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 be to that god, half of whose body is the moon-faced Pārvatī, who is smeared with ashes white as the rays of the moon, whose eyes gleam with a fire like that of the sun and moon, who wears a half-moon on his head!

May that elephant-faced god protect yoü, who, with his trunk bent at the end, uplifted in sport, appears to be bestowing successes!


[M] (main story line continued) Then Naravāhanadatta, in the hermitage of the hermit Kaśyapa, on that Black Mountain, said to the assembled hermits:

“Moreover, when, during my separation from the queen, Vegavatī, who was in love with me, took me and made me over to the protection of a science, I longed to abandon the body, being separated from my beloved and in a foreign land; but while, in this state of mind, I was roaming about in a remote part of the forest, I beheld the great hermit Kaṇva.

“That compassionate hermit, seeing me bowing at his feet, and knowing by the insight of profound meditation that I was miserable, took me to his hermitage, and said to me:

‘Why are you distracted, though you are a hero sprung from the race of the Moon? As the ordinance of the god standeth sure, why should you despair of reunion with your wife?

“‘The most unexpected meetings do take place for men in this world. I will tell you, to illustrate this, the story of Vikramāditya. Listen.


171. Story of King Vikramāditya[1]

There is in Avanti a famous city, named Ujjayinī, the dwelling-place of Śiva, built by Viśvakarman in the commencement of the Yuga; which, like a virtuous woman, is invincible by strangers; like a lotus plant, is the resort of the Goddess of Prosperity; like the heart of the good, is rich in virtue; like the earth, is full of many wonderful sights.

There dwelt in that city a world-conquering king, named Mahendrāditya, the slayer of his enemies’ armies, like Indra in Amarāvatī. In regard of prowess he was a wielder of many weapons; in regard of beauty he was the flower-weaponed god himself; his hand was ever open in bounty, but was firmly clenched on the hilt of his sword. That king had a wife named Saumyadarśanā, who was to him as Śacī to Indra, as Gaurī to Śiva, as Śrī to Viṣṇu. And that king had a great minister named Sumati, and a warder named Vajrāyudha, in whose family the office was hereditary. With these the king remained ruling his realm, propitiating Śiva, and ever bearing various vows in order to obtain a son.

In the meanwhile, as Śiva was with Pārvatī on the mighty mountain Kailāsa, the glens of which are visited by troops of gods, which is beautiful with the smile that the northern quarter smiles, joyous at vanquishing all the others, all the gods, with Indra at their head, came to visit him, being afflicted by the oppression of the Mlecchas[2]; and the immortals bowed, and then sat down and praised Śiva. And when he asked them the reason of their coming, they addressed to him this prayer:

“O God, those Asuras, who were slain by thee and Viṣṇu, have been now again born on the earth in the form of Mlecchas. They slay Brāhmans, they interfere with the sacrifices and other ceremonies, and they carry off the daughters of hermits: indeed, what crime do not the villains commit? Now, thou knowest, lord, that the world of gods is ever nourished by the earth, for the oblation offered in the fire by Brāhmans nourishes the dwellers in heaven. But, as the Mlecchas have overrun the earth, the auspicious words are nowhere pronounced over the burnt-offering, and the world of gods is being exhausted by the cutting off of their share of the sacrifice and other supplies.[3] So devise an expedient in this matter; cause some hero to become incarnate on the earth, mighty enough to destroy those Mlecchas.”

When Śiva had been thus entreated by the gods, he said to them:

“Depart! You need not be anxious about this matter; be at your ease. Rest assured that I will soon devise an expedient which will meet the difficulty.”

