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 the heroic King Trivikramasena again went to the śiṃśapā tree, to fetch the Vetāla. And he found him there in the corpse, and again took him up on his shoulder, and began to return with him in silence.

And as he was going along, the Vetāla, who was on his back, said to him:

“It is wonderful, King, that you are not cowed with this going backwards and forwards at night. So I will tell you another story to solace you. Listen.


163g (3). The King and the Two Wise Birds [1]

There is on the earth a famous city named Pāṭaliputra. In it there lived of old time a king named Vikramakeśarin, whom providence made a storehouse of virtues as well as of jewels. And he possessed a parrot of godlike intellect, knowing all the śāstras, that had been born in that condition owing to a curse, and its name was Vidagdhacūḍāmaṇi. And the prince married as a wife, by the advice of the parrot, a princess of equal birth, of the royal family of Magadha, named Candraprabhā. That princess also possessed a similar hen-maina,[2] of the name of Somikā, remarkable for knowledge and discernment. And the two, the parrot and the maina, remained there in the same cage, assisting with their discernment their master and mistress.

One day the parrot became enamoured of the maina, and said to her:

“Marry me, fair one, as we sleep, perch and feed in the same cage.”

But the maina answered him:

“I do not desire intimate union with a male, for all males are wicked and ungrateful.”

The parrot retorted:

“It is not true that males are wicked, but females are wicked and cruel-hearted.”

And so a dispute arose between them. The two birds then made a bargain that if the parrot won, he should have the maina for wife, and if the maina won, the parrot should be her slave; and they came before the prince to get a true judgment. The prince, who was in his father’s judgment-hall, heard the point at issue between them, and then said to the maina: “Tell me, how are males ungrateful?”  Then the maina said: “Listen”; and, in order to establish her contention, proceeded to relate this story illustrating the faults of males.


163g (3a). The Maina’s Story [3]

There is on the earth a famous city of the name of Kāmandakī. In it there was a rich merchant of the name of Arthadatta. And he had a son born to him of the name of Dhanadatta. When his father died, the young man became dissipated. And rogues got round him and plunged him in the love of gambling and other vices. In truth the society of the wicked is the root of the tree of vice. In a short time his wealth was exhausted by dissipation, and being ashamed of his poverty, he left his own country, to wander about in foreign lands.

And in the course of his travels he reached a place named Candanapura, and desiring food, he entered the house of a certain merchant. As fate would have it, the merchant, seeing that he was a handsome youth, asked him his descent and other things, and finding out that he was of good birth, entertained him, and adopted him as a protégé. And he gave him his daughter Ratnāvalī, with a dower, and thenceforth Dhanadatta lived in his father-in-law’s house.

And in the course of some days he forgot in his present happiness his former misery, and having acquired wealth, and longing for fresh dissipation, he wished to go back to his own land. Then the rascal with difficulty wrung a permission from his unwilling father-in-law, whose daughter was his only child, and taking with him his wife, covered with ornaments, accompanied by an old woman, set out from that place, a party of three in all. And in course of time he reached a distant wood, and on the plea that there was danger of robbers he took those ornaments from his wife and got them into his own possession. Alas! Observe that the heart of ungrateful males, addicted to the hateful vice of dicing and drabbing, is as hard as a sword.

Then the villain, being determined to kill his wife, though she was virtuous, for the sake of her wealth, threw her and the old woman into a ravine. And after he had thrown them there he went away. The old woman was killed, but his wife was caught in a mass of creepers and did not die. And she slowly climbed up out of the chasm, weeping bitterly, supporting herself by clinging to grass and creepers, for the appointed end of her life had not yet come. And asking her way step by step, she arrived, by the road by which she came, at the house of her father, with difficulty, for her limbs were sorely bruised. When she arrived there suddenly in this state, her mother and father questioned her eagerly.

And the virtuous lady, weeping, told this tale.

“We were robbed on the way by bandits, and my husband was dragged away bound. The old woman died, but I survived, though I fell into a ravine. Then I was dragged out of the ravine by a certain benevolent traveller who came that way, and by the favour of destiny I have arrived here.”

When the good Ratnāvalī said this, her father and mother comforted her, and she remained there, thinking only of her husband.

And in course of time her husband Dhanadatta, who had gone back to his own country, and wasted that wealth in gambling, said to himself:

“I will go and fetch more wealth, begging it from my father-in-law, and I will tell him that I have left his daughter in my house here.”

Thinking thus in his heart, he set out for that house of his father-in-law, and when he drew near, his wife beheld him from a distance, and she ran and fell at his feet, though he was a villain. For, though a husband is wicked, a good wife does not alter her feelings towards him. And when he was frightened, she told him all the fictitious story she had previously told her parents about the robbery, her fall, and so on. Then he entered fearlessly with her the house of his father-in-law; and his father-in-law and mother-in-law, when they saw him, welcomed him joyfully.

And his father-in-law called his friends together and made a great feast on the occasion, exclaiming:

“It is indeed a happy thing that my son-in-law has been let go with life by the robbers.”

Then Dhanadatta lived happily with that wife of his, Ratnāvalī, enjoying the wealth of his father-in-law. But, fie! what the cruel man did one night, though it should not be told for shame, must still, for the story’s sake, be related. He killed his wife when asleep in his bosom, and took away all her ornaments, and then went away unobserved to his own country. So wicked are males!


163g (3). The King and the Two Wise Birds

When the maina had said this, the king said to the parrot: “Now say your say.”

Then the parrot said:

“King, females are of intolerable audacity, immoral and wicked; hear a tale in proof of it.


163g (3b). The Parrot's Story [4]

There is a city of the name of Harṣavatī, and in it there was a leading merchant named Dharmadatta, possessed of many crores. And that merchant had a daughter named Vasudattā, matchless in beauty, whom he loved more than his life. And she was given to an excellent young merchant named Samudradatta, equal to her in rank, distinguished for wealth and youth, who was an object that the eyes of lovely women loved to feast on, as the partridges on the rays of the moon, and who dwelt in the city of Tāmraliptī, which is inhabited by honourable men. Once on a time the merchant’s daughter, while she was living in her father’s house, and her husband was in his own country, saw at a distance a certain young and good-looking man. The fickle woman, deluded by Māra,[5] invited him by means of a confidante, and made him her secret paramour. And from that time forth she spent every night with him, and her affections were fixed upon him only.

But one day the husband of her youth returned from his own land, appearing to her parents like delight in bodily form. And on that day of rejoicing she was adorned. But she would have nothing to say to her husband, in spite of her mother’s injunctions; and when he spoke to her she pretended to be asleep, as her heart was fixed on another. And then her husband, being drowsy with wine and tired with his journey, was overpowered with sleep.

In the meanwhile, as all the people of the house, having eaten and drunk, were fast asleep, a thief made a hole in the wall[6] and entered their apartment. At that very moment the merchant’s daughter rose up, without seeing the thief, and went out secretly, having made an assignation with her lover.

When the thief saw that, his object being frustrated, he said to himself:

“She has gone out in the dead of night adorned with those very ornaments which I came here to steal; so I will watch where she goes.”

When the thief had formed this intention, he went out and followed that merchant’s daughter Vasudattā, keeping an eye on her, but himself unobserved.

But she, with flowers and other things of the kind in her hands, went out, accompanied by a single confidante, who was in the secret, and entered a garden at no distance outside the city. And in it she saw her lover, who had come there to meet her, hanging dead on a tree, with a halter round his neck; for the city-guards had caught him there at night and hanged him, on the supposition that he was a thief. Then she was distracted and beside herself, and exclaiming, “I am ruined,” she fell on the ground and lamented with plaintive cries. Then she took down her dead paramour from the tree, and placing him in a sitting position she adorned him with unguents and flowers, and, although he was senseless, embraced him, with mind blinded by passion and grief. And when in her sorrow she raised up his mouth and kissed it, her dead paramour, being animated by a Vetāla, suddenly bit off her nose.[7] Then she left him in confusion and agony; but still the unfortunate woman came back once more, and looked at him to see if he was still alive. And when she saw that the Vetāla had left his body, and that he was dead and motionless, she departed slowly, weeping with fear and humiliation.

