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 ...

170. Story of King Brahmadatta and the Swans

THEN King Brahmadatta said to those celestial swans:

“How did Muktāphalaketu kill that Vidyuddhvaja? And how did he pass through the state of humanity inflicted on him by a curse, and regain Padmāvatī? Tell me this first, and afterwards you shall carry out your intentions.”

When those[1] birds heard this, they began to relate the story of Muktāphalaketu as follows:


170b. Muktāphalaketu and Padmāvatī

Once on a time there was a king of the Daityas named Vidyutprabha, hard for gods to conquer. He, desiring a son, went to the bank of the Ganges, and with his wife performed asceticism for a hundred years to propitiate Brahmā. And by the favour of Brahmā, who was pleased with his asceticism, that enemy of the gods obtained a son named Vidyuddhvaja, who was invulnerable at their hands.

That son of the king of the Daityas, even when a child, was of great valour; and one day, seeing that their town was guarded on all sides by troops, he said to one of his companions:

“Tell me, my friend, what have we to be afraid of, that this town is guarded on all sides by troops?”

Then his companion said to him:

“We have an adversary in Indra, the king of the gods; and it is on his account that this system of guarding the town is kept up. Ten hundred thousand elephants, and fourteen hundred thousand chariots, and thirty thousand horsemen, and a hundred millions of footmen guard the city in turn for one watch of the night, and the turn of guarding comes round for every division in seven years.”

When Vidyuddhvaja heard this, he said:

“Out on such a throne, that is guarded by the arms of others, and not by its own might! However, I will perform such severe asceticism as will enable me to conquer my enemy with my own arm, and put an end to all this insolence of his.”

When Vidyuddhvaja had said this, he put aside that companion of his, who tried to prevent him, and without telling his parents went to the forest to perform penance.

But his parents heard of it, and in their affection for their child they followed him, and said to him:

“Do not act rashly, son; severe asceticism ill befits a child like you. Our throne has been victorious over its enemies; is there one more powerful in the whole world? What do you desire to get by withering yourself in vain? Why do you afflict us?”

When Vidyuddhvaja’s parents said this to him, he answered them:

“I will acquire, even in my childhood, heavenly arms by the force of asceticism: as for our empire over the world being unopposed of enemies, do I not know so much from the fact that our city is guarded by troops ever ready in their harness?”

When the Asura Vidyuddhvaja, firm in his resolution, had said so much to his parents, and had sent them away, he performed asceticism to win over Brahmā. He continued for a period of three hundred years living on fruits only, and successively for similar periods living on water, air, and nothing at all. Then Brahmā, seeing that his asceticism was becoming capable of upsetting the system of the world, came to him, and at his request gave him the weapons of Brahmā.

He said:

“This weapon of Brahmā cannot be repelled by any weapon except the weapon of Paśupati Rudra, which is unattainable by me. So, if you desire victory, you must not employ it unseasonably.”

When Brahmā had said this, he went away, and that Daitya went home.

Then Vidyuddhvaja marched out to conquer his enemies with his father, and with all his forces, who came together to that great feast of war. Indra, the ruler of the gods’ world, heard of his coming, and kept guard in heaven, and when he drew near marched out to meet him, eager for battle, accompanied by his friend Candraketu, the king of the Vidyādharas, and by the supreme lord of the Gandharvas, named Padmaśekhara. Then Vidyuddhvaja appeared, hiding the heaven with his forces, and Rudra and others came there to behold that battle. Then there took place between those two armies a battle, which was involved in darkness,[2] by the sun’s being eclipsed with the clashing together of missiles; and the sea of war swelled high, lashed by the wind of wrath, with hundreds of chariots for inflowing streams, and rolling horses and elephants for marine monsters.

Then single combats took place between the gods and Asuras, and Vidyutprabha, the father of Vidyuddhvaja, rushed in wrath upon Indra. Indra found himself being gradually worsted by the Daitya in the interchange of missiles; so he flung his thunderbolt at him. And then that Daitya, smitten by the thunderbolt, fell dead. And that enraged Vidyuddhvaja so that he attacked Indra. And though his life was not in danger, he began by discharging at him the weapon of Brahmā; and other great Asuras struck at him with other weapons. Then Indra called to mind the weapon of Paśupati, presided over by Śiva himself, which immediately presented itself in front of him; he worshipped it, and discharged it among his foes. That weapon, which was of the nature of a destroying fire, consumed the army of the Asuras; but Vidyuddhvaja, being a child, only fell senseless when smitten by it, for that weapon does not harm children, old men or fugitives. Then all the gods returned home victorious.

