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 ...


GLORY to Śiva, who assumes various forms; who, though his beloved takes up half his body,[1] is an ascetic, free from qualities, the due object of a world’s adoration! We worship Gaṇeśa, who, when fanning away the cloud of bees, that flies up from his trunk, with his flapping ears, seems to be dispersing the host of obstacles.


[M] (main story line continued) Thus Naravāhanadatta, who had been established in the position of lord paramount over all the kings of the Vidyādharas, remained on that Black Mountain in order to get through the rainy season, spending the time in the hermitage of that sage Kaśyapa, and in the society of his maternal uncle, Gopālaka, who was living the life of an ascetic. He was accompanied by his ministers, and surrounded by twenty-five of his wives, and attended by various Vidyādhara princes, and he occupied himself in telling tales.

One day the hermits and his wives said to him:

“Tell us, now! When Mānasavega took away Queen Madanamañcukā, by his magic power, who amused you, impatient of separation, and how did he do it?”

When Naravāhanadatta had been asked this question by those hermits, and by his wives, he proceeded to speak as follows:

“Can I tell now how great grief I endured when I found out that that wicked enemy had carried off my queen? There was no building, and no garden, or room, into which I did not roam seeking for her in my grief, and all my ministers with me. Then I sat down, as if beside myself, in a garden at the foot of a tree, and Gomukha, having obtained his opportunity, said to me, in order to console me: ‘Do not be despondent, my sovereign; you will soon recover the queen; for the gods promised that you should rule the Vidyādharas with her as your consort; that must turn out as the gods predicted, for their promises are never falsified; and resolute men, after enduring separation, obtain reunion with those they love. Were not Rāmabhadra, King Nala and your own grandfather,[2] after enduring separation, reunited to their beloved wives? And was not Muktāphalaketu, emperor of the Vidyādharas, reunited to Padmāvatī, after he had been separated from her? And now, listen, King; I will tell you the story of that couple.’ When Gomukha had said this, he told me the following tale.


170. Story of King Brahmadatta and the Swans[3]

There is in the country a city famous over the earth by the name of Vārāṇasī, which, like the body of Śiva, is adorned with the Ganges, and bestows emancipation. With the flags on its temples swayed up and down by the wind it seems to be ever saying to men: “Come hither, and attain salvation.”

With the pinnacles of its white palaces it looks like the plateau of Mount Kailāsa, the habitation of the god with the moon for a diadem, and it is full of troops of Śiva’s devoted servants.[4]

In that city there lived of old time a king named Brahmadatta,[5] exclusively devoted to Śiva, a patron of Brāhmans, brave, generous and compassionate. His commands passed current through the earth: they stumbled not in rocky defiles; they were not whelmed in seas; there were no continents which they did not cross. He had a queen named Somaprabhā,[6] who was dear and delightful to him as the moonlight to the chakora, and he was as eager to drink her in with his eyes. And he had a Brāhman minister named Śivabhūti, equal to Bṛhaspati in intellect, who had fathomed the meaning of all the Śāstras.

One night, that king, as he was lying on a bed on the top of a palace exposed to the rays of the moon, saw a couple of swans crossing through the air, with bodies of gleaming gold, looking like two golden lotuses opened in the water of the heavenly Ganges,[7] and attended by a train of king geese. When that wonderful pair had passed from his eyes, the king was for a long time afflicted, and his mind was full of regret at no longer enjoying that sight.

He passed that night without sleeping, and next morning he told his minister, Śivabhūti, what he had seen, and said to him:

“So, if I cannot feast my eyes on those golden swans to my heart’s content, of what profit to me is my kingdom or my life?”

When the king said this to his minister, Śivabhūti, he answered him:

“Do not be anxious; there is a means of bringing about what you desire; listen, King, I will tell you what it is. Owing to the various influence of actions in a previous birth, various is this infinite host of sentient beings produced by the Creator in this versatile world. This world is really fraught with woe, but owing to delusion there arises in creatures the fancy that happiness is to be found in it, and they take pleasure in house, and food, and drink, and so become attached to it. And Providence has appointed that different kinds of food, drink and dwellings should be agreeable to different creatures, according to the classes to which they respectively belong. So have made, King, a great lake to be the dwelling-place of these swans, covered with various kinds of lotuses, and watched by guards, where they will be free from molestation. And keep always scattering on the bank food of the kind that birds love, in order that water-birds may quickly come there from various quarters. Among them these two golden swans will certainly come; and then you will be able to gaze on them continually: do not be despondent.”

