Lopamudra is a beautiful, young, kind and generous princess. As a princess, her every desire is fulfilled even before she can speak them out aloud. She takes it for granted, that one day, she will marry a man, whom she admires and loves and who will in turn will love her more than life itself!
Agastya is a powerful sage, who has grown old and gnarled, performing a life time of severe penance and renouncing all worldly pleasures. The pleasure of a woman’s company is unthinkable, quickly to be squashed whenever it arises uninvited in his holy mind.
One day, while he is meditating, the old sage has a vision of his ancestors, hanging upside down in a cave. They are miserable, for in spite of their austerities and penances and their holy lives, they are not allowed into heaven. The upside down ancestors accuse him for their pathetic state. Agastya is at his wits end. What has he done to bring them to this state? What could he do to set things right? He is told that this is because he has done nothing to produce a son, and all he needs to do is to produce a son; then and only then will they be allowed into the heavens.
Agastya, does not understand pleasure, but duty he understands. So he goes to the court of the king and asks that the beautiful young princess, Lopamudra be given to him as his wife. The king finds himself in a quandary. He cannot afford to offend the powerful old sage but neither does he feel inclined to sacrifice his beloved daughter to this man, who has neither beauty nor material possession, more over he has practised a lifetime of seeing the feminine as an obstacle to his worthy goals.
Things could have got ugly for the kingdom, but the princess Lopamudra settles the matter. She agrees to marry this man. The marriage done, the sage asks her to leave behind all her grand clothes, servants, jewellery and follow him into his humble home and way of life. Without a second thought she does so and simply follows her husband.
In mainstream telling, the teller says that the two had a marriage of extraordinary felicity. In this version, she lives the life of an ascetic happily with him till the day he thinks that she is now holy enough for him and worthy of bearing his progeny and asks her to comply. At this point in time, we are told that she refuses and insists that he bring her all the wealth that she was used to in her father’s palace and he sets out to fulfil her wish. He brings her the riches her fickle womanly heart desires and she allows him into her bed and they have a beautiful son. And the story ends with felicity all over again and the lady being honoured as one of the Mahapativratas in the world for her dedication to her husband the great Agastya. Did that make any sense to you?
Lets tell the story with a little more respect for Lopamudra.
Lopamudra comes to her husband home, and works hard at adjusting to her husband’s way of life. In the mornings, she works hard cleaning and cooking for the sage and helping him with his practices and in the night submitting to his loveless duty bound lust. She a princess does everything in her power to please this man and in the process begins to lose her own self worth for the man does not know that she is a person to be honoured; he has grown old, thinking of women as evil temptresses and there is no way, he will allow himself to be emotionally invested in her. There are times, when something soft arises in his old dry heart for this beautiful young girl, but it is quickly banished.
Lopamudra has a lot of love to give for she had received a lot of it as a child Ad so she gives and gives and changes and changes till the day she finds herself empty with nothing left to give. That night, when his gnarled loveless lusty hands reach out for her soft body, he finds that his hands are pushed away and a firm voice says, “NO”. He hears with surprise, that she dares to have dreams other than those of his dead upside down ancestors! He had never thought about this before. The fact that she could be anything but a means to fulfill his needs, had never crossed his mind. He is curious he asks, “are you not happy, serving your husband?”
She is amazed, that he has actually stopped to listen. She wants to tell him, that she needs love, she needs intimacy, she needs to be appreciated and held. She needs to know that she is honoured as a human being. She needs to know, that he too will be there for her like she’s been there for him. However she realises that this may be too much information for him. She realizes that he really has no idea about how the world works, he has never been forced to move out of his comfort zone, comfort activity and face and digest his demons. She realizes that he needs to be given a chance to do all this and she too needs time to figure out who she is all over again.
She sits up and tells him, ‘I need you to get me all the wealth and comfort that I was used to in my father’s home before you can touch me again.’ ‘That is easily done,’ says Agastya, ‘Any king I approach with your request, will willingly part with his wealth. No one will dare to incur my wrath by refusing me.’ It could not be so easy. So she sets the condition, that he could only get his riches from one who has surplus wealth. To Agastya’s credit, he does not force himself on her but sets out to fulfil Lopamudra’s demand.
To his chagrin, every king he approaches, has a perfectly balanced balance sheet, with expenses equal to income. And so though the kings offer him what ever he wants, the honest sage will have none of it. At last he hears of the demon called Ilvala and his brother Vatapa who have wealth and riches beyond their needs and he decides to go to them and ask them to donate their wealth to him. When the kings hear of this, they too decide to tag along.
Now Ilvala and Vatapa were great hoarders of wealth and indulged in every avarice known to the three worlds. Between them they had killed many a rich traveller and taken over their riches. Their modus operandi was full proof or so they thought. This is what they did. Ilvala would shape shift into a generous man and his brother would turn into a fat juicy goat. Ilvala would then invite weary travellers to his humble abode to share the juicy meat curry that he was about to cook. He would then kill the goat, cook it and feed it to the rich travellers. Then he would immediately call out to his brother ‘Vatapa, Vatapa come out your brother calls you.’And the different parts of Vatapa would come tearing out of the victims’ bodies and become one whole Vatapa again. And the brothers would then take over all the traveller’s riches.
On hearing that Agastya was coming to visit them with kings, the brothers dance for joy. And soon, the travellers find themselves served with delicious goat meat curry. The kings refuse to eat the meat but Agastya eats the whole goat. Ilvala calls out to his brother ‘Vatapa Vatapa, come out your brother calls you.” But all that comes out of Agastya is a satisfied belly burp. The sage tells the distraught demon that his brother has already been digested and so there is no coming back for him. Defeated, Ilvala gives all his riches to Agastya, who keeps what he needs and distributes the rest to the poor kings whose balance sheets are too balanced.
He then returns home to his wife Lopamudra, having faced, chewed on and digested a demon, he would have never faced, had he not been sent on this adventure. He cannot but be changed by the adventure. Lopamudra too in the mean time, has had time to think. She realizes, that she needs to voice her needs, they will not be anticipated in the outer world and learns to honour and voice her own needs. Now there is hope for felicity! Now there is hope for love.
In time, Lopamudra gives birth to children, and the ancestors find themselves turned right side up and hurry towards the open gates of heaven.