And Vidyuddhvaja, for his part, who had fallen senseless, recovered his senses after a very long time, and fled weeping, and then said to the rest of his soldiers, who had assembled:

“In spite of my having acquired the weapon of Brahmā, we were not victorious to-day, though victory was in our grasp; on the contrary we were defeated. So I will go and attack Indra, and lose my life in battle. Now that my father is slain, I shall not be able to return to my own city.”

When he said this, an old minister of his father’s said to him:

“The weapon of Brahmā, discharged unseasonably, is too languid to contend with other weapons discharged, for that great weapon was to-day overcome by the weapon of Śiva, which will not brook the presence of others. So you ought not unseasonably to challenge your victorious enemy, for in this way you will strengthen him and destroy yourself. The calm and resolute man preserves his own life, and in due time regains might, and takes revenge on his enemy, and so wins a reputation esteemed by the whole world.”

When that old minister said this to Vidyuddhvaja, he said to him:

“Then go you and take care of my kingdom, but I will go and propitiate that supreme lord Śiva.”

When he had said this, he dismissed his followers, though they were loth to leave him, and he went with five young Daityas, companions of equal age, and performed asceticism on the bank of the Ganges, at the foot of Mount Kailāsa. During the summer he stood in the midst of five fires, and during the winter in the water, meditating on Śiva; and for a thousand years he lived on fruits only. For a second thousand years he ate only roots, for a third he subsisted on water, for a fourth on air, and during the fifth he took no food at all.[3]

Brahmā once more came to grant him a boon, but he did not show him any respect: on the contrary he said:

“Depart! I have tested the efficiency of thy boon.”

And he remained fasting for another period of equal duration, and then a great volume of smoke rose up from his head, and Śiva manifested himself to him, and said to him:

“Choose a boon.”

When thus addressed, that Daitya said to him:

“May I, Lord, by thy favour slay Indra in fight?”

The god answered:

“Rise up! There is no distinction between the slain[4] and the conquered; so thou shalt conquer Indra and dwell in his heaven.”

When the god had said this, he disappeared, and Vidyuddhvaja, considering that the wish of his heart was attained, broke his fast, and went to his city. There he was welcomed by the citizens, and met by that minister of his father’s who had endured suffering for his sake, and who now made great rejoicing. He then summoned the armies of the Asuras, and made preparation for battle, and sent an ambassador to Indra to warn him to hold himself in readiness for fight. And he marched out, hiding with his banners the sky, which he clove with the thunderous roar of his host, and so he seemed to be fulfilling the wish[5] of the inhabitants of heaven. And Indra, for his part, knowing that he had returned from winning a boon, was troubled, but, after taking counsel with the adviser of the gods,[6] he summoned his forces.

Then Vidyuddhvaja arrived, and there took place between those two armies a great battle, in which it was difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. Those Daityas, who were headed by Subāhu, fought with the wind-gods, and Piṅgākṣa and his followers with the gods of wealth, Mahāmāya and his forces with the gods of fire, and Ayaḥkāya and his hosts with the sun-gods, and Akampana and his warriors with the Vidyādharas, and the rest with the Gandharvas and their allies. So a great battle continued between them for twenty days, and on the twenty-first day the gods were routed in fight by the Asuras.

And when routed they fled, and entered heaven; and then Indra himself issued, mounted on Airāvaṇa. And the forces of the gods rallied round him, and marched out again,, with the leaders of the Vidyādharas, headed by Candraketu.. Then a desperate fight took place, and Asuras and gods[7] were being slain in great numbers when Vidyuddhvaja attacked Indra, to revenge the slaughter of his father. The king of the gods cleft over and over again the bow of that chief of the Asuras, who kept repelling his shafts with answering shafts. Then Vidyuddhvaja, elated with the boon of Śiva, seized his mace, and rushed furiously on Indra. He leapt up, planting his feet on the tusks of Airāvaṇa, and climbed up on his forehead and killed his driver. And he gave the king of the gods a blow with his mace, and he quickly returned it with a similar weapon. But when Vidyuddhvaja struck him a second time with his mace, Indra fell senseless on to the chariot of the wind-god. And the wind-god carried him away in his chariot out of the fight with the speed of thought; and Vidyuddhvaja, who sprang after him,[8] fell on the ground.

At that moment a voice came from the air:

“This is an evil day, so carry Indra quickly out of the fight.”