When King Brahmadatta’s minister said this to him, he had that great lake made according to his directions, and it was ready in a moment. The lake was frequented by swans, sārasas and cakravākas,[8] and after a time that couple of swans came there, and settled down on a clump of lotuses in it. Then the guards set to watch the lake came and informed the king of the fact, and he went down to the lake in a state of great delight, considering that his object had been accomplished. And he beheld those golden swans, and worshipped them from a distance, and ministered to their comfort by scattering for them grains of rice dipped in milk. And the king took so much interest in them that he spent his whole time on the bank of that lake watching those swans, with their bodies of pure gold, their eyes of pearl, their beaks and feet of coral, and the tips of their wings of emerald,[9] which had come there in perfect confidence.

Now, one day, as the king was roaming along the bank of the lake, he saw in one place a pious offering made with unfading flowers.

And he said to the guards there: “Who made this offering?”

Then the guards of the lake said to the king:

“Every day, at dawn, noon and sunset, these golden swans bathe in the lake, and make these offerings, and stand absorbed in contemplation: so we cannot say, King, what is the meaning of this great wonder.”

When the king heard this from the guards he said to himself:

“Such a proceeding is quite inconsistent with the nature of swans; surely there must be a reason for this. So I will perform asceticism until I find out who these swans are.”

Then the king and his wife and his minister gave up food, and remained performing penanee and absorbed in meditation on Śiva.

And after the king had fasted for twelve days the two heavenly swans came to him, and said to him in a dream, with articulate voice:

“Rise up, King; tomorrow we will tell you and your wife and minister, after you have broken your fast, the whole truth of the matter in private.”

When the swans had said this they disappeared, and next morning the king and his wife and his minister, as soon as they awoke, rose up, and broke their fast. And after they had eaten, the two swans came to them, as they were sitting in a pleasure pavilion near the water. The king received them with respect, and said to them:

“Tell me who you are.”

Then they proceeded to tell him their history.


170a. How Pārvatī condemned her Five Attendants to be reborn on Earth

There is a monarch of mountains, famous on the earth under the name of Mandara, in whose groves of gleaming jewels all the gods roam, on whose table-lands, watered with nectar from the churned sea of milk, are to be found flowers, fruits, roots and water that are antidotes to old age and death. Its highest peaks, composed of various precious stones, form the pleasure grounds of Śiva, and he loves it more than Mount Kailāsa.

There, one day, that god left Pārvatī, after he had been diverting himself with her, and disappeared, to execute some business for the gods. Then the goddess, afflicted by his absence, roamed in the various places where he loved to amuse himself, and the other gods did their best to console her.

And one day the goddess was much troubled by the advent of spring, and she was sitting surrounded by the Gaṇas at the foot of a tree, thinking about her beloved, when a noble Gaṇa, named Maṇipuṣpeśvara, looked lovingly at a young maiden, the daughter of Jayā, called Candralekhā, who was waving a chowrie over the goddess. He was a match for her in youth and beauty, and she met his glance with a responsive look of love, as he stood by her side. Two other Gaṇas, named Piṅgeśvara and Guheśvara, when they saw that, interchanged glances, and a smile passed over their faces. And when the goddess saw them smiling she was angry in her heart, and she cast her eyes hither and thither, to see what they were laughing at in this unseemly manner. And then she saw that Candralekhā and Maṇipuṣpeśvara were looking lovingly in one another’s faces.

Then the goddess, who was quite distracted with the sorrow of separation, was angry, and said:

“These young people have done well to look lovingly[10] at one another in the absence of the god, and these two mirthful people have done well to laugh when they saw their glances: so let this lover and maiden, who are blinded with passion, fall into a human birth; and there the disrespectful pair shall be man and wife; but these unseasonable laughers shall endure many miseries on the earth; they shall be first poor Brāhmans, and then[11] Brāhman-Rākṣasas, and then Piśācas, and after that Caṇḍālas, and then robbers, and then bob-tailed dogs, and then they shall be various kinds of birds—shall these Gaṇas who offended by laughing; for their minds were unclouded when they were guilty of this disrespectful conduct.”

