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 ...

163. Story of Mṛgāṅkadatta

THEN, the next morning, Mṛgāṅkadatta rose up from the shore of that beautiful lake, together with all his ministers, who had rejoined him, and in company with them, and the Brāhman Śrutadhi, set out for Ujjayinī, to win Śaśāṅkavatī, after he had paid his orisons to that tree of Gaṇeśa.[1]

Then the heroic prince, accompanied by his ministers, again crossed various stretches of woodland which contained many hundreds of lakes and were black with tamāla trees[2] throughout their whole expanse, looking like nights in the rainy season when the clouds collect; and others which had their canes broken by terrible infuriated elephants roaming through them, in which the arjuna trees formed a strong contrast to the tamāla trees,[3] and which thus resembled so many cities of King Virāṭa; and ravines of mighty mountains, which were pure, though strewn with flowers, and though frequented by subdued hermits were haunted by fierce beasts; and at last came near the city of Ujjayinī.

Then he reached the River Gandhavatī, and dispelled his fatigue by bathing in it; and after crossing it, he arrived with his companions in that cemetery of Mahākāla. There he beheld the image of mighty Bhairava, black with the smoke from neighbouring pyres, surrounded with many fragments of bones and skulls, terrible with the skeletons of men which it held in its grasp, worshipped by heroes, frequented by many troops of demons, dear to sporting witches.

And after crossing the cemetery, he beheld the city of Ujjayinī, a yuga old, ruled by King Karmasena. Its streets were watched by guards with various weapons, who were themselves begirt by many brave high-born Rājputs; it was surrounded with ramparts resembling the peaks of mighty mountains; it was crowded with elephants, horses and chariots, and hard for strangers to enter.

When Mṛgāṅkadatta beheld that city, which was thus inaccessible on every side, he turned his face away in despondency, and said to his ministers:

“Alas, ill-starred man that I am! though it has cost me hundreds of hardships to reach this city, I cannot even enter it: what chance then have I of obtaining my beloved?”

When they heard this, they said to him:

“What! Do you suppose, Prince, that this great city could ever be stormed by us, who are so few in number? We must think of some expedient to serve in this emergency, and an expedient will certainly be found: how comes it that you have forgotten that this expedition has frequently been enjoined by the gods?”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had been thus addressed by his ministers, he remained for some days roaming about outside the city.

Then his minister Vikramakeśarin called to mind that Vetāla which he had long ago won over, intending to employ him to fetch the prince’s love from her dwelling-house. And the Vetāla came, black in hue, tall, with a neck like a camel, elephant-faced, with legs like a bull, eyes like an owl, and the ears of an ass. But finding that he could not enter the city, he departed: the favour of Śiva secures that city against being invaded by such creatures.

Then the Brāhman Śrutadhi, who was versed in policy, said to Mṛgāṅkadatta, as he was sitting in gloom, surrounded by his ministers, longing in his heart to enter the city:

“Why, Prince, though you know the true principles of policy, do you remain bewildered, like one ignorant of them? Who will ever be victorious in this world by disregarding the difference between himself and his foe? For at every one of the four gates of this city two thousand elephants, twenty-five thousand horses, ten thousand chariots and a hundred thousand footmen remain harnessed and ready, day and night, to guard it; and they are hard to conquer, being commanded by horses. So, as for a handful of men, like ourselves, entering it by force, that is a mere chimerical fancy,[4] not a measure calculated to ensure success. Moreover, this city cannot be overthrown by a small force; and a contest with an overwhelming force is like fighting on foot against an elephant. So join with your friend Māyāvaṭu, the king of the Pulindas, whom you delivered from the terrible danger of the water-monsters in the Narmadā, and with his friend Durgapiśāca, the very powerful king of the Mātaṅgas, who is attached to you on account of his alliance with him,[5] and with that king of the Kirātas, named Śaktirakṣita, who is famous for his valour and has observed a vow of strict chastity[6] from his youth upwards, and let them all bring their forces, and then do you, thus strengthened by allies, fill every quarter with your hosts, and so accomplish the object you have in view. Moreover, the king of the Kirātas is awaiting your coming from a distance in accordance with your agreement; how have you come to forget this? And no doubt Māyāvaṭu is ready awaiting your arrival, in the territory of[7] the king of the Mātaṅgas, for you made this agreement with him. So let us go to the castle named Karabhagrīva, on the southern slope of the Vindhyas, in which that chief of the Mātaṅgas dwells. And let us summon there Śaktirakṣita, the king of the Kirātas, and united with them all make a fortunate expedition with every chance of success.”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta and his ministers heard this speech of Śrutadhi’s, which was full of sense and such as the wise would approve, they eagerly accepted it, saying: “So be it.”

And the next day the prince adored that unresting traveller of the sky, the sun, the friend of the virtuous, that had just arisen, revealing every quarter of the world,[8] and set out for the abode of Durgapiśāca, king of the Mātaṅgas, on the southern slope of the Vindhya range. And his ministers Bhīmaparākrama, and Vyāghrasena, and Guṇākara and Meghabala with Vimalabuddhi, and Sthūlabāhu with Vicitrakatha, and Vikramakeśarin, and Pracaṇḍaśakti, and Śrutadhi and Dṛḍhamuṣṭi followed him. With them he successively crossed forests wide-ranging as his own undertakings, and stretches of woodland profound as his own schemes, with no better refuge at night than the root of a tree[9] on the shore of a lake, and reached and ascended the Vindhya mountain lofty as his own soul.

Then the prince went from the summit of the mountain down its southern slope, and beholding afar off the villages of the Bhillas, full of elephants’ tusks and deer-skins, he said to himself:

“How am I to know where the dwelling of that king of the Mātaṅgas is?”

While engaged in such reflections, he and his ministers saw a hermit-boy come towards them, and after doing obeisance to him, they said:

“Fair sir, do you know in what part of this region the palace of Durgapiśāca, the king of the Mātaṅgas, is? For we wish to see him.”

When that good young ascetic heard this, he said:

“Only a kos distant from this place is a spot called Pañcavatī, and not far from it was the hermitage of the hermit Agastya, who with small effort cast down from heaven the haughty King Nahuṣa; where Rāma, who by command of his father took up his dwelling in a forest, accompanied by Lakṣmaṇa and his wife Sītā, long waited on that hermit; where Kabandha,[10] who guided Rāma to the slaughter of the Rākṣasas, proceeded to attack Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, as Rāhu does the sun and moon, whose arm, a yojana in length, Rāma felled, so that it resembled Nahuṣa in his serpent form come to supplicate Agastya; where even now the Rākṣasas hearing the roaring of the clouds at the beginning of the rainy season call to mind the twanging of the bow of Rāma; where the aged deer, that were fed by Sītā, beholding the regions deserted in every direction, with eyes filling with tears, reject the mouthful of grass; where Mārīca, who brought about Sītā’s separation from her husband, assumed the form of a golden deer and enticed away Rāma, as if to save from slaughter those deer that were still left alive; where, in many a great lake full of the water of the Kāverī, it appears as if Agastya had vomited up in driblets the sea that he swallowed.[11] Not far from that hermitage, on a tableland of the Vindhya, is a stronghold tangled and inaccessible, named Karabhagrīva. In it dwells that mighty Durgapiśāca of terrible valour, chief of the Mātaṅgas, whom kings cannot conquer. And he commands a hundred thousand bowmen of that tribe, every one of whom is followed by five hundred warriors. With the aid of those brigands he robs caravans, destroys his enemies, and enjoys this great forest, caring nought for this or that king.”[12]

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had heard this from the young hermit, he took leave of him, and went quickly, with his companions, in the direction indicated by him, and in course of time he arrived in the environs of Karabhagrīva, that stronghold of the king of the Mātaṅgas, which were crowded with Bhilla villages. And within them he beheld near at hand on every side crowds of Śavaras, adorned with peacocks’ feathers and elephants’ teeth, clothed in tigers’ skins, and living on the flesh of deer.

