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 went back again to that śiṃśapā tree, and saw the Vetāla in the corpse again hanging on it as before, and took him down, and, after showing much displeasure with him, set out again rapidly towards his goal. And as he was returning along his way, in silence as before, through the great cemetery by night, the Vetāla on his shoulder said to him:

“King, you have embarked on a toilsome undertaking, and I liked you from the moment I first saw you; so listen, I will tell you a tale to divert your mind.


163g (5). Somaprabhā and her Three Suitors [1]

In Ujjayinī there lived an excellent Brāhman, the dear dependent and minister of King Puṇyasena, and his name was Harisvāmin. That householder had by his wife, who was his equal in birth, an excellent son like himself, Devasvāmin by name. And he also had born to him a daughter, famed for her matchless beauty, rightly named Somaprabhā.[2]

When the time came for that girl to be given away in marriage, as she was proud of her exceeding beauty, she made her mother give the following message to her father and brother:

“I am to be given away in marriage to a man possessed of heroism and knowledge, or magic power[3]; you must not give me in marriage to any other, if you value my life.”

When her father Harisvāmin heard this, he was full of anxiety, trying to find for her a husband coming under one of these three categories. And while so engaged, he was sent as ambassador to King Puṇyasena to negotiate a treaty with a king of the Deccan, who had come to invade him. And when he had accomplished the object for which he was sent, a noble Brāhman, who had heard of the great beauty of his daughter, came and asked him for her hand.

Harisvāmin said to the Brāhman suitor:

“My daughter will not have any husband who does not possess either valour, knowledge, or magic power; so tell me which of the three you possess.”

When Harisvāmin said this to the Brāhman suitor, he answered:

“I possess magic power.”

Thereupon Harisvāmin rejoined:

“Then show me your magic power.”

So that possessor of supernatural power immediately prepared by his skill a chariot that would fly through the air. And in a moment he took Harisvāmin up in that magic chariot and showed him heaven and all the worlds. And he brought him back delighted to that very camp of the king of the Deccan, to which he had been sent on business. Then Harisvāmin promised his daughter to that man possessed of magic power, and fixed the marriage for the seventh day from that time.

And in the meanwhile another Brāhman in Ujjayinī came and asked Harisvāmin’s son Devasvāmin for the hand of his sister.

Devasvāmin answered:

“She does not wish to have a husband who is not possessed of either knowledge, or magic power, or heroism.”

Thereupon he declared himself to be a hero. And when the hero displayed his skill in the use of missiles and hand-to-hand weapons, Devasvāmin promised to give him his sister, who was younger than himself. And by the advice of the astrologers he told him, as his father had told the other suitor, that the marriage should take place on that very same seventh day, and this decision he came to without the knowledge of his mother.

At that very same time a third person came to his mother, the wife of Harisvāmin, and asked her privately for the hand of her daughter.

She said to him:

“Our daughter requires a husband who possesses either knowledge, or heroism, or magic power.”

And he answered:

“Mother, I possess knowledge.”

And she, after questioning him about the past and the future, promised to give the hand of her daughter to that possessor of supernatural knowledge on that same seventh day.

The next day Harisvāmin returned home, and told his wife and his son the agreement he had made to give away his daughter in marriage; and they told him separately the promises that they had made, and that made him feel anxious, as three bridegrooms had been invited.

Then, on the wedding day, three bridegrooms arrived in Harisvāmin’s house—the man of knowledge, the man of magic power, and the man of valour. And at that moment a strange thing took place: the intended bride, the maiden Somaprabhā, was found to have disappeared in some inexplicable manner, and, though searched for, was not found.

Then Harisvāmin said eagerly to the possessor of knowledge:

“Man of knowledge, now tell me quickly where my daughter is gone.”

When the possessor of knowledge heard that, he said:

“The Rākṣasa Dhūmraśikha has carried her off to his own habitation in the Vindhya forest.”

When the man of knowledge said this to Harisvāmin, he was terrified, and said:

“Alas! alas! how are we to get her back, and how is she to be married?”

When the possessor of magic power heard that, he said:

“Be of good cheer! I will take you in a moment to the place where the possessor of knowledge says that she is.”

After he had said this, he prepared, as before, a chariot that would fly through the air, provided with all kinds of weapons, and made Harisvāmin, and the man of knowledge, and the brave man get into it, and in a moment he carried them to the habitation of the Rākṣasa in the Vindhya forest, which had been described by the man of knowledge. The Rākṣasa, when he saw what had happened, rushed out in a passion, and then the hero, who was put forward by Harisvāmin, challenged him to fight. Then a wonderful fight took place between that man and that Rākṣasa, who were contending for a woman with various kinds of weapons, like Rāma and Rāvaṇa. And in a short time the hero cut off the head of that Rākṣasa with a crescent-headed arrow, though he was a doughty champion. When the Rākṣasa was slain, they carried off Somaprabhā, whom they found in his house, and they all returned in the chariot of the suitor who possessed the magic power.

When they had reached Harisvāmin’s house, the marriage did not go forward, though the auspicious moment had arrived, but a great dispute arose between the man of knowledge, the man of magic power, and the man of valour.

The man of knowledge said:

“If I had not known where this maiden was, how could she have been discovered when concealed? So she ought to be given to me.”

But the man of magic power said:

“If I had not made this chariot that can fly through the air, how could you all have gone and returned in a moment like gods? And how could you, without a chariot, have fought with a Rākṣasa, who possessed a chariot? So you ought to give her to me, for I have secured by my skill this auspicious moment.”

The brave man said:

“If I had not slain the Rākṣasa in fight, who would have brought this maiden back here in spite of all your exertions? So she must be given to me.”

While they went on wrangling in this style, Harisvāmin remained for a moment silent, being perplexed in mind.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

“So tell me, King, to whom she ought to have been given; and if you know’, and do not say, your head shall split asunder.”

When Trivikramasena heard this from the Vetāla, he abandoned his silence, and said to him:

“She ought to be given to the brave man; for he won her by the might of his arms, at the risk of his life, slaying that Rākṣasa in combat. But the man of knowledge and the man of magic power were appointed by the Creator to serve as his instruments: are not calculators and artificers always subordinate assistants to others?”

When the Vetāla heard this answer of the king’s, he left his seat on the top of his shoulder and went, as before, to his own place; and the king again set out to find him, without being in the slightest degree discomposed.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, p. 273 et seq.—n.m.p.


I.e. moonlight.


Vijñāna appears to have this meaning here. In the Pentamerone of Basile (Burton’s translation, vol. i, p. 241) a princess refuses to marry, unless a bridegroom can be found for her with a head and teeth of gold.

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