When the goddess had uttered this command, a Gaṇa of the name of Dhūrjaṭa said:

“Goddess, this is very unjust; these excellent Gaṇas do not deserve so severe a curse, for a very small offence.”

When the goddess heard that she said in her wrath to Dhūrjaṭa also:

“Fall thou also, great sir, that knowest not thy place, into a mortal womb.”

When the goddess had inflicted these tremendous curses, the female warder, Jayā, the mother of Candralekhā, clung to her feet, and addressed this petition to her:

“Withdraw thy anger, goddess; appoint an end to the curse of this daughter of mine, and of these thy own servants, that have through ignorance committed sin.”

When Pārvatī had been thus entreated by her warder, Jayā, she said:

“When all these, owing to their having obtained insight, shall in course of time meet together, they shall, after visiting Śiva, the lord of magic powers, in the place[12] where Brahmā and the other gods performed asceticism, return to our court, having been freed from their curse. And this Candralekhā, and her beloved, and that Dhūrjaṭa shall, all three of them, be happy in their lives as mortals, but these two shall be miserable.”

When the goddess had said this, she ceased; and at that very moment the Asura Andhaka came there, having heard of the absence of Śiva. The presumptuous Asura hoped to win the goddess, but having been reproached by her attendants he departed; but he was slain on that account by the god, who discovered the reason of his coming, and pursued him.[13]

Then Śiva returned home, having accomplished his object, and Pārvatī, delighted, told him of the coming of Andhaka, and the god said to her:

“I have to-day slain a former mind-born son of thine, named Andhaka, and he shall now be a Bhṛṅgin here, as nothing remains of him but skin and bone.”

When Śiva had said this he remained there, diverting himself with the goddess, and Maṇipuṣpeśvara and the other five descended to earth.


170. Story of King Brahmadatta and the Swans

“Now, King, hear the long and strange story of these two, Piṅgeśvara and Guheśvara.


170a. How Pārvatī condemned her Five Attendants to be reborn on Earth

There is on this earth a royal grant to Brāhmans, named Yajñasthala. In it there lived a rich[14] and virtuous Brāhman named Yajñasoma. In his middle age he had two sons born to him; the name of the elder was Harisoma and of the younger Devasoma. They passed through the age of childhood, and were invested with the sacred thread,[15] and then the Brāhman, their father, lost his wealth, and he and his wife died.

Then those two wretched sons, bereaved of their father, and without subsistence, having had their grant taken from them by their relations, said to one another:

“We are now reduced to living on alms, but we get no alms here. So we had better go to the house of our maternal grandfather, though it is far off. Though we have come down in the world, who on earth would welcome us, if we arrive of our own accord? Nevertheless, let us go. What else indeed are we to do, for we have no other resource?”

After deliberating to this effect they went, begging their way, by slow stages, to that royal grant, where the house of their grandfather was. There the unfortunate young men found out, by questioning people, that their grandfather, whose name was Somadeva, was dead, and his wife also.

Then, begrimed with dust, they entered despairing the house of their maternal uncles, named Yajñadeva and Kratu-deva. There those good Brāhmans welcomed them kindly, and gave them food and clothing, and they remained in study.

But in course of time the wealth of their maternal uncles diminished, and they could keep no servants, and then they came and said to those nephews, in the most affectionate way:

“Dear boys, we can no longer afford to keep a man to look after our cattle, as we have become poor, so do you look after our cattle for us.”

When Harisoma and Devasoma’s uncles said this to them their throats were full of tears, but they agreed to their proposal. Then they took the cattle to the forest every day, and looked after them there, and at evening they returned home with them, wearied out.

Then, as they went on looking after the cattle, owing to their falling asleep in the day some animals were stolen, and others were eaten by tigers. That made their uncles very unhappy; and one day a cow and goat intended for sacrifice, belonging to their uncles, both disappeared somewhere or other. Terrified at that, they took the other animals home before the right time, and, running off in search of the two that were missing, they entered a distant forest.

