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 ...
Note: this text is extracted from Book III, chapter 16.
This is a good example of the “act of truth” motif, to which reference has already be made in Vol. I, pp. 166 , 167. As I stated on p. 166 , I intend (in a note to Chapter XXXVI) giving examples of the various uses to which the motif can be put, and the numerous ways in which it can be introduced.
I shall, therefore, confine myself here to explaining the meaning of the motif and the religious significance attached to the act.
Truth has been regarded all over the world and in all ages as irresistible, as something possessing a power which even gods cannot spurn, and from which the wicked shrink in terror. The deities of the Jew, the Christian and the Mohammedan are regarded as acting in accordance with truth—one might almost say as being the personification of truth in its widest sense. No wonder, then, that the utterance of a simple truth was considered sufficiently powerful to cause miracles to take place. For instance, we read in 2 Kings i, 10-12: “And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.”
It lies at the background of the magic art of primitive peoples and is still used in some form or other among the most civilised countries. We have all heard a man in expressing surprise, or in making a resolution, begin with the words “as sure as my name’s so-and-so.. This is a form of oath introduced by a statement of absolute truth, thus lending power to what follows.
It is obvious what a useful motif the “act of truth” can become in the hands of the story-teller. The hero or heroine is in a tight corner and suddenly, as a deus ex machina, an “act of truth” saves the situation. It is as sudden and unexpected as the use of the dohada motif (see Vol. I, pp. 221-228) when a woman suddenly demands some jewel, fruit or animal, which at once starts an entirely fresh series of adventures, when the dutiful husband sets out on his journeys to procure the desired article.
The word sackchakiriyā, or simply kiriyā, is used to express an “act of truth” in Pāli, but satyādhiṣṭhānaṃ (“truth-command”) and satyavādya (“truth-utterance”) are also found. For fuller details see Burliṅgame, Journ. Roy. Asiat. Soc., July 1917, p. 429 et seq., to whose article I am indebted for much of the information contained in my notes on this motif.
Owing to the omnipotence of truth we are not surprised to find that a direct appeal to its great power is not a casual action, but a formality of considerable religious importance. In the present text of the Ocean of Story we read that Yaugandharāyaṇa “rinsed his mouth, with his face towards the east, and spoke a blameless speech.” Thus before making his saccakiriyā he performed distinct religious acts—firstly he turns in the direction in which all Brāhmans turn at sunrise, read the Vedas and make their daily offerings, and secondly he undergoes a form of purification. He is then in a fit state to invoke the great power of truth to his aid.
The actual form of the act differs considerably— thus in one instance, when the Buddha was in a previous existence as a quail, before making his “act of truth” he ponders deeply on the Buddhas of the past and their great powers and achievements. In another instance a king and queen, wishing to cross rivers dryshod, meditate on the virtues of the Buddha, the Law and the Order. Numerous other examples could be given. There is no necessity for the truth to refer to good actions, qualities or resolutions. It can, on the contrary, have reference to the very opposite. A man may affirm he is a liar and a scoundrel of the deepest dye, a woman may state she is the lowest kind of prostitute— it matters not, as long as it is the absolute truth—and as a result their.power will be temporarily as great as the mightiest king or most righteous Brāhman.
The locus classicus of the “act of truth” is one of the dialogues of King Milinda and the Buddhist sage Nāgasena (Milindapañhā, 119-123). The king inquires whether Nāgasena’s statement that Śivi received Heavenly Eyes is not inconsistent with the Scriptural statement that the Heavenly Eye cannot be produced after the destruction of the physical cause. Nāgasena explains that it was the power of truth that caused the restoration of Śivi’s eyesight, and continues as follows:—
“But, your Majesty, is there such a thing in the world as Truth, by which truth-speakers perform an Act of Truth?—Yes, reverend sir, there is in the world such a thing as Truth. By Truth, reverend Nāgasena, truth-speakers perform an Act of Truth, and by this means cause rain, extinguish fire, counteract poison, and do all manner of other things besides that have to be done. —Well then, your Majesty, the two statements are perfectly consistent and harmonious. King Śivi received Heavenly Eyes by the power of Youth: by the power of Truth, your Majesty, on no other basis, is the Heavenly Eye produced; the Truth alone was in this case the basis for the production of the Heavenly Eye.
“The case was precisely the same, your Majesty, as when accomplished persons recite a Truth, saying, ‘Let a mighty cloud send down rain’; and immediately upon their recitation of the Truth, a mighty cloud sends down rain. Your Majesty, is there stored up in the sky any cause of rain, by which the mighty cloud sends down rain?—Of course not, reverend sir; the Truth alone is in this case the cause whereby the mighty cloud sends down rain. — In precisely the same manner, your Majesty, no ordinary cause operated in the case in question; the Truth alone was in that case the basis for the production of the Heavenly Eye.
“It was precisely the same, your Majesty, as when accomplished persons recite a Truth, saying, ‘Let the mighty mass of flaring, flaming fire turn back’; and immediately upon their recitation of the Truth, the mighty mass of flaring, flaming fire turns back.... It was precisely the same as when accomplished persons recite a Truth, saying, ‘Let the deadly poison become an antidote’; and immediately upon their recitation of the Truth the deadly poison becomes an antidote. Your Majesty, is there stored up in this deadly poison any cause whereby it immediately becomes an antidote?—Of course not, reverend sir; the Truth alone is in this case the cause of the immediate counteraction of the deadly poison.—In precisely the same manner, your Majesty, in the case of King Śivi, the Truth alone, to the exclusion of any ordinary cause, was the basis for the production of the Heavenly Eye”
(Burliṅgame’s translation, pp. 437, 438 of Journ. Hoy. As. Soc., op. cit.).
In conclusion Nāgasena gives instances of the “act of truth” causing the ocean to roll back, and a river to flow backwards.— n.m.p.