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 the king went back to the śiṃśapā tree, and taking the Vetāla from it, placed him on his shoulder, and brought him along, and as he was going along with him, the Vetāla again said to the king:

“Listen, King. I will tell you a short story.


163g (13). The Brāhman Harisvāmin, who first lost his Wife, and then his Life[1]

There is a city of the name of Vārāṇasī,[2] the abode of Śiva. In it there lived a Brāhman, named Devasvāmin, honoured by the king. And that rich Brāhman had a son named Harisvāmin; and he had an exceedingly lovely wife, named Lāvaṇyavatī. I think the Disposer must have made her after he had acquired skill by making Tilottamā and the other nymphs of heaven, for she was of priceless beauty and loveliness.

Now, one night Harisvāmin fell asleep, as he was reposing with her in a palace cool with the rays of the moon. At that very moment a Vidyādhara prince, by name Madanavega, roaming about at will, came that way through the air. He saw that Lāvaṇyavatī sleeping by the side of her husband, and her robe, that had slipped aside, revealed her exquisitely moulded limbs. His heart was captivated by her beauty; and blinded by love, he immediately swooped down, and taking her up in his arms asleep, flew off with her through the air.

Immediately her husband, the young Harisvāmin, woke up, and not seeing his beloved, he rose up in a state of distraction. He said to himself:

“What can this mean? Where has she gone? I wonder if she is angry with me? Or has she hidden herself to find out my real feelings, and is making fun of me?”

Distracted by many surmises of this kind, he wandered hither and thither that night, looking for her on the roof, and in the turrets of the palace.

He even searched in the palace garden, and when he could not find her anywhere, being scorched with the fire of grief, he sobbed and lamented:

“Alas! my beloved with face like the moon’s orb, fair as the moonlight, did this night grudge your existence, hating your charms that rival hers?[3] That very moon, that, vanquished by your beauty, seemed to be in fear, and comforted me with its rays cool as sandalwood,[4] now that I am bereaved of you, seems to have seen its opportunity, and smites me with them, as if with burning coals, or arrows dipped in poison.”

While Harisvāmin was uttering these laments, the night at last slowly passed away; not so his grief at his bereavement.

The next morning the sun dispelled with his rays the deep darkness that covered the world, but could not dispel the dense darkness of despondency that had settled on him. The sound of his bitter lamentations, that seemed to have been reinforced by wailing power bestowed on him by the cakravákas, whose period of separation was at an end with the night, was magnified a hundredfold. The young Brāhman, though his relations tried to comfort him, could not recover his self-command, now that he was bereaved of his beloved, but was all inflamed with the fire of separation.

And he went from place to place, exclaiming with tears:

“Here she stood, here she bathed, here she adorned herself and here she amused herself.”

But his friends and relations said to him:

“She is not dead, so why do you kill yourself? If you remain alive, you will certainly recover her somewhere or other. So adopt a resolute tone, and go in search of your beloved; there is nothing in this world that a resolute man, who exerts himself, cannot obtain.”

When Harisvāmin had been exhorted in these terms by his friends and relations, he managed at last, after some days, to recover his spirits by the aid of hope.

And he said to himself:

“I will give away all that I have to the Brāhmans, and visit all the holy waters, and wash away all my sins. For if I wipe out my sin, I may perhaps, in the course of my wanderings, find that beloved of mine.”

After going through these reflections, suitable to the occasion, he got up and bathed, and performed all his customary avocations; and the next day he bestowed on the Brāhmans at a solemn sacrifice various meats and drinks, and gave away to them all his wealth without stint.

Then he left his country, with his Brāhman birth as his only fortune, and proceeded to go round to all the holy bathing-places in order to recover his beloved. And as he was roaming about, there came upon him the terrible lion of the hot season, with the blazing sun for mouth, and with a mane composed of his fiery rays. And the winds blew with excessive heat, as if warmed by the breath of sighs furnaced forth by travellers grieved at being separated from their wives. And the tanks, with their supply of water diminished by the heat, and their drying white mud, appeared to be showing their broken hearts. And the trees by the roadside seemed to lament[5] on account of the departure of the glory of spring, making their wailing heard in the shrill moaning of their bark,[6] with leaves, as it were lips, parched with heat.

At that season Harisvāmin, wearied out with the heat of the sun, with bereavement, hunger and thirst, and continual travelling, disfigured,[7] emaciated and dirty, and pining for food, reached, in the course of his wanderings, a certain village, and found in it the house of a Brāhman called Pad-manābha, who was engaged in a sacrifice. And seeing that many Brāhmans were eating in his house, he stood leaning against the doorpost, silent and motionless.

