Puranic encyclopaedia

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

This page describes the Story of Vararuci 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 Vararuci

An ancient Indian scholar in astronomy and astrology. (Some details regarding Vararuci are given under Bhartṛhari).


It is stated in Kathāsaritsāgara, Kathāpīṭhalambaka, Taraṅga 1, that Vararuci was the rebirth of a Gaṇanāyaka (guard of Śiva) named Puṣpadanta. Once Śiva happened to tell Pārvatī some previous stories of the Vidyādharas. Puṣpadanta eavesdropped and heard everything. Pārvatī understood this and cursed him to become a man. Accordingly Puṣpadanta was born in the city of Kauśāmbī under the name Vararuci or Kātyāyana. (For details about the curse see under Guṇāḍhya).

Of sharp intelligence.

Vararuci was born as the son of the Brahmin Somadatta at Kauśāmbī. Agniśikha was another name of Somadatta. Vasudattā was the mother of Vararuci. In the previous birth, Vasudattā was a hermit maid. Due to a curse she lost her hermit-maidhood and took birth as a woman under the name Vasudattā and became the wife of Somadatta.

As his father died in his childhood, Vararuci was brought up by his mother. She was in great penury after the death of her husband. One day two travellers came to her house. While they were sitting on the veranda, the sound of a conch was heard. Then the mother called Vararuci and said to him. "Son, the dance of Nanda, the friend of your father, is about to begin." Vararuci requested his mother to let him go to the temple and see the dance so that he might learn it. Hearing this, the guests were amazed. How can one learn dance by seeing only once? That was the doubt in the minds of the travellers. "Vararuci could learn anything by hearing only once," his mother said. As a test, they recited to him a portion from the Vedas. Vararuci repeated the portion to them without any mistake. After this the guests took the boy and showed him the dance and brought him back. The boy performed every item of the dance he saw, before the guests. They were immensely pleased.

Getting a teacher.

The guests had actually been searching for a boy who could understand anything at the first hearing. There was reason for it.

In the great city of Nandarāja, there was a great Brahmin named Śaṅkarasvāmī. He had two sons named Varṣa and Upavarṣa. Both married and lived in separate houses. By and by Varṣa became cruel and wicked and poor. Upavarṣa became learned and wealthy. The rainy season approached. In those days it was a custom for women to make a sweet food of rice flour with sugar and give it to cruel Brahmins. It was to prevent the extreme cold in the winter and the extreme heat in the summer from affecting them severely. The wife of Upavarṣa made this sweet food and gave it to Varṣa. When he brought it home, his wife scolded him. Varṣa felt very sorry because of his foolishness. He gave up all his desires and began to worship Kumārasvāmī. Kumārasvāmī was pleased with him and blessed him with all kinds of knowledge. Kumārasvāmī had ordered him to teach all of this knowledge to one who could learn at first hearing. From that day onwards Varṣa had been waiting for a disciple who could learn at first hearing.

During this period there lived two Brahmins named Devasvāmī and Karambhaka in the city of Vetasapura. They were friends. A son was born to each of them. The son of Devasvāmī was named Vyālī. The name of the son of Karambhaka was Indradatta. When Vyālī was a child, his father died. Seeing their grief the father of Indradatta left the country. Both of the boys, having nobody to look after them, went to perform penance, before Subrahmaṇyasvāmī. Subrahmaṇya ordered them in their sleep to go to Varṣa in Pāṭalikā, the city of King Nanda, and to learn every thing from him. The boys immediately went to the city of King Nanda and enquired about the teacher Varṣa. The people told them that Varṣa was a fool. They were sorry to hear it. Still they did not turn back. They reached the house of Varṣa, and entered the house which was the abode of rats and bats, the walls of which were crumbling due to rain as it had not been thatched for a long time. The courtyard was full of Cassiatora plants. Inside the house, here and there on the floor, Cyperus-grass was growing. The wife of Varṣa who was in utter penury stood up and welcomed them. She told them about her husband. "He is waiting for a disciple who would learn everything at first hearing." Vyālī and Indradatta agreed to bring such a disciple and they started on a journey in search of such a boy. They were the two travellers who came to the house of Vararuci.

