After his father tearfully embraced him, Dharmangada described his many travels and conquests throughout the universe. Even the higher planets and those located deep beneath the oceans had been conquered. “I went even to the cities of the Nagas and Danavas, forcing them to pay you tribute.”
The prince showed his father what he had brought back. “Here are one hundred thousand jewels that will brilliantly illuminate your palace by night. Countless other pearls, gems and golden ornaments have also been collected for your pleasure.”
Dharmangada described how, by means of the Narayana weapons, he had defeated the mighty deity of the waters, Varuna. “For sparing his life the god presented me with ten thousand celestial horses, white and effulgent like the full moon and able to traverse the skies.”
Varuna had also offered a beautiful virgin girl to Dharmangada to become his wife, who he introduced to his father. He then fell at the king’s feet and said, “It is by your blessings alone that all this has been done by me. All my power and ability is derived only from you and hence I offer to you all that I have won.”
Greatly pleased, Rukmangada gave back much of the wealth to his son and had the court brahmins arrange for his marriage. After this Dharmangada continued to rule over the kingdom while his father stayed with Mohini. But when the holy month known as Kartikka arrived the king asked her to be allowed to observe a sacred vow for its duration.
As they sat together on a divine-like splendid bed of gold decked with jewels and spread with silk, Rukmangada said, “Many years we have been together and I have neglected the Kartikka vow, not wishing to upset you. I wish now to follow it for the full month. Pray grant me permission.”
Mohini was not happy with this request. “Surely the Kartikka vow is greatly virtuous, but its observance by kings is not recommended by any sacred text. It is meant only for brahmins. The duty of kings is always to protect the people and give charity.”
Mohini asked Rukmangada not to observe the vow. “I will not be able to stand your separation for even one hour, not to speak of a month. Please do not abandon me.”
Mohini clasped the king in her arms and placed her head on his shoulder. He called for Sandhyavali who quickly appeared there, folding her palms and bowing in respect.
“My lord, how may I serve you?”
The queen showed no sign of any jealousy, even though Mohini was holding her husband tightly. She smiled and awaited his order.
Rukmangada said, “Fairest lady, your virtue and good conduct is without compare. You have served me unswervingly, even as I indulged in the frequent enjoyment of lustful pleasure with Mohini. What other woman is capable of such behaviour?”
The queen looked down modestly as Rukmangada went on, “I desire to follow the Kartikka vow, but this daughter of Brahma prevents me. Therefore I wish that you observe it on my behalf.”
Sandhyavali, whose face was like the full moon and who resembled a goddess, agreed to her husband’s request without hesitation. “I shall do whatever pleases you and enhances your fame and virtue. I would cast this tender body into fire or even kill my son for your sake. What then of this simple holy rite?”
Sandhyavali bowed again to her husband and left him alone with Mohini, who began to tenderly caress him. The king said, “I desire only to please you, most beautiful one. At your behest I have forsaken even my duty.”
Mohini said, “Dear lord, knowing of your loving attitude and wanting only to be with you I have left heaven, forsaking even the immortals. Leaving off the gods, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Rakshasas and Danavas I came to you on the Mandara Mountain. My body and beauty are fruitful as you have accepted me as your lover.”
Clasping the king in a tight embrace Mohini began gently kissing him. She delighted him in accordance with the directions of the Kama Sutra. Fully absorbed in that pleasurable union Rukmangada passed the entire night oblivious to everything else.
But as the sun rose the following day the sound of drums was heard, followed by the loud voice of a royal messenger declaring that the next day was Ekadashi. Hearing this the king, his passions still inflamed, stood up from the bed, dropping the betel nut that was in his hand. Looking upon Mohini, who reclined naked upon the bead, the king said, “Gentle lady, the day of Hari, so destructive of sin, dawns tomorrow. Forgive me but I must observe restraint. Sandhyavali already observes the Kartikka penance for me, but this vow I must perform.”
The king asked Mohini to join him in its observance and she said, “This is indeed the most holy of all vows, and I too desire to worship Lord Vishnu. But I think the time has come to ask you to fulfil the promise you made to me when we first met. If that oath is not kept you will lose all your merit and fame.”
