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 ...

Introductory Remarks (to the Vetālapañcaviṃśati)

The Vetālapañcaviṃśati, or Twenty-five (tales) of a Vetāla, is a very old collection of Hindu tales which is as well known in India as the Pañcatantra, and, like it, has made an important contribution to the popular stories of the world. It exists not only in the great Kashmir works of Somadeva{GL_NOTE::} and Kṣemendra,{GL_NOTE::} but is found as an independent collection in two distinct recensions. The most important of these is that attributed to Śivadāsa, who gives us a mixture of prose and poetry. This appears to be the original form, although, as we have only the different versions of later date to go by, we cannot make any definite statement on this point.{GL_NOTE::} It has been edited, together with an anonymous recension, by Heinrich Uhle.{GL_NOTE::} The other recension is that of Jambhaladatta, edited by Pandit Jibananda Vidyasagara, Calcutta, 1873. It contains no verse, and more closely resembles the older Kashmirian versions.{GL_NOTE::}

But the great popularity of the Vetāla stories is due to the fact that they have been translated into so many Indian vernaculars.

The first translation from the Sanskrit was into Brajbhāṣā (the standard dialect of Western Hindī spoken around Mathurā and Agra) early in the eighteenth century. It was made by Sūrati Misar, during the reign of Muḥammad Ṣāh, under orders from Jāi Singh Sawāī, Rājā of Jaipur{GL_NOTE::} (1699-1743). The Baitāl Pachīsī, as it was now called, was next translated from Braj-bhāṣā into “High Hindī” by Lallū Lāl in 1805. He can be regarded as the actual creator of this language, which is really a modern literary development of the dialect of Western Hindī spoken from Delhi to the Himālaya.

There were also several other translations made— e.g. those by Sambhu Nāth and Bhōlā Nāth. For details of these see Grierson, The Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan, Calcutta, 1855, pp. 97, 166, 167.

The English version of Kālī Kṛṣṇa, published at Calcutta in 1834, was derived from the Hindī version of Lallū, as was also the better-known edition by W. B. Barker and E. B. Eastwick, Hertford, 1855. On this latter was based the German translation by Oesterley, Leipzig, 1873, so often quoted by Tawney in his edition of the present work. Mention should also be made of the French translation by Lancereau, Journal Asiatique, 4th ser., vol. xviii, 1851, pp. 5-36, 366-410, vol. xix, 1852, pp. 333-365; and of the Swedish by Hilding Andersson.{GL_NOTE::}

There are also translations in Bengali, Kanarese, Telugu, Gujarati, Tamil, Marathi, and other vernaculars. Of these the best known in England are the last two. The Tamil version was translated into English by B. G. Babington.{GL_NOTE::} Its different form of “frame-story” will be discussed later.

The Marathi version was translated by Sadāśiv Chhatre in 1830. An English rendering by C. A. Kincaid{GL_NOTE::} appeared as recently as 1921. In a short preface Kincaid speaks of Burton’s translation into English of the Hindī version. He says that after comparing it with the Marathi he found that they either differed very widely or else Burton had expanded his work until little resemblance between the two remained. There have been many references to this work of Burton, but no one appears to have said what it really is and if it should be considered as a true translation of the Hindī version. Even Macdonell (Sanskrit Literature, p. 375) distinctly gives the impression that Vikram and the Vampire is the standard English version of these tales, whereas really this is far from the truth. As I have stated more fully elsewhere,{GL_NOTE::} Burton’s work was not a translation, but an adaptation, and a very free adaptation too.

In his Introduction he says:

“It is not pretended that the words of these Hindu tales are preserved to the letter.... I have ventured to remedy the conciseness of their language, and to clothe the skeleton with flesh and blood.”

This is putting it very mildly. What Burton has really done is to use a portion of the Vetāla tales as a peg on which to hang elaborate “improvements” entirely of his own invention. Anyone as steeped in his works as I am myself could not possibly read a page of Vikrama and the Vampire without knowing who had written it. The height of his inventive powers is reached in his “Eleventh Story—which Puzzles Raja Vikram” (p. 290 et seq.). It is supposed to be a prognostication of the coming of the British into India!

Further details of the other vernacular translations will be found in Oesterley.{GL_NOTE::}

There still remains the necessity for an edition of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati in its different recensions, arranged for comparative purposes, in the same manner as the Vikrama-charita has been edited by Edgerton (see later, p. 228). There would then be some chance of studying the texts with a view to ascertaining the original form of the work. From the data we have at present it would seem that the work must be considered as composed of ancient Hindu tales, in which more attention has been paid to the magical than to the religious element. Some of them have doubtless been altered in the course of time, and we can pick out those which show a Buddhistic influence and those which are purely Śaivic or at any rate Brāhmanic in character. Then again, there is the Jain element to be considered, especially as our information about Vikrama himself is confined to ancient Jain traditions. Attention will be drawn to any religious tendency displayed in the tales when they are dealt with separately in this Appendix (Nos. 1-8) and in that to be given in Vol. VII (No. 9 to the end).

There still remains an interesting point to discuss—the identity of the hero of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati. His name appears in slightly different forms, and Somadeva, undoubtedly following the Kashmirian version of the Bṛhat-kathā, calls him “Trivikramasena, the son of Vikramasena.” In all cases, however, the king referred to is the semi-legendary Vikrama or Vikramāditya of Jain tradition. Whether such a king actually existed is unknown, and scholars are by no means agreed in their opinions one way or the other.

In order, however, that we may be in a position to appreciate the difficulties of making any definite statement it is necessary to glance at the Jain traditions and see exactly what is known about Vikrama. Apart from the work under discussion, Vikrama is the hero of several other collections of tales, the most important of which is that known as Vikrama-charita (Vikrama’s Adventures) or Siṅhāsanadvā-triṅśikā (Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne). This work, which in all probability dates from a time not earlier than the thirteenth century, has recently been edited in four different recensions of the Sanskrit original, and published together with an English translation by Franklin Edgerton.{GL_NOTE::} Now in the Jain recension we find,{GL_NOTE::} as is only to be expected, an account of Vikrama’s conversion to Jainism by Siddhasena Divākara.

This account has been inserted as a section of the frame-story, and ends with the following words:

“Thus reflecting in his heart, the noble King Vikrama paid the debts of the whole earth by an enormous largess, sufficient to fulfil to the extent of their desires the petitions of multitudes of beggars; and (in so doing) he introduced a turning point [ i.e. a change] in the era of Vardhamāna [Mahāvīra, the founder of Jainism].”

Like other passages peculiar to the Jain recension, the above was obviously a subsequent insertion, emanating from the same Jainistic book of legends which Merutuṅga used later for his Vikrama chapter in the Prabandhacintāmaṇi.{GL_NOTE::} Thus we see that, according to Jain tradition, Vikrama’s act of generosity caused the commencement of a new era. Other sources of Jain tradition corroborate this statement and place the change in the year 470 after Mahāvīra’s nirvāṇa.{GL_NOTE::}

Now the well-known Vikrama era begins with 58 or 57 B.C., and as Mahāvīra lived about the end of the sixth or the beginning of the fifth century B.C., the two statements agree. Thus the possibility of the Vikrama era being founded to commemorate the deeds of the king Vikrama of Jain tradition cannot be doubted. This does not, however, say that the collections of stories about a king bearing the same name also refer to the Jainistic Vikrama. Confused and contradictory statements about Vikrama, in fact about many Vikramas, soon made scholars sceptical, especially when it was discovered that the name was used by several kings merely as a title. Then different theories were put forward as to which king was really meant by “Vikrama.” First the Vikramāditya who defeated the Huns in A.D. 544 was proposed, but records dated earlier in the era have been found, and so disproved the theory. Then Kaniṣka, the Kuṣan king, was suggested, and for a time received fairly wide support among scholars. But Sir John Marshall proved{GL_NOTE::} by archaeological evidence that Kaniṣka could not have been living in 58 B.C. He further proposed that the new era really was founded by Azes I, the Śaka king of Gandhāra. The evidence for this is very slender, however, as it entirely depends on the interpretation of the word ayasa in the Takṣaśilā inscription. If the word does mean “of Azes” the evidence is strong, as the dates are in agreement with the existing traditions; but if, as considered much more probable by Bhandarkar, Konow and Edgerton, it merely corresponds to the Sanskrit ādyasya, “of the first” (month Āsāḍha), the whole theory falls to the ground. But apart from this, neither the exact date of Azes nor that of the inscription is known with certainty. If the theory advanced by Kielhorn, that the era was known in early days by the name of Mālava and not Vikrama, be accepted, there is still no reason to discard the Jain tradition. As Vikrama was king of Mālava, and as at first the era was used only locally, why should it not have been known as the Mālava era?

We may, then, at once admit that no evidence exists to prove that a real king Vikrama did not exist. The point is, however, that if he did exist, why are not traditions and inscriptions forthcoming? Might not the simplest answer be the correct one—namely, that a famous king who used the title “Vikrama” is responsible for the popular legends being connected with the name? The fact that there was also a Vikrama era would merely add to the fame of the hero. The most famous king who bore the title of Vikrama was undoubtedly Candragupta II of the Gupta dynasty—the golden age of Indian history. His principal conquests were effected between A.D. 388 and 401, and included the crushing of the Śaka (Scythian) power in Mālwā, Gujarāt and Surāṣṭra.

Now another Jain tradition{GL_NOTE::} tells of events which happened just prior to the foundation of the Vikrama era in 58 or 57 B.C. The Jain saint Kālaka was insulted by King Gardabhilla of Ujjayinī, and by way of revenge overthrew the dynasty with the aid of some Śaka satraps. A few years later Vikrama, the son of Gardabhilla, overcame the invaders and re-established the dynasty. It was at this point that the new Vikrama era was introduced. So runs the legend. Professor Rapson (Cambridge History of India, vol. i, p. 532) considers that its historical setting is not inconsistent with what is known of the political circumstances of Ujjayinī of this period. As it was Candragupta II who is historically known as the conqueror of the Śakas, it is not surprising that he took the additional title of Vikramāditya (“Sun of power”) in later life. The glories of his reign and conquests would remain, but events connected with the original Vikrama would become confused with those of the Gupta monarch. Legends would soon accumulate round this “Vikrama,” who was really a purely fictitious character created from ancient Jain traditions of the original Vikrama on the one hand, and from historical memories of Candragupta II on the other hand.

We return to Somadeva. He places the hero of the Vetāla tales in Pratishthāṇa on the banks of the Godāvarī. The author of the Vikrama-charita, however, makes him king of Ujjayinī. Now tradition connects him with both these places, so the mention of different localities need not surprise us. Vikrama is represented as coming from Pratishthāṇa to Ujjayinī, and so was probably connected with the Andhras (or Telugus), who under Sātakarṇi had pushed northwards from their capital, Pratishthāṇa, and wrested Ujjayinī from Puṣyamitra, the first Śunga king.

Having now briefly stated what we know about the hero of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati, we can proceed to the frame-story, which occurs in various forms.



Here we are told of the ruse by which the mendicant secures the king’s help in the carrying out of certain tantric conjurations. With the sacrifice of the king’s life he hopes to obtain the sovereignty of the Vidyādharas. The dauntless Trivikramasena consents to assist the mendicant, and is asked to fetch a dead body from a tree. He finds it possessed by a Vetāla, and the twenty-five tales (really twenty-four) are told by the demon during the same number of attempts on the part of the king to secure the body for the mendicant’s nefarious purposes.

This is a very brief summary of the story we have already read on pp. 165-168. It occurs twice in the Vikrama-charita, first very briefly in the frame-story,{GL_NOTE::} and more fully in the tale of the thirty-first statuette.{GL_NOTE::} As the collection of tales became popular, it was translated into many languages, with the result that in some cases an Introduction got tacked on to the frame-story. In other cases the collection was used for religious purposes and an entirely different frame-story was substituted. We shall mention some of these alternative versions in detail.

The Tamil version begins with a conversation between Indra and Nārada, in which we are informed (very much as in the commencement of the Ocean) how Śiva was once asked by Pārvatī to tell her a collection of stories. He at once did so, but a Brāhman overheard the stories and repeated them to his wife. Thus they became common property. Śiva, through his omniscience, learned what had occurred and cursed the Brāhman to become a Vetāla.

When asked by the unhappy man when his curse might end, Śiva replied:

“By whomsoever the questions contained in these tales shall be answered, by the same shall thy curse be removed.”

The Brāhman instantly assumed the form of a Vetāla, and was transported into the midst of a wilderness, where he remained suspended, head downwards, on a Muruca tree.{GL_NOTE::} Then follows the frame-story proper, which closely resembles that in our own text. The differences are interesting, though not important. The mendicant brings pomegranates. One day the king’s son offers one to a crab, and as the animal is eating it a shower of priceless jewels falls out. All the pomegranates are accordingly brought and split open, only to reveal more jewels. The rest follows as in Somadeva.

In the well-known Hindi version, and also in the Marathi, there is an Introduction to the frame-story, but in this case it is elaborate, and for several reasons is well worth reproducing in full. I choose the translation by Barker{GL_NOTE::}:

There was a city named Dhārānagar, the king of which was Gandharbsen, who had four queens, and by them six sons, each of whom was more learned and powerful than the other. It happened that, after some days, this king died, and his eldest son, who was named Shank, became king in his stead. Again, after some days, Bikram, his younger brother, having killed his elder brother (Shank), himself became king, and began to govern well. Day by day his dominion so increased that he became king of all India; and having established his government firmly, he instituted an era.

After some days the king thought to himself:

“I ought to visit those countries whose names I am hearing.”

Having resolved upon this in his mind, he committed the government to the charge of his younger brother Bhartharī, became a devotee (Yogī), and began to travel from country to country and from forest to forest. A certain Brāhman practised austere devotion in that city. One day a god brought and gave him the fruit of immortality.

Having brought this home, he said to his wife:

“Whosoever shall eat this shall become immortal; the deity told me this at the time he gave me the fruit.”

The Brāhman’s wife, having heard, wept, and began to say:

“It has fallen to us to suffer for a great crime, since if we become immortal, for how long shall we ask alms! But death would be preferable to this. If we were to die, we should escape the pains of this world.”

The Brāhman replied, saying:

“I have accepted the fruit, and brought it here, but having heard your speech, my intellect has wasted away; now will I do whatever thou mayst point out.”

Then the Brāhman’s wife said to him:

“Give the fruit to the king, and receive instead thereof wealth, by means of which you may promote your present and future welfare.”

Having heard these words, the Brāhman went to the king and gave him his blessing. After having made an explanation of the circumstances connected with the fruit, he said:

“O great king! be pleased to accept this fruit, and be pleased to bestow some wealth upon me. I shall be happy in your living long.”

Then the king gave the Brāhman a lākh of rupees and, having dismissed him, retired into the harem, and having given this fruit to his best-beloved queen, said:

“O queen! eat this, that you may be immortal, and may always remain young.”

The queen, having heard this speech, took the fruit, and the king went into his court. The queen had for her lover a kotwāl: to him she gave the fruit. It happened that the kotwāl had a friend who was a courtesan; he gave her the fruit, explaining to her its good qualities.

The courtesan reflected:

“This fruit is a fit present for the king.”

Having thus mentally resolved, and having gone to the king, she presented the fruit. He bestowed on her great wealth, and dismissed her; and, looking at the fruit, he became dissatisfied with the world, and began to say:

“The wealth of this world is a delusion. The affection of this world is of no use, since in consequence of it at last we fall into hell. Hence it is better to practise devotion, and keep Bhagwān in remembrance, that it may be good for us in a future state.”

Having thus determined, he went into the harem and asked the queen:

“What didst thou with the fruit?”

She said: “I ate it.” Then the king showed the fruit to her. She, looking at it, stood aghast, and could not make any answer. The king went out and, having had the fruit washed, ate it; and, having quitted the throne, became a Yogī, and without communicating with anyone departed into the forest. The government of Bikram remained empty.

