Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...

Chapter LVII


WE worship the elephantine proboscis of Gaṇeśa, not to be resisted by his enemies, reddened with vermilion, a sword dispelling great arrogance.[1] May the third eye of Śiva, which, when all three were equally wildly-rolling, blazed forth beyond the others, as he made ready his arrow upon the string, for the burning of Pura, protect you. May the row of nails of the Man-lion,[2] curved and red with blood, when he slew his enemy, and his fiery look askance, destroy your calamities.


[M] (main story line continued) Thus Naravāhanadatta, the son of the King of Vatsa, remained in Kauśāmbī in happiness with his wives and his ministers. And one day, when he was present, a merchant living in the city came to make a representation to his father, as he was sitting on his throne.

That merchant, of the name of Ratnadatta, entered, announced by the warder, and bowing before the king, said as follows:

“O King, there is a poor porter here, of the name of Vasundhara; and suddenly he is found of late to be eating, drinking, and bestowing alms. So, out of curiosity, I took him to my house, and gave him food and drink to his heart’s content, and when I had made him drunk, I questioned him, and he gave me this answer:

‘I obtained from the door of the king’s palace a bracelet with splendid jewels, and I picked out one jewel and sold it. And I sold it for a lakh of dínārs to a merchant named Hiraṇyagupta; this is how I come to be living in comfort at present.’

When he had said this, he showed me that bracelet, which was marked with the king’s name, and therefore I have come to inform your Majesty of the circumstance.”

When the King of Vatsa heard that, he had the porter and the merchant of precious jewels summoned with all courtesy, and when he saw the bracelet, he said of himself:

“Ah! I remember, this bracelet slipped from my arm when I was going round the city.”

And the courtiers asked the porter:

“Why did you, when you had got hold of a bracelet marked with the king’s name, conceal it?”

He replied:

“I am one who gets his living by carrying burdens, and how am I to know the letters of the king’s name? When I got hold of it, I appropriated it, being burnt up with the misery of poverty.”

When he said this, the jewel-merchant, being reproached for keeping the jewel, said:

“I bought it in the market, without putting any pressure on the man, and there was no royal mark upon it, though now it is said that it belongs to the king. And he has taken five thousand of the price, the rest is with me.”

When Yaugandharāyaṇa, who was present, heard this speech of Hiraṇyagupta’s, he said:

“No one is in fault in this matter. What can we say against the porter who does not know his letters? Poverty makes men steal, and who ever gave up what he had found? And the merchant who bought it from him cannot be blamed.”

The king, when he heard this decision of his prime minister’s, approved it. And he took back his jewel from the merchant, paying him the five thousand dīnārs, which had been spent by the porter, and he set the porter at liberty, after taking back his bracelet, and he, having consumed his five thousand, went free from anxiety to his own house. And the king, though in the bottom of his heart he hated that merchant Ratnadatta, as being a man who ruined those that reposed confidence in him, honoured him for his service.

When they had all departed, Vasantaka came before the king, and said:

“Ah! when men are cursed by Destiny, even the wealth they obtain departs, for the incident of the inexhaustible pitcher[3] has happened to this porter.


76. Story of the Inexhaustible Pitcher[3]

For you must know that there lived long ago, in the city of Pāṭaliputra, a man of the name of Śubhadatta, and every day he carried in a load of wood from the forest, and sold it, and so maintained his household.

Now one day he went to a distant forest, and, as it happened, he saw there four Yakṣas with heavenly ornaments and dresses. The Yakṣas, seeing he was terrified, kindly asked him of his circumstances, and finding out that he was poor, they conceived pity for him, and said:

“Remain here as a servant in our house; we will support your family for you without trouble on your part.”

When Śubhadatta heard that, he agreed, and remained with them, and he supplied them with requisites for bathing and performed other menial offices for them. When the time for eating came, those Yakṣas said to him:

“Give us food from this inexhaustible pitcher.”

But he hesitated, seeing that it was empty, and then the Yakṣas again said to him, smiling:

“Śubhadatta, do you not understand? Put your hand in the pitcher, and you will obtain whatever you want, for this is a pitcher that supplies whatever is required.”

