TÂLADHVAJA – King and Husband of a Sage

The story of Tâladhvaja was retold to solve a variety of problems—above all, how a sage could remain an ascetic when he had changed genders to marry a king. The solution in the Devî Purâna was a kind of popular use of Advaitan philosophy in a myth: using a popular understanding that life is mâyâ, an illusion or dream.

King Tâladhvaja’s story was nested in one about the sage who made the most appearances in other people’s stories—the great sage Nârada. In order for Nârada to experience the relative value of attachments in life, Vishnu gave him the experience of a lifetime as a householder—better yet, as a mother.

Vishnu asked Nârada to take a bath, so Nârada left his lute (vina) and deerskin robe on the shore. When he emerged from the river, he had become Saubhâgyasundarî, a lovely young woman. It so happened that King Tâladhvaja arrived at just that moment and engaged Saubhâgyasundarî in conversation and then in marriage.

He took her back to his palace, and after twelve years of honeymooning, she began to give him children. Years passed, and Saubhâgyasundarî was the matriarch of a huge family of children and grandchildren. However, war broke out with an adjoining kingdom. King Tâladhvaja was defeated and fled the battlefield.

Saubhâgyasundarî arrived there to find all of her sons and grandsons slain. As she wept, Vishnu appeared and instructed her in the meaning of life. Finally, Vishnu asked Saubhâgyasundarî to bathe in the river. And when she emerged from the river, she had become the old sage Nârada again.

TÂLADHVAJA - A king and the husband of a sage

Meanwhile, King Tâladhvaja had arrived to see his wife go into the river for a bath and suddenly become an old sage. Tâladhvaja could not be consoled by Nârada. Vishnu appeared and told Tâladhvaja that human attachments are only an illusion (mâyâ). So Tâladhvaja gave up his kingdom, practiced austerities, and attained liberation (moksha).

The ending allowed two interpretations: a relatively real experience (visishita-advaita) of Nârada as the wife of Tâladhvaja or an illusory one (mâyâvâda). This ending thus illustrates one of the strengths of mythology—it does not have to be fully rationalized or be made philosophically perfect.

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