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 five ordeals as given in the Yājñavalkya-smṛti

Note: this text is extracted from Book XVII, chapter 119:

“... And let all the lords in Pātāla be sureties to the same effect; and let them all, with their king, give their children as hostages; and let them all, with their king, put this in writing, and drink the water of ordeal in which the image of Hāṭakeśvara has been washed : then I will release Trailokyamālin from prison”.

The practice of ordeal by sacred libation figures in the list of the five ordeals given in the Yājñavalkya-smṛti, the standard law code of the Mithilā school (c. fourth century a.d.).

The other four ordeals were:

  1. the balance, where the defendant is weighed twice, and must be of lighter weight the second time;
  2. fire, where he must walk across seven circles carrying a piece of red-hot iron in his hand;
  3. water, in which he must keep immersed while a runner fetches an arrow shot from a bow, and returns;
  4. poison, usually made from aconite, is drunk, and must show no ill effects during the day.

The ordeal of sacred libation consists in drinking three mouthfuls of water in which images either of dread deities or of the man’s special deity have been bathed. The test of innocence is the freedom in the following seven, fourteen or twenty-one days from any calamity such as illness, fire, death of kin, punishment by the king—the latter provision affording considerable room for unfair treatment of the accused. The codes of Bṛhaspati and Pitāmaha (c. a.d. 600) omit this latter detail. See A. B. Keith, “Ordeal (Hindu),” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Etk., vol. ix, p. 524; and J. Jolly, Recht und Sitte, p. 144.

Four further ordeals are added by Bṛhaspati and Pitāmaha, the first of which somewhat resembles the ordeal of sacred libation. It consists in chewing unhusked rice-grains mixed with water in which an image of the sun has been bathed. The accused states the charge and faces east—i.e. towards the sun—as he eats; injury to the gums, the appearance of blood when he spits out the grains on a leaf, or trembling, is a proof of guilt.

The other ordeals consist in removing a hot piece of gold or a ring from a pot of boiling ghī, licking a red-hot ploughshare, and the last consists of drawing lots from a jar. For further details see Keith, op. cit., sup. Cf. with the above the ordeal of the adulterous woman in Numbers vi, 15-31, and also the Mohammedan practice of charming away sickness and disease by writing passages of the Qur’ān on the inner surface of a bowl and pouring water until the writing is washed off. The concoction is then drunk. See E. W. Lane, Modem Egyptians, 5th edit., p. 253.—n.m.p.

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