When Mṛgāṅkadatta saw those Bhillas, he said to his ministers:

“See! These men live a wild forest life like animals, and yet, strange to say, they recognise Durgapiśāca as their king. There is no race in the world without a king; I do believe the gods introduced this magical name among men in their alarm, fearing that otherwise the strong would devour the weak, as great fishes eat the little.”[13]

And while he was saying this, and trying to find the path that led to the stronghold Karabhagrīva, the scouts of Māyāvaṭu, the king of the Śavaras, who had already arrived there, recognised him, having seen him before. They immediately went and told that Māyāvaṭu of his arrival, and he with his army went to meet him.

And when that king of the Pulindas came near, and saw the prince, he alighted from his horse, and ran forward and fell at his feet. And he embraced the prince, who asked after his health, and then mounted him and his ministers on horses, and brought them to his own camp. And that king of the Śavaras sent his own warder to inform the king of the Mātaṅgas of the prince’s arrival.

And Durgapiśāca, the king of the Mātaṅgas, quickly came there from his own place, and his appearance justified his name.[14] He seemed like a second Vindhya range, for his body was firm as a rocky peak, his hue was black as tamāla, and Pulindas lay at his foot. His face was rendered terrible by a natural three-furrowed frown, and so he appeared as if Durgā, the dweller in the Vindhya range, had marked him with the trident, to claim him as her own. Though young, he had seen the death of many “secular birds”; though black, he was not comely; and he crouched to none, though he hugged the foot of a mountain.[15] Like a fresh cloud, he displayed the peacock-tail and the gay-coloured bow; like Hiraṇyākṣa,[16] his body was scarred by the furious boar; like Ghaṭotkacha, he was mighty and possessed a haughty and terrible shape[17]; like the Kali age, he allowed those born under his sway to take pleasure in wickedness and break through the bonds of rule. And the mass of his host came filling the earth, like the stream of the Narmadā when let loose from the embrace of Arjuna.[18]

And so the aggregated army of the Caṇḍālas moved on, blackening all the horizon with a dark hue, making those who beheld it say in perplexity to themselves:

“Can this be a mass of rock rolling down from the Añjana mountain,[19] or is it a premature bank of the clouds of the day of doom that has descended upon the earth?”

And their chief, Durgapiśāca, came up to Mṛgāṅkadatta, placing his head upon the ground even when at a distance, and bowed before him, and said:

“To-day the goddess Durgā is pleased with me, in that your Highness, of such a noble race, has come to my house. On that account I consider myself fortunate and successful.”

When the king of the Mātaṅgas had said this, he gave him a present of pearls, musk and other rarities. And the prince kindly accepted it with the usual courtesies. Then they all encamped there. That great forest was covered all over with elephants fastened to posts, with horses in stables, and tented footmen; and was scarcely able to contain itself, being confused with its good fortune in thus being assimilated to a city, which was unprecedented in the course of its existence.

Then in that wood, when Mṛgāṅkadatta had bathed in the river for good fortune, and had taken food, and was sitting at his ease in a secluded spot, surrounded by his ministers, Māyāvaṭu also being present, Durgapiśāca said to Mṛgāṅkadatta, in the course of conversation, speaking in a tone softened by affection and regard:

“This King Māyāvaṭu came here a long time ago, and has been remaining here with me, my lord, awaiting your orders. So where, my Prince, have you all remained so long? And what have you done? Tell me, now, the business that detained you?”

When the prince heard this speech of his, he said:

“After I had left the palace of our friend here, Māyāvaṭu, with Vimalabuddhi and Guṇākara, and Śrutadhi, and Bhīma-parākrama, whom I had also recovered, I found on my way this Pracaṇḍaśakti and Vicitrakatha, and in course of time also this Vikramakeśarin. Then these men here found on the border of a beautiful lake a tree sacred to Gaṇeśa, and climbed up it to pick its fruit, and so were turned into fruits themselves by the curse of the god. Then I propitiated Gaṇeśa, and not without difficulty set them free, and at the same time I delivered these four other ministers of mine, Dṛḍhamuṣṭi and Vyāghrasena and Meghabala and Sthūlabāhu, who had previously suffered the same transformation. With all these thus recovered, I went to Ujjayinī; but the gates were guarded, and we could not even enter the town, much less could we think of any device for carrying off Śaśāṅkavatī. And as I had no army with me, I had no locus standi for sending an ambassador. So we deliberated together, and came here to you. Now, my friend, you and your allies have to decide whether we shall attain our end or no.”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had related his adventures in these words, Durgapiśāca and Māyāvaṭu said:

