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 ...

Foreword to volume 7

Scope of Hindu Fiction Literature

THE Bṛhat-Kāthā, or Great Story collection of Guṇāḍhya, as well as the supposed excerpt from it, Somadeva’s Ocean, are pretty nearly unique both in size and in the wealth and welter of story-telling. If I am not mistaken, even Somadeva’s Ocean has no equal or superior in these respects in the fiction literature of the world; yet it is by no means a complete expression of what we might call the fiction genius of India. There are many other Brahmanical collections of importance, as well as equally impressive Buddhist and Jaina collections—Jātakas, Avadānas, Charitras, Kāvyas and Kathānakas—known all over India and the Asiatic countries which, chiefly owing to the spread of Buddhism, have become intellectual tributaries of India. In a paper the part-title of which is, “On Recurring Psychic Motifs in Hindu Fiction,”[1] I have sketched very briefly the scope of this literature, as fax as India is concerned. The total of fiction contained in these books is enormous; it reflects both fancy and fact, though incidental sketches of and allusions to real life render Hindu fiction a scarcely less valuable record of Hindu life than the more schematic treatises which deal with customs, manners and institutions.[2]


Suggestions as to Encyclopædic Treatment

I am sure that the idea of a complete catalogue or clearinghouse of these stories and the organic motifs which enter into their composition has flitted across the mind of many readers and students of this fascinating subject. Benfey began the “scientific” study of fiction by following the Pañcatantra stories in their wanderings all over the world. He thereby generated an instinct or urge to do something similar in every editor or translator of a fable, fairy tale or novel.

Since there is nothing new under the sun, it scarcely happens that any writer on these subjects is so forgetful as not to remember parallels that he has seen before, or so repressed or abstemious as not to allude or refer to them. In connection with the Ocean both Tawney and Penzer have brought into play their wide reading and learning to show how farspread are these ideas, how varied their manipulation, and how dependent their sense and real meaning upon their universal use, in distinction from their use in any one particular connection.

A future Science (vidyā) of fiction casts its shadow before: it were idle to say that it is now present in person, as the Hindus occasionally say of their vidyās. Here and there an important salient motif stands out very clearly, so that we seem to see it in all its bearings; but in the main there are mere disjecta membra. Classifications, such as those proposed by the FF. Folk-Lore Society, or by the English Folk-Lore Society, are, in the main, tentative and one-sided. The materials at our disposal are fragmentary; their original value obscured by varied handling; the time and place of their origination for the most part unknown. I shall illustrate this quite fully below.

The uses of fiction-study so far have been rather in the direction of Comparative Literature or the History of Literature. Here they help regularly to appreciate the character and origin of literary composition. In a voice that is at the same time both sprightly and authoritative they tell us whence a given composition has derived its material foundation, whether these compositions be Western Oriental, Italian novelle, or the dramatic and poetic motifs of Shakespeare and Goethe.


Future Science of Fiction

But fiction must develop in the end into a self-centred science whose real philosophical or psychological meaning is as yet unstatable. A prerequisite is obviously the collection, assortment and critical appraisal of all the materials that appertain to the subject. I have long thought that such study should rest upon encyclopædic treatment, undertaken country by country, and have had in mind particularly (in accord with my own studies and those of my school) an “Encyclopaedia of Hindu Fiction” which might serve as a pattern for similar works undertaken in respect to other countries. Our work has been haphazard, opportunistic and tentative, but, I think, it begins to show its ultimate significance. I would refer the attentive reader of these pages, first of all, to the List of Papers at the end of this Foreword; it will show how the separate items of such an Encyclopædia have emerged, one by one, from the titanic mass of Hindu fiction themes. Any one of these papers will also reveal how different is the look of a given story or idea when treated with the relative finality of such a purpose, as compared with the sporadic, reminiscent and unsifted observations of most authors who handle such themes.


The “DohadaMotif

Mr Penzer has graciously credited my article, “On the Dohada, or Craving of Pregnant Women,” by basing upon it his lengthy Appendix III in Vol. I of the Ocean. The reader of fiction who has seen this idea flit across his pages will certainly be amazed at its previously unsuspected persistence and, so to speak, organic development. I have since found that Jaina writers scarcely ever let pass the opportunity of ascribing to noble women, pregnant with a future Saint or Emperor (Arhat or Cakravartin), longings to perform good deeds while in this condition. It is with those authors not a bright invention, but a cut-and-dried cliché. When they arrive at this point in the course of their chronicles (Charitras) they take the motif out of its pigeon-hole, to put it back again for use on the next similar occasion.

Soon after the appearance of my article Dr Alfred Ela of Boston published (from the medical point of view) an article, “Longings of the Pregnant, viewed in Light from the East,”[3] in which he makes extensive use of the materials and their classification in my article, and combines them, very learnedly, with previously reported medical observations.


TheOverhearingMotif in Encyclopædic Treatment

Mr Penzer, in Vol. III, pp. 60 ff., of the Ocean, has a long note on the motif “Overhearing,” with reference to fiction in general. He had not at that time seen my treatment of the same theme in a 26-page article, “On Overhearing as a Motif of Hindu Fiction,” American Journal of Philology, vol. xli, pp. 309 jf. The materials gathered there have made it possible to state a sort of preliminary psychology or philosophy of the motif. On the whole the imaginary conversation of birds is the standard source of information. “A little bird told me” seems to be the rock-bottom of the notion, founded upon the sincere folk-lore feeling that the chirp and twitter and cluck of birds is the prime and natural source of otherwise inaccessible information. But many other pairs of beings—divine, cosmic or animal—are overheard.

