The tale of the weaver and the carpenter

This is a story that has been translated hundreds of times. I did this many years ago because I found it interesting in the general context of Radha and Krishna, as a kind of non-religious perspective on divine romance and its follies in worldly reflection. I realized it had not been published on this blog so here it is.



suprayuktasya dambhasya
brahmāpy antaṁ na gacchati
kauliko viṣṇu-rūpeṇa
rāja-kanyāṁ niṣevate

"Even Brahma cannot fathom a cleverly devised fraud. Just like a weaver impersonating Vishnu was able to seduce a king's daughter."

Karataka asked, "How's that?"

And so Damanaka started to tell the tale of the weaver and the carpenter.

Once upon a time, in a town far, far away, lived two friends--one a carpenter, the other a weaver. The pair had been inseparable from childhood onward, always showing each other affection, going and doing everything together.

One day, it so happened that there was a festival at one of the temples in the town. There were dancers and actors, singers and bards, and hosts of pilgrims who had come from many lands to see the deity and hear the performers. The two friends wandered through the crowds when the daughter of the king came riding in on the back of an elephant, surrounded by her retinue of eunuchs and servants, coming to take darshan of the Lord in the temple. As soon as the weaver beheld the princess, he was immediately struck by Cupid's arrow. As though convulsed by poison, as though affected by an evil asterism, he fell suddenly to the ground.

When the carpenter saw his friend lying unconscious, he immediately had some acquaintances lift him up and take him home. He applied cold compresses, had doctors and magicians come to give medications and chant spells, and after much effort, the weaver eventually returned to consciousness.

The carpenter asked, "My dear friend! What on earth happened to you that you suddenly fainted like that? Please tell me what is the matter with you."

His friend answered, "If you really want to know, I will tell you the secret. You will learn the burden of my heart. I am dying. If you have ever considered yourself to be my friend, I ask you to kindly make me a gift of wood for my cremation. Forgive me if in the past I have at any time done you any wrong out of too great feelings of intimacy."

The carpenter's eyes filled with tears and his voice choked as he said, "Tell me, tell me please, whatever is the matter? If there is anything at all that I can do, I will do it for your sake. For is it not said--

auṣadhārtha-sumantrāṇāṁ
buddheś caiva mahātmanām
asādhyaṁ nāsti loke’tra
yad brahmāṇḍasya madhyagam

'There is nothing within this universe that cannot be countered by potions, wealth, good advice, or the intelligence of extraordinary people.'

"If your problems can be dealt with by any of these four things, then I will solve them," he said.

The weaver answered, "My friend, I am afraid that what I desire is beyond the reach of these four devices. Indeed, there are thousands of stratagems by which to fulfill one's desires in this world, but that which I seek is unobtainable by any of them. This is the cause of my grief. So I ask you not to waste my time and just let me die."

The carpenter said, "Please, friend, tell me what is the cause of your distress. If I agree that it is indeed something that cannot be resolved by any means, then I will accompany you into the cremation fire, for I could not bear to live without you for even a moment. Of this I am certain."

The weaver said, "My dear friend, this condition befell me the moment I saw the princess arrive on the fair grounds on the back of the elephant. It is Cupid who has done this to me. I cannot stand such an unbearable agony. For it is said,

mattebha-kumbha-pariṇāhini kuṅkumārdre
tasyāḥ payodhara-yuge rati-kheda-khinnaḥ |
vakṣo nidhāya bhuja-pañjara-madhya-vartī
svapsye kadā kṣaṇam avāpya tadīya-saṅgam ||220||

When, O when will I fall asleep,
exhausted after making love,
my chest wrapped in her arms,
resting my head on her breasts, wet with kumkum,
and full as the frontal globes of a rutting elephant.

rāgī bimbādharo’sau stana-kalaśa-yugaṁ yauvanārūḍha-garvaṁ
cīnā nābhiḥ prakṛtyā kuṭila-kamalakaṁ svalpakaṁ cāpi madhyam |
kurvatv etāni nāma prasabham iha manaś cintitāny āśu khedaṁ
yan māṁ tasyāḥ kapolau dahata iti muhuḥ svaccakau tan na yuktam ||221||

Her ripe bimba fruit lips may be tainted red,
her juglike breasts jut forth with youthful arrogance,
her navel depressed, her curls crooked, her waist meagre—
all these flawed features may cause me distress upon being contemplated,
but not her spotless cheeks, no not they.

