Maṇimēkhalai

Book XXV
[The King learns his Previous Life]

In the meanwhile King Puṇyarāja himself, with his queen and following, entered the grove and paid his respects to the Dharma Śrāvaka. He listened to the exposition by the latter of the nature of Dharma and its opposite, of that which is eternal and those that are not, sorrow and its causes, the passing of life after death and the place which it reaches, the causes and conditions of existence, how to get rid of these and the nature of the teacher, Buddha, with great attention.

Noticing in the company a young woman of unparalleled beauty, and, judging by her look and the begging bowl in her hand [181] that she was one of those on whom Cupid had no influence, he enquired who the rare being was. In reply to the enquiry, the king’s chamberlain said:

‘In the whole of Jambudvīpa there is not another like this young lady. I learned all about her when, for securing the friendship of king Kiḷḷi, I sailed across to Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam, a city which has the river flowing on one side. I did explain to your Majesty on my return what I had myself learned from sage Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ in regard to her birth, and he recounted it as one who had knowledge of it. This is the same young lady who has come here from Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam.’

Maṇimēkhalai, hearing this said,

‘You have forgotten that it was your begging-bowl that has come to my hand, perhaps of your great wealth and prosperity now in this life of yours. It may be natural that you have forgotten that previous life; but how is it that you have forgotten this very life in which you came to birth of a cow. It is impossible for you to learn, you will not understand the nature of birth that binds us to our existence here, unless you circumambulate thrice the Buddha-seat in the island of Maṇipallavam. Oh, king, please go over there.’

So addressing the king, she rose into the air and, before the setting of the sun, she came down to the earth on the island of Maṇipallavam, and saw there, after going round the little island, the Buddha-seat. Walking round it by the right and prostrating before it, she understood all that took place in her previous existence.

Maṇimēkhalai recounted, while in this act of worship of the seat, what the sage Sadhu Śakkara taught when the king of Gāndhāra took leave of him on the banks of the Kāyaṁkarai. The sage taught his followers to avoid evil deeds which inevitably would give them birth among animals, the people of the nether world and evil spirits. He pointed [182] out that, if they should do so, they would take their birth among the gods, or men or among the Brahmas. On attaining such birth, they should do good deeds only, without remissness. The enlightened one who had learnt the truth of things without delusion or falsehood will take birth in the world for saving it. It is only those that have the good fortune to hear his teaching from him that can get rid of birth. Therefore you exhorted,

‘Before inevitable death comes to you pursue the way of charity by leading a good life.’

When however my husband and myself, having heard this teaching of yours and made a profound obeisance to you, you spoke to us only words boding evil. May I know why before the advent of the enlightened one this miraculous seat was placed here by Indra for him? Why should this exalted seat of the enlightened one let me know my previous birth? To this the guardian deity of the island said in reply:

‘This seat will accept nobody other than the fully enlightened one; Indra will not worship it. Therefore Indra commanded that the seat of good might let those that worship it know their previous birth till the enlightened one should occupy it. Therefore it is that the seat exhibits to those that worship it their previous lives clearly.’

So said the deity that day, and I feel as though she is saying it to me now. So saying, she went round the seat and prostrated before it.

While she was thus engaged in Maṇipallavam, the king returned from the hermitage of the sage to the palace. Learning from his mother Amarasundarī the actual nature of this birth of his, and how he came to be the occupant of the throne of Śāvakam, he became very much humiliated with sorrow at what happened to him in the previous birth when his mother left him by the roadside in comparison with what his distinguished [183] position in the present life was.

He observed that much the best thing for him to do would be to renounce life giving up all his present splendour; when kings awaited his time to see him; when he had to gather round him good men and true; when he had to spend more of his time in seeing lovely artists dance or in hearing musicians sing; when, instead of giving up love when women showed themselves irresponsive, he had to make protestations of love in various ways to them, all the while being a slave of passion.

He congratulated himself that this teaching which the holy Śrāvaka first taught him was then coming to fruit by means of Maṇimēkhalai. On hearing these reflections from the king, the chief minister, Janamitra, seeing that the king’s mind was undergoing a transformation, said:

‘Remember, O great monarch! that before my former sovereign and yours, obtained you for a son by favour of the holy one, this land of ours had suffered for twelve years from failure of rain, and of famine of such severity in consequence, that the very mothers would sooner eat their children to appease their own hunger than feed them, and in such dire distress you appeared as a welcome rain-cloud in the worst of summer. Since then never have rains failed, nor land its fertility; living beings have never known hunger. If you should give up rule and retire, all of your subjects will weep as a child at the death of the mother. If, for the sake of life in a higher world, you choose to give up this, living beings here will reach their end and you will be held responsible for the calamity. This is not the teaching of Him, the first one, who unmindful of his own life, made it his duty to protect living beings. You are apparently labouring under some delusion.’

