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 recovered the Vetāla, and placed him on his shoulder, and set out with him again silently, as before. Then the Vetāla again said to him from his seat on his shoulder:

“King, I love you much because you are so indomitable; so listen, I will tell you this delightful story to amuse you.


163g (12). King Yaśaḥketu, his Vidyādharī Wife and his Faithful Minister[1]

In the land of Aṅga[2] there was a young king named Yaśaḥketu, like a second and unburnt God of Love come to earth to conceal his body.[3] He conquered by his great valour all his enemies; and as Indra has Bṛhaspati for a minister, he had Dīrghadarśin. Now, in course of time, this king, infatuated with his youth and beauty, entrusted to that minister his realm, from which all enemies had been eradicated, and became devoted to pleasure only. He remained continually in the harem[4] instead of the judgment-hall; he listened to delightful songs in the women’s apartments instead of hearkening to the voice of his well-wishers; in his thoughtlessness he was devoted to latticed windows and not to the affairs of his kingdom, though the latter also were full of holes.

But the great minister Dīrghadarśin continued unweariedly upholding the burden of his kingdom’s cares, day and night. And a general rumour spread to the following effect: “Dīrghadarśin has plunged in dissipation the sovereign, who is satisfied with the mere name of king, and so he manages now to enjoy himself all his master’s power.”

Then the minister Dīrghadarśin said of himself to his wife Medhāvatī:

“My dear, as the king is addicted to pleasure, and I do his work, a calumny has been circulated among the people against me, to the effect that I have devoured the realm. And a general rumour, though false, injures even great men in this world: was not Rāma compelled by a slanderous report to abandon his wife Sītā? So what course must I adopt in this emergency?”

When the minister said this, his firm-souled wife Medhāvatī,[5] who was rightly named, said to him:

“Take leave of the king on the pretext of a pilgrimage to holy bathing-places; it is expedient, great-minded sir, that you should go to a foreign land for a certain time. So you will be seen to be free from ambition, and the calumny against you will die out. And while you are absent the king will bear the burden of the kingdom himself, and then this vicious tendency of his will gradually diminish, and when you return you will be able to discharge your office of minister without blame.”

When Dīrghadarśin’s wife said this to him, he said,

“I will do so”;

and he went and said to King Yaśaḥketu in the course of conversation:

“Give me leave to depart, King, I am going on a pilgrimage for some days, for my heart is set on that religious duty.”

When the king heard that, he said:

“Do not do so! Cannot you, without going on pilgrimages, perform in your house noble religious duties, such as charity and so on, which will procure you heaven?”

When the minister heard this, he said:

“King, that purity which comes of wealth is sought by charity and so on, but holy bathing-places have an everlasting purity. And a wise man must visit them while he is young, for otherwise how can he be sure of reaching them, as this body cannot be relied on?”

While he was saying this, and the king was still trying to dissuade him, a warder entered, and said to the king:

“King, the sun is plunging into the middle of the lake of heaven, so rise up, this is the hour appointed for you to bathe in, and it is rapidly passing away.”

When the king heard this, he immediately rose up to bathe, and the minister, whose heart was set on pilgrimage, bowed before him, and went home to his own house.

There he left his wife, whom he forbade to follow him, and managed cunningly to set out in secret, without even his servants suspecting his departure. And alone he wandered from country to country with resolute perseverance, and visited holy bathing-places, and at last he reached the land of Pauṇḍra.[6] In a certain city in that country not far from the sea he entered a temple of Śiva, and sat down in a courtyard attached to it. There a merchant named Nidhidatta, who had come to worship the god, saw him exhausted with the heat of the sun’s rays, dusty with his long journey. The merchant, being a hospitable man, seeing that the traveller, who was in such a state, wore a Brāhmanical thread,[7] and had auspicious marks, concluded that he was a distinguished Brāhman, and took him home to his own house.

There he honoured him with a bath, food and other refreshments in the most luxurious style, and when his fatigue was removed, he said to him:

“Who are you, whence do you come, and where are you going?”