After hearing this confession of love, the carpenter smiled and said, "Friend! If that's the case, then we are in luck, for success is at hand. I shall see to it that you are together with her on this very day."

The weaver said, "Friend, nothing but the air can get inside an unmarried princess's chambers. There are too many guards. How can I meet with her in such a case? Why are you tormenting me with fanciful promises?

The carpenter said, "Friend, listen to me. I have a really good idea."

And with those words, he showed him a replica of Garuda that he had made out of arjuna wood, which flapped its wings with the help of a mechanical device. He also showed him a pair of wooden arms, and the conch, discus, mace and lotus, as well as the crown and kaustubh jewel of Vishnu. He quickly sat him atop the form of Garuda, tied on the two extra arms and otherwise disguised him as Vishnu. Then showing him how to operate the mechanical device, he said, "My friend, now that you are cleverly disguised as Vishnu, go tonight to the princess' private quarters. With this flying Garuda, you will be able to enter the palace. The innocent girl has been kept sequestered in a room on the seventh floor of the palace all her life and so she will believe whatever lies you tell her. So go and make her think that you are Vishnu and make her fall in love with you. Then enjoy all the delights of love in the fashion taught by Vatsyayana in the Kāma-sūtra."

The weaver listened to these instructions and then did exactly as he had been told. He flew into the palace undetected and approached the princess. He asked, "My beloved, are you asleep or awake? I have left Lakshmi in the milk ocean all alone to come here out of desire for you. So please make love to me."

When the girl saw the weaver sitting atop Garuda with four arms, holding the various symbols of Vishnu and decorated with the kaustubha jewel, she was amazed. She got up from her bed and said, "Lord, I am an insignificant human being, as impure as a worm. You are the purifier of the three worlds and worshipable by all. How is it possible that you would want to make love to me? It does not make sense."

The weaver said, "O beautiful one! What you say is true, but you have forgotten that previously you were born in a family of cowherds as Radha, and in that life you became my wife. Now you have taken birth here, and so I have come to you."

The princess then said, "Lord, if that is the case, then go and talk to my father. He will be only too pleased to give me to you in marriage."

The weaver answered quickly, "Dear one, I cannot be seen by ordinary human beings, what to speak of talking with them. Give yourself to me by the Gandharva-type of marriage—in a spontaneous show of passionate love. [love this bit] Or if you don't, I'll curse your father and all his descendants to be reduced to ashes!"

He then got down from the wooden Garuda and, taking the left hand of the fearful, shy and trembling girl, led her back to her bed. Following all the methods of Vatsyayana's Kāma-sūtra, he enjoyed with her until morning came. Then, undetected, he went home.

This went on for some time, and the weaver visited his beloved princess every night. But it was not long before the eunuchs guarding the women of the king's harem noticed that her cherry red lips were bruised from her lover's kisses. They said, "Horror of horrors! The king's daughter is showing signs of having been deflowered. How has this been allowed to happen in a palace that is so well guarded? Let us go and tell the king."

The eunuchs went together to see the king and said, "We have absolutely no idea how it came about, but it appears that someone has managed to enter these carefully guarded walls. Please command us. What do you wish us to do?"

