TALADHVAJA – A king and the husband of a sage

The story of Taladhwaja 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 Devi Purana was a kind of popular use of Advaita phi­losophy in a myth: using a popular understanding that life is maya, an illusion or dream. King Taladhwaja story was nested in one about the sage who made the most appearances in other people’s stories—the great sage Narada.
In order for Narada 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 Narada to take a bath, so Narada left his lute (vina) and deerskin robe on the shore. When he emerged from the river, he had become Saubhagya Sundari, a lovely young woman. It so happened that King Taladhwaja arrived at just that moment and engaged Saubhagya Sundari 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 Saubhagya Sundari was the matriarch of a huge family of children and grandchildren. However, war broke out with an adjoining kingdom. King Taladhwaja was defeated and fled the battlefield. Saubhagya Sundari 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 Saubhagya- sundari to bathe in the river. And when she emerged from the river, she had become the old sage Narada again.
Meanwhile, King Taladhwaja had arrived to see his wife go into the river for a bath and suddenly become an old sage. Taladhwaja could not be consoled by Narada. Vishnu appeared and told Taladhwaja that human attachments are only an illusion (maya). So Taladhwaja gave up his kingdom, practiced austerities, and attained liberation (moksha).
The ending allowed two interpretations: a relatively real experience (vishishta-advaita) of Narada as the wife of Taladhwaja or an illusory one (mayavada). 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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