And the Brāhman gave him this reserved answer:

“I am a Brāhman of the name of Dīrghadarśin; I have come here on pilgrimage from the land of Aṅga.”

Then the merchant-prince Nidhidatta said to him:

“I am about to go on a trading expedition to the Island of Gold,[8] so you must live in my house until I return; and then you will have recovered from the fatigue which you have incurred by roaming to holy places, and you can go home.”

When Dīrghadarśin heard that, he said:

“Why should I remain here? I will go with you, great merchant, if you like.”

The good man said, “So be it,” and then the minister, who had long discarded the use of beds,[9] spent that night in his house.

The next day he went with that merchant to the sea, and embarked on a ship laden with his merchandise. He travelled along in that ship, and beheld the awful and wonderful ocean, and in course of time reached the Isle of Gold. What had a man holding the office of prime minister to do with sea-voyages? But what will not men of honour do to prevent their fame from being sullied? So he remained some time in that island with that merchant Nidhidatta, who was engaged in buying and selling.

And as he was returning with him on the ship, he suddenly saw a wave rise up, and then a wishing-tree[10] arise out of the sea; it was adorned with boughs glittering with gold, which were embellished with sprays of coral, and bore lovely fruits and flowers of jewels. And he beheld on its trunk a maiden, alluring on account of her wonderful beauty, reclining on a gem-bestudded couch.

He reflected for a moment:

“Aha! What can this be?”

And thereupon the maiden, who had a lyre in her hand, began to sing this song:

“Whatever seed of works any man has sown in a former life, of that he, without doubt, eats the fruit; for even fate cannot alter what has been done in a previous state of existence.”

When the heavenly maiden had sung this song, she immediately plunged into that sea, with the wishing-tree, and the couch on which she was reclining.

Then Dīrghadarśin reflected:

“I have to-day seen a wonderful sight; one would never have expected to find in the sea a tree, with a heavenly maiden singing on it, appearing and disappearing as soon as beheld. Or rather, this admirable treasure-house of the sea is ever the same: did not Lakṣmī, and the moon, and the Pārijāta tree, and other precious things come out of it?”

But the steersman and the rest of the crew, perceiving that Dīrghadarśin was astonished and puzzled, said to him:

“This lovely woman always appears here in the same way, and sinks down again at once; but this sight is new to you.”

This is what they said to the minister, but he still continued in a state of wonder, and so he reached in course of time on the ship, with that Nidhidatta, the coast for which they were making. There the merchant disembarked his wares, gladdening the hearts of his servants, and the minister went in high spirits with him to his house, which was full of mirth at his arrival.

And after he had remained there a short time, he said to Nidhidatta:

“Merchant-prince, I have long reposed comfortably in your house, now I wish to return to my own land; I wish you all happiness.”

With these words he took leave of the merchant-prince, who was sorely unwilling to let him go, and with his virtue for his only companion he set out thence; and having in course of time accomplished the long journey, he reached his own native land of Aṅga.

There the spies, who had been placed by King Yaśaḥketu to watch for his return, saw him coming, before he entered the city, and informed the king; and then the king, who had been much afflicted by his absence, went out from the city to meet him, and came up to him and welcomed him with an embrace.

Then the king conducted into the palace his minister, who was emaciated and begrimed with his long journey, and said to him:

“Why did you leave me, bringing your mind to this cruel heartless step, and your body into this squalid state from its being deprived of unguents?[11] But who knows the way of the mighty god Fate, in that you suddenly fixed your mind on a pilgrimage to holy waters and other sacred places? So tell me, what lands have you wandered through, and what novel sights have you seen?”

Then Dīrghadarśin described his journey to the Island of Gold, in all its stages, and so was led to tell the king of that maiden, the jewel of the three worlds, whom he had seen rise out of the sea and sit on the wishing-tree singing. All this he narrated exactly as it took place.

The moment the king heard this, he fell so deeply in love with her[12] that he considered his kingdom and life valueless without her.

And taking his minister aside, he said to him:

“I must certainly see that maiden, otherwise I cannot live. I will go by the way which you have described, after worshipping Fate. And you must not dissuade, and you must by no means follow me, for I will travel alone incognito, and in the meanwhile you must take care of my kingdom. Do not disobey my order, otherwise my death will lie at your door.”

Thus spake the king, and refused to hear his minister’s answer, and then dismissed him to his own house to see his relations, who had long been wishing for his return. There, in the midst of great rejoicing, Dīrghadarśin remained despondent: how can good ministers be happy when their lord’s vices are incurable?

And the next night King Yaśaḥketu set out, disguised as an ascetic, having entrusted his kingdom to the care of that minister. And on the way, as he was going along, he saw a hermit, named Kuśanābha, and he bowed before him.

The hermit said to the king who was disguised as an ascetic:

“Go on your way boldly: by going to sea in a ship with the merchant Lakṣmīdatta you shall obtain that maiden whom you desire.”

This speech delighted the king exceedingly, and bowing again before the hermit, he continued his journey. And after crossing many countries, rivers and mountains, he reached the sea, which seemed to be full of eagerness to entertain him. Its eddies looked like eyes expanded to gaze at him, eyes of which waves were the curved brows, and which were white with shrill-sounding conchs for pupils. On the shore he met the merchant Lakṣmīdatta, spoken of by the hermit, who was on the point of setting out for the Isle of Gold. The merchant prostrated himself before him when he saw the signs of his royal birth, such as the discus-marked footprint and so on; and the king embarked on the ship with him, and set out with him on the sea.

And when the ship had reached the middle of the ocean, that maiden arose from the water, seated on the trunk of the wishing-tree, and while the king was gazing at her, as a partridge at the moonlight, she sang a song, which the accompaniment of her lyre made more charming:

“Whatever seed of works any man has sown in a former life, of that he, without doubt, eats the fruit; for even fate cannot alter what has been done in a previous state of existence. So a man is helplessly borne along to experience precisely that lot which fate has appointed for him, in that place and in that manner which fate has decreed; of this there can be no doubt.”

When the king heard her singing this song, and thus setting forth the thing that must be, he was smitten with the arrow of love, and remained for some time motionless, gazing at her.

Then he began, with bowed head, to praise the sea in the following words:

“Hail to thee, storehouse of jewels, of unfathomable heart, since by concealing this lovely nymph thou hast cheated Viṣṇu out of Lakṣmī! So I throw myself on thy protection, thou who canst not be sounded even by gods, the refuge of mountains[13] that retain their wings; grant me to obtain my desire.”

While he was uttering this, the maiden disappeared in the sea, with the tree, and when the king saw that, he flung himself into the sea after her, as if to cool the flames of love’s fire.

When the merchant Lakṣmīdatta saw that unexpected sight, the good man thought the king had perished, and was so afflicted that he was on the point of committing suicide, but he was consoled by the following utterance, that came from the heavens:

“Do not act rashly; he is not in danger though he has plunged into the sea: this king, Yaśaḥketu by name, has come, disguised as an ascetic, to obtain this very maiden, for she was his wife in a former state of existence, and as soon as he has won her he shall return to his realm of Aṅga.”

Then the merchant continued his intended voyage, to accomplish his purposes.

But when King Yaśaḥketu plunged into the sea, he suddenly beheld to his astonishment a splendid city. It gleamed with palaces that had bright pillars of precious stones, walls flashing with gold, and latticed windows of pearl. It was adorned with gardens in which were tanks with flights of steps composed of slabs of every kind of gem, and wishing-trees that granted every desire. He entered house after house in that city, which, though opulent, was uninhabited, but he could not find his beloved anywhere. Then, as he was looking about, he beheld a lofty jewelled palace, and going up to it he opened the door and went in. And when he had entered it, he beheld a solitary human form stretched out upon a gem-bestudded couch, with its whole length covered with a shawl. Wondering whether it could be that very lady, he uncovered her face with eager expectation, and saw his lady-love. Her beautiful moonlike countenance smiled when the black robe fell from it like darkness, and she seemed like a night, illumined with moonlight, gone to visit Pātāla in the day. At sight of her the king was in a state of ecstasy, like that which a man, travelling through a desert in the season of heat, experiences on beholding a river. She, for her part, opened her eyes, and, when she saw that hero of auspicious form and bodily marks thus suddenly arrived, sprang from her couch in a state of excitement.

She welcomed him, and with downcast countenance seemed to honour him by flinging on his feet the full-blown lotuses of her wide-expanded eyes; and then she slowly said to him:

“Who are you, and why have you come to this inaccessible lower region? And why, though your body is marked with the signs of royalty, have you undertaken the vow of an ascetic? Condescend to tell me this, distinguished sir, if I have found favour in your sight.”

When the king had heard this speech of hers, he gave her this answer:

“Fair one, I am the King of Aṅga, by name Yaśaḥketu, and I heard from a friend, on whom I can rely, that you were to be seen here every day in the sea. So I assumed this disguise, and abandoned my kingdom for your sake, and I have come here, and followed you down through the sea. So tell me who you are.”

When he said this, she answered him with mixed feelings of shame, affection and joy:

“There is a fortunate king of the Vidyādharas named Mṛgāṅkasena; know that I am his daughter, Mṛgāṅkavatī by name. That father of mine, for some reason unknown to me, has left me alone in this city of his, and has gone somewhere or other with his subjects. So I, feeling melancholy in my solitary abode, rise up out of the sea on a movable[14] wishing-tree, and sing of the decrees of fate.”

When she had said this, the brave king, remembering the speech of the hermit, courted her so assiduously with speeches tender with love that she was overpowered with affection, and promised to become his wife at once, but insisted on the following condition:

“My husband, for four days in every month, the fourteenth and eighth of the white and black fortnights, I am not my own mistress[15]; and whithersoever I may go on those days, you must not question me on the subject nor forbid me, for there is a reason for it.”[16]

When the heavenly maiden had stated in these words the only condition on which she would consent to marry the king, he agreed to it, and married her by the gāndharva form of marriage.

And one day, while the king was living happily with Mṛgāṅkavatī, she said to him:

“You must stop here, while I go somewhere for a certain business, for to-day is the fourteenth day of the black fortnight of which I spoke to you. And while you are waiting here, my husband, you must not enter this crystal pavilion, lest you should fall into a lake there and go to the world of men.”

When she had said this she took leave of him, and went out of that city, and the king took his sword and followed her secretly, determined to penetrate the mystery.

Then the king saw a terrible Rākṣasa approaching, looking like Hell embodied in a human shape, with his cavernous mouth, black as night, opened wide. That Rākṣasa uttered an appalling roar, and swooping down on Mṛgāṅkavatī, put her in his mouth and swallowed her. When the mighty king saw that, he was at once, so to speak, on fire with excessive anger, and rushing forward with his great sword, black as a snake that has cast its slough,[17] drawn from the sheath, he cut off with it the head of the charging Rākṣasa, the lips of which were firmly pressed together. Then the burning fire of the king’s anger was quenched by the stream of blood that poured forth from the trunk of the Rākṣasa, but not the fire of his grief at the loss of his beloved. Then the king was blinded with the darkness of bewilderment, and at a loss what to do, when suddenly Mṛgāṅkavatī cleft asunder the body of that Rākṣasa, which was dark as a cloud, and emerged alive and uninjured, illuminating all the horizon like a spotless moon.

When the king saw his beloved thus delivered from danger, he rushed eagerly forward and embraced her, exclaiming: “Come! Come!”

And he said to her:

“My beloved, what does all this mean? Is it a dream or a delusion?”