The king became anxious and started to dwell on the question.

putrīti jātā mahatīha cintā
kasmai pradeyeti mahān vitarkaḥ |
dattvā sukhaṁ prāpsyati vā na veti
kanyā pitṛtvaṁ khalu nāma kaṣṭam ||222||

Whoever has a daughter is heir to great anxiety--
He is always perplexed about who will be a suitable husband for her,
and even after he has given her in marriage, there is no assurance of peace.
Oh, the very name of distress is to be father to a girl!

nadyaś ca nāryaś ca sadṛk-prabhāvās
tulyāni kūlāni kulāni tāsām |
toyaiś ca doṣaiś ca nipātayanti
nadyo hi kūlāni kulāni nāryaḥ ||223||

Rivers and women have the same powers—
just as a river eats away at its banks (kūla) with its rising waters
so a woman, by her flaws, causes her family (kula) to crumble.

jananī-mano harati jātavatī
parivardhate saha śucā suhṛdām |
para-sātkṛtāpi kurute malinaṁ
durita-kramā duhitaro vipadaḥ ||224||

As soon as she is born,
a girl immediately causes anxiety to her mother;
as she grows, the anxiety of her relatives grows,
on being married, she can still bring her family into disrepute—
difficult indeed it is to keep one's daughters out of trouble!

After much meditation along these lines, the king went and spoke privately to his wife. "Do you know what the palace attendants are saying? Let us find out who has done this and see that he is punished with death."

When the queen heard what had befallen her daughter, she also became greatly disturbed. She quickly went to her daughter's chambers and saw that her lips were indeed bruised and her limbs scratched by her lover's nails. She said, "You sinful girl! You have brought our entire family into disrepute! How have you allowed your character to be tainted? The person who is coming to see you has been marked by the sign of death. Tell me truthfully. Who is he?"

Hearing her mother's enraged and threatening words, the princess became frightened and ashamed. She said, "Mother, Narayan himself comes to me every night on the back of his mount, Garuda. You may think I am lying, but I am not. You can hide here tonight and see for yourself. My lover is God Himself, the husband of Lakshmi."

On hearing this, the [very gullible] queen smile and her body covered with goose pimples in excitement. She ran to her husband and said, "Your majesty! You have been blessed with good fortune. Narayan himself has been coming to your daughter in the middle of night and has married her according to the Gandharva method. So let us both go tonight and hide by the window and behold Him, for it is rare indeed that the Lord is seen by human beings."

The [very gullible] king was also excited by this news. The day seemed to last a hundred years as they awaited their chance to behold Narayan, but finally night came. The king and queen hid by the princess's window and stared into the sky, awaiting the Lord's arrival. As they waited, they saw Narayan come down from the heavens, just as her daughter had described him. He was riding on the back of Garuda and his four hands held the conch, discus, mace and lotus.

The king felt as though he had been drenched with the divine ambrosia. He turned to his wife and whispered, "Dear one! There is no one on earth as blessed as you and I, for Narayan himself has fallen in love with our daughter. All our desires will be fulfilled, for by the power of my son-in-law, I will be able to conquer the entire world!"

So thinking, [the next day] he gathered his satraps and began to cross the borders of his kingdom. The neighboring kings saw that he had begun to challenge the frontiers and responded by taking up arms against him. Seeing this, the king sent a message to the princess through the queen: "Child! As long as you are my daughter and Narayan is my son-in-law, how is it that all the neighboring kings are fighting with me? Please call your husband tonight and ask him to help me kill my foes."

So that night, when the weaver came to the princess, she meekly asked him, "Lord, my father thinks that it is not right that he should be defeated by his enemies when you are his son-in-law. So please be merciful and kill all his attackers."

The weaver said, "O fortunate one! Of course I will. How numerous can your father's opponents be? Rest assured, I will dispose of them all in a moment with my Sudarshan discus."

Time went by, however, and the king's enemies overran the kingdom and laid siege to the capital city. Even though he was confined to the walls of his own city, the king still did not realize that his daughter's lover was just a weaver dressed up as Vishnu, and so he went on sending him gifts of camphor, aguru and musk, along with various kinds of clothing, flowers, fine food and drink.

Through his daughter, he submitted the following prayer: "O Lord, my attackers will surely break through the city walls tomorrow morning. My people have no more food or fuel, and so have lost strength and the will to fight. Many have died. I think it is time that you should do the needful and help us."

