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 LVIII

[M] (Main story line continued) WHEN Marubhūti had thus illustrated the untrustworthy character of courtesans, the wise Gomukha told this tale of Kumudikā, the lesson of which was the same.


78. Story of King Vikramasiṃha, the Courtesan, and the Young Brahman

There was in Pratiṣṭhāna a king named Vikramasiṃha, who was made by Providence a lion in courage, so that his name expressed his nature. He had a queen of lofty lineage, beautiful and beloved, whose lovely form was her only ornament, and she was called Śaśilekhā. Once on a time, when he was in his city, five or six of his relations combined together, and going to his palace, surrounded him. Their names were Mahābhaṭa, Vīrabāhu, Subāhu, Subhaṭa and Pratāpāditya, all powerful kings. The king’s minister was proceeding to try the effect of conciliation on them, but the king set him aside, and went out to fight with them. And when the two armies had begun to exchange showers of arrows, the king himself entered the fray, mounted on an elephant, confiding in his might. And when the five kings, Mahābhaṭa, and the others, saw him, seconded only by his bow, dispersing the army of his enemies, they all attacked him together.

And as the numerous force of the five kings made a united charge, the force of Vikramasiṃha, being inferior in number, was broken.

Then his minister Anantaguṇa, who was at his side, said:

“Our force is routed for the present, there is no chance of victory to-day, and you would engage in this conflict with an overwhelming force in spite of my advice, so now at the last moment do what I recommend you, in order that the affair may turn out prosperously. Come now, descend from your elephant, and mount a horse, and let us go to another country; if you live, you will conquer your enemies on some future occasion.”

When the minister said this, the king readily got down from his elephant, and mounted on a horse, and left his army in company with him. And in course of time the king, in disguise, reached with his minister the city of Ujjayinī.

There he entered with his minister the house of a courtesan, named Kumudikā, renowned for her wealth; and she, seeing him suddenly entering the house, thought:

“This is a distinguished hero that has come to my house: and his majesty and the marks on his body show him to be a great king,[1] so my desire is sure to be attained if I can make him my instrument.”

Having thus reflected, Kumudikā rose up and welcomed him, and entertained him hospitably, and immediately she said to the king, who was wearied:

“I am fortunate, to-day the good deeds of my former life have borne fruit, in that your Majesty has hallowed my house by coming to it in person. So by this favour your Majesty has made me your slave. The hundred elephants, and two myriads of horses, and house full of jewels, which belong to me, are entirely at your Majesty’s disposal.”

Having said this, she provided the king and his minister with baths and other luxuries, all in magnificent style.

Then the wearied king lived in her palace, at his ease, with her, who put her wealth at his disposal. He consumed her substance and gave it away to petitioners, and she did not show any anger against him on that account, but was rather pleased at it.[2] Thereupon the king was delighted, thinking that she was really attached to him, but his minister Anantaguṇa, who was with him, said to him in secret:

“Your Majesty, courtesans are not to be depended upon, though, I must confess, I cannot guess the reason why Kumudikā shows you love.”

When the king heard this speech of his, he answered him:

“Do not speak thus; Kumudikā would even lay down her life for my sake. If you do not believe it, I will give you a convincing proof.”

After the king had said this to his minister, he adopted this artifice: he took little to eat and little to drink, and so gradually attenuated his body, and at last he made himself as dead, without movement, prostrate on the ground. Then his attendants put him on a bier, and carried him to the burning- ghat with lamentations, while Anantaguṇa affected a grief which he did not feel. And Kumudikā, out of grief, came and ascended the funeral pyre with him, though her relations tried to prevent her. But before the fire was lighted, the king, perceiving that Kumudikā had followed him, rose up with a yawn.

And all his attendants took him home[3] with Kumudikā to his lodging, exclaiming:

“Fortunate is it that our king has been restored to life.”

Then a feast was made, and the king recovered his normal condition, and said in private to his minister:

“Did you observe the devotion of Kumudikā?”

Then the minister said:

“I do not believe even now. You may be sure that there is some reason for her conduct, so we must wait to get to the bottom of the matter. But let us reveal to her who we are, in order that we may obtain a force granted by her, and another force supplied by your ally, and so smite our enemies in battle.”

While he was saying this, the spy, that had been secretly sent out, returned, and when questioned, answered as follows:

“Your enemies have overrun the country, and Queen Śaśilekhā, having heard from the people a false report of your Majesty’s death, has entered the fire.”

