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 brave King Trivikramasena went back once more to the śiṃśapā tree, and taking the Vetāla from it, carried him off on his shoulder. And when he had set out, the Vetāla said to him, from his perch on his shoulder:

“Listen, King; to cheer your toil, I will tell you the following tale.

163g (17). The Beautiful Unmādinī[1]

There was a city of the name[2] of Kanakapura situated on the bank of the Ganges, in which the bounds of virtue were never transgressed, and which was inaccessible to the demon Kali. In it there was a king rightly named Yaśodhana, who, like a rocky coast, protected the earth against the sea of calamity. When Destiny framed him, she seemed to blend together the moon and the sun, for although he delighted the world, the heat of his valour was scorching, and the circle of his territory never waned. This king was unskilled[3] in slandering his neighbour, but skilled in the meaning of the Śāstras, he showed poverty in crime, not in treasure and military force. His subjects sang of him as one afraid only of sin, covetous only of glory, averse to the wives of others, all compact of valour, generosity and love.

In that capital of that sovereign there was a great merchant, and he had an unmarried daughter, named Unmādinī. Whoever there beheld her was at once driven mad by the wealth of her beauty, which was enough to bewilder even the God of Love himself.

And when she attained womanhood, her politic father, the merchant, went to King Yaśodhana, and said to him:

“King, I have a daughter to give in marriage, who is the pearl of the three worlds; I dare not give her away to anyone else, without informing your Majesty. For to your Majesty belong all the jewels on the whole earth, so do me the favour of accepting or rejecting her.”

When the king heard this report from the merchant, he sent off, with due politeness, his own Brāhmans, to see whether she had auspicious marks or not. The Brāhmans went and saw that matchless beauty of the three worlds, and were at once troubled and amazed; but when they had recovered their self-control they reflected:

“If the king gets hold of this maiden the kingdom will be ruined, for his mind will be thrown off its balance by her, and he will not regard his kingdom; so we must not tell the king that she possesses auspicious marks.”

When they had deliberated to this effect,[4] they went to the king, and said falsely to him:

“She has inauspicious marks.”

Accordingly the king declined to take that merchant’s daughter as his wife.

Then, by the king’s orders, the merchant, the father of the maiden Unmādinī, gave her in marriage to the commander of the king’s forces, named Baladhara. And she lived happily with her husband in his house, but she thought that she had been dishonoured by the king’s abandoning her on account of her supposed inauspicious marks.

And as time went on, the lion of spring came to that place, slaying the elephant of winter, that, with flowering jasmine creepers for tusks, had ravaged the thick-clustering lotuses. And it sported in the wood, with luxuriant clusters of flowers for mane, and with mango buds for claws. At that season King Yaśodhana, mounted on an elephant, went out to see the high festival of spring in that city of his. And then a warning drum was beaten, to give notice to all matrons to retire, as it was apprehended that the sight of his beauty might prove their ruin.

When Unmādinī heard that drum, she showed herself to the king on the roof of her palace, to revenge the insult he had offered her by refusing her. And when the king saw her, looking like a flame shooting up from the fire of love, when fanned by spring and the winds from the Malaya mountain, he was sorely troubled. And gazing on her beauty, that pierced deep into his heart, like a victorious dart of Kāma, he immediately swooned. His servants managed to bring him round, and when he had entered his palace he found out from them, by questioning them, that this was the very beauty who had been formerly offered to him, and whom he had rejected.

Then the king banished from his realm those who reported that she had inauspicious marks, and thought on her with longing, night after night, saying to himself:

“Ah! how dull of soul and shameless is the moon, that he continues to rise, while her spotless face is there, a feast to the eyes of the world!”

Thinking thus in his heart, the king, being slowly wasted by the smouldering fire of love, pined away day by day. But through shame he concealed the cause of his grief, and with difficulty was he induced to tell it to his confidential servants, who were led by external signs to question him.

Then they said:

“Why fret yourself? Why do you not take her to yourself, as she is at your command?”

But the righteous sovereign would not consent to follow their advice.