During all the previous years of their being together Mohini had not said anything as the king observed Ekadashi. He had left her for three days and observed fasting. But now she felt the time had come to carry out Lord Brahma’s order. Rukmangada’s attachment for her was complete. Surely now he would not refuse.
The king said, “Ask anything, sweet maiden. I will carry out your wish whatever it may be. Have no fear.” Rukmangada smiled, but as Mohini spoke in reply his smile quickly faded.
“Dear king, I ask that you stay with me tomorrow and take your meals as normal. I desire only this. Please grant this wish or else become a man of falsehood.”
Rukmangada looked in horror at his beloved consort. “Do not speak like that, dearest one. It is improper of you to create obstacles to holy rites. Ask for anything else at all. I will give you all my riches or if you like I will have a splendid aerial car made and take you wherever you like in the universe. Or let me erect two golden pillars and hang from them a jewelled swing and in it I will swing you for many months as we sport together.”
The king knelt before Mohini. “Beloved one, do not make me break my vow. Nothing could be more sinful for me and the world will be ruined.”
Mohini’s voice sounded like the melody of many tinkling bells as she replied to the king, but her message struck him like a thunderbolt.
“I have heard from sages that the Ekadashi vow need not be observed by kings. There will not be any sin for you if you take food and enjoy with me. Best of all men, only this will please me.”
Mohini went on to say that if the king did not satisfy her wish she would not stay with him any longer. “I shall not touch your body which will be contaminated with the sin of falsehood.”
Mohini praised truthfulness, declaring it to be the support of the entire universe. “Truth obliges all existences to abide by divine edict. None can transgress truth. If you fail to follow truth your position as a virtuous monarch will be rendered useless.”
Citing various Vedic evidences the king argued against Mohini. “Although for those unable to fast the taking of simple non-grain food is allowed, there is no sanction for taking full meals. For myself I have always followed a full fast and abstained from all sensual pleasure. Delightful lady, please do not make me break that vow.”
Not wanting to act outside of Vedic ordinance, Mohini presented other evidence to support her demand. “Dear king, your evidences are from the Puranas only, and these are subsidiary texts. The Vedas themselves do not prescribe fasting on Ekadashi.”
The king smiled and replied in a gentle voice, suppressing his rising anger. “Why do you disregard the Puranas, beautiful one? They are superior to the Vedas in so many ways, containing much knowledge of truth not found anywhere else.”
Rukmangada gave examples to support his statement and then quoted Puranic verses supporting the Ekadashi fast. “Who will not respect his father? Who will not worship his mother? Who will not bathe in the Ganges? Who will slander the Vedas? Who will have intercourse with another’s wife? Who will offend a Vaishnava? And who will eat grains on Ekadashi?”
Only a fool would commit any of those sins, which, the king asserted, would quickly send one to hell. But Mohini persisted in her demand and summoned many brahmins to support her case. Again citing the Vedas she stated that a king’s only duty was to protect the people. This was met with approval by the rigid Veda-following brahmins, who disagreed with Rukmangada’s Vaishnava perspective.
Gautama, a leading brahmin said, “Understand king, that your vow of fasting is whimsical and not according to the Vedas. Kings must always bear arms and be ready for battle. The austerities you accept are meant for other orders of life.”
Gautama exhorted the king to eat and cautioned him that he should not ignore the advice of the brahmins. “That will only lead you into sin and degradation.”
Rukmangada’s lips trembled in anger. He breathed heavily but by exerting great self-control he spoke in measured tones. “Great sages, hear my words. There is certainly support in scripture for my fasting.”
He cited statements found in Vaishnava texts and reasserted his determination to follow the Ekadashi vow. “Why should I abandon this vow on the guidance of brahmins who know not the right path?”
Rukmangada knew he had the support of other Vaishnava brahmins and could understand that Gautama and his followers belonged to a different school of thought. They were generally known as impersonalists who worshipped the absolute whole known as Brahman, but did not relish service to the personal form of God. However, that service was Rukmangada’s life and soul and he had no intention of stopping.
The king said, “I will not abandon my vow even if urged by the Devas, Gandharvas, Danavas, Siddhas, Rakshasas, or even Lord Shiva. The sun may cease to shine, the oceans dry up and the Himalayas crumble, but Rukmangada will not break his vow.”