The motif is in the nature of a deus ex machina, designed, or rather intuitively produced, to save from death, disease or catastrophe; to procure fairy-tale wealth and success; or to furnish helpful information or instruction in perplexing situations. Whenever and wherever the hero is in danger or trouble, he happens to overhear a conversing pair who tell him how to extricate himself. If the hero is destined to emerge from poverty or low station, usually quite abysmal, to unexpected and not to be expected wealth or glory, the conversing pair point the way. And again, if someone in the story needs guidance, moral or worldly-wise, his course will be determined by what two say to each other in conversation.

The motif is for the most part progressive. Rarely is a story designed around overhearing; the motif enters when there is a hitch—at a point where the hearer or reader is perplexed as to what will come next, meaning, how will the narrator extricate himself, or save the situation. Just at that point the principal person, or his companion or confidant, will overhear to his advantage. The story has come to an impasse; the motif releases the standstill.


Important Role of Organised Brigandage in Hindu Fiction

The pages of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara are full of accounts of wild robber tribes: Bhillas, Śavaras, Kirātas, Pulindas, etc. These accounts are often quite conflicting and paradoxical. Bhillas are robbers, but sometimes low-caste persons peacefully engaged: usually low-born and rude, they are sometimes quite noble and distinguished; they sacrifice victims to bloody Durgā, but are open to kind impulses and the sense of gratitude. My most recently published encyclopaedic article[4] has gathered and sifted the statements of Hindu fiction literature in general that pertain to this theme.

The resulting mosaic, as it were, is perfectly clear in outline and amazingly definite in detail. The activities of these robber folk, which often seem to be paradoxical, turn out to be quite logical; the theme, though essentially romantic, carries with it a fairly accurate history of their doings from the time of the Veda up to the modern thugs and dacoits, who are doubtless their offspring in direct descent. Of immediate practical importance is, that a given Bhilla story often depends for its proper understanding upon some other of its kind, or owes its flavour to the impressions produced by this class of stories in the approximate whole of Fiction.

On the tessellated pages of the Ocean there is many a story and many a motif which can be properly understood only in the light of related items. The stories of any one given collection are, at times, mere torsos or fragments of those of another. One or two illustrations will make this clear:


The Story of Bālavinaṣṭaka as Part of a Cycle of Stories

The story of the clever boy, Bālavinaṣṭaka, is told in Ocean, Vol. I, pp. 184 ff., under the caption “Story of the Clever Deformed Child.” The boy has a stepmother, who neglects and starves him: he owes his name to the fact that people say this child (bāla) is deformed (vinaṣṭaka). This analysis of the name is dubious. Sir Richard Temple’s definition of the boy as an enfant terrible (p. xxiv of the Foreword to Vol. I) does not quite get its point: the story belongs to the large cycle of stories of the clever, shrewd, resourceful lad who figures especially in India in the Mahāuṣadha and Rohaka cycles, more particularly in the latter.

Mr Penzer, in his note on p. 186, correctly defines and compares the story as being a clever lad story, but does not seem to be acquainted with the Rohaka cycle from which it is derived.

The cycle of stories connected with the shrewd boy Rohaka (Bālavinaṣṭaka of the present story) occurs in many Jaina texts and commentaries. Professor Pullé, I think, first drew attention to this cycle in his valuable essay, “Un Progenitore Indiano del Bertoldo” (Venezia, 1888), Studi Italiani di Filologia Indo-Iranica (Firenze, 1898), pp. 1-18. The stories occur in the Commentators to the Avaśyaka and Nandī; in the Upadeśapada, by Haribhadra; and in Rājaśe-khara’s Antarakathāsaṃgraha; also in the Old Gujarātī Kathākallola, by Ratnasundara, a version of the Pañca - tantra which Hertel has translated in Das Pañcatantra, pp. 194 ff.[5] It is also woven into Jñānasāgara’s novel Ratna-chūḍa, a Jaina text which has been translated recently by Professor Hertel in his series Indische Erzāhler, vol. vii, pp. 99 ff. In the Preface to that volume, pp. 10 ff., he gives an account of other Jaina versions of the Ratnachūḍa story. The same boy’s series of clever acts and devices I have found in Ajitaprabha’s Sāntinātha Charitra, published in Bhavnagar by the Jain Dharmaprasarak Press, Vīrasamvat 2443 (a.d. 1917). In the Ratnachūḍa Rohaka is the son of an actor named Kuśīlava[6]; he is maltreated by his stepmother, Rukmiṇī.

The story introduces some traits that are wanting in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, but winds up similarly with the boy’s pointing to his father’s shadow, by way of reassuring him that his wife is not keeping company with another man. This he had suspected on account of the boy’s previous wily innuendoes.

Rohaka, in the sequel, performs a long list of clever acts, such as making, by the king’s order, a rope of sand[7]; and many other “stunts” with which we are familiar from the Buddhist Epic, the Mahāummagga Jātaka (546). The king contemplates making Rohaka his chancellor, just as in the Buddhist story. Rohaka is clearly the Jaina imitation of or parallel to the Buddhist Mahosadha (Mahāuṣadha). The Bālavinaṣṭaka story seems to be a mere extract from a cycle of such stories which were afloat prior to the composition of the Bṛhatkathā. In any case the nature of that story cannot be determined without reference to the clever lad cycles. Moreover the clever lad cycle has many points of contact with the clever lass cycle, upon which I have touched in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. xxxvi, pp. 65n.


The Rūpiṇikā Story made up of a Variety of Independent Motifs

The engaging story of the devoted hetæra, Rūpiṇikā, Kathās, xii (Ocean, Vol. I, pp. 138 ff.), reads, at first sight, like a well-constructed, concinnate composition that might come from the head of an unusually clever and inventive narrator. But it is, in reality, a miætum compositum, consisting of four distinct tales:

  1. The story of Rūpiṇikā’s devoted love.
  2. The journey in the elephant’s cadaver.
  3. The weaver as Viṣṇu.
  4. The bawd on the pillar.

Mr Penzer has not pointed out that the story as a whole, but with totally different motifs substituted for (2), (3) and (4), is the most important element in the biography of the redoubtable Hindu hero Mūladeva, the outstanding romantic figure of Hindu fiction: versed in the arts, practices and tricks of love and all its accessories; cultivated conversationalist; brilliant narrator; marvellous musician; expert in massage, perfumes and ointments; knowing how to send a lady a present—in fact, man of the world and arbiter elegantiæ, or, according to the Hindu Love Bibles, a typical nāyaka, or “hero.” He is, in addition, master-thief and resourceful thief-catcher, great magician and furious gambler.[8]

What is the actual relation of Mūladeva to Lohajaṅgha of the Rūpiṇikā story? Mūladeva figures under that name very interestingly in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, chapters lxxxix, xcviii and cxxvii, but he is not brought into contact with Rūpiṇikā. On the other hand the Jaina handling of the theme, as told in Devendra’s Māhārāṣṭrī version, in his vṛtti to the Uttarā-dhyayana Sūtra, brings Mūladeva into contact with the noble hetæra Devadattā. This version of the theme is more widely known,[9] but even Devendra’s version has the ear-marks of very secondary handling. It is, moreover, laid under suspicion, because the Jainas have exalted Mūladeva to the station of a typical religious, whose chief glory is that he once, in the course of his adventures, fed a starving ascetic—in the Jaina view a superlatively meritorious act, which results in Mūladeva’s kingship. Even after all diligent watch we are still in the dark as to the prime story, and certainly the version which substitutes the adventures of Rūpiṇikā and Lohajaṅgha for Devadattā and Mūladeva is an obvious rifacimento from a later time.


TheShow Me HowMotif

Dann hat er die Teile in seiner Hand,
Fehlt leider nur das geistige Band.
      Goethe’s Faust, First Part.

Who has not at one time or another seen a Punch and Judy show? Punch, after an unimaginably nefarious life, in the course of which he makes away with his own wife, Judy, is finally taken off by the policeman to be hanged. Arrived at the tree from which he is to be suspended, Punch pretends not to know how to put the noose around his neck, and asks the policeman to show him. The policeman puts the noose around his own neck, Punch instantly pulls the rope, and up goes the policeman—to the agonised joy of the small boys assembled. This is the widely diffused motif, “Show me how,” and the story of the wily female Siddhikarī, as told in the Ocean, Vol. I, pp. 157ff. (Kathā-sarit-sāgara, chapter xiii), is but a single expression of it.

The motif belongs to the class which I have rubricated as psychic motifs[10]: in this class the mental processes are the same, but the actors and real properties differ in almost every case. One of the features of the “Show Me How” motif is that the quick wit (matiprakarsha) of a successful rogue sometimes wins the sympathy of the hearer, no matter how reprehensible his act or his character.

Thus in Parker’s Village Folk-Tales of Ceylon, vol. iii, pp. 346 ff., figures a thief, Mātalānā by name, son of the king by a concubine. The king gives orders to a carpenter to make a pair of stocks for Mātalānā, though he has not yet been caught. Mātalānā comes along, asks the carpenter the purpose of the stocks, and, when he is told, requests to be shown how it is done. The carpenter shows how, the thief locks him into the stocks, and spices his confinement with blows and jeers. In this story persons and things are all different, but the psychology is so much like that of the Siddhikarī story as to suggest dependence of one story upon the other.

A variant of the Siddhikarī story in the Southern Textus Simplicior of Pañcatantra[11] is clearly a secondary derivative of that story. A neglected merchant’s wife runs away with his jewels. She rests under a banyan-tree, where a drummer (maddaḷī) observes her and finds out her story. Wishing to possess himself of her jewels, he tells her that her conduct is unseemly, that she would suffer from the wives of her brothers, and advises her to commit suicide. She says she does not know how: he shows her how to do it with a drum-cord. She is to fasten the cord to the tree, put her head into the noose, and then move her feet. At her request he shows her how, inadvertently pushes the drum away from himself, and hangs by the neck. The woman returns to her husband.

The “Show Me How” motif is applied with great predilection in stories in which a wicked ascetic (kāpālika, yogin, etc.) desires to sacrifice a noble man for his own purposes, notably to obtain magic power. I have touched upon this aspect of the motif, which appears more than once in the Ocean, in my encyclopædic article, “On False Ascetics and Nuns,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, xliv, 213 ff.

Thus in Kathās, xcviii, 69 ff.; xcix, 15 ff.; Vetāla-pañcaviṃśati, 24, 25, the Vetāla warns King Vikrama against the Kāpālika who has sent him to fetch the corpse from the tree:

“That wicked mendicant for whom you have fetched the corpse, wishing to offer you as victim, will say to you: ‘King, prostrate yourself on the ground in such a way that eight limbs will touch it.’ Then, great King, you must say to that ascetic, ‘Show me how to do it,’ and I will do it as you do it. Then he will fling himself on the ground and show you how to perform the prostration, and that moment you must cut off his head with the sword.”

In due course Vikrama cuts off the head of the ascetic, and he tears and drags the lotus of his heart out of his inside.

Another phase of the “Show Me How” motif still has the wicked ascetic, but introduces in addition the feature that he is (à la Hänsel and Gretel) thrown into a boiling pot. This story occurs in the Vikrama-charita. As early as the year 1878 Professor Weber, in Indische Studien, vol. xv, pp. 215 ff., 277, published an account of it, making the proper comparisons with Western analogues.[12] A pretty version of the story may be read in the rather inaccessible Lescallier’s Le Trône Enchanté, p. 177 (tenth story), which I would repeat here in digest:

King Bekermaditjet (Vikramāditya) is lost while on a hunt. He meets an old woman, about to load a bundle of faggots upon her head, and essays to help her. Out of gratitude she tells him of a Queen Abnonly, and the king determines to find her. He travels until he comes to a district strewn with human heads. One of the heads laughs, and he asks for the occasion of its merriment.

The head responds:

“I laugh because in a few hours your head will keep company with ours. A short distance from here lives a demon in the guise of a Djogui (Yogī). He addresses passers-by pleasantly, and tells them that he will show them a curious thing. He tells them to take an iron pot full of black peas, put it upon a fire, and let him know when it is boiling. Then the demon throws him into the pot, eats him, and throws the head upon the ground.”

The laughing head then advises him to request the demon at the crucial moment to show him how to do it, to seize him, and throw him into the pot. Then he is to take some of the peas and scatter them upon the skulls, whereupon they will come to life and become his servants. All this happens as prescribed, and after further adventures Vikrama, with the help of his newly acquired friends, obtains the Queen Abnonly.


TheShow Me HowMotif in the Beast Fable

The motif finally crops out in a beast fable, again with every actor or real property changed. In the Southern Teætus Simplicior of Pañcatantra,[13] a Brāhman makes a pilgrimage to Kāśī (Benares). On the way he sees a tiger which had been caught and put into a box by a soldier, who had then wandered off in search of water. The tiger implores the Brāhman to release him, and no sooner done than the tiger seizes the Brāhman to devour him. The Brāhman remonstrates: they appeal to arbiters. The first is an old cow who is all for ingratitude; she has borne ten calves for her owner, and given him a daily droṇa of milk. Now that she is old and unprofitable, he beats and starves her. They next appeal to an old Śūdra woman, who is similarly impressed with the absence of gratitude as illustrated by her own life. Lastly they consult a jackal, who declines to pass judgment, because he is the friend of both litigants, but finally consents to express an opinion if they will return to their former positions. The tiger releases the Brāhman and crawls back into the box, into which he is now fastened by the Brāhman.

In Dubois, Le Pantcha-Tantra, p. 49, a crocodile asks a Brāhman to carry it to the Ganges in order that it may live in its holy waters. The Brāhman puts the crocodile into his travelling bag. As he is about to place it into the water the crocodile catches hold of the Brāhman’s leg. The Brāhman reproaches it for its ingratitude, but the crocodile points to the spirit of the times, in which virtue and gratitude consist in devouring one’s supporter. They appeal to a mango-tree and an old cow, who support the crocodile’s thesis. Then they appeal to a fox, who also at first decides against the Brāhman. But the fox wishes to see how they carried out their journey together. The crocodile crawls back into the bag, is killed, and devoured by the fox.

This story has run a wide career both in Hindu “Folklore” and in the West; see Benfey, Pantschatantra, i, 113 ff.; Orient und Occident, iii, 481; Jacobs, Indian Fairy Tales, p. 242; Krohn, K., Mann und Fuchs Helsingfors, 1871; Köhler, Kleinere Schriften, i, 199; Indian Antiquary, xii, 170 ff., 177; Parker, Village Folk-Tales of Ceylon, i, 339; iii, 348; Frere, Old Deccan Days, p. 198; Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales, p. 17; Steel and Temple, Wide-Awake Stories, p. 116; Butterworth, Zigzag Journeys in India, p. 128; O’Connor, Folk-Tales from Tibet, p. 12; Smeaton, Karens of Burma, pp. 126, 131; Rouse, Talking Thrush, p. 65; Campbell, Santal Folk-Tales, p. 40; Bompas, Folklore of the Santal Parganas, pp. 149, 312; Swynnerton, Romantic Tales from the Pañjāb, pp. 303 ff.; Skeat, Fables and Folk-Tales from an Eastern Forest, p. 20. There are in these versions wide variations and tangles with other motifs, and it is curious to observe that a sort of “Cage” motif emerges from the mass as a scarcely intelligible remnant of the “Show Me How” motif. I cannot see in any other light, for instance, the inconsequential story in Hemavijaya’s Kathāratnākara, story 167,[14] in which a lioness warns her son against black-heads.

He roams the forest and asks all the animals—jackal, śambara, hare, antelope, and even tiger:

“Art thou the black-head, art thou the black-head?”

And they answer:

“We are no black-heads.”

He finally meets a carpenter, whom he asks the same question. The carpenter says:

“If you do as I tell you, I will show you the blackhead.”

The lion agrees. The carpenter builds a strong cage; the lion enters it: the carpenter rams iron bolts into the door of the cage, then shows him his head, saying:

“I am the black-head.”

The lion perishes miserably.

The motif of the cow neglected in her old age is similarly worked up, quite by itself, flimsily in Daḍhadhamma-Jātaka (409), where a discarded old elephant complains of the ingratitude of the king, its master, and is restored to honour by the intercession of the Bodhisat.


Chronology of Stories and Motifs

The chronology of stories and motifs is, as a rule, indeterminate. I am not speaking now of the legends of the gods and demigods which have persisted from Veda, Epic and Purāṇa to this day, such as, e.g., the legend of Purūravas and Urvaśī, Indra and Ahalyā, and the like. I mean the märchen, fables, noodle-stories, anecdotes, pranks, etc., which make up the stock of Hindu narrative of Brāhmanical, Buddhist and Jaina times. We find many starts in the Epic; notably the Mahābhārata has a fairly developed beast fable, which is treated there with Epic breadth, quite distinct from the style of the Pañchatantra cycle.[15]


Vedic Beginnings: TheOverhearingMotif

Rarely a fiction motif of the kind I have in mind goes back to Vedic times. Thus the “Overhearing” motif figures in Chhāndogya Upaniṣad (iv, 1, 2) quite amazingly in the service of theosophy: Jānaśruti is a pious man, devoted to charity—

“spending much; cooking much; causing rest-houses to be built everywhere, so that people from everywhere might be entertained by him.”

Some flamingos (harhsa birds) fly by at night; one says to the other:

“I say, blear-eye, don’t you see Jānaśruti’s brilliance is spread out like the heavens; don’t touch it, don’t burn yourself!”

The other harhsa replies:

“What sort is he of whom you speak as though he were Rāikva with the push-cart?”

Jānaśruti overhears, searches for Rāikva, and finds him sitting under the push-cart, scratching his itch. For all that, he owns the great Upaniṣad doctrine which Jānaśruti extracts from him only at the price of one thousand cows, a gold necklace, a wagon with mules, and his own daughter.


TheDrinking ApartMotif

The harhsa bird figures once more in a fairy-tale conception that goes back to Vedic times, endures persistently during later Hindu times, but has then lost its fairy-tale character altogether. I allude to the well-known magic by virtue of which this distinguished bird “drinks apart” milk from water.[16] All attempts to explain this as a feature of the natural history of the haṃsa are, in my opinion, fatuous, because the haṃsa is not alone in “drinking apart”—i.e. separating two substances in drinking.

There is, to begin with, the bird kruñc, which, in addition to the haṃsa, performs the same “stunt” in Māitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā, iii, 11, 6, and parallel Yajur texts. As a matter of fact, in these Vedic texts it is the bird kruñc, “curlew,” that “drinks apart” milk and water (adbhyaḥ kṣīram); the haṃsa “drinks apart” soma and water (adbhyaḥ somam). Lanman, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, xix, 157, quotes two passages from Pāli Buddhist texts, in which the kruñc continues to do this at a very late time.[17] The Māitrāyaṇī passage, cited above, contains more cases of “drinking apart,” pertaining to spiritual matters. And, anent Ṛg-Veda, x, 131, 4, 5, it seems that the Aśvins, the heavenly physicians, aided by Sarasvatī, cured Indra’s “katzeñjammer,” when he had mixed his drinks, by taking surā (brandy) on the top of his accustomed soma. The brandy had been administered to him by his tricky enemy, the demon Namuci.[18] And again, from Ṛg-Veda times, ants have the power of “drinking apart” water from the desert sands; see Ṛg-Veda, i, 112, 15, vamrāṃ vipipānām, “the ant which drinks apart,” and Bloomfield, Hymns of the Atharva Veda, Introductions to 2, 3, and 6, 100; American Journal of Philology, vii, 482 ff.[19] I have always thought it curious that this motif is lost in later literature, except as an illustration of discernment (viveka); it could have been applied fruitfully—e.g. to the many cases of poisoning in which fiction abounds.


Stories that contain the Motif of the Rebounding Bow

There is one motif of rather varied application which figures in stories that go back to the Veda. These are widely scattered, so that the motif is scarcely recognised by students of fiction as having become standard. The Kathā-sarit-sāgara has it only in a rather unintelligible version of the Pañcatantra fable of “The Greedy Jackal” (Ocean, Vol. V, p. 77). Kṣemendra’s version, in Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī, ii, 20 ff., is even more garbled.[20]

These two versions, as will appear below, show clearly how important it is to know a story in all its occurrences. The older Pañchatantra versions rule out the Bṛhatkathā forms of this fable, automatically, as it were; cf. Penzer, Vol. V, pp. 212 ff. It will be profitable to exhibit this singular motif in all its occurrences from Veda to the North Buddhist texts—to wit:


The Vedic Story of the Rebounding Bow

Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (XIV, i, 1 ff.). —Once upon a time Agni, Indra, Soma, Makha, Viṣṇu and the Viśve Devās, except the two Aśvins, held a sacrificial session in Kurukṣetra, that they might attain excellence and become glorious, and eaters of food. It was agreed that the first to compass the end of the sacrifice should be considered the most excellent. Viṣṇu won, but was unable to restrain his desire for glory. Taking his bow and three arrows he stepped forth in defiance of the others. As he stood with his head resting upon the end of his bow, none dared to accept the challenge and make the attack.

Then said the ants (vamri) to them:

“What would you give to him that should gnaw the bowstring?”

“Food would we give to him, and he should find water even in the desert.”[21]

“So be it,” said the ants. Then they proceeded to gnaw the bowstring. The ends of the bow sprang apart and cut off the head of Viṣṇu.... Then the Devās gave to those ants all food to be eaten, but all food is water.

