Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Ashokadatta included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Aśokadatta

Once the Vidyādhara (a class of semi gods) named Aśokavega was going through the sky, when the hermit maids of Gālavāśrama (the hermitage of Gālava) were bathing in the Ganges. He hankered after them. So the hermits cursed him and changed him to a man. The name of Aśokavega in his human birth was Aśokadatta. The story of Aśokadatta in the "Kathāsaritsāgara" is as follows:

Long ago there lived a Brahmin named Govindasvāmī, near the river Kālindī. He had two sons, Aśokadatta and Vijayadatta. They were good men like their father. Once there occurred a great famine in the country. Scarcity prevailed everywhere. Govindasvāmī told his wife, "I cannot bear to see the difficulties of our people. So let us give everything we have for famine relief and then go to Kāśī and live there." His good-natured wife agreed to it and giving everything for the relief work, Govindasvāmī with his wife and children started for Kāśī. On the way he met a hermit sage who had renounced the world. He had his whole body besmeared with ashes. With his tuft of hair and garment made of the barks of trees, he seemed to be Śiva. Govindasvāmī bowed before him, and asked about the future of his children. The Yogī (hermit) said, "the future of your two sons is good. But this Vijayadatta will go away from you. Reunion will become possible by the goodness of Aśokadatta." Govindasvāmī felt glad and sad at the same time. Leaving the hermit they proceeded to Kāśī. They neared Kāśī. There was a temple on the way. They stayed there and conducted worship in the temple and took shelter for the night under a tree outside the temple. Other travellers also were there. Being tired of walking all went to sleep. Vijayadatta the second son of Govindasvāmī caught cold. So he woke up in the night. When he began to shiver, because of cold, he called his father and said, "Father, it appears that I have caught cold and I am shivering. I would grow better if I could get some fire. So please get some twigs and make a fire. I don't think, I may complete this night otherwise". They saw a fire close by. It was in a burial-ground. Govindasvāmī took Vijayadatta to that place where a dead body was burning.

Vijayadatta sat near the fire and warmed himself. In the meanwhile he was talking to his father. He said, "Father, what is that round thing seen in the middle of the fire?" "That is the head of a dead body burning" said his father who was standing close by. He took a burning faggot and hit at the head. The head broke into pieces and some viscous stuff from the head fell into his mouth. There occurred a sudden change in Vijayadatta. He became a fearful giant with huge tusks and hair standing erect on the head. Somehow or other he got a sword also. That giant took the burning head from fire and drank up all the viscous liquid in it. With his tongue which looked like blazing fire he licked the bones. Then he threw away the skull. Then he approached his father with open mouth to swallow him. "You! giant, Don't kill your father, come here!" a voice shouted to him from the burial-ground. Thus Vijaya became a giant and disappeared. "Oh dear! my child! my son! Vijayadatta!", cried his father and came away from the burial-place, and went to the shelter of the tree and told his wife, son and others everything that had happened. Stricken with grief they all fell on the ground. All those who came to worship in the temple gathered round them and tried to console them. Among them was a merchant named Samudradatta, a native of Kāśī. He consoled Govindasvāmī and his family and took them to his house in Kāśī. He showed hospitality and gave them a separate place to live in. Noble men are kind to those who are in distress. The great hermit had said that their son would come back in due course. Hoping that such a time would come soon Govindasvāmī and his family dragged on their time. At the request of that wealthy merchant they stayed there on. Aśokadatta got his education there. When he grew up to a youth, he got physical training. He became such an expert in wrestling and other modes of fighting that nobody on earth could overcome him. During a festival there was a contest in wrestling. A renowned wrestler had come from the south to take part in the contest. In the contest which took place in the presence of Pratāpamukuṭa, the King of Kāśī, the wrestler challenged every wrestler in the country and had overthrown each one of them. Having heard from the merchant Samudradatta, the King sent for Aśokadatta and put him against the wrestler from the south. A very serious fight began between the two. They grappled each other with firm and resolute grips. The audience was struck with wonder at the variety of the modes of grappling and twisting and turning they exhibited. Applause came from everywhere. The fight lasted for a very long time. Finally Aśokadatta threw the other to the ground, and got much presents from the King. Gradually he became a favourite of the King, and consequently became wealthy. One day the King went to a temple of Śiva, a little away from the capital to observe fast on the fourteenth night of the Moon and while returning he passed by a burial-ground and heard a voice saying, "Oh Lord! The judge had ordered me to be hanged, for a charge of murder, merely out of personal grudge and without any proof, and this is the third day since I was put on this scaffold. My life has not yet departed from the body. My tongue is dried of thirst. Have the kindness to give me a little water."

