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 back to the śiṃśapā tree and took the Vetāla from it, and set out with him once more; and as the king was going along, the Vetāla, perched on his shoulder, said to him:

“Listen, King, I will tell you another story.


163g (15). The Magic Pill[1]

There was in the kingdom of Nepāla a city named Śivapura, and in it there lived of old time a king rightly named Yaśaḥketu.[2] He devolved upon his minister, named Prajñāsāgara, the burden of his kingdom, and enjoyed himself in the society of his queen, Candraprabhā. And in course of time that king had born to him, by that queen, a daughter named Śaśiprabhā, bright as the moon, the eye of the world.

Now in course of time she grew up to womanhood, and one day, in the month of spring, she went to a garden, with her attendants, to witness a festive procession. And in a certain part of that garden a Brāhman, of the name of Manaḥsvāmin, the son of a rich man, who had come to see the procession, beheld her engaged in gathering flowers, raising her lithe arm, and displaying her graceful shape; and she looked charming when the grasp of her thumb and forefinger on the stalks of the flowers relaxed. When the young man Manaḥsvāmin saw her, she at once robbed him of his heart, and he was bewildered by love and no longer master of his feelings.[3]

He said to himself:

“Can this be Rati come in person to gather the flowers accumulated by spring, in order to make arrows for the God of Love? Or is it the presiding goddess of the wood, come to worship the spring?”

While he was making these surmises, the princess caught sight of him. And as soon as she saw him, looking like a second God of Love created with a body, she forgot her flowers, and her limbs, and her own personal identity.

While those two were thus overpowered by the passion of mutual love at first sight, a loud shout of alarm was raised, and they both looked with uplifted heads to see what it could mean. Then there came that way an elephant, rushing along with its elephant-hook hanging down, that driven furious by perceiving the smell of another elephant[4] had broken its fastenings, and rushed out in a state of frenzy, breaking down the trees in its path, and had thrown its driver. The princess’s attendants dispersed in terror, but Manaḥsvāmin eagerly rushed forward, and took her up alone in his arms, and while she clung timidly to him, bewildered with fear, love and shame, carried her to a distance, out of reach of the elephant. Then her attendants came up and praised that noble Brāhman, and conducted her back to her palace. But as she went she frequently turned round to look at her deliverer. There she remained, thinking regretfully of that man who had saved her life, consumed day and night by the smouldering fire of love.

And Manaḥsvāmin then left that garden, and seeing that the princess had entered her private apartments, he said to himself, in regretful longing:

“I cannot remain without her, nay, I cannot live without her: so my only resource in this difficulty is the cunning Mūladeva, who is a master of magic arts.”

Having thus reflected, he managed to get through that day, and the next morning he went to visit that master of magic, Mūladeva. And he saw that master, who was ever in the company of his friend Śaśin, full of many marvellous magic ways, like the sky come down to earth in human shape.[5] And he humbly saluted him, and told him his desire; then the master laughed, and promised to accomplish it for him. Then that matchless deceiver Mūladeva placed a magic pill in his mouth,[6] and transformed himself into an aged Brāhman; and he gave the Brāhman Manaḥsvamin a second pill to put in his mouth, and so made him assume the appearance of a beautiful maiden.

And that prince of villains took him in this disguise to the judgment-hall of the king, the father of his lady-love, and said to him:

“O King, I have only one son, and I asked for a maiden to be given him to wife, and brought here from a long distance; but now he has gone somewhere or other, and I am going to look for him; so keep this maiden safe for me until I bring back my son, for you keep safe under your protection the whole world.”[7]

When King Yaśaḥketu heard this petition he granted it, fearing a curse if he did not, and summoned his daughter, Śaśiprabhā, and said to her:

“Daughter, keep this maiden in your palace, and let her sleep and take her meals with you.”

The princess agreed, and took Manaḥsvāmin, transformed into a maiden, to her own private apartments; and then Mūladeva, who had assumed the form of a Brāhman, went where he pleased, and Manaḥsvamin remained in the form of a maiden with his beloved.

And in a few days the princess became quite fond of and intimate with her new attendant; so, one night, when she was pining at being separated from the object of her affections, and tossing on her couch, Manaḥsvāmin, who was on a bed near her, concealed under a female shape, said secretly to her:

“My dear Śaśiprabhā, why are you pale of hue, and why do you grow thinner every day, and sorrow as one separated from the side of her beloved? Tell me, for why should you distrust loving modest attendants? From this time forth I will take no food until you tell me.”