And the good wife of that Brāhman named Padmanābha, seeing him in this position, felt pity for him, and reflected:

“Alas, mighty is hunger! Whom will it not bring down? For here stands a man at the door, who appears to be a householder, desiring food, with downcast countenance; evidently come from a long journey, and with all his senses impaired by hunger. So is not he a man to whom food ought to be given?”

Having gone through these reflections, the kind woman took up in her hands a vessel full of rice boiled in milk, with ghee and sugar, and brought it, and courteously presented it to him, and said:

“Go and eat this somewhere on the bank of the lake, for this place is unfit to eat in, as it is filled with feasting Brāhmans.”

He said, “I will do so,” and took the vessel of rice, and placed it at no great distance under a banyan-tree on the edge of the lake; and he washed his hands and feet in the lake, and rinsed his mouth, and then came back in high spirits to eat the rice. But while he was thus engaged, a kite, holding a black cobra with its beak and claws, came from some place or other, and sat on that tree. And it so happened that poisonous saliva issued from the mouth of that dead snake, which the bird had captured and was carrying along. The saliva fell into the dish of rice which was placed underneath the tree, and Harisvāmin, without observing it, came and ate up that rice. As soon as in his hunger he had devoured all that food, he began to suffer terrible agonies produced by the poison.

He exclaimed:

“When fate has turned against a man, everything in this world turns also; accordingly this rice dressed with milk, ghee and sugar has become poison to me.”

Thus speaking, Harisvāmin, tortured with the poison, tottered to the house of that Brāhman, who was engaged in the sacrifice, and said to his wife:

“The rice, which you gave me, has poisoned me; so fetch me quickly a charmer who can counteract the operation of poison; otherwise you will be guilty of the death of a Brāhman.”

When Harisvāmin had said this to the good woman, who was beside herself to think what it could all mean, his eyes closed, and he died.

Accordingly the Brāhman, who was engaged in a sacrifice, drove out of his house his wife, though she was innocent and hospitable, being enraged with her for the supposed murder of her guest. The good woman, for her part, having incurred groundless blame from her charitable deed, and so become branded with infamy, went to a holy bathing-place to perform penance.

Then there was a discussion before the superintendent of religion,[8] as to which of the four parties, the kite, the snake, or the couple who gave the rice, was guilty of the murder of a Brāhman; but the question was not decided.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

“Now you, King Trivikramasena, must tell me which was guilty of the murder of a Brāhman; and if you do not, you will incur the before-mentioned curse.”

When the king heard this from the Vetāla, he was forced by the curse to break silence, and he said:

“No one of them could be guilty of the crime; certainly not the serpent, for how could he be guilty of anything, when he was the helpless prey of his enemy, who was devouring him? To come to the kite; what offence did he commit in bringing his natural food, which he had happened to find, and eating it, when he was hungry? And how could either of the couple that gave the food be in fault, since they were both people exclusively devoted to righteousness, not likely to commit a crime? Therefore I think the guilt of slaying a Brāhman would attach to any person who should be so foolish as, for want of sufficient reflection, to attribute it to either of them.”

When the king had said this, the Vetāla again left his shoulder, and went to his own place, and the resolute king again followed him.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 212-215.—n.m.p.


I.e. Benares, the religious capital of Hinduism. To-day Hindus call it either Kāśī or Banāras. The former name was originally that of a tribe living between the Ganges and the Ghāghrā. Hiuen Tsiang writes Po-lo-na-se (= Vārāṇasī or Bārāṇasi).—n.m.p.


Dveṣā must be a misprint for dveṣāt.


See note on pp. 105-107.—n.m.p.


For arudanniva the Sanskrit College MS. reads abhavanniva.


Böhtlingk and Roth, s.v., say that chīra in Taraṅga 73, śloka 240, is perhaps a mistake for chīra, grasshopper; the same may perhaps be the case in this passage.


For virūpa the Sanskrit College MS. gives virūkṣa.


I.e. Dharmarāja, possibly the officer established by Aśoka in his fifth edict (see Senart, Les Inscriptions de Piyadasi, p. 125). The term Dharmarāja is applied to Yudhiṣṭhira and Yama. It means literally king of righteousness or religion. There is a Dharma Rāja in Bhūtān. B ö htlingk and Roth seem to take it to mean Yama in this passage. The succession of the Dharma Rāja in Bhūtān is arranged on the reincarnation theory. On his death his spirit is supposed to transmigrate into the body of a newly born male child, who has to be searched for and identified by omens. Thus the succession can be kept entirely in the hands of the Lhāsa priests. See further L. A. Waddell, " Bhūtān, Buddhism in,” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. ii, p. 562.—n.m.p. vol. VII.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: