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 noble King Trivikramasena went back, and again took down that Vetāla from the śiṃśapā tree, and though the Vetāla transformed himself in all possible ways, he put him on his shoulder and started off with him in silence, and then the Vetāla said to him:

“King, though the business in which you are engaged is not becoming to you, you exhibit in it undaunted perseverance; so listen, I will tell you a tale to dispel your fatigue.


163g (23). The Hermit who first Wept and then Danced[1]

There is in the land of Kaliṅga a city named Śobhāvatī, like the city of Indra in heaven, the abode of those that act aright. It was ruled by a king named Pradyumna, whose sway was mighty, and who, like the god Pradyumna, was celebrated for his exceeding power and valour. The only detraction heard in his realm was that of the string from the bow, the only pressure that of the fingers on the cymbal; vice was only known in the name of the age,[2] and keenness only in the pursuit of knowledge.

In a certain part of that town there was a grant named Yajñasthala, given by that king, on which many Brāhmans were settled. There lived on it a very wealthy Brāhman who had mastered the Vedas, whose name was Yajñasoma. He maintained a sacrificial fire, and honoured guests and the gods. After his youth was past, there was born to him by his wife, who was in every way a suitable match for him, an only son, the child of a hundred wishes. And that promising boy grew up in his father’s house, and the Brāhmans duly called him Devasoma. And when he had attained the age of sixteen years, that boy, who captivated all by his knowledge, modesty and other good qualities, suddenly died of a fever. Then Yajñasoma, together with his wife, remained lovingly embracing that dead boy, and lamenting over him, and refused for a long time to let him be taken away to be burnt.

Then the old men assembled and reproved that Brāhman in the following words:

“Brāhman, are you not aware, though you know what is near and far, that the condition of this Fata Morgana of a world is frail as a bubble on water? Look at those kings who filled the earth with their armies, and enjoyed themselves in this world, deeming themselves immortal, lying on jewelled couches on the delightful summits of palaces, that resounded with the warbling of music, having their bodies anointed with sandalwood ointment and other fragrant unguents, and begirt with beautiful women. Even these no one could save from being consumed by flesh-devouring flames, lying alone on the funeral pyre in the cemetery, whither the dead are followed by weeping friends, and when their extremities had been shrivelled, from being at last devoured by the jackals: much less can any others escape this fate. So tell us, wise man, what mean you by embracing that corpse?”

Many other speeches of this kind did they address to him.

At last, with difficulty, his relations got him to stop clinging to his dead son; and then, after the body had been laid out, they put it on a bier, and with loud lamentations carried it to the burning-place, accompanied by many people, who shed tears on account of the calamity.

Now at that time there was dwelling in that cemetery an old Pāśupata ascetic possessing supernatural power, who lived in a hut. His name was Vāmaśiva. His body was emaciated with age and excessive asceticism, and bound round with veins, as if with fear that it would break. He was covered all over with hair white with ashes, his matted locks were yellow as lightning, and he looked like a second Śiva.

When that hermit heard in the distance the lamentation of those people outside his hut, he said to the pupil that lived with him:

“Rise up! go and find out the meaning of this confused noise outside in the cemetery, such as I never heard before, and come back quickly and tell me.”

Now this pupil was one who had taken a vow of living on the products of begging; he was a fool, and a rogue, and an egoist, puffed up with contemplation, magical powers and other things of the kind, and at this time he was annoyed because his teacher had rebuked him.

So, when his teacher gave him this order, he answered him:

“I will not go! Go yourself, for my time for begging is fast slipping away.”

When the teacher heard that, he said:

“Out on you, fool, devoted to your belly! Only half one watch of the day has passed; how can it be your time for begging now?”

When the wicked pupil heard that he was angry, and said to his teacher:

“Out on you, you decrepit old creature! I am no longer your pupil, and you are no longer my teacher. I will go elsewhere: carry this vessel yourself.”

When he had said this, he put down in front of him his stick and water-vessel, and got up and went away.

Then the hermit left his hut, laughing as he went, and came to the place where the young Brāhman had been brought to be buried. And when the hermit saw him with the people lamenting for the flower of his youth, being afflicted with old age, and possessed of magical powers, he determined to enter his body. So he quickly went aside, and first wept aloud, and immediately afterwards he danced with appropriate gesticulations. Then the ascetic, longing to be young again, abandoned his own body, and at once entered by magic power that young Brāhman’s body. And immediately the young Brāhman on the pyre, which was ready prepared, returned to life, and rose up with a yawn. When his relations and all the people saw that, they raised a loud shout of “Hurrah! he is alive! he is alive!”

Then that ascetic, who was a mighty sorcerer, and had thus entered the young Brāhman’s body, not intending to abandon his vow, told them all the following falsehood:

“Just now, when I went to the other world, Śiva himself restored my life to me, telling me that I must take upon me the vow of a Pāśupata ascetic. And I must this moment go into a solitary place and support this vow, otherwise I cannot live; so depart you, and I also will depart.”

Saying this to all those present, the resolute votary, bewildered with mixed feelings of joy and grief, dismissed them to their own homes. And he himself went and threw that former body of his into a ravine; and so that great magician, who had taken the vow, having become young, went away to another place.


163g. King Trivikramasena and the Mendicant

When the Vetāla had told this story that night on the way, he again said to King Trivikramasena:

“Tell me, King, why did that mighty magician, when entering another body, first weep, and then dance? I have a great desire to know this.”

When that king, who was a chief of sages, heard this question of the Vetāla’s, fearing the curse, he broke silence, and gave him this answer:

“Hear what the feelings of that ascetic were. He was grieved because he thought that he was just going to abandon that body, which had grown up with him through many years, by living in which he had acquired magic power, and which his parents had fondled when he was a child, so he wept violently, for affection for one’s body is a deeply rooted feeling. But he danced for joy because he thought that he was about to enter a new body, and that by means of that he would acquire greater magic power; for to whom is not youth pleasing?”

When the Vetāla, who was inside that corpse, heard this speech of the king’s, he left his shoulder and went back to that śiṃśapā tree; but that exceedingly undaunted monarch again ran after him to recover him, for the resolution of determined men surpasses in firmness the mighty mountains, and remains unshaken even at the end of a kalpa.

Footnotes and references:


See Appendix, pp. 260, 261.—n.m.p.


Guṇa means “virtue” and also “string”; kara, “finger” and “tribute”; the kaliyuga, or “age of vice,” is the last and worst. Vaikṛtaṃ in śl. 2 may perhaps mean “anger,” as in 79 Śl. 2: see Böhtlingk and Roth s.v.

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