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 ...

163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

THEN King Trivikramasena again went to the śiṃśapā tree to fetch the Vetāla. And when he arrived there, and looked about in the darkness by the help of the light of the funeral pyres, he saw the corpse lying on the ground groaning. Then the king took the corpse, with the Vetāla in it, on his shoulder, and set out quickly and in silence to carry it to the appointed place.

Then the Vetāla again said to the king from his shoulder:

“King, this trouble into which you have fallen is great and unsuitable to you; so I will tell you a tale to amuse you. Listen.


163g (2). The Three Young Brāhmans who restored a Dead Lady to Life [1]

There is, on the banks of the River Yamunā, a district assigned to Brāhmans, named Brahmasthala. In it there lived a Brāhman, named Agnisvāmin, who had completely mastered the Vedas. To him there was born a very beautiful daughter named Mandāravatī. Indeed, when providence had created this maiden of novel and priceless beauty, he was disgusted with the nymphs of heaven, his own precious handiwork. And when she grew up, there came there from Kānyakubja three young Brāhmans, equally matched in all accomplishments. And each one of these demanded the maiden from her father for himself, and would sooner sacrifice his life than allow her to be given to another. But her father would not give her to any one of them, being afraid that, if he did so, he would cause the death of the others; so the damsel remained unmarried. And those three remained there day and night, with their eyes exclusively fixed on the moon of her countenance, as if they had taken upon themselves a vow to imitate the partridge.[2]

Then the maiden Mandāravatī suddenly contracted a burning fever, which ended in her death. Whereupon the young Brāhmans, distracted with grief, carried her when dead, after she had been duly adorned, to the cemetery, and burnt her. And one of them built a hut there and made her ashes his bed, and remained there, living on the alms he could get by begging. And the second took her bones and went with them to the Ganges; and the third became an ascetic, and went travelling through foreign lands.

As the ascetic was roaming about, he reached a village named Vajraloka. And there he entered as a guest the house of a certain Brāhman. And the Brāhman received him courteously. So he sat down to eat; and in the meanwhile a child there began to cry. When, in spite of all efforts to quiet it, it would not stop, the mistress of the house fell into a passion, and taking it up in her arms threw it into the blazing fire. The moment the child was thrown in, as its body was soft, it was reduced to ashes. When the ascetic, who was a guest, saw this, his hair stood on end, and he exclaimed:

“Alas! alas! I have entered the house of a Brāhman-demon. So I will not eat food here now, for such food would be sin in a visible material shape.”

When he said this, the householder said to him:

“See the power of raising the dead to life inherent in a charm of mine, which is effectual as soon as recited.”

When he had said this, he took the book containing the charm and read it, and threw on to the ashes some dust, over which the charm had been recited. That made the boy rise up alive, exactly as he was before.

Then the mind of the Brāhman ascetic was quieted, and he was able to take his meal there. And the master of the house put the book up on a bracket, and, after taking food, went to bed at night, and so did the ascetic. But when the master of the house was asleep, the ascetic got up timidly and took the book, with the desire of restoring his beloved to life.

And he left the house with the book, and travelling day and night at last reached the cemetery where that beloved had been burnt. And at that moment he saw the second Brāhman arrive there, who had gone to throw her bones into the River Ganges.

And having also found the one who remained in the cemetery sleeping on her ashes, having built a hut over them, he said to the two:

“Remove this hut, in order that by the power of a certain charm I may raise up my beloved alive from her ashes.”

Having earnestly solicited them to do this, and having overturned that hut, the Brāhman ascetic opened the book and read the charm. And after thus charming some dust, he threw it on the ashes, and that made Mandāravatī rise up alive. And as she had entered the fire, she possessed, when resuscitated, a body that had come out of it more splendid than before, as if made of gold.[3]

When the three Brāhmans saw her resuscitated in this form, they immediately became love-sick, and quarrelled with one another, each desiring her for himself.

And the first said:

“She is my wife, for she was won by the power of my charm.”

And the second said:

“She belongs to me, for she was produced by the efficacy of sacred bathing-places.”

And the third said:

“She is mine, for I preserved her ashes, and resuscitated her by asceticism.”


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

“Now, King, give judgment to decide their dispute. Whose wife ought the maiden to be? If you know and do not say it, your head shall fly in pieces.”

When the king heard this from the Vetāla, he said to him:

“The one who restored her to life by a charm, though he endured hardship, must be considered her father, because he performed that office for her, and not her husband; and he who carried her bones to the Ganges is considered her son; but he who out of love lay on her ashes, and so remained in the cemetery embracing her and practising asceticism, he is to be called her husband, for he acted like one in his deep affection.”[4]

When the Vetāla heard this from King Trivikramasena, who had broken silence by uttering it, he left his shoulder and went back invisible to his own place. But the king, who was bent on forwarding the object of the mendicant, made up his mind to fetch him again; for men of firm resolution do not desist from accomplishing a task they have promised to perform, even though they lose their lives in the attempt.

Footnotes and references:


See the notes on this story in the Appendix, p. 261 et seq. — n.m.p.


The Chakora is fabled to subsist upon moonbeams.


Niṣkāntam is perhaps a misprint for niṣkrāntam, the reading of the Sanskrit College MS.


Cf. Sagas from the Far East, p. 303.

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