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 ...

Foreword to volume 1

I HAVE been asked by Mr Penzer to write a Foreword to the first volume of his great work on the Kathā Sarit Sāgara, but when I observe the research that he has bestowed upon it and read the lists of those whose assistance he has secured, I cannot but feel much diffidence in complying with his request. I can, however, take this opportunity of saying what it has long been in my mind to say about the books and papers that this gigantic collection of Indian folk-tales has from time to time called forth. I am also somewhat encouraged to do this by the attitude of Mr Penzer towards his own important efforts, as it is clear that he does not look on them otherwise than as a continuation of the research that has been already devoted to the collections; for despite the exhaustive nature of his Appendix IV to this volume, his last paragraph—the very last of the whole volume—runs thus:

“More than this it is impossible to say. Much research still remains to be done on this highly important anthropological problem.”

It is in this spirit that I, too, propose to approach the subject of the Kathā Sarit Sāgara —the Ocean of Story —and what I am now about to say points to further research being necessary, a proposition Mr Penzer would, I take it, be the last person to controvert.

Nevertheless, I wish to say at once that Mr Penzer’s notes to the text, short and long, and the four fine appendices on folk-lore to this volume—viz. on Mythical Beings, the Use of Collyrium and Kohl, the Cravings of Pregnant Women motif, and Sacred Prostitution—fulfil to my mind the purpose for which they are written, and must always be a mine into which students can delve with profit. They are a good augury for the value of the information he has in store for scholars in the volumes that are to follow. Anything that I may remark, therefore, which savours of criticism is said only with the object of assisting the research he has so gallantly and so usefully undertaken to promote.

On page 268 Mr Penzer makes a series of remarks to which I would like to draw attention, as they exhibit the spirit in which his researches have been made, and to my mind they show generally the soundness of his observation and conclusions. At any rate I for one can heartily endorse them.

He says, firstly:

“I feel that the fact is often overlooked that the origin of a certain custom [speaking for the moment of sacred prostitution] in one part of the world may not necessarily be the same as that of a similar custom in another part of the world.”

And then he follows up this excellent sentiment by another remark:

“We must also remember that the religion, ethics and philosophy of India have been ever changing, and nothing is more inapplicable than to speak of the ‘changeless East’ in this respect”:

to this I would like to add, “or in any other respect.” Later, on the same page, he says: “Our knowledge of the early Dravidian religion of India before it was ‘taken over’ by the Aryan invaders is so slight that it is impossible to make any definite statement with regard to the origin of any particular custom of ritual or religious observance.” Here, however, it seems to me that the researches of Professor Krishnaswami Aiyaṅgar and others, and of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, the Mythical Society of Baṅgalore and other such bodies in India, are leading us to a closer knowledge thereof. Let us hope they will enable us to solve the puzzle, which, after all, it is peculiarly the office of the native of India to solve.

With these preliminary remarks let me start upon my own observations on the subject of Mr Penzer’s great work. I judge from the Invocation that Somadeva, the author of the original book, was a Śaiva Brāhman of Kaśmīr. His real name was Soma, deva being a mere suffix to the names of Brāhmans, royalties and the like. Mr Penzer shows that he must have composed his verses about A.D. 1070, or about two hundred and fifty years after Vasugupta introduced into Kaśmīr the Śaiva form of the Hindu religion peculiar to Kaśmīr, which was subsequently spread widely by his pupil Kallaṭa Bhaṭṭa. Later on, but still one hundred years before Somadeva, it was further spread by Bhāskara, and

then in Somadeva’s own time made popular by Abhinava Gupta, the great Śaiva writer, and his pupils Kṣēmarāja and Yōgarāja. The last three, who must have been Somadeva’s contemporaries, were much influenced by the philosophic teaching of another Soma—Somānanda, to give him his full name—who with his pupil Utpalācārya created the Advaita (Monistic) Śaiva Philosophy, known as the Trika, about two hundred years before Somadeva. Other important Kāśmīrī philosophic writers before Somadeva’s date were Utpāla Vaiṣṇava and Rāma-kaṇṭha.[1] So while Somadeva was composing his distichs for the delectation of Sūryavatī, the Queen of King Ananta of Kaśmīr, at a time when the political situation was “one of discontent, intrigue, bloodshed and despair,” it was also—as has often happened in Eastern history—a time of great religious activity. The religion and its philosophy were Aryan in form, meaning by the term “religion” a doctrine claiming to be revealed, and by “philosophy” a doctrine claiming to be reasoned out.

