In the Dakshinadêśa there lived a Brâhmiṇ boy who from his childhood was given a very liberal education in Sanskṛit. He had read so much in philosophy that before he reached the sixteenth year of his life he began to despise the pleasures of the world. Everything which he saw was an illusion (mithyâ) to him. So he resolved to renounce the world and to go to a forest, there to meet with some great sage, and pass his days with him in peace and happiness.
Having thus made up his mind, he left his home one day without the knowledge of his parents and travelled towards the Dandakâranya. After wandering for a long time in that impenetrable forest, and undergoing all the miseries of a wood inhabited only by wild beasts, he reached the banks of the Tuṅgabhadrâ. His sufferings in his wanderings in a forest untrodden by human feet, his loneliness in the midst of wild beasts, his fears whether after all he had not failed in his search for consolation in a preceptor to teach him the higher branches of philosophy, came up one after another before his mind. Dejected and weary, he cast his glance forward as far as it could reach. Was it a reality or only imagination? He saw before him a lonely cottage of leaves (parṇaśâlâ). To a lonely traveller even the appearance of shelter is welcome, so he followed up his vision till it became a reality, and an aged hoary Brâhmiṇ, full fourscore and more in years, welcomed our young philosopher.
“What has brought you here, my child, to this lonely forest thus alone?” spoke in a sweet voice the hoary lord of the cottage of leaves.
“A thirst for knowledge, so that I may acquire the mastery over the higher branches of philosophy,” was the reply of our young adventurer, whose name was Subrahmanya.
“Sit down my child,” said the old sage, much pleased that in this Kaliyuga, which is one long epoch of sin, there was at least one young lad who had forsaken his home for philosophy.
Having thus seen our hero safely relieved from falling a prey to the tigers and lions of the Dandakâranya, let us enquire into the story of the old sage. In the good old days even of this Kaliyuga learned people, after fully enjoying the world, retired to the forests, with or without their wives, to pass the decline of life in solemn solitude and contemplation.When they went with their wives they were said to undergo the vânaprastha stage of family life.
The hoary sage of our story was undergoing vânaprastha, for he was in the woods with his wife. His name while living was Jñânanidhi. He had built a neat parṇaśâlâ, or cottage of leaves, on the banks of the commingled waters of the Tuṅgâ and Bhadrâ, and here his days and nights were spent in meditation. Though old in years he retained the full vigour of manhood, the result of a well-spent youth. The life of his later years was most simple and sinless.
“Remote from man, with God he passed his days;
Prayer all his business, all his pleasures praise.”
The wood yielded him herbs, fruits, and roots, and the river, proverbial for its sweet waters, supplied him with drink. He lived, in fact, as simply as the bard who sang:—
“But from the mountain’s grassy side
A guiltless feast I bring;
A bag with herbs and fruits supplied,
And water from the spring.”
His faithful wife brought him these, while Jñânanidhi himself devoted his whole time to the contemplation of God.
Such was Jñânanidhi—the abode of all wise people—to whom the boy-philosopher, Subrahmanya, resorted. After questioning each other both were mightily pleased at the fortune which had brought them together. Jñânanidhi was glad to impart his hard-earned knowledge during his leisure moments to the young student, and Subrahmanya, with that longing which made him renounce the city and take to the woods eagerly swallowed and assimilated whatever was administered to him. He relieved his mother—for as such he regarded his master’s wife—of all her troubles, and used, himself, to go out to bring the fruits, herbs, and roots necessary for the repasts of the little family. Thus passed five years, by which time our young friend had become learned in the many branches of Aryan philosophy.
Jñânanidhi had a desire to visit the source of the Tuṅgabhadrâ, but his wife was eight months advanced in her pregnancy. So he could not take her; and to take care of her he had to leave behind his disciple, Subrahmanya. Thus after commending the lady to Subrahmanya’s care, and leaving for female assistance another sage’s wife, whom he had brought from a distant forest, Jñânanidhi went his way.
Now, there is a strong belief among Hindus that Brahmâ, the great creator, writes on everyone’s head at the time of his birth his future fortunes in life. He is supposed to do this just at the moment of birth. Of course, the great god when he enters the room to discharge his onerous duty, is invisible to all human eyes. But the eyes of Subrahmanya were not exactly human. The supreme knowledge which Jñânanidhi had imparted to him made it easy for him to discern at once a person entering most impolitely the room in which his master’s wife had been confined.
“Let your reverence stop here,” said the disciple angrily though respectfully.
The great god shuddered, for he had been in the habit of entering hourly innumerable buildings on his eternal rounds of duty, but never till then had a human being perceived him and asked him to stop. His wonder knew no measure, and as he stood bewildered the following reprimand fell on his ears:
“Hoary Brâhmiṇ sage (for so Brahmâ appeared), it is unbecoming your age thus to enter the hut of my master, unallowed by me, who am watching here. My teacher’s wife is ill. Stop!”
Brahmâ hastily—for the time of inscribing the future fortune on the forehead of the baby to be born was fast approaching—explained to Subrahmanya who he was and what had brought him there. As soon as our young hero came to know the person who stood before him he rose up, and, tying his upper cloth round his hips as a mark of respect, went round the creator thrice, fell down before Brahmâ’s most holy feet and begged his pardon. Brahmâ had not much time. He wanted to go in at once, but our young friend would not leave the god until he explained what he meant to write on the head of the child.
“My son!” said Brahmâ, “I myself do not know what my iron nail will write on the head of the child. When the child is born I place the nail on its head, and the instrument writes the fate of the baby in proportion to its good or bad acts in its former life. To delay me is merely wrong. Let me go in.”
“Then,” said Subrahmanya, “your holiness must inform me when your holiness goes out what has been written on the child’s head.”
“Agreed,” said Brahmâ and went in. After a moment he returned, and our young hero at the door asked the god what his nail had written.
“My child!” said Brahmâ, “I will inform you what it wrote; but if you disclose it to anyone your head will split into a thousand pieces. The child is a male child. It has before it a very hard life. A buffalo and a sack of grain will be its livelihood. What is to be done. Perhaps it had not done any good acts in its former life, and as the result of its sin it must undergo miseries now.”
“What! Your supreme holiness, the father of this child is a great sage! And is this the fate reserved to the son of a sage?” wept the true disciple of the sage.
“What have I to do with the matter? The fruits of acts in a former life must be undergone in the present life. But, remember, if you should reveal this news to any one your head will split into a thousand pieces.”
Having said this Brahmâ went away, leaving Subrahmanya extremely pained to hear that the son of a great sage was to have a hard life. He could not even open his lips on the subject, for if he did his head would be split. In sorrow he passed some days, when Jñânanidhi returned from his pilgrimage and was delighted to see his wife and the child doing well, and in the learned company of the old sage our young disciple forgot all his sorrow.
Three more years passed away in deep study, and again the old sage wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the sacred source of the Tuṅgabhadrâ. Again was his wife expecting her confinement, and he had to leave her and his disciple behind with the usual temporary female assistance. Again, too, did Brahmâ come at the moment of birth, but found easy admittance as Subrahmanya had now become acquainted with him owing to the previous event. Again did Brahmâ take an oath from him not to communicate the fortunes of the second child, with the curse that if he broke his oath, his head would split into a thousand pieces. This child was a female, and the nail had written that her fate was to be that of a frivolous woman. Extremely vexed was our young philosopher. The thought vexed him to such a degree, that language has no words to express it. After worrying a great deal he consoled himself with the soothing philosophies of the fatalists, that fate alone governs the world.
The old sage in due course returned, and our young disciple spent two more happy years with him. After a little more than ten years had been thus spent the boy reached to five years and the girl to two. The more they advanced in years the more did the recollection of their future pain Subrahmanya. So one morning he humbly requested the old sage to permit him to go on a long journey to the Himâlayas and other mountains, and Jñânanidhi, knowing that all that he knew had been grasped by the young disciple, permitted him with a glad heart to satisfy his curiosity.
Our hero started, and after several years, during which he visited several towns and learned men, reached the Himâlayas. There he saw many sages, and lived with them for some time. He did not remain in one place, for his object was more to examine the world. So he went from place to place, and after a long and interesting journey of twenty years he again returned to the banks of the Tuṅgabhadrâ, at the very place where he lived for ten years and imbibed philosophical knowledge from Jñânanidhi. But he saw there neither Jñânanidhi nor his old wife. They had long since fallen a prey to the lord of death. Much afflicted at heart at seeing his master and mistress no more, he went to the nearest town, and there after a deal of search he found a coolie with a single buffalo. The fate which Brahmâ’s nail had written on his master’s son rushed into the mind of Subrahmanya. He approached the coolie, and, on closely examining him from a distance, our hero found distinct indications of his master’s face in the labourer. His grief knew no bounds at seeing the son of a great sage thus earning his livelihood by minding a buffalo. He followed him to his home, and found that he had a wife and two children. One sack of corn he had in his house and no more, from which he took out a portion every day and gave it to his wife to be shelled. The rice was cooked, and with the petty earnings of a coolie, he and his family kept body and soul together. Each time the corn in the sack became exhausted he used to be able to save enough to replenish it again with corn. Thus did he (according to the writing of Brahmâ’s nail) pass his days. Kapâlî was the name of this coolie, the sage’s son.
