Maṇimēkhalai

Book XI
[The Magic Bowl]

Maṇimēkhalai walked about admiring the beauty of the sand dunes, flower gardens and cool tanks. In a short while there appeared before her a lady who accosted her:

‘Who are you that have arrived here alone like a woman who had suffered shipwreck?’

Maṇimēkhalai enquired in reply to which of her births the question referred, answering the question none the less that in her previous birth she went by the name Lakṣmī and was the wife of a prince called Rāhuḷa.

In the present birth, she was the daughter of Mādhavī, a dancing woman. She was known by the name Maṇimēkhalai, and she was brought to that particular spot of that island by the Goddess Maṇimēkhalā from the pleasure garden just outside of her native city Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam. She concluded by saying that by means of her worship of the ‘Buddha-seat’ in front of them she had learnt her previous birth.

So saying she wished to know who the other lady was. The lady replied that in the neighbourhood of that island there [138] was another called Ratnadvīpa.

‘There on the high peak of the hill Samantakūṭa there are the footprints of the Buddha. Having offered worship at the footprints I came to this island long ago. Since then I have remained here keeping guard over this “dharma-seat” under the orders of Indra. My name is Tīvatilakai. (Dvīpa Tilakā). People following the Dharma of the Buddha strictly, offering worship to this “Buddha-seat” will gain knowledge of their previous birth, knowing their past as a result of this worship. Such are few in this world. It is only those few who are fit to acquire Dharmapada forsooth.

Since by such a worship you have acquired knowledge of your previous birth, you must be such a great one. In front of this seat there is a little pond full of cool water overgrown with all varieties of water-lily. From that will appear a never-failing “begging-bowl” by name Amuda-Śurabi. (Amta Surabhi).

The bowl appears every year on the day (of the full moon) in the season of the early sun, in the month of ṣabha, in the fourteenth asterism, the day in which the Buddha himself was born. That day this year is today and the hour is just now. That Bowl, I ween, will come into your hand. Food put into it will be inexhaustible. You will learn all about it from Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ, who lives in your own native city.’

Maṇimēkhalai on hearing this, making her obeisance to the Buddha-seat, went along with Tīvatilakai, and, circumambulating the pond, stood in front of it. The bowl emerged from the water, and turning round to the right reached the hands of Maṇimēkhalai. Maṇimēkhalai felt delighted beyond measure and uttered the following chant in praise of the Buddha:–

‘Hail! holy feet of the Hero! that subdued Cupid,
Hail! Holy feet of Him! who destroyed the evil path, [139]
Hail! holy feet of the Great One! labouring to set others in the path of Dharma,
Hail! holy feet of the Perfectly Wise! who gives to others the eye of wisdom,
Hail! holy feet of Him! whose ears are deaf to evil words,
Hail! holy feet of Him! whose tongue never uttered other than truth,
Hail! holy feet of Him! who visited hell itself to destroy sufferings there,
Hail! holy feet of Him! that destroyed the sorrows of those of the Nāga world.
To praise you is beyond the power of my tongue; to bow at your feet is alone possible for my body.’

To Maṇimēkhalai, in this attitude of prayer Tīvatilakai expounded the sufferings of hunger and the merit accruing to those that enabled creatures to appease hunger, she told Maṇimēkhalai,

‘Hunger will destroy good birth, will kill nobility, will cut off the hold that learning has upon the learned people as the great support of life, will deprive people of all feeling of shame, will spoil qualities that are beautiful, will make people stand at the door of others with their wives. Such indeed is the nature of the sinful craving hunger.’

To praise those who destroyed it in words is beyond the power of my tongue. She illustrated this by the following incident in the life of Viśvāmitra. Owing to failure of rain and consequently of crops, Viśvāmitra was stricken with hunger. To satisfy it he wandered here, there and everywhere, and got nothing that he could eat. Stricken beyond endurance, he made up his mind to eat the flesh of a dog, some of which was available. Before eating it however, he made the usual offerings to the Gods beginning with Indra (Vaiśvadēva). Indra coming to know of it ordered an abundance of rain, and thus removed famine that led to [140] this baleful consequence. Tīvatilakai said:

‘You may have heard the story already. Food that is given to those who can afford to provide it for themselves is charity sold. Food provided to allay the hunger of those that cannot otherwise satisfy it is true charity, and all right kind of life in this world comes to such people. Among those that live in this world those that give food are those that give life. Therefore go forward and give to those that are hungry that which will destroy hunger.’

Maṇimēkhalai, having heard this, said in reply:

‘In my former life, my husband died by a cobra whose sight brings death. I ascended the funeral pyre with him and while burning, I bethought myself of the food that I gave to a Buddhist Bikṣu, Sādhu Sakkāra. As a result of that good thought at the moment of my death, this hunger-relieving bowl has come into my hands, I believe. Like a mother’s breast which at the sight of the face of her hungry child begins yielding milk, I wish to see this bowl in my hand provide a supply of food inexhaustible at sight of those who are oppressed with hunger, and wander about in dripping rain or scorching sun indifferently in search of something to appease it.’

After a little while Tīvatilakai gave leave to Maṇimēkhalai to return to Puhār with the bowl. Maṇimēkhalai, after a profound obeisance to her and circumambulating the Buddha-seat again, thought of the mantra which gave her the power to fly, and flew through the air.

She returned to Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam and meeting her mother and companion told them of her previous birth to their wonderment; taking them along with her she went to see the holy sage Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ, telling them on the way that the bowl in her hand was the inexhaustible food-supplying one which once belonged to Āputra, and that the only way for them to attain good life on this [141] earth was by placing themselves under the beneficent guidance of Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ.