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 at night to that śiṃśapā tree in the cemetery; and he fearlessly took that Vetāla that was in the corpse, though it uttered a horrible laugh, and placed it on his shoulder, and set out in silence.

And as he was going along, the Vetāla, that was on his shoulder, said to him again:

“King, why do you take all this trouble for the sake of this wicked mendicant? In truth you show no discrimination in taking all this fruitless labour. So hear from me this story to amuse you on the way.


163g (4). The Adventures of Vīravara [1]

There is a city on the earth rightly named Śobhāvatī. In it there lived a king of great valour, called Śūdraka. The fire of that victorious king’s might was perpetually fanned by the wind of the chowries waved by the captured wives of his enemies. I ween that the earth was so glorious during the reign of that king, owing to the uninterrupted practice of righteousness that prevailed, that she forgot all her other sovereigns, even Rāma.

Once on a time a Brāhman of the name of Vīravara came from Mālava to take service under that king who loved heroes. His wife’s name was Dharmavatī, his son was Sattvavara, and his daughter was Vīravatī. These three composed his family; and his attendants were another three: at his side a dagger, a sword in one hand, and a splendid shield in the other. Although he had so small a retinue, he demanded from the king five hundred dīnārs a day by way of salary. And King Śūdraka, perceiving that his appearance indicated great courage, gave him the salary he desired. But he felt curious to know whether, as his retinue was so small, he employed so many gold coins to feed his vices, or lavished them on some worthy object. So he had him secretly dogged by spies, in order to discover his mode of life. And it turned out that every day Vīravara had an interview with the king in the morning, and stood at his palace gate in the middle of the day, sword in hand; and then he went home and put into the hand of his wife a hundred dīnārs[2] of his salary for food, and with a hundred he bought clothes, unguents and betel, and after bathing he set apart a hundred for the worship of Viṣṇu and Śiva, and he gave two hundred by way of charity to poor Brāhmans. This was the distribution which he made of the five hundred every day. Then he fed the sacrificial fire with clarified butter and performed other ceremonies, and took food, and then he again went and kept guard at the gate of the palace alone at night, sword in hand.

When King Śūdraka heard from his spies that Vīravara always followed this righteous custom, he rejoiced in his heart; and he ordered those spies, who had dogged his path, to desist; and he considered him worthy of especial honour as a distinguished hero.

Then in course of time, after Vīravara had easily tided through the hot weather, when the rays of the sun were exceedingly powerful, the monsoon came roaring, bearing a brandished sword of lightning, as if out of envy against Vīravara, and smiting[3] with raindrops. And though at that time a terrible bank of clouds poured down rain day and night, Vīravara remained motionless, as before, at the gate of the palace.

And King Śūdraka, having beheld him in the day from the top of his palace, again went up to it at night, to find out whether he was there or not; and he cried out from it:

“Who waits there at the palace gate?”

When Vīravara heard that, he answered:

“I am here, your Majesty.”

Then King Śūdraka thought to himself:

“Ah! Vīravara is a man of intrepid courage and devotedly attached to me. So I must certainly promote him to an important post.”

After the king had said this to himself, he came down from the roof of his palace, and, entering his private apartments, went to bed.

And the next evening, when a cloud was violently raining with a heavy downfall, and black darkness was spread abroad, obscuring the heaven,[4] the king once more ascended the roof of the palace to satisfy his curiosity, and being alone, he cried out in a clear voice: “Who waits there at the palace gate?”

Again Vīravara said: “I am here.” And while the king was lost in admiration at seeing his courage, he suddenly heard a woman weeping in the distance, distracted in despair, uttering only the piteous sound of wailing.

When the king heard that, pity arose in his mind, and he said to himself:

“There is no oppressed person in my kingdom, no poor or afflicted person; so who is this woman, that is thus weeping alone at night?”

Then he gave this order to Vīravara, who was alone below:

“Listen, Vīravara. There is some woman weeping in the distance; go and find out who she is and why she is weeping.”