There they saw their goat half eaten by a tiger, and after lamenting, being quite despondent, they said:

“Our uncles were keeping this goat for a sacrifice, and now that it is destroyed their anger will be something tremendous. So let us dress its flesh with fire, and eat enough of it to put an end of our hunger, and then let us take the rest, and go off somewhere and support ourselves by begging.”

After these reflections they proceeded to roast the goat, and while they were so engaged their two uncles arrived, who had been running after them, and saw them cooking the goat. When they saw their uncles in the distance they were terrified, and they rose up in great trepidation, and fled from the spot.

And those two uncles in their wrath pronounced[16] on them the following curse:

“Since, in your longing for flesh, you have done a deed worthy of Rākṣasas, you shall become flesh-eating Brāhman-Rākṣasas.”

And immediately those two young Brāhmans became Brāhman-Rākṣasas, having mouths formidable with tusks, flaming hair and insatiable hunger; and they wandered about in the forest, catching animals and eating them.

But one day they rushed upon an ascetic, who possessed supernatural power, to slay him, and he in self-defence cursed them, and they became Piśācas. And in their condition as Piśācas they were carrying off the cow of a Brāhman, to kill it, but they were overpowered by his spells, and reduced by his curse to the condition of Caṇḍālas.

One day, as they were roaming about in their condition as Caṇḍālas, bow in hand, tormented with hunger, they reached, in their search for food, a village of bandits. The warders of the village, supposing them to be thieves, arrested them both, as soon as they saw them, and cut off their ears and noses. And they bound them, and beat them with sticks, and brought them in this condition before the chiefs of the bandits. There they were questioned by the chiefs, and being bewildered with fear, and tormented with hunger and pain,[17] they related their history to them.

Then the chiefs of the gang, moved by pity, set them at liberty, and said to them:

“Remain here and take food; do not be terrified. You have arrived here on the eighth day of the month, the day on which we worship Kārttikeya, and so you are our guests, and should have a share in our feast.”[18]

When the bandits had said this they worshipped the goddess Durgā, and made the two Caṇḍālas eat in their presence,[19] and having, as it happened, taken a fancy to them, they would not let them out of their sight. Then they lived with those bandits by robbing, and, thanks to their courage, became eventually the chiefs of the gang.

And one night those chiefs marched with their followers to plunder a large town, a favourite abode of Śiva, which some of their spies had selected for attack. Though they saw an evil omen they did not turn back, and they reached and plundered the whole city and the temple of the god. Then the inhabitants cried to the god for protection, and Śiva in his wrath bewildered the bandits by making them blind. And the citizens suddenly perceiving that, and thinking that it was due to the favour of Śiva, assembled, and smote those bandits with sticks and stones. And Gaṇas, moving about invisibly, flung some of the bandits into ravines, and dashed others to pieces against the ground.

And the people, seeing the two leaders, were about to put them to death, but they immediately turned into bob-tailed dogs. And in this transformation they suddenly remembered their former birth, and danced in front of Śiva, and fled to him for protection. When the citizens, Brāhmans, merchants, and all, saw that, they were delighted at being free from fear of robbers, and went laughing to their houses. And then the delusion that had possessed those two beings, now turned into dogs, disappeared, and they awoke to reality, and in order to put an end to their curse they fasted, and appealed to Śiva by severe asceticism. And the next morning the citizens, making high festival, and worshipping Śiva, beheld those dogs absorbed in contemplation, and though they offered them food the creatures would not touch it.

And the two dogs remained in this state for several days, beheld by all the world, and then Śiva’s Gaṇas preferred this prayer to him:

“O god, these two Gaṇas, Piṅgeśvara and Guheśvara, who were cursed by the goddess, have been afflicted for a long time, so take pity on them.”

When the holy god heard that, he said:

“Let these two Gaṇas be delivered from their canine condition and become crows!”

Then they became crows, and broke their fast upon the rice of the offering, and lived happily, remembering their former state, exclusively devoted to Śiva.

After some time, Śiva having been satisfied by their devotion to him, they became by his command first vultures, and then peacocks; then those noble Gaṇas, in course of time, became swans; and in that condition also they strove with the utmost devotion to propitiate Śiva. And at last they gained the favour of that god by bathing in sacred waters, by performing vows, by meditations and acts of worship, and they became all composed of gold and jewels, and attained supernatural insight.


