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 ...

163. Story of Mṛgāṅkadatta

ACCORDINGLY Mṛgāṅkadatta, being desirous to obtain Śaśāṅkavatī, the daughter of King Karmasena, who had been described by the Vetāla, planned with his ministers to leave his city secretly, disguised as a Pāśupata ascetic, in order to travel to Ujjayinī. And the prince himself directed his minister Bhīmaparākrama to bring the necessary staves like bed-posts, the skulls, and so on. And the head minister of the king, his father, found out, by means of a spy, that Bhīmaparākrama had collected all these things in his house. And at that time it happened that Mṛgāṅkadatta, while walking about on the top of his palace, spat down some betel-juice. And as ill-luck would have it, it fell on the head of his father’s minister, who happened to be walking below, unseen by the prince.[1] But the minister, knowing that Mṛgāṅkadatta had spat down that betel-juice, bathed, and laid up in his heart a grudge against Mṛgāṅkadatta on account of the insult.

Now it happened that the next day King Amaradatta, the father of Mṛgāṅkadatta, had an attack of cholera, and then the minister saw his chance, and, after imploring an assurance of safety, he said in secret to the king, who was tortured with his sudden attack of disease:

“The fact is, my sovereign, your son Mṛgāṅkadatta has begun incantations against you in the house of Bhīmaparākrama; that is why you are suffering.[2] I found it out by means of a spy, and the thing is obvious for all to see, so banish your son from your realm and your disease from your body at the same time.”

When the king heard that, he was terrified, and sent his general to the house of Bhīmaparākrama, to investigate the matter. And he found the hair, and the skulls, and other articles,[3] and immediately brought those very things and showed them to the king.

And the king in his anger said to the general:

“That son of mine is conspiring against me, because he wishes to reign himself, so expel him from the kingdom this very moment without delay, together with his ministers.”

For a confiding[4] king never sees through the wicked practices of his ministers. So the general went and communicated that order of the king’s, and expelled Mṛgāṅkadatta from the city, together with his ministers.[5]

Then Mṛgāṅkadatta was delighted[6] at having obtained his object, and he worshipped Gaṇeśa, and mentally took a humble leave of his parents, and started off. And after they had gone a great distance from the town of Ayodhyā, the prince said to Pracaṇḍaśakti and the other nine ministers who were travelling with him:

“There is here a great king of the Kirātas, named Śaktirakṣita; he is a student in the sciences, observing a vow of chastity, and he is a friend of mine from childhood. For, when his father was long ago captured in battle, he sent him here to be imprisoned as a substitute for himself, in order to obtain his own release. And when his father died, his relations by his father’s side rose against him, and at my instigation my father established him on the throne of his father with a military force. So let us go to him, my friend, and then we will travel on to Ujjayinī, to find that Śaśāṅkavatī.”

When he said this, all the ministers exclaimed, “So be it,” and he set out with them and reached in the evening a great wilderness. It was devoid of trees and water, and it was with difficulty that at last he found a tank, with one withered tree growing upon its banks. There he performed the evening ceremonies, and drank water, and being fatigued he went to sleep with his ministers under that dry tree. And in the night, which was illuminated by the moon, he woke up, and saw that the tree first put forth abundance of leaves, then of flowers, then of fruit. And when he saw its ripe fruit falling, he immediately woke up his ministers, and pointed out that marvel to them. Then they were astonished, and as they were hungry, he and they ate the delicious fruits of that tree together, and after they had eaten them, the dry tree suddenly became a young Brāhman, before the eyes of them all.[7]

And when Mṛgāṅkadatta questioned him, he told his tale in the following words:

“There was an excellent Brāhman in Ayodhyā named Dāmadhi. I am his son, and my name is Śrutadhi. And once in a time of famine he was wandering about with me, and he reached this place almost dead.[8] Here he got five fruits which someone gave him, and though he was exhausted with hunger, he gave three to me, and set aside two for himself. Then he went into the water of the lake to bathe, and in the meanwhile I ate all the five fruits, and pretended to be asleep.

He returned after bathing, and beholding me cunningly lying here as motionless as a log he cursed me, saying:

‘Become a dry tree here on the bank of the lake. And on moonlight nights flowers and fruit shall spring from you, and when once on a time you shall have refreshed guests with fruits, you shall be delivered from your curse.’[9]

As soon as my father had pronounced this curse on me, I became a dry tree, but now that you have tasted my fruit I have been delivered from the curse, after enduring it for a long time.”

After Śrutadhi had related his own story, he asked Mṛgāṅkadatta for his, and he told it him. Then Śrutadhi, who had no relations, and was well read in policy, asked Mṛgāṅkadatta to permit him, as a favour, to attach himself to his service. So, after he had spent the night in this way, Mṛgāṅkadatta set out next morning with his ministers. And in the course of his journey he came to a forest named Karimaṇḍita. There he saw five wild-looking men with long hair, who aroused his wonder.

Then the five men came and respectfully addressed him as follows:

“We were born in the city of Kāśī as Brāhmans who lived by keeping cows. And during a famine we came from that country, where the grass was scorched by drought, with our cows, to this wood, which abounds in grass. And here we found an elixir in the form of the water of a tank, continually flavoured with the three kinds of fruits[10] that drop from the trees growing on its bank. And five hundred years have passed over our heads in this uninhabited wood, while we have been drinking this water and the milk of cows. It is thus, Prince, that we have become such as you see, and now destiny has sent you to us as guests, so come to our hermitage.”

When thus invited by them, Mṛgāṅkadatta went with them to their hermitage, taking his companions with him, and spent the day there living on milk. And he set out from it in the morning, and in course of time he reached the country of the Kirātas, seeing other wonderful sights on the way. And he sent on Śrutadhi to inform his friend Śaktirakṣita, the King of the Kirātas, of his arrival. When the sovereign of the Kirātas heard of it, he went to meet Mṛgāṅkadatta with great courtesy, and conducted him with his ministers into his city. Mṛgāṅkadatta told him the cause of his arrival, and remained there for some days, being entertained by him. And the prince arranged that Śaktirakṣita should be ready to assist him in his undertaking when the proper time came, and then he set out, on an auspicious day, for Ujjayinī, with his eleven companions, having been captivated by Śaśāṅkavatī.

And as he went along, he reached an uninhabited forest and saw standing under a tree an ascetic, with ashes on his body, a deer-skin, and matted hair. So he went up to him, with his followers, and said to him:

“Reverend sir, why do you live alone in this forest in which there is no hermitage?”

Then the hermit answered him:

“I am a pupil of the great sage named Śuddhakīrti, and I know innumerable spells. Once on a time I got hold of a certain Kṣatriya boy with auspicious marks, and I exerted all my diligence to cause him to be possessed, while alive, by a spirit, and, when the boy was possessed I questioned him, and he told me of many places for potent drugs and liquors, and then said this:

‘There is in this Vindhya forest in the northern quarter a solitary aśoka tree,[11] and under it there is a great palace of a snake-king.[12] In the middle of the day its water is concealed with moistened dust, but it can be discovered by the couples of swans sporting there together with the water-cranes.[13] There dwells a mighty chief of the snakes, named Pārāvatākṣa, and he obtained a matchless sword from the war of the gods and Asuras, named Vaidūryakānti; whatever man obtains that sword will become a chief of the Siddhas and roam about unconquered, and that sword can be obtained only by the aid of heroes.’

When the possessed boy said this, I dismissed him. So I have wandered about over the earth desirous to obtain that sword, and caring for nothing else, but, as I have not been able to find men to help me, in disgust I have come here to die.”

When Mrigāṅkadatta heard the ascetic say this, he said to him:

“I and my ministers will help you.”

The ascetic gladly accepted this offer, and went with him and his followers, by the help of an ointment rubbed on the feet, to the dwelling-place of that snake. There he found the sign by which it could be recognised, and he placed there at night Mṛgāṅkadatta and his companions, duly initiated, fixed with spells; and throwing enchanted mustard-seed he cleared the water from dust, and began to offer an oblation with snake-subduing spells. And he conquered by the power of his spells the impediments, such as earthquakes, clouds, and so on.

Then there came out from that aśoka tree a heavenly nymph, as it were, murmuring spells with the tinkling of her jewelled ornaments, and approaching the ascetic she pierced his soul with a sidelong glance of love. And then the ascetic lost his self-command and forgot his spells; and the shapely fair one, embracing him, flung from his hand the vessel of oblation. And then the snake Pārāvatākṣa had gained his opportunity, and he came out from that palace like the dense cloud of the day of doom. Then the heavenly nymph vanished, and the ascetic beholding the snake terrible with flaming eyes, roaring horribly, died of a broken heart.

When he was destroyed, the snake laid aside the awful form, and cursed Mṛgāṅkadatta and his followers, for helping the ascetic, in the following words:

“Since you did what was quite unnecessary after all coming here with this man, you shall be for a certain time separated from one another.”

Then the snake disappeared, and all of them at the same time had their eyes dimmed with darkness, and were deprived of the power of hearing sounds. And they immediately went in different directions, separated from one another by the power of the curse, though they kept looking for one another and calling to one another. And when the delusion of the night was at an end, Mṛgāṅkadatta found himself roaming about in the wood without his ministers.

And, after two or three months had passed, the Brāhman Śrutadhi, who was looking for him, suddenly fell in with him. Mṛgāṅkadatta received him kindly, and asked for news of his ministers, whereupon Śrutadhi fell at his feet weeping, and consoled him, and said to him:

“I have not seen them, Prince, but I know they will go to Ujjayinī, for that is the place we all have to go to.”

With these and similar speeches he urged the prince to go there, so Mṛgāṅkadatta set out with him slowly for Ujjayinī.

And after he had journeyed a few days, he found his own minister Vimalabuddhi, who suddenly came that way. When the minister saw him, he bowed before him with eyes filled with tears at seeing him, and the prince embraced him, and, making him sit down, he asked him for tidings of the other ministers.

Then Vimalabuddhi said to that prince, who was so beloved by his servants:

“I do not know, King, where each of them has gone in consequence of the curse of the snake. But hear how I know that you will find them again.

“When the snake cursed me, I was carried far away by the curse, and wandered in the eastern part of the forest. And being fatigued, I was taken by some kind person to the hermitage of a certain hermit, named Brahmadaṇḍin. There my fatigue was removed by the fruits and water which the sage gave me, and, roaming far away from the hermitage, I saw a vast cave. I entered it out of curiosity, and I saw inside it a palace made of jewels, and I began to look into the palace through the lattice-windows. And lo! there was in it a woman causing to revolve a wheel with bees, and those bees made some of them for a bull, and others for a donkey, both which creatures were standing there. And some drank the foam of milk sent forth by the bull, and others the foam of blood sent forth by the donkey, and became white and black, according to the colour of the two objects on which they settled; and then they all turned into spiders. And the spiders, which were of two different colours, made two different coloured webs with their excrements. And one set of webs was hung on wholesome flowers, and the other on poisonous flowers. And the spiders, that were clinging to those webs as they pleased, were bitten by a great snake which came there, having two mouths, one white, and the other black. Then the woman put them in various pitchers, but they got out again, and began to occupy the same webs again respectively. Then those that were on the webs attached to the poisonous flowers began to cry out, owing to the violence of the poison. And thereupon the others, that were on the other webs, began to cry out also. But the noise interrupted the meditation of a certain merciful ascetic who was there, who discharged fire at the webs.[14] Then the webs, in which the spiders were entangled, were burnt up, and the spiders entered a hollow coral rod, and disappeared in a gleaming light at the top of it. In the meanwhile the woman disappeared with her wheel, her bull, and her donkey.

“When I had seen this, I continued to roam about there in a state of astonishment; and then I saw a charming lake, which seemed by means of its lotuses, round which bees hummed, to summon me thither to look at it. And while I sat on the bank and looked at it I beheld a great wood inside the water, and in the wood was a hunter, and the hunter had got hold of a lion’s cub with ten arms, which he brought up, and then banished from the wood in anger, on the ground that it was disobedient.[15] The lion then heard the voice of a lioness in a neighbouring wood, and was going in the direction of the sound, when his ten arms were scattered by a whirlwind. Then a man with a protuberant belly came and restored his arms as they were before, and he went to that forest in search of the lioness. He endured for her sake much hardship in that forest, and at last obtained her whom he had had for a wife in a former state, and with her returned to his own forest. And when that hunter saw that lion return with his mate to the forest, which was his hereditary abode,[16] he resigned it to him and departed.

“When I had seen this, I returned to the hermitage and described both those very wonderful spectacles to Brahmadaṇḍin. And that hermit, who knows the past, present and future, kindly said to me:

‘You are fortunate; Śiva has shown you all this by way of favour. That woman whom you saw is Māyā,[17] and the wheel which she caused to revolve is the wheel of mundane existence, and the bees are living creatures. And the bull and the donkey are respectively symbols of Righteousness and Unrighteousness, and the foam of milk and the foam of blood discharged by them, to which the bees repaired, are typical of good and evil actions. And they acquired properties arising from the things on which they respectively settled, and became spiders of two kinds, white and foul respectively; and then with their energy, which was symbolised by excrement, they produced entangling nets of two kinds, such as offspring and so on, which were attached to wholesome and poisonous flowers, which signify happiness and misery. And while clinging each to its own web they were bitten by a snake, typical of Death,[18] with its two mouths, the white set with the white mouth symbolical of good fortune, the other with the black mouth symbolical of evil fortune.

