Maṇimēkhalai

Book XIII
[Āputra’s Birth]

The sage, Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ, then continued giving the history of Āputra in the following words:–

‘There lived in Vāraṇāsi a Brahman teaching the Vēda, known by the name of Abhañjika, with his wife Śāli. Having fallen away from conduct expected of her high station, she wished to get rid of her sin by bathing in the sea at Kanya Kumāri (Cape Comorin). notwithstanding the fact that she was enceinte. (In this condition a holy bath at sea is prohibited according to Bramanical notions).

In the course of her journey, she gave birth to a boy child about a march from Korkai, one of the capitals of the Pāṇḍyas, and, leaving it behind without pity in a sequestered plantain garden, she went her way.

Hearing the weeping of the baby, a cow which was grazing not far off came near and, licking the child, gave it milk and stayed with it for seven days, protecting it from harm.

A traveller from Vayanangōḍu came that way along with his wife. Hearing the baby weeping, he approached, with his wife, the place wherefrom the sound came. This Brahman Iḷambhūti, taking pity on the forlorn baby, told his wife that it could not be the child of a cow, and, regarding it as his own, congratulated his wife and himself that after all they had been blessed with a baby.

Returning to his village, he gave the boy the education worthy of a Brahman child, and, after he had attained to the age of receiving the Brahmanical thread, he put him through the further course of education [144] suitable to a Brahman youth.

At this stage another Brahman of the village celebrated a great sacrifice. The boy, entering the sacrificial ground, discovered a cow, ready decorated for the sacrifice, in distress. He made up his mind immediately to steal the cow overnight and walk away with it unobserved. He loitered about the place and when night had advanced, he released the cow, and taking hold of it, walked away from the locality.

The Brahmans discovered soon after that the cow was missing, and came upon the young man with the cow in the course of their search. Taking hold of the cow, they began beating the young fellow for having stolen it. Seeing her saviour oppressed in this fashion, the cow attacked the priest who was beating the boy, and ran into the woods after severely wounding him.

Āputra accosted his oppressors, and requested them to listen to what he had to say,

‘Feeding on the grass that grows on the village common, cows feed all people the world over from birth onwards. With a creature so kind-hearted, what cause could there be for anger?’

They said to him that he was talking contemptuously of sacrifices without understanding the prescribed path of the Vēda, which it is clear he did not know. Hence it is but proper, they said that he was called ‘Cow’s son’. (Aputran).

The youth retorted that ‘Rishi Acala was the son of a cow, Śṅgi was the son of a deer, Rishi Vñci was the son of a tiger, and Kēśakambaḷa, the revered of the wise, was the son of a fox. Are these not Rishis accepted of your tribe? If so, as you will admit it is so, is there much that is contemptible in being born of a cow?’

On hearing this one among the Brahmans said that he knew the actual birth and parentage of the boy, and related the story of how he was born of Śāli, the Brahman woman of Benares, as he had heard it from herself. The Brahman said that he [145] did not care hitherto to speak about this, as it was no use doing it. It is now clear that by his conduct he justified the sinistral character of his birth.

To this the boy retorted again by pointing out that both Vaśiṣṭa and Agastya were born of the heavenly courtesan Tilōttamā.

‘If so why talk of my mother Śāli,’ making the innuendo that Śāli was an alternative name of Arundhatī, the model of chastity?

But this dispute had its effect, however, in that his foster-father Bhūti cast him out as of unclean birth, and as it came noised abroad that he stole the sacrificial cow, he no more got alms in Brahman villages. Finding himself at the end of his resources, he came to Southern Madura, and made the front yard of the temple of the Goddess of Learning there, his abode.

Therefrom he used to go daily on begging rounds and returning with what he got, distributed it among the blind, the deaf, the maimed, and those who had no one to fall back upon, and even those that were oppressed with illness. Calling upon all these and feeding them first, he took for his portion what was actually left over. When he had done this, he went to sleep with his begging-bowl as his pillow and thus spent many years.