Mohini face turned red as the king spoke. She felt her anger rise. Rukmangada’s fame as a so-called virtuous man was misplaced. His promise meant nothing. He obviously cared little for her; his declarations of love were all false.
Mohini said, “If you do not fulfil my desire you will fall outside the pale of virtue and become like dust. You extended your hand and gave me your word. Now you demur. Your good reputation is gone and I shall go with it. I am no longer yours and you are not mine. I must find another protector.”
Mohini stood up at once and began to leave, accompanied by Gautama and the other brahmins. Weeping, she said, “It is better to touch liquor than this sinful man.”
Mohini cried out to Lord Brahma and beat her chest in sorrow. But as she was about to exit from the chamber, Dharmangada arrived there. He bowed at the feet of his father and Mohini. Seeing her distressed he folded his palms in reverence and said, “Beloved wife of my father, why are you angry? Who has insulted you? Why do you leave?”
Mohini spoke through her tears. “Your father has become a liar. Falsely did he offer me his hand and give his word. I therefore do not desire to remain here.”
Dharmangada spoke reassuringly, “Dearest mother, whatever you say I shall do. Do not be angry. Stay here and be peaceful.”
Mohini said, “Dear prince, I do not ask for gold, gems or any other wealth. I ask only that he please himself and me by taking food and staying with me. But he refuses and has therefore fallen into a terrible calamity on a par with drinking liquor.”
The beautiful Mohini furrowed her brows in fury and declared that she would no longer remain with Rukmangada. “He is false, base and roguish. My time with him is at an end.”
Dharmangada held up his two graceful hands, adorned with gems and marked with red sandal paste. “Stop! Mother, be gracious and ask me for what you desire. How can my father be false while I live? Everything is established on his truth. Hell has been emptied and the abode of Yamaraja made void by his great virtue.”
Mohini placed her soft hand on Dharmangada’s shoulder and turned to lead him back to where Rukmangada still sat on the bed. She made him sit next to his father and took a seat nearby.
“Ask your father of his intentions, dear son.”
Dharmangada folded his palms and said to his father, “My lord, dear father, this gentle lady claims you are a liar. I cannot believe it. What is it she wants that you cannot give? This entire world is under your sway. If there is anything you lack then I shall immediately procure it for you. You need only ask me.”
Tears ran down Dharmangada’s face as he spoke. “You may even take my life or that of my mother. It is better to kill your own son than lose your good reputation.”
Rukmangada said, “My son, let my fame perish, let me called a liar and even fall into a terrible hell, but I will not take food on Hari’s day. That is what Mohini desires. Therefore let her go to her father’s abode. Childishly she has asked me again and again to break my Ekadashi fast, and I will not do so even it means I must take birth as a despicable germ.”
Rukmangada had no wish to give any delight to Yamaraja. His citizens would continue to ascend to Vishnu’s immortal abode, even if it meant that he would suffer interminably. The beating drums had proclaimed his wishes and he could not become a hypocrite. Even if he lost Mohini, he would abide by his vow.
The king said, “I may die from your separation, sweet wife of mine, but I cannot forsake my observance of Ekadashi. If I take food miserable men will again be dragged along the path to Yamaraja’s hall and the hellish worlds will again be populated.”
Rukmangada concluded by saying that he would rather drink poison, enter fire, cut off his head with his own sword and hurl himself from a mountaintop than eat on Ekadashi.
Dharmangada looked at Mohini, who sat silently with a firm expression. Plainly she would not relent, any more than his father would break his vow. The prince sighed. Perhaps his mother Sandhyavali could help resolve the situation. Servants went to her chamber and requested her presence. When she arrived her son addressed her respectfully.
“Dear mother, please try to make an agreement between Mohini and the king. Somehow my father’s truth must be preserved without his taking food grains on Hari’s day.”
Turning to Mohini, Sandhyavali said, “Gentle lady, please be gracious. Do not ask for that which should not be given. When our husband offered you his hand he was overcome by passion and not thinking rightly. He would otherwise have stipulated that this cannot be asked by you. Pray ask for some other boon.”