170. Story of King Brahmadatta and the Swans

“Know, that we are those very two, Piṅgeśvara and Guheśvara, who, by the curse of Pārvatī, endured a succession of woes, and have now become swans. But the Gaṇa Maṇipuṣpeśvara, who was in love with the daughter of Jayā, and was cursed by the goddess, has become a king upon earth, even yourself, Brahmadatta. And that daughter of Jayā has been born as this lady, your wife, Somaprabhā; and that Dhūrjaṭa has been born as this your minister, Śivabhūti. And therefore we, having attained insight, and remembering the end of the curse appointed by Pārvatī, appeared to you at night. By means of that artifice we have all been reunited here today; and we will bestow on you the perfection of insight.

“Come, let us go to that holy place of Śiva on the Tridaśa mountain, rightly named Siddhīśvara,[20] where the gods performed asceticism in order to bring about the destruction of the Asura Vidyuddhvaja. And they slew that Asura in fight, with the help of Muktāphalaketu, the head of all the Vidyādhara princes, who had been obtained by the favour of Śiva. And that Muktāphalaketu, having passed through the state of humanity brought upon him by a curse, obtained reunion with Padmāvatī by the favour of the same god. Let us go to that holy place, which has such splendid associations connected with it, and there propitiate Śiva, and then we will return to our own home, for such was the end of the curse appointed to all of us by the goddess, to take place at the same time.”

When the two heavenly swans said this to King Brahmadatta, he was at once excited with curiosity to hear the tale of Muktāphalaketu.

Footnotes and references:


An allusion to the Ardhanārīśa form of Śiva.


Pitāmahāḥ must be a misprint for pitāmahaḥ, as is apparent from the India Office MSS.


This story is in the original prefaced by “Iti Padmāvatī kathā.” It continues to the end of the Book, but, properly speaking, the story of Padmāvatī does not commence until Chapter CXV.


There is a reference to the sectaries of Śiva in Benares, and the Gaṇas of Śiva on Mount Kailāsa.


Here we have a longer form of the story of Brahmadatta, found in Vol. I, pp. 20-21.


I.e. “moonlight.”


There is probably a double meaning. The clouds are compared to the Ganges, and it is obvious that geese would cluster round lotuses.


The sārasa is a large crane; the cakravāka the Brahmany duck, for which see Vol. VI, p.71n3.—n.m.p.


I.e. Tārkṣyaratnā. I have no idea what the jewel is. B. and R. give ein bestimmter dunkelf arbiger Edelstein. In Jātaka No. 136 there is a golden goose who had been a Brāhman. He gives his feathers to his daughters to sell, but his wife pulls out all the feathers at once; they become like the feathers of a baka. Afterwards they all grow white. See Rhys Davids’ Buddhist Birth Stories, p. ix, note. In śl. 4, 1, I read tadrasād for tatra sadā, with MSS. Nos. 1882 and 2166; No. 3003 has tatrasād.


It may possibly mean “acted a love drama.” I cannot find the sense I have assigned to it in any dictionary.


Before anu we should, with the India Office MSS., insert tad. Monier Williams explains Brāhman-Rākṣasa as a “fiend of the Brāhmanical class.”


It is worth while remarking that all the India Office MSS. read kṣetraṃ, which would make Siddhīśvara the name of a place here.


All the India Office MSS. read gatvā for jñātvā. I have adopted this; and I take tatkāraṇaṃ adverbially. MS. No. 1882 has gatovijñāta.


It appears from the India Office MSS. that dhanavān should be inserted after brāhmaṇo. In śl. 82 the India Office MSS. read citrāyatam, which I have adopted.


For a note on the sacred thread see Vol. VII, pp. 26-28.—n.m.p.


The three India Office MSS. have viteratuḥ.


Dr Kern would read kṣudduḥkāvāptasaṃkleśau. I find that all the three India Office MSS. confirm this conjecture, so I have adopted it.


Cf. Virgil’s Æneid, viii, 172 et seq.


All the three India Office MSS. and the Sanskrit College MS. read svāgra, which I have endeavoured to translate. Perhaps it may mean “before they took any food themselves.”


Here the name of a place sacred to Śiva. Before we have had it as the god’s title. See Böhtlingk and Roth, s.v. It means “lord of magic powers.”

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