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 and took the Vetāla from the śiṃśapā tree, and putting him on his shoulder set out with him; and as he was returning from the tree, the Vetāla once more said to him:

“Listen, King. I will tell you a delightful tale.

163g (19). The Thief’s Son[1]

There is a city named Vakrolaka, equal to the city of the gods; in it there dwelt a king named Sūryaprabha, equal to Indra. He, like Viṣṇu, rescued this earth, and bore it a long time on his arm, gladdening all men by his frame ever ready to bear their burdens.[2] In the realm of that king tears were produced only by contact with smoke; there was no talk of death except in the case of the living death of starved lovers, and the only fines were the fine gold sticks in the hands of his warders. He was rich in all manner of wealth, and he had only one source of grief—namely, that, though he had many wives, no son was born to him.

Now, at this point of the story, there was a merchant, of the name of Dhanapāla, in the great city of Tāmraliptī, the wealthiest of the wealthy. And he had born to him one daughter only, and her name was Dhanavatī, who was shown by her beauty to be a Vidyādharī fallen by a curse. When she grew up to womanhood, the merchant died; and his relations seized his property, as the king did not interfere to protect it.[3]

Then the wife of that merchant, who was named Hiraṇyavatī, took her own jewels and ornaments, which she had carefully concealed, and left her house secretly at the beginning of the night, with her daughter Dhanavatī, and fled, to escape from her husband’s relations. And with difficulty did she get outside the town, leaning upon the hand of her daughter, for without her was the darkness of night, and within her the darkness of grief. And as she went along in the thick darkness outside the town, it chanced, so fate would have it, that she ran her shoulder against a thief impaled on a stake, whom she did not see.

He was still alive, and his pain being aggravated by the blow he received from her shoulder, he said:

“Alas! who has rubbed salt into my wounds?”

The merchant’s wife then and there said to him: “Who are you?”

He answered her:

“I am a detected thief impaled here,[4] and though I am impaled, my breath has not yet left my body, wicked man that I am. So tell me, lady, who you are and whither you are going in this manner.”

When the merchant’s wife heard this, she told him her story; and at that moment the eastern quarter adorned her face with the outshining moon, as with a beauty-patch.

Then, all the horizon being lighted up, the thief saw the merchant’s daughter, the maiden Dhanavatī, and said to her mother:

“Listen to one request of mine: I will give you a thousand pieces of gold; come, give me this maiden daughter of yours to wife.”

She laughed, and said: “What do you want with her?”

Then the thief replied:

“I am now as good as dead, and I have no son; and you know, a sonless man does not inherit the worlds of bliss. But, if you agree to my proposal, whatever son she may give birth to by my appointment, whoever may be his father, will be the issue raised up to me. This is the reason why I ask for her, but do you accomplish that desire of mine.”

When the merchant’s widow heard this, she consented to it out of avarice.

And she brought water from somewhere or other, and poured it on the hand of that thief, and said:

“I give you this my maiden daughter in marriage.”

He then gave to her daughter the command aforesaid, and then said to the merchant’s widow:

“Go and dig at the foot of this banyan-tree, and take the gold you find there; and when I am dead, have my body burned with the usual ceremonies, and throw my bones into some sacred water, and go with your daughter to the city of Vakrolaka. There the people are made happy by good government under King Sūryaprabha, and you will be able to live as you like, free from anxiety, as you will not be persecuted.”

When the thief had said this, being thirsty he drank some water which she brought; and his life came to an end, spent with the torture of impalement.

Then the merchant’s widow went and took the gold from the foot of the banyan-tree, and went secretly with her daughter to the house of a friend of her husband’s; and while she was there, she managed to get that thief’s body duly burned, and had his bones thrown into sacred water, and all the other rites performed. And the next day she took that concealed wealth and went off with her daughter, and travelling along reached in course of time that city Vakrolaka. There she bought a house from a great merchant named Vasudatta, and lived in it with her daughter, Dhanavatī.

Now at that time there lived in that city a teacher of the name of Viṣṇusvāmin. And he had a pupil, a very handsome Brāhman, of the name of Manaḥsvāmin. And he, though he was of high birth, and well educated, was so enslaved by the passions of youth that he fell in love with a courtesan of the name of Hamsāvalī. But she demanded a fee of five hundred gold dīnārs, and he did not possess this sum, so he was in a state of perpetual despondency.

And one day that merchant’s daughter, Dhanavatī, saw him from the top of her palace, such as I have described, with attenuated but handsome frame.

Her heart was captivated by his beauty; so she called to mind the injunction of that thief her husband, and artfully said to her mother, who was near her:

“Mother, behold the beauty and youth of this young Brāhman, how charming they are, raining nectar into the eyes of the whole world.”