“Be of good courage; this is but a little matter for us to accomplish at once; our lives were originally created for your sake. We will bring here that King Karmasena in chains, and we will carry off his daughter Śaśāṅkavatī by force.”

When the king of the Mātaṅgas and Māyāvaṭu said this, Mṛgāṅkadatta said lovingly and very respectfully:

“What will you not be able to accomplish, for this resolute courage of yours is a sufficient guarantee that you will carry out that furtherance of your friend’s interests which you have undertaken. When the Creator made you here, he infused into your composition qualities borrowed from your surroundings, the firmness of the Vindhya hills, the courage of the tigers, and the warm attachment to friends of the forest[20] lotuses. So deliberate, and do what is fitting.”

While Mṛgāṅkadatta was saying this, the sun retired to rest on the summit of the mountain of setting. Then they also rested that night in the royal camp, as was meet, sleeping in booths made by the workmen.

And the next morning Mṛgāṅkadatta sent off Guṇākara to bring his friend Śaktirakṣita, the king of the Kirātas. He went and communicated the state of affairs to that sovereign; and in a very few days the king of the Kirātas returned with him, bringing a very large force. Ten hundred thousand footmen, and two hundred thousand horses, and a myriad of furious elephants on which heroes were mounted, and eighty-eight thousand chariots followed that king, who darkened the heaven with his banners and his umbrella. And Mṛgāṅkadatta, with his friends and ministers, went to meet him in high spirits, and honoured him, and conducted him into the camp. And in the meanwhile other friends and relations of the king of the Mātaṅgas, and all those of King Māyāvaṭu, having been summoned by messengers, came in.[21] And the camp swelled like an ocean, giving joy to the heart of Mṛgāṅkadatta, with shouts rising up like the roar of the waves, and hundreds of battalions pouring in like rivers. And Durgapiśāca honoured[22] those assembled kings[23] with musk, and garments, and pieces of flesh, and spirits distilled from fruits. And Māyāvaṭu, the king of the Śavaras, gave them all splendid baths, unguents, food, drink and beds. And Mṛgāṅkadatta sat down to eat with all those kings who were seated in their proper places.[24] He even went as far as to make the king of the Mātaṅgas eat in his presence, though at a little distance from him: the fact is, it is necessity and place and time that take precedence, not one man of another.

And the next day, when the newly arrived force of Kirātas and others had rested, Mṛgāṅkadatta, sitting on a throne of ivory in the assembly of the kings, where he had been duly honoured, after he had had the place cleared of attendants, said to his friends, the king of the Mātaṅgas, and the others:

“Why do we now delay? Why do we not quickly march towards Ujjayinī with the whole of this force?”

When the Brāhman Śrutadhi heard this, he said to that prince:

“Listen, Prince, I now speak according to the opinion of those who know policy. A king who wishes to be victorious must first see the distinction between what is practicable and what is not practicable. What cannot be accomplished by an expedient, he should reject as impracticable. That is practicable which can be accomplished by an expedient. Now expedients in this matter are of four kinds, and are enumerated as conciliation, gifts, division and force. This order represents their comparative advantages, the first being better than the second, and so on. So, my prince, you ought first to make use of conciliation in this business. For, as King Karmasena is not greedy of gain, gifts are not likely to succeed; nor is division likely to be of any use, for none of his servants is angry or covetous, or indignant with him on account of having been treated with neglect. As for force, its employment is risky; as that king lives in a difficult country, he has a very formidable army, and has never been conquered by any king before. Moreover, even mighty ones cannot always be assured of having the fortune of victory on their side in battles; besides, it is not becoming in one who is a suitor for a maiden’s hand to slaughter her relations. So let us send an ambassador to that monarch, adopting the method of conciliation. If that does not succeed, the method of force shall be employed as being unavoidable.”

