Maṇimēkhalai

Book XXII
[Protection of the Chaste]

The day having dawned, early worshippers at the temple of Champāpati found the prince there cut in two, and informed the holy ones in residence at the Cakravāḷakoṭṭam. They naturally enquired of Maṇimēkhalai if she knew anything about it, and she recounted all that had taken place. Leaving her and the remains of the prince hidden in a place apart, they went to the palace and sent word to the king of their arrival. Obtaining audience, one of them, after the usual salutation, said,

‘It [167] is not at this time alone that such sad occurrences have happened. Many have suffered cruel death due to them by giving way to the impulses of guilty love to women of inexorable chastity and constancy. By way of illustration, we may mention one or two.

When Paraśurāma had taken it upon himself to uproot the race of the Kṣatriyas, Goddess Durgā warned Kāntan, the ruling Cōḻa at the time, that he should not go to war against him. As a result of the warning, the king wished to go away from the capital and live in hiding till the danger should have passed. He, therefore, looked out for someone who could be entrusted with the administration during his absence and who would not be in the same danger to which he was actually exposed.

Fixing upon his natural son Kakandan, the son of a courtesan, but withal a very valiant prince, he entrusted him with the administration. He exhorted him to keep watch over the city till he should himself return with the permission of Rishi Agastya.

“Since you are not legitimately entitled to rule as a Cōḻa, Paraśurāma will not go to war with you, and, since this city has been placed under your rule in this emergency, the city shall hereafter go by the name Kākandi.”

Having thus enjoined it upon Kakandan, Kāntan assumed a disguise and went out of the city. Kakandan carried out the instructions of his father and was ruling, from the city, the Cōḻa kingdom.

The younger of his two sons was struck with the attractiveness of a Brahman woman Marudi as she was returning alone from her bath in the river Kāvēri. He made overtures of love to her when she was in that unguarded condition. Disconcerted by this unsuspected molestation, she cried out that

“In this world chaste wives that could command even the rains to come, would not enter the hearts of others. Somehow today, my form has found entry in the [168] heart of this young man. I have, therefore, become unfit to do the service of preserving the three kinds of fire for my husband the Brahman. What is it that I have done to come to this.”

So saying, without returning to her house as usual, she walked up the street to the square where was set the statue of the guardian-deity of the city. She then addressed the deity:

“I am not aware of having at any time done anything undutiful to my husband. Even so, how could I so easily get into the heart of another? I am not aware of any error on my part that could have brought me to this. I have heard from the wise that you will bind with your rope those of evil deeds, even though they should do them secretly, and, destroying them, would eat them up. Have you become false to your charge as you do not appear to be doing that act of justice now?”

So saying, she wept aloud at the foot of the statue of the guardian-deity. The deity appeared to her and said:

“You have not understood properly the meaning of that particular passage of the truthful bard, Tiruvaḷḷuvar, the author of the Tamil Kuaḷ referring to verse 55. which says that the clouds will rain at command of her who, even though failing to worship God, would take up her day’s duties only after worshipping her husband.

You are accustomed in life to hear false stories, and have exhibited a turn for the enjoyment of the ludicrous. Further your devotion to Gods and their worship had in it a desire to hear music, to see dances and otherwise enjoy the festivities. Therefore it is that though you are a chaste wife, you have not the power to command clouds to rain, and therefore it is that you have failed to burn the hearts of those who cherish evil thoughts regarding you.

If you will but give up the light-hearted enjoyment of the things cited above, you will [169] still command the respect due to the chaste wife and her privileges.

Since you are not to blame for this act of the prince, my rope will not bind you, and my weapons will not punish you as in the case of women that go the way of their hearts. The law allows seven days’ time for the king to punish an offender. Before that limit of time, if he should fail to do so, then it would be my turn to inflict the punishment. You may rest assured that within the seven days’ limit king Kakanda hearing of what had happened will decapitate the prince.’

As the deity declared, the prince was cut into two by the king himself when he had heard of the prince’s misdeed towards the Brahman woman.

That is not all. There was a merchant in good old days in the city, a man of beauty and of wealth, by name Dharmadatta. He had a cousin, the daughter of his maternal uncle, by name Viśākai, a damsel of great beauty. Being cousins they cherished great affection for each other, and conducted themselves as becoming a pair of very affectionate young people. It somehow got abroad in the city that they intended to marry each other in the gandharva form, that is, enter into a love marriage, without the procrastinating ceremonies and the obstructive formalities of a regular marriage.