When that merchant’s widow heard this, she saw that her daughter was in love with the young Brāhman, and she thought thus in her mind:

“My daughter is bound by the orders of her husband to choose some man, in order to raise up issue to her husband, so why should she not invite this one?”

When she had gone through these reflections, she entrusted her wish to a confidential maid, and sent her to bring the Brāhman for her daughter.

The maid went and took that Brāhman aside, and communicated her mistress’s wish to him, and that young and dissolute Brāhman said to her:

“If they will give me five hundred gold dīnārs for Hamsāvalī, I will go there for one night.”

When he said this to the maid, she went and communicated it to the merchant’s widow, and she sent the money to him by her hand. When Manaḥsvāmin had received the money, he went with the maid to the private apartments of the widow’s daughter, Dhanavatī, who had been made over to him. Then he saw that expectant fair one, the ornament of the earth, as the partridge beholds the moonlight, and rejoiced; and after passing the night there, he went away secretly next morning.

And Dhanavatī, the merchant’s daughter, became pregnant by him, and in due time she brought forth a son, whose auspicious marks foreshadowed his lofty destiny. She and her mother were much pleased at the birth of a son; and then Śiva manifested himself to them in a dream by night, and said to them:

“Take this boy, as he lies in his cradle, and leave him, with a thousand gold pieces, early in the morning, at the door of King Sūryaprabha. In this way all will turn out well.”

The merchant’s widow and the merchant’s daughter, having received this command from Śiva, woke up, and told one another their dream. And relying upon the god, they took the boy and the gold, and laid them together at the gate of King Sūryaprabha’s palace.[5]

In the meanwhile Śiva thus commanded in a dream King Sūryaprabha, who was tormented with anxiety to obtain a son:

“Rise up, King, somebody has placed at the gate of your palace a handsome child and some gold, take him as he lies in his cradle.”

When Śiva had said this to the king, he woke up in the morning, and at that moment the warders came in and told him the same, and so he went out himself, and seeing at the gate of the palace that boy with a heap of gold, and observing that he was of auspicious appearance, having his hands and feet marked with the line, the umbrella, the banner and other marks, he said, “Śiva has given me a suitable child,” and he himself took him up in his arms, and went into the palace with him. And he made a feast, and gave away an incalculable amount of wealth, so that only the word “poor” was without its proper wealth of signification. And King Sūryaprabha spent twelve days in music, and dancing, and other amusements, and then he gave that son the name of Candraprabha.

And gradually Prince Candraprabha increased in stature as well as in excellent character, delighting his dependents by both. And in course of time he grew up, and became capable of bearing the weight of the earth, winning over the subjects by his courage, his generosity, his learning and other accomplishments. And his father, King Sūryaprabha, seeing that he possessed these qualities, appointed him his successor in the kingdom, and being an old man, and having accomplished all his ends in life, he went to Vārāṇasī. And while that son of his, distinguished for policy, was ruling the earth, he abandoned his body at Vārāṇasī, in the performance of severe asceticism.

And that pious King Candraprabha, hearing of the death of his father, lamented for him, and performed the usual ceremonies, and then said to his ministers:

“How can I ever pay my debt to my father? However I will make one recompense to him with my own hand. I will take his bones and duly fling them into the Ganges, and I will go to Gayā, and offer an obsequial cake to all the ancestors, and I will diligently perform a pilgrimage to all sacred waters, as far as the eastern sea.”

When the king said this, his ministers said to him:

“Your Majesty, kings ought never to do these things, for sovereignty has many weak points, and cannot subsist a moment without being upheld. So you must pay this debt to your father by the instrumentality of another. What visiting of holy waters, other than the doing of your duty, is incumbent upon you? Kings, who are ever carefully guarded, have nothing to do with pilgrimage, which is exposed to many dangers.”

When King Candraprabha heard this speech of his ministers he answered them:

“Away with doubts and hesitations! I must certainly go for my father’s sake; and I must visit the sacred waters while I am young and strong enough. Who knows what will take place hereafter, for the body perishes in a moment? And you must guard my kingdom until I return.”

When the ministers heard this resolve of the king’s they remained silent. So the king got ready all the requisites for the journey.

Then, on an auspicious day, the king bathed, made offerings to the fire, gave complimentary presents to Brāhmans, and ascended a chariot to which the horses were yoked, subdued in spirit and wearing the dress of an ascetic,[6] and started on his pilgrimage. With difficulty did he induce the feudal chiefs, the Rājpūts, the citizens and the country people, who followed him as far as the frontier, to return, much against their will; and so, throwing the burden of his realm upon his ministers, King Candraprabha set out in the company of his private chaplain, attended by Brāhmans in chariots. He was diverted by beholding various garbs, and hearing various languages, and by the other distractions of travel; and so, seeing on his way all kinds of countries, in course of time he reached the Ganges. And he gazed upon that river, which seemed with the ridges of its waves to be making a ladder for mortals to ascend into heaven by; and which might be said to imitate Ambikā, since it sprang from the mountain Himavat, and playfully pulled in its course the hair of Śiva, and was worshipped by the divine Rishis and the Gaṇas. So he descended from his chariot, and bathed in that river, and threw into it, in accordance with pious custom, the bones of King Sūryaprabha.

