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 went and took down that Vetāla from the śiṃśapā tree, and, putting him on his shoulder, started off with him again. And when he had set out in silence, the Vetāla spake to him from his shoulder:

“King, what is the meaning of this persistency of yours? Go, enjoy the good of the night; it is not fitting that you should carry me to that wicked mendicant. However, if you are obstinately bent on it, so be it; but listen to this one story.


163g (20). The Brāhman Boy who offered himself up to save the Life of the King[1]

There is a city called Citrakūṭa,[2] rightly so named, where the established divisions of the castes never step across the strict line of demarcation. In it there lived a king, named Candrāvaloka, the crest-jewel of kings, who rained showers of nectar into the eyes of those devoted to him. Wise men praised him as the binding-post of the elephant of valour, the fountain-head of generosity and the pleasure-pavilion of beauty. There was one supreme sorrow in the heart of that young prince, that, though he enjoyed all kinds of prosperity, he could not obtain a suitable wife.

Now, one day, the king, accompanied by mounted attendants, went out to a great forest to hunt, in order to dispel that sorrow. There he cleft with continual shafts the herds of wild swine, as the sun, shining in the dun sky,[3] disperses the darkness with his rays. Surpassing Arjuna in strength, he made the lions, impetuous in fight, and terrible with their yellow manes, repose upon beds of arrows. Like Indra in might, he stripped of their wings[4] the mountain-like Śarabhas, and laid them low with the blows of his darts hard as the thunderbolt. In the ardour of the chase he felt a longing to penetrate into the centre of the wood alone, so he urged on his horse with a smart blow of his heel. The horse, being exceedingly excited by that blow of his heel, and by a stroke of the whip, cared neither for rough nor smooth, but darting on with a speed exceeding that of the wind, in a moment traversed ten yojanas, and carried the king, the functions of whose senses were quite paralysed, to another forest.

There the horse stopped, and the king, having lost his bearings, roamed about wearied, until he saw near him a broad lake, which seemed to make signs to him to approach with its lotuses, that, bent down towards him and then raised again by the wind, seemed like beckoning hands.[5] So he went up to it, and relieved his horse by taking off its saddle and letting it roll, and bathed and watered it, and then tied it up in the shade of a tree, and gave it a heap of grass. Then he bathed himself, and drank water, and so he dispelled his fatigue, and then he let his eye wander hither and thither in the delightful environs of the lake. And in one part he saw, at the foot of an aśoka tree, a wonderfully beautiful hermit’s daughter, accompanied by her friend. She wore garlands of flowers, and a dress of bark, which became her well. And she looked exceedingly charming on account of the elegant way in which her hair was plaited together after the hermit fashion.

And the king, who had now fallen within the range of the arrows of love, said to himself:

“Who can this be? Can it be Sāvitrī come to bathe in the lake? Or can it be Gaurī, who has slipped away from the arms of Śiva, and again betaken herself to asceticism?  Or can it be the beauty of the moon that has taken upon herself a vow, as the moon has set, now that it is day? So I had better approach her quietly and find out.”

Having thus reflected, the king approached that maiden.

But when she saw him coming, her eyes were bewildered by his beauty, and her hand relaxed its grasp on the garland of flowers, which she had before begun to weave, and she said to herself:

“Who is this that has found his way into such a wood as this? Is he a Siddha or a Vidyādhara? In truth his beauty might satisfy the eyes of the whole world.”

When these thoughts had passed through her mind she rose up, and modestly looking askance at him she proceeded to go away, though her legs seemed to want all power of movement,

Then the polite and dexterous monarch approached her and said:

“Fair one, I do not ask you to welcome and entertain a person seen for the first time, who has come from a distance, and desires no fruit other than that of beholding you; but how is your running away from him to be reconciled with the obligations of hermit life?”

When the king said this, the lady’s attendant, who was equally dexterous, sat down there, and entertained the king.

Then the eager king said to her, with an affectionate manner:

“Worthy lady, what auspicious family is adorned by this friend of yours? What are the ear-nectar-distilling syllables of her name? And why does she torture in this wilderness, with the discipline appropriate to ascetics, her body, which is soft as a flower?”

When her friend heard this speech of the king’s she answered:

“This is the maiden daughter of the great hermit Kaṇva, borne to him by Menakā; she has been brought up in the hermitage, and her name is Indīvaraprabhā. She has come here to bathe in this lake by permission of her father, and her father’s hermitage is at no great distance from this place.”

When she said this to the king he was delighted, and he mounted his horse, and set out for the hermitage of the hermit Kaṇva, with the intention of asking him for that daughter of his. He left his horse outside the hermitage, and then he entered with modest humility its enclosure, which was full of hermits with matted hair, and coats of bark, thus resembling in appearance its trees. And in the middle of it he saw the hermit Kaṇva surrounded with hermits, delighting the eye with his brightness, like the moon surrounded with planets. So he went up to him, and worshipped him, embracing his feet.

