women are indeed audacious; you shouldn’t believe them!” one of the ministers present there too consented, “Indeed these women are wicked, haven’t you heard the story of Agniśarmā?” and he narrated a story–
The Story of Agniśarmā
In this town lives a brāhmaṇa called Agniśarmā. He is uneducated and extremely stupid. He was married to a girl from Vardhamānapura. The girl was still young, and her father was a rich man. So instead of sending her to her in-laws’ house, he made her stay back in his own house. As time passed and the girl came of age, Agniśarmā was chided by his parents. They said, “Son, won’t you bring your wife here even now?”. On being told so, he left his home immediately without informing anybody, and travelled to Vardhamānapura to bring back his wife. On the way, he saw a crow move to the right, and then a jackal howl from the left. He exclaimed, “Live! Live!!”, and happily walked ahead. The goddess of omens who observed this, laughed silently. When Agniśarmā was just about to enter his father-in-law’s house, again he saw a crow move to the right and a jackal howl from the left. And again he cried, ‘Live! Live!’ The goddess of omens said to herself: ‘Alas! This idiot mistakes a bad omen for a good one and feels so happy. I must help him stay alive!’ Upon seeing Agniśarmā arrive, everyone was happy. They asked ‘Dear son-in-law, have you come alone?’ To this he replied, ‘Yes; I came without telling anyone all of a sudden!’. He then took a bath and had his dinner. When he went to the bedroom at night, he quickly fell asleep due to fatigue. His wife came in, and upon seeing him fast asleep, went in search of her paramour, who happened to be a thief. He had been impaled as a punishment for his crimes. She saw this, and yet went close to him and planted a kiss upon his face. By then, a ghost had entered his corpse. It caused the corpse to open its mouth, and bite off her nose clean. She shrieked and ran home. Then, placing a knife next to her sleeping husband, she yelled, “Alas! I am dead! I am dead!! My husband has severed my nose!” Listening to the woman’s cries, her relatives rushed in, and upon seeing her blood smeared face and the knife, they beat Agniśarmā black and blue with clubs and complained about him to the king. The king cried, ‘Lop off this unfaithful man’s head!’. When the executioners were taking him to carry out the king’s orders, the goddess of omens thought pitifully, “Agniśarmā has already received the fruits of bad omens. But since he exclaimed ‘Live! Live!’ I shall help him stay alive”. Turning herself invisible, she cried “O executioners! Don’t kill this brāhmaṇa. If you peer inside the mouth of the impaled thief, you will find her missing nose!’, and narrated all that happened that night. The news of this whole episode reached the king’s ears. Upon coming to know that the woman’s nose was indeed lodged between the thief’s jaws, he allowed Agniśarmā go free, and punished the woman appropriately. Such is the nature of women! - said the minister.
King Vikramāditya replied, “Yes, yes!” and concurred with it. Then Mūladeva, the tramp who stood near the king, spoke. He said, “Your highness! Don’t righteous women exist at all? Are all trees poisonous? Aren’t there mango trees among them? Let me narrate a story from my own experience, please do listen!”, and proceeded to narrate it:-
The Story of Mūladeva
Long ago, I had gone to Pāṭalīputra with Śaśī in tow. I had heard of its fame as a civilised city, and wished to see it with my own eyes. Just as we came to the city’s outskirts, I saw a woman washing clothes in a pond, and asked: “Mother! Where do travellers stay for the night here?”.
She replied – “Cakravākas reside on the shores, fish and lotus live in the waters; bees find their abode in the lotuses. This is not a place of residence for travellers!” I was dissatisfied with her oblique words and went into the city.
In the town, I saw a boy crying holding a cup full of hot pāyasa. Śaśī said – “This child has no brains. He holds a delicious dish in his hands and cries!” Listening to his words, the boy wiped his tears and said with a smile – “You are a good indeed! You did not understand what I gain out of crying. The pāyasa becomes tastier once it cools down; they will feed me with more pāyasa when they see me crying; moreover, upon crying, mucus gets removed from the body quickly! Do you think I am crying for no reason? If you do not understand this, I must call you both fools!” We were ashamed of our own conservative minds and went ahead.
As we went further, we spotted a girl who was cutting mangoes from a tree and dropping them down. Her people stood below the tree and collected the mangoes. We requested her – “Could you please give us two fruits as well!” She asked – “Would you like to eat warm fruits or raw fruits?” I was surprised and said – “O beautiful maiden! We will first eat a warm fruit and then a raw one!” Listening to our words, she cut two fruits from the tree and threw them down into the sand. We picked them up and tried blowing away the dust. Looking at us doing so, she and her folk started laughing. She called out from the top of the tree – “I first threw warm mangoes; you cooled them down with your breath. Now, spread out your clothes. I will throw raw mangoes!” I spoke to Śaśī – “O dear! I should marry her and pay back for her ridicule. If not, what is the use of my crooked mind!” We figured out her residence. We went to her place, another day, in a different guise. Yajñasvāmī, her father, asked us – “Where are you from?” I replied – “We belong to Mayāpurī and we have come here for our education!” He said, “O, you seem to have come from a distant land. Stay in my house for four months!” We said, “So be it!” and stayed at his place. After four months, we asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. We also told him that it was our desire to marry her. Yajñasvāmī thought – ‘These men have cheated me. If he is a good person, why shouldn’t I get my daughter married to him?’ He got his daughter married. That night, I spoke to my wife – “Do you remember those warm mangoes and raw mangoes?” She then recognised me and said with a laugh – “This is how people from the city ridicule those from the village”. I retorted – “O city-dweller! You stay here happily; I am a villager and I will go away from you!” She said – “If you go away, I will make your son fetch you back!” We decided thus. She slept turning her face away from me.
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 G S, 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. Krishnasastri