And after he had given gifts, and performed the śrāddha,[7] he ascended the chariot, and set out, and in course of time reached Prayāga,[8] celebrated by Rishis, where the meeting streams of the Ganges and Yamunā gleam for the welfare of men, like the line of flame and the line of smoke of the sacrificial butter blending together.

There King Candraprabha fasted, and performed, with various pious actions, such as bathing, distribution of wealth, and so on, the solemn ceremony of the śrāddha, and then he went on to Vārāṇasī, which seemed by the silken banners of its temples, tossed up and down by gusts of wind, to cry out from afar:

“Come and attain salvation.”

In that city he fasted for three days, and then worshipped Śiva with various meat-offerings, as became his own rank, and then set out for Gayā. As he travelled through the woods, the trees, which were bent down by the weight of their fruit, and in which the birds were sweetly singing, seemed at every step to be bowing before him and praising him at the same time; and the winds, throwing about the woodland flowers, seemed to honour him with posies. And so he crossed the forest districts and reached the sacred hill of Gayā. [see note on the glories of Gayā] And there he duly performed a śrāddha, in which he bestowed many gifts on Brāhmans, and then he entered the Holy Wood. And while he was offering the sacrificial cake to his father in the well of Gayā there rose out of it three human hands to take the cake.

When the king saw this, he was bewildered, and said to his own Brāhmans:

“What does this mean? Into which hand am I to put the cake?”

They said to him:

“King, this hand, in which an iron spike is seen, is certainly the hand of a thief; and this second hand, which holds a colander,[9] is the hand of a Brāhman; and this third hand, which has a ring and the auspicious marks, is the hand of a king. So we do not know into which hand the sacrificial cake is to be put, or what it all means.”

When the Brāhmans said this to the king, he was unable to arrive at any certain decision.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

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

“Now into whose hand should the cake have been put? Let your Highness tell me that; and remember the previous condition is still binding on you.”

When King Trivikramasena, who was well versed in law, heard this from the Vetāla, he broke silence, and answered him:

“The sacrificial cake should have been placed in the hand of the thief, for King Candraprabha was his son, raised up to him by his appointment, and he was not the son of either of the other two. For though the Brāhman begot him, he cannot be considered his father, as he sold himself for money for that one night. However, he might have been considered the son of King Sūryaprabha, because he had the sacraments performed for him, and brought him up, if the king had not received his wealth for this purpose. For the gold which was placed at the head of the child in the cradle was the price paid to King Sūryaprabha for bringing him up, and other services. Accordingly King Candraprabha was the son, begotten by another man, of that thief, who received his mother with the pouring of water over the hands, who gave the order for his being begotten, and to whom all that wealth belonged; and he ought to have placed the sacrificial cake in the thief’s hand; this is my opinion.”

When the king said this, the Vetāla left his shoulder, and went to his own place, and King Trivikramasena again went after him to bring him back.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 24.9, 250. —n.m.p.


It also means, in the case of Viṣṇu, “by his incarnation in the form of a boar.”


Both the D. text and also the corresponding passage in Kṣemendra read the contrary to the B. text—namely, that it was his relations, backed by the king, who tried to seize the wife’s inheritance. See Speyer, op. cit., p. 136. —N.M.P.


There is probably a pun in sūchitaḥ.


So in the legend of Pope Gregory the child is exposed with a sum of gold at its head, and a sum of silver at its feet (English Gesta, edited by Herrtage, No. lxi). The story will also be found in Simrock’s Deutsche Volks-biicher, vol. xi; here we have the gold and silver, as in the Gesta. See also No. 85 in Gonzenbach’s Sicilianishe Märchen, with Dr Köhler’s notes. Cf. Nos. v and vi in Prym and Socin’s Syrische Märchen for stories of exposed children who attain wealth and power.——In folk-tales the “exposed child” is usually set adrift on a river by jealous relations, and subsequently rises to great prosperity. For this widely spread motif see Chauvin, op. cit., vii, p. 95 et seq., and Cosquin, “Le Lait de la Mère et le Coffre Flottant,” Etudes Folkloriques pp. 19. 9 - 264.—n.m.p.


I read with the Sanskrit College MS. prayataḥ for prayātaḥ. The latter reading, however, gives a fair sense. In si. 67 I read tiṣṭhaty.


See Vol. I, p. 5n1.—n.m.p.


The modern Allahabad. See Vol. II, p. 110n1, and Vol. IV, p. 166n1.—N.M.P.


Used for filtering the soma-juice, see Böhtlingk and Roth, s.v.

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