When the princess heard this she sighed, and slowly told the following tale:

“Why should I distrust you of all people? Listen, friend, I will tell you the cause. Once on a time I went to a spring garden to see a procession, and there I beheld a handsome Brāhman man, who seemed like the month of spring, having the loveliness of the moon free from dew, kindling love at sight, adorning the grove with play of light. And while my eager eyes, drinking in the nectarous rays of the moon of his countenance, began to emulate the partridge, there came there a mighty elephant broken loose from its bonds, roaring and distilling its ichor like rain, looking like a black rain-cloud appearing out of season. My attendants dispersed terrified at that elephant, but when I was bewildered with fear that young Brāhman caught me up in his arms and carried me to a distance. Then contact with his body made me feel as if I were anointed with sandalwood[8] ointment, and bedewed with ambrosia, and I was in a state which I cannot describe. And in a moment my attendants reassembled, and I was brought back reluctant to this my palace, and seemed to myself to have been cast down to earth from heaven. From that time forth I have often interviews in reveries with my beloved, that rescued me from death, and even when awake I seem to see him at my side. And when I am asleep I see him in dreams, coaxing me and dispelling my reserve with kisses and caresses. But, ill-fated wretch that I am, I cannot obtain him, for I am baffled by ignorance of his name and other particulars about him. So I am consumed, as you see, by the fire of separation from the lord of my life.”

When Manaḥsvāmin’s ears had been filled with the nectar of this speech of the princess’s, that Brāhman, who was present there in female form, rejoiced, and considered that his object was attained, and that the time had come for revealing himself, so he took out the pill from his mouth, and displayed himself in his true form, and said:

“Rolling-eyed one, I am that very Brāhman whom you bought with a look in the garden, and made your slave in the truest sense of the word. And from the immediate interruption of our acquaintance I derived that sorrow, of which the final result was my taking, as you see, the form of a maiden. Therefore, fair one, grant that the sorrow of separation, which both of us have endured, may not have been borne in vain, for Kāma cannot endure beyond this point.”

When the princess suddenly beheld her beloved in front of her, and heard him utter these words, she was at once filled with love, astonishment and shame. So they eagerly went through the gāndharva ceremony of marriage. Then Manaḥsvāmin lived happily in the palace, under two shapes; keeping the pill in his mouth during the day, and so wearing a female shape, but at night taking it out, and assuming the form of a man.[9]

Now, as days went, the brother-in-law of King Yaśaḥketu, named Mṛgāṅkadatta, gave his own daughter, named Mṛgāṅkavatī, in marriage to a young Brāhman, the son of the minister Prajñāsāgara: and with her he bestowed much wealth. And the Princess Śaśiprabhā was invited, on the occasion of her cousin’s marriage, to her uncle’s house, and went there accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting. And among them went the young Brāhman, Manaḥsvāmin, wearing the attractive form of a young maiden of exquisite beauty.

Then that minister’s son beheld him disguised in female form, and was deeply pierced with the shafts of the archer Love. And when he went to his house, accompanied by his bride, it seemed to him to be empty; for he was robbed of his heart by that seeming maiden. Then he continued to think of nothing but the beauty of that supposed maiden’s face, and, bitten by the great snake of fierce passion, he suddenly became distracted. The people who were there ceased from their rejoicing, and in their bewilderment asked what it meant, and his father, Prajñāsāgara, hearing of it, came to him in haste. And when his father tried to comfort him, he woke up from his stupor, and uttered what was in his mind, babbling deliriously. And that father of his was very much troubled, as he thought that the matter was one altogether beyond his power. Then the king heard of it, and came there in person.

And at once he saw that the minister’s son had been in a moment reduced by strong passion to the seventh[10] stage of love-sickness; so he said to his ministers:

“How can I give him a maiden whom a Brāhman left in my care? And yet, if he does not obtain her, he will without doubt reach the last stage. If he dies, his father, who is my minister, will perish; and if he perishes, my kingdom is ruined, so tell me what I am to do in this matter.”

When the king said this, all those ministers said:

“They say that the special virtue of a king is the protection of the virtue of his subjects. Now the root of this protection is counsel, and counsel resides in counsellors. If the counsellor perishes, protection perishes in its root, and virtue is certain to be impaired.[11] Moreover, guilt would be incurred by causing the death of this Brāhman minister and his son, so you must avoid doing that, otherwise there is a great chance of your infringing the law of virtue. Accordingly you must certainly give to the minister’s son the maiden committed to your care by the first Brāhman, and if he returns after the lapse of some time, and is angry, steps can be taken to put matters right.”

When the ministers said this to the king, he agreed to give that man, who was palming himself off as a maiden, to the minister’s son.

And after fixing an auspicious moment, he brought Manaḥsvāmin, in female form, from the palace of the princess; and he said to the king:

“If, King, you are determined to give me, whom another committed to your care, to a person other than him for whom I was intended, I must, I suppose, acquiesce; you are a king, and justice and injustice are matters familiar to you.[12] But I consent to the marriage on this condition only, that I am not to be considered as a wife until my husband has spent six months in visiting holy bathing-places, and returns home; if this condition is not agreed to, know that I will bite my own tongue in two, and so commit suicide.”

When the young man, disguised in female form, had prescribed this condition, the king informed the minister’s son of it, and he was consoled, and accepted the terms; and he quickly went through the ceremony of marriage, and placed in one house Mṛgāṅkavatī, his first wife, and his second supposed wife, carefully guarded, and, like a fool, went on a pilgrimage to holy bathing-places, to please the object of his affections.

And Manaḥsvāmin, in female form, dwelt in the same house with Mṛgāṅkavatī, as the partner of her bed and board.