Variants of this storyette are familiar in the Vedic writings: Māitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā, IV, v, 9; Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa, VII, v, 6; Tāittirīya Āraṇyaka, I, v, 2; and Sāyaṇa in his commentary to Ṛg-Veda, X, clxxii, 2, where Indra assumes the form of an ant, and gnaws Rudra’s bowstring so that it cuts off his head. See for these Vedic stories, Oliphant in the Proceedings of the American Philological Association, vol. xii, PP- Ivjff.


Later Stories of the Rebounding Bow

The same motif appears next in Pañchatantra, ii, 3, which may now be surveyed in Professor Edgerton’s translation: The Pañchatantra Reconstructed, vol. i, pp. 220 ff.; vol. ii, pp. 340 ff. A hunter kills successively a deer and a boar, but the boar in his agony also kills the hunter. A jackal comes along, sees the three carcases, piles them up, but, instead of eating of them, out of too great greed gnaws the sinew-end at the tip of the hunter’s bow. Whereupon, as the cord is severed, he is pierced by the bow in the throat, and perishes.

The Oriental and Western offshoots of this story are sketched by Benfey, Pantschatantra, vol. i, pp. 319 ff. In Somadeva’s version (Ocean, Vol. V, p. 77) the operation of the motif, as well as the greed of the jackal, is somewhat obscured:

“He went first to eat what had been placed on the bow, and that moment the arrow fixed in it flew up and pierced him so that he died.”

Kṣemendra is no better. These versions are based upon the kindred motif of the automatic bow which we know from Daśa Kumāra Charita: see now Hertel’s translation, vol. i, p. 33; vol. ii, p. 7. Cf. also Hertel, Das Pañcatantra, pp. 169 ff., 185 ff.

In Ralston, Tibetan Tales, pp. 286 ff., this motif is coupled conveniently with another quite common motif of excessive greed—namely, “Mutual Poisonings.”

A jackal, seeing the bodies of five hundred robbers who had poisoned one another out of greed for the booty which belonged to them in common, exclaims:

“As an extremely large amount of booty has accrued to me, I will take each part of it in turn.”

So he seizes a bow with his jaws, gnaws the knots of the bowstring, the string snaps, and the end of the bow strikes the roof of his mouth so hard that the jackal dies.

Next, the motif is used, quite ingeniously, in a storyette in which the bowstring is burned by fire, and the rebounding bow kills, so as to revenge an injury done by its victim. In the Southern Textus Amplior of the Pañchatantra, iii, 13, a hunter king lives, surrounded by a thousand Kirātas. He falls in love with Sumukhī, the wife of one of his Kirātas, kills the latter, and compels his pregnant. widow to cohabit with him. She begets her son, whom the king believes to be his own, and brings up tenderly. When the boy is five years of age he happens to sit with other boys around a fire in the forest. The king comes there too, and stretches out before the fire, placing his strung bow by his side. The boy places a burning faggot upon the bowstring, so that the string is burned, and the rebounding bow hits the king in the head and kills him. See Hertel in Z.D.M.G., lxi, 72 (ad p. 65).

Finally, Jülg, Mongolische Mārclien, p. 169 ff., reports the motif in a very faded form and unexpected connection. A poor young weaver has destroyed by Kākatālīya luck[22] a hostile army marching against a king. Returning with immense booty, the king is ready to accept him as a husband for his daughter, but the queen insists that he must demonstrate his personal courage by killing a big fox. Unable to find the fox, he returns, but, on nearing the castle, he notices that he has lost his bow. In the meantime the fox has found the bow, has bitten its string in two, and has been killed by its rebounding end. When the “hero” comes there, the fox lies dead; he returns with his pelt in triumph. He finally marries the princess, and rules half the kingdom. Jülg’s version of the story is corroborated by a report of it which Benfey has printed, as coming from Schiefner’s pen, in Pantschatantra, ii, 541. Here also the hero finds “den fuchs durch den bogen, dessen sehne er aufzupressen versucht hatte, getödtet.”


Minor Motifs

The Encyclopaedist of Fiction will ultimately experience, perhaps, his most striking impression from what may be called the “minor motifs.” These flit across every page of fiction. When first met with they appear to be mere accidents of narration, devices of a given story-teller who, of course, is sure to draw to some extent upon his own resources of imagination, else how would he come to be a story-teller? Such are, e.g., the runaway horse, often of reversed training[23] not understood by his master, the king or prince, who is then carried off to the jungle, where he experiences his real adventure. Or, the hero meets, on the banks of a beautiful lake—a veritable mānasa lake—a correspondingly beautiful maiden, usually princess, accompanied by her confidante or duenna. Or, the hero saves some maiden from the onslaught of an infuriated elephant, either by courageously or trickily conquering him, or by taming him through the lure of his lute. Again, the hero, utterly penniless, is received lovingly by a disinterested and very beautiful hetæra, much to the disgust of her “mother,” the old bawd (akkā, kuṭṭanī or kuṭṭinī), ultimately to elevate the hetæra to his own exalted station. Or, both hero and heroine are carried by a fairy bird (bharaṇḍa, bheruṇḍa or garuḍa) to a far distance, which brings the denouement of their adventures. And so on ad infinitum. Pretty nearly all these adventures, which seem at first sight flowers of the imagination, prove in the end to be stencilled, pigeon-holed cliché. The mass or total of fiction is really not inventive, even though the first expression of a given motif must have been an act of imaginative creation. To find its place and time is a delicate task, because the beginnings of fictional ideas are not revealed by existing literature, and are doubtless with primitive folk-lore ideas of which we have no record. The so-called folk-lore books of India, of which we have some sixty or more, are certainly not, for the overwhelming part of them, mythogenic; they are, as a rule, popular recasts of stories from Pañchatantra, Jātaka, etc., as well as, of course, of many foreign sources.

