Maṇimēkhalai

Book XIX
[Maṇimēkhalai feeds Prisoners]

While prince Udayakumāra was thus making his vow, a being of the spirit-world inhabiting one of the pictures on the wall warned him,

‘You are thoughtless in making your vow before the goddess. It will come to nothing.’

The prince was taken aback by the miraculous voice, and, somewhat shaken in his resolution, said,

‘There is something divine in the spiritual being that exhorted me to forget Maṇimēkhalai. The bowl that she carries in her hand with an inexhaustible supply of food is a miracle that causes me great surprise; that this painting should talk to me in this manner is still more surprising.’

He resolved that he would find out the truth of all this after knowing the truth about Maṇimēkhalai. Having thus made up his mind, and, still beside himself with his love for her, he returned to his palace.

Maṇimēkhalai, on the contrary, thought that in her form she was exposed to the efforts of the prince to take possession of her, and resolved to assume the form of Kāyaśaṇḍikai.

She took the miraculous bowl from the temple of Champāpati as Kāyaśaṇḍikai, and went from place to place wherever she thought there was the chance of meeting people in hunger.

In the course of her wanderings, she went one day to the chief prison in the city, and, entering the well-guarded penitentiary, began with great kindness and pleasing words, to feed those who were suffering from hunger while undergoing punishment. The guardsmen were struck with wonder [159] that she was able to feed so many from out of one vessel that she carried in her hand, and reported the miraculous occurrence to the king.

With his queen Śirtti, a descendant of Mahābali, who ages long gone by, gifted, with pouring of water, the whole earth and all that was his, to Viṣṇu, when he appeared as a dwarf and sought a boon of him, and rising sky high, measured the whole earth in one stride, the king was on a visit of pleasure to the royal garden, and among them he found a peacock with its mate moving about in the company of a milk white swan. He pointed out the three to the queen likening them to Kṣṇa, his brother and sister in their characteristic dance.

In another place similarly he saw a tall bamboo standing alongside of a white Kaḍambu, which again seemed to him like Kṣṇa and his brother standing. Having thus spent a considerable time, he retired to a garden house where, like Indra himself, he was resting for a while with his queen. This house was a work of art in which had been lavished ‘the skill of the Tamil Artisan, along with those of the jewellers of Magadha, of the smiths of Mahrāṭṭa, of the blacksmiths of Avanti, and of the carpenters of Yavana’.

The structure was constructed with pillars of coral, with capitals of varied jewels, with pendants of white pearl and a beautifully worked canopy of gold. Here the head of the prison-guard entered with permission and, performing due obeisance from a distance, addressed him:

‘May your Majesty live long! The Majesty of the monarch of the strong arm, Māvaṅkiḷḷa, in whose behalf the white umbrellas of his enemies were taken as spoils of victory by his younger brother at Kāriyāṟu; enemies who, stimulated by a desire to get possession of more of the earth, started from Vañji, prepared for an aggressive war, taking with them broad-eared [160] elephants, cars, and horses and a vast array of valiant warriors.

The army marched with the banners of the bow and the twin fish floating in the air till they were defeated and dispersed by the young prince, your brother. May our great king, our emperor, prosper. A woman new to the city who used to wander about consumed with the disease, “elephant-hunger” has entered the prison-house, and, praising your Majesty’s good name, feeds from a begging bowl which she carries in her hand, all persons to their uttermost satisfaction. May it please your Majesty, she is still there.’

The king ordered her being fetched, and she appeared with the salutation that the great king’s mercy may prosper.

The king desired to know who she was and what sort of a begging bowl it was that she carried in her hand. Maṇimēkhalai replied:

‘I am the daughter of a Vidyādhara and have been wandering in the city in disguise. May the rains never fail, may the earth not cease in prosperity, may the great king know no evil. This begging bowl was given to me by a goddess in the travellers’ hall of the city. This had the power to cure even the disease “elephant-hunger” and is an unfailing life-giver to human beings.’

The king asked,

‘What can I do for you, good lady?’

She replied,

‘May the king live long, only destroy the prison-house, and erect there, in its stead, with kindness of heart, tenements useful for those that follow the path of Dharma.’

The king ordered accordingly.