Puranic encyclopaedia

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

This page describes the Story of Shridatta 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 Śrīdatta

Son of Kālanemi a Brāhmaṇa of Mālava land. Kālanemi and Vigatabhaya were the sons of a Brāhmaṇa named Yajñasena. After the death of their father they went to Pāṭalīputra for education. The teacher gave his two daughters in marriage to them. By the blessing of goddess Lakṣmī, Kālanemi became rich in course of time and he was also blessed with a glorious son. Since he was given by the blessing of Lakṣmī (Śrī) he was named Śrīdatta.

Śrīdatta grew up and became an expert in archery. Kālanemi’s younger brother, Vigatabhaya left home and went on a pilgrimage after his wife’s death by snake-bite. Kālanemi’s king, Vallabhaśakti was pleased with Śrīdatta and invited him to live in the palace. In this way, he became the intimate friend of the king’s son, Vikrama Śakti. After that, Bāhuśāli and Vajramuṣṭi, the princes of Avantī became the friends of Śrīdatta. Mahābala, Vyāghrabhaṭa, Upendrabala and Niṣṭhūraka, who were the Minister’s sons, also sought the protection of Śrīdatta.

One day, Śrīdatta along with Vikramaśakti and other companions went to bathe to the banks of the Gaṅgā. While they were there, the party of friends began to engage in some amusements. Śrīdatta assumed the role of a king and the others posed as his subjects. Vikramaśakti, the king’s son, could not tolerate it. He challenged Śrīdatta for a fight. In the fight Vikramaśakti was defeated. But he secretly resolved to kill Śrīdatta by hook or by crook. Srīdatta understood his secret plan.

After leaving Vikramaśakti, Śrīdatta was walking with the others along the river-bank when he saw a woman struggling for life because she was caught in a whirlpool in the middle of the river. Śrīdatta at once left his companions and jumped into the river and swam up to her. When he was almost within reach of her hair the woman sank into the water. Śrīdatta also sank and followed her, but after some time, he found neither the woman nor even water. He found himself in a Śiva temple. He offered worship there and took rest in a park close by. The next morning a woman came to worship in the temple. When she returned after worship, Śrīdatta followed her. The woman who was alarmed, walked faster and at last reached a heavenly abode. She entered the house and took her seat on a cot inside. Śrīdatta also got in and sat near the cot. Many other women came and stood around her. Without any apparent reason she began to cry. Śrīdatta who was puzzled, asked her why she was crying. She replied to him in the following words:—

"I am the grand-daughter of the Asura king, Mahābali. I am the eldest of his one thousand grand-daughters. My name is 'Vidyutprabhā'. Viṣṇu has captured and imprisoned our grandfather, Mahābali. He has also killed our father in battle. After that he has expelled us all from our Capital city. To prevent us from entering it again, he has posted a lion as sentry at the palace gate. That lion is a Yakṣa who was cursed by Kubera. If any one defeats him, he would be liberated from his curse. By defeating that lion, you will get a divine sword. With that you can defeat anyone." As soon as he heard this story, Śrīdatta rushed towards the lion. In the fight that followed, the lion was defeated and it was suddenly transformed into the old Yaksa. Pleased with the hero who was instrumental in lifting his curse, he gave Śrīdatta a sword called "Mrgāṅkaka" and then disappeared. Vidyutprabhā entered the palace, accompanied by her sisters and Śrīdatta. She gave a ring to Śrīdatta which had the power to destroy the effects of poison. She fell in love with him. She asked him to take a bath in the tank close by after giving the sword to her, and undertook to kill any crocodile which might attack him. Śrīdatta, keeping the sword in his own hand, stepped into the water and sank into it. But he rose up in the river Gaṅgā into which he had jumped earlier. He reached the bank of the river and went in search of his companions. On the way, he met with Niṣṭhūraka. In the course of their talk, Niṣṭhūraka informed Śrīdatta that, Vallabhaśakti passed away and Vikramaśakti was then ruling over the country. The new king had killed Kālanemi and was on the look-out for murdering Śrīdatta. Both of them resumed their journey and when they reached Ujjayinī, they met with the rest of their friends. On their way, a woman joined their party. She had lost her way while going to the land of Mālava. Śrīdatta and Niṣṭhūraka walked in the company of that woman and at last they arrived at a deserted city. They spent the night in that city. During the night when Śrīdatta happened to wake up, he saw to his horror, that the woman had killed his friend Niṣṭhūraka and was eating his flesh. Śrīdatta at once drew his sword and caught hold of her hair and was about to cut off her head when she was transformed into a Rākṣasa woman. She prayed to him not to kill her and told him her story. She had become a Rākṣasa woman by a curse. Long ago Viśvāmitra did tapas to obtain Kubera’s place. At that time Kubera sent her to break Viśvāmitra’s tapas. Since she failed in her attempts to attract him by her charms, she tried to subdue him by assuming the form of a terrible monster. The sage thereupon cursed her to become a Rākṣasa woman with that figure. He declared that the curse would be lifted when Śrīdatta grasped her hair. She added that she had been killing and eating the inhabitants of that city for a long time and that explained why the city had become deserted. Now that she was liberated from the curse, she asked Śrīdatta what boon he wished to have.