When the king asked the Vidyādharī this question, she remembered the truth, and said:

“Listen, my husband! This is no delusion, nor is it a dream; but such was the curse imposed upon me by my father, a king of the Vidyādharas. For my father, who formerly lived in this city, though he had many sons, was so fond of me that he would never take food when I was not present. But I, being devoted to the worship of Śiva, used always to come to this uninhabited place on the fourteenth and eighth days of the two fortnights.

“And one fourteenth day I came here and worshipped Gaurī for a long time; and, as fate would have it, so ardent was my devotion that the day came to an end before my worship was finished. That day my father ate nothing and drank nothing, though he was hungry and thirsty, as he waited for me, but he was very angry with me.

And when I returned in the evening with downcast countenance, conscious of my fault, his love for me was so completely overpowered by the force of Destiny that he cursed me in the following words:

‘As owing to your arrogance I was devoured to-day by hunger, so on the eighth and fourteenth days of the fortnights of every month, and on those days only, a Rākṣasa named Kṛtāntasantrāsa shall swallow you, when you go to that place outside the city to worship Śiva; and on every occasion you shall make your way through his heart and come out alive. But you shall not remember the curse, nor the pain of being swallowed; and you shall remain alone here.’

When my father had uttered this curse, I managed gradually to propitiate him, and after thinking a little, he appointed this termination to my curse: ‘When a king named Yaśaḥketu, lord of the land of Aṅga, shall become your husband, and shall see you swallowed by the Rākṣasa, and shall slay him, then you shall issue from his heart, and shall be delivered from your curse, and you shall call to mind your curse and the other circumstances, and all your supernatural sciences.’

“When he had appointed this end of my curse, he left me alone here, and went with his retinue to the mountain of Niṣadha in the world of men. And I remained here, thus engaged, bewildered by the curse. But that curse has now come to an end, and I remember all. So I will immediately go to my father on the Niṣadha mountain; the law that governs us celestial beings is, that when our curse is at an end we return to our own place. You are perfectly free to remain here or go to your kingdom, as you like.”

When she had said this, the king was sorry, and he made this request to her:

“Fair one, do me the favour not to go for seven days. Let us in the meanwhile cheat the pain of parting by amusing ourselves here in the garden. After that you shall go to your father’s abode, and I will return to mine.”

When he made this proposal, the fair one agreed to it. Then the king diverted himself with her for six days in the gardens, and in tanks, the lotus-eyes of which were full of tears, and that seemed to toss aloft their waves like hands, and in the cries of their swans and cranes to utter this plaintive appeal: “Do not leave us!” And on the seventh day he artfully decoyed his darling to that pavilion where was the tank that served as a magic gate[18] conducting to the world of men; and throwing his arms round her neck he plunged into that tank, and rose up with her from a tank in the garden of his own city. When the gardeners saw that he had arrived with his beloved, they were delighted, and they went and told his minister Dīrghadarśin. And the minister came and fell at his feet, and, seeing that he had brought with him the lady of his aspirations, he and the citizens escorted him into the palace.

And he thought to himself:

“Ah! I wonder how the king has managed to obtain this celestial nymph, of whom I caught a transient glimpse in the ocean, as one sees in the heaven a lightning flash. But the fact is, whatever lot is written for a man by the Disposer, in the inscription on his forehead,[19] infallibly befalls him, however improbable.”

Such were the reflections of the prime minister; while the rest of his subjects were full of joy at the return of the king, and of astonishment at his having won the celestial nymph. But Mṛgāṅkavatī, seeing that the king had returned to his own kingdom, longed, as the seven days were completed, to return to the home of the Vidyādharas. But the science of flying up into the air did not appear to her, though she called it to mind. Then she felt as one robbed of a treasure, and was in the deepest despondency.

And the king said to her:

“Why do you suddenly appear despondent? Tell me, my darling?”

Then the Vidyādharī answered him:

“Because I remained so long, after I had been released from my curse, out of love for you, my science has abandoned me, and I have lost the power of returning to my heavenly home.”

When King Yaśaḥketu heard this, he said,

“Ha! I have now won this Vidyādharī,”

and so his rejoicing was complete.

When the minister Dīrghadarśin saw this, he went home, and at night, when he was in bed, he suddenly died of a broken heart. And Yaśaḥketu, after he had mourned for

“That which is on our foreheads we must indeed fulfil, and when our doomed day draweth near, who shall deliver us? But not a soul departeth except it have accomplished its predestined livelihood and term.”—n.m.p.

him, remained long bearing the burden of empire himself, with Mṛgāṅkavatī for his consort.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla, seated on the shoulder of King Trivikramasena, had told him this story on the way, he went on to say to him:

“So tell me, King, why did the heart of that great minister suddenly break, when his master had thus succeeded so completely? Did his heart break through grief at not having won the nymph himself? Or was it because he longed for the sovereign power, and thus was disappointed at the king’s return? And if you know this, King, and do not tell me on the spot, your merit will at once disappear, and your head will fly in pieces.”

When King Trivikramasena heard that, he said to the Vetāla:

“Neither of these two feelings actuated that excellent and virtuous minister.

But he said to himself:

‘This king neglected his kingdom out of devotion to mere human females, much more will he do so now that he is attached to a heavenly nymph. So, though I have gone through much suffering, the disease has been aggravated by it, instead of being cured, as I had hoped.’

It was under the influence of such reflections that the minister’s heart broke.”

When the king had said this, that juggling Vetāla returned to his own place, and the resolute king ran swiftly after him, to bring him back again by force.

[Additional note: on the sacred thread]

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 211-212.—n.m.p.


The country around Bhāgalpur. Its captial was Champāpuri. Its western boundary was the juncture of the Ganges and the Sarayū.—n.m.p


Or, “to protect the realm of Aṅga”; a shameless pun! The God of Love was consumed by the fire of Śiva’s eye.


See Vol. II of the Ocean, pp. 161n4, 162n, 163n.— n.m.p


I.e. wise.


This corresponds to BengalBihar, the country of the sugar-cane.—N.M.P.


See note at the end of chapter.—n.m.p.


I.e. Suvarṇadvīpa, probably Sumatra. Suvarṇabhūmi, mentioned in Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra, is usually identified with Lower Burma.—n.m.p


The D. text reads cirād avāptaśayano... instead of B.’s cirād apastaśayano..., which appears to be the better reading. Dīrghadarśin has been sleeping in the open during his pilgrimage, and now enjoys the welcome luxury of a bed. Thus the D. text means, “. . . after a long time he had again got a bed in which to pass the night. . . .” See Speyer, op. cit., p. 135. —N.M.P.


See Vol. I, p. 144n1.


One of our author’s puns.


See Vol. I, p. 128n1.—n.m.p.


The word that means “mountain” also means “king.”——For the myth about Indra cutting off the wings of the mountains, see Vol. VI, p. 3n1.—N.M.P.


The Sanskrit College MS. reads yantra for Brockhaus’ yatra. The wishing-tree was moved by some magical or mechanical contrivance.


The Sanskrit College MS. reads anāyattā, which Dr Kern has conjectured.


This part of the story may remind the reader of the story of Melusina, the European snake-maiden. See Simrock’s Deutsche Volksbücher, vol. vi. It bears a certain resemblance to that of the Knight of Stauffenberg (Simrock, op. cit., vol. iii). Cf. also “Ein Zimmern und die Meerfrauen,” in Birlinger, Aus Schwaben, p. 7, and De Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, vol. ii, p. 206. There is a slight resemblance in this story to the myth of Cupid and Psyche.——For the “Taboo” motif, which first appeared in the tale of Urvaśī and Purūravas, see Vol. II, pp. 252-253.—n.m.p.


For bhujagah the Sanskrit College MS. reads bhujaga, which seems to give a better sense than the reading in Brockhaus’ text.


I follow the reading of MS. in the Sanskrit college—yantradvāravāpikā.


The vulgar belief is that man’s fate is written upon his skull, the sutures being the writing. Thus in the Nights (Burton, vol. iii, p. 123) the peahen says to the duck:

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