There is plenty of evidence of the Brahmanic nature of the Kathā Sarit Sāgara. Here is a strong instance. The story of the birth and early days of Vararuci (p. 11 ff.) is not only Indian but also typically Brahmanical. Inter alia he exhibits his wonderful memory to Kāṇabhūti, the Yakṣa, turned Piśāca, king of the Vindhya wilds, telling the king how his mother had said to some Brāhmans that “this boy will remember by heart everything that he has once heard.” And then he relates that they “recited to me a Prātiśākhya,” a peculiarly difficult and uninviting grammatical treatise, and that he immediately repeated it back to them. The same class of memory is claimed by Guṇāḍhya in his account (p. 75) of how the Kātantra or Kālāpaka grammar was revealed to him by the god Skanda (Kārttikeya). Now, though the claim put forward by Vararuci is extravagant, the extraordinary accuracy of memory cultivated by the ancient Brāhman and Bardic classes in India still exists, and has been taken advantage of by Sir Aurel Stein and Sir George Grierson in reproducing from word of many mouths the text of the Lallā-vākyāni six centuries after the date of the authoress Lai Dëd with an accuracy which the written word does not possess. Accurate memory is not a monopoly of the Brāhmans and Bards of India, but it is no doubt specifically characteristic of them.

The point of the Brahmanic character of Somadēva’s collection of tales is of importance to the present argument. The author of the Kathā Sarit Sāgara is a Brāhman, and he gives the work a Brahmanic— i.e. an Aryan—form,[2] giving rise, primâ facie, to the assumption that the origin of the tales is to be sought in the land whence the Aryans came, somewhere to the west of India proper. But it is clear that the author purported to make a general collection of tales current in India about a.d. 1000, or rather he claims to have made a selection, as did his contemporary Kāśmīrī Brāhman Kṣemendra in his Bṛhat Kathā Mañjarī out of a much older, but now lost, work, Guṇāḍhya’s Bṛhat Kathā or Great Tale. This general collection contains to my mind certain tales, customs and folk-lore which do not appear to be Aryan in origin. The writer or his original has in fact drawn on popular Indian folk-lore, whether Aryan or non-Aryan, connecting his tales by rather simple literary devices, so that they are all made to run together as parts of one general story.

The Aryan invasions of India were spread over a long period and the progress about the country was very slow. The Aryans came across at least one race, the Dravidians, equal to themselves in mental capacity, and across many others whose minds they could more or less easily dominate. Neither the Dravidians nor the others were of their form of civilisation and traditions, but they all mingled with them in some degree or other, at any rate to the extent of social contact, generally as master and servant. The consequent development was on the recognised lines of evolution as far as the author of the Kathā Sarit Sāgara and his hearers were concerned. That is to say, it was fundamentally Aryan, with accretions from every race with which the Aryans had come in close contact for, say, three thousand years by Somadeva’s time. These races were Dravidians, “Kolarians” or, shall we say, “aborigines,” and people across the Northern and Eastern frontiers—all very different in origin from the Aryans. They all carried their religions, folk-tales and folklore with them, and cannot but have infected the indigenous corresponding nations of the Aryans of India with alien ideas and folk-tales.

Here then it seems that we have a line, as it were, given us for research: whence did the various non-Aryan tales and ideas come? It is not an easy line to follow, as the period is so late and the whole matter by that time already so complicated. Suppose a custom or tale is non-Aryan Indian— i.e. Dravidian or “Kolarian”—or Farther Indian (Mon, Shan, Tibeto-Burman) by origin: by Somadeva’s date it had plenty of time to be assimilated and take on an Aryan form. Suppose it to date back before the Aryan irruption into India: its existence in principle now or at some ancient date in Western Asia or Europe would not prove that it arose either in India or in Europe or Western Asia. Suppose research to show a tale or idea to be of general occurrence in India, Asia, Europe, Africa, and even in America and the Pacific Islands: recent works show so much and so ancient communication all the world over as to make one very careful as to asserting origin. Suppose we find a story in Siam, in Indonesia, in Persia, in Europe, in South Africa, as well as in India: it might well have gone thence out of India or gone through or even round India in either direction. To show how this kind of thing can happen I printed in 1901[3] a tale told in the Nicobars in Nicobarese form to a European officer who was a Dane by nationality, Mr A. de Roepstorff, which turned out to be a Norse tale he had himself told the people some years before. Wherever, then, a civilisation or a people travels, there go also folk-lore and custom. Take as an example the recent travel westwards in Europe of the Christmas Tree and the Easter Egg. The whole question is very difficult. Even if we trace a tale or an idea to the Jātakas, to the earliest part of the Mahābhārata or the Rāmāyaṇa, to the oldest Purāṇas, to the Brāhmaṇas, to the very Vedas themselves—that does not make it Indian or Aryan in origin.