The wise hermit entertained him and dispelled his fatigue, and then lost no time in saying to him:

“My son Candrāvaloka, listen to the good advice which I am about to give you. You know how all living creatures in the world fear death: so why do you slay without cause these poor deer? The Disposer appointed the weapon of the warrior for the protection of the terrified. So rule your subjects righteously, root up your enemies, and secure fleeting Fortune and her gifts by the warlike training of horse, and elephant, and so on. Enjoy the delights of rule, give gifts, diffuse your fame through the world; but abandon the vice of hunting, the cruel sport of death. What is the profit of that mischievous hunting, in which slayer, victim and horse[6] are all equally beside themselves? Have you not heard what happened to Pāṇḍu?”

The intelligent King Candrāvaloka heard and accepted cheerfully this advice of the hermit Kaṇva, and then answered him:

“Reverend sir, I have been instructed by you; you have done me a great favour; I renounce hunting, let living creatures be henceforth free from alarm.”

When the hermit heard that, he said:

“I am pleased with you for thus granting security to living creatures; so choose whatever boon you desire.”

When the hermit said this, the king, who knew his time, said to him:

“If you are satisfied with me, then give your daughter Indīvaraprabhā.”

When the king made this request, the hermit bestowed on him his daughter, who had just returned from bathing, born from an Apsaras, a wife meet for him. Then the wives of the hermits adorned her, and the marriage was solemnised, and King Candrāvaloka mounted his horse and set out thence quickly, taking with him his wife, whom the ascetics followed as far as the limits of the hermitage with gushing tears. And as he went along, the sun, seeing that the action of that day had been prolonged,[7] sat down, as if wearied, on the peak of the mountain of setting. And in course of time appeared the gazelle-eyed nymph of night, overflowing with love, veiling her shape in a violet robe of darkness.

Just at that moment the king found on the road an aśvattha tree, on the bank of a lake, the water of which was transparent as a good man’s heart. And seeing that that spot was overshadowed with dense boughs and leaves, and was shady and grassy, he made up his mind that he would pass the night there. Then he dismounted from his horse, and gave it grass and water, and rested on the sandy bank of the lake, and drank water, and cooled himself in the breeze; and then he lay down with that hermit’s daughter, under that tree on a bed of flowers. And at that time the moon arose, and removing the mantle of darkness, seized and kissed the glowing face of the East. And all the quarters of the heaven were free from darkness, and gleamed, embraced and illuminated by the rays of the moon, so that there was no room for pride.[8] And so the beams of the moon entered the interstices in the bower of creepers, and lit up the space round the foot of the tree like jewel-lamps.

And the next morning the king left his bed, and, after the morning prayer, he made ready to set out with his wife to rejoin his army. And then the moon, that had in the night robbed the cheeks of the lotuses of their beauty, lost its brightness, and slunk, as if in fear, to the hollows of the western mountain; for the sun, fiery red with anger, as if desirous to slay it, lifted his curved sword in his outstretched fingers.[9] At that moment there suddenly came there a Brāhman demon, black as soot, with hair yellow as the lightning, looking like a thunder-cloud. He had made himself a wreath of entrails; he wore a sacrificial cord of hair; he was gnawing the flesh of a man’s head, and drinking blood out of a skull.

The monster, terrible with projecting tusks, uttered a horrible loud laugh, and vomiting fire with rage,[10] menaced the king in the following words:

“Villain! know that I am a Brāhman demon, Jvālāmukha by name, and this aśvattha tree my dwelling is not trespassed upon even by gods, but thou hast presumed to occupy and enjoy it with thy wife. So receive from me, returned from my nightly wanderings, the fruit of thy presumption. I, even I, O wicked one, will tear out and devour the heart of thee, whose mind love has overpowered, aye, and I will drink thy blood.”

When the king heard this dreadful threat, and saw that his wife was terrified, knowing that the monster was invulnerable, he humbly said to him in his terror:

“Pardon the sin which I have ignorantly committed against you, for I am a guest come to this your hermitage, imploring your protection. And I will give you what you desire, by bringing a human victim, whose flesh will glut your appetite; so be appeased, and dismiss your anger.”

When the Brāhman demon heard this speech of the king’s he was pacified, and said to himself:

“So be it! That will do.”

Then he said to the king:

“I will overlook the insult you have offered me on the following conditions. You must find a Brāhman boy, who, though seven years old and intelligent, is of so noble a character that he is ready to offer himself for your sake. And his mother and father must place him on the earth, and hold him firmly by the hands and feet, while he is being sacrificed. And when you have found such a human victim you must yourself slay him with a sword-stroke, and so offer him up to me, on the seventh day from this. If you comply with these conditions, well and good; but if not, King, I will in a moment destroy you and all your court.”