When this news reached King Indr, he sent a demon as guardian over Dhārānagar, who kept guard day and night over the city. At length the rumour of this state of things was spread abroad, that King Bhartharī, having abdicated his throne, had gone away (into the forest). When King Bikram also heard this news, he immediately returned to his own land.

It was midnight, and at the time he was entering the city the demon called out:

“Who art thou? and where art thou going? Stand and give thy name!”

Then the king said:

“I am King Bikram, and am come to my own city. Who art thou who stoppest me?”

The demon answered:

“The gods have sent me to guard this city; if you really are King Bikram, first fight with me, and then enter the city.”

The king, immediately on hearing this, tightened his girdle, and challenged the demon, who came opposite to him, and the combat began. At length the king threw down the demon and sat on his breast.

The demon cried out:

“O King! thou hast overthrown me, but I grant thee thy life.”

The king, smiling, said:

“Surely thou art mad: to whom dost thou grant life? If I desire I can kill thee; how, then, dost thou grant me my life?”

The demon replied:

“O King! I will save thee from death; but first listen to one speech, and then govern the whole earth without anxiety.”

The king then quitted his hold, and began to listen with all his heart to his discourse.

The demon said to him:

“There was in this city a very generous king, named Chandr-bhān. It happened that he one day went out into the jungle and saw—what?—a devotee suspended head-downwards from a tree, who continued inhaling smoke. He received nothing from anyone, nor did he speak to anyone.

The king, having seen his condition, came home, and having sat down in his court, said:

‘If anyone will bring this devotee, he shall receive a lākh of rupees.’

A certain courtesan who heard this speech approached the king, and represented, saying:

‘If I receive the great king’s command, I will, after bearing a child by this devotee, bring it riding on his shoulders.’

The king, on hearing this speech, was astonished, and gave betel-nut to the courtesan (in token that he held her to her promise); and permitted her to depart. She went into the forest, and, arriving at the devotee’s dwelling, saw—what?—that, in fact, the devotee was hanging head-downwards. He ate nothing, drank nothing, and was shrivelled up. At length the courtesan, having prepared a confection, put it into the mouth of the devotee; when he tasted it sweet, it was pleasant to his palate (and he licked it in). Then she made more and gave him. In this manner for two days she made him taste the confection, and he, by eating it, acquired strength.

Then having opened his eyes, he came down from the tree and asked her:

‘Why hast thou come here?’

The courtesan said:

‘I am the daughter of a deity, and have practised religious observances in the heavenly regions. I have now come into this forest.’

That devotee said:

‘Show me where thy hut is.’

The courtesan, having brought the devotee to her hut, caused to be prepared the six kinds of food. Then the devotee gave up inhaling smoke, and began to eat and drink every day. At length Kāmdev (the Hindu Cupid) began to worry him, and he had connection with the courtesan, and lost (the reward of) his penance. The courtesan became pregnant. The full time being accomplished, a boy was born. Some months passed: then the woman said to the devotee:

‘O holy saint! be pleased to perform a pilgrimage to some holy place, that all the sins of your body may be taken away.’

By such speeches as these having cajoled him, she put the boy on his shoulder and came to the court of the king, whence she had set out (having taken up betel in token of), undertaking to perform this very thing. At the time she arrived in the king’s view he recognised her at a distance, and saw the child mounted on the devotee’s shoulder. He began to say to the people of the court:

‘Behold! this is the very courtesan who went forth to bring the devotee.’

They said:

‘O great king! thou speakest truly: this is the very same woman; and be pleased to observe that whatever things she, having petitioned (to be allowed to undertake), went forth (to do), all these have come to pass.’

“The Yogī, having heard the speeches of the king and of his courtiers, thought to himself:

‘The king has done this for the sake of taking away (the fruits of) my penance.’

Thus thinking, he turned back thence and departed from the city, killed the boy, and began to practise devotion in the jungle. After some days the death of that king happened, and the Yogī accomplished his penance.

“In short, the history of the matter is, that you three men were born in the same city, in the same lunar mansion, in the same division of the great circle described upon the ecliptic, and in the same period of time (equal to two gharīs, or forty-eight minutes). You were born in the house of a king; the second was born in the house of an oilman; the third, the Yogī, in the house of a potter. You have dominion here. The oilman’s son was ruler of the infernal regions. The potter, having performed his penance well, and having killed the oilman, has turned him into a spectre (evil spirit) in a cemetery, and kept him suspended head-downwards in a siris tree (mimosa sirissa), and is plotting your destruction. If you should escape, you will have royal power. I have given you information of this matter—do not be negligent therein.”

Having thus spoken, the demon departed, and the king entered his harem. In the morning the king, having come forth, sat down, and gave command for a general Darbār (or court). As many domestics—small and great—as there were all came into his presence and presented gifts, and rejoicings began to take place. The whole town was extraordinarily joyful and happy; in every place and in every house dancing and singing was going on. After this the king began to administer the government justly.

It is said that one day a devotee, Ṣānt-ṣīl (calm-disposition) by name, came to the king’s court bringing a fruit in his hand, which fruit he gave into the king’s hand, and having spread his prayer-carpet in that place, sat down. Presently, after about a quarter of an hour, he (got up and) went away.