Vyālī said all about these things to the mother of Vararuci. She was very glad and said. "Everything fits well. At the birth of my son, an ethereal voice said: "At first hearing he will learn everything. He will learn everything from the teacher Varṣa. He will publish works in grammar and astronomy." If he has interest in good things he will get the name Vararuci. So I had been thinking how and where to find this teacher Varṣa."

Next morning, with the permission of his mother, Vararuci started for the house of Varṣa, with Vyālī and Indradatta. They reached the house of Varṣa. Next morning they smeared and purified the floor and the three sincere and simple disciples sat facing the east. The teacher Varṣa recited to them the divine spell 'Om,' and instantly all the Vedas and the ancillaries of Vedas made their appearance. The teacher commenced teaching. The three disciples learned, Vararuci hearing only once, Vyālī hearing twice and Indradatta hearing thrice. Hearing these divine recitations and repetitions which were not to be heard anywhere else, Brahmins crowded to the place. King Nanda of Pāṭalīputra praised the teacher Varṣa and sent him plenty of wealth and conferred on him ranks and privileges.


Vararuci learned everything from the teacher Varṣa. He went with his friends once to see the Indra-festival. There, Vararuci happened to see Upakośā the daughter of Upavarṣa and fell in love with her. That night he did not sleep. At last he slowly closed his eyes. A divine woman clad in white garments appeared before him It seemed to him that the woman said to him. "You need not worry in this matter. Upakośā was your wife in the previous birth. She will marry only you. I am Sarasvatī who pervades your body." Vararuci woke up. Next day the elders came to know of this, and gave her in marriage to Vararuci.

Vararuci becoming a Minister.

Education was finished. It was time for Vyālī and Indradatta to give presents to the teacher Varṣa. The teacher demanded a crore of Vilkas (a Venetian ducat used for neck-ornament). They were not having so much wealth. They went with Vararuci to Nanda, the King of Ayodhyā, and the Brother-in-law of Vararuci. When they reached Ayodhyā, they heard that the King had just died. Indradatta said "By the practice of contemplation I shall enter the body of the King. Vararuci should come and beg money of me. Till my return Vyālī must keep my body."

"The spirit of Indradatta immediately entered the King’s body. The dead King rose up. People were struck with wonder. They celebrated a festival. Vyālī kept the body of Indradatta within a temple. Vararuci went to the presence of the King and begged for a crore of Vilkas. The King called his minister Śakaṭāla and told him to give Vararuci a crore of Vilkas. Śakaṭāla, who was an intelligent man, felt some doubt in the coming to life of the King. He decided that some one might have entered the body of the King. He ordered that every dead body in the city should be burnt. Along with the bodies, the body of Indradatta also was taken by force from Vyālī. At this time the King compelled Śakaṭāla to give the beggar Vilkas. But till the dead bodies were burnt, Śakaṭāla did not obey him. Because his body was burnt Indradatta had to remain in the body of the King. Śakaṭāla gave Vararuci the required amount. But of what use was the money? Indradatta had become the King. The King and Vyālī made a secret consultation, as a result of which Vararuci was made the Prime Minister. Śakaṭāla was charged with Brahmahatyā and was put into a dungeon with his hundred sons. They were allowed fried and powdered grain and a 'ceratu' (a measure) of water as food for each.

Śakaṭāla said to his sons. "My sons, all of us cannot live with so little food. The most intelligent one among us should live by eating the whole food, to take revenge on the Yoga Nanda King. Who will do so?"

Sons:—We don't think that we are powerful to do that.

So you must live, father!

So Śakaṭāla ate the whole food and lived while his sons, one by one, died of hunger before his eyes. Śakaṭāla sat in the middle of the Skeletons with the sole purpose of taking revenge. Vyālī gave the present to the teacher and went home.