All there, when they heard this speech of Śrutadhi’s, approved it, and praised his statesmanship.

Then Mṛgāṅkadatta deliberated with them all, and sent a servant of the king of the Kirātas, a noble Brāhman, Suvigraha by name, who possessed all the requisites of a diplomatist, to King Karmasena, as an ambassador to communicate the result of their deliberations, and he carried with him a letter, and was also entrusted with a verbal message. The ambassador went to Ujjayinī, and, being introduced by the warder, entered the king’s palace, the interior of which looked very magnificent, as its zones were crowded with splendid horses and with elephants; and he saw that King Karmasena, sitting on his throne, surrounded by his ministers. He did obeisance to that sovereign, who welcomed him; and after he had sat down, and his health had been inquired after, he proceeded to deliver to him his letter.

And the king’s minister, named Prajñākośa, took it, and broke the seal, and unfolding the letter, proceeded to read it out to the following effect:

“All hail! The auspicious Mṛgāṅkadatta, ornament of the circle of the earth, son of the great king of kings who is lord of the city of Ayodhyā, the fortunate Amaradatta, from the slope of the forest at the foot of the castle of Karabhagrīva, where he now is, with kings submissive and obedient to him, sends this plain message to the great King Karmasena in Ujjayinī, who is the moon of the sea of his own race, with all due respect: You have a daughter, and you must without fail give her to another, so give her to me, for she has been declared by the gods a suitable wife for me; in this way we shall become allies, and our former enmity will be at an end. If you do not consent, I will appeal to my own strong arms to give me this object of my desires.”

When the letter had been thus read by the minister Prajñākośa, King Karmasena, inflamed with rage, said to his ministers:

“These people are always hostile to us; and observe, this man, not knowing his place, has on the present occasion worded his communication in an objectionable form. He has put himself first and me last, out of contempt; and at the end the conceited fellow has bragged of the might of his arm. So, I do not consider that I ought to send any reply. As for giving him my daughter, that is out of the question. Depart, ambassador! let your master do what he can.”[25]

When King Karmasena said this, that Brāhman ambassador Suvigraha, being a man of spirit, gave him an answer well suited to the occasion:

“Fool, you boast now, because you have not seen that prince. Make ready; when he arrives, you will learn the difference between yourself and your opponent.”

When the ambassador said this, the whole court was in a state of excitement; but the king, though in wrath, said:

“Away with you! Your person is inviolable, so what can we do?”

Then some of those present, biting their lips and wringing their hands together, said one to another:

“Why do we not follow him and kill him this moment?”

But others, being masters of themselves, said:

“Let the young fool of a Brāhman go! Why do you trouble yourselves about the speech of this babbler? We will show what we can do.”

Others again, appearing to foreshadow by their frowns the speedy bending of their bows, remained silent, with faces red with rage.

The whole court being thus incensed, the ambassador Suvigraha went out, and repaired to Mṛgāṅkadatta in his camp. He told him and his friends what Karmasena had said; and the prince, when he heard it, ordered the army to march. Then the sea of soldiers, set in motion by the order of the commander, as by a violent gust of wind, in which men, horses and elephants moved like bounding sea-monsters, exciting satisfaction in the mind of the allied monarchs,[26] assumed an agitation terrifying to the minds of timid men. Then Mṛgāṅkadatta, making the earth miry with the foam of high-mettled horses and the frontal ichor of elephants, and deafening the world with the noise of his drums, moved on slowly to Ujjayinī to victory.

[Additional note: on Arjuna and the Narmadā]

Footnotes and references:


See the Dummedha Jātaka, Cambridge edition, No. 50, vol. i, p. 126 et seq.; Burton’s translation of the Pentamerone of Basile, vol. i, p. 59, and Vol. II of this translation, pp. 96,96n1, 97; also Ralston’s Tibetan Tales, Introduction, p. lii.


Or “black as tamāla.”


Or “which were of opposite appearance, being white.” The word arjuna (white) also refers to the hero Arjuna, one of the Pāṇḍavas, who lived disguised as a eunuch in the city of King Virāṭa. Kīchaka (cane) was the leader of the host of King Virāṭa, and was conquered by Bhīma (terrible). The passage contains another pun which will be obvious to those acquainted with Hindu customs.


I.e. patangavṛtti. The word seems to mean “subsistence of birds.” Cf. Macbeth, iv, 2, 33. Paṇḍit Rāma Candra of Alwar points out that the reference in patangavṛtti is to the “rushing of a moth into a candle.” In the text, therefore, “would be a mere reckless rushing on destruction” should be substituted for “is a mere chimerical fancy.”——Cf. Jātaka, 544, and Bloomfield, “Art of Stealing,” Amer. Journ. Phil., vol. xliv, 1923, p. 117.—n.m.p.


I find tat-sambandhānurāginā in three India Office MSS. kindly lent me by Dr Rost.-The incident of Māyāvaṭu’s deliverance appeared in Vol. VI, p. 36. —N.M.P.


The D. text reads balasabrahmacāriṇā instead of bāliśa-brahmacāriṇā. That this is the more correct reading is clear from the previous mention of Śaktirakṣita (Vol. VI, p. 25), where he is described as “a student in the sciences, observing a vow of chastity,... a friend of mine from childhood.” Here the B. text has bāla-suhṛd, etc.—n.m.p.


I read Mātaṅgarājadeśāgato; the reading of the India Office MS., No. 1882, is rājādeśāgato, which would mean: “by the invitation of the king of the Mātaṅgas.” For dūrāgamana, in sl. 31, No. 2166 reads dūtāgamanai.e. “the coming of your messenger.” This makes better sense.


A pun! It also means “holding prosperity, and holding out hopes to the world.”


All the three India Office MSS., which Dr Rost has kindly lent me, read niśāśrayaḥ.


Professor Monier Williams refers us to Rāmāyaṇa, III, 75.


See Vol. VI, pp.43nl, 44n.—n.m.p.


So, in the eighty-ninth chapter of the “Wilkina Saga,” Heime goes off to join the robber chief Ingram (Hagen’s Helden-Sagen, vol. i, p. 242).


The India Office MS., No. 2166, reads mātsyanyāyabhayodayāt.—— The B. text was hopelessly corrupt. D. reads mātsyanyāyabhayād ayam (viz. rājaśabdaḥ).—n.m.p.


His name means “Wild Man of the Stronghold” or “Demon of the Stronghold.”


The passage is full of puns: vayas means “age” and “bird”; kṛṣṇa “black” and also the god of that name; bhūbhṛt “king” and also “mountain.”


Killed by Viṣṇu in the form of a boar.


Another play on words. It may mean “was the son of the Pāṇḍava Bhīma.”


See note at the end of the chapter.—n.m.p.


Añjana is a black pigment applied to the eyes.——See Vol. I, p. 211 et seq.—n.m.p.


Vana might mean “water.”


Two of the India Office MSS. read cha te datta dūtāḥ, the other reads cha taddattadūtāḥ. I think these readings give a better sense. The king of the Mātaṅgas is here Durgapiśāca.


I read samamānayat, the conjecture of Dr Kern. I find it in MSS. Nos. 1882 and 2166.


Speyer (op. cit., p. 141) suspects a misreading in the B. text. For yuktān, etc., the D. text has muktā, etc. Thus, instead of “. . . those assembled kings with musk. . .,” we should read “. . . those kings with pearls, musk. . . ”—n.m.p.


Being a man of high caste, he ate with men that had none, or next to none. Dr Kern wishes to read kārye, but all the MSS. have kāryaṃ.


Cf. the way in which King Melias receives the proposals of Osantrix in the fifty-third chapter of the “Wilkina Saga” (Hagen’s Helden-Sagen, vol. i, p. 182).


Or “of the mountains that retained their wings”—i.e. by taking refuge from Indra in the sea. The pun is, of course, most intentional.

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