Chandra-Gupta was the ruler of Kanchipuram. He had two sons. They were twins. He named them Kusa and Lava.
Kusa and Lava were given an excellent education, and they were considered fully educated at the age of sixteen. But they differed significantly in their mental makeup. Kusa was aggressive and arrogant, while Lava was mild and retiring in disposition. Seeing them thus, their father thought that Kusa was fitter to rule. Than his passive brother.
Once the brothers had an altercation, they went to their father for a decision. The King, who had a better opinion of Kusa, gave not only his judgment in favour of Kusa but also snubbed Lava. Lava felt insulted and, without telling anyone, left his home and country.
After leaving home, Lava changed his name to Alpa and began to wander from one country to another.
One day Alpa was passing through a village when he saw a Brahman sitting in his varanda and reading Mahabharata while several people sat around and listened. Alpa felt like listening to the recitation and sat in a corner.
The Brahman was called Agni-Varma. He had a good-looking daughter named Surasa. The Brahman thought of performing Surasa’s marriage, but she was stubborn not to marry.
After the Brahman stopped his reading, Alpa paid his respects to him and said, “Sir, I have been under the impression that total renunciation was the only way to salvation. But today, I’ve learnt that family life is in no way inferior to renunciation. I’m very grateful to you for having helped me to know this.”
“What is your name, my son?” the Brahman asked Alpa. “Who are your parents? Where do you come from?”
“They call me Alpa,” the youth replied. “I cannot answer any of your other questions because of my ignorance. I’m very interested in knowing man’s duties, dharma.”
“Then,” said the Brahman, you can stay in my house and to her. listen to Mahabharata every day.” Alpa gratefully agreed to do so.
Surasa, who was never attracted to any man, began feeling a strange liking for Alpa. One day she saw Alpa going out. She took an empty pot as if she were going for water and followed him.
It was noon, and the village well was deserted. Taking advantage of being alone with him, Surasa confessed her love to Alpa.
“You are my guru’s daughter and hence my sister,” Alpa said to her.
Surasa pleaded with him to accept her love, but Alpa would not change his mind. In anger and spite, Surasa tore her hair, scratched her face, broke her bangles and went home crying. She told her father that Alpa tried to outrage her.
And Agni-Varma believed her. For Surasa never liked a man. On the other hand, the older man began to suspect the motive that prompted Alpa to seek his roof. So he straightway went to the village office and complained to Alpa.
The officer summoned Agni-Varma, Surasa and Alpa and examined them. Surasa’s statement tallied with her father’s complaint in all details. As for Alpa, he did not make any statement. When asked whether he was guilty, Alpa said yes. He also replied to another question that he could be punished. “Why did you do such a thing?” the officer asked. “Sir,” Alpa replied, “there is no crime that desire will not commit.”
According to the law, Alpa was punished by cutting off his hands and feet. But something told the village officer that Alpa was innocent. Yet he could not doubt the evidence of Surasa. The entire village knew Surasa was above reproach in her attitude toward males.
Not daring to give judgment in the case, the village officer sent it up to Deva-Varma, the province governor.
Deva-Varma went through the case files and got angry with the village officer. The charge was well established. The accused accepted the order brought against him. The village officer testified that Surasa, the victim, had a character above reproach. Why could not the village officer carry out the punishment?
Deva-Varma had a wise daughter called Yamuna. When the governor had doubts, he used to seek her advice; he showed Alpa’s case to her. She went through all the statements and said, “Father, the cause for the hesitation of the village officer does not lie here. Call for the concerned persons.”
Agni-Varma, Surasa and Alpa were summoned before the governor, who tried the case afresh. There was no difference in the statements of the three persons, yet Deva-Varma was also troubled by vague doubts like the village officer. He could not bring himself to punish Alpa.
Yet Deva-Varma had no grounds to declare Alpa innocent and dismiss the charge. He once again sought the advice of Yamuna.
“Father,” Yamuna said, “unless we see the guilt in this case with our own eyes, we cannot give any judgment.”
“But, my dear,” Deva-Varma said in surprise, “how can we see the guilt of a past action?”
“Oh yes, we can,” Yamuna said. “I shall tell you how! Give yourself a week to give the verdict in the case, and I shall do the needful in the meantime.”
Yamuna arranged lodgings for Agni-Varma at the house of their purohit while she set apart an apartment in the palace for Surasa. Then she went to her father and said, “Come, father. Let us go and see the evidence.” She took him to one of the chambers in the palace. The King peeped through a door and saw Alpa sitting in a sad mood in the adjoining chamber.
In the meantime, Surasa spent some time examining her apartment. It was a gorgeous and well-furnished room with tall mirrors, brilliant lights, cushioned sofas, a feather bed, and fragrant incense. But she was left mercilessly alone. Impatient for the company, she walked up to a door at the end of the apartment and pushed it. To her surprise, the door opened. She was curious to see the other apartment. She stepped into it and saw Alpa sitting in a chair all by himself.
Surasa looked all around to make sure that there was no one and then ran towards Alpa. Alpa lifted his head, saw her and looked down again, unconcerned. “You will not escape punishment this time,” Surasa said. “Why do you hate me? You are a handsome boy. It will be a pity if you lose your hands and legs. You have pleaded guilty before the village officer. Is it not because you loved me? Then why not accept my love? If you do, I shall withdraw the charge right now.”
Alpa did not even care to lift his head. “Go away,” Alpa told her. “I’ve nothing to say to you.”
Deva-Varma and Yamuna witnessed the entire scene. The next day, Deva-Varma delivered judgment in this case: Surasa is immoral; Alpa is innocent.
“Surasa fell in love with Alpa,” he announced in the court, “and when Alpa did not accept her love, she wanted to punish him cruelly for it. She brought a wicked and false charge against him. Still, I am not punishing her this once.”
Deva-Varma insisted that Alpa should remain as his guest for some days. He also offered to give Yamuna in marriage to him. At first, Alpa turned down this offer. But he was told that it was Yamuna who proved his innocence, and he agreed to marry her. Their marriage was celebrated with grandeur and pomp.
Surasa learnt about the marriage and goaded her father to take further action against Alpa. “It is evident that the governor gave his judgment against us to make him his son-in-law,” she said. “I’m made a criminal in the eyes of everybody. Let us complain to the governor before King Chandra Gupta.”
Agni-Varma, who still believed in his daughter’s innocence, took her advice and appealed before the King. The king sent for Deva-varma and Alpa. But the moment he saw Alpa, he recognised him as his son, Lava, and shed tears of joy. He had every reason to be glad to see Lava again, for after Lava left, Kusa had committed a series of atrocities. The King had realised that the boy was quite unfit for the responsibilities of kinghood, and he sorrowed very much over the departure of the gentle and wise Lava. But what pained the King more was that Lava returned to him as an accused, standing trial.
In the trial, Yamuna was the chief witness. She revealed in the court the entire plan by which she found out the truth about Surasa and Alpa. The King conducted the trial to the complete satisfaction of the court, though the accused was his son. In the end, the accused was convicted of being innocent.
Now Agni-Varma knew the facts about his daughter. He got so disgusted that, instead of returning home, he went into the forest to become an ascetic.
Over time, Lava was crowned King of Kanchipuram and lived happily with his wife, Yamuna.