He replied that he only wanted his friend to be restored to life. After reviving Niṣṭhūraka, she disappeared. Early next morning they reached Ujjayinī. There, they met their old friends, Bāhuśālī and others. Śrīdatta described to them his experiences after sinking in the Gaṅgā.

Later, once when Śrīdatta went to a festival, he happened to meet Mṛgāṅkavatī, daughter of a King named Śrībimbaki. They fell in love with each other. When she left the place, Śrīdatta felt very much depressed. Bāhuśālī and others also knew about it. They offered to take him to Mṛgāṅkavatī. But just then she fell down unconscious, bitten by a snake. Śrīdatta soon restored her with the help of the magic ring which Vidyutprabhā had given him earlier. After that he returned with his friends to Bāhuśālī’s house, leaving behind the ring with Mṛgāṅkavatī. The King who was deeply grateful for the cure of his daughter sent plenty of wealth and gold to Śrīdatta. But Śrīdatta gave all of them to Bāhuśālī’s father. He was always doting on Mṛgāṅkavatī and was much pained at his separation from her. At this stage, the princess’s favourite maid came to him on the pretext of returning the magic ring and informed him that Mṛgāṅkavatī was also pining for him and was even prepared to die for his sake. Śrīdatta sent her back with a secret message of love and cheer. After that in consultation with his friends he made a plan to take the princess secretly to Mathurāpurī. On the next day, Bāhuśālī with three of his friends left for Mathurā pretending to go there for trade. He made all arrangements on the way for the secret conveyance of the princess. That night, Śrīdatta sent a woman and her daughter to the palace after making them senseless with heavy drink and arranged for their sleeping there. As directed by Śrīdatta, Bhāvanika set the palace on fire and slipped out of the building with the princess. Śrīdatta sent them at once to Mathurāpurī. The woman and her daughter who were burnt alive in the palace were supposed to be the maid and the princess. Śrīdatta set out to Mathurā to meet Mṛgāṅkavatī. On the way he saw several evil omens. On arrival at Vindhyavana, he saw his friends lying helpless, after having been severely beaten up by unknown enemies. They informed him that a stranger leading a powerful army overpowered them and galloped away on horseback, taking the princess with him.

Śrīdatta immediately started in pursuit of the unknown enemy. Shortly after, he caught sight of the army led by a Kṣatriya prince who was taking Mṛgāṅkavatī on horseback with him. After a fierce fight, Śrīdatta rescued the princess from the youth, captured his horse and rode on it with her towards his friends. When they had gone a short distance, the horse which had been wounded in the battle, fell dead on the way. At that time he went in search of water to quench their thirst, leaving Mṛgāṅkavatī at the spot. By the time he returned with water, the sun had set. So he lost his way and wandered about in the forest till day-break when he reached the place where he had left Mṛgāṇkavatī. But she was not seen anywhere there. To get a better view of the neighbourhood in the hope of finding her, he climbed to the top of a tree near by, after placing his sword on the ground. Just then a hunter named Śabara came that way and took up Śrīdatta’s sword. Śrīdatta saw this, but he got down from the tree and instead of attacking him, merely asked him whether he knew about the whereabouts of Mṛgāṅkavatī. To this Śabara said that he thought that she had reached his cottage and asked Śrīdatta to accompany his followers to the cottage. He also offered to go with him and promised to return his sword after reaching there.

