Maṇimēkhalai

Book XXIV
[Good and Bad Deeds]

Old Chitrāpatī, at whose instigation the prince came to the sad end of falling by the sword of the Vidyādhara, having heard of what had happened, was in great alarm as to consequences. Anxious however to get Maṇimēkhalai released from the prison, she went to the palace, and, falling at the feet of the queen said:

‘Ever since the 121 dancing women appeared in this city, the suffering to which I had been subjected nobody could have experienced. That Mādhavī should have renounced life and entered a Buddhist vihāra because of the death of her lover, who paid her wages of love every day; that her daughter Maṇimēkhalai who wandered from house [176] to house with a begging-bowl in her hand and taken alms, are unbecoming of the life of a dancing women, and could provoke only laughter and derision in the community.

Maṇimēkhalai’s presence in the city has been the cause of destruction to the prince already. But that is not all. There is another possible calamity that can befall the city through her. In the delightful part adjoining the salt pans where many a sand-dune lay scattered in the pleasant grove, Kiḷḷi of the high and brilliant crown one day long ago was taking his pleasure. To his great surprise, he saw in a sequestered part of it, fragrant with blossoming flowers, a beauty unparalleled, all by herself alone. The king did not know who it was that could come there in that condition, and forgetting himself, yielded to her charms attacked as he was with all the five arrows According to Indian notions Cupid is shewn as a bowman, carrying a bow of sugarcane from which he shoots arrows of flowers – the five fragrant ones that appear in early spring. of Cupid at once. The season was pleasant, the scene was delightful, and the young lady enchanting in her beauty.

He yielded himself to her whole-heartedly, and even after he spent a month with her she never so much as let him know who she was. At the end of the month, however, she left him all of a sudden unknown to him. Disconcerted by her disappearance the victorious monarch caused her to be searched for everywhere; when there appeared a Buddhist Cāraṇa who had the power of plunging in the earth, of flying in the air, and of walking on water. The king after having offered the usual respectful salutation, enquired of him whether he had known anything of the dear one that had disappeared all of a sudden, and was importunate to know from the sage her whereabouts. The sage replied: [177]

“Though I have not seen her, I know all about her, O King, as I have knowledge of the past. The charming damsel is none other than Pīlivaḷai, the daughter of Vāśamayilai, and her husband Vaḷaivaṇan, the valiant ruler of Nāga Nāḍu. On the day of her birth it was predicted that she would become the mother of a son by union with a ruler of the solar dynasty of kings. The child will come here in due course, but no more the mother. Do not, therefore, give way to useless sorrow. But take note of this.

There is a curse upon this city that it would be swallowed up by the sea on the day that the annual festival of Indra should be forgotten. This is the vow of the goddess Maṇimēkhalā; there is no escaping it, as it is a curse of Indra. Remembering therefore the destruction of the city then when the time comes, and, of yours now, if you give way to useless sorrow, save the city from being destroyed by the sea by taking care never to forget the celebration of the festival of Indra.”

So saying, the Sāraṇa (Tamil for Sanskit Cāraṇa). left. From that day onwards this city was never free from anxiety for the safety of the city. If the damsel who bears her name should be in distress for any reason, it is just possible that the goddess does appear. I am in constant fear of that.’

Chitrāpatī concluded her speech with the salutation due. The queen ordered that Maṇimēkhalai be brought from the prison to her own residence, and told Chitrāpatī,

‘Maṇimēkhalai will not go to you, nor will she enter your house, as she gave up both, because your life involves the practice of taking drink, speaking untruth, indulging in unrestrained love, killing living beings, and indulging in stealthy thoughts, evils that the wise ones have shunned as unworthy. Therefore she would prefer to be with me.’ [178]

As this colloquy was taking place at the palace, Mādhavī, having heard of what had fallen her daughter, her own mind greatly perturbed, her whole body shaken like the flowering twig of a tree in a wild wind, and having consulted Sutamatī, fell prostrate before the sage Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ as the only saviour, and came along with him to the queen.

At sight of the sage, the queen, the body of attendants, Chitrāpatī and Maṇimēkhalai, all of them, went forward to receive the venerable one with due salutation. The sage blessed them all that they might gain wisdom. The good queen showed him a suitable seat, and after washing his feet, and offering him the hospitality due, said:–

‘Venerable Sir, that you should have come with the faltering steps of age, could be due only to our good fortune. While it is undoubtedly true that your tongue has remained steady all the while, may this body of yours, though it has suffered very much from the ravages of age, keep on for many a year to come.’

The sage said in reply,

‘Good queen, though born in this body as a result of good deeds, I am still rather like the setting sun. It is but in the course of nature that we hear of birth and growth, of disease and death. If people but understand the real character of the causes and conditions of existence, namely the twelve nidānas, (1) ignorance, (2) action of the mind, (3) consciousness, (4) name and form, (5) the organs of sense, (6) contact or feeling, (7) sensation, (8) thirst, (9) attachment, (10) becoming or existence, (11) birth, (12) decay and death, they will know ultimate happiness. If they do not understand it correctly, they are doomed to suffer in hell.

By ignorance is to be understood the failure to understand what was stated above, and subjecting oneself to believing that which is heard from others. Among the three [179] worlds, this world of life is limitless, and living beings in this world fall into six classes, human beings, divine beings, the Brahmas, the Nāgas, the world of lower creatures, and that of evil spirits.

As a result of good and bad deeds, beings come into existence in the form of embryo in one or other of these classes, and when the deeds work themselves out, they feel either happiness or the reverse. Evil deeds consist in killing, stealing and giving way to passion, these three showing themselves in the body. Lying, evil-speaking, harsh words and idle words, these four show themselves in speech-Desire, anger and intolerance show themselves in the mind. These ten are the deeds of evil, and, as their consequences are evil, the wise ones shun them. If these are not avoided carefully, the result is being born as an animal or evil spirit or an inhabitant of Hell, and suffer that which gives agony of mind.

Good deeds consist in the avoidance of the ten evils detailed above, the adopting of the five prescribed lines of conduct and making gifts of charity as the best action in life. Those that do so are born either as divine beings or as human beings or among the Brahmas, and enjoy the result of their good action. Those of you that are attendants upon the queen, listen with attention to this faultless good Dharma; you Maṇimēkhalai that know your previous birth already, if you will go to me after learning the teachings of other religions, I shall be glad to explain to you more of this.’

So saying the venerable one got up to leave when Maṇimēkhalai made a profound obeisance and exhorted the queen, her attendants and Chitrāpatī to bear in mind the teachings of the venerable one and save this city.

‘If I should continue to remain in the city, people would still talk of me as having been death to the prince. Therefore I shall proceed to the [180] kingdom of Āputra and therefrom to Maṇipallavam where I shall again offer worship at the Buddha-seat and then proceed to Vañji. There I shall spend some time in doing deeds of charity in devotion to the chaste one Kaṇṇakī. Do not be anxious as to what would happen to me, my friends.’

Having said this and made her profound obeisance to the company, she started up in the air like a stream of molten gold, as the sun was sinking below the horizon.

Going to the Cakravāḷakoṭṭam, she circumambulated three times the guests’ hall, the temple of Champāpati, and the statue on the pillar and passed by way of air to where ‘the descendant of Indra’, Āputra, was holding rule. Getting down in a grove of flowering trees, she, with due reverence, enquired of a hermit the name of the place and that of the ruler of the locality. She was told that the city was Nāgapura, and its ruler Puṇyarāja, the son of Bhūmicandra. He further offered the information that,

‘Since the birth of this ruler, rains have never failed, earth and trees have always yielded plenty, and living beings have had no taste of wasting diseases.’