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 the position of Book XII

After the completion of Book XII, the longest in the whole work, we once again return to Naravāhanadatta, whom we had nearly forgotten, and to whom the hermit Piśaṅgajaṭa was telling the tale of Mṛgāṅkadatta. Let us look back for a moment at the circumstances which led up to the tale.

We read (Vol. VI, p. l) that Naravāhanadatta.remained at Kauśāmbī with his numerous wives, but “ever cherished the head queen, Madanamañcukā, more than his own life....” One night he sees in a dream a heavenly maiden carry him off. But it proves to be no dream, and on waking he finds himself on the plateau of a great hill with a beautiful maiden by his side. The prince pretends to be still asleep to see what will happen. She first assumes the form of Madanamañcukā, but, on seeing there is no need for such a stratagem, marries him in her own shape by the gāndharva form of marriage. Naravāhanadatta, anxious to discover the identity of the fair charmer, proceeds to tell her a tale. In reply she tells him one which is really her own history. It transpires that her name is Lalitalocanā and that through love she has brought him to the Malaya mountain on which they now are. They live together happily (his other wives knowing all about it by their magical powers), but one day he loses sight of his loved one as she disappears into a dense thicket. He decides to wait for her on the bank of a lake, after bathing and worshipping the gods. He muses as he sits longing for reunion with Madanamañcukā. He seems already to have forgotten Lalitalocanā. So deeply does his grief at separation from his first wife affect him that he faints. At that moment the hermit Piśaṅgajaṭa arrives on the scene and revives him, and leading him to his hermitage tells him the tale of Mṛgāṅkadatta (Vol. VI, p. 10 et seq.) in order to cheer him up.

This long tale with its numerous sub-tales finishes on p. 192 of the present volume with the following words:—

“When the hermit Piśaṅgajaṭa had told this story in the wood on the Malaya mountain to Naravāhanadatta, who was separated from his beloved....”

The “beloved” we naturally take to be Lalitalocanā, because she has wandered off somewhere picking flowers, and Madanamañcukā has been mentioned only once, quite casually.

But, strange to say, our text continues:

“He went on to say to him, ‘So, my son, as Mṛgāṅkadatta in old time gained Śaśāṅkavatī after enduring affliction, you also shall regain your Madanamañcukā...’”

This seems quite inexplicable. We know nothing about Madanamañcukā being lost. As far as we are able to judge she is staying quietly at Kauśāmbī awaiting her husband’s return.

There is no possibility of an error in the original text, for it continues:

“When Naravāhanadatta had heard this nectarous utterance of the mighty hermit Piśaṅgajaṭa, he conceived in his heart the hope of regaining Madanamañcukā. And with his mind fixed on her, he took leave of that good hermit. . . .”

So Madanamañcukā was lost, but when and where is a mystery. The Kashmirian compilers, whom Somadeva so carefully copied, do not seem to have noticed this, or at any rate they did not let it worry them at all.

We are not allowed to forget, however, that Lalitalocanā is lost too, for the text concludes:

“And roamed about on the Malaya mountain, looking for Lalitalocanā, whom he had lost, the fair one that originally brought him there.”

She was obviously only a momentary love pour passer le temps, like so many of our hero’s other wives; but with Madanamañcukā it was quite different. She was his first and chief love, and, as we shall see in Book XV, she is the only one to be crowned with him at his coronation. We can well understand that he would be much more concerned if Madanamañcukā were lost than if it were only Lalitalocanā. But apparently both are lost!

In order to find a solution to the problem we must look ahead at the Books immediately following.

Book XIII, which is very short, leaves us in no doubt whatever as to whose loss the prince is worrying so much about. It begins (Vol. VIII, p. 1) as follows:

“Then Naravāhanadatta, the son of the King of Vatsa, afflicted with separation, being without Madanamañcukā... found joy nowhere.”

He meets two Brāhmans to whom he relates the story of his great loss. They cheer him up by telling him how they have surmounted seemingly impassable obstacles and gained the object of their desires.

At this moment Gomukha and others of the prince’s retinue suddenly arrive, and, “accompanied by Lalitalocanā,” all return to the city.

So ends the Book. Thus we are no nearer a solution, but, if anything, rather more muddled. For not a word is said as to how, when or where Lalitalocanā was found. Naravāhanadatta apparently does not care one way or the other. There she is, so she might as well come along too!

We turn to the next Book (XIV) and find that our hero is quietly living in Kauśāmbī with all his wives, including Madanamañcukā! But immediately afterwards the whole mystery is solved, for we read:

“Then it happened one day that he could not find his principal charmer, Madanamañcukā, anywhere in the female apartments, nor could her attendants find her either.”

The whole court is thrown into confusion by this sudden loss, and vain efforts are made to find her. Naravāhanadatta is tricked into marrying an amorous Vidyādharī named Vegavatī, but obtains information and help from her in recovering his lost love. He sets out on his search and is led into several other amorous adventures which result in as many marriages. After each one, however, the prince continues his search for Madanamañcukā.

Thus we see that Book XII is clearly in its wrong position. It must come after the loss of Madanamañcukā. The same, of course, applies to Book XIII. In fact, it seems clear that the adventure with Lalitalocanā is merely one of the many which occur in Book XIV. Yet why has she the honour of a Book to herself, while the others are all crammed together? This and many other questions which arise will be discussed further in the Terminal Essay in Vol. IX, where each Book is dealt with separately. Here it is sufficient to note that a clear mistake in the order of events has occurred. We have a number of distinct adventures all dependent on the loss of Madanamañcukā, and one of them, that with Lalitalocanā, has got out of place and been used as a kind of frame-story for the story of Mṛgāṅkadatta. The fact may appear somewhat trifling, but on the contrary, it is of the utmost importance in determining the original form of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, and the changes it has undergone in the hands of its Kashmirian redactors.—n.m.p.

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