Śrīdatta reached the cottage with them. Being utterly exhausted, he fell into a deep slumber. When he woke up he found that his legs were chained together. While he was lying thus, a woman named Mocanikā approached him and said:—"Why did you come here to court death? Śabara has now gone out on some business. As soon as he returns he will offer you as a sacrifice to Bhadrakālī. It is for that purpose that he has brought you here and put in chains. But there is yet one way of escape for you. This Śabara has a very beautiful daughter. She has fallen in love with you. If you marry her everything will turn out well."

For his own safety, Śrīdatta married Śabara’s daughter according to the Gāndharva method. Shortly after, she became pregnant. Her maid Mocanikā informed her mother all about it. That kind and affectionate mother came to Śrīdatta and said:—"Śabara is a very cruel man. If he comes to know of this, he will never forgive you. Therefore you must leave the place at once, but you should never forget my daughter." With these words she took leave of him. Śrīdatta disclosed the story of that sword to her and started on his journey again, in search of Mrgāṅkavatī. From a hunter whom he happened to meet on the way, he came to know that she was living in a place called Nāgasthala near Mathurā, under the protection of Viśvadatta a Brāhmaṇa.

Śrīdatta at once went to Viśvadatta’s house and made enquiries about his wife. Viśvadatta informed him that he had entrusted her with a Brāhmaṇa who was the minister and priest of King Śūrasena. He suggested that Śrīdatta should stay with him that day and they could proceed to Śūrasena’s place next morning.

Śrīdatta accordingly stayed there and started for Mathurā at day-break on the next day. On the way he took bath in a tank just outside the city. While bathing he happened to get a silk cloth and a necklace of beads from the bed of the tank. After his bath, he entered the city with the silk and necklace. Mistaking him for a thief, the police arrested him. Really the silk and necklace had been hidden in the tank by thieves. Śrīdatta was produced before the King with the stolen articles. The king condemned him to death. Mṛgāṅkavatī who was staying in the custody of the minister happened to see Śrīdatta being taken to the place of execution. She immediately ran up to the minister and told him that Śrīdatta was her husband. When the King came to know it, he ordered him to be brought back to the palace. As soon as Śrīdatta saw the minister, he felt certain doubts about his identity. The minister had a striking resemblance to his father’s brother Vigatabhaya who had left home years ago. His doubts were confirmed when the minister revealed his identity and the two embraced each other after their long separation. Śrīdatta narrated the whole story of his sufferings and misfortunes beginning from the murder of Kālanemi up to that time. On hearing his tragic story, the minister burst into tears and told him that he had received a boon from a Yakṣī by which he had obtained 5000 horses and plenty of wealth. All this he gave to Śrīdatta and his wife.

The king of that country had a daughter. Śrīdatta’s next plan was to marry her also. Vigatabhaya gave him the necessary help. The minister took her with Śrīdatta and his friends on the pretext of offering worship at the temple in Avantī. They had to encounter a band of robbers on the Vindhya mountain. Śrīdatta was overpowered and the robbers plundered all their wealth. Vigatabhaya and others were captured. Śrīdatta was taken to be sacrificed to Bhadrakālī. When he was about to be sacrificed, his wife, the daughter of Śabara arrived there with her son. It was within the territory of Śrīcaṇḍa. She stopped the robbers from performing the sacrifice and returned to her own house with Śrīdatta. The Caṇḍāla band took Vigatabhaya and others to Śrīdatta and they were released. After the death of King Śabara, Śrīdatta became the King of that wood. He got back his sword Mṛgāṅkaka. He married the daughter of Śūrasena. Śrīdatta’s friends also came there. All of them joined together and killed Vikramaśakti in a battle. After that Śrīdatta was crowned king of the whole country up to the ocean. (Kathāsaritsāgara, Kathāmukhalambaka, Taraṅga 2).

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