When he had gone, the king reflected in his mind:

“This is perhaps the very man of whom the demon spoke.”

Suspecting this, he did not eat the fruit, but calling his house-steward he gave it to him (telling him), to keep it in a very careful manner. The devotee, however, continued to come in the same manner, and every day gave him a fruit. It happened that one day the king went forth for the purpose of looking at his stable, and some of his associates were with him. At this time the devotee also arrived there, and in the usual manner gave into the king’s hand a fruit, which he began to toss up, till once it fell from his hand on to the ground, and a monkey, having picked it up, tore it in pieces. A ruby of such a quality came forth, that the king and his companions, beholding its brilliancy, were astonished.

Then the king said to the devotee:

“Why hast thou given this ruby to me?”

The devotee replied:

“O great king! it is written in the Ṣāstr that one should not go empty-handed to the following places: to a king, a spiritual preceptor, an astrologer, a physician, or to a young girl; since gifts to these are always conjoined with rewards to oneself. O King! why dost thou speak of one ruby only, since in each of the fruits I have given thee there is a jewel.”

Having heard this speech, the king said to the steward of his household:

“Bring all the fruits which I have given thee.”

The steward, on receiving the king’s command, immediately brought them, and, having split them, there was found in each one of those fruits a ruby. The king, when he beheld so many rubies, was excessively pleased, and having sent for a jeweller (lapidary) began to examine the rubies, and said to him:

“We cannot take anything with us out of this world. Virtue is a noble quality (to possess) here below, so tell justly what is the value of each of these gems.”

Having heard this speech, the jeweller said:

“O great king! thou hast spoken truly; whoever possesses virtue possesses everything—virtue indeed accompanies us always, and is of advantage in both worlds. Hear, O great king! Each gem, in colour, quality and beauty, is perfect. If I were to say that the value of each was ten million crores (kaṛoṛ) of rupees, even then you are not able (to imagine its true value). In fact, each ruby is worth one (of the seven) regions (into which the world is divided).”

The king, on hearing this, was delighted, and having bestowed a robe of honour on the jeweller, permitted him to depart; and taking the devotee by the hand, set him on a throne and began to say:

“My entire kingdom is not of the value of one of these rubies. Tell me the reason why you, who are naked, have given me so many jewels.”

The Yogī said:

“O King! the speaking of such matters (as the following) in public (lit. ‘manifestly’) is not right; these matters—incantations, spells, medicinal drugs, good qualities, household affairs, the eating of forbidden food, scandal we may have heard of our neighbour—should not be spoken of in full assembly. In private I will speak of them. This is the usual way. When an affair comes to six ears (i.e. three persons) it does not remain secret; if a matter (is confided) to four ears, no one hears of it; and if to two ears, even Brahmā does not know it: how then can any rumour of it come to man?”

Having heard this speech, the king, having taken the Yogī aside, began to ask him, saying:

“O holy saint! you have given me so many rubies, and even for a single day have not eaten food. I am exceedingly ashamed: tell me what you desire.”

The Yogī said:

“O King! I will perform various spells, incantations and magical rites on the bank of the River Godāvarī, in a large cemetery, by means of which the eight Siddhis will come into my possession. This thing I ask as an alms, that you will remain one whole day with me. By your remaining near me, my incantations will be successful.”

The king replied:

“Good! I will come: tell me on what day.”

The devotee said:

“On the evening of a Tuesday, the fourteenth of the dark half of the month Bhādon (August), armed and alone, you are to come to me.”

The king said:

“Do you go away, I will certainly come alone.”

In this manner, having received a promise from the king, and having taken leave, the devotee went into the temple, and having made preparations, and taken all the necessary things, went into the cemetery and sat down. The king, on the other hand, began to reflect. At this moment the time arrived (for his starting). Then the king, having girded on his sword, and fastened on his langot, arrived alone at night at the Yogī’s, and saluted him.

The Yogī said:

“Come, sit down.”

Then the king, having sat down there, sees—what?—that on all sides demons, ghosts and witches of various kinds, having assumed frightful shapes, are dancing, and the Yogī, seated in the midst, is playing on two skulls. The king, having seen these things, was not frightened nor alarmed, and asked the Yogī:

“What commands are there for me?”

The Yogī replied:

“O King! since you have come, just execute one piece of business. About two kos in a southerly direction hence there is a place where dead bodies are burned: in that place there is a siris tree on which a corpse is hanging; bring it to me immediately.”

Having sent the king thither, he himself sat down and began to say his prayers. First, the darkness of the night was frightful. Secondly, there began to be such continued showers of rain that one might have said that it would never rain again after that day; and unclean goblins were making such a tumult and noise that even a brave man would have faltered: yet the king kept on his way. Snakes kept clinging round his legs, but these, by reciting a spell, he caused to loosen hold. At length, somehow or other having passed over a very difficult road, the king arrived in that place where dead bodies were burned. Then he saw that goblins, having seized hold of men, were killing them; witches were chewing the livers of boys; tigers were roaring, and elephants screaming.

In short, when he looked at that tree, he saw that, from the root to the top, every branch and every leaf was burning furiously, and on every side a clamour continued to be raised (and voices crying):

“Kill him! kill him! Take him! take him! Take care that he does not get away!”

The king, having beheld this state of things, was not afraid, but was reflecting in his mind:

“This may be that very Yogī of whom the demon spoke to me.”

Having gone near, he beheld a corpse hanging head-downwards, tied by a rope.