When Śiva had said this, he dismissed the gods to their abodes.[4]

And when they had gone, the holy one, with Pārvatī at his side, summoned a Gaṇa, named Mālyavat, and gave him this order:

“My son, descend into the condition of a man, and be born in the city of Ujjayinī as the brave son of King Mahendrāditya. That king is a portion of me, and his wife is sprung from a portion of Ambikā; be born in their family, and do the heaven-dwellers the service they require. Slay all those Mlecchas that obstruct the fulfilment of the law contained in the three Vedas. And by my favour thou shalt be a king ruling over the seven divisions of the world. Moreover, the Rākṣasas, the Yakṣas and the Vetālas shall own thy supremacy[5]; and after thou hast enjoyed human pleasures, thou shalt again return to me.”

When the Gaṇa Mālyavat received this command from Śiva, he said:

“The command of you two divine beings cannot be disobeyed by me; but what enjoyments are there in the life of a man which involve separations from relations, friends and servants very hard to bear, and the pain arising from loss of wealth, old age, disease and the other ills of humanity?”

When the Gaṇa said this to Śiva, the god thus replied:

“Go, blameless one! These woes shall not fall to thy lot. By my favour thou shalt be happy throughout the whole of thy sojourn on earth.”

When Śiva said this to Mālyavat, that virtuous Gaṇa immediately disappeared. And he went and was conceived in Ujjayinī, in the proper season, in the womb of the queen of King Mahendrāditya.

And at that time the god, whose diadem is fashioned of a digit of the moon, said to that king in a dream:

“I am pleased with thee, King: so a son shall be born to thee, who by his might shall conquer the earth with all its divisions; and that hero shall reduce under his sway the Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, Piśācas and others—even those that move in the air and dwell in Pātāla—and shall slay the hosts of the Mlecchas; for this reason he shall be named Vikramāditya, and also Viṣamaśīla, on account of his stern hostility to his enemies.”[6]

When the god had said this, he disappeared; and next morning the king woke up, and joyfully related his dream to his ministers. And they also told the king, one after another, with great delight, that Śiva had made a revelation to each of them in a dream that he was to have a son.

And at that moment a handmaid of the harem came and showed the king a fruit,[7] saying:

“Śiva gave this to the queen in a dream.”

Then the king rejoiced, saying again and again: “Truly, Śiva has given me a son”; and his ministers congratulated him.

Then his illustrious queen became pregnant, like the eastern quarter in the morning, when the orb of the sun is about to rise; and she was conspicuous for the black tint of the nipples of her breasts, which appeared like a seal to secure the milk for the king with whom she was pregnant. In her dreams at that time she crossed seven seas, being worshipped by all the Yakṣas, Vetālas and Rākṣasas. And when the due time was come, she brought forth a glorious son, who lit up the chamber, as the rising sun does the heaven. And when he was born, the sky became indeed glorious, laughing with the falling rain of flowers, and ringing with the noise of the gods’ drums. And on that occasion the city was altogether distracted with festive joy, and appeared as if intoxicated, as if possessed by a demon, as if generally wind-struck. And at that time the king rained wealth there so unceasingly that, except the Buddhists, no one was without a god.[8] And King Mahendrāditya gave him the name of Vikramāditya, which Śiva had mentioned, and also that of Viṣamaśīla.

When some more days had passed, there was born to that king’s minister named Sumati a son, of the name of Mahāmati, and the warder Vajrāyudha had a son born to him, named Bhadrāyudha, and the chaplain Mahīdhara had a son of the name of Śrīdhara. And that prince Vikramāditya grew up with those three ministers’ sons as with spirit, courage and might. When he was invested with the sacred thread, and put under teachers, they were merely the occasions of his learning the sciences, which revealed themselves to him without effort. And whatever science or accomplishment he was seen to employ, was known by those, who understood it, to be possessed by him to the highest degree of excellence. And when people saw that prince fighting with heavenly weapons, they even began to pay less attention to the stories about the great archer Rāma and other heroes of the kind. And his father brought for him beautiful maidens, given by kings who had submitted after defeat, like so many goddesses of fortune.