When the king heard this, in his terror he agreed at once to the conditions proposed, and the Brāhman demon immediately disappeared.

Then King Candrāvaloka mounted his horse, and set out with Indīvaraprabhā in quest of his army, in a state of the utmost despondency.

He said to himself:

“Alas, I, bewildered by hunting and love, have suddenly incurred destruction like Pāṇḍu[11]; fool that I am! For whence can I obtain for this Rākṣasa a victim such as he has described? So I will go in the meantime to my own town, and see what will happen.”

While thus reflecting, he met his own army, that had come in search of him, and with that and his wife he entered his city of Citrakūṭa. Then the whole kingdom rejoiced, when they saw that he had obtained a suitable wife, but the king passed the rest of the day in suppressed sorrow.

The next day he communicated to his ministers in secret all that had taken place, and a discreet minister among them said to him:

“Do not be downcast, King, for I will search for and bring you such a victim, for the earth contains many marvels.”

When the minister had consoled the king in these words, he had made with the utmost rapidity a golden image of a seven-years-old child, and he adorned its ears with jewels, and placed it on a chariot,[12] and had it carried about in the towns, villages and stations of herdsmen.

And while that image of a child was being carried about, the minister had the following proclamation continually made in front of it, with beat of drum:

“If a Brāhman boy of seven years old will willingly offer himself to a Brāhman demon for the good of the community, and if his mother and father will permit the brave boy to offer himself, and will hold his hands and feet while he is being slain, the king will give to that boy, who is so eager to benefit his parents as to comply with these conditions, this image of gold and gems, together with a hundred villages.”

Now it happened that a certain seven-years-old Brāhman boy, living on a royal grant to Brāhmans, who was of great courage and admirable character, heard this proclamation. Even in his childhood this boy had always taken pleasure in benefiting his fellow-men, as he had practised that virtue in a former life; in fact, he seemed like the ripe result of the merits of the king’s subjects incarnate in bodily form.

So he came and said to the men who were making this proclamation:

“I will offer myself up for your good; but first, I will go and inform my parents; then I will return to you.”

When he said this to them they were delighted, and they let him go. So he went home, and folding his hands in an attitude of supplication, he said to his parents:

“I wish to offer for the good of the community this perishable body of mine; so permit me to do so, and put an end to your poverty. For if I do so, the king will give me this image of myself, made of gold and gems, together with a hundred villages, and on receiving them I will make them over to you. In this way I shall pay my debt to you, and at the same time benefit my fellow-men; and your poverty will be at an end and you will have many sons to replace me.”

As soon as he had said this, his parents answered him:

“What is this that you say, son? Are you distracted with wind? Or are you planet-struck? Unless you are one of these, how could you talk in this wild way? Who would cause his son’s death for the sake of wealth? What child would sacrifice its body?”

When the boy heard this speech of his parents he rejoined:

“I do not speak from a disordered intellect; hear my speech, which is full of sense. This body, which is full of indescribable impurities, which is loathsome by its very birth, and the abode of pain, will soon perish[13] anyhow. So wise men say that the only solid and permanent thing in a fleeting universe is that merit which is acquired by means of this very frail and perishable body.[14] And what greater merit can there be than the benefiting of all creatures? So, if I do not show devotion to my parents, what fruit shall I reap from my body?”

By this speech, and others of the same kind, the resolute boy induced his weeping parents to consent to his wish. And he went to the king’s servants, and obtained from them that golden image, together with a grant of a hundred villages, and gave them to his parents. Then he made the king’s servants precede him, and went quickly, accompanied by his parents, to the king in Citrakūṭa.

Then King Candrāvaloka, beholding arrived the boy, whose courage[15] was so perfect, and who thus resembled a bright protecting talisman, was exceedingly delighted. So he had him adorned with garlands, and anointed with unguents, and, putting him on the back of an elephant, he took him with his parents to the abode of the Brāhman demon.

Then the chaplain drew a circle[16] near the aśvattha tree, and performed the requisite rites, and made an oblation to the fire. And then the Brāhman demon, Jvālāmukha, appeared, uttering a loud laugh, and reciting the Vedas. His appearance was very terrible; he was drunk with a full draught of blood, yawning, and panting frequently; his eyes blazed, and he darkened the whole horizon with the shadow of his body.

Then King Candrāvaloka, beholding him, bent before him, and said:

“Adorable one, I have brought you this human sacrifice, and it is now the seventh day, gentle sir, since I promised it you; so be propitious, receive this sacrifice, as is due.”