Then the wind-god carried off Indra at the utmost speed of his chariot, and Vidyuddhvaja pursued them, mounted on his; and in the meanwhile Airāvaṇa, infuriated and unrestrained by the driver’s hook, ran after Indra, trampling and scattering the forces. And the army of the gods left the field of battle and followed Indra; and Bṛhaspati carried off his wife Śacī, who was much alarmed, to the heaven of Brahmā. Then Vidyuddhvaja, having gained the victory, and having found Amarāvatī empty, entered it, accompanied by his shouting troops.

And Indra, having recovered consciousness, and seeing that it was an evil time, entered that heaven of Brahmā with all the gods. And Brahmā comforted him, saying:

“Do not grieve: at present this boon of Śiva is predominant; but you will recover your position.”

And he gave him, to dwell in, a place of his own, furnished with all delights, named Samādhisthala, situated in a region of the world of Brahmā. There the king of the gods dwelt, accompanied by Sachī and Airāvaṇa; and by his orders the Vidyādhara kings went to the heaven of the wind-god. And the lords of the Gandharvas went to the inviolable world of the moon; and others went to other worlds, abandoning severally their own dwellings. And Vidyuddhvaja, having taken possession of the territory of the gods with beat of drum, enjoyed sway over heaven[9] as an unlimited monarch.

At this point of the story, Candraketu, the Vidyādhara king, having remained long in the world of the wind-god, said to himself:

“How long am I to remain here, fallen from my high rank? The asceticism of my enemy Vidyuddhvaja has not even now spent its force; but I have heard that my friend Padmaśekhara, the king of the Gandharvas, has gone from the world of the moon to the city of Śiva to perform asceticism. I do not know as yet whether Śiva has bestowed a boon on him or not; when I have discovered that, I shall know what I myself ought to do.”

While he was going through these reflections, his friend, the king of the Gandharvas, came towards him, having obtained a boon.

That king of the Gandharvas, having been welcomed with an embrace by Candraketu, and questioned,[10] told him his story:

“I went to the city of Śiva and propitiated Śiva with asceticism; and he said to me:

‘Go! thou shalt have a noble son; and thou shalt recover thy kingdom, and obtain a daughter of transcendent beauty, whose husband shall be the heroic slayer of Vidyuddhvaja.’[11]

Having received this promise from Śiva, I have come here to tell you.”

When Candraketu had heard this from the king of the Gandharvas, he said:

“I too must go and propitiate Śiva in order to put an end to this sorrow; without propitiating him we cannot obtain the fulfilment of our desires.”

When Candraketu had formed this resolution, he went with his wife Muktāvalī to the heavenly abode of Śiva, to perform asceticism.

And Padmaśekhara told the story of his boon to Indra, and having conceived a hope of the destruction of his enemy, went to the world of the moon. Then that king of the gods in Samādhisthala, having also conceived a hope of the destruction of his enemy, called to mind the counsellor of the immortals.

And he appeared as soon as he was thought upon, and the god, bowing before him, and honouring him, said to him:

“Śiva, pleased with the asceticism of Padmaśekhara, has promised that he shall have a son-in-law who shall slay Vidyuddhvaja. So we shall eventually see an end put to his crimes: in the meanwhile I am despondent, dwelling here in misery on account of my having fallen from my high position. So devise, holy sir, some expedient that will operate quickly.”

When the adviser of the gods heard this speech of Indra’s, he said to him:

“It is true that that enemy of ours has nearly exhausted his asceticism by his crimes; so now we have an opportunity of exerting ourselves against him. Come, then, let us tell Brahmā; he will point out to us an expedient.”

When Bṛhaspati had said this to Indra, he went with him to Brahmā, and, after worshipping him, he told him what was in his mind.

Then Brahmā said:

“Am I not also anxious to bring about the same end? But Śiva alone can remove the calamity that he has caused. And that god requires a long propitiation[12]: so let us go to Viṣṇu, who is like-minded with him; he will devise an expedient.”

When Brahmā and Indra and Bṛhaspati had deliberated together to this effect, they ascended a chariot of swans and went to Śvetadvīpa,[13] where all the inhabitants carried the conch, discus, lotus and club, and had four arms, being assimilated to Viṣṇu in appearance as they were devoted to him in heart. There they saw the god in a palace composed of splendid jewels, reposing on the serpent Seṣa, having his feet adored by Lakṣmī. After bowing before him, and having been duly welcomed by him, and venerated by the divine sages, they took the seats befitting them.

When the holy one asked the gods how they prospered, they humbly said to him:

“What prosperity can be ours, O God, as long as Vidyuddhvaja is alive? For you know all that he has done to us, and it is on his account that we have come here now: it now rests with you to determine what further is to be done in this matter.”