When he heard that, he put his hand in the pitcher, and immediately he beheld all the food and drink that could be required. And Śubhadatta out of that store supplied them and ate himself.

Thus waiting on the Yakṣas every day with devotion and awe, Śubhadatta remained in their presence anxious about his family. Hut his sorrowing family was comforted by them in a dream, and this kindness on their part made him happy.

At the termination of one month the Yakṣas said to him:

“We are pleased with this devotion of yours, we will grant you a boon; say what it shall be.”

When he heard that, he said to them:

“Then give me this inexhaustible pitcher”

Then the Yakṣas said to him:

“You will not be able to keep it, for, if broken, it departs at once, so choose some other boon.”

Though they warned him in these words, Śubhadatta would not choose any other boon, so they gave him that inexhaustible pitcher. Then Śubhadatta bowed before them delighted, and, taking that pitcher, quickly returned to his house, to the joy of his relations. Then he took out of that pitcher food and drink, and in order to conceal the secret he placed them in other vessels, and consumed them with his relations. And as he gave up carrying burdens, and enjoyed all kinds of delights, his kinsmen one day said to him, when he was drunk:

“How did you manage to acquire the means of all this enjoyment?”

He was too much puffed up with pride to tell them plainly, but taking the wish-granting pitcher on his shoulder, he began to dance.[4] And as he was dancing the inexhaustible pitcher slipped from his shoulder, as his feet tripped with ovcr-abundance of intoxication, and falling on the ground, was broken in pieces. And immediately it was mended again, and reverted to its original possessors, but Śubhadatta was reduced to his former condition, and filled with despondency.


[M] (main story line continued)

“So you see that those unfortunate persons, whose intellects are destroyed with the vice of drinking, and other vices, and with infatuation, cannot keep wealth, even if they have obtained it.”

When the King of Vatsa had heard this amusing story of the inexhaustible pitcher, he rose up, and bathed, and set about the other duties of the day. And Naravāhanadatta also bathed, and took food with his father, and at the end of the day went with his friends to his own house. There he went to bed at night, but could not sleep, and Marubhūti said to him in the hearing of the ministers:

“I know, it is love of a slave-girl that prevents your summoning your wives, and you have not summoned the slave-girl, so you cannot sleep. But why in spite of your better knowledge, do you still fall in love with courtesans? For they have no goodness of character. In proof that they have not, hear the following tale.


77. Story of the Merchant's Son, the Courtesan, and the Wonderful Ape Āla

There is in this country a great and opulent city named Citrakūṭa. In it there lived a merchant named Ratnavarman, a prince among the wealthy. He had one son born to him by propitiating Śiva, and he gave that son the name of Īśvaravarman. After he had studied the sciences, his father, the rich merchant, who had no other son but him, seeing that he was on the verge of manhood, said to himself:

“Providence has created in this world that fair and frail type of woman, the courtesan, to steal the wealth and life of rich young men, blinded with the intoxication of youth. So I will entrust my son to some bawd, in order that he may learn the tricks of the courtesans and not be deceived by them.”

Having thus reflected, he went with his son Īśvaravarman to the house of a certain bawd, whose name was Yamajihvā. There he saw that bawd, with massive jaw, and long teeth, and snub nose, instructing her daughter in the following words:

“Everyone is valued on account of wealth, a courtesan especially; and courtesans who fall in love do not obtain wealth, therefore a courtesan should abandon passion. For rosy red, love’s proper hue, is the harbinger of eclipse to the courtesan as to the evening twilight; a properly trained courtesan should exhibit love without sincerity, like a well-trained actress. With that she should gain a man’s affections, then she should extract from him all his wealth; when he is ruined, she should finally abandon him, but if he should recover his wealth, she should take him back into favour. A courtesan, like a hermit, is the same towards a young man, a child, an old man, a handsome man, and a deformed man, and so she always attains the principal object of existence.”[5]

While the bawd was delivering this lesson to her daughter, Ratnavarman approached her, and after she had welcomed him, he took a seat by her side. And he said to her:

“Reverend mother, teach my son this skill of the courtesans, in order that he may become clever in it. And I will give you a thousand dīnārs by way of recompense.”