When the king made this request, the Brāhman demon looked at the Brāhman boy, licking the corners of his mouth with his tongue.[17]

At that moment the noble boy, in his joy, said to himself:

“Let not the merit which I acquire by this sacrifice of my body gain for me heaven, or even a salvation which involves no benefits to others, but may I be privileged to offer up my body for the benefit of others in birth after birth!”

While he was forming this aspiration, the heaven was suddenly filled with the chariots of the heavenly host, who rained flowers.

Then the boy was placed in front of the Brāhman demon, and his mother took hold of his hands and his father of his feet. Then the king drew his sword, and prepared to slay him; but at that moment the child laughed so loudly that all there, the Brāhman demon included, abandoned the occupation in which they were engaged, and in their astonishment put their palms together and, bowing, looked at his face.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla had told this entertaining and romantic tale, he once more put a question to King Trivikramasena:

“So tell me, King, what was the reason that the boy laughed in such an awful moment as that of his own death? I feel great curiosity to know it; so, if you know, and do not tell me, your head shall split into a hundred pieces.”

When the king heard this from the Vetāla, he answered him:

“Hear what was the meaning of that child’s laugh. It is well known that a weak creature, when danger comes upon it, calls upon its father or mother to save its life. And if its father and mother be gone, it invokes the protection of the king, who is appointed to succour the afflicted, and if it cannot obtain the aid of the king, it calls upon the deity under whose special protection it is. Now, in the case of that child, all those were present, and all behaved in exactly the opposite manner to what might have been expected of them. The child’s parents held its hands and feet out of greed of gain, and the king was eager to slay it to save his own life, and the Brāhman demon, its protecting deity, was ready to devour it. The child said to itself: ‘To think that these should be thus deluded, being led so much astray for the sake of the body, which is perishable, loathsome within, and full of pain and disease! Why should they have such a strange longing for the continuance of the body, in a world in which Brahmā, Indra, Viṣṇu, Śiva, and the other gods, must certainly perish.’ Accordingly the Brāhman boy laughed out of joy and wonder, joy at feeling that he had accomplished his object, and wonder at beholding the marvellous strangeness of their delusion.”

When the king had said this he ceased, and the Vetāla immediately left his shoulder and went back to his own place, disappearing by his magic power. But the king, without hesitating a moment, rapidly pursued him: the hearts of great men, as of great seas, are firm and unshaken.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 250-256.—n.m.p.


I.e. wonderful peak.


Here there is probably a pun. The phrase may mean that the king delighted in the dark grey skins of the pigs.


This alludes to Indra’s clipping with his bolts the wings of the mountains. The Śarabha is a fabulous eight-legged animal. See Vol. VI, p. 3n1.—N.M.P.


The natives in India beckon in this way.——This is the general practice not only in India but throughout the East. Our form of beckoning means “Go away!” to the Eastern. See Burton, Nights, vol. vi, p. 109n2.—n.m.p.


The Sanskrit College MS. reads vāhyasya, which I have followed.


The Sanskrit College MS. gives dūrādhva-gamana-klāntaṃ vikṣya tain nṛpatiṃ tadā: “having seen that the king was wearied with his long journey.”


The passage is full of puns: “darkness” means the quality of darkness in the mind; and “illuminated” means also “calmed”.


There is also an allusion to the circle of the sun’s rays.


This is another example of the “unintentional injuries” motif, which we have already had in No. 27 a, Vol. II, p. 147. To the references given in the note on that page I would add an ancient Egyptian story of the twelfth dynasty, called by Maspero (Popular Stories of the Ancient Egypts, p. 101), “The Shipwrecked Sailor.” After the hero has satisfied his hunger on the island he makes a fire-lighter, lights a fire, and offers a burnt-offering to the gods. Immediately a voice like thunder is heard, the earth trembles, and an enormous serpent appears. It commands him to say who has brought him to the island. In a note, Maspero suggests that among the plants collected for the fire there may have been some that acted as a summons to the genius loci, while he himself had no intention of performing a magic rite.—n.m.p.


See Vol. II, pp. 126, 127.


The B. text has a corrupted reading. For karṇe rathārpitāni it has karṇī-rathārpitām; thus we must translate “... and dressed it with ornaments, then he placed it in a palankeen.. See Speyer, op. cit., pp. 136, 137.—n.m.p.


Vināśyaiva should be vināśyeva.


I follow the Sanskrit College MS., which reads etenātyasāreṇa.


Tejas means “courage” and also “brightness.”


See Vol. II, p. 98n4 and Vol. III, p. 201 et. seq.—n.m.p.


Asṛkkaṇīṃ is probably a misprint for sṛkkaṇīṃ.{GL_NOTE:17:}

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