Maṇimēkhalai

Book XVII
[Kāyaśaṇḍikai’s Story ]

Having accepted alms from Adirai, as detailed above, Maṇimēkhalai distributed the food in the bowl freely like those good people that distribute freely of their [153] wealth, earned in the way of virtue. However much was taken out of it, the bowl showed itself inexhaustible and proved an efficient means of satisfying the hunger of those that came for its satisfaction.

Kāyaśaṇḍikai, who was observing this, was struck with wonder, and making her obeisance to Maṇimēkhalai, prayed of her,

‘Good mother, be so good as to satisfy the hunger that is unquenchable in me. My hunger is so great that all the food I take, whatever be the quantity, does as little to give me satisfaction as all the hills of stone brought and thrown into the sea by the army of monkeys in constructing the causeway across the sea for Rāma, in whose form Viṣṇu appeared in the world as a result of the delusion brought on by the curse of Rishis. Do have mercy and destroy my hunger.’

Maṇimēkhalai in response took a handful from the bowl and put it in her open hands. Kāyaśaṇḍikai, her hunger quenched, and therefore the consequent suffering, recounted her history with folded hands:

‘I come from the north from the city of Kāñcanapura situated in the north of Śēḍi in mount Kailāsa. With the Vidyādhara, my husband, I came on an excursion to see the Podiyil Hill The hill of Pāṇḍya kings in Tinnevelli district in the north-west corner of it in the Western Ghats at the source of the River Tāmraparṇi. in the south.

As fate had decreed it, we stopped for a little while on the sands of a wild stream. A Brahman, with the thread across his breast and his twisted locks of hair dangling, wearing his garment of fibre, had gone to his bath in the cool waters of a tank someway across, leaving on the sands on a teak leaf a ripe jambu as big as a palm fruit.

I walked along proudly and, not seeing the fruit, tripped over it and destroyed it as a result of my bad deeds.

Vścika, who returned anxious to take it for food, saw me thus causing destruction to his fruit, [154] and addressed me thus:

‘This Jambu fruit is a divine one that ripens once in twelve years, and the tree yields but one such fruit during that long period. That fruit intended for my food, you have destroyed. May you forget, therefore, the mantra by which you are enabled to travel in the air. Further may you suffer from the disease ‘elephant-hunger’ till I satisfy my hunger by taking the next fruit that ripens twelve years hence.’

The day he marked for my release from this disease seems to be this day now that you have destroyed that unquenchable hunger. When this Rishi had departed in hunger, my husband returned, and, understanding what had happened, was sore troubled in heart, as I had become subjected to this great suffering even without fault of my own.

As I could not rise into the air with him when he wanted me to start, and, as all the fruit and food that he could bring together would not satisfy my hunger, he left me with great sorrow, directing me the while with great kindness to go to this city even after many days journey, a city which in the Tamil land in Jambudvīpa was a very rich one and where lived many people who helped those that were helpless.

He comes here every year during the festival of Indra and parts again with regret counting upon his coming the next year. Now you have destroyed my hunger. I make my obeisance to you, and shall return to my native city in the north.

Here in this city there is a place called Cakravāḷakoṭṭam inhabited by those hermits who make the destruction of suffering their business of life. Therein that place you will find an open resting place, a work of charity; it is a habitation for all those that suffer from hunger coming from all places, of those that suffer from disease and have no one to look after them. Many others there are who, expecting that there they would [155] get alms, go there and live on others’ charity.’

Having said this, Kāyaśaṇḍikai left for the land of the Vidyādharas.

Maṇimēkhalai, on the contrary, entered the streets of Puhār, and, walking alone along one side of it, entered the public rest-house, having circumambulated it thrice, and performed her obeisance in thought, word and deed to the goddess of the city, worshipped by those of the city and others. Making similar obeisance to ‘the statue of the pillar’ she appeared in the hall of the hungry and the destitute, with the inexhaustible bowl in her hand, as if pouring grain had come on a wild region burnt up with the heat of the sun. She called out to those there to come and receive the food from the inexhaustible bowl of Āputra, and thenceforward the hall resounded perpetually with the noise of giving and taking food.