Then Baladhara, the commander-in-chief, heard the tidings, and, being truly devoted to him, he came and flung himself at the feet of his sovereign, and made the following petition to him:

“King, you should look upon this female slave as your slave girl, not as the wife of another; and I bestow her freely upon you, so deign to accept my wife. Or I will abandon her in the temple here; then, King, there will be no sin in your taking her to yourself, as there might be if she were a matron.”

When the commander-in-chief persistently entreated the king to this effect, the king answered him, with inward wrath:

“How could I, being a king, do such an unrighteous deed? If I desert the path of right, who will remain loyal to his duty? And how can you, though devoted to me, urge me to commit a crime, which will bring momentary pleasure,[5] but cause great misery in the next world? And if you desert your lawful wife I shall not allow your crime to go unpunished, for who in my position could tolerate such an outrage on morality? So death is for me the best course.”

With these words the king vetoed the proposal of the commander-in-chief, for men of noble character lose their lives sooner than abandon the path of virtue. And in the same way the resolute-minded monarch rejected the petition of his citizens, and of the country people, who assembled, and entreated him to the same effect.

Accordingly, the king’s body was gradually consumed by the fire of the grievous fever of love, and only his name and fame remained.[6] But the commander-in-chief could not bear the thought that the king’s death had been brought about in this way, so he entered the fire; for the actions of devoted followers are inexplicable.[7]


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla, sitting on the shoulder of King Trivikramasena, had told this wonderful tale, he again said to him:

“So tell me, King, which of these two was superior in loyalty, the general or the king; and remember, the previous condition still holds.”

When the Vetāla said this, the king broke silence, and answered him:

“Of these two the king was superior in loyalty.”

When the Vetāla heard this, he said to him reproachfully:

“Tell me, King, how can you make out that the general was not his superior? For, though he knew the charm of his wife’s society by long familiarity, he offered such a fascinating woman to the king out of love for him; and when the king was dead he burnt himself; but the king refused the offer of his wife without knowing anything about her.”

When the Vetāla said this to the king, the latter laughed, and said:

“Admitting the truth of this, what is there astonishing in the fact that the commander-in-chief, a man of good family, acted thus for his master’s sake, out of regard for him? For servants are bound to preserve their masters even by the sacrifice of their lives. But kings are inflated with arrogance, uncontrollable as elephants, and when bent on enjoyment they snap as under the chain of the moral law. For their minds are overweening, and all discernment is washed out of them when the waters of inauguration are poured over them, and is, as it were, swept away by the flood. And the breeze of the waving chowries fans away the atoms of the sense of scripture taught them by old men, as it fans away flies and mosquitoes. And the royal umbrella keeps off from them the rays of truth, as well as the rays of the sun; and their eyes, smitten by the gale of prosperity, do not see the right path. And so even kings that have conquered the world, like Nahuṣa and others, have had their minds bewildered by Māra, and have been brought into calamity. But this king, though his umbrella was paramount in the earth, was not fascinated by Unmādinī, fickle as the Goddess of Fortune; indeed, sooner than set his foot on the wrong path, he renounced his life altogether; therefore him I consider the more self-controlled of the two.”

When the Vetāla heard this speech of the king’s, he again rapidly quitted his shoulder by the might of his delusive power, and returned to his own place; and the king followed him swiftly, as before, to recover him: for how can great men leave off in the middle of an enterprise which they have begun, even though it be very difficult?

Footnotes and references:


See the Appendix, pp. 241-244.—n.m.p.


The Sanskrit College MS. reads prāg for nāma.


The Sanskrit College MS. gives māndyaṃ for maurkhyaṃ.


The Sanskrit College MS. gives maṅkṣu for mantraṃ.


Duḥkhāvahe, the reading of Brockhaus’ edition, is obviously a misprint for sukhāvahe,, which I find in the Sanskrit College MS.


May we compare this king to Daphnis, who τὸν αὐτῶ ἄνυε πικρὸν ἔρωτα καὶ ἐς τέλος ἄνυε μοίρας?


Cf. the behaviour of the followers of the Emperor Otho, who threw themselves on his pyre, after he had killed himself in his tent.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: