Prince Sura lived in the city of Dhara. His wife, Chatura, was a shrew with a sharp tongue. Sura was very sorry for her behavior. He tried his best to improve her, but there was no fruitful outcome. So he thought of taking another wife and was on the lookout for a suitable bride.
One day, he reached the house of an old woman in the city of Avanti. She had a beautiful daughter named Sundari. When Sura made the proposal to marry her, the woman said, “I shall give my daughter to one who agrees to look after me. This daughter is my only support.”
Sura agreed, got married, and brought the new wife home. Chatura became furious to know this, but she was helpless, so now she applied the only instrument at her disposal. She would torture the co-wife, often quarrel with her and use harsh words. Soon Sundari became disgusted.
The prince then housed them in separate buildings, but still there could be no peace. Chatura would often come to Sundari’s house to quarrel with her, to beat her, to bite her with her teeth, and to scratch her skin with her nails. The situation was out of control.
Sura now housed Sundari at a distance of 20 miles. The mother lived with her, Sura often visiting.
One day, as Sura was about to go to her house, Chatura came to know of it. She lauded the idea in so many words and gave her husband some Modaka (sweetmeat) to be eaten on the way. When Sura reached the bank of a river, he sat down to rest and ate the Modaka. This was an enchanted stuff, and no sooner had he taken it than he changed into a dog.
Now, instead of proceeding to Sundari, the dog returned to Chatura. She tied the dog and beat him half dead. “Will you go again to Sundari ?” She said in anger. Then she restored the dog to human form. It took Sura a whole month to recover.
But he could not check the temptation of visiting Sundari for long, nor could he keep his plan a secret, so that this time Chatura gave him another sweet named Karamba to be eaten on the way. As previously, Sura reached the bank of the river and was about to eat the sweet when a hermit with matted hair came there and sought the whole of it. Now, no sooner had the hermit taken it than he turned into an ass, and the ass took the road to Chatura’s house, Sura following from behind.
As the ass reached Chatura’s house, she tied it fast and showered all her passion on its back. The animal brayed bitterly, but Chatura would take no respite until it was half dead. Then the ass was released and turned into a human being. And lo behold ! It was a hermit with matted hair. Chatura was terrified on the realization of what she had done to a holy man. She fell at his feet and begged sincerely to be forgiven. These are the only words the hermit uttered while departing: “Correct is the saying, whosoever eats Karamba undergoes pain.”
Fear always haunts a sinful soul. Chatura was afraid that whatever her machination, her husband could not love her. This anguish always tortured her. So she hatched a plan at once to get rid of her husband. She arranged a sacrifice to propitiate the deity, and she was successful. As she dropped her offerings into the fire, a snake came out and said, “What can I do for you, Madam ? I am pleased with your propitiation and I am at your service.”
Chatura was happy. She said, “My husband goes to another woman. I cannot bear this. So you deprive him of his life.” The snake said, “I shall do this as you desire, but it will take a little time. I promise you that at the end of six months, your husband will be a dead man.” Then the snake departed.
Sura witnessed the whole thing from a distance and thought, how mean is this woman’s conduct; not even the Brahma can fathom its depth.
After all this, he had no courage to return home, and he went to Sundari’s residence, where he started living from that day, and decided not to see Chatura anymore.
Sundari tried her best to make him happy through conversation, dance, and music, but Sura remained indifferent all the time. If someone is unhappy in the family, even other family members can’t be happy. So one day, Sura’s mother-in-law said, “My son ! What’s bothering you ?”
“Mother ! What’s the use of stating it when it’s beyond cure ?” “But, my son, sometimes the affection of the near-and-dear ones may hit upon something that may help. What’s the harm in your telling me ? Maybe when the disease is diagnosed, a remedy may come up.”
Still Sura wanted to suppress, but in the face of an overwhelming affection, he could not. He gave a full account and said, “On the completion of six months from that fateful day, I will die.”
“Don’t you worry about it. You leave it to me, and I shall set it right. Be happy from now. My own ward’s happiness is linked up with you.”
Sura felt somewhat relieved but could not be fully assured. Chatura’s words would often ring into his ears, and he could find no rest.
Sundari and her mother painted two peacocks on the wall outside. They were very lifelike. The two ladies worshipped them daily. Thus six months passed, and the fateful day arrived when Sura was to die of a snakebite. he was restless, but the two ladies gave him courage, and Sundari said, “You will see our power, my dear. If there’s some power on earth that kills, there’s a greater power that saves.”
The ladies now cleaned a spot in the room and purified it. Then they placed a cushion at the center, and on it sat the prince. The two ladies now, with enchanted rice in their hands, looked around for the snake. Soon their eyes detected one, and at once they hurled their rice at the peacocks. What a surprise !
They were no longer a coat of paint, but one of them actually descended from the wall, picked up the snake, and flew away in the sky. Sura witnessed all this speechlessly. He saw the infallible power of the enchanted words. He felt as if he had acquired a fresh life.
Chatura’s plan was thus upset. She got a report from a traveler that Sura was hail and hearty, living happily and making charities daily. She now turned herself into a white cat and reached Sundari’s house. When the mother and the daughter saw the cat in their house and read into its intentions, they themselves became two black cats and chased the white one. But the white one jumped on both, tearing each with sharp claws. Even the combined strength of the two was no match for the strength of the white cat. After scratching them severely, the white cat returned home.
When Sura asked all about it, the ladies said, “The cat was none other than your first wife, who had come to chastise us. But as it commanded a greater power, it overpowered us both and escaped unhurt.”
Sura was again depressed and wanted now to get rid of all the three ladies. Hardly a month had passed when the white cat appeared again and the same scene repeated, with similar outcome. After the encounter was over, Sundari came to her husband and said, “My dear ! When the white cat comes next time, you will have to help us. When we shall be fighting, you only say, “Black cats, kill the white cat.” At once our power will increase and we shall throw it on the ground.”
This time the white cat came earlier. It had gained confidence by her previous successes. Now, as soon as the fight started, Sura came up and said, “Black cats ! Kill the white cat.”
At once their power increased tremendously and the white cat was down rolling on the ground beneath them, and the black cats pressed so hard at its neck that it was about to die. Now, Sura thought, if my words can give strength to the black cats, similar words may give strength to the white one, and I may be rid of all the three. Let me try. And he said aloud, “White cat ! Kill the black cats.” And the black cats soon lay dead. Even the white cat didn’t live long thereafter.
When all the three were thus dead and gone, Sura felt relieved. He performed the last rites for all the three and came straight to his brother’s house where he was received by his sister-in-law. Destiny is so powerful that it pursues a man wherever he may go.
One day, as Sura was at his brother’s house, a man came from the farm to announce the death of a bull while plowing the land. He said that if it was not immediately replaced by a new bull, the work of cultivation would suffer. As soon as his sister-in-law heard this, she at once showered some powder on Sura’s head, which at once turned him into a bull. It was then led to the farm and yoked to the plow.
Poor Sura ! What a miserable life started for him ! Days passed. One day, the hook in his nose broke and fell down. This at once dispelled the charm, and Sura regained his human form. At once he slipped away from the farm.
On the highway, he met his brother who expressed a deep concern at the severe wounds on his body and requested him to accompany him home. Declining the offer, Sura said, “My brother ! Let your home be sweet to you. My sister-in-law is a devil incarnate. She turned me into a bull and yoked me at the plough. The wounds you see have been derived therefrom. Now I shall go to your home only when I desire to be changed into a bull. Until then let me keep far from your home. For me, even life in the forest is more covetable. It seems that all homes are haunted by the devil.”
After saying that, Sura started walking toward the forest, and soon he was in the very depth of it. There he saw six men attired in costly robes with a load of grass on each head. He was surprized. When he made inquiry, the men said, “Here lives an old lady in the forest, who is crippled in body, but is the very embodiment of kindness. At her bid, we take these bundles of grass for her, and in exchange, we are given rich and fresh robes. This has made our life happy.” Sura said, “My dear friends ! I want to meet the lady. Will you be good enough to introduce me to her ?”
They agreed. Sura now gathered a load of grass and started walking with them. When they reached the lady, she inquired about the stranger. The men said, “Madam ! We met him in the forest. We have it from him that his name is Dhista. He desires to join with us in supplying you grass. May we hope that you will kindly accept him ?” The lady looked very much pleased. She patted on Dhista’s back and said, “My son ! You are very weak. You stay with us and have a nice time.”
Dhista said, “Mother ! I am very unfortunate. In rolling through a hard life, I have reached here. Now, I want to spend the rest of my life at your feet.” The lady cast a very affectionate glance at him, at which Dhista felt obliged. He took a bath, wore fresh clothes, and ate delicious dishes.
A mood of inquiry invariably unlocks fresh avenues of knowledge. Dhista felt inquisitive as to what the lady did with such a huge quantity of grass. At night, he lay with his companions but did not sleep. At midnight, the lady got up and checked everybody. She made sure that everybody was fast asleep. Then, with the help of chanted words, she changed herself into a mare, ate the whole stock of grass, and thereafter became a beautiful damsel. Dhista followed her in disguise keeping certain distance. She now reached a cave where she was received by a few other female spirits, who asked, “What offer have you prepared for us ?”
She answered, “Have patience. I have gathered seven men for you, six of whom are fat and plump. Only the seventh man is lean and weak. He is a recent arrival. However, I have started feeding him well, and I have no doubt that he will put on sufficient flesh by the fourteenth day (of the fortnight). He is also meant for you.”
The devils were highly pleased, but Dhista was alarmed at death following him so closely on his heels. He had no doubt that this lady, herself a devil, would put him to death at the earliest available opportunity.
In the morning, as usual, they all started for cutting grass. On the way, as Dhista narrated his night’s experience, all the six protested, “We have not detected any evil intention in the woman’s behavior so far.”
Dhista replied, “My dear friends ! A comfortable life has blinded you, but you won’t escape from her trap, I assure you. I am not going to stay here even for a moment.” They said, “Stay for a day more, and let us make sure of what you say. If your apprehension proves true, we shall go with you.”
Dhista agreed. The day passed as usual. At night, all the seven did not sleep, and, following the lady incognito, they had a corroboration of what Dhista had said. They now sat thinking about a suitable plan. Dhista suggested that such an evil character must not be allowed to live, and since she was too powerful for any one of them, they must pull up their whole strength together and put her to death.
There was unanimity among all the seven, and they decided to take the action at once. Two men held the woman by her legs, two held her head fast, and one of them beat her so severely with a club that the poor witch breathed her last.
Now there was nothing to be afraid of, and so the seven friends started from there. Passing through a forest, they reached the bank of the Sipra, and therefrom, a fine city on its bank. But to their surprise, they found it wholly deserted. They entered into it and reached at last the palace gate, where sat an old woman. The woman at once received them and said, “Good fellows ! Here are seven beautiful damsels for you. Please accept them.”
Dhista said, “But, mother, tell us first who they are, and where do they come from “ The whole city is deserted, and the presence of seven damsels in such a lonely place causes us both surprise and suspicion.”
The woman responded, “My good fellows ! These are Vidyadhar girls. One day, their father had inquired of an astrologer about their prospective husbands. The astrologer suggested that the girls should be entrusted to me and that the husbands would come without seeking. So I am here. You now relieve me of my charge by accepting the girls.”
Continued the woman, “Here you have everything that makes life pleasant; the finest cushions, dressing rooms and bed chambers, and the most beautiful damsels. Enjoy life in their company. There are seven fine steeds in the stable; enjoy a ride on their back in any direction save the East. I bid you strictly not to go in the Eastern direction even by mistake.”
The offer seemed attractive, and the seven agreed. It was a pleasant life for them in the company of the Vidyadhar girls. Sometimes they would be on the swings dangling in the air, sometimes in the garden plucking beautiful flowers, and sometimes in the lake enjoying a swimming in the company of the girls.
One day the seven got together to consider the taboo imposed on their movement in the Eastern direction, and they decided to go there to unfold the mystery behind it. They started on horseback, all the seven together. Hardly had they gone some distance when they saw piles of human bones as far as the eyes could reach. They now looked at each other.
Just at that moment, the hoof of one of the horses struck against a skull, and the skull at once laughed aloud and said, “I too once enjoyed the same horses and the same girls.”
Everybody was afraid and surprised. But Dhista gathered courage and said, “Who are these horses, and who are these girls ? Who was the woman we met at the palace gate, and how is this place so much infested with human bones ?”
The skull responded, “This shameless witch is a notorious devil. She has killed us all. If you have love for your life, run away at once.”