When the king heard this, he was smitten by the thunderbolt of grief, and lamented:

“Alas! My queen! Alas! Chaste lady!”

Then Kumudikā at last came to know the truth, and after consoling the King Vikramasiṃha, she said to him:

“Why did not the king give me the order long ago? Now punish your enemies with my wealth and my forces.”

When she said this, the king augmented the force by means of her wealth, and repaired to a powerful king who was an ally of his. And lie inarched with his forces and those forces of his own, and after killing those live enemies in battle, he got possession of their kingdoms into the bargain.

Then he was delighted, and said to Kumudikā, who accompanied him:

“I am pleased with you, so tell me what I can do to gratitfy you.”

Then Kumudikā said:

“If you are really pleased, my lord, then extract from my heart this one thorn that has long remained there. I have an affection for a Brahman's son, of the name of Śrīdhara, in Ujjayinī, whom the king has thrown into prison for a very small fault, so deliver him out of the king’s hand. Because I saw by your royal marks that your Majesty was a glorious hero, and destined to be successful, and able to effect this object of mine, I waited on you with devoted attentions. Moreover, I ascended that pyre out of despair of attaining my object, considering that life was useless without that Brahman’s son.”

When the courtesan said this, the king answered her:

“I will accomplish it for you, fair one; do not despair.”

After saying this, he called to mind his minister’s speech, and thought:

“Anantaguṇa was right when he said that courtesans were not to be depended upon. But I must gratify the wish of this miserable creature.”

Thus resolved, he went with his troops to Ujjayinī, and after getting Śrīdhara set at liberty, and giving him much wealth, he made Kumudikā happy by uniting her with her beloved there. And after returning to his city he never disobeyed the advice of his minister, and so in time he came to enjoy the whole earth.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So you see, the hearts of courtesans are fathomless and hard to understand.”

Then Gomukha stopped, after he had told this story. But then Tapantaka said in the presence of Naravāhanadatta:

“Prince, you must never repose any confidence at all in women, for they are all light, even those that, being married or unmarried, dwell in their father’s house, as well as those that are courtesans by profession. I will tell you a wonder which happened in this very place; hear it.


79. Story of the Faithless Wife who Burnt herself with her Husband’s Body

There was a merchant in this very city named Balavarman, and he had a wife named Candraśrī, and she beheld from a window a merchant’s handsome son, of the name of Śīlahara, and she sent her female friend to invite him to her house, and there she used to have assignations with him in secret. And while she was in the habit of meeting him there every day, her attachment to him was discovered by all her friends and relations. But her husband Balavarman was the only one who did not discover that she was unchaste. Very often men blinded by affection do not discover the wickedness of their wives.

Then a burning fever seized Balavarman, and the merchant consequently was soon reduced to a very low state. But though he was in this state, his wife went every day to her friend’s house to meet her paramour. And the next day, while she was there, her husband died. And on hearing of it she returned, quickly taking leave of her lover. And out of grief for her husband she ascended the pyre with his body, being firmly resolved, though her attendants, who knew her character, tried to dissuade her.[4]


[M] (Main story line continued)

“Thus is the way of a woman’s heart truly hard to understand. They fall in love with strange men, and die when separated from their husbands.”

When Tapantaka said this, Hariśikha said in his turn:

“Have you not heard what happened in this way to Devadāsa?


80. Story of the Faithless Wife who had her Husband Murdered

Of old time there lived in a village a householder named Devadāsa, and he had a wife named with good cause Duḥśīlā.[5] And the neighbours knew that she was in love with another man. Now, once on a time, Devadāsa went to the king’s court on some business. And his wife, who wished to have him murdered, took advantage of the occasion to bring her paramour, whom she concealed on the roof of the house. And in the dead of night she had her husband Devadāsa killed, when he was asleep, by that paramour.

And she dismissed her paramour, and remained quiet until the morning, when she went out, and exclaimed:

“My husband has been killed by robbers.”

Then his relations came there, and after they had seen his body, they said:

“If he was killed by thieves, why did they not carry off anything?”

After they had said this, they asked her young son, who was there:

“Who killed your father?”

Then he said plainly:

“A man had gone up on the roof here in the day; he came down in the night, and killed my father before my eyes; but first my mother took me and rose up from my father’s side.”