When the bawd heard his desire, she consented, and he paid the dīnārs, and made over his son Īśvaravarman to her, and then returned home.

Then Īśvaravarman, in the course of one year, learned in the house of Yamajihvā all the graceful accomplishments, and then returned to his father’s house. And after he had attained sixteen years, he said to his father:

“Wealth gives us religion and love, wealth gives us consideration and renown.”

When his father heard this, he exclaimed in approval: “It is even so.”

And being delighted he gave him five crores by way of capital. The son took it, and set out on an auspicious day with a caravan, with the object of journeying to Svarṇadvīpa. And on the way he reached a town named Kāñcanapura, and there he encamped in a garden, at a short distance outside the town. And after bathing and anointing himself, the young man entered the town, and went to a temple to see a spectacle. And there he saw a dancing-girl, of the name of Sundarī, dancing, like a wave of the sea of beauty[6] tossed up by the wind of youth. And the moment he saw her he became so devoted to her that the instructions of the bawd fled far from him, as if in anger. At the end of the dance, he sent a friend to solicit her, and she bowed and said: “I am highly favoured.”

And Īśvaravarman left vigilant guards in his camp to watch over his treasure, and went himself to the house of that Sundarī. And when he came, her mother, named Makarakaṭī, honoured him with the various rites of hospitality which became the occasion. And at nightfall she introduced him into a chamber with a canopy of flashing jewels and a bed. There he passed the night with Sundarī,[7] whose name expressed her nature, and who was skilled in all movements of the dance. And the next day he could not bring himself to part from her, as she showed great affection for him, and never left his side. And the young merchant gave her twenty-five lakhs of gold and jewels in those two days. But Sundarī, with a false affectation of disinterestedness, refused to take them, saying:

“I have obtained much wealth, but I never found a man like you; since I have obtained you, what should I do with wealth?”

But her mother, Makarakaṭī, whose only child she was, said to her:

“Henceforth, whatever wealth belongs to us is as much his as his own property, so take it, my daughter, as a contribution to our common stock. What harm is there in that?”

When Sundarī’s mother said this to her, she took it with affected unwillingness, and the foolish Īśvaravarman thought she was really in love with him. While the merchant remained in her house, charmed by her beauty, her dancing, and singing, two months passed, and in course of time he bestowed upon her two crores.

Then his friend, named Arthadatta, of his own accord came to him and said:

“Friend, has all that training of yours, though painfully acquired from the bawd, proved useless, now that the occasion has presented itself, as skill in the use of weapons does to a coward, in that you believe that there is sincerity in this love of a courtesan? Is water ever really found in desert mirages? So let us go before all your wealth is consumed, for if your father were to hear of it he would he very angry.”

When his friend said this to him. the merchant’s son said:

“It is true that no reliance can he placed upon courtesans as a rule; but Sundarī is not like the rest of her class, for if she were to lose sight of me for a moment, my friend, she would die. So do you break it to her, if we must in any ease go.”

When he said this to Arthadatta, Arthadatta said to Sundarī. in the presence of Īśvaravarman and her mother Makarakatī:

“You entertain extraordinary affection for Īśvaravarman, but he must certainly go on a trading expedition to Svarṇadvīpa immediately. There he will obtain so much wealth that he will come and live with you in happiness all his life. Consent to it, my friend.”

When Sundarī heard this, she gazed on the face of Īśvaravarman with tears in her eyes and assumed despondency, and said to Arthadatta:

“What am I to say? You gentlemen know best. Who can rely on anyone before seeing the end? Never mind! Let Fate deal with me as it will!”

When she said this, her mother said to her:

“Do not be grieved, control yourself; your lover will certainly return when he has made his fortune; he will not abandon you.”

In these words her mother consoled her, but made an agreement with her, and had a net secretly prepared in a well that lay in the road they must take. And then Īśvaravarman’s mind was in a state of tremulous agitation about parting, and Sundarī, as if out of grief, took but little food and drink. And she showed no inclination for singing, music or dancing, but she was consoled by Īśvaravarman with various affectionate attentions.