Then his father, King Mahendrāditya, seeing that his son was in the bloom of early manhood, of great valour, and beloved by his subjects, duly anointed him heir to his realm, and, being himself old, retired with his wife and ministers to Vārāṇāsi,[9] and made the god Śiva his refuge.

And King Vikramāditya, having obtained that kingdom of his father, began in due course to blaze forth, as the sun, when it has occupied the sky. Even haughty kings, when they saw the string fitted into the notch of his bending bow,[10] learned a lesson from that weapon, and bent likewise on every side. Of godlike dignity, having subdued to his sway even Vetālas, Rākṣasas and other demons, he chastised righteously those that followed evil courses. The armies of that Vikramāditya roamed over the earth like the rays of the sun, shedding into every quarter the light of order. Though that king was a mighty hero, he dreaded the other world; though a brave warrior, he was not hard-handed[11]; though not uxorious, he was beloved by his wives. He was the father of all the fatherless, the friend of all the friendless, and the protector of all the unprotected among his subjects. Surely his glory furnished the Disposer with the material out of which he built up the White Island, the Sea of Milk, Mount Kailāsa and the Himālayas.[12]

And one day, as the King Vikramāditya was in the hall of assembly, the warder Bhadrāyudha came in and said to him:

“Your Majesty dispatched Vikramaśakti with an army to conquer the southern region and other territories, and then sent to him a messenger named Anaṅgadeva; that messenger has now returned, and is at the gate with another, and his delighted face announces good tidings, my lord.”

The king said, “Let him enter,” and then the warder respectfully introduced Anaṅgadeva, with his companion.

The messenger entered and bowed, and shouted, “Victory!”[13] and sat down in front of the king; and then the king said to him:

“Is it well with King Vikramaśakti, the general of my forces, and with Vyāghrabala and the other kings? And does good fortune attend on the other chief Rajputs in his army, and on the elephants, horses, chariots and footmen?”

When Anaṅgadeva had been thus questioned by the king, he answered:

“It is well with Vikramaśakti and the whole of the army. And your Majesty has conquered the Deccan and the western border, and Madhyadeśa and Saurāṣṭra and all the eastern region of the Ganges; and the northern region and Kāśmīra have been made tributary; and various forts and islands have been conquered; and the hosts of the Mlecchas have been slain, and the rest have been reduced to submission; and various kings have entered the camp of Vikramaśakti, and he himself is coming here with those kings, and is now, my lord, two or three marches off.”

When the messenger had thus told his tale, King Vikramāditya was pleased, and loaded[14] him with garments, ornaments and villages.

Then the king went on to say to that noble messenger:

“Anaṅgadeva, when you went there, what regions did you see, and what object of interest did you meet with anywhere? Tell me, my good fellow!”

When Anaṅgadeva had been thus questioned by the king, he began to recount his adventures, as follows:

“Having set out hence by your Majesty’s orders, I reached in course of time that army of yours assembled under Vikramaśakti, which was like a broad sea resorted to by allied kings, adorned by many princes of the Nāgasthat had come together with horses and royal magnificence.[15] And when I arrived there, that Vikramaśakti bowed before me, and treated me with great respect, because I had been sent by his sovereign; and while I was there considering the nature of the triumphs he had gained, a messenger from the King of Siṃhala[16] came there.

“And that messenger, who had come from Siṃhala, told to Vikramaśakti, in my presence, his master’s message, as follows:

‘I have been told by messengers, who have been sent by me to your sovereign and have returned, that your sovereign’s very heart, Anaṅgadeva, is with you, so send him to me quickly; I will reveal to him a certain auspicious affair that concerns your king.’

Then Vikramaśakti said to me:

‘Go quickly to the King of Siṃhala, and see what he wishes to say to you when he has you before him.’

