One day she heard a commotion and looking out of her window saw a very handsome youth who had been led to trial for committing a robbery. She instantly fell passionately and hopelessly in love with the youth. Her parents tried to dissuade her by pointing out that he was a thief and not to be trusted but Bhadda would not heed their advice. Instead,she lay down on her bed and refused to eat or drink until the man was given to her in marriage. In desperation, Bhadda’s parents agreed to her request. Her father gave a large bribe to the officials who substituted a poor, innocent man for the youth, and Bhadda’s lover was freed. Bhadda’s parents gave her in marriage to the youth, hoping that her love and his good fortune would mend his ways.
But the youth, who was a thief at heart, did not change. Instead, he was obsessed with his wife’s beautiful wedding jewellery, which he planned to steal from her. He informed Bhadda that he had taken a vow to the God of the Mountains. He had vowed that if his life was spared he would go to the top of the mountain, the abode of the God, and make an offering. It was time, he said, to keep the vow. Instructing Bhadda to dress in all her finery, he set off with her to the top of a high mountain.
On the way they reached a steep cliff with a sheer face known as robbers’ cliff, as in accordance with the laws of that time thieves were put to death at this point by pushing them over the cliff. He then told Bhadda to hand over all her jewellery and informed her of her impending death as he planned to push her over the cliff and make off with her jewels. Bhadda was at a loss as to what she should do. However, being extremely quick-witted, she came up with a plan to foil her husband.
She agreed to his request and asked permission to pay obeisance to her husband whom she said she dearly loved. Then falling on her knees, she saluted him from each side and when she was directly behind him pushed him over the cliff.
Bhadda, who was a kind and compassionate person, was horrified at what she had done. The fact that she had killed a person, even in self-defence, weighed on her mind. No longer was she attracted to men and sense pleasures. Having decided to take to the life of an ascetic, she joined a religious movement known as the Jains.
In keeping with the beliefs of the Jains her hair was pulled out at the roots as a form of penance. She followed their teachings and practised their religion diligently. Her hair however, started to grow back, only this time it came back in the form of thick curls. Bhadda was soon referred to as Kundalakesa or ‘curly hair’.
Before long Kundalakesa had mastered all the knowledge of the Jains. She moved from teacher to teacher, grasping and learning their philosophies and practices very quickly. Having studied under many spiritual teachers Kundalakesa became a very knowledgeable, spiritual person. So much so that she gained a reputation for being excellent at debating in matters of religion and philosophy.
Kundalakesa used to travel from city to city challenging people to debates. Whenever she entered a city, she made a small mound of sand and planted in the centre a branch of the rose apple tree. She would then challenge anyone who wanted to debate with her to accept her challenge by trampling down the mound of sand.
One day when the Buddha was in residence at the Jetavana monastery, Kundalakesa arrived in Savatthi and issued her challenge. Sariputta decided to accept her challenge. He instructed some children to go and trample the mound of sand on his behalf and to ask Kundalakesa to come to the monastery on the following day to debate with him.
Confident of her victory, Kundalakesa came to the monastery with a large gathering of her supporters. She began by questioning Sariputta. Each question that she asked was answered correctly by Sariputta. Kundalakesa asked question after question until she was exhausted of questions. No matter what her question Sariputta knew the answer. It was now Sariputta’s turn to challenge her. Kundalakesa faltered at the very first question. Not knowing the answer she asked him to teach her. Sariputta agreed to answer the question in the presence of the Buddha.
Sariputta led her to the Buddha and Bhadda listened to His teaching. Bhadda, who was extremely quick-witted, attained Arahanthship instantaneously. The Buddha declared that Bhadda was foremost among the nuns in understanding the Dhamma quickly, for, like the monk Bahiya, she had attained enlightenment instantaneously.
Using her skill in debating Bhadda travelled far and wide preaching the Dhamma to others so that they too could benefit by the Truth. She describes her experiences of enlightenment and her travels whilst teaching the Dhamma as follows:
"Formerly I travelled in a single cloth
With plucked hair, covered with mud,
Imagining flaws in the flawless
And seeing no flaws in what is flawed."
-- (Therigatha 107)
"He then taught me the Dhamma,
The aggregates, sense bases, and elements.
The Leader told me about foulness
Impermanence, suffering and non self.
Having heard the Dhamma from Him,
I purified the vision of the Dhamma.
When I had understood true Dhamma
(I asked for) the going forth and ordination.
Requested, the Leader then said to me
"Come, O Bhadda"
Then, having been fully ordained
I observed a little streamlet of water.
Through that stream of foot-washing water
I knew the process of rise and fall.
Then I reflected that all formations
Are exactly the same in nature.
Right on the spot my mind was released
Totally freed by the end of clinging.
The Victor then appointed me the chief
Of those with quick understanding."
-- (Apadana 38-46)
"Free from defilements, for fifty years
I travelled in Anga and Magadha.
Among the Vajjis in Kasi and Kosala,
I ate the alms food of the land.
That lay supporter - wise man indeed -
Who gave a robe to Bhadda
Has generated abundant merit
For she is one free of all ties."
-- (Therigatha 110-111)