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 ...

The motif of “breaking through the wall” and “digging a tunnel”

Note: this text is extracted from Book X, chapter 64.

“There were in a certain city two thieves, named Ghaṭa and Karpara. One night Karpara left Ghaṭa outside the palace, and breaking through the wall, entered the bed-chamber of the princess. And the princess, who could not sleep, saw him there in a corner, and suddenly falling in love with him, called him to her”

Breaking through the wall and digging a tunnel into a house are the recognised methods adopted by the Indian thief. The opening is known by several names, such as khātra, chhidra, surṅgā, etc. This latter word, also written suruṅgā, is apparently derived from the Greek σῦριγξ. Professor J. Jolly has kindly drawn my attention to a recent article on the subject by O. Stein, “Σῦριγξ und suruṅgā,” Zeit. f. Indologie und Iranistik, vol. iii, pt. ii, 1925, pp. 280-318. See also M. Winternitz, “Suruṅgā and the Kautilya Arthaśāstra,” Indian Historical Quarterly, vol. i, No. 3, September 1925, pp. 429-432. The actual shape of the breach is also variously named; thus in the Mṛcchakaṭika (iii, 13) seven technical names are given:

The instrument for digging is named phaṇimukha, or uragāsya, “snake mouth,” in the Daśa Kumāra Ckarita (see Hertel’s trans., 1922, vol. i, pp. 62, 173; vol. ii, pp. 55, 189).

Sanskrit fiction abounds in references to the tunnel, several of which are given in Bloomfield’s article, “The Art of Stealing in Hindu Fiction,” Amer. Journ. Phil., vol. xliv, p. 116, from which the above has been taken. He quotes from Tawney’s Prabandhacintāmaṇi, p. 67, which is a misprint for 38, where we have the amusing incident of the poetical thief. King Bhoja suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night, and seeing the new moon, composes a half-stanza in its praise, but is unable to finish it. At this moment a thief who has entered the king’s treasure-room by digging a tunnel into his palace, being unable to restrain the volume of his poetical inspiration, finishes the stanza. Bloomfield also quotes again from Mṛcchakaṭika (iii, 12), where Śarvilaka shows that even the quality and state of the bricks through which the tunnel goes is by no means negligible:

“Where is the spot which falling drops decayed?
For each betraying sound is deadened there.
Where does the palace crumble? Where the place  
That nitre-eaten bricks false soundness wear?
Where shall I’scape the sight of woman’s face?”

He answers his own question:

“Here is a spot weakened by constant sun and sprinkling, and eaten by saltpetre rot. And here is a pile of dirt thrown up by a mouse.... The blessed bearer of the Golden Lance (god Skanda, patron of thieves) has prescribed four varieties of breach, thus: if the bricks are baked, pull them out; if they are unbaked, cut them; if they are made of earth, wet them; if they are made of wood, split them.”

With regard to the punishment inflicted on thieves, for some unexplained reason the sentences in Action are nearly always very drastic, while those prescribed by the Śāstras are comparatively lenient. We saw on page 6l of this volume that Duṣṭābuddhi had his hands cut off and his tongue cut out. In the Chulla-Paduma Jātaka (No. 193) the thief s feet, nose and ears are also cut off. The usual punishment, however, was death, and we have already (Vol. I, p. 118n2) seen how the thief was led to execution to the beat of the drum. The more usual form of execution was by impalement, either alive, or after decapitation, or mutilation. For further details see Bloomfield, op. cit., p. 228.—n.m.p.

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