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, and carried off from it that Vetāla on his shoulder, as before, and began to return with him swiftly in silence.

And on the way the Vetāla again said to him:

“King, you are wise and brave, therefore I love you, so I will tell you an amusing tale, and mark well my question.


163g (6). The Lady who caused her Brother and Husband to change Heads [1]

There was a king famous on the earth by the name of Yaśaḥketu, and his capital was a city of the name of Śobhāvatī. And in that city there was a splendid temple of Gaurī, and to the south of it there was a lake, called Gaurītīrtha. And every year, during a feast on the fourteenth day of the white fortnight of the month Āṣāḍha, large crowds came there to bathe from every part of the world.[2]

And once there came there to bathe, on that day, a young washerman of the name of Dhavala, from a village called Brahmasthala. He saw there the virgin daughter of a man named Śuddhapaṭa, a girl called Madanasundarī, who had come to bathe in the sacred water.[3] His heart was captivated by that girl who eclipsed the beauty of the moon, and after he had inquired her name and family, he went home love-smitten. There he remained fasting and restless without her; but when his mother asked him the cause, he told her the truth about his desire.[4]

She went and told her husband Vimala, and when he came and saw his son in that state, he said to him:

“Why are you so despondent, my son, about an object so easily attained? Śuddhapaṭa will give you his daughter, if I ask him. For we are equal to him in family, wealth and occupation. I know him and he knows me; so this is not a difficult matter for me to arrange.”

With these words Vimala comforted his son, and induced him to take food, and other refreshments; and the next day he went with him to the house of Śuddhapaṭa. And there he asked his daughter in marriage for his son Dhavala, and Śuddhapaṭa courteously promised to give her. And so, after ascertaining the auspicious moment, he gave his daughter Madanasundarī, who was of equal birth with Dhavala, in marriage to him the next day. And after Dhavala had been married, he returned a happy man to his father’s house, together with his wife, who had fallen in love with him at first sight.

And one day, while he was living there in happiness, his father-in-law’s son, the brother of Madanasundarī, came there. All received him courteously,[5] and his sister embraced him and welcomed him, and his connections asked him how he was; and at last, after he had rested, he said to them:

“I have been sent here by my father, to invite Madanasundarī and his son-in-law, since we are engaged in a festival in honour of the goddess Durgā.”

And all his connections and their family approved his speech, and entertained him that day with appropriate meats and drinks.

Early the next day Dhavala set out for his father-in-law’s house with Madanasundarī and his brother-in-law. And he reached, with his two companions, the city of Śobhāvatī, and he saw the great temple of Durgā when he arrived near it; and then he said to his wife and brother-in-law, in a fit of pious devotion:

“Come and let us visit the shrine of this awful goddess.”

When the brother-in-law heard this, he said to him, in order to dissuade him:

“How can so many of us approach the goddess empty-handed?”

Then Dhavala said:

“Let me go alone, and you can wait outside.”

When he had said this, he went off to pay his respects to the goddess.

When he had entered her temple, and had worshipped, and had meditated upon that goddess, who with her eighteen mighty arms had smitten terrible Dānavas, and who had flung under the lotus of her foot and trampled to pieces the Asura Mahiṣa, a train of pious reflection was produced in his mind by the impulse of Destiny, and he said to himself:

“People worship this goddess with various sacrifices of living creatures, so why should not I, to obtain salvation, appease her with the sacrifice of myself?”

After he had said this to himself, he took from her inner shrine, which was empty of worshippers, a sword which had been long ago offered to her by some pilgrims, and, after fastening his own head by his hair to the chain of the bell, he cut it off with the sword, and when cut off it fell on the ground.

And his brother-in-law, after waiting a long time, without his having returned, went into that very temple of the goddess to look for him. But when he saw his sister’s husband lying there decapitated, he also was bewildered, and he cut off his head in the same way with that very same sword.

And when he too did not return, Madanasundarī was distracted in mind, and then she too entered the temple of the goddess. And when she had gone in, and seen her husband and her brother in such a state, she fell on the ground, exclaiming:

“Alas! what is the meaning of this? I am ruined.”

And soon she rose up and lamented those two that had been so unexpectedly slain, and said to herself:

“Of what use is this life of mine to me now?”

And being eager to abandon the body, she said to that goddess:

“O thou that art the chief divinity presiding over blessedness, chastity and holy rule, though occupying half the body of thy husband Śiva,[6] thou that art the fitting refuge of all women, that takest away grief, why hast thou robbed me at once of my brother and my husband? This is not fitting on thy part towards me, for I have ever been a faithful votary of thine. So hear one piteous appeal from me who fly to thee for protection. I am now about to abandon this body which is afflicted with calamity, but grant that in all my future births, whatever they may be, these two men may be my husband and brother.”

In these words she praised and supplicated the goddess, and bowed before her again; and then she made a noose of a creeper and fastened it to an aśoka tree. And while she was stretching out her neck, and putting it into the noose, the following words resounded from the expanse of air:

“Do not act rashly, my daughter! I am pleased with the exceeding courage which thou hast displayed, though a mere girl: let this noose be, but join the heads of thy husband and thy brother to their bodies, and by virtue of my favour they shall both rise up alive.”

When the girl Madanasundarī heard this, she let the noose drop, and went up to the corpses in great delight; but being confused, and not seeing in her excessive eagerness what she was doing, she stuck, as fate would have it, her husband’s head on to her brother’s trunk, and her brother’s head on to her husband’s trunk, and then they both rose up alive, with limbs free from wound, but, from their heads having been exchanged, their bodies had become mixed together.

Then they told one another what had befallen them, and were happy; and after they had worshipped the goddess Durgā, the three continued their journey. But Madanasundarī, as she was going along, saw that she had changed their heads, and she was bewildered and puzzled as to what course to take.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

“So tell me, King, which of the two people, thus mixed together, was her husband; and if you know and do not tell, the course previously denounced shall fall on you!”

When King Trivikramasena heard this tale and this question from the Vetāla, he answered him as follows:

“That one of the two, on whom her husband’s head was fixed, was her husband, for the head is the chief of the limbs, and personal identity depends upon it.”

When the king had said this, the Vetāla again left his shoulder unperceived, and the king again set out to fetch him.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 276-277.— n.m.p.


The word śuklāyāṃ, which is found in the Sanskrit College MS., is omitted by Professor Brockhaus.


So in the Hero and Leander of Musæus the two lovers meet in the temple of Venus at Sestos, and in the Æthiopica of Heliodorus Theagenes meets Chariclea at a festival at Delphi. Petrarch met Laura for the first time in the chapel of St Clara at Avignon, and Boccaccio fell in love with Maria, the daughter of Robert of Naples, in the church of the barefooted friars in Naples (Dunlop’s History of Fiction, trans. by Liebrecht, p. 9). Rohde remarks that in Greek romances the hero and heroine usually meet in this way. Indeed it was scarcely possible for two young people belonging to the upper classes of Greek society to meet in any other way (Der Griechische Roman, p. 146 and note). See also pp. 385 and 486.—— Cf. Tawney’s Kathākoça, p. 72.—n.m.p.


For tayā in śl. 10 b the Sanskrit College MS. reads tathā.——As the D. text shows, the true correction is mātrārtayā for mātrā tayā —“when his mother, distressed, asked him the cause (of his strange behaviour).. See Speyer, op. cit., p. 134.—n.m.p.


Praśnayaḥ in Professor Brockhaus’ text should be praśrayaḥ.


An allusion to the Ardhanārīśa (i.e. half male, half female) representation of Śiva.

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