Maṇimēkhalai

Prologue
[A Synopsis of the Story]

[111] The Goddess Champāpati, the guardian deity of this land of Jambudvīpa, who had her birth on the top of ‘the golden mountain,’ with a coiffure of matted locks and an effulgence resembling that of the sun, remained seated under the shade of the spreading branches of a Jambu tree, performing penance to counteract the evil wrought by Rākṣasas of cruel deeds.

King Kāntama, the Cōḻa, wishing to have water which would make the dynasty of the sun prosper, prayed of Rishi Agastya for the favour. Agastya accordingly allowed his water jar to get upset, and the water flowing therefrom flowed straight east and reached the sea, in the immediate neighbourhood of where goddess Champāpati was doing penance.

The venerable lady got up to welcome with pleasure the young lady of the river thus approaching, and addressed her ‘Hail! heavenly Gaṅgā, much beloved of all, the brilliant one that satisfied the desire of the king for water.’

Rishi Agastya who did not feel it undignified in him to follow her, told the young lady Kāvēri,

‘Dear one, this venerable ascetic is worthy of your obeisance. Do show her the respect due to her.’

The daughter of Tamil, of unfailing bounty even when the dry summer should last far longer than its length, and even when the sovereigns of the Tamil land should become unrighteous by chance, sovereigns who in the land of Bhārata were far-famed for unswerving righteousness, made a profound obeisance and stood respectfully in front of her.

‘May you prosper; this city which, from the days of creation by Mahā-Brahma of all the creatures of the world of gods and all the worlds of Brahma, had been known by my name; may it be known hereafter by yours.’ [112]

The great city composed of two separate divisions was in the tumult of the announcement of the great festival to Indra ‘of the hundred sacrifices.’ Hearing of the announcement, Chitrāpatī, her mind distraught, sent word of it to her daughter Mādhavī through her companion Vasantamālā.

Following this came Maṇimēkhalai’s entry into the flower garden outside the city for gathering flowers. Then, seeing that, the young Cōḻa prince was following her into the garden. She entered the crystal hall in it and shut herself in. Seeing her form through the glass, he returned with a mind somewhat unhinged at the failure.

Then there appeared the goddess Maṇimēkhalā; carrying Maṇimēkhalai away from the garden, she left her in the island of Maṇipallavam. This goddess of high repute then woke up Maṇimēkhalai’s companion Sutamatī in the garden.

Maṇimēkhalai herself woke up in the island and finding herself alone, wandered about till she came in sight of a Buddha seat of bright effulgence. She learnt from the miraculous seat all that took place in her previous birth. Appearing before her then, goddess Maṇimēkhalā taught her some mantras to be used as occasion arose.

Then there appeared before her Tīvatilakai, the goddess of the island. By means of this last, Maṇimēkhalai obtained possession of the miraculous begging-bowl of the Buddha.

With the begging-bowl in her hand, and accompanied by her mother and her companion, Maṇimēkhalai visited the sage Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ. The sage taught her the actual nature of Āputra. He further recounted to her how he obtained the begging-bowl from the ‘goddess of learning.’ Maṇimēkhalai carried that miraculous bowl in her hand and entered the streets of Puhār for begging. Ladies of chastity in the city deposited alms for her in the bowl. [113]

The good damsel having satisfied the insatiable hunger of Kāyaśaṇḍikai, entered the public hall of travellers in the city. Hearing of her presence there, the prince followed her to the public hall.

To save herself from his importunities, she assumed the form of a Vidyādharā woman. The king, his father, strict in administering justice, transformed the State-prison into a house of charity.

The Vidyādhara Kāñcana approached Maṇimēkhalai in the belief that she was Kāyaśaṇḍikai, his wife; he found her however irresponsive, to his surprise and chagrin. This Vidyādhara cut the prince in two by his sword when he came near her, in the belief that he was responsible for his wife’s estrangement from him. Sorrow-stricken at his death, Maṇimēkhalai consoled herself on hearing what the divine statue had told her.

The king then threw her into prison from which she was ultimately released. Maṇimēkhalai taught the queen the Buddha-dharma and passed on to the kingdom of Āputra.

Taking him with her she went to Maṇipallavam. There she assumed the form of a venerable ascetic and entered Vañji. In that city she learnt from teachers of different sects their religious dogmas.

Searching there for Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ and ‘the mothers’ she entered Kāñcī. At Kāñcī throwing off her disguise, she became a disciple of Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ. Taught by him, she assumed the form of an ascetic and devoted herself to the performance of penance in order that she might destroy birth in this world.

These separate incidents constitute the story of her life, which prince Iḷangō listened to with great kindness, when the prosperous grain merchant Śāttaṉār, had set these separate incidents, each in a book of its own, and composed a work of thirty poems in excellent Tamil on the subject of the renunciation of Maṇimēkhalai. [114]