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 5: Somaprabhā and her Three Suitors

(pp. 200-203)

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

As already mentioned (p. 261), the texts of Śivadāsa’s recension differ. According to Lassen,{GL_NOTE::} the girl is finally awarded to the “man of knowledge,” while in Gildemeister’s text,{GL_NOTE::} and in all other versions, she is given to the hero who kills the Rākṣasa.

In the Hindi version{GL_NOTE::} the hero “possessed the art of discharging an arrow, which should strike what was heard, though not seen,” while in the Tamil{GL_NOTE::} we are given no details as to his abilities. The only deviation in this latter version is that it is a giant who carries off the damsel.

The story is in all probability the original of that mass of similar ones which exist in nearly all parts of the world. Some idea of its enormous distribution can be conceived when we read the dozen odd pages of analogues given by Bolte and Polívka{GL_NOTE::} to the well-known German tale of “The Four Skilful Brothers.”

In this version four brothers go out into the world to earn their living. One becomes an expert thief, the second possesses a wonderful telescope, the third is an expert archer, and the fourth can sew anything so that no stitch can be seen. The king’s daughter suddenly disappears, and the joint efforts of the brothers restore her safely to her father. No decision is arrived at as to who deserves the girl in marriage.

This outline represents roughly the plot of the different versions so widely spread all over Europe and the East. The commencement varies, but usually falls under one of the four following headings:—

1. The girl states she will marry only a man who has certain qualifications, which she proceeds to enumerate.

2. Several suitors fall in love with the girl and each states his particular qualification.

3. The girl disappears and several men volunteer to save her.

4. A number of brothers go out to earn a living and each returns with some wonderful gift as possession.

In each case it is the “joint efforts” of the brothers or suitors that bring back the girl who has suddenly disappeared or been seized by a jinn, div, khan, or other similar personage.

As I have already pointed out in my notes to Vetāla 2, the choice of husband by the embarrassed princess or her father usually ends very unsatisfactorily. In some cases no decision is made and the king merely gives a reward, in others the girl chooses the handsomest, while in still others the results are fatal. In several versions one of the men is a wonderful physician, and possesses a magic herb, ointment or healing draught. In the Nights (Burton, Supp., vol. iii, p. 439) and an Icelandic{GL_NOTE::} version it is a magic apple that saves the girl. Sometimes she is merely ill, but in several cases she actually dies. It will be noticed that in Vetāla 5 this does not occur, for it has already formed the chief motif of Vetāla 2. Thus we can say that all versions of this form of the “Joint Efforts” motif can be traced back to these two Indian tales.

As an example of another form of the motif reference should be made to Grimm’s “How Six Men got on in the World,” No. 71.{GL_NOTE::} It falls under the fourth heading as given above, and tells how six chance acquaintances overcome all difficulties by their joint efforts.

The twenty-second story in the Persian{GL_NOTE::} Tūṭī-nāmah closely resembles the story in our text. It also occurs with but little variation in the Turkish recension of the same collection.{GL_NOTE::}

The Ṭūṭī-nāmah{GL_NOTE::} also contains a story which appears to be made up of Vetālas 2, 5 and 21. It is really a more elaborate version of a similar tale in Arji-Borji, to which I have already referred (p. 264).

Four companions combine in creating a woman. One of them, a carpenter, hews a figure from a block of wood; another, a goldsmith, adorns it with gems; the third, a tailor, clothes it; while the fourth, a monk, gives it life. They quarrel about her, each claiming her for himself. They agree to consult a dervish, but he claims the girl himself. They then go to the chief of police, and to the Kazi, but each wants the girl. Finally the matter is referred to a divinity, and the lady once more becomes wood.

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