Having seen the corpse, the king was pleased, saying:

“My trouble has been productive of fruit.”

Having taken his sword and shield, he fearlessly climbed that tree, and struck such a blow with his sword that the cord was cut and the corpse fell down; and immediately on falling, gnashing its teeth, it began to weep.

The king, having heard the sound (of his lamentation), was pleased, and began to say to himself:

“This man must be alive.”

Then, descending from the tree, he asked:

“Who art thou?”

The corpse, on hearing (this question), burst out laughing. The king was greatly astonished at this circumstance. Then the corpse having (again) climbed the tree, became suspended. The king also, immediately, having climbed the tree, took the corpse under his arm and brought it down, saying:

“O wretch! tell me who thou art.”

The corpse gave no answer. The king, having reflected in his mind, said:

“This is, perhaps, the very oilman whom the demon said the Yogī kept confined in a cemetery.”

Thus thinking, he tied the corpse up in a cloth and took it to the Yogī. Whatever man such resolution shall show will certainly be successful. Then the Baitāl said: 66 Who art thou? and where art thou taking me?” The king answered:

“I am King Bikram, and I am taking thee to a Yogī.”

The Baitāl said:

“I will go on one condition—viz. that if you speak on the road, I shall return.”

The king agreed to his condition, and took him on. Then the Baitāl said:

“O King! when people are learned, clever and wise, then they spend their days in the delight of songs and of the Ṣāstras. But the time of simpletons and fools is spent in ease and sleep. On this account, it is better that this journey be spent in discourse of profitable things. O King! listen to the tale I am going to relate.



There are several points worth mentioning in the above. The circulation of the fruit of immortality occurs in the other great cycle of Vikrama stories, the Vikrama-charita.{GL_NOTE::} The order of the recipients is the same in all recensions, but slight differences occur in the dénouement. Thus in the Southern Recension the list is: Brāhman, king, queen, groom, slave-girl, cowherd, and girl carrying cow-dung. There is no mention of the apple being given back to the king. In the Brief Recension the “cowherd” becomes a “doorkeeper,” who gives the apple to “another woman” and she to “another man,” and in the Jain Recension the “slave-girl” is described as a “harlot.” The dénouement is found in two forms. In both the Jain and Brief Recensions the “harlot” or “another man” gives the fruit back to the king as in the Baitāl Pachīsī, but in the other recensions he sees it himself quite by chance on the top of the basket of cow-dung which the girl is carrying on her head.

The story appears also in the “Histoire des Rois de l’Hindoustan après les Panḍavas, traduite du texte hindou-stani de Mîr Cher-i Alî Afsos.”{GL_NOTE::} Here it is a “précieux fruit d’amrit,” and the recipients are: king, queen, groom, harlot, and back to the king.

It is interesting to compare the rather similar story told of Eudocia Augusta, the wife of Theodosius II. Through the jealousy of her sister-in-law, Pulcheria, on her return from Antioch she was accused of an intrigue with her protégé Paulinus. Eudocia was apparently given an apple by her husband, which she passed on to Paulinus, and he in his turn gave it back to the Emperor. Paulinus was beheaded in A.D. 440, and Eudocia retired to Jerusalem, where she died about 460.

A large number of references and subsequent variants will be found in Oesterley, Bibliothek Orientalischer Mārchen und ErzāhlungenI,Baitāl Pachīsī.

Mention might also be made of “The Tale of the Three Apples” in the Nights (Burton, vol. i, pp. 186-194). In this tale a sick woman expresses a desire for an apple. The dutiful husband, after enormous trouble and expense, secures three from the garden of the Commander of the Faithful at Bassorah. By this time the longing has departed, as the malady has increased. The husband meets a black slave with one of the apples in his hand. On being questioned he boasts that he got it from his mistress, whose fool of a husband had obtained three from Bassorah. In her weakness the woman pleads ignorance of what has happened to the apple, and is killed by the angry husband. Later it transpires that his eldest son had taken the apple and the slave had snatched it from the boy, at the same time ascertaining its history. Ja‘far, the famous wazir of Harun al-Rashid, is commanded to find the slave, or be hanged in his stead. In despair he presses his favourite daughter to his breast in a final embrace. In doing so he feels something round in the bosom of her dress. It is the apple! The slave, who turns out to be Ja‘far’s own slave, had given it to the girl for two dīnārs of gold. (See further Chauvin, op. cit., pp. 141, 142.)

Then there is the incident of the “Horrors on the Way” encountered while reaching the Vetāla. While only casually referred to in Somadeva, they are described in much more detail in the Hindi version. We shall shortly see, however, that in the Tibetan and Mongolian variants obstacles are continually met with and have to be overcome by following strictly the instructions of “the Master.”

As to the number of stories enclosed by the frame there are really only twenty-four, the killing of the mendicant by Trivikramasena being counted in Somadeva’s version as the twenty-fifth. This discrepancy was noticed by compilers of subsequent versions, and a clumsy attempt has been made to rectify the omission. Thus in the Hindi we find the twenty-fourth story has become the twenty-fifth, and the twenty-second has been repeated with very little difference as the new twenty-fourth. The numbering of several of the other stories varies considerably in the different versions, but is really of little importance. The same applies to the “Conclusion,” which will be dealt with more fully in the Appendix to Vol. VII.

So far we have examined only variants in which alterations or additions have been made to the frame-story, while the tales themselves remained practically the same. Such, however, was far from the case when the collection made its way northwards to Tibet and later to Mongolia. Here we find that not only is the frame-story entirely altered, but fresh tales have taken the place of the original ones. At present but little is known about the Tibetan version, except what has been recently published by Francke under the title of “Die Geschichten des toten Ṅo-rub-can.”{GL_NOTE::} The MS. unfortunately contains only the frame-story and three tales of Ṅo-rub-can, which name corresponds to the Kalmuck “Siddhi-Kür” (a dead body furnished with magic power). The one tale translated by Francke corresponds to No. 2 in Jülg’s Kalmuck collection, to which reference will be made later.

The point to notice here is that the frame-story of both the Tibetan and the Kalmuck is the same, except for a few minor differences, which will be duly enumerated after we have given the Kalmuck version in full.

As mentioned above, the Mongolian (Kalmuck) version is known by the name of Siddhi-Kür, and has been referred to several times in the Ocean already. It was rendered into German by B. Jülg, and published in two portions.{GL_NOTE::} Apparently Jülg’s translation was not available to Tawney, and he had to content himself with Miss Busk’s Sagas from the Far East, which purports to be an English rendering of Jülg. A comparison with the German will at once show what liberties Miss Busk has taken with the text and how much is entirely her own invention. In giving the Kalmuck frame-story I have, therefore, avoided Miss Busk, and have followed the recent translation of Coxwell, Siberian and Other Folk-tales, pp. 175-179, merely giving a more literal translation in the few passages where he is rather too free.

In a central kingdom of India there lived seven brothers, who were magicians. At a distance of a mile from them dwelt two brothers, who were sons of a khan. The elder of these set out to learn the art of sorcery from the magicians, but, although he received instruction during seven years, the magicians did not teach him the secret of magic. Once, when the younger brother had gone with a stock of food to his elder brother, he glanced through the chink of a door and discovered the secret of the magic art; then, forsaking the provisions, the two brothers hastened to their royal dwelling.

The younger brother said to the elder:

“The magicians will perhaps become aware that we know the art of magic. Now, there is a good horse in our stable: bridle him, but do not go in the direction of the seven magicians; lead him elsewhere, sell him, and bring back the money.”

Having spoken thus, almost the next moment the younger brother turned himself into a horse.

The elder brother did not follow the younger brother’s directions. He said to himself:

“Although I have been instructed during seven years in the art of magic, I have acquired no knowledge of it: my young brother has now got hold of a fine horse; why should I not ride him?”

With these ideas in his head, he mounted. But scarcely had he reached the saddle when it happened that, as a result of enchantment, he failed to direct his steed, and found himself at the home of the magicians. He wished to depart, but could not, and the notion occurred to him that he might sell the horse to the magicians. He said to them:

“My brother has found this magnificent horse. Will you look at him?”

The magicians understood that the horse was enchanted, and thought:

“If everyone learns the magic art in this way, we must perish, in spite of our reputation, for we shall excite no more astonishment. Let us take the horse and kill him!”

With this intention they purchased the horse, paid the large sum which was demanded, and took possession. Next they tethered the magic horse in a dark stable. When the time arrived to take the horse’s life they led him forth by the bridle, and, in order that their plan should succeed, one of the brothers held him fast by the head, one by the mane, one by the tail, one by the front feet, and one by the rump.

As he went along the horse thought:

“Ah, my brother should not have come here. I have fallen into the hands of the magicians, but I will effect a transformation and appear as some other animal.”

Scarcely had this idea occurred to the horse when, looking into the water, he saw a fish swimming towards him; he changed himself into this fish. The seven magicians became seven seagulls, and were on the point of overtaking the fish, when the latter looked up and saw a pigeon flying towards him. He transformed himself into this pigeon. The magicians now became hawks, and pursued the pigeon over hill and stream; but when they were on the point of catching him he fled to a shining mountain in the southerly land of Beed and descended into the interior of a stony grotto, called the “Giver of Consolation”; lastly he settled down into the lap of one tarrying there, the Master Nāgārjuna. The seven hawks immediately placed themselves before the entrance of the grotto and took the shape of seven men clothed in cotton.

The Master reflected thus:

“Why have seven hawks pursued this pigeon?”

After pondering, he said:

“Tell me, pigeon, why do you exhibit such fear and distress?”

Hereupon the pigeon related in detail all that had occurred, and proceeded to say:

“At this moment seven men clad in cotton stand before the entrance of this grotto. They will come before you, Master, and ask for the rosary which you have in your hand. At that moment I will change myself into the chief bead of the rosary: if then you, Master, shall part with the rosary, condescend to take the chief bead into your mouth before scattering the rosary.”

So spoke the pigeon, and, in accordance with its prediction, seven men appeared in cotton garments and asked for the Master’s rosary. The Master took the chief bead into his mouth and scattered the other beads before him; immediately they were transformed into worms. The seven men clad in cotton changed into hens and gobbled up these worms. Then the Master, without delay, let the chief bead of the chaplet fall out of his mouth; forthwith a man, holding in his hand a stick, rose from the ground. As soon as this man had killed the seven hens they became seven dead human bodies.

Then the Master grew sad at heart, and said:

“While I have preserved but a single life, I have helped to take the lives of these seven men; that is terrible!”