“Then I went through the sea in a ship to the island of Siṃhala with that King of Siṃhala’s ambassador. And in that island I saw a palace all made of gold, with terraces of various jewels, like the city of the gods. And in it I saw that King of Siṃhala, Vīrasena, surrounded by obedient ministers, as Indra is by the gods. When I approached him he received me politely, and asked me about your Majesty’s health, and then he refreshed me with most sumptuous hospitality.

“The next day the king summoned me, when he was in his hall of audience, and showing his devotion to you, said to me, in the presence of his ministers:

‘I have a maiden daughter, the peerless beauty of the world of mortals, Madanalekhā by name, and I offer her to your king. She is a fitting wife for him, and he a suitable husband for her. For this reason I have invited you; so accept her in the name of your king.[17] And go on in front with my ambassador to tell your master; I will send my daughter here close after you.’

“When the king had said this, he summoned into that hall his daughter, whose load of ornaments was adorned by her graceful shape, loveliness and youth.

And he made her sit on his lap, and showing her, said to me:

‘I offer this girl to your master: receive her.’

And when I saw that princess I was astonished at her beauty, and I said joyfully,

‘I accept this maiden on behalf of my sovereign,’

and I thought to myself:

‘Well, the Creator is never tired of producing marvels, since even after creating Tilottamā he has produced this far superior beauty.’

“Then, having been honoured by that king, I set forth from that island, with this ambassador of his, Dhavalasena. So we embarked on a ship, and as we were sailing along in it, through the sea, we suddenly saw a great sandbank in the middle of the ocean. And on it we saw two maidens of singular beauty: one had a body as dark as priyaṅgu,[18] the other gleamed white like the moon, and they both looked more splendid from having put on dresses and ornaments suited to their respective hues. They made a sound like the clashing of cymbals with their bracelets adorned with splendid gems, and they were making a young toy-deer, which, though of gold and studded with jewels to represent spots, possessed life, dance in front of them.[19]

When we saw this we were astonished, and we said to one another:

‘What can this wonder mean? Is it a dream, magic or delusion? Who would ever expect to see a sandbank suddenly start up in the middle of the ocean, or such maidens upon it? And who would ever have thought of seeing such a thing as this living golden deer studded with jewels, which they possess? Such things are not usually found together.’

“While we were saying this to one anöther, King, in the greatest astonishment, a wind suddenly began to blow, tossing up the sea. That wind broke up our ship, which was resting on the surging waves, and the people in it were whelmed in the sea, and the sea-monsters began to devour them. But those two maidens came and supported both of us in their arms, and lifted us up and carried us to the sandbank, so that we escaped the jaws of the sea-monsters. And then that bank began to be covered with waves, at which we were terrified; but those two ladies cheered us, and made us enter what seemed like the interior of a cave. There we began to look at a heavenly wood of various trees, and while we were looking at it the sea disappeared, and the bank and the young deer and the maidens.

“We wandered about there for a time, saying to ourselves:

‘What is this strange thing? It is assuredly some magic.’

And then we saw there a great lake, transparent, deep and broad, like the heart of great men, looking like a material representation of Nirvāṇa that allays the fire of desire.[20]

“And we saw a certain beautiful woman coming to bathe in it, accompanied by her train, looking like an incarnation of the beauty of the wood. And that lady alighted from her covered chariot[21] and gathered lotuses in that lake, and bathed in it, and meditated on Śiva. And thereupon, to our astonishment, Śiva arose from the lake, a present god, in the form of a liṅga, composed of splendid jewels, and came near her; and that fair one worshipped him with various luxuries suited to her Majesty, and then took her lyre. And then she played upon it, singing skilfully to it with rapt devotion, following the southern style in respect of notes, time and words. So splendid was her performance that even the Siddhas and other beings appeared there in the air, having their hearts attracted by hearing it, and remained motionless, as if painted. And after she had finished her music[22] she dismissed the god, and he immediately sank in the lake. Then the gazelle-eyed lady rose up and mounted her chariot, and proceeded to go away slowly with her train.