When the gods said this to Viṣṇu, he answered them:

“Why, do I not know that my regulations are broken by that Asura? But what the great lord, the slayer of Tripura, has done, he alone can undo: I cannot. And from him must proceed the overthrow of that wicked Daitya. You must make haste, provided I tell you an expedient; and I will tell you one: listen! There is a heavenly abode of Śiva, named Siddhīśvara. There the god Śiva is found ever manifest. And long ago that very god manifested to me and Prajāpati[14] his form as the flame-liṅga, and told me this secret. So come, let us go there and entreat him with asceticism; he will put an end to this affliction of the worlds!”

When the god Viṣṇu had uttered this behest, they all went to Siddhīśvara by means of two conveyances, the bird Garuḍa and the chariot of swans. That place is untouched by the calamities of old age, death and sickness, and it is the home of unalloyed happiness, and in it beasts, birds and trees are all of gold. There they worshipped the liṅga of Śiva, that exhibits in succession all his forms,[15] and is in succession of various jewels; and then Viṣṇu, Brahmā, Indra and Bṛhaspati, all four, with their minds devoted to Śiva, proceeded to perform a severe course of asceticism in order to propitiate him.

And in the meanwhile Śiva, propitiated by the severe asceticism of Candraketu, bestowed a boon on that prince of the Vidyādharas:

“Rise up, King! a son shall be born to thee who shall be a great hero, and shall slay in fight thy enemy Vidyuddhvaja; he shall become incarnate among the human race by a curse, and shall render a service to the gods, and shall recover his position by virtue of the asceticism of Padmāvatī, the daughter of the king of the Gandharvas: and with her for a wife he shall be emperor over all the Vidyādharas for ten kalpas.”[16]

When the god had granted this boon he disappeared, and Candraketu went back to the world of the wind-god with his wife.

In the meanwhile Śiva was pleased with the severe asceticism of Viṣṇu and his companions in Siddhīśvara, and he appeared to them in the liṅga and delighted them by the following speech:

“Rise up, afflict yourselves no longer! I have been fully propitiated with self-torture by your partisan Candraketu, the prince of the Vidyādharas. And he shall have a heroic son, sprung from a part of me, who shall soon slay in fight that Daitya Vidyuddhvaja. Then, in order that he may perform another service to the gods, he shall fall[17] by a curse into the world of men, and the daughter of the Gandharva Padmaśekhara shall deliver him from that condition. And he shall rule the Vidyādharas with that lady, who shall be an incarnation of a portion of Gaurī, and shall be named Padmāvatī, for his consort, and at last he shall come to me. So bear up for a little: this desire of yours is already as good as accomplished.”

When Śiva had said this to Viṣṇu and his companions, he disappeared; then Viṣṇu, Brahmā, Indra and Bṛhaspati went, in high delight, back to the places from which they came.

Then Muktāvalī, the wife of that king of the Vidyādharas named Candraketu, became pregnant, and in time she brought forth a son, illuminating the four quarters with his irresistible splendour,[18] like the infant sun arisen to remove the oppression under which those ascetics were groaning.

And as soon as he was born this voice was heard from heaven:

“Candraketu, this son of thine shall slay the Asura Vidyuddhvaja, and know that he is to be by name Muktāphalaketu, the terror of his foes.”

When the voice had said so much to the delighted Candraketu, it ceased, and a rain of flowers fell; and Padmaśekhara and Indra, hearing what had taken place, came there, and the other gods who were lurking concealed. Conversing to one another of the story of the boon of Śiva, and having rejoiced thereat, they went to their own abodes. And Muktāphalaketu had all the sacraments performed for him, and gradually grew up; and as he grew, the joy of the gods increased.

Then, some time after the birth of his son, a daughter was born to Padmaśekhara, the supreme lord of the Gandharvas.

And when she was born a voice came from the air:

“Prince of the Gandharvas, this daughter of thine, Padmāvatī, shall be the wife of that king of the Vidyādharas who shall be the foe of Vidyuddhvaja.”

Then that maiden Padmāvatī gradually grew up, adorned with an overflowing effulgence of beauty, as if with billowy nectar acquired by her being born in the world of the moon.[19]

And that Muktāphalaketu, even when a child, was high-minded, and being always devoted to Śiva, he performed asceticism, in the form of vows, fasts and other penances.

And once on a time, when he had fasted twelve days, and was absorbed in meditation, the adorable Śiva appeared to him, and said:

“I am pleased with this devotion of thine, so by my special favour the weapons, the sciences, and all the accomplishments shall manifest themselves to thee. And receive from me this sword named Invincible,[20] by means of which thou shalt hold sovereign sway, unconquered by thy enemies.”