This talk of the town reached the ears of Viśākai. Feeling pained at the injustice, she went up to the guests’ hall before ‘the statue on the pillar’ and demanded the statue may get her rid of this calumny. The deity of the statuette announced to the public that she was clear of any guilt, either of intention or of act, and the city was apparently satisfied.

She, however, was not, and thought within herself that but for this deity of the statuette the people would still have cherished the false notion regarding her. She therefore resolved,

‘I shall marry my cousin in my next [170] birth, but continue to live all my life in this, unmarried.’

Communicating this resolution of hers to her mother, she entered the cloister of virgins.

Love-lorn Dharmadatta praised ‘the statue of the pillar’ for thus saving him from an evil reputation and removed himself from Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam, and went to Madura. Having there made up his mind not to marry anybody other than Viśākai, he kept the vow and continued as a prosperous merchant acquiring great wealth.

He rose up to the dignity of receiving titles and insignia from the monarch thus becoming a titled dignitary of sixty years. A Brahman pointed out to him, that, being unmarried and therefore without a son, all his good deeds and great wealth would be of no avail, to gain him Heaven.

‘It is time that you returned to your own native city and did something to provide for your future.’

Having heard of his return to Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam, Viśākai gave up the cloister and coming up to him, told him that he had grown up to be sixty, and her hair had begun to turn gray. Their beauty was all gone, and her love itself had cooled.

‘I keep to my resolve not to marry in this life, but shall certainly be your wife in the next. Youth does not last, beauty does not last, growing great in wealth does not last either; nor do children give Heaven. The only thing that goes with us is the great good that we can do in this life.’

So saying, she exhorted him to utilize his wealth in acts of charity. Dharmadatta with the approval of Viśākai thereafter applied his wealth to acts of beneficence.

When Viśākai was returning with others through the royal streets of Puhār after her visit to the guests’ hall, the elder of the two princes smitten with her charming looks wished to make her his own. In order to do this effectively and publicly he raised his hand up to his head to take out a garland of flowers that he was wearing round [171] his hair to drop it on her neck and thus publicly commit her as it were.

By the ineffable chastity of Viśākai, however, the hands that he raised would not come down again. Having heard of this, the father was very angry at this misconduct of his son, and punished him in the same manner as he had punished the other. The king in some surprise pointed out to the sage that he began by saying that it was not only at this time that such things took place.

‘If so,’ he said, ‘does such evil conduct occur at this time. Have the kindness to let me know if such has come to your notice.’

The sage replied:

‘In this sea-girt earth, five things have been condemned by the really wise. Among these, drink, untruth, theft and murder can be brought under control, but, worst of all and very difficult to get rid of, was passion. Those that got rid of passion are rightly taken to have got rid of the others. Hence it is that really penitent ones first give up that. O, great king, those that have not given it up are people who have ensured suffering in hell.

So having heard of the calamitous death of her Kōvalaṉ, Mādhavī his mistress gave up life, and entered the cloister of Buddhist hermits. Her daughter Maṇimēkhalai, at the approach of youth, gave up life at the very beginning and going from house to house, the small as well as the great, had taken upon herself the role of a mendicant nun. She took up her residence in the public hall of the city. Notwithstanding this manner of her life, the prince kept following her like a shadow, instigated to that purpose by his extreme love to her. As he was thus pursuing her, Maṇimēkhalai assumed the form of the Vidyādhara woman Kāyaśaṇḍikai to get rid of his importunity.

Even in that form he did not give her peace, when Vidyādhara Kāñcana, the husband of Kāyaśaṇḍikai taking her really for his wife and regarding him as an [172] importunate corruptor of his wife, cut him in two at dead of night in the guests’ hall.’

Having heard this the king, without the slightest expression of sorrow for the death of his son, issued instructions to the commander-in-chief,

‘The Vidyādhara deserves my thanks for having done to the erring prince what I should have done to him. The rigid observances of Rishis and the chastity of good women will have no chance of existence if they do not receive efficient protection from the king. Before other kings get to know that my unfortunate son was guilty of such an act, coming as I do of the family of him who drove his car over the body of his son, because of a neglectful act of his, order the cremation of the dead body. Let Maṇimēkhalai also be kept in prison for protection.’

The orders were accordingly carried out.