“‘Then that female, typifying Māyā, plunged them into various wombs, typified by the jars, and they again emerged from them, and assuming forms white and black, corresponding to what they had before, they fell into entangling webs, which are symbolical of sons and other worldly connections, resulting in happiness and misery. Then the black spiders, entangled in their webs, being tortured by the poison, symbolical of pain, began in their affliction to invoke the supreme lord as their help. When the white spiders, who were in their own webs, perceived that, they also became averse to their state, and began to invoke that same lord. Then the god, who was present in the form of an ascetic, awoke from his trance, and consumed all their entangling webs with the fire of knowledge. Accordingly they ascended into the bright coral tube, typical of the orb of the sun, and reached the highest home, which lies above it. And then Māyā vanished, with the revolving wheel of births, and with her ox, and her ass, typical of Righteousness and Unrighteousness.

“‘Even thus in the circle of existence revolve creatures, fair and foul according to their actions, and they are liberated by propitiating Śiva; and this spectacle has been shown to you by Śiva to teach you this lesson, and to put an end to your delusion.

“‘As for that sight which you saw in the water of the tank, this is the explanation of it. The holy god produced this apparent reflection in the water, in order to teach you what was destined to befall Mṛgāṅkadatta. For he may be compared to a young lion-whelp, and he was brought up with ten ministers round him resembling ten arms, and he was banished in anger by his father (typified by the hunter) from his native land (typified by the forest); and on hearing the report of Śaśāṅkavatī (who may be compared to a lioness) coming from the land of Avanti (symbolised by the other wood[19]), he made towards her, and the wind which stripped him of his arms is the curse of the snake, which separated him from his ministers.

“‘Then Vināyaka[20] appeared as a man with a pendulous belly, and restored to him his arms (that is to say, his ministers), and so he recovered his former condition. Then he went and, after enduring great hardship, obtained from another place the lioness (that is, Śaśāṅkavatī), and returned. And when the hunter (that is, his father) saw him coming near with his wife, having swept away the obstacles which his foes put in his way,[21] he resigned to him the whole of his forest (that is, his kingdom), and retired to a grove of ascetics. Thus has Śiva shown you the future as if it had already taken place. So you may be sure your master will recover you, his ministers, and obtain his wife and his kingdom.’

When the excellent hermit had thus instructed me, I recovered hope and left that hermitage, and travelling along slowly I have met you here, Prince, today. So you may rest assured, Prince, that you will recover Pracaṇḍaśakti, and your other ministers, and gain your object: you certainly gained the favour of Gaṇeśa by worshipping him before you set out.”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had listened for a while to this strange story of Vimalabuddhi’s he was much pleased, and after he had again deliberated with him he set out for the city of Avanti, with the double object of accomplishing his enterprise and recovering his other ministers.

[Additional note: on the doctrine of māyā]

Footnotes and references:


In the "First Kalandar’s Tale” in the Nights (Burton, vol. i, p. 107) the Wazir bears a similar grudge. The prince had put one of his eyes out by accident. I have already (Vol. II, p. 147n1) given a note on unintentional injuries.—n.m.p.


Kuhn in his Westfälische Marchen, vol. i, p. 141, quotes a very early instance of this belief from Livy, viii, 18. The historian informs us that one hundred and fifty Roman ladies were condemned as guilty of poisoning their husbands. That the death of their husbands was supposed to be brought about by witchcraft is clear from the whole passage, and particularly from the words:

Secuti indicem et coquentes quaedam medicamenta et recondita alia invenerunt.”

In Brand’s Popular Antiquities will be found much curious information on this subject. King James in his Dæmonologie, Book II, chap. 5, tells us that

“the devil teacheth how to make pictures of wax or clay, that by roasting thereof, the persons, that they bear the name of, may be continually melted or dried away with sickness.”

See Servius on the eighth eclogue of Virgil; Theocritus, Idyll, ii, 22; Hudibras, Part II, canto ii, 1. 31; Ovid, Heroid. Ep., vi, 91. See also Grafton’s Chronicle, p. 587, where it is laid to the charge, among others, of Roger Bolinbrook, a cunning necromancer, and Margery Jordane, the cunning witch of Eye,

“that they at the request of Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester, had devised an image of wax representing the king [Henry the Sixth] which by their sorcery a little and little consumed; intending thereby in conclusion to waste and destroy the king’s person.”

Shakespeare mentions this, 2 Henry VI, Act I, sc. 4. Andrews, in his continuation of Henry’s History of Great Britain, 4to, p. 93, tells us, speaking of Ferdinand, Earl of Derby, who in the reign of Queen Elizabeth died by poison:

“The credulity of the age attributed his death to witchcraft. The disease was odd and operated as a perpetual emetic; and a waxen image, with hair like that of the unfortunate earl, found in his chamber, reduced every suspicion to certainty”

(Brand’s Popular Antiquities, vol. iii, pp. 11 and 12).

See also Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act III, sc. 4, 11. 61-75; King John, Act V, sc. 4, 11. 25, 26; Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg, vol. ii, pp. 24, 26, 36; Birlinger, Aus Schwaben, vol. i, pp. 153 and 177.——Most readers will recognise in the above note examples of that section of magic called by Frazer " Sympathetic Magic.” It will suffice here merely to mention vol. i of his Golden Bough (The Magic Art), where the whole question is discussed (pp. 52-219), with numerous examples from all parts of the world.—n.m.p.


I follow the Sanskrit College MS., which reads keśakapālādi; perhaps for keśa we should read veśa. The skulls have been mentioned before.


For āśvasto I read viśvasto. Perhaps we ought to read asvasthoi.e. “sick,” “ill.”


The wanderings of Herzog Ernst are brought about in a very similar manner. See Simrock, Die Deutschen Volksbiicher, vol. iii, p. 278.


See Tawney, Kathākoça, p. 126.—n.m.p.


See the numerous references to tree-metamorphoses given by W. Crooke, “King Midas and his Ass’s Ears” Folk-Lore, vol. xxiii, 191 pp. 196, 197.—n.m.p.


Here Brockhaus has a misreading. The D. text has mṛtajāniḥ instead of mṛtajātiḥ, thus the meaning is “having lost his wife by death” (see Barnett, Golden Town, p. 6l). This reading is supported by the corresponding passage of Kṣemendra, who says she starved to death after giving her food to a beggar. See Speyer, op. cit., pp. 129, 130.—n.m.p.


Compare the myths of Attis and Cyparissus. In the story called “Der rothe Hund,” Gaal, Märchen der Magyaren, p. 362, the queen becomes a dry mulberry-tree. See also Grohmann, Sagen aus Böhmen, p. 116. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, xiv, 517, an abusive pastor is turned into an oleaster.


Triphalā, according to Professor Monier Williams, means the three myrobalans—i.e. the fruits of Terminaàa Chebula, T. Bellerica and Phyllanthus Emblica; also the three fragrant fruits, nutmeg, areca-nut and cloves; also the three sweet fruits, grape, pomegranate and date. The first interpretation seems to be the one usually accepted by the Paṇḍits of Bengal.


Barnett translates this śiṃśapci tree. See his Golden Town, p. 6l.—n.m.p.


I.e. Nāga, a kind of snake-demon. See Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales, p. 65, Veckenstedt’s Wendische Mārchen, pp. 400-409, Prym und Socin, Syrische Mārchen, pp. 100, 101. The sword with a name may remind the reader of Balmung, Excalibar, Durandal, etc.-For details of the Nāgas see Vol. I, pp. 203, 204, and for a note on sword-names see p. 109n1 of the same volume.—n.m.p.


The Sanskrit College MS. reads sāmpusāraiḥ, perhaps for sāmbusārasaiḥi.e. “with the water-cranes.”


Read “and he made flames burst forth from his forehead.” As the D. text shows, the reading is kenāpi bhālato muktā, etc., instead of B.’s kenāpi jālato muktā, etc. Cf. the blazing eye of Śiva in the Invocation of Chapter CIV. of this work, where bhālekṣaṇa is used. See Speyer, op. cit., p. 130.—N.M.P.


Anāyata is a misprint for anāyatta.


I read kulamandiram with the MS. in the Sanskrit College.


See note at the end of the chapter.— n.m.p.


Barnett, op. cit., p. 64, translates “time.”—n.m.p.


For vanopamām I conjecture vanopamāt.


I.e. Gaṇeśa.


Or “the elephants of his enemies.” Here there is probably a pun.

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