“Do you know me, Kapâlî?” said our hero, as he remembered his name.
The coolie was astonished to hear his name so readily pronounced by one who was apparently a stranger to him, but he said:—
“I am sorry that I do not know you, Sir.”
Subrahmanya then explained to him who he was, and requested him to follow his advice.
“My dear son,” said he, “do as I bid you. Early morning to-morrow leave your bed and take to the market your buffalo and the corn sack. Dispose of them for whatever amount they will fetch. Do not think twice about the matter. Buy all that is necessary for a sumptuous meal from the sale proceeds and eat it all up at once without reserving a morsel for the morrow. You will get a great deal more than you can eat in a day; but do not reserve any, even the smallest portion of it. Feed several other Brâhmiṇs with it. Do not think that I advise you for your ruin. You will see in the end that what your father’s disciple tells you is for your own prosperity.”
However, whatever the sage might say, Kapâlî could not bring himself to believe him.
“What shall I do to feed my wife and children to-morrow if I sell everything belonging to me to-day?”
Thus thought Kapâlî, and consulted his wife.
Now she was a very virtuous and intelligent woman. Said she:—
“My dear lord, we have heard that your father was a great mahâtmâ. This disciple must equally be a mahâtmâ. His holiness would not advise us to our ruin. Let us follow the sage’s advice.”
When Kapâlî’s wife thus supported the sage, he resolved to dispose of his beast and sack the next morning, and he did so accordingly. The provisions he bought were enough to feed fifty Brâhmiṇs morning and evening, as well as his own family. So that day he fed Brâhmiṇs for the first time in his life. Night came on, and after an adventurous day Kapâlî retired to sleep, but sleep he could not. Meanwhile Subrahmanya was sleeping on the bare verandah outside the house, and he came to the sage and said:—
“Holy sage, nearly half the night is spent, and there are only fifteen ghaṭikâs more for the dawn. What shall I do for the morrow for my hungry children? All that I had I have spent. I have not even a morsel of cold rice for the morning.”
Subrahmanya showed him some money that he had in his hand, enough to buy a buffalo and a sack of corn in case the great god did not help him, and asked him to spend that night, at least the remainder of it, in calm sleep. So Kapâlî, with his heart at ease, retired to rest.
He had not slept more than ten ghaṭikâs when he dreamt that all his family—his wife and children—were screaming for a mouthful of rice. Suddenly he awoke and cursed his poverty which always made such thoughts dwell uppermost in his mind. There were only five ghaṭikâs for the lord of the day to make his appearance in the eastern horizon, and before this could happen he wanted to finish his morning bath and ablutions, and so he went to his garden to bathe at the well. The shed for the buffalo was erected in the garden, and it had been his habit daily before bathing to give fresh straw to his beast. That morning he thought he would be spared that duty. But, wonder of wonders! He saw another buffalo standing there. He cursed his poverty again which made him imagine impossibilities. How could it be possible that his beast should be standing there when he had sold it the previous morning? So he went into the shed and found a real buffalo standing there. He could not believe his eyes, and hastily brought a lamp from his house. It was, however, a real buffalo, and beside it was a sack of corn! His heart leapt with joy, and he ran out to tell his patron, Subrahmanya. But when the latter heard it he said with a disgusted air:—
“My dear Kapâlî, why do you care so much? Why do you feel so overjoyed? Take the beast at once with the corn-sack and sell them as you did yesterday.”
Kapâlî at once obeyed the orders and changed the money into provisions. Again fifty Brâhmiṇs were fed the next day too, and nothing was reserved for the third day’s use. Thus it went on in Kapâlî’s house. Every morning he found a buffalo and a sack of corn, which he sold and fed Brâhmiṇs with the proceeds. In this way a month passed. Said Subrahmanya one day:—
“My dear Kapâlî, I am your holy father’s disciple, and I would never advise you to do a thing prejudicial to your welfare. When I came to know that you were the son of the great sage, Jñânanidhi, and were leading so wretched a life, I came to see you in order to alleviate your miseries. I have now done so, having pointed out the way to you to live comfortably. Daily must you continue thus. Do as you have been doing for the past month, and never store away anything, for if you reserve a portion all this happiness may fail, and you will have to revert to your former wretched life. I have done my duty towards you. If you become ambitious of hoarding up money this good fortune may desert you.”
Kapâlî agreed to follow the advice of the sage to the uttermost detail and requested him to remain in his house. Again said Subrahmanya:—
“My son! I have better work before me than living in your house. So please excuse me. But before leaving you, I request you to inform me as to where your sister is. She was a child of two years of age when I saw her twenty years ago. She must be about twenty-two or twenty-three now. Where is she?”