“We followed her, and eagerly asked her train over and over again who she was, but none of them gave us any answer.

Then, wishing to show that ambassador of the King of Siṃhala your might, I said to her aloud:

‘Auspicious one, I adjure thee, by the touch of King Vikramāditya’s feet, that thou depart not hence without revealing to me who thou art.’

When the lady heard this she made her train retire, and alighted from her chariot, and coming up to me, she said with a gentle voice:

‘Is my lord the noble King Vikramāditya well? But why do I ask, Anaṅgadeva, since I know all about him? For I exerted magic power, and brought you here for the sake of that king, for I must honour him,'as he delivered me from a great danger. So come to my palace; there I will tell you all—who I am, and why I ought to honour that king, and what service he needs to have done him.’

“When she had said this, having left her chariot out of courtesy, that fair one went along the path on foot and respectfully conducted me to her castle, which looked like heaven. It was built of various jewels and different kinds of gold; its gates were guarded on every side by brave warriors wearing various forms and bearing various weapons; and it was full of noble ladies of remarkable beauty, looking as if they were charms that drew down endless heavenly enjoyments. There she honoured us with baths, unguents, splendid dresses and ornaments, and made us rest for a time.”

Footnotes and references:


This story, with its numerous sub-stories, stretches to p. 85, and forms the last tale in the whole work.—n. m. p.


I.e. “outer barbarian”—anyone who disregards Hindu dharma. The name occurs continually in the Mahābhārata. See Sorensen’s Index, p. 480 el seq. —n. m. p.


The central idea of the Birds of Aristophanes.


Here Böhtlingk and Roth would read svadhiṣṇyāny. Two of the three India Office MSS. seem to read this, judging from the way in which they form the combination ṣṇ. No. 1882 is not quite clear.


He is a kind of Hindu Solomon.


I adopt the correction of the Petersburg lexicographers, vaiṣamyato for vaiśasyato. I find it in No. 1882 and in the Sanskrit College MS.


See Vol. II, p.136n1; and Vol. III, p.263n2.—n.m.p.


The word anīśvara, when applied to the Buddhists, refers to their not believing in a Disposer, but its other meaning is “wanting in health.”


I.e. Benares.


As Dr Kern points out, there is a misprint here: namatyā should be namoty.


Or “not cruel in exacting tribute.”


Glory is white according to the canons of Hindu rhetoric.


It might merely mean, cried “All Hail,” but here I think there is more in the expression than in the usual salutation.


Dr Kern would read abhyapūjayat = honoured. The three India Office MSS. and the Sanskrit College MS. confirm Brockhaus’ text.


A most elaborate pun! There is an allusion to the sea having proved the refuge of the mountains that wished to preserve their wings, to the serpent Vāsuki’s having served as a rope with which to whirl round Mount Mandara when the sea was churned and produced Śrī or Lakṣmī. In this exploit Hari or Viṣṇu bore a distinguished part.


I.e. Ceylon.


Böhtlingk and Roth explain pratīpsa in this passage as werben um.


This is a well-known small millet, “Panic” (Panicum Italicum). It is familiar to Kāṣmīrīs, who now call it piṅgī.—n.m.p.


I read praṇartayantyau with Dr Kern for the obvious misprint in the text. The “y” is found in the three India Office MSS. and in the Sanskrit College MS.——Tawney refers us to Iliad, xviii, 417-420, but the gold and silver dogs of Odyssey, vii, 91, are surely more apposite. See my note on “Automata” in Vol. Ill, pp. 56-59, and Crooke, “Some Notes on Homeric Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore, vol. xix, p. 71.—n.m.p.


In the original, tṛṣṇā.


All the India Office MSS. give karṇīrathāvatīrṇā.


The word Gandharvā should be Gāndharvā; see Böhtlingk and Roth, s.v. har with upa and saṃ. No. 2166 has Gāndhāras; the other two MSS. agree with Brockhaus’ text.

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