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 ...

Note on gambling in ancient India

Note: this text is extracted from Book V, chapter 26:

“Long ago there lived in the city of Kambuka a Brāhman named Haridatta; and the son of that auspicious man, who was named Devadatta, though he studied in his boyhood, was, as a young man, exclusively addicted to the vice of gaming. As he had lost his clothes and everything by gambling, he was not able to return to his father’s house, so he entered once on a time an empty temple. And there he saw alone a great ascetic, named Jālapāda, who had attained many objects by magic, and he was muttering spells in a corner...”.

The Indian has been an inveterate gambler from the earliest times. In a famous hymn of the Ṛg-Veda (x, 34) a gambler tells of the fatal fascination the dice have had for him, and the consequent ruin and slavery, which was one of the final conditions of the debtor. Details of the play referred to are not described, but scattered allusions seem to show that four, and sometimes five dice were used, and the aim of the gambler was to throw a number which should be a multiple of four (see Lüders, Das Würfelspiel im alten Indien; Caland, Zeit. d. deutsch. morg. Ges., vol. lxii, p. 123 et seq. ; and Keith, Joum. Roy. As. Soc., 1908, p. 823 et seq.).

Cheating at play appears in the Rig-Veda as one of the most frequent of crimes, and the word for “ gamester,” kitava, came to mean “cheat” in classical Sanskrit.

In the Mahābhārata the vice of gambling is often mentioned. The Kuru prince schemed to overthrow the Pāṇḍus by gambling, and the well-known episode of Nala and Damayantī (iii, 59-61) shows the extent to which it was carried.

The theme also occurs in the Mṛcchakaṭika, where there is a vivid description of a gambler’s quarrel in Act II. See also the story of "  Nala and Davadantī” (Tawney, Kathākoqa, p. 201, etc.).

Crooke gives some interesting details in the last of his mass of valuable papers, “ The Dīvālī, the Lamp Festival of the Hindus,” Folk-Lore, vol. xxxiv, 1923, pp. 287, 288. The Nepalese are inveterate gamblers, and a tale is told of a man who cut off his left hand and put it down under a cloth as his stake. When he won he insisted on his opponent cutting off his hand, or else restoring all his winnings (D. Wright, History of Nepal, p. 39). In Kashmir nearly all classes gamble at the Dīvālī under the belief that winning will bring them luck during the coming year (F. Drew, The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories, p. 72; but see W. R. Lawrence, The Valley of Kashmir, p. 266). In the Deccan, at the Divālī, men and women play chess till midnight in the hope that the goddess Pārvatī will bring them cartloads of treasure (Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xviii, part i, p. 251). At theii; chief festival held in March by the Shans of Upper Burma gambling is permitted to Burmese, Shans and Chinese, but not to natives of India. The gambling booths are put up to auction, and even the Pongyi priests may be seen gambling in the lines of huts outside the gambling enclosure (Sir J. G. Scott, J. P. Hardiman, Gazetteer of Upper Bumia and the Shan States, Part II, vol. i, p. 229). In the Pañjāb, success in gambling at the Divālī is believed to bring good luck. Native gentlemen gamble only with their wives, so that, whoever wins, they lose nothing. Traders play to find out whether the next year will be lucky or not. If a man wins he speculates freely, but if he loses he confines himself to safe ordinary business (Pañjab Notes and Queries, vol. ii, p. 152).

For further details see J. L. Paton, “Gambling,” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. vi, p. 164 and the references there given.—n.m.p.

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