However, I do not personally feel inclined to despair. Work like that of Mr Penzer will, I feel sure, if continued seriously, go far to solve the principles of the puzzle—to help to unlock the secret of the actual line that the progress of civilisation has taken in the past. I take it that a tale or idea in the Kathā Sarit Sāgara may be found to be by origin:

1. Aryan, with analogies among Asiatic and European Aryan peoples.

2. Semitic, with analogies in Western Asiatic countries and elsewhere among Semitic peoples.

3. Asiatic, with analogies among Mongolian peoples.

4. Non-Aryan Indian with analogies among Dravidian, “Kolarian,” Farther Indian or other Indian peoples.

5. General, with analogies spread widely over the world perhaps from an ascertainable source.

6. A merely literary invention of Indian Aryans, such as the origin of the town name Pāṭaliputra, or of the personal name of Guṇāḍhya, Mālyavān and other celebrities of old. Folk etymology of that kind has never died down in India, as the (Revenue) Settlement Reports of the middle nineteenth century show— e.g. one such Report soberly stated that “the Malee (mālī, gardener) Caste” had an origin in a river-borne boy foundling of Rājpūt descent, taken over by a low-class woman who mothered him; so he afterwards became known as the ma lee (as the Report spelt it) or his “mother took him.” It is a case of the old Indian widely and persistently used effort to raise caste status by an etymological legend. It was used in the earliest European days in India when the Malayālam washermen claimed to Barbosa a Nāyar descent, which an ancestor was said to have forfeited “by a mistake” —and there are signs of it in the Kathā Sarit Sāgara.

I must not unduly spin out the Foreword by examining all the stories and ideas in this volume in the light of the above remarks, and I will therefore confine myself to a few instances where further examination may perhaps be usefully undertaken on such evidence as may be available. I will take first those that seem to point to a non-Aryan origin as the most important for the present purpose.

Chapter VIII commences with a remarkable statement (p. 89):

“In accordance with this request of Guṇāḍhya that heavenly tale consisting of seven stories was told by [King] The Paiśācha Language Kāṇabhūti in his own language, and Guṇāḍhya, for his part, using the same Paiśācha language, threw them into seven hundred thousand couplets in seven years.”

So the claim is that the original of the Bṛhat Kathā, the Great Tale, was composed in the Paiśācha language. From the Great Tale came Kṣemendra’s Bṛhat Kathā Mañjarī and Guṇāḍhya’s Kathā Sarit Sāgara; but the story goes further. Guṇāḍhya’s two pupils, Guṇadēva and Nandi-dēva, took his Kathā Sarit Sāgara to King Sātavāhana (Sālivāhana), who,

“when he heard that Paiśācha language and saw that they had the appearance of Piśācas... said with a sneer: ‘... the Paiśācha language is barbarous... Away with this Paiśācha tale.’”

So Guṇāḍhya burnt 600,000 couplets and reserved only 100,000, on which Kṣemendra and Somadeva eventually worked. King Sātavāhana obtained possession of the 100,000 couplets which formed the Bṛhat Kathā and

“composed the book named Kathāpīṭha [Book I of the Kathā Sarit Sāgara ] in order to show how the tale came first to be known in Paiśācha language.”

Now whether the home of this “Paiśācha language” was in the North-Western Pañjāb or in the Vindhyas of Central India, it was not Sanskrit, but something else, and the people speaking it were to the old Indian Aryans a demon race (see Appendix I to this volume, pp. 204 ff.). Are we to understand then from the Kathā Sarit Sāgara itself that the tales it purports to recapitulate were of foreign origin, at any rate in the majority of cases? Some are obviously

Aryan, but what of the rest? Presently we shall see that probably neither Guṇāḍhya himself nor Kāṇabhūti, from whom Guṇāḍhya is said to have obtained his tales, were Aryans.

The frequent mention of the gāndharva form of marriage amongst people not only of great position, but held in high personal esteem, seems to be a result of a ruling class pass- Gāndharva ing into a foreign country. There are several Marriage instances in this volume of gāndharva marriage, from which I select the following:—

1. Page 61.—A Nāga prince, Kīrtisena, marries a Brāhman girl, Śrutārthā, clandestinely, and her son is Guṇāḍhya himself, who is “of the Brāhman caste.”

2. Page 83.Devadatta, a Brāhman, with the intervention of Śiva himself, marries Śrī, daughter of King Suśarman of Pratisṭhāna (in the Deccan), secretly by a trick on her father.

3. Page 116.Śrīdatta, a fighting Mālava Brāhman of Pāṭaliputra, marries secretly Sundarī, daughter of a Sāvara (wild tribe) chief, whom he first deserts and then receives back, having already a princess, Mṛgāṅkavatī, for wife, married apparently irregularly, whom he again seemingly marries regularly.