Tears trickled down the eyes of Kapâlî when his sister was mentioned. Said he:—
“Do not, my patron, think of her. She is lost to the world. I am ashamed to think of her. Why should we think of such a wretch at this happy time?”
At once the inscription made by Brahmâ’s nail rushed into Subrahmanya’s mind and he understood what was meant. Said he:—
“Never mind; be open and tell me where she is.”
Then her brother, Kapâlî, with his eyes still wet with tears, said that his sister, the daughter of the sage Jñânanidhi, was leading the worst of lives in an adjoining village, and that her name was Kalyânî.
Subrahmanya took leave of Kapâlî and his wife, after blessing his little children and again warning his friend. He had conferred what happiness he could upon his master’s son, and now the thought of reforming his master’s daughter reigned supreme in his heart. He went at once to the village indicated and reached it at about nightfall. After an easy search he found her house and knocked at the door. The door was at once opened. But on that day she was astonished to see a face such as she could never expect to approach her house.
“Do you know me, Kalyânî?” said Subrahmanya, and she in reply said that she did not. He then explained who he was, and when she came to know that it was a disciple of her father that was standing before her she wept most bitterly. The thought that after having been born of such a holy sage, she had adopted so wretched a life, the most shameful in the world, made her miserable at heart. She fell down at his feet and asked to be forgiven. She then explained to him her extreme misery, and the hard necessity which had compelled her to take to her present way of living. He then consoled her and spoke thus:—
“My dear daughter! My heart burns within me when I see that necessity has driven you to this wretched life. But I can redeem you if you will only follow my advice. From this night you had better shut your door, and never open it to any other person except to him who brings to you a large measure full of pearls of the first water. You follow this advice for a day and I shall then advise you further.”
Being the daughter of a great sage, and having been compelled by necessity to take to a wretched life, she readily consented to follow her father’s disciple when he promised to redeem her. She bolted the door, and refused admission to anyone unless they brought a large measure full of pearls. Her visitors, fancying that she must have gone mad, went away. The night was almost drawing to a close and all her friends had gone away disappointed. Who was there in the village to give to her one measure full of pearls? But as the nail of Brahmâ had appointed for her such a life as stated, some one was bound to comply with her terms. And as there was no human being who could do so, the god Brahmâ himself assumed the shape of a young man, and, with a measure full of pearls, visited her in the last watch of the night and remained with her.
When morning dawned he disappeared, and when Kalyânî explained to the disciple of her father the next morning that after all one person had visited her with a measure full of pearls on the previous night, he was glad to hear of it. He knew that his plan was working well. Said he:—
“My dear daughter, you are restored to your former good self hereafter from this day. There are very few people in this world who could afford to give you a measure full of pearls every night. So he that brought you the pearls last night must continue to do so every night, and he shall be hereafter your only husband. No other person must ever hereafter see your face, and you must obey my orders. You must sell all the pearls he brings you every day and convert them into money. This money you should spend in feeding the poor and other charities. None of it must you reserve for the next day, neither must you entertain a desire to hoard up money. The day you fail to follow my advice you will lose your husband, and then you will have to fall back on your former wretched life.”
Thus said Subrahmanya, and Kalyânî agreed to strictly follow his injunctions. He then went to live under a tree opposite to her house for a month to see whether his plan was working well, and found it worked admirably.
Thus, after having conferred happiness, to the best of his abilities, on the son and daughter of his former master, Subrahmanya took leave of Kalyânî, and with her permission, most reluctantly given, he pursued his pilgrimage.
One moonlight night, after a long sleep, Subrahmanya rose up almost at midnight, and hearing the crows crowing he mistook it for the dawn and commenced his journey. He had not proceeded far, when on his way he met a beautiful person coming towards him, with a sack of corn on his head and a bundle of pearls tied up in the end of his upper cloth on his shoulder, leading a buffalo before him.
“Who are you, sir, walking thus in this forest?” said Subrahmanya.
When thus addressed, the person before him threw down the sack and wept most bitterly.
“See, sir, my head is almost become bald by having to bear to Kapâlî’s house a sack of corn every night. This buffalo I lead to Kapâlî’s shed and this bundle of pearls I take to Kalyânî’s house. My nail wrote their fate on their respective heads and by your device I have to supply them with what my nail wrote. When will you relieve me of these troubles?”
Thus wept Brahmâ, for it was no other personage. He was the creator and protector of all beings, and when Subrahmanya had pointed out the way for his master’s children, and they had conquered fate, Brahmâ too was conquered. So the great god soon gave them eternal felicity and relieved himself of his troubles.
Notes: The book holds 26 Indian folktales.
Author: Mrs. Howard Kingscote and
Pandit Natesa Sastri
Publisher: W. H. Allen & Co. 13 Waterloo Place, London & Calcutta