In the meanwhile the thief, who was hidden there, saw’ all, and said to himself:

“What is this that this wicked woman has done? Alas! the mind of females is terrible and black like a dark well, unfathomable, exceedingly deep for a fall.[8] So I wonder what she will do now.”

After these reflections the thief again followed her at a distance, out of curiosity.

She went on and entered her own chamber, where her husband was asleep, and cried out, weeping:

“Help! Help! This wicked enemy, calling himself a husband, has cut off my nose, though I have done nothing wrong.”

Then her husband, and her father, and the servants, hearing her repeated cries, woke up, and arose in a state of excitement. Then her father, seeing that her nose had been recently taken off, was angry, and had her husband bound, as having injured his wife. But even while he was being bound he remained speechless, like a dumb man, and said nothing, for all the listeners, his father-in-law and the others, had all together turned against him.[9]

When the thief had seen all this, he slipped away nimbly, and the night, which was spent in tumult, gradually passed away; and then the merchant’s son was taken by his father-in-law to the king, together with his wife who had been deprived of her nose. And the king, after he had been informed by them of the circumstances, ordered the execution of the young merchant, on the ground that he had maimed his own wife, rejecting with contempt his version of the story.

Then, as he was being led to the place of execution, with drums beating,[10] the thief came up to the king’s officers and said to them:

“You ought not to put this man to death without cause; I know the circumstances. Take me to the king, that I may tell him the whole story.”

When the thief said this, they took him to the king, and after he had received a promise of pardon, he told him the whole history of the night from the beginning.

And he said:

“If your Majesty does not believe my words, look at once at the woman’s nose, which is in the mouth of that corpse.”

When the king heard that, he sent servants to look; and finding that the statement was true, he gave orders that the young merchant should not suffer capital punishment. But he banished his wicked wife from the country, after cutting off her ears also,[11] and punished his father-in-law by confiscating all his wealth; and being pleased with the thief, he made him chief magistrate of the city.


163g (3). The King and the Two Wise Birds

“So you see that females are naturally wicked and treacherous.”

When the parrot had told this tale, the curse imposed on him by Indra lost its force, and he became once more the Gandharva Citraratha, and assuming a celestial form, he went to heaven. And at the same moment the maina’s curse came to an end, and she became the heavenly nymph Tilottamā, and went at once to heaven. And so their dispute remained undecided in the judgment-hall.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla had told this tale, he again said to the king:

“So let your Majesty decide which are the worst, males or females. But if you know and do not say, your head shall split in pieces.”

When the king was asked this question by the Vetāla, that was on his shoulder, he said to him:

“Chief of magicians, women are the worst. For it is possible that once in a way a man may be so wicked, but females are, as a rule, always such everywhere.”

When the king said this, the Vetāla disappeared, as before, from his shoulder, and the king once more resumed the task of fetching him.

Footnotes and references:


See the Appendix, p. 267 et seq.—n.m.p.


One of the species known as mynas, mainas and minors, found in India, Assam and Burma. It is the Acridotheres tristis, a member of the starling family, largely known by the name Grackle. Jerdon (Birds of India, vol. i, pp. 325, 326) describes the maina as a household bird, very commonly domesticated. It becomes tame and familiar, often following its master about like a dog. It is a good imitator, and soon learns to pick up words and sentences. It is not surprising, then, that the story-teller would introduce a conversation between a maina and a parrot in which humans join. See also A. Newton, Dictionary of Birds, London, 1893-1896, pp. 378, 379, and Ency. Brit., 11th edition, vol. xiv, p. 381 b.—n.m.p.


See the Appendix, p. 2 69.—n.m.p.


The following story is the tenth in Sagas from the Far East. For fuller details see p. 269 et seq. of this volume.—n.m.p.


The great tempter of Gautama Buddha. For the numerous legends connected with Māra see Windisch’s Māra und Buddha, Leipzig, 1895.—n.m.p.


See Vol. V, p. 142n2 .—n.m.p.


See Chauvin, op. cit., vi, p. 100.—n.m.p.


A pun difficult to render in English.


The Sanskrit College MS. reads vibuddheshvathai.e. being awake.


See Vol. I, p. 118, 118n2, and Vol. V, p. 1 43n.—n.m.p.


Cf. Vol. V, pp. 82, 82n1, 156.—n.m.p.

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