The Panchatantra – Story 38


There was once a carpenter whose wife was an adulteress. Rumours of her unchastity were prevalent everywhere and was common knowledge in the town. The carpenter was troubled by these rumours and wanted to test how far they were true. He thought to himself, “How can I test her? What is the use of testing her chastity? It is so much useless labour spent. Nothing is gained by scrutinising the origin of a river, or a family, or a sage, or a Mahatma, or testing the chastity of a woman. From the casual union of a sage born of a demi-god and a maiden born of a fish came the immortal Vyasa(Vyasa was the result of a casual union between Parasara, a sage born of a demigod, and Satyavati. a lady recovered from the belly of a fish) with a hundred good qualities and unparalleled intellectual brilliance, the progenitor of the extinct famous race of the Kurus, and the model on earth of a good man.

The ways of Fate are indeed curious and inexplicable. Now, let us take the family. The celebrated family of the Pandavas consisted of five sons all of whom were born to a woman by others than her husband. The inquiry into the alleged unchastity of a woman only brings about the many bad qualities of women and casts suspicion on the whole race. Fire may become cool and the Moon hot. but a wicked woman will never be chaste. But it is still desirable that I should find out the truth of these rumours about my wife. I now know her to be pure or otherwise only from what people say and not from my own knowledge, and no wise man should trust mere hearsay. It is wonderful how rumour works. That which is not in the Vedas or the Sastras, that which was never seen or heard, all that concerning the whole of this Universe is known to Dame Rumour”.

Thus thinking he told his wife, ‘Beloved, I am going abroad tomorrow morning and shall be absent from home for some days. So, please get ready for me the provisions for my journey.’ Hearing this, she was delighted and with an energy born of joy, got ready for him in no time various kinds of sweetmeats and ready-made foods. Well has it been said, ‘Great is the delight felt by an adulterous woman on rainy days and dark nights when the streets are rendered impassable and on days when her husband is abroad.’ Early in the morning of the next day, the carpenter started on his journey. As soon as he had gone, his wife put on her best dress and ornaments, and went to the house of her admirer Devadatta, who had often cast yearning glances at her, and told him, ‘The devil of my husband has gone abroad and will not return for some days. So come tonight to my house and let us enjoy to our hearts’ content.’ He had not hoped for such an easy conquest, and agreed with delight. The carpenter passed the whole day in a wood adjoining the town, and at dusk, when his wife was busy adorning herself for the encounter with her lover, entered the house by the back door which was left open by her, and, unseen by her, went and hid himself under the cot. 

Devadatta came shorty afterwards and sat upon the cot over which the bed had already been spread. On seeing him, the carpenter was filled with anger and said to himself, ‘Shall I rise up at once and do this villain to death? Or shall I wait till he and she consort together and sleep and then dispatch them both with ease? Well, let me first watch their movements and hear what she talks to him,’ Soon, his wife came to the room, bolted the door, and eagerly mounted the cot. In doing so, her right leg touched the carpenter’s body. With remarkable intuition characteristic of such women, she said to herself, ‘Surely, this must be the devil of ray husband concealing himself here in order to test my chastity, I shall show him how clever a woman can be.’ 

When she was thinking thus, Devadatta was dying with eagerness to embrace her. She folded her bands in supplication to him and said, ‘ Oh great soul, I am the model of chastity and am ever faithful to my husband.’ He was nonplussed by this and asked, ‘If that is so, why did you send for me?’ She said, ‘ Listen attentively. I go everyday to the Kali temple near by for worshipping. This morning when I was in the temple the goddess said to me, “Daughter, what can I do for you ? You are my devoted worshipper, but Fate has ordained that your husband shall die within six months from to-day and you become a widow.” I then said, ” Oh goddess, you who know about this calamity must surely also know how to avert it. Pray, suggest to me some way by which ray husband will live for a hundred years.” 

She said, ” Daughter, there is a way to avert it but it is almost impossible for you to follow it.” At that I asked her, ” Goddess, please tell it to me. Even though it costs me my life, I shall do it.” Then the goddess said to me, “You will have to sacrifice more than your life if you are to save him. To a chaste woman like you, your chastity is more precious than a hundred lives. If you are to save your husband, you must make the supreme sacrifice that can be demanded of a chaste woman. You must invite to your bed a man other than your husband and embrace him there. By doing this alone will your husband be saved from this untimely death and live for a hundred years.” I told her, ” Goddess, no sacrifice is too dear for saving the life of my precious husband though the one you have named is the cruellest of all.” I returned from the temple and sent for you in order to adopt the only course to save my husband. So, at once embrace me and be done with it. I am firmly convinced that what the gods say cannot but be true.’ 

Then Devadatta and she embraced each other. When this was over, ‘she told Devadatta, ‘Great soul, you have saved my husband by complying with my request. I too, by doing the cruellest sacrifice a chaste woman can do, have saved my beloved husband who is my god, my beloved, and my soul’s salvation. Go thy way now and let me await for the return of my husband now assured of a hundred years. I only wish that he were there now to embrace me in this new joy and to console me in this, my terrible sacrifice.’ The foolish carpenter was deluded by his wife’s tale.

At these last words of hers, he sprang up from underneath the cot and said to his wife, ‘Oh beloved, oh model of chastity, oh soul of purity, oh delight of my family, embrace me forthwith and forgive me for my lie to you. Misled by the rumours of the malicious populace, I suspected your chastity and wanted to test it. So I told you falsely that I would be going abroad for some days and crept slyly under this cot in the evening, entering the house through the back door when you were engaged otherwise. Forgive me for my suspecting such a model of chastity who has all the while been thinking of my welfare and has made the cruellest sacrifice a chaste woman can make in order to save me from untimely death and to make me live a hundred years.’ He then caught her in his arms and embraced her fervently. Then he told Devadatta, ‘Oh great soul, you have come here by my good fortune. Owing to your acceding to ray wife’s desire, I am now assured of a hundred years.’ With that he embraced him also. Then taking his wife and the bewildered and unwilling Devadatta on either shoulder, he danced about in the house in a delirium of joy and from there rushed on into the street exhibiting them at every door to the wonder and astonishment of all householders. 

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