A few of these ideas are salient enough to have received some kind of notice or rubrication at the hands of fiction observers. But the great mass has been passed by unnoticed. I shall pick here a couple of them, not unknown to the readers of the Ocean, but of such fleeting incidental character as not to impress him with their real significance in the technique of either Somadeva or other fiction writers.


Looking for Water

Quite en passant, in these pages (above, p. xvi) appears, very irrelevantly, a soldier who had placed a tiger in a box and then wandered off in search of water. The motif is introduced simply to give the Brāhman a chance to come in contact with the tiger. It is at least as early as the Epic: in Mahābhārata, iii, 36, 136, the Brāhman Yavakrī, who has attempted to seduce Rāibhya’s daughter-in-law, is deprived by magic of his water-pot, and roams in vain in search for water, until he is killed by a demon.

Looking for water appears as a progressive motif in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara four times, if not oftener. Thus, x, 128 ff. (Ocean, Vol. I, p. 115), Mṛgāṅkavatī, beloved of the young Brāhman Śrīdatta, while roaming in the Vindhya forest, becomes exhausted with fear and exertion, and is very thirsty withal. Śrīdatta goes in search of water, loses his way, and passes the night in the forest. When he arrives in the morning on the spot where he left the princess she is nowhere to be seen. And Kathās., lvi, 12 ff. (Ocean, Vol. IV, p. 221), the Brāhman Candrasvāmin, impoverished by famine, undertakes to bring his two children to his father-in-law’s house. They reach a wilderness, where he leaves the two children, exhausted by thirst, to look for water. He is captured by the Bhilla chief Siṃhadaṃṣṭra to be sacrificed to Durgā. But by the favour of the sun-god all turns out well. These two passages show how incidental, yet how effective at the bottom, is the motif, but it has not as yet been recognised as such by the fictionists. Yet the motif is perfectly standard; it occurs twice more in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, liv, 9 (Ocean, Vol. IV, p. 187), and Iii, 196 (Ocean, Vol. IV, p. 152). These two Kathā-sarit-sāgara occurrences are so mechanical as to entitle one to say that whenever Somadeva wishes to separate two people or parties, all he has to do is to make one of them go in search for water. The motif is everywhere in fiction: see, e.g., Devendra’s stories, J. J. Meyer, Hindu Tales, pp. 24, 33, 42, 68; Jülg, Mongolische Mārchen, p. 165; Jülg, Kalmükische Mārchen, p. 32; Kathākoça, in Tawney’s translation, pp. 99 ff., 141, 206; Samarādityasaṃkṣepa, v, 283 ff.; Charpentier, Paccekabuddhageschichten, p. 126; Hertel, Indische Mārchen, p. 91; Lescallier, Le Trône Enchanté, i, 71, bottom; Parker, Village Folk-Tales of Ceylon, i, 81, 96; Frere, Old Deccan Days, pp. 18, 59, 198. See also Hertel, Das Pañcatantra, p. 109, note 4. Note especially Hemavijaya’s Kathāratnākara, story 21 (Hertel’s translation, i, 58ff.), in which this haphazard motif, that ordinarily glides into the story almost unperceived, is made the pivot of a rather exquisite anecdote belonging to the riddle sphere. The four brothers of Yudhiṣṭhira go successively in search for water, are asked riddles which they are unable to answer, and therefore sink to the ground in a faint. Yudhiṣṭhira follows, is also asked a profound cosmic riddle, which he answers correctly, and the four brothers are restored to life.


Deserted City

Scarcely less significant for the technique of story-telling, though not as frequent, is the city which has become deserted, because its inhabitants have been devoured by some demon. I have noted only two occurrences of this motif —one in Kathā-sarit-sāgara, x, 71 (Ocean, Vol. I, p. 111): Śrīdatta and his friend Niṣṭhuraka meet on the road a weeping woman who professes to have lost her way while travelling to Ujjayinī. Śrīdatta invites her to join them, and they halt by day in a certain deserted town. Śrīdatta wakes up in the night and sees that the woman has slain Niṣṭhuraka, and is devouring his flesh. Śrīdatta seizes her by the hair. The woman turns out to be, not an original Rākṣasī, but a heavenly nymph under a curse, because she had been induced by Kubera to interfere with Viśvāmitra’s austerities. Viśvāmitra had cursed her into a Rākṣasī: it is she who has eaten all the inhabitants of the deserted city. The curse ends when Śrīdatta takes hold of her.

In Pārśvanātha Charitra, ii, 315 ff., Prince Bhīma (Bhīmasena) and his friend Matisāgara come to a deserted city, where they see a lion with a man in his paws, about to devour him. The city is Hemapura; its king was Hemaratha, who had a Purohrita, Caṇḍa (“Cruel”), hated of all men. The king also was cruel by nature. An enemy of Caṇḍa spread the report that he was intimate with a low-born woman (mātaṅgī).[24] The king consulted an oracle, and, though he did not determine the truth, had Caṇḍa wrapped in hemp and boiled in oil. Caṇḍa had no chance, before he died, to wear away his sins, therefore was reborn as a Rākṣasa, named Sarvagila (“All-Devourer”). Remembering the hostilities of his former birth, he came to that city, hid away its people, and, having assumed the shape of a lion, carried off King Hemaratha. Bhīma rescues Hemaratha; the lion is appeased and brings back the people of Hemapura.

