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 fetched the Vetāla from the top of the śiṃśapā tree, and put him on his shoulder, and as he was going along, the Vetāla said to him on the way:

“King, you are good and brave, so hear this matchless tale.


163g (22). The Four Brāhman Brothers who resuscitated the Lion[1]

There lived once on the earth a king, named Dharaṇīvarāha, who was lord of the town of Pāṭaliputra.[2] In his realm, which abounded in Brāhmans, there was a royal grant to Brāhmans named Brahmasthala; and on it there lived a Brāhman of the name of Viṣṇusvāmin. He had a wife that was as well suited to him as the oblation to the fire. And in course of time he had four sons by her. And when they had learned the Vedas, and passed their childhood, Viṣṇusvāmin went to heaven, and his wife followed him.

Then all his sons there, being in a miserable state, as they had no protectors, and having had all their property taken from them by their relations, deliberated together, and said: “We have no means of support here, so why should we not go hence to the house of our maternal grandfather in the village named Yajñasthala?”

Having determined on this, they set out, living on alms, and after many days they reached the house of their maternal grandfather. Their grandfather was dead, but their mother’s brothers gave them shelter and food, and they lived in their house, engaged in reading the Vedas. But after a time, as they were paupers, their uncles came to despise them, and neglected to supply them with food, clothes and other necessaries.

Then their hearts were wounded by the manifest contempt shown for them by their relations, and they brooded over it in secret, and then the eldest brother said to the rest:

“Well! brothers, what are we to do? Destiny performs everything; no man can do anything in this world at any place or time. For to-day, as I was wandering about in a state of distraction, I reached a cemetery; and in it I saw a man lying dead on the ground, with all his limbs relaxed.

And when I saw him I envied his state, and I said to myself:

‘Fortunate is this man, who is thus at rest, having got rid of his burden of grief.’

Such was the reflection that then occurred to me. So I determined to die, and I tried to hang myself by means of a rope fastened to the branch of a tree. I became unconscious, but my breath did not leave my body; and while I was in this state the rope broke, and I fell to the earth. And as soon as I recovered consciousness I saw that some compassionate man was fanning me with his garment.

He said to me:

‘Friend, say, why do you allow yourself to be thus afflicted, though you are wise? For joy springs from good deeds, and pain from evil deeds; these are their only sources. If your agitation is due to pain, then perform good deeds. How can you be so foolish as to desire to incur the pains of hell by suicide?’

With these words that man consoled me, and then departed somewhere or other; but I have come here, having abandoned my design of committing suicide. So you see that, if Destiny is adverse, it is not even possible to die. Now I intend to go to some holy water, and there consume my body with austerities, in order that I may never again endure the misery of poverty.”

When the eldest brother said this, his younger brothers said to him:

“Sir, why are you, though wise, afflicted with pain merely because you are poor? Do you not know that riches pass away like an autumn cloud. Who can ever count on retaining fortune or a fickle woman, though he carry them off and guard them carefully, for both are insincere in their affection and secretly hostile to their possessor? So a wise man must acquire by vigorous exertion some eminent accomplishment, which will enable him frequently to bind[3] and lead home by force riches, which are like bounding deer.”

When the eldest brother was addressed in this language by his brothers, he at once recovered his self-control, and said:

“What accomplishment of this kind should we acquire?”

Then they all considered and said to one another:

“We will search through the earth and acquire some magic power.”

So having adopted this resolution, and fixed upon a trysting-place at which to meet, the four separated, going east, west, north and south.

And in course of time they met again at the appointed spot, and asked one another what each had learned. Then one of them said:

“I have learned this magic secret: if I find a bit of a bone of any animal, I can immediately produce on it the flesh of that animal.”

When the second heard this speech of his brother’s, he said:

“When the flesh of any animal has been superinduced upon a piece of bone, I know how to produce the skin and hair appropriate to that animal.”

Then the third said:

“And when the hair and flesh and skin have been produced, I am able to create the limbs of the animal to which the bone belonged.”

And the fourth said:

“When the animal has its limbs properly developed, I know how to endow it with life.”

When they had said this to one another, the four brothers went into the forest to find a piece of bone on which to display their skill. There it happened that they found a piece of a lion’s bone, and they took it up without knowing to what animal it belonged. Then the first covered it with the appropriate flesh, and the second in the same way produced on it all the requisite skin and hair, and the third completed the animal by giving it all its appropriate limbs and it became a lion, and then the fourth endowed it with life. Then it rose up a very terrible lion, furnished with a dense shaggy mane, having a mouth formidable with teeth,[4] and with hooked claws at the end of its paws. And charging the four authors of its being, it slew them on the spot, and then retired glutted to the forest. So those Brāhmans perished by making the fatal mistake of creating a lion; for who can give joy to his own soul by raising up a noisome beast?

So, if Fate be not propitious, an accomplishment, though painfully acquired, not only does not bring prosperity, but actually brings destruction. For the tree of valour only bears fruit, as a general rule, when the root, being uninjured,[5] is watered with the water of wisdom, and when it is surrounded with the trench of policy.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla, sitting on the shoulder of the king, had told this tale on the way, that night, to King Trivikramasena, he went on to say to him:

“King, which of these four was guilty in respect of the production of the lion, that slew them all? Tell me quickly, and remember that the old condition is still binding on you.”

When the king heard the Vetāla say this, he said to himself:

“This demon wishes me to break silence, and so to escape from me. Never mind, I will go and fetch him again.”

Having formed this resolution in his heart, he answered that Vetāla:

“That one among them who gave life to the lion is the guilty one. For they produced the flesh, the skin, the hair and the limbs by magic power, without knowing what kind of animal they were making; and therefore no guilt attaches to them on account of their ignorance. But the man who, when he saw that the animal had a lion’s shape, gave life to it, in order to display his skill, was guilty of the death of those Brāhmans.”

When the mighty Vetāla heard this speech of the king’s, he again left his shoulder by magic power and went back to his own place, and the king again went in pursuit of him.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 258-260.—n.m.p.


I read with the Sanskrit College MS. Kusumapurākhyanagareśvaraḥ. But Kusumapurākhye nagare svarāṭ, the reading of Professor Brockhaus’ text, would mean “an independent monarch in the city of Pāṭaliputra,” and would give almost as good a sense.


I follow the Sanskrit College MS., which reads baddhvā for buddhyā.


The Sanskrit College MS. gives the reading sadaṃṣṭrāsaṅkaṭamukhaḥ, which I follow.


I read avikṛte, with the Sanskrit College MS.

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