"Punished without proof! It will appear only so to him who is punished". Thinking thus the King asked Aśokadatta to give the man some water. "Who will go to a burial-ground in the night? I myself shall take water to him". Saying so Aśokadatta took water and went to the burial-ground and the King went to the palace. The world was in darkness. With here and there a spark of fire and light of fire-flies and lightning mingled with the shouting of ghosts and the roaring of the demons and occasional cries of birds and animals the burial-ground was a dreadful place, where Aśokadatta came and asked, "Who asked the King for water?" He heard a voice saying "Myself" and he went to the place of the voice and saw a man lying on a scaffold. An extremely beautiful woman also was lying under the scaffold crying, and getting ready to jump into the burning fire since she could not bear the separation of her husband on the new moon day. She had plenty of golden ornaments on her body. Aśokadatta asked her, "Madam! who are you, why are you crying here?" She replied, "I, an unfortunate woman, am the wife of the man on the scaffold. My intention is to burn myself along with his body. I am waiting for his life to depart. Because of my sin he is not dying. This is the third day since he is lying like this. He will be asking for water now and then. So I have brought some water. But his face being high I cannot reach it and I am seeing him burning with thirst, and am swallowing the grief." Aśokadatta said, "See! The King has sent this water for him. Now climb on my back and you yourself give him this water."

The woman instantly took the water and got on the back of Aśokadatta who had stooped down for her to climb on his back. After a while he felt drops of blood falling on his back and looking up he saw her cutting flesh from the body of the man on the scaffold and eating it. He got wild with anger and catching hold of her legs he was about to strike her on the ground, when she shook her legs free and ran away and disappeared. Because she dragged away her legs with force one bangle came off from her leg and was left with Aśokadatta. Her behaviour aroused in him at first compassion, detestation in the middle stage and fear in the final stage, and when she had disappeared from his sight he looked at the bangle she had left behind with astonishment. When he reached home it was dawn. After his morning ablution he went to the palace. "Did you give him water yesternight?" asked the King and he replied "Yes", and placed the bangle before the King. "Where did you get this from?" the King asked and in reply he said everything that had happened in the night. The King thought that Aśokadatta was an extraordinary man and calling his queen showed her the ornament and told her everything. She was filled with joy and wonder. She praised Aśokadatta a good deal. The King said, "Dear queen! This Aśokadatta is a young man of greatness, learning, bravery, truth and of good birth. He is handsome too. If he would become the husband of our daughter what a good thing it will be? I have a desire to give him our daughter Madanalekhā".

The queen also said that the thought was pleasing to her. "This youth is the most suitable person to be her husband. Some days ago Madanalekhā had seen him in Madhu garden and from that day a change is visible in her. All laughing and playing is gone from her, and she spends time in loneliness and thinking. I knew this from her maids. Because of my thought about her I did not sleep last night and only just closed my eyes in the dawn. Then it seemed to me that a divine woman appeared and said to me, "My daughter, Don't give your daughter Madanalekhā to anybody else. She had been the wife of Aśokadatta in previous birth". I woke up immediately. Believing in the dream I consoled our daughter. I am glad that now you also think so. Let the Jasmine creeper entwine round the Mango tree."

When the King heard these things from his queen, without wasting more time he gave his daughter Madanalekhā in marriage to Aśokadatta. They suited each other so much that not only their relatives, but the others also were delighted. Brahmā is well experienced in joining suitable things together. As they were all getting on well one day the queen said to the King, "My lord! this Bangle being single doesn't shine well. We must have another bangle made in the same shape and design."

The King immediately had some goldsmiths brought before him. He showed them the bangle and asked them to make one of the same pattern. They turned it on all sides and looked at it and said, "Please your highness! This is not man-made. It is not possible for us to make one of this kind. Precious stones like these are not available in this earth. So the only possible way is to search for its mate in the place where this was found. On hearing these words the King and the queen were crestfallen. Seeing this Aśokadatta said that he would bring the mate of the bangle. Fearing danger the King tried to dissuade him. But Aśokadatta was not prepared to change his decision. He took the bangle and went to the burial-ground that night. To get the bangle he had to meet the same woman who had left the bangle. He began to think of a means to find her out. He procured a corpse took it on his shoulder and walked about calling out "Do you want flesh?" He heard a voice say "Bring it here", and he walked in that direction. He saw a beautiful woman who appeared to be the mistress, sitting in the midst of so many servant maids on a tree. He called out "Take the flesh". She asked "How much will it cost?" Aśokadatta said, "There is a bangle with me. If you, will give me another bangle like this you shall have the whole body". Hearing the words of Aśokadatta the beautiful woman laughed and said, "That is my bangle. I have its mate with me also. I am the same woman you saw when you came to give water to the man on the scaffold. Now the situation is changed. So you do not recognize me. Tonight is the fourteenth lunar night too. It was good that you thought of coming to night. Otherwise you would not have seen me. Now see; let the flesh be there. If you will consent to do what I say I shall give you the other bangle also." Aśokadatta promised to do what she required. Then she began, "There is a city in the Himālayas known as Trighaṇḍa. There lived a giant in that city. His name was Lambajihva. I bearing the name vidyucchikhā, am his wife. Only one daughter was born to me. Then my husband was killed in a fight with his overlord Kapālasphoṭa, who being kind did not do us any harm; and I live in my house now. My daughter is now a young woman. I was roaming about thinking of a way to find out a man of might and bravery as husband for my daughter. Then I saw you going this way with the King. The moment I saw you I knew you to be the man I was searching for and I decided to give you my daughter in marriage. What you heard as the words of the man on the scaffold was a trick played by me. You brought water to the scaffold and nobody needed water then. With the knowledge I have in Sorcery and witchcraft I put you into a little confusion. I gave you that bangle to bring you again to me and it has served the purpose today. Let us go to my house. It is my earnest wish that you should be the husband of my daughter. And I shall satisfy your immediate need also."

The brave Aśokadatta agreed to the request of the giantess. She, with her power, took him to their city through the sky. Aśokadatta saw the golden city and wondered if it was the sun taking rest after its tedious journey. There he saw the daughter of the giantess and thought her to be the incarnation of his adventurous spirit. She was beautiful in every part of her body. She was called Vidyutprabhā. He married her and lived with them for a while. Then he said to his mother-in-law "Mother! now give me the bangle. I must go to Kāśī. I have promised the King to get the mate of this bangle." Vidyucchikhā gave her son-in-law her bangle and a golden lotus flower which he accepted with great joy. As before he came with the giantess to the burial-ground through the sky. Then she said "I shall be here on every fourteenth lunar night on the root of this tree in the burial-ground. If you want to see me come on that day." "I shall do so", so saying Aśokadatta came away and went to his parents. They were stricken with grief at the departure and exile of their remaining son. They were overcome by joy at the return of their son. Not waiting long he went to the King, his father-in-law, who embraced him with joy. Aśokadatta gave him the two bangles. He presented the golden lotus flower also. The King and the queen were amazed at the daring spirit of Aśokadatta who told them in detail everything that had happened to him. The fame of Aśokadatta grew higher and higher. The King and the queen thought it a blessing that they got so adventurous a son-in-law. Next day the King got a casket made of silver and placed the golden lotus at the mouth of the casket and placed it on the step of his own temple for everyone to see. The white casket and the red lotus were very charming to look at and they glistened as the fame of the King and of Aśokadatta. One day the King looked at it with pleasure and said "If we could get one more lotus like this, we could make another casket and place it on the left side of this". As soon as he heard it Aśokadatta said "If the King orders it shall be brought". But the King said "Ho' you need not go anymore on erranda like this. This is not such an urgent need". After a few days the fourteenth lunar night came. Leaving his wife the princess sleeping in the bed he left the palace and reached the burial-ground. He saw his motherin-law the giantess and went with her to the city of the giant and lived there happily for a while with his wife Vidyutprabhā. When he was about to return he requested Vidyucchikhā to give him one more golden lotus. She said that there was no more lotus with her and that they grew in the lake of the giant King Kapālasphoṭa. Aśokadatta requested her to show him that lake. At first Vidyucchikhā dissuaded him from this attempt. But he was stubborn. So she took him to a place away from the lake and showed it to him. The lake was full of golden lotus flowers. It was a pleasing sight. Aśokadatta immediately got down into the lake and began to pluck the flowers. The guards came and opposed him. He killed a few of them. The others went to their master and informed about the theft. Kapālasphoṭa with his weapons came shouting and roaring and saw his elder brother Aśokadatta. He was overpowered by joy and wonder. Throwing away his weapons, with love and devotion towards his elder brother he bowed before him. "My brother! I am Vijayadatta your younger brother. By the will of God I lived as a giant so long. You might have heard this from father. Because we have met now by good luck I remembered that I was a Brahmin. My giantness is gone. On that day something obscured my mind. That is why I became a giant". When he heard the words of his younger brother Aśokadatta embraced him. Both shed tears of joy. At that time Prajñapti Kauśika the teacher of the Vidyādharas came to them and said, "You are Vidyādharas. All this happened due to a curse. Now you and your people are liberated from the curse. So learn the duties and functions of your class and with your people take your proper place in the society." Having taught them everything they required he disappeared. Thus the Vidyādhara brothers, having plucked golden lotus reached the peak of the Himālayas through the sky. Aśokadatta went to Vidyutprabhā who also having been liberated from curse became a Vidyādhara girl. With that beautiful girl the two brothers continued their journey and reached Kāśī where they bowed before their parents. That reunion appeared to be a dream or something nearing madness to their parents. They could not believe their eyes. Aśokadatta and Vijayadatta each saying his name bowed before them. Their parents lifted them up and embraced them and kissed them on the head, and cried for joy. They did not know what to do or what to say. Their minds were incapable of thinking. Everybody heard this and was amazed at it. The King was also filled with joy. He came there and took them to the palace. Aśokadatta gave all the lotus flowers to the King, who was happy and joyful at the achievement of more than he had hoped for. Everybody appreciated them. Govindasvāmī, in the presence of the King asked Vijayadatta to tell his story from the moment he turned a giant in the burial-place; "We are very curious to hear it" he said. Vijayadatta began to say "Father, you have seen how because of my mischief, I had broken that skull and some viscous liquid fell into my mouth and I changed to a giant. After that the other giants gave me the name Kapālasphoṭa. They invited me into their midst. We lived together. After a few days they took me to the presence of the King of the giants. As soon as he saw me he was pleased with me and appointed me as the commander-in-chief of the army. He who was overconfident in his power went to war with the Gandharvas and was killed in the fight. From that day onwards all the giants came under my control. Then I met with my brother who came to pluck the golden lotus flowers from my lake. With this all the previous conditions of my life had vanished. My brother will say the rest of the story. When Vijayadatta had finished saying Aśokadatta continued the story.

Long ago when we were Vidyādharas both of us were going through the sky and we saw the hermit maids of the hermitage of Gālava, bathing in the Ganges. We wished to get those girls. The hermits who saw this with their divine eyes cursed that we would take birth as men and in that birth we would be separated in a wonderful way and both of us would unite again in a place where man could not reach and we would be liberated from the curse and learn everything from the teacher, and would become the old Vidyādharas with our people. And according to this curse we took birth as men and separation was effected. You all have heard it. Today I went to the lake of the King of the giants, with the help of my mother-in-law the giantess for plucking the golden lotus flowers and recovered my brother, this Vijayadatta. There we learned everything from our teacher Prajñapti Kauśika and became Vidyādharas and have arrived here as fast as we could." Thus he informed them everything that had occurred. Afterwards by the learning he received from his teacher he changed his parents and the daughter of the King into Vidyādharas and then bidding adieu to the King Aśokadatta, with his two wives, parents and brother went to the emperor of the Vidyādharas through the sky. When they reached there Aśokadatta and Vijayadatta changed their names into Aśokavega and Vijayavega. According to the orders of the emperor those Vidyādhara youths went to the mountain of Govindakūṭa with their people as it was their abode, and lived with happiness and joy. King Pratāpamukuṭa with wonder took one of the golden lotus flowers and placed it in the temple and with the rest he made oblations to god and considered his family to have made wonderful achievements. (Kathāsaritsāgara, Caturdārikālamba, Taraṅga 2).

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