I should like especially to draw the attention of the reader to the mechanical and paradoxical way in which this fundamentally tragic motif is blended with a satirical use of the “Laugh and Cry” motif in Swynnerton’s Romantic Tales from the Pañjāb (p. 87), as quoted by Mr Penzer on p. 261 of the present volume.[25]

The motif figures also in Kathās., xliii (Ocean, Vol. Ill, p. 281; cf. pp. 58, 59), where a deserted city is peopled by automata; and also in Pārśvanātha Charitra, vi, 314; Tawney’s Kathākoça, p. 129; in the story of Bambhadatta (Jacobi, Ausgewāhlte Erzāhlungen, p. 7, 1. 28; J. J. Meyer, Hindu Tales, p. 26); Pañcadaṇḍachhattraprabandha, ii, p. 27; Divyāvadāna, pp. 9, 19; Hertel, Indische Mārchen, pp. 142, 187; Geschichte von Pāla und Gopāla, p. 70; Pañcākhyānoddhāra, in the story of Ratnapāla; Hertel, Das Pañcatantra, p. 109, note 4; Jülg, Mongolische Mārchen, p. 26.


Concluding Remarks

The preceding remarks are not intended as a systematic statement of a plan for such an Encyclopædia as I have in mind. They are intended rather to establish the conviction in the mind of the reader that an Encyclopædia of Fiction, whatever form and scope it may ultimately assume, is plainly a sine qua non of fruitful—we might say final—Fiction study. I am very grateful to Mr Penzer for giving these ideas a permanent habitat in his great work, and by the side of the many elaborate notes and comments with which he has very wisely enriched it. The time will come when concerted academic action will produce a work hardly less exigent than Dr Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics: it will be in the main the work of a future generation, but the present generation need not hesitate to prepare its way by suggestion and illustrative example.

Maurice Bloomfield.

Johns Hopkins University,
      October 1926.

Footnotes and references:


Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. xxxvi, pp. 54 ff.


As an example of this kind of fructification of fiction we may take Fick’s Die Sociale Gliederung im nordöstlichen Indien, which is based almost entirely upon the Buddhist Jātakas.


Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. clxxxiii, pp. 576 ff. (1920).


“On Organized Brigandage in Hindu Fiction,” American Journal of Philology, vol. xlvii, pp. 205 ff.


Cf. Zachariae, Kleine Schriften, pp. 66, 94 ff., 190 n.


In the Kathākallola the boy is called Rohō; his father, the actor, is Bharata.


This he dodges by asking the king to send him a piece of old sand-rope as a pattern.


Mūladeva’s artistry is proverbial; see Hertel, Pālā und gopāla, p. 109.


We are indebted for our knowledge of Mūladeva primarily to Professor Pavolini of Florence in Giomale della Società Asiatica Italiana, ix, 175 ff. Other treatments and other matters pertaining to this subject are discussed in my article, “The Character and Adventures of Mūladeva,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1913, lii, pp. 6l6 ff. See also Journal of the American Oriental Society, xliii, 266, and the small drama (bhāṇa), called Padma-prābhṛṭakam, ascribed to Śūdraka. This is one of four such Bhāṇas, by different authors, published under the title Caturbhāṇī, by the Pandits M. Ramakrishna Kavi and S. K. Ramanatha Sastri, in Śivapurī (Trichur) in the year 1922. Here figure all the personages of the Mūladeva cycle: Mūladeva himself, his love Devadattā, his friend Śa ś a, and others.


See Journal of the American Oriental Society, xxxvi, 54 ff.


See Hertel, Zeitschrift der Deiitschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, lxi, 42.


Cf. Dasent’s “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” story of Buttercup, who is to be cooked for dinner by the ogre’s daughter. But she does not know how to go about executing him, so he tells her to lay her head on the block; he would show her. Whereupon he cuts off her head.


See Hertel, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, lxi, 32.


Hertel’s translation, ii, 147 ff. vol. vii.


Professor Jacobi, Mahābhārata, p. 241, cites the fables of the Great Epic.


Noted, very early, by Colebrooke, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, i, 159n:

“Because the bird seems, as the Hindus apprehend, to extract his food by suction from solution in water; wherefore a bird of this genus is considered an emblem of discrimination, as being capable of discriminating milk from water.”


Udāna, viii, 7: Vidvā pajahāti pāpakaṁ konco khīrapako va ninnagam, “The wise man leaves evil as the milk-drinking curlew leaves water.”


Bloomfield, Journal of the American Oriental Society, xv, 148 ff., 15.9; Oldenberg, Nachrichten von der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1893, No. 9.


Cf., as a late echo of this conception, Uvāsagadasāo, Appendix on Gosāla, p. 4.


See Mankowski, pp. 17, 47.


Cf. the preceding rubric.


See the author in American Journal of Philology, xl, 12 ff, 25; Hertel, “Zum Märchen vom tapferen Schneiderlein,” Zeitschrift des Vereins fiir Volkskunde in Berlin, 1.913, xxiii, 51-57.


See my Life and Stories of the Jaina Savior Pārçvanātha, pp. 204 ff.


This also is a fairly standard, yet unlisted motif of fiction; see my Life of Pārçvanātha, p. 195.


[I should here point out that Professor Bloomfield’s reference is to Swynnerton’s Romantic Tales from the Pañjab, with Indian Nights’ Entertainment, Ldn., 1908; while my reference on p. 261 is from his previous work, Romantic Tales from the Pañjāb, Ldn., 1903.—n.m.p.]

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