Indradatta and Vararuci lived as king and minister.

Loss of ministership.

By and by Indradatta had fallen into bad ways. The subjects were beset with famine. The people hated the king and the minister. They made a cry to bring Śakaṭāla back. They obtained the permission of the king and brought Śakaṭāla out of the dungeon. Śakaṭāla knew that so long as Vararuci was alive, he could do nothing to the King Yoga Nanda. So he decided to wait for an opportunity, and accepted an office under Vararuci. One day Yoga Nanda went out for a walk. He saw in the Ganges the palm of a hand with five fingers. He called Vararuci and asked him what the sight was. Vararuci showed two fingers in that direction. Immediately the palm of the hand disappeared. The King was amazed at this and asked him for its meaning. He said "The meaning of showing fingers was that if five men unite together, they could accomplish anything. I showed two fingers, to mean that if two men unite together they also could achieve anything." At this reply the king was much pleased and Śakaṭāla felt miserable at the intelligence of Vararuci.

On another occasion the King saw his wife looking at a Brahmin guest through the window. He got angry and ordered that Brahmin to be killed. When that Brahmin was being taken to the scaffold, a dead fish, placed for sale, laughed loud. The king asked Vararuci for its reason. Saying that he had to consider about it before giving a reply, he went out and meditated upon Sarasvatī. Devī appeared and told him. "If you climb up to the top of this palm tree and sit there to night you will understand why the dead fish laughed." Vararuci did as he was told. A fierce giantess came there with her young ones. The children began to ask her for food. The giantess told them that they would get the flesh of a Brahmin next day, and that he was not killed that day because the dead fish had laughed. The young ones asked her why the dead fish laughed. The giantess said "The wives of the kings are not chaste. In all harems men live in the guise of women. Without stopping this the king was going to kill an innocent Brahmin. That is why the dead fish laughed."

Vararuci, who heard this conversation, got down when the giantess was gone. He went to the king and told him why the fish laughed. The king made a sudden search in the harem. He found out some men in the dress of women. The king honoured Vararuci and released the Brahmin. One day an artist who drew portraits, came to the palace. He drew a portrait of the king and the queen and placed it before the king. The picture was life-like. The king gave the artist several presents. Once Vararuci happened to enter the bed-room of the king. He saw the picture on the wall. The picture was beautiful. Still, considering the appearance of each part of her body the queen ought to have a mole on her loin. Vararuci put that mole in the picture. When Vararuci had gone the king entered the room and saw the mole in the picture. The kingasked his servant, who that person was who had put that mole in the picture. He replied that it was Vararuci. The king thought that Vararuci had nocturnal connections with the queen. Perhaps it was in this way that Vararuci found out men in the dress of women. The king called Śakaṭāla to him and told him to kill Vararuci secretly. Śakaṭāla felt pity on Vararuci and hid him in a place. Vararuci told Śakaṭāla "No body can kill me. My friend is a giant. He will come to me the moment think of him. If I tell him he will swallow the whole world." When he heard this, Śakaṭāla desired to see the giant. Vararuci thought of him and the giant appeared. Śakaṭāla was terribly afraid of the giant. Vararuci made him disappear. Śakaṭāla asked him how he got the friendship of the giant. Vararuci replied.

"While you were in the dungeon, a city chief was disappearing daily from this city. The king asked me to find out the reason. One night, while I was walking through the city, I saw this giant. He asked me. "Who is the most beautiful woman in this city?" I replied "Whoever falls in love with a woman, to him, that woman is the most beautiful. You who do not know this principle, are a fool." The giant had no answer. He said "You alone have defeated me. I am glad of it. The moment you think of me I will come and help you." Saying this the giant disappeared. Thenceforward we became friends."

