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 ...

Vetāla 23: The Hermit who first Wept and then Danced

(pp. 112-115)

Click the link to jump directly to the english translation of the twenty-third Vetāla. This page only contains the notes.

Both the Hindi[1] and the Tamil[2] (No. 22 in each case) are greatly abbreviated and much poorer versions of our text; they exhibit no alternate reading or fresh incidents. The two motifs contained in the story are “Entering Another’s Body” and the “Laugh and Cry.” Both have been discussed so fully and competently by Professor Bloomfield[3] that any remarks I may have to make must be little more than repetition.

With regard to the first motif I would refer readers to the notes already given in Vol. I, pp. 37-38, and especially Vol. IV, pp. 46-48.

As previously pointed out (p. 253), the “Laugh and Cry” motif is one in which each display of emotion shows its nature but not its incentive. I mean that the laugh is caused by the feeling of joy, and the tears by grief. This is not the case with the laugh alone, which is a mighty weapon in the hands of the story-teller, as we have already seen. The laugh and cry coming together excite, by their paradoxical contact, not only pathos and sympathy, but also humour, curiosity and mystery.

In Vetāla 14 the thief weeps because he cannot repay the merchant’s kindness, and laughs because he is so astonished to think how unfathomable is the heart of woman that she chooses a condemned thief as her husband after rejecting kings. It is not so much that either the weeping and laughing was curious in itself, or even that they both followed immediately one on the other, but that a man about to be impaled should exhibit emotions so diametrically opposed. It is this that forms such an important and dramatic incident in the story. So also in our present tale, but to a lesser extent. In the numerous and varied examples of the motif given by Bloomfield, the explanation of the person’s conduct is often due to the powers of reading future events, and the weeping is nearly always sympathetic. The Ocean appears to supply more examples of the motif than other works of Hindu fiction.

It has found its way into many modern collections, such as those by Fleeson, Day, Swynnerton, Knowles, Temple, Naṭeśa Śāstri, etc. One use of the motif in Swynnerton’s Romantic Tales from the Pañjāb, p. 203 et seq., is very curious, being a mixture of drama and comedy.

Rājā Rasālu was on his way to fight the giants of Gandgarh, when he arrived at a deserted city. Amazed at the solitude, he stood in an open space and surveyed the scene. Just then he caught sight of some smoke issuing from a distant corner, and making his way to it he saw there a miserable old woman kneading and baking quantities of bread and preparing abundance of sweetmeats, but all the time she was either weeping or laughing.

Surprised at a spectacle so extraordinary, Rasālu halted and said:

“Mother, in this solitary place who is to eat all that food, and why are you both weeping and laughing?”

“The king of this palace,” said the woman,

“is Kashudēo, and he has ordered that a human being, a buffalo ana four hundred pounds of bread shall be sent daily to a certain place for the giants. Once I had seven sons, of whom six have been devoured, and to-day it is the turn of the seventh, and to-morrow it will be the turn of myself. This is my trouble and it makes me cry. But I am laughing because also to-day my seventh son was to have been married, and because his bride—ha! ha!—will have now to do without him.”

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