Then, on the day named by his friend, Īśvaravarman set out from the house of Sundarī, after the bawd had offered a prayer for his success. And Sundarī followed him weeping, with her mother, outside the city, as far as the well in which the net had been stretched. There he made Sundarī turn back, and he was proceeding on his journey when she flung herself into the well on the top of the net.

Then a loud cry was heard from her mother, from the female slaves, and all the attendants:

“Ah! my daughter! Ah! mistress!”

That made the merchant’s son and his friend turn round, and when he heard that his beloved had thrown herself into a well, he was for a moment stupefied with grief. And Makarakaṭī, lamenting with loud cries, made her servants, who were attached to her, and in the secret, go down into the well.

They let themselves down by means of ropes, and exclaiming,

“Thank heaven, she is alive, she is alive!”

they brought up Sundarī from the well. When she was brought up, she assumed the appearance of one nearly dead, and after she had mentioned the name of the merchant’s son, who had returned, she slowly began to cry. But he, being comforted, took her to her house in great delight, accompanied by his attendants, returning there himself. And having made up his mind that the love of Sundarī was to be relied on, and considering that, by obtaining her, he had obtained the real end of his birth, he once more gave up the idea of continuing his journey.

And when he had taken up his abode there, determined to remain, his friend said to him once more:

“My friend, why have you ruined yourself by infatuation? Do not rely on the love of Sundarī simply because she flung herself into a well, for the treacherous schemes of a bawd are not to be fathomed even by Providence. And what will you say to your father, when you have spent all your property, or where will you go? So leave this place even at this eleventh hour, if your mind is sound.”

When the merchant’s son heard this speech of his friend’s, he paid no attention to it, and in another month he spent those other three crores. Then he was stripped of his all; and the bawd Makarakaṭī had him seized by the back of the neck and turned out of Sundarī’s house.

But Arthadatta and the others quickly returned to their own city, and told the whole story, as it happened, to his father. His father Ratnavarman, that prince of merchants, was much grieved when he heard it, and in great distress went to the bawd Yamajihvā, and said to her:

“Though you received a large salary, you taught my son so badly that Makarakaṭī has with ease stripped him of all his wealth.”

When he had said this, he told her all the story of his son. Then the old bawd Yamajihvā said:

“Have your son brought back here; I will enable him to strip Makarakaṭī of all her wealth.”

When the bawd Yamajihvā made this promise, Ratnavarman quickly sent off that moment his son’s well-meaning friend Arthadatta with a message, to bring him, and to take at the same time means for his subsistence.

So Arthadatta went back to that city of Kāñcanapura, and told the whole message to Īśvaravarman. And he went on to say to him:

“Friend, you would not do what I advised you, so you have now had personal experience of the untrustworthy dispositions of courtesans. After you had given that five crores, you were ejected neck and crop. What wise man looks for love in courtesans or for oil in sand? Or why do you put out of sight this unalterable nature of things?[8] A man is wise, self-restrained, and possesses happiness, only so long as he does not fall within the range of women’s cajoleries. So return to your father and appease his wrath.”

With these words Arthadatta quickly induced him to return, and encouraging him, led him into the presence of his father. And his father, out of love for his only son, spoke kindly to him, and again took him to the house of Yamajihvā. And when she questioned him, he told his whole story by the mouth of Arthadatta, down to the circumstance of Sundarī’s flinging herself into the well, and how he lost his wealth.

Then Yamajihvā said:

“I indeed am to blame, because I forgot to teach him this trick. For Makarakaṭī stretched a net in the well, and Sundarī flung herself upon that, so she was not killed. Still there is a remedy in this case.”

Having said this, the bawd made her female slaves bring her monkey named Āla. And in their presence she gave the monkey her thousand dīnārs, and said:

“Swallow these.”

And the monkey, being trained to swallow money, did so. Then she said:

“Now, my son, give twenty to him, twenty-five to him, sixty to him, and a hundred to him.”

And the monkey, as often as Yamajihvā told him to pay a sum, brought up the exact number of dīnārs, and gave them as commanded.[9]

And after Yamajihvā had shown this device of Āla, she said to Īśvaravarman:

“Now take with you this young monkey. And repair again to the house of Sundarī, and keep asking him day by day for sums of money, which you have secretly made him swallow. And Sundarī, when she sees Āla, resembling in his powers the wishing-stone, will beg for him, and will give you all she has so as to obtain possession of the ape, and clasp him to her bosom. And after you have got her wealth, make him swallow enough money for two days, and give him to her, and then depart to a distance without delay.”

After Yamajihvā had said this, she gave that ape to Īśvaravarman, and his father gave him two crores by way of capital. And with the ape and the money he went once more to Kāñcanapura, and dispatching a messenger on in front, he entered the house of Sundarī. Sundarī welcomed him as if he were an incarnation of perseverance, which includes in itself all means for attaining an end, and his friend with him, embracing him round the neck, and making other demonstrations. Then Īśvaravarman, having gained her confidence, said to Arthadatta in her presence in the house: “Go and bring Āla.”

He said, “I will,” and went and brought the monkey.

And as the monkey had before swallowed a thousand dīnārs, he said to him:

“Āla, my son, give us to-day three hundred dīnārs for our eating and drinking, and a hundred for betel and other expenses, and give one hundred to our mother Makarakaṭī, and a hundred to the Brāhmans, and give the rest of the thousand to Sundarī.”

When Īśvaravarman said this, the monkey brought up the dīnārs he had before swallowed, to the amounts ordered, and gave them for the various objects required.

So by this artifice Āla was made to supply every day the necessary expenses, for the period of a fortnight, and in the meanwhile Makarakaṭī[10] and Sundarī began to think:

“Why, this is a very wishing-stone which he has got hold of in the form of an ape, which gives every day a hundred dīnārs; if he would only give it us, all our desires would be accomplished.”

Having thus debated in private with her mother, Sundarī said to that Īśvaravarman, when he was sitting at his ease after dinner:

“If you really are well pleased with me, give me Āla.”

But when Īśvaravarman heard that, he answered laughingly:

“He is my father’s all in the world, and it is not proper to give him away.”

When he said this, Sundarī said to him again:

“Give him to me and I will give you five crores.”

Thereupon Īśvaravarman said with an air of decision:

“If you were to give me all your property, or indeed this city, it would not do to give him you, much less for your crores.”

When Sundarī heard this, she said:

“I will give you all I possess; but give me this ape, otherwise my mother will be angry with me.”

And thereupon she clung to Īśvaravarman’s feet. Then Arthadatta and the others said:

“Give it her, happen what will.”

Then Īśvaravarman promised to give it her, and he spent the day with the delighted Sundarī. And the next day he gave to Sundarī, at her earnest entreaties, that ape, which had in secret been made to swallow two thousand dīnārs, and he immediately took by way of payment all the wealth in her house, and went off quickly to Svarṇadvīpa to trade.

And to Sundarī’s delight the monkey Āla, when asked, gave her regularly a thousand dīnārs for two days. But on the third day he did not give her anything, though coaxed to do it. Then Sundarī struck the ape with her fist. And the monkey, being beaten, sprang up in a rage, and bit and scratched the faces of Sundarī and her mother, who were thrashing him. Then the mother, whose face was streaming with blood, flew into a passion and beat the ape with sticks, till he died on the spot. When Sundarī saw that he was dead, and reflected that all her wealth was gone, she was ready to commit suicide for grief, and so was her mother.

And when the people of the town heard the story, they laughed, and said:

“Because Makarakaṭī took away this man’s wealth by means of a net, he in his turn has stripped her of all her property, like a clever fellow that he is, by means of a pet; she was sharp enough to net him, but did not detect the net laid for herself.”

Then Sundarī, with her scratched face and vanished wealth, was with difficulty restrained by her relations from destroying herself, and so was her mother. And Īśvaravarman soon returned from Svarṇadvīpa to the house of his father in Citrakūṭa. And when his father saw him returned, having acquired enormous wealth, he rewarded the bawd Yamajihvā with treasure, and made a great feast. And Īśvaravarman, seeing the matchless deceitfulness of courtesans, became disgusted with their society, and taking a wife remained in his own house.[11]


[M] (main story line continued)

“So you see, King, that there never dwells in the minds of courtesans even an atom of truth, unalloyed with treachery, so a man who desires prosperity should not take pleasure in them, as their society is only to be gained by the wealthy, any more than in uninhabited woods to be crossed only with a caravan.”[12]

When Naravāhanadatta heard, from the mouth of Marubhūti, the above story, word for word, of Āla and the net, he and Gomukha approved it, and laughed heartily.

Footnotes and references:


I read mada for madya.


Narasiṃha, Viṣṇu assumed this form for the destruction of Hiraṇya-kaśipu.


For a long note on magical articles in folk-lore see Vol. I, pp. 25-29. Tawney quotes a few further references—Gonzenbach, Sicilianische Märchen, No. 52; Dasent, Popular Tales from the Norse, pp. xciv et seq., 12, 264, 293-295. In the tale on p. 12 (“Why the Sea is Salt”) the hero lets out his secret under the influence of drink, as in our text. For the most ancient example of this kind of tale see Rhys Davids, Buddhist Birth Stories, Introduction, pp. xvi-xxi. Cf Prym and Socin, Syrische Märchen, p. 343; Grimm, Irische Märchen, No. 9, “Die Flasche,” p. 42. In the Bhadra-Ghaṭa Jātaka, No. 291 (Cambridge edition, vol. ii, pp. 293-295), Sakko gives a pitcher, which is lost in the same way. Grimm in his Irische Elfenmärchen, Introduction, p. xxxvii, remarks that “if a man discloses any supernatural power which he possesses, it is at once lost.” A large number of further references to magical articles in folk-lore will be found in Bolte and Polfvka, Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm, vol. iii, p. 424. See also E. S. Hartland, The Science of Fairy Tales, p. 55 et seq., and Chauvin, Bibliographic des Outrages Arabes, v, p. 143.—n.m.p.


In Bartseh’s Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenhurg, vol. i, p. 41, a man possesses himselt of an inexhaustible beer-can. But as soon as he told how he got it the beer disappeared. Another (p. 84) spoils the charm by looking into the vessel, at the bottom of which he sees a loathsome toad. This he had been expressly forbidden to do.


Wealth in her case, salvation in that of the hermit.——For full instructions concerning courtesans and their behaviour towards their lovers under all conditions, see Vātsyāyana’s Kama Sūtra, Book VI. Other references to similar works have already been given (Vol. I, pp. 234, 236 and notes). —n.m.p.


Cf. Winter s Tale, Act IV, sc. 4, lines 140, 141.


I.e. beautiful.


I find in the Sanskrit College MS. kimmuchyate for vimuchyate.


In La Fontaine’s Contes et Nouvelles, iii, 13, there is a little dog qui secoue de Cargent et des pierreries. The idea probably comes from the Mahābhārata. In this poem Sṛñjaya has a son named Suvarṇaṣṭhīvin. Some robbers treat him as the goose that laid the golden eggs was treated. There are also birds that spit gold in the Mahābhārata. (See Lévêque, Les Mythes et Légendes de l’lnde et la Perse, pp. 289-294.) There is an ass with the same gift in Sicilianische Märchen, No. 52. For the wishing-stone see Dasent’s Popular Tales from the Norse, Introduction, p. xcv. He remarks that the stone in his tale, No. 59, which tells the prince all the secrets of his brides, “is plainly the old Oskastein, or wishing-stone.”——See II Pentamerone (Burton’s trans., vol. i, p. 13; and W. Crooke, “King Midas and his Ass’s Ears,” Folk-Lore, vol. xxii, 1911, p. 184. —N.M.p.


The reading should be Makarakaṭyevam.


There is a certain resemblance between this story and the tenth novel of the eighth day in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Dunlop traces Boccaccio’s story to the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alphonsus (chap. xvi). It is also found in the Nights, in the Gesta Romanorum (chap. cxviii), and in the Cento Novelle Antiche, No. 74. See also Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and have a Wife. (Dunlop’s History of Fiction, p. 56, Liebrecht’s German translation, p. 247.)——The above references given by Tawney have little in common with the story of Āla, the ape. They are much closer variants to No. 45 (Vol. Ill, p. 118 et seq.), where I have added a note on the motif.— n.m.p.


An elaborate pun.

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