When Vīravara heard that, he said, “I will do so,” and set out thence with his dagger in his belt, and his sword in his hand. He looked upon the world as a Rākṣasa[5] black with fresh clouds, having the lightning flashing from them by way of an eye, raining large drops of rain instead of stones.

And King Śūdraka, seeing him starting alone on such a night, and being penetrated with pity and curiosity, came down from the top of the palace, and taking his sword, set out close behind him, alone and unobserved.

And Vīravara went on persistently in the direction of the weeping, and reached a tank outside the city, and saw there that woman in the middle of the water uttering this lament:

“Hero! Merciful man! Generous man! How can I live without you?”

And Vīravara, who was followed by the king, said with astonishment:

“Who are you, and why do you thus weep?”

Then she answered him:

“Dear Vīravara, know that I am this Earth, and King Śūdraka is now my righteous lord; but on the third day from this his death will take place, and whence shall I obtain such another lord? So I am grieved, and bewail both him and myself.”[6]

When Vīravara heard this, he said, like one alarmed:

“Is there then, goddess, any expedient to prevent the death of this king, who is the protecting amulet of the world?”

When Earth heard this, she answered:

“There is one expedient for averting it, and one which you alone can employ.”

Then Vīravara said:

“Then, goddess, tell it me at once, in order that I may quickly put it in operation: otherwise what is the use of my life?”

When Earth heard this, she said:

“Who is as brave as you, and as devoted to his master? So hear this method of bringing about his welfare. If you offer up your child Sattvavara to this glorious goddess Caṇḍī, famous for her exceeding readiness to manifest herself to her votaries, to whom the king has built a temple,[7] in the immediate vicinity of his palace, the king will not die, but live another hundred years. And if you do it at once, his safety will be ensured; but if not, he will assuredly have ceased to live on the third day from this time.”

When the goddess Earth said this to Vīravara, he said:

“Goddess, I will go and do it this very instant.”

Then Earth said, “May success attend you!” and disappeared; and the king, who was secretly following Vīravara, heard all this.

Then Vīravara went quickly in the darkness to his own house, and King Śūdraka, out of curiosity, followed him unobserved. There he woke up his wife Dharmavatī, and told her how the goddess Earth had directed him to offer up his son for the sake of the king.

When she heard it, she said:

“My lord, we must ensure the prosperity of the king; so wake up this young boy of ours and tell it him yourself.”

Then Vīravara woke up his young son Sattvavara, who was asleep, and told him what had occurred, and said to him:

“So, my son, the king will live if you are offered up to the goddess Caṇḍī; but if not, he will die on the third day.”

When Sattvavara heard it, though he was a mere child, he showed an heroic soul, and justified his name.[8]

He said:

“I shall have obtained all I desire, if the sacrifice of my life saves that of the king, for so I shall have repaid him for his food which I have eaten. So why should there be any delay? Take me and offer me up immediately before the adorable goddess. Let me be the means of bringing about the happiness of my lord.”

When Sattvavara said this, Vīravara answered:

“Bravo! you are in truth my own son.”

And the king, who had followed them, and heard all this conversation from outside, said to himself: “Ah! they are all equal in courage.”

Then Vīravara took his son Sattvavara on his shoulder, and his wife Dharmavatī took their daughter Vīravatī, and they both went that very night to the temple of Caṇḍī, and King Śūdraka followed them unobserved.

Then Sattvavara was taken down by his father from his shoulder and placed in front of the idol, and the boy, who was full of courage, bowed before the goddess, and said:

“May the sacrifice of my head ensure the life of King Śūdraka! May he rule unopposed, goddess, for another hundred years!”

When the boy Sattvavara said this, Vīravara exclaimed, “Bravo!” and drew his sword and cut off his son’s head, and offered it to the goddess, saying:

“May the sacrifice of my son save the king’s life!”

Immediately a voice was heard from the air:

“Bravo! Vīravara! What man is as devoted to his sovereign as thou, who, by the sacrifice of thy noble only son, hast bestowed on this King Śūdraka life and a kingdom?”

Then that young girl Vīravatī, the daughter of Vīravara, came up, and embraced the head of her slain brother, and weeping, blinded with excessive grief, she broke her heart and so died. And the king saw and heard all this from his concealment.

Then Vīravara’s wife Dharmavatī said to him:

“We have ensured the prosperity of the king, so now I have something to say to you. Since my daughter, though a child and knowing nothing, has died out of grief for her brother, and I have lost these two children of mine, what is the use of life to me? Since I have been so foolish as not to offer my own head long ago to the goddess for the welfare of the king, give me leave to enter the fire with my children’s bodies.”

When she urged this request, Vīravara said to her:

“Do so, and may prosperity attend you; for what pleasure could you find, noble woman, in continuing a life that would for you be full of nothing but grief for your children? But do not be afflicted because you did not sacrifice yourself. Would not I have sacrificed myself, if the object could have been attained by the sacrifice of any victim but our son? So wait until I have made a pyre for you with these pieces of timber, collected to build the fence round the sanctuary of the goddess.”

When Vīravara had said this, he made a funeral pyre with the timber, and placed on it the bodies of his two children, and lighted it with the flame of a lamp. Then his virtuous wife Dharmavatī fell at his feet, and, after worshipping the goddess Caṇḍī, she addressed to her this prayer:

“May my present husband be my husband also in a future birth! And may the sacrifice of my life procure prosperity for the king his master!”

When the virtuous woman had said this, she threw herself into the burning pyre, from which the flames streamed up like hair.

Then the hero Vīravara said to himself:

“I have done what the king’s interests required, as the celestial voice testified, and I have paid my debt to my master for his food which I have eaten: so as I am now left alone, why should I thus cling to life? It does not look well for a man like me to nurse his own life only, after sacrificing all his dear family, which it is his duty to maintain. So why should I not gratify Durgā by sacrificing myself?”

Having thus reflected, he first approached the goddess with this hymn of praise:

“Hail to thee, thou slayer of the Asura Mahiṣa, destroyer of the Dānava Ruru, trident-bearing goddess! Hail to thee, best of mothers, that causest rejoicing among the gods, and upholdest the three worlds! Hail thou whose feet are worshipped by the whole earth, the refuge of those that are intent on final beatitude! Hail thou that wearest the rays of the sun, and dispellest the accumulated darkness of calamity! Hail to thee, Kālī, skull-bearing goddess, wearer of skeletons! Hail, Śivā! Honour to thee! Be propitious now to King Śūdraka on account of the sacrifice of my head!”

After Vīravara had praised the goddess in these words, he cut off his head with a sudden stroke of his sword.

King Śūdraka, who was a witness of all this from his place of concealment, was full of bewilderment, sorrow and astonishment, and said to himself:

“This worthy man and his family have performed for my sake a wonderful and difficult exploit never seen or heard of anywhere else. Though the world is wide and various, where could there be found a man so resolute as secretly to sacrifice his life for his master, without proclaiming the fact abroad? And if I do not requite this benefit, what is the use of my sovereignty, and of my protracting my life, which would only be like that of an animal?”

When the heroic king had thus reflected, he drew his sword from the sheath, and approaching the goddess, prayed thus to her:

“Be propitious to me now, goddess, on account of this sacrifice of my head, and confer a boon on me, thy constant votary. Let this Brāhman Vīravara, whose acts are in accordance with his name, and who sacrificed his life for my sake, be resuscitated with his family!”

After uttering this prayer, King Śūdraka was preparing to cut off his head with his sword, but at that moment a voice was heard from the air:

“Do not act rashly; I am pleased with this courage of thine: let the Brāhman Vīravara be restored to life, together with his wife and his children!”

Having uttered so much, the voice ceased, and Vīravara rose up alive and unwounded, with his son, his daughter, and his wife. When the king, who quickly concealed himself again, saw that marvel, he was never tired of looking at them with an eye full of tears of joy.