Sandhyavali cited Vedic evidence to the effect that a woman who causes her husband to commit sin falls into a condition of terrible suffering. “It is for this reason I am advising you, charming lady.”
Mohini glanced at Rukmangada and then said to Sandhyavali, “Most beautiful lady, your advice is good and well taken. If the king will not eat on Hari’s day then let something else be given. I do not wish to do anything that will give pain. Some divine force urges me to speak so.”
Mohini blushed with shame. She could not reveal the full extent of her predicament, but she feared calumny. She went on, “Who likes self-slaughter? Who would rush at lions and tigers? Who would outrage the modesty of another’s wife? How then can I like what I must now say? An ill fated man bound for hell is impelled to say and do all inauspicious things.”
With tears falling from her eyes, Mohini stopped speaking and looked down. Sandhyavali reached out to take her hand. Mohini looked up into her co-wife’s face and said, “What I will say now will take away your life along with that of our husband. It will destroy my religious merits and attract the condemnation of all men. But if you fulfil my request yours and the king’s fame will spread everywhere. You will both attain heaven along with your son, while I will drop down into a fearful hell.”
Sandhyavali felt her limbs tremble. Taking a deep breath she said, “Tell me, tell me. What can you say that will cause my sorrow? How will defending my husband’s truthfulness cause me misery?”
Sandhyavali was prepared to embrace any pain for the sake of her husband. She would give up her own body or endure the death of her son. Any woman who wilfully gave distress to her husband would surely be obliged to suffer great miseries in many births. If she did not give whatever she possessed to secure his pleasure a similar miserable fate awaited her.
Sandhyavali said, “I will tell you a story in this connection. When I was a child I once saw a worm come out of a log. It fell on the ground and a crow quickly came down to pick it up. Out of pity I scared away the bird with a lump of clay and picked up the worm to place it back in the wood. It then spoke to me in a human voice.”
Sandhyavali began to recount the worm’s tale
* * *
The worm said, “Splendid lady, know that in my previous birth I was the daughter of the omniscient sage Sumantu. I was affluent and therefore arrogant; the favourite darling of my mother, father and other kinsmen. We dwelt in the ancient city of Kanyakubja. When I came of age I was given in marriage to the noble and qualified Kaundinya, son of another sage. My father gave as dowry ten thousand gold pieces, as well as cows, buffalo, jewellery and numerous other items.
“In due course my father-in-law died and his wife ascended his funeral pyre. My husband offered libations in their honour and then went to the royal palace seeking employment from the king. But when he reached there he saw many beautiful courtesans and was struck with passion. With gifts of wealth he brought two of them back to our house and began to live with them.
“Soon these low class ladies had used up all the wealth we had been given and we became indigent. I still had my jewellery and gold ornaments and my husband asked me for these to spend on the prostitutes.
“I refused and went away quickly to my father’s house. My husband followed me and seized all my father’s property, which he proceeded to sell for whatever he could quickly get. Everything was sold; pots, pans, animals, grains, garments, land and all other effects. When everything was gone and the money spent, my husband decided to embark upon a sea journey in search of wealth.
“Having gone a long distance the ship was caught in a violent storm and smashed upon rocks. Everyone on board perished except my husband. Urged by his destiny, he clung to a piece of wood and drifted ashore. He saw there a great bluish mountain that rose above the clouds. He began to climb it, seeing many rivulets and waterfalls, as well as abundant flowering and fruit-laden trees. Overpowered by hunger he ate some fruits and then came to a huge sal tree as high as fifty men. Its lush foliage provided ample shade so he lay down beneath it and, covering himself with his upper cloth, fell into a sound sleep.
“As the sun set a terrible Rakshasa named Gobhila arrived roaring like a thunder cloud. Like the ten-headed Ravana he came there carrying the slender-limbed, auspicious daughter of the ruler of Kashi. That princess, named Ratnavali, had fallen asleep without taking her bath and with her head facing north. Hence due to her transgression the demon saw his chance and swiftly abducted her, carrying her through the skies to his mountain lair.
