The sages Narada and Tambura visited Ayodhya. Raja Ambarisha greeted the sages with respect. His daughter Srimati served delicious fruits to the guests.
“You have come at the right time,” said the king. “Tomorrow, I’m holding a swayamvara for my daughter Srimati.”
In those days, a princess could choose someone she liked as her husband. All suitors would line up, and the girl would walk past them with a garland in her hand. She would look at each of the suitors. If she liked someone, she would garland him. This event was called a swayamvara.
Later, Narada confided to Tambura that he had fallen in love with the princess. “I think she will choose me as her husband tomorrow,” said Narada. “Are you sure?” asked Tambura with a smile. “I have a feeling she will garland me tomorrow.”
“Let the better man win,” said Narada.
Narada wanted to make sure that Tambura would pose no threat to his chance of marrying the princess. He prayed to Lord Vishnu that on the day of the swayamvara, Tambura should appear to Srimati with a monkey head. Lord Vishnu granted his wish.
What Narada did not know was that Tambura too had prayed to Lord Vishnu. He wished that on the day of the swayamvara, Narada should appear to Srimati with a bear head. Lord Vishnu smilingly granted his wish too.
The next day, Srimati entered the swayamvara hall with a garland in her hand. She moved slowly without stopping to garland anyone. She paused when she saw a suitor with a monkey face. Tambura thought that the princess was going to garland him. But he did not know that he was looking like a monkey to the princess. Princess Srimati quickly moved on and again stopped. She was startled to see a suitor with the face of a bear. Narada was certain that the princess was going to garland him. But he too did not know that he was appearing to the princess with the face of a bear.
Srimati quickly looked away. She was confused to see a monkey face and a bear face among the suitors. She closed her eyes and prayed to Lord Vishnu. When she opened her eyes, she saw a handsome man with a divine smile standing between the Monkey Face and the Bear Face. As she walked up to him, the two sages stepped forward, each thinking that the princess was going to garland him. Srimati walked past them and garlanded the handsome man who was none other than Lord Vishnu.
The sages were startled to see Lord Vishnu who smiled at them. “I came here to see how you two are faring. This…,” Lord Vishnu said pointing to the garland round his neck, “…came as a surprise to me.”
The sages joined their hands in salutation, and said to the Raja, “Maharaj, the princess has chosen the most suitable boy as her husband.”
Raja Ambarisha was delighted to have Lord Vishnu as his son-in-law, and he thanked the two celestial sages.