At these words, all the seven got so much terrified that they ran at once. Without so much as turning their faces even once, all the seven were on their horses until the sun was high up in the middle of the sky.
Finding that the men had not come back, the seven girls at once reported to the guardian woman. She at once picked up her enchanted drum and reached the top of the mansion. Therefrom she could detect at a great distance all the seven men fleeing. She started beating on the drum to turn the horses, and she was readily effective. The seven tried to jump down from their horses but could not. They now sat helpless on their horses and the horses started back to the palace. As the woman recalled them near her and thundered, “Fools ! Why did you try to flee from my trap ? Don’t ever try it again !”
Saying that, she displayed her long, bloody tongue, and with an unsheathed sword in her hand, she trampled Dhista beneath her heels and said, “Confess, you fool ! Where were you going on horseback ? These are your last moments on the earth. Remember your creator.”
For a moment, Dhista felt nervous, but soon he gathered courage and said, “Old devil ! Tell me first, who cut your nose ?”
The question pleased the lady, who released him at once and said, “Lucky man ! Let me give you an account. In the land of Bharat, there is a city named Manorama, where reigned King Manorath. His queen, Manimala, gave birth to seven sons and one daughter. I am that daughter.
When I reached the threshold of youth, I developed a test for spells and enchantments and soon mastered all the arts, leading to hypnotism, mesmerism, slaughter, maddening, demon-arts, moving to heaven, hiding in the nether world, attracting planets, etc. I also acquired the art of making alive a corpse.
With these special powers, I reached one day the court of Indra, the king of gods, where I met many heavenly stage-players, and learnt from them the art of dramatics. This soon brought me a chance to dance at Indra’s court, and I pleased him by my performance. When he asked me for a boon, what else could I ask for but seek Indra as my husband ? And to this he kindly agreed. Henceforth I became a regular visitor to heaven and had a very nice time there.”
The lady further continued her account: “You don’t know, my dear fellow, how life at times takes a major turn without giving any notice. One day, my gardener, whom I liked, desired to go to heaven with me and see the stage performance there with his own eyes. I couldn’t refuse him. I turned him into a black bee who stuck at my petticoat, and with him thus I reached heaven. The performance started and I was on the stage, but I could not fully exert myself because of the load on my petticoat, and my dance was thus spoiled. This infuriated Indra, who cursed me not to go to heaven anymore but to live on the earth and suffer for my error. At that time, he cut my nose.
I was perplexed and couldn’t conceive for a moment that I could be in a situation like that. I fell at Indra’s feet begging pitifully to be forgiven, and humbly sought about the time of my deliverance. At this, Indra took pity on me and prescribed human flesh for my daily intake and said, “The day a human would ask you woman, who cut your nose that day you will attain deliverance.”
So I descended on this city, and with the help of these girls and horses, I deceived all the residents here and lived on their flesh. I didn’t even spare the strangers visiting the city. But no one so far did dare to ask me the question but you did today. No one had ever thought of it. You did a very right thing, and by dint of it, you are my deliverer. I am grateful to you. I now very gladly bestow on you the use of these girls, the horses, and the city.”
Dhista said, “Thank you, madam, for the kind offer, but tell me what shall I do with a deserted city ?”
The woman said, “Sir ! With my arts, if I know how to kill, I also know how to make dead men alive. The kingdom I offer you can’t be a desert.” The lady now applied her art, and the city was back to life again.
She handed over the administration to Dhista and disappeared, never to be seen again. Dhista took over the reign of the highest office and gave very high positions in the state to his companions.
One day, an Acharya came to that city. He gave his sermons, after which king Dhista expressed his inquisitiveness about the devils traps that were so often laid in the course of his life. The Acharya said, “Oh king ! In your previous birth, you were a Brahmin named Haridatt in the city of Pratisthanpur. The Brahmin had six servants. His daily hobby was to attract spirits and tease them, in which the six servants were his accomplices. Fortunately, a Muni came to that city, whose words influenced all the seven and gave them a chance to acquire pious Karmas. Now you see, you seven are brought together here, and since in your previous births you so much teased and troubled the spirits, they paid you back in your own coins in this life.”
These words restored the previous life’s memory to Dhista, who could find a corroboration of the Muni’s words. This gave a mighty turn to the course of his life, which, needless to add, he made a worthy living, and at death, attained a higher stage.