At this remark the man said:

“I am the son of a khan. As the Master, in order to save my life, has condemned others to death, I will, in order to blot out this sin and render thanks to the Master, obey joyfully all your orders and faithfully carry them out.”

The Master replied:

“Then know that Siddhi-Kür (the body with supernatural might) is to be found in the cool grove in the place for bodies (Śītavana); he is of gold from the waist upwards and of emerald downwards; he has a head of mother-of-pearl surrounded by a fillet: in such a way is he constituted. Fetch him, as a penance! If you can perform the task, you will enable me to acquire much gold, for through him the people of Jambūdvīpa could live a thousand years and attain the most wonderful perfection.”

The khan’s son gave a promise to carry out the undertaking, and said further:

“Deign to inform me concerning the way I should take and the manner in which I am to proceed: please tell me what provisions and other things I shall need; I will obey your injunctions.”

The Master answered:

“When you have gone about a mile from here you will reach a mountain stream, and come upon a number of large dead bodies at a dark, wooded and terrible pass. When you arrive at the spot, the bodies, without exception, will rise up and approach you.

Call out to them:

‘All you great bodies, hala, hala, svāhā!’

and, at the same time, scatter among them these consecrated barley grains. Repeat magical words. Farther on, at a river, are lying numerous small dead bodies.

Calling out, ‘All you small bodies, hulu, hulu, svāhā!’ you must make them a similar offering. Still farther on exist a number of dead persons in the form of children.

Give them also an offering while you cry: ‘You dead, in the form of children, rira phad!’ Siddhi-Kür will rise from their midst, leave them, and, clambering upon a mango-tree, there seat himself.

If you grasp this axe, which is called

‘White Moon,’ and show a threatening countenance at the foot of the tree, he will come down. Put him in this coloured sack, in which there is room for a hundred, lace it up with this hundred-threaded bright cord, partake of this inexhaustible butter-cake, lift the dead man upon your back, walk off without uttering a single word, and return here! Your name is Khan’s son; but, as you have reached the Consolation-giving grotto, you shall in future be called ‘the khan who has taken the fortunate path.’”

Bestowing this name, the Master indicated the way and sent the young man on his mission. After the khan’s son had fortunately overcome the terrors of the road, as described by the Master, and reached the very spot, Siddhi-Kür appeared and clambered up the mango-tree; the khan at once pursued him.

He stepped to the foot of the tree and cried out loudly:

“My master is Nāgārjuna Garbha, and my axe is called ‘White Moon.’ My traveller’s provisions consist of inexhaustible butter-cake. My case is a sack of many colours in which there is room for a hundred. My cord is bright and of a hundred threads. I myself am ‘the khan who has taken the fortunate path.’ Dead man, descend, or I will hew down the tree!”

Siddhi-Kür replied:

“Do not fell the tree! I will come down.”

Then he came down, and the khan’s son put him in the sack, fastened the latter securely with the cord, tasted his butter-cake, took his load upon his back, and began a journey lasting many days. At last Siddhi-Kür said:

“The day is long and tedious for both of us; relate a story, or I will relate one.”

But the khan’s son walked on without speaking. Then Siddhi-Kür began anew, thus:

“If you are willing to relate, nod your head; but if, on the contrary, you wish me to relate, toss your head backwards!”

Without saying a word the khan’s son conveyed the proper sign that he was ready to listen. Then Siddhi-Kür began the following story.



It will be seen that the above story consists of the well-known motif of the magician and his pupil, followed by the second part of the Sanskrit frame-story presented in Buddhist dress. The use of the former is curious and must, I think, be accounted for simply by the fact that it appeared to the Buddhists more suitable than the original one. Benfey, Pantschatantra, vol. i, p. 411 et seq., looked upon this tale as a proof of the way in which Indian tales travelled westwards, but Cosquin{GL_NOTE::} has clearly shown that Mongolia has played a small part, if any, in such a transmigration.

We shall now briefly enumerate the differences found in the Tibetan version as translated into German by Francke.

The seven magician brothers live in a great country, whose king has two sons. When their parents die they are left penniless. Both decide to call on the magicians, and the elder remains to learn the magic art. He is taught how to turn earth into stones and vice versa, to imitate the voices of the partridge, goat and sheep, but nothing else. The course lasts six weeks, not seven years. The younger one returns to see how his brother has got on, and, looking through the window, learns all their secrets. Later he meets his elder brother coming down from the hills with the goats. They return home, and the younger one turns himself into a horse. Subsequently the horse is sold to the magicians for two hundred rupees, and they offer another fifty rupees for the bridle, which he had been particularly told not to sell. This, however, he does, but discovers later that the money has turned into stone. The magicians keep the horse without food for seven days. Then follows the transformation combat as in the Kalmuck, except that instead of seagulls it is otters. The mendicant lives in a hermitage, not a stony grotto. The rosary is of pearls and the magicians become birds. After their death the mendicant describes the way to the land of dry corpses, where he must fetch Ño-rub-can. On the way he will meet many dry corpses which will offer to accompany him, but he is to take only the one who does not offer. The axe, sack and cord are then given the hero, together with a magic pot and fork for obtaining anything he may want. The conclusion is the same as in the Kalmuck.

A curious feature common both to the Tibetan and Kalmuck versions is that at the end of each tale the Vetāla does not ask questions, and the hero merely makes some exclamation of surprise at the events in the story.

Having now briefly examined the various forms of the frame-story we can proceed to a consideration of the tales themselves.

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