A tale from Kashiram Das’ 17th century Bengali Mahabharata, Vana Parva
When Krishna visited the exiled Pandavas in the forest of Kamyaka, he pointed out that the virtuous often suffered because of the condition of the stars and their own karma as had happened to King Shrivatsa and his wife Chintadevi. At Yudhishthira’s plea, he narrated their story.
Shrivatsa was the son of Chitrarath who ruled over the entire eastern world and had preformed hundreds of ashvamedha and rajasuya sacrifices. None equalled him in virtue. His wife was the daughter of King Chitrasen, named Chintadevi, who was equally meritorious. One day the goddess Lakshmi had a dispute with the maleficent god Shani over who was the greater of the two. They decided to take the opinion of Shrivatsa. After they had taken their seat on thrones, Shrivatsa said that as the superior was always stationed to the right and the inferior to the left, the goddess was the greater. Shani was furious and sought for some chink in the king’s armour.
One day, after the king had bathed, a black dog came and licked the bath water. By means of this chink Shani entered the king and gradually overcame his intelligence. The kingdom was overwhelmed with all sorts of afflictions. Wrapping up their precious gems in a cloth, the royal couple took to the forest. There they saw an illusory river where Shani appeared in the guise of a boatman. He agreed to take them across one by one, beginning with the bundle they carried. He took away their store of wealth and vanished along with the river. After suffering great privations they came to another forest where Shrivatsa invoked Vishnu and heard an unseen voice announcing that as long as they lived there, they would be protected. One day they found a group of fishermen in the forest and begged fish of them. When the fishermen failed to catch any, the king bade them cast their nets again, whereupon they landed a huge catch. Gladly they gave fish to the couple. The queen knew that eating roasted fish was an antidote for Shani’s evil eye. With great care she roasted the fish and went to the lake to wash off the ashes. There the fish came alive and escaped into the water. The king exclaimed that out of hunger she must have eaten it up and was now spinning this amazing tale of a roasted fish swimming away. At that point Shani’s voice was heard announcing that all this had happened to teach him a lesson for judging him inferior to Lakshmi. Shani boasted that because of his power Rama and Shiva had to lose Sita and Sati, Bali lost his kingdom and Vishnu had to leave Vaikunta and assume the form of a worm within a stone in Gandaki mountain. Now he had succeeded in creating dissonance between Shrivatsa and Chintadevi.
For five years the couple suffered thus. After this, they went to a town and took shelter among woodcutters. He sold a load of sandalwood and with the money bought all provisions to give a feast to the woodcutters. Chintadevi prepared a wondrous feast that everyone praised.
One day a merchant’s boat hit a sandbank and got damaged. Shani appeared in the guise of a soothsayer and told him that this had occurred because he had not joined his wife in worshipping the nine celestial bodies. As a remedy he must invite all woodcutters’ wives to grasp the boat. Among them was a virtuous woman whose touch would free the boat. Chintadevi obliged, but the merchant abducted her as a sure remedy in case his boat was ever grounded again. The queen prayed to the sun to save her virtue and found herself turned leprous white. Shrivatsa searched high and low for his wife, asking everyone but could not find her. Finally he came to the hermitage of Surabhi and told her all that had happened. She advised him to stay with her as Shani had no influence there. One stream of her milk fed him while another wet the ground. With that clay Shrivatsa made pairs of golden slabs that he joined into one by the powers of his two sprites Taal and Betaal.
One day that merchant’s boat anchored at that place. The king begged him to carry the slabs for trade along with him. The greedy merchant took the gold on board and threw the king into the sea. The king cried out for his wife who threw him a pillow, while the two sprites he commanded—Taal and Betaal—kept him afloat on a raft. Thus he reached Sautipur at the house of a gardener where the dried-up garden burst into bloom at his touch. Astonished, the gardener’s wife Malini sought out the cause and found Shrivatsa, who told her his whole story. She gave him shelter.
Malini told him that the king here was Bahudev whose daughter Bhadra was a renowned beauty who had obtained from Parvati the boon to wed Shrivatsa. Bahudev held a svayamvara for her. Shrivatsa sat below a kadamba tree. An unseen voice guided Bhadra to that very spot and she chose him as her husband out of all the assembled kings. Ashamed, Bahudev had a cottage built for them outside the palace and decided never to look upon Bhadra.
Advised by Bhadra, Shrivatsa worshipped god night and day for twelve years. One day he went to the banks of the river and began searching every boat. It so happened that the merchant arrived there. Shrivatsa seized the boat and had the king’s men unload all the gold. The merchant complained to the king that his son-in-law had robbed him. Being summoned, Shrivatsa challenged the false sadhu to split the golden slabs if he had made them. The sadhu failed, whereupon Shrivatsa did so easily. The king then stood up respectfully and begged Shrivatsa to tell him who he truly was. Shrivatsa related his entire history. Bahudev fell to the ground begging forgiveness for his earlier rudeness. They went to the merchant’s boat and found Chintadevi there, leprous white and wrinkled. Knowing that the bad days were over, she called upon the sun god and was restored to her original beauty and youth.
Thus the long separated couple were united. The next morning in the royal court Shani arrived announcing his terrible prowess. Everyone bowed to him in terror and Shrivatsa sang a paean in his honour. Pleased, Shani restored him to his kingdom announcing that he would rule for ten thousand years, have a hundred sons and a lovely daughter, ultimately proceeding to Vaikuntha.
The next day Shrivatsa took his two wives on a chariot and called Taal and Betaal who flew it back to his kingdom in a trice. There he performed many rajasuya and ashvamedha sacrifices, had two daughters and a hundred sons by his two queens. None remained poor in his kingdom. Ultimately, with his queen he went to the abode of Vishnu.
Krishna told Yudhisthira not to grieve unnecessarily over suffering that was fated. Whosoever listened to the tale of Shrivatsa and Shani attained heaven and freedom from Shani’s evil eye. Saying this, Krishna returned to Dwaraka with Subhadra and her son while Dhrishtadyumna left for Panchal with his five nephews.