Muladeva was a renowned trickster from Ujjain. Such was his prowess that people from far flung towns knew his name, he was invincible and he went from kingdom to kingdom tricking the people of the region. But he too met his match.
On one of his trips he went to Pataliputra where there lived an extremely beautiful woman, a Brahmin’s daughter, who too was known for her cleverness. She managed to get the upper hand in her encounter with Muladeva, much to his chagrin. Not one to take defeat easily and that too by a woman, he promised to his friend that he would pay her back for making fun of him.
With his friend in tow, Muladeva went to the woman’s house in disguise. He asked the Brahmin for his daughter’s hand, following all the procedures that any good groom ought to, and a marriage was organised. On the wedding night, in the bridal chamber, Muladeva sprung his secret on his wife. Now he told her, what would she a city bred woman do when her husband a small town idiot (in her eyes) abandoned her? He promised her that she would never see him, her husband, ever again in his life.
But the woman was not one to take such talk lightly. So she retorted, there would soon come a day when her son fathered by Muladeva would drag him back to her, all bound and tied. Having done that, the husband and wife spent their only marital night, their backs turned to each other. Muladeva left in the middle of the night but before that he slipped the ring on his finger on to her’s.
The next morning, the woman woke up to find the ring. So she said to herself, if the great Muladeva can think he gets away with treating me like this, he is gravely mistaken. She went to her father, showed him the ring and said that since her husband had abandoned her, a cursed woman like her had no option but to set out on a pilgrimage to mourn her fate. Sadly, her father let her go.
The woman went to Ujjain, disguised herself as a courtesan and called herself Sumangala. One day Muladeva came into her establishment and was charmed by her beauty, just as he had been the first time too. They spent several days together, gripped in the tight embrace of their passion for each other. Finally, Muladeva realised that the woman he lay with was pregnant because of the blackness of the tips of her breast but before he could ask her anything, Sumangala the courtesan said that the king had called her away to Pataliputra for some urgent work and left.
She had a son who when he grew old enough to be taunted by his friends about his lack of a father, asked his mother for an explanation. She told him everything, even the vow she had made on her marriage night. The boy promised that he would not disappoint her and left for Ujjain.
In the city, he soon recognised his father from the description that his mother had given him. One night he stole into his house and stole Muladeva’s bed from right under him, lowering his sleeping body on to a pile of rags. In the morning an embarrassed Muladeva set out in search of the bed thief. In the market he soon found the boy and asked him what price he would charge for it. The boy said he would not charge money but if Muladeva agreed to engage in a contest of stories then whoever told the more marvellous tale would win the other and all that he possessed. If either agreed that the tale, howsoever bizarre it may sound, was true then the teller of that tale would be the victor.
The boy was too good for Muladeva and once he had won, he extracted his prize. He bound Muladeva hand and foot and took him to his mother. The woman then told Muladeva, in the presence of her family, friends and city dwellers the entire story. Her relatives all congratulated her on her cleverness and her son, for having wiped off the stain on his mother. Muladeva was so impressed that he spent a long time in Pataliputra with his family
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Source: The Ring of Truth: Myths of sex and jewellery by Wendy Doniger (Primary Source: Somadeva’s Kathasaritasagara)
Location: Pan India