The weaver began to think, "If the city is overrun, then I will be separated from my beloved. It is time for me to make an appearance in the sky above the city as Vishnu, holding my weapons. There is a chance that I will frighten the enemy kings and that will give our fighters a chance to slay them. for is it not said,

nirviṣeṇāpi sarpeṇa kartavyā mahatī phaṇā |
viṣaṁ bhavatu vā mābhūt phaṇāṭopo bhayaṅkaraḥ ||225||

Even a snake without poison in its fangs
should display its hood;
its enemies do not know whether or not he has poison,
but the hood itself will inspire terror in them.

If on the other hand I should die while attempting to defend the city, that too will be a glorious way to go. For it is said,

gavām arthe brāhmaṇārthe svāmy-arthe svīkṛte’thavā |
sthānārthe yas tyajet prāṇāṁs tasya lokāḥ sanātanāḥ ||226||
candre maṇḍala-saṁsthe vigṛhyate rāhuṇā dinādhīśaḥ |
śaraṇāgatena sārdhaṁ vipad api tejasvinā ślāghyā ||227||

Anyone who gives up his life for a cow, a brahmin, or his master,
to keep a promise, or to defend himself,
will spend an eternity in heaven.

On the new moon day, when all is dark,
the sun comes to give light, but is swallowed by Rahu.
So does a powerful person rejoice when
he can accept dangers on behalf of those
who have taken refuge in him.

Having made this decision, in the early morning after waking and brushing his teeth, the weaver said to the princess, "Beloved, I will eat my breakfast after I have disposed of all our enemies. And that's not all—I'll make love to you as well! But you must first tell your father to prepare to face his foe with as large an army as he can muster and then stand outside the city walls. I shall ascend to sky above them and drain the enemy of all his power. They will then be easy to kill. If I have to personally come and kill any of them, they will go to Vaikuntha even if they are sinners. So be careful to destroy them even as they flee, so they will not even achieve the heavenly planets!"



The princess went to her father and repeated these instructions to him. Believing that these directives were coming from God Himself, the king immediately had all his soldiers awakened and led them outside the city gates to fight the decisive battle.

As for the weaver, he mentally prepared himself for death, took his bow in his hand and, mounting his wooden Garuda, rose into the sky and hovered over the battlefield.

In the meantime, the real Lord Narayan, knower of past, present and future, summoned Garuda by simply thinking of him and said with a laugh, "O Garuda! Did you know that the weaver has taken my form and is flying about on a wooden facsimile of you, all because of his lust for the king's daughter?"

Garuda said, "Lord, I am aware of his folly. What would you like me to do about it?"

The Lord said, "The weaver has today gone out to face the opposing army, resigning himself to an inevitable death. But if he is slain by all these warriors, word will spread that Garuda and Vishnu have been killed, and so people will cease to offer us worship. I think it would be better that you enter the body of the wooden Garuda, while I myself will enter the weaver's body, and empower him to destroying his enemies. In this way, his actions will be seen as a proof or our glory."

With an "as you wish" Garuda did as he had been told. Narayan also entered the body of the weaver. Then, through the glory of the Lord, the weaver, from his position in the sky, adorned with his conch, discus, mace and bow, rendered powerless all the opposing army. Seizing the opportunity, the forces of the king were able to easily destroy the enemy. Word quickly spread throughout the land that it had been through the influence of the king's son-in-law, Vishnu himself, that the threat to the land had been counteracted.

The weaver himself was overjoyed to see the king's victory and descended from the sky. The king's ministers and other townfolk immediately recognized him as a local weaver, and so asked him what was going on. The weaver then told the entire story from beginning to end. Rather than being angry, however, the king was pleased by his audacity. Grateful for the part he had played in his victory over the enemy, he decided to give his daughter to him in legitimate marriage, before by all his subjects. He also gave him a kingdom to rule. And so the weaver and the princess lived happily for the rest of their days, enjoying the five kinds of pleasures to the full.

And that is why I say, "Even Brahma cannot fathom a cleverly devised fraud, etc."

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