When the god had said this, he gave him the sword and disappeared, and that prince at once became possessed of powerful weapons and great strength and courage.

Now one day, about this time, that great Asura Vidyuddhvaja, being established in heaven, was disporting himself in the water of the heavenly Ganges. He saw the water of that stream flowing along brown with the pollen of flowers, and remarked that it was pervaded by the smell of the ichor of elephants, and troubled with waves.

Then, puffed up with pride of his mighty arm, he said to his attendants:

“Go and see who is disporting himself in the water above me.”

When the Asuras heard that, they went up to the stream, and saw the bull of Śiva sporting in the water with the elephant of Indra. And they came back and said to that prince of the Daityas:

“King, the bull of Śiva has gone higher up the stream, and is amusing himself in the water with Airāvaṇa; so this water is full of his garlands and of the ichor of Airāvaṇa.”

When that Asura heard this he was wroth, in his arrogance making light of Rudra, and infatuated by the full ripening of his own evil deeds he said to his followers:

“Go and bring that bull and Airāvaṇa here, bound.”

Those Asuras went there and tried to capture them, and thereupon the bull and elephant ran upon them in wrath and slew most of them. And those who escaped from the slaughter went and told Vidyuddhvaja; and he was angry, and sent a very great force of Asuras against those two animals. And those two trampled to death that army, upon which destruction came as the result of matured crime, and then the bull returned to Śiva, and the elephant to Indra.

Then Indra heard about that proceeding of the Daityas from the guards, who followed Airāvaṇa to take care of him, and he concluded that the time of his enemy’s destruction had arrived, as he had treated with disrespect even the adorable Śiva. He told that to Brahmā, and then he united himself with the assembled forces of the gods and the Vidyādharas and his other allies, and then he mounted the chief elephant of the gods and set out to slay that enemy of his; and on his departure Sachī performed for him the usual ceremony to ensure good fortune.

Footnotes and references:


It appears from the India Office MSS. that tāv should be inserted after evaṃ.


I have adopted the reading andhakāritaṃ, which I find in the three India Office MSS.


For a note on the austerities of Hindu ascetics see Vol. I, p.79n1.—N.M.P.


I read niliatasya, which I find supported by two of the India Office MSS. No. 1882 has nihitasya, No. 2166 nihatasya, and No. 3003 has anitahasya. The Sanskrit College MS. has tihatasya.


Perhaps there is a pun here. The word iṣṭa may also mean “sacrifice,” “sacred rite.”


I.e. Bṛhaspati.


The word for god here is amara, literally “immortal.” This may remind the classical reader of the passage in Birds, 1224, where Iris says, “ἀλλ’ ἀφάνατός εἰμ’,” and Peisthetærus imperturbably replies, “ἀλλ’ ὅμως ἂν ἀπέφανες.


I read dattajhampo, which I find in MS. No. 3003. The other two have dattajampo. The Sanskrit College MS. has dattajhampo.


Cf. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, v, 321-331, for the flight of the inhabitants of the Grecian heaven from the giant Typhæus.


All the India Office MSS. read pṛṣṭas.


All the India Office MSS. read Vidyuddhvajāntako.


MS. No. 1882 here reads chiraprāpyas: the other two agree with Brockhaus.


See Vol. IV, p. 185,185n2.—n.m.p.


A title of Brahmā. See Muir’s Sanskrit Texts, vol. iv, p. 18.


For anyonya I read anyānya, but all the MSS. confirm Brockhaus’ text.


The three India Office MSS. have daśa kalpān.


I read cyutaṃ for cyutā. See Taraṅga 117, 152 et seq. But all the India Office MSS. agree with Brockhaus’ text. The tale itself will justify my correction.


The word tejasā also means “valour.”


Literally “the nectar-rayed one.”


Cf. Vol. I, p.109n1, and Vol. VI, p. 72,72n1; also Silius Italicus, i, 430, quoted by Preller, Griechische Mythologie, vol. ii, p. 354.——The passage from the Punica of Silius Italicus is as follows:—

“Hannibal agminibus passim furit et quatit ensem,
Cantato nuper senior quern fecerat igni
Litore ab Hesperidum Temisus, qui carmine pollens
Fidebat magica ferrum crudescere lingua.  .  .  .”

In my note on swords and their names in Vol. I, p.109n1, I referred to Caesar’s sword as “Crocea Mors.” In a review of the volume Professor Halliday doubted its genuineness and suggested some mediæval source. My reference to Brewer supports this view, as it occurs in Geoffrey of Monmouth, iv, 4 (d. A.D. 1154).—N.M.P.

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