“Tired and distressed, the princess wept as Gobhila took her into his vast cave that went deep into the very bowels of the earth. It had the lustre of gold and was lit by countless gems. Mansions of variegated colors rose up toward the roof of the cavern, which was studded with precious stones that glowed in many hues.
“The demon placed the princess on a bed in a great room. Costly silks covered the bed, which was bedecked with gems and wrought with gold. Nearby stood long tables spread with all kinds of food and drink. Heaps of gold and brightly shining jewels, plundered by the Rakshasa, lay here and there around the cave.
“The princess wept loudly and trembled in terror. Hearing her cries the demon’s wife Gobhili ran out and when she saw the young girl on the bed she began to rebuke her husband in fierce tones.
“‘How have you dared bring another woman here while I am your wife? Do you wish for another wife? I will no longer stay with you then.’
“The black-eyed demoness glared at her husband who moved uneasily from foot to foot. He said with a smile, ‘Splendid featured lady, know that I have brought this one here for you to feast on her tender flesh. At the door is another human who has been brought here by Providence. Sweet wife, a brahmin lies under the tree outside our abode. Fetch him here so we can make a meal of both him and this maiden.’
“Hearing this the princess spoke out. ‘Respected lady, out of fear of you, your husband has uttered a lie. He considers you old, hideous in form and torturous in gait. Seeing me asleep in my father’s house he came to me in passion, snatched me away and brought me here to make me his wife.’
“Gobhili looked over the beautiful princess. Plainly she was telling the truth. Her husband had only thing in mind when he kidnapped the maiden, and it was not to make her his meal. She breathed heavily and said, ‘This girl is mine, brought here by you for my pleasure. Let me then fetch that brahmin for you.’
“Gobhila immediately agreed. ‘Yes, bring him quickly, My mouth is already watering at the thought of his flesh.’
“The Rakshasi went out and saw the handsome young brahmin lying under the tree. Struck at once with passionate desire and remembering her husband’s infidelity, she assumed an attractive form and said, ‘Who are you and how did you get here?’
“She immediately revealed her heart, saying that she desired to make him her husband. ‘Know me to be Gobhili, a Rakshasi dwelling in this cave. My sinful husband has abandoned me. Take me then as yours.’
“At this my husband stood up and looked fearfully at the Rakshasi. He said, ‘How can there be a union of man and Rakshasi? It is well known everywhere that men are the prey of your kind.’
“Gobhili said, ‘Although unusual, this has been ordained by Providence. Know also that the Mahabharata speaks of a future incident where Bhima will marry the Rakshasi Hidimbi. They will procreate a mighty son named Ghatotkacha who will be unslayable by any weapon other than the Shakti missile of the god Indra, which in the end will be hurled upon him by Karna. Hence do not fear. Scripture sanctions our union.’
“Gobhili told him how her husband had seized the Shakti weapon from Indra’s abode. ‘He did this when Indra came to the mortal world to gloat over Bali, his defeated enemy. He has kept it at this very place where we stand. It will kill any being at whom it is directed, before again returning to Indra.’
“The demoness quickly climbed the tree and came down again holding a shining golden dart that studded with jewels and lined with rows of small bells. She handed it to my husband. ‘Take it and slay my evil-minded husband. If you do not there is no doubt that he will swallow both you and me.’
“She swore her sincerity, avowing that the sin of brahmin killing, suicide, land theft, illicit sex with a superior and numerous other transgressions would come upon her head if she was lying. Reassured by this my husband screwed up his courage and took hold of the celestial dart, saying, ‘I shall do as you say.’
“In the meantime Gobhila, seized with a burning lust, had attempted to rape the princess. She jumped from the bed. ‘There is great sin in molesting a virgin,’ she said, backing away from him. ‘But what shall I do? Fate has brought me here and by fate’s decree I have no protector. Therefore you must become my protector by marrying me. Fetch here that brahmin and let him perform our marriage ceremony.’
“Pleased with this suggestion the Rakshasa went toward the cave’s exit. As he was going his left eye throbbed and his clothes fell away from him. But unmindful of these bad omens, overpowered by desire, he went quickly out. There to his shocked surprise he saw his wife in human form with the brahmin. As she saw him approach she said, ‘I am abandoning you for this one, for you have become attached to a woman of the human species.’