Maṇimēkhalai

Book XV
[Adirai’s Eminence in Chastity]

Having said this Kāyaśaṇḍikai explained how Adirai attained to that eminence in chastity. Adirai’s husband went by the name Śāduvan, and, having taken a fancy for a courtezan lost all the wealth he had. Being reduced to poverty in this manner, he was neglected by his own sweetheart. He then resolved to go to a foreign country and acquire wealth by trade. He took ship along with merchants trading overseas, and suffered shipwreck on the way. Taking hold of a piece of the broken mast, he swam till he reached the side of a hill in an island inhabited by naked Nāgas. Some of the other passengers of the boat similarly escaped, a few of whom returned to Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam itself.

These people not knowing what had happened to him gave it out that all the other passengers had died of the accident. Concluding from what she heard that her husband also should have died, Adirai resolved, with the approval of the citizens, to burn herself on a funeral pyre. Lighting up the pyre as usual in the burning ghat, she entered the fire declaring that she might go to the place that her husband was in, as a result of his works.

Finding that the lighted pyre had no effect on her, she was distracted with grief even more than before, as she felt that even fire would not burn her, the great sinner that she was.

There came to her a voice from the air at that time telling her that her husband was not dead and that he had escaped to the island of the naked Nāgas. The voice assured her that he would not stay there long and would return with the mercantile fleet of Candradatta, the overseas merchant. Adirai returned home and was constantly doing such good deeds as would hasten the return of her husband.

Śāduvan, on the contrary, having reached the island, had fallen fast asleep out of fatigue under the shade of a tree. Having sighted [151] him, the Nāgas approached him and woke him up gleefully, believing that they would make a good meal of him.

Śāduvan, however, having had occasion to cultivate their language, spoke to them in their own language to their great surprise. They took him to their leader. Śāduvan found him and his wife in a cavern, much as a bear and its mate, surrounded by pots for brewing beer and dried bones emitting smell of the most offensive kind.

Talking to him for a little while, Śāduvan managed to prevail upon him to the extent of creating a good impression. To the enquiry how he came there, Śāduvan narrated what had happened.

The leader ordered immediately that he might be provided with plenty of meat and drink, and a young woman for his companion. Pained at the ignorance displayed, Śāduvan declined his kind hospitality. Surprised at this refusal, the Nāga leader enquired angrily whether there was anything that pleased men more than women and food, and demanded to know if Śāduvan knew of any.

‘Intoxicating drinks and the taking of life have been condemned by people of higher views. The death of those that are born, and the birth of those that die are really phenomena like wakefulness and sleep. As those that do good deeds obtain Heaven, and those that do evil reach Hell; the exalted ones have condemned these as causing evil. It would be well if you take note of this.’

The Nāga chieftain laughed in anger and said contemptuously,

‘You tell us that life that leaves the body takes another form and enters another body. Will you explain how life goes from one body to another?’

Nothing ruffled by this, Śāduvan replied:

‘When life is in the body, it experiences that which occurs; when life leaves the body, that self-same body does not experience any feeling even when it should be set fire to. Therefore you learn that [152] something that was in the body has left it. Everybody knows that when one leaves his place, he must needs be somewhere else. You experience in dreams that life can travel many leagues leaving the body here. Therefore you can understand that when life leaves the body here, it goes into another even at great distances.’

When Śāduvan made this exposition, the habitually angry Nāga fell at the feet of merchant Śāduvan and said:

‘It is impossible for me to keep life and body together without meat and beer. Therefore teach us that good life that is possible for us.’

Śāduvan said in reply:

‘Well said; you will follow the good path. If people suffering shipwreck should hereafter come to you alive, give them protection. Do not kill living creatures for food. Be satisfied with the flesh of animals that die.’

‘We shall follow with pleasure this path of life as we can.’

Thus saying he presented to Śāduvan sandalwood, aloes, cloths and other spoil of shipwreck that from time to time they took possession of from those who came to them like Śāduvan. Accepting these and taking ship in the convoy of merchant Candradatta, Śāduvan returned to Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam and was at the time leading the life of householder along with his chaste wife.

Kāyaśaṇḍikai said,

‘So it is, that I asked you to accept alms of her first.’

Maṇimēkhalai entered Adirai’s house and stood silent like a picture undrawn by artist’s hand. Adirai went round her with words of praise, and offered her alms that would fill her bowl with the wish that the whole living world might no more suffer the pangs of hunger.