And one night, while he was living there in this way, Mṛgāṅkavatī said to him secretly in the bedchamber, while their attendants were sleeping outside:

“My friend, I cannot sleep; tell me some tale.”

When the young man disguised in female form heard this he told her the story, how in old time a royal sage, named Iḍa, of the race of the sun, assumed, in consequence of the curse of Gaurī, a female form that fascinated the whole world, and how he and Buddha fell in love with one another at first sight, meeting one another in a shrubbery in the grounds of a temple, and were there united, and how Purūravas was the fruit of that union.

When the artful creature had told this story, he went on to say:

“So by the fiat of a deity, or by charms and drugs, a man may sometimes become a woman, and vice versa, and in this way even great ones do sometimes unite impelled by love.”

When the tender fair one, who regretted her husband, who had left her as soon as the marriage had taken place, heard this, she said to her supposed rival, in whom she had come to confide by living with her:

“This story makes my body tremble, and my heart as it were sink; so tell me, friend, what is the meaning of this?”

When the Brāhman disguised in female form heard this he went on to say:

“My friend, these are violent symptoms of love; I have felt them myself, I will not conceal it from you.”

When he said this, Mṛgāṅkavatī went on slowly to say:

“Friend, I love you as my life, so why should I not say what I think it is time to reveal? Could anyone by any artifice be introduced into this palace?”

When the pupil of that master-rogue heard this, he took her meaning, and said to her:

“If this is the state of affairs, then I have something to tell you. I have a boon from Viṣṇu, by which I can at pleasure become a man during the night, so I will now become one for your sake.”

So he took the pill out of his mouth, and displayed himself to her as a handsome man in the prime of youth. And so the Brāhman lived with the wife of the minister’s son, becoming a woman in the day, and resuming his male form at night. But hearing in a few days that the son of the minister was on the point of returning, he took the precaution of eloping with her from that house during the night.

At this point in the story, it happened that his teacher, Mūladeva, heard all the circumstances; so he again assumed the form of an old Brāhman, and accompanied by his friend Śaśin, who had assumed the form of a young Brāhman, he went and respectfully said to King Yaśaḥketu:

“I have brought back my son; so give me my daughter-in-law.”

Then the king, who was afraid of being cursed, deliberated and said to him:

“Brāhman, I do not know where your daughter-in-law has gone, so forgive me; as I am in fault, I will give you my own daughter for your son.”

When the king had said this to that prince of rogues, disguised in the form of an old Brāhman, who asserted his false claim with the sternness of assumed anger, he gave his daughter with all due ceremonies to his friend Śaśin, who pretended to be the supposed Brāhman’s son. Then Mūladeva took the bride and bridegroom, who had been thus united, off to his own home, without showing any desire for the king’s wealth.

And there Manaḥsvāmin met them, and a fierce dispute took place between him and Śaśin in the presence of that Mūladeva. Manaḥsvāmin said:

“This Śaśiprabhā should be given to me, for long ago, when she was a maiden, I married her by the favour of the master.”

Śaśin said:

“You fool, what have you to do with her? She is my wife, for her father bestowed her on me in the presence of the fire.”

So they went on wrangling about the princess, whom they had got hold of by means of magic, and their dispute was never decided.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

“So tell me, King, to which of the two does that wife belong? Resolve my doubt. The conditions of non-compliance are those which I mentioned before.”

When King Trivikramasena was thus addressed by the Vetāla on his shoulder, he gave him this answer:

“I consider that the princess is the lawful wife of Śaśin, since she was openly given to him by her father in the lawful way. But Manaḥsvāmin married her in an underhand way, like a thief, by the gāndharva rite; and a thief has no lawful title to the possessions of another.”

When the Vetāla heard this answer of the king’s, he quickly left his shoulder, and went back to his own place, and the king hurried after him.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 222-233.—n.m.p.


His name means “Glory-banner.”—n.m.p.


His name, Manaḥsvāmin, would imply that he ought to be.


For gaja the Sanskrit College MS. reads mada.——For a note on elephants in the state of must see Vol. VI, pp.67n1, 68 n.—n.m.p.


The word siddha also means a class of demigods who travel through the sky: Śaśin means “moon.”


He does not swallow the pill, but keeps it in his mouth, as the sequel shows. Cf. the piece of wood, by the help of which Preziosa, in the Pentamerone, turns herself into a bear (see Burton's translation, vol. i, p. 185). As soon as she takes it out of her mouth she resumes her human form. —n.m.p.


Cf: Vol. I, p. 83.


See note, pp. 105-107.—n.m.p.


Cf. the story of Bandhudattā (Vol. Ill, p. 191), who turns her lover into a monkey by placing a cord round his neck.—n.m.p.


For the ten stages of love-sickness see Vol. II, pp.9n2, 10 n.


Here the MS. in the Sanskrit College has mantrināśe mūlanāśād rakṣyā dharmakṣatir dhruvaṃ, which means, “we should certainly try to prevent virtue from perishing by the destruction of its root in the destruction of the minister.”


Read with the D. text... tavādya tan, “... from hence the righteousness or injustice is yours”—n.m.p.

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