When the boy said this, the dead man’s relations knew that Devadāsa had been killed by his wife’s paramour, and they searched him out, and put him to death then and there, and they adopted that boy and banished Duḥśīlā.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So you see, a woman whose heart is fixed on another man infallibly kills like the snake.”

When Hariśikha said this, Gomukha said again:

“Why should we tell any out-of-the-way story? Listen to the ridiculous fate that befell Vajrasāra here, the servant of the King of Vatsa.


81. Story of Vajrasāra, whose Wife cut off his Nose and Ears

He, being brave and handsome, had a beautiful wife that came from Mālava, whom he loved more than his own body. Once on a time his wife’s father, longing to see her, came in person, accompanied by his son, from Mālava, to invite him and her. Then Vajrasāra entertained him, and informed the king, and went, as he had been invited to do, to Mālava with his wife and his father-in-law. And after he had rested a month only in his father-in-law’s house, he came back here to attend upon the king, but that wife of his remained there.

Then, after some days had passed, suddenly a friend of the name of Krodhana came to him, and said:

“Why have you ruined your family by leaving your wife in her father’s house? For the abandoned woman has there formed a connection with another man. This was told me to-day by a trustworthy person who came from that place. Do not suppose that it is untrue; punish her, and marry another.”

When Krodhana had said this, he went away, and Vajrasāra stood bewildered for a moment, and then reflected:

“I suspect this may be true; otherwise, why did she not come back, though I sent a man to summon her? So I will go myself and bring her, and see what the state of the case is.”

Having formed this resolution, he went to Mālava, and after taking leave of his father-in-law and his mother-in-law, he set out with his wife. And after he had gone a long distance, he eluded his followers by a trick, and going by the wrong path, entered with his wife a dense wood.

He sat down in the middle of it, and said to her, out of hearing of anyone:

“I have heard from a trustworthy friend that you are in love with another, and when I, remaining at home, sent for you, you did not come; so tell me the truth; if you do not, I will punish you.”

When she heard this, she said:

“If this is your intention, why do you ask me? Do what you like.”

When Vajrasāra heard this contemptuous speech of hers, he was angry and tied her up, and began to beat her with creepers. But while he was stripping off her clothes, he felt his passion renewed, and asked her to forgive him, whereupon she said:

“I will, if I may tie you up and beat you with creepers, in the same way as you tied me up and beat me, but not otherwise.”

Vajrasāra, whose heart was made like stubble by love, consented, for he was blinded by passion.[6] Then she bound him firmly, hand and foot, to a tree, and, when he was bound, she cut off his ears and nose with his own sword, and the wicked woman took his sword and clothes, and disguising herself as a man, departed whither she would.

But Vajrasāra, with his nose and ears cut off, remained there, depressed by great loss of blood, and loss of self-respect. Then a certain benevolent physician, who was wandering through the wood in search of healing herbs, saw him, and out of compassion unbound him, and brought him home to his house. And Vajrasāra, having been brought round by him, slowly returned to his own house, but he did not find that wicked wife, though he sought for her. And he described the whole occurrence to Krodhana, and he related it in the presence of the King of Vatsa; and all the people in the king’s court mocked him, saying that his wife had justly taken away his man’s dress and suitably punished him, because he had lost all manly spirit and faculty of just resentment, and so become a woman. But in spite of their ridicule he remains there with heart of adamant, proof against shame. So what confidence, your Royal Highness, can be placed in women?


[M] (Main story line continued) When Gomukha had said this, Marubhūti went on to say:

“The mind of woman is unstable; hear a tale in illustration of this truth.


82. Story of King Siṃhabala and his Fickle Wife

Formerly there dwelt in the Deccan a king, of the name of Siṃhabala. And his wife, named Kalyāṇavatī, the daughter of a prince of Mālava, was dear to him above all the women of his harem. And the king ruled the realm with her as consort, but once on a time he was expelled from his kingdom by his powerful relations, who banded together against him. And then the king, accompanied by the queen, with his weapons and but few attendants, set out for the house of his father-in-law in Mālava.

And as he was going along through a forest, which lay in his road, a lion charged him, and the hero easily cut it in two with a stroke of his sword. And when a wild elephant came at him trumpeting, he circled round it and cut off with his sword its trunk and feet, and stripped it of its jewel, and killed it.[7] And alone he dispersed the hosts of bandits like lotuses, and trampled them, as the elephant, lord of the forest, tramples the beds of white water-lilies.

Thus he accomplished the journey, and his wonderful courage was seen, and so he reached Mālava, and then this sea of valour said to his wife:

“You must not tell in your father’s house this that happened to me on the journey, it will bring shame to you, my queen; for what is there laudable in courage displayed by a man of the military caste?”

After he had given her this injunction, he entered his father-in-law’s house with her, and when eagerly questioned by him, told his story. His father-in-law honoured him, and gave him elephants and horses, and then he repaired to a very powerful king named Gajānīka. But being intent on conquering his enemies, he left his wife Kalyāṇavatī there in her father’s house.

Some days after he had gone, his wife, while standing at the window, saw a certain man. The moment she saw him, he captivated her heart by his good looks; and being drawn on by love, she immediately thought:

“I know no one is more handsome or more brave than my husband, but alas! my mind is attracted towards this man. So let what must be, be. I will have an interview with him.”

So she determined in her own mind, and told her desire to a female attendant, who was her confidante. And she made her bring him at night, and introduce him into the women’s apartments by the window, pulling him up with a rope. When the man was introduced, he had not courage to sit boldly on the sofa on which she was, but sat apart on a chair. The queen, when she saw that, was despondent, thinking he was a mean man, and at that very moment a snake, which was roaming about, came down from the roof. When the man saw the snake, he sprang up quickly in fear, and taking his bow, he killed the snake with an arrow. And when it fell dead, he threw it out of the window, and in his delight at having escaped that danger, the coward danced for joy.

When Kalyāṇavatī saw him dancing, she was cast down, and thought to herself over and over again:

“Alas! Alas! What have I to do with this mean-spirited coward?”

And her friend, who was a discerning person, saw that she was disgusted, and so she went out, and quickly returned with assumed trepidation and said:

“Queen, your father has come, so let this young man quickly return to his own house by the way by which he came.”

When she said this, he went out of the window by means of the rope, and being overpowered by fear, he fell, but, as luck would have it, he was not killed.

When he had gone, Kalyāṇavatī said to her confidante:

“My friend, you have acted rightly in turning out this low fellow.[8] You penetrated my feelings, for my heart is vexed. My husband, after slaying tigers and lions, conceals it through modesty, and this cowardly man, after killing a snake, dances for joy. So why should I desert such a husband and fall in love with a common fellow? Curse on my unstable mind, or rather curse on women, who are like flies that leave camphor and haste to impurity!”

The queen spent the night in these self-reproaches, and afterwards remained waiting in her father’s house for the return of her husband. In the meanwhile Siṃhabala, having been supplied with another army by King Gajānīka, slew those five wicked relations. Then he recovered his kingdom, and at the same time brought back his wife from her father’s house, and after loading his father-in-law with abundance of wealth, he ruled the earth for a long time without opposition.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So you see, King, that the mind of even discerning women is fickle, and, though they have brave and handsome husbands, wanders hither and thither, but women of pure character are scarce.”

When Naravāhanadatta, the son of the King of Vatsa, had heard this story related by Marubhūti, he sank off into a sound sleep and so passed the night.

Footnotes and references:


See Vol. II, pp. 7, 7n1, 162; and Chauvin, Bibliographic des Outrages Arabes, vi, p. 75.—n.m.p.


For a note on prostitutes see Vol. Ill, p. 207n2.—n.m.p.


For a similar test see Tawney, Kathākoça, p. 39. —n.m.p. vol. V.    B


For full details of widow-burning (satī) see Vol. IV, Appendix I.— n.m.p.


I.e. of bad character.


The B. text seems corrupted here. The line in the D. text reads, tṛṇtuāṅkṛtaś citraṃ Vajrasāro Manobhuvā—“it is a wonder, how a Vajrasāra [=one who has the hardness of the diamond] was transformed by Kama into a Irincuāra [= one who has the hardness of stubble].” See Speyer, Studies about the Kathāiaritsāgara, p. 125.— n.m.p.


The D. text reads muktāraṭim instead of muktaratnam, thus Siṃhabala makes the elephant fall down roaring, and does not deprive it of its jewel. For a note on this latter see Vol. II, p. 142, 142n1.— n.m.p.


The Sanskrit College MS. inserts nīcho after kṛtam. - So in D.—n.m.p.

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