And Vīravara quickly awoke as if from sleep, and beholding his children and wife alive, and also himself, he was confused in mind.

And he asked his wife and children, addressing them severally by name:

“How have you returned to life after having been reduced to ashes? I too cut off my head. What is the meaning of my being now alive? Is this a delusion, or the manifest favour of the goddess?”

When he said this, his wife and children answered him:

“Our being alive is due to a merciful interposition of the goddess, of which we were not conscious.”

Then Vīravara came to the conclusion that it was so, and after worshipping the goddess, he returned home with his wife and children, having accomplished his object.

And after he had left his son, wife and daughter there, he returned that very night to the palace gate of the king, and stood there as before. King Śūdraka, for his part, who had beheld all unobserved, again went up to the roof of his palace.

And he cried out from the roof:

“Who is in attendance at the palace gate?”

Then Vīravara said:

“I myself am in waiting here, your Majesty. And in accordance with your orders I went in search of that woman, but she disappeared somewhere as soon as seen, like a Rākṣasī.”

When the king heard the speech of that Vīravara, he was very much astonished, as he had himself seen what took place, and he said to himself:

“Indeed people of noble spirit are deep and self-contained of soul as the sea, for when they have performed an unparalleled exploit, they do not utter any description of it.”

Thus reflecting, the king silently descended from the roof of the palace and entered his private apartments, and there spent the rest of the night.

And the next morning Vīravara came to present himself at the time of audience, and then the delighted king related to the ministers all that Vīravara had gone through during the night; so that they were all, as it were, thunderstruck with wonder. Then the king gave to Vīravara and his son the sovereignty over the provinces of Lāṭa and Karṇāṭa, as a token of his regard. Then the two kings, Vīravara and Śūdraka, being equal in power, lived happily in the interchange of mutual good offices.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla had told this exceedingly wonderful story, he went on to say to King Trivikramasena:

“So tell me, King, who was the bravest of all these; and if you know and do not tell, the curse, which I before mentioned, shall descend upon you.”

When the king heard this, he answered the Vetāla:

“King Śūdraka was the greatest hero of them all.”

Then the Vetāla said:

“Was not Vīravara greater, for his equal is not found on earth? And was not his wife braver, who, though a mother, endured to witness with her own eyes the offering up of her son as a victim? And was not his son Sattvavara braver, who, though a mere child, displayed such pre-eminent courage? So why do you say that King Śūdraka was more heroic than these?”

When the Vetāla said this, the king answered him:

“Do not say so! Vīravara was a man of high birth, one in whose family it was a tradition that life, son and wife must be sacrificed to protect the sovereign. And his wife also was of good birth, chaste, worshipping her husband only; and her chief duty was to follow the path traced out for her by her husband. And Sattvavara was like them, being their son. Assuredly, such as are the threads, such is the web produced from them. But Śūdraka excelled them all, because he was ready to lay down his life for those servants, by the sacrifice of whose lives kings are wont to save their own.”

When the Vetāla heard that speech from that king, he at once left his shoulder and returned invisibly to his former place by his supernatural power; but the king resolutely set out on his former path in that cemetery at night to bring him back again.

Footnotes and references:


See the Appendix, pp. 272-273.— n.m.p.


See Vol. I, p. 63n1.—n.m.p.


I conjecture prahārī for the pahārī of Brockhaus’ edition. In dhārā there is a pun, as it also means the “edge of a sword.”


I read with the Sanskrit College MS. gupta-bhuvane kālatamasi.


The D. text is different, and certainly makes better sense. Reading na ca for nava, Rakśorūpam for Rakṣo jīvam, etc., the meaning becomes: “He did not mind that Rākṣasa-like darkness, black with fresh clouds....” See Speyer, op. cit., p. 134.—n.m.p.


Cf. the way in which the Banshi laments in Grimm’s Irische Märchen, pp. 121, 122.


I read kṛtapratiṣṭhā, which I find in the Sanskrit College MS.


Sattvavara means “distinguished for courage.”

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