Śakaṭāla felt great respect for Vararuci. Hiraṇyagupta, the son of Yoga Nanda, went for hunting. His horse ran fast and he was separated from his army and got into a deep forest far away. He ate some fruits and plums and got on a tree to rest for the night. At that time a lion chased a bear, which climbed on the same tree. The prince trembled with fear. The bear said "Do not fear. I am your friend." Both talked for a while and became fast friends. Shortly, the prince began to sleep. The lion asked the bear to push that man down. The bear said that he would not deceive his friend. The disappointed lion sat under the tree. Then the bear slept and Hiraṇyagupta sat awake. The lion asked the prince to push the bear down. Thinking that he could save his life by complying with the request of the lion, he pushed the bear down. Fortunately the hold of the bear was firm and so it did not fall. The bear cursed Hiraṇyagupta. "May you become mad." The king was very sorry when his son returned a mad man. The king repented that he had killed Vararuci. For this was the time when the king needed him most.

Śakaṭāla went to the presence of the king and said that Vararuci was still alive. In accordance with the order of the king, Śakaṭāla brought Vararuci. The king showed him his mad son. By the blessing of Sarasvatī, Vararuci understood that the prince had deceived his friend, and informed the king of what had happened. Immediately the prince was cured of his madness. Yoga Nanda asked Vararuci, how he knew the cause of the madness of the prince. He replied. "A man of intelligence can understand anything by symptoms and inference." He also said that in this way he knew about the mole of the queen. When the king heard this he bowed down his head.

After this Vararuci left the palace. He did not stop to accept the favours of the king. Nor did he pay any heed to the compulsion of the king to stay. He reached his house. Everybody who saw Vararuci began to cry. Not knowing the reason, he stood dumbfounded. Upavarṣa came to him and said that when the news about the slaughter of Vararuci reached home, Upakośā got into fire and his mother died of broken heart. The griefstricken Vararuci went to the forest for penance.

After this Śakaṭāla waited for an opportunity to bring Indradatta (Yoga Nanda) down. Once he had been walking out side the city when he saw a Brahmin digging a pit. Śakaṭāla asked him why he was digging the pit. He replied "I stumbled on this Darbha grass. So I am rooting it out." Śakaṭāla resolved to make use of this Brahmin to achieve his purpose. His name was Cāṇakya. Śakaṭāla took Cāṇakya to the palace. A ceremony of offerings to the manes was being conducted in the Palace. Another Brahmin named Subandhu also came there. The king ordered 'agrabhojana' (first meal) to be given to Subandhu. Cāṇakya trembled with fury. At that time his lock of hair was loosened. He took a vow that only after pacifying his anger by killing Yoga Nanda within seven days, would he tie up his lock. Cāṇakya began practising sorcery against the king. The king caught burning fever and died on the seventh day. Śakaṭāla killed Hiraṇyagupta. After this Sakaṭāla made Candragupta, the son of the real Nanda who died earlier, the king. Making Cāṇakya his minister, Śakaṭāla went for penance.


See under Pākkanār.

The end.

Vararuci began to perform penance in the Vindhya mountain. At that time a brahmin came to the hermitage of Vararuci. He informed Vararuci of the death of Yoga Nanda. Thinking about the littleness of the pleasures of the world, he began to walk through the Vindhya mountain when he saw the devil called Kāṇabhūti. Telling everything to the devil Kāṇabhūti, Vararuci started for Badaryāśrama to discard his body. On the way he saw a hermit who lived on water alone. In the meanwhile his finger was cut with the tip of Darbha grass and blood oozed from the wound. Vararuci, by his attainments, changed the blood into the juice of a pot-herb. The hermit cried out "Oh, I have become a man of attainments." With a laugh Vararuci said "You have not yet overcome your egoism. I did so to test you. First of all you must overcome your egoism and become wise."

After saying this Vararuci went to Badaryāśrama and reached there. He did penance there and Devī appeared. According to her advice he made a fire by contemplation and burned his body in it. Then Vararuci became the old Puṣpadanta and went to the presence of Śiva.

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