Hearing this, the king, not being able to resist the desire to go and the Buddha-seat at Maṇipallavam, begged his [184] minister to bear the responsibility for a month, of protecting his kingdom and conducting its administration. So saying he ordered sailors to get ready ships at the harbour and embarked. The convoy had an uninterrupted voyage till it reached Maṇipallavam. Maṇimēkhalai seeing that that was the fleet that brought the king, took the king round and showed him the miraculous Buddha-seat. The seat showed to the king, as if in a clear mirror, his anterior history. The king proclaimed with joy,

‘I have learned all of my previous birth; I have rid myself of all that was evil. Oh, the Goddess of Learning at southern Madura, the home of Tamil, was it not you that offered me the inexhaustible bowl when at dead of night and in pouring rain, I was in great sorrow at not being able to give food to those that sought it of me; and was it not you, the Divine One! that destroyed my birth? Whether I should be born among the gods or in the Brahma world, I shall never give up the maintenance and protection of living beings.’

So saying, he went south-east along with Maṇimēkhalai, and the two rested for a while on the bank of the tank Gōmukhī. There then appeared before them the Goddess of the Isle who addressed the king in the following words:

‘Oh, king, who relieved the pangs of hunger, those that had forgotten you when last you came here, returned here afterwards in search of you; knowing that you had died they gave up their life in the manner that you yourself did. These are the bones of the nine Śeṭṭhis that died thus, and these, of their servants who maintained by them in life, paid their debt to their masters by loyalty in death. Your bones are covered with sand under the Punnai (Sans. Punnāga, Alexandrian Laurel, Calophyllum mophyllum). tree. By giving up your life, you have made yourself responsible for the lives of those who gave [185] it up for yourself. Please consider whether you are not responsible for their death.’

So saying she turned round to Maṇimēkhalai and explained to her how the city of her birth Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam was swallowed up by the sea.

‘Pīlivaḷai, the daughter of the king of Nāga Nāḍu, when she had borne a son for the king of the solar race, was worshipping the Buddha-seat when there arrived the ship of Kambaḷa Śeṭṭhi. Finding out who he was, she handed over the child to him with the message that the child was the Cōḻa king’s. Immensely pleased, the merchant took charge of the child and sailed away with it homewards. In the deep darkness of the night, the ship was wrecked near the shores, and nobody knew what had happened to the baby.

Learning from such of them as escaped that the child was among those whose whereabouts were not known, king Kiḷḷi (Vaḍivēl-Kiḷḷi). set about searching here, there and everywhere, and, in his anxiety, forgot that the time had arrived for the celebration of the great Indra festival. Goddess Maṇimēkhalā, as the guardian deity, invoked the curse that the city be destroyed by the sea. Hence the destruction of Kāvēripaṭṭiṇam. The king went away, like Indra when the whole of his prosperity was also swallowed up by the sea, all alone.

The sage Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ and your mother and others went away in safety to Vañji. If you should feel sorry to hear of the curse of the goddess Maṇimēkhalā, the guardian of the sea, you will hear the consoling information, that she was the cause of the saving of the life of one of your ancestors who was about to be drowned in a shipwreck, and who lived, in consequence, to do many acts of charity and earn the reputation of being the most charitable man at the time. You will hear of this from Aṟavaṇa Aḍigaḷ.’

So saying the Goddess of the Isle disappeared. Overcame with [186] grief, the king with Maṇimēkhalai dug up his bones that lay buried and discovered the bones all in position notwithstanding the fact the flesh and the sinews that bound them together had been eaten up. He constructed over them a sarcophagus of white mortar preserving the form of the body. The king gave way to sorrow at the sight of the form when Maṇimēkhalai rose into the air and telling the king:

‘What are you doing? I brought you here from your own kingdom in order to let you know your previous birth and thereby enable you to continue the rule with charity in your great island and the islets in the sea between. If kings themselves adopt the rule of charity, what is there to keep under control? If you should ask what is the supreme form of charity, bear this carefully in mind that it is the maintenance of all living creatures with food and clothing and places to live in safety.’

The king said in reply:

‘Be it in my kingdom or in that of others, I shall adopt the path of charity as described by you. I can however ill afford to let you go away from me inasmuch as you brought me here and enlightened me as to the nature of my previous birth, and gave me, as it were a re-birth. Oh, I cannot part from you.’

‘O king, do not give way to sorrow weakly. Your kingdom will be calling for you because of your absence. Take ship and return. For my part I shall go to Vañji.’

So saying Maṇimēkhalai flew across in the air.