Maṇimēkhalai

Book XXIII
[The Queen seeks Revenge]

Under the auspices of the king there lived in the city a very old woman who had the privilege of instructing the king, the prince, as well as the ladies of the royal household in what was good, what was approved of the learned, and of offering consolation at the occurrence of sad events. Her name was Vāsantavai. She went to the queen and without letting her give way to sorrow, made the usual salutations and said:–

‘Kings met their death in winning victories, in protecting their subjects and in annexing the kingdoms of inimically disposed neighbours; and, if perchance they died of age without falling in battle like warriors, they were given a hero’s death by their body being laid on a bed of sacrificial grass (Poa cynosuroides). and cut in two, as though they fell in battle. I cannot fetch a tongue to say that monarchs of this land died a natural death by reaching ripe old age. To say so would be to disgrace the dynasty. Without [173] falling in defending his kingdom, without falling in taking over other’s kingdoms, how can I describe the way that your son fell by the sword? Show, therefore, no sorrow in the presence of the sovereign, your husband.’

Overpowered as the queen was with sorrow, she hid it in her heart, and appearing as though unaffected, she resolved to make Maṇimēkhalai pay the penalty for her having been the cause of her son’s death. She managed one day to persuade the king that the prison house was not a suitable place of residence for the pretty bhikṣuṇi Maṇimēkhalai. The king in reply said that she might arrange to keep her anywhere else if she could keep her in security. The queen undertook to keep her with herself and thus took charge of her.

Having got possession of her in this manner she resolved to make her insane, and to that end fumigated her with poison gas in vain. Maṇimēkhalai remained clear in spite of the treatment. The queen set upon her a wild young man to ravish her and make it public afterwards. Maṇimēkhalai saved herself from this by transforming herself into a man at his approach. Understanding that the queen meant more than actually met his eye, the desparate young man left the city and went away rather than expose himself to the danger.

Having failed in these, she gave it out that Maṇimēkhalai was ill and put her under treatment by confining her in a hot room. Seeing that this treatment did not affect Maṇimēkhalai the queen was in great fear that she was attempting to injure a woman of miraculous power, and protested that she was led into doing these evil deeds by the maternal impulses of sorrow for her late son, and begged that Maṇimēkhalai might pardon her for her evil intention to her, as she was beside herself in her bereavement. Maṇimēkhalai said in reply,

‘When in the previous birth [174] my husband, prince Rāhuḷa, died of the poison of a cobra and when I ascended the funeral pyre with him, where were you all weeping for him? You are doing amiss. Do you weep for your son’s body or do you weep for his life? If you weep for the body who was it that ordered it to be burnt? If you weep for the life, it is impossible for you to know where it has gone. If you really are sorry for that life, it follows as a natural consequence that you should wear yourself out in sorrow for all living beings. Let that remain. Please understand what it is that brought about the death of your son. His death by the sword of the Vidyādhara is but the direct consequence of his having cut his own cook in two for a slight remissness in the discharge of his duty. It is this deed of his that brought on his death once by the look of the poisonous cobra, and again by the sword of the Vidyādhara!’

She then followed it up by telling the queen of all that had happened ever since she got into the garden outside the city. She then continued,

‘All the evil that you attempted to do to me, I was able to save myself from by the possession of miraculous power. Therefore give up the useless sorrow to which you have given way to the extent of doing evil deeds.

Have you not heard the story of the wife of an artisan, who because of misrule in the kingdom and because her husband gave her up, went away to a distant place to set herself up to live by hiring herself out for the enjoyment of others indiscriminately. Her own child whom she had left behind having been brought up by a Brahman was among her lovers and gave up his life when he learned of the fact.

A hunter who chased a deer big with young was reduced to painful sorrow when he saw the young one jump out from the ripped open entrails of the deer. You have known people who, [175] being drunk, come to certain death by falling upon the tusks of fighting elephants. Similarly you have seen the evil fate that overtakes life by falsehood or theft. Hence it becomes plain that those that wish to live in this world must give up these vices which bring on evil consequences only. Otherwise all that we learn is of no use. To give to those that suffer from poverty, to feed those that suffer from hunger, to be kind to those that suffer is the only conduct suitable to those who wish to lead a good life in this world.’

Thus saying Maṇimēkhalai poured this water of wisdom into the ear of the queen extinguishing the fire of sorrow, that, fed by the fuel of her own heart, was burning up the queen’s mind. The queen, her mind being clarified by this good teaching, fell prostrate before Maṇimēkhalai. Maṇimēkhalai in her turn prostrated before her and pointed out that which the queen did was not right, as obeisance from a mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law was improper, and, what was worse, that from the crowned queen to a subject.