It will be observed that Guṇāḍhya, the author of the Bṛhat Kathā, is thus said to be himself by birth a Nāga-Brāhman half-breed. If so, he could imbibe quite as many non-Aryan as Aryan folk-tales and ideas in his childhood. The case may be put even more strongly. It is possible that the story in the Kathā Sarit Sāgara has arisen on the same principle as that of the mālī already mentioned, and goes to cover the fact that Guṇāḍhya was not a Brāhman, nor even an Aryan, and it was inconvenient for the Brāhmans of Somadeva’s date to allow that anyone but one of themselves had originally collected the Great Tale.

But apart from such general inferences, the point of stories like the above appears to be that in the earlier Aryan days in India illicit unions between Aryans and non-Aryans among classes of consequence, which for reasons of policy could not be set aside, were recognised as regular, and that when the girl brought forth a son the marriage of the parents was assumed, the convenient fiction of supernatural Gandharvas as witnesses being brought into play. The gāndharva marriage was undoubtedly recognised, but it was seemingly never considered reputable. Was the custom, however, Aryan or non-Aryan in its origin? The story of the Founding of the City of Pāṭaliputra (Patna) seems to give it a non-Aryan origin (p. 18 jf.). Putraka, a Brāhman prince of Southern Indian descent (the geography is, however, vague), marries “Pāṭalī, the daughter of the king,” secretly, and their intrigue is discovered by a woman appointed (p. 23) “to watch secretly the seraglio at night.” She, finding the prince asleep, “made a mark with red lac upon his garment to facilitate his recognition.” Upon discovery Putraka then flies off magically with Pāṭalī through the air to the banks of the Ganges and founds Pāṭaliputra. A not uncommon method of discovering an intrigue between a man and a maid among the Andamanese is for the elders to paint the man with red or grey matter on a ceremonial pretext and to await the result on the following morning. If the girl shows signs of the paint the pair are formally married. The story in the Kathā Sarit Sāgara infers the existence of some similar custom in ancient India. Was it Aryan or non-Aryan?

On page 5 of this volume Śiva is found talking to Pārvatī, his mountain Himālayan bride, of what happened to themselves in a former life, and tells her that because he wore The Necklace of Skulls “a necklace of skulls” he was kept away from her father’s sacrifice. The whole context is also remarkable, as it seems to deal with the rise of Śiva as the Supreme out of the early Vedic gods. As I understand the situation, Śiva was originally a local Himālayan god, who, with Viṣṇu, gradually became a chief among the whole Hindu pantheon. This would assume that he was a non-Aryan deity who grew into prominence—and he wore a necklace of skulls. Why? Was this a non-Aryan aboriginal notion? Among the Andamanese, who may be taken to be among the most untouched aborigines in existence, it is still the custom to wear skulls of deceased relatives. At page 132 of A. R. Brown’s Andaman Islanders, Plate XVIII, there is a figure of a girl wearing her sister’s skull. Similar figures have been published by E. H. Man and M. V. Portman.

At pages 292 and 293 of his work Brown explains the custom as part of his general Philosophy of Social Values: they are to him

“visible and wearable signs of past dangers overcome through protective action of the Society itself and are therefore a guarantee of similar protection in the future.”

Without in any way endorsing an explanation of savage customs which bids fair to disturb past efforts in that direction, I would suggest that it is worth while making a detailed investigation of the story of Śiva and his necklace of skulls, on the ground that we may have here something definitely non-Aryan in Indian hagiology.

This idea is strengthened on considering a passage on page 146. Lohajaṅgha, a Brāhman, plays a trick upon a bawd, but in the course of it he says to a courtesan, Rūpiṇikā, her daughter:

“Thy mother is a wicked woman, it would not be fitting to take her openly to paradise; but on the morning of the eleventh day the door of heaven is opened, and many of the Gaṇas, Śiva’s companions, enter into it before anyone else is admitted. Among them I will introduce this mother of thine, if she assume their appearance. So shave her head with a razor, in such a manner that five locks shall be left, put a necklace of skulls round her neck, and stripping off her clothes, paint one side of her body with lamp-black and the other with red lead, for when she has in this way been made to resemble a Gaṇa, I shall find it an easy matter to get her into heaven.”

The Gaṇas were (p. 202) superhuman attendants on Śiva and Pārvatī under Gaṇēśa and Nandi (Śiva’s Bull or Vehicle). The passage presumes that they wore a necklace of skulls, went naked, partially shaved their heads and painted their bodies with lamp-black and red lead. Here, again, we are strongly reminded of Andamanese customs. Is it possible that the Gaṇas refer back to an actual savage non-Aryan tribe of very ancient India whose deities were the prototypes of Śiva and Pārvatī?

Here is another instance of apparent non-Aryanism. King Caṇḍamahāsena (p. 133)

“had made a large artificial elephant like his own, and after filling it with concealed warriors he placed it in the Vindhya forest.”

Mr Penzer in a footnote remarks that

“the introduction into a city of armed men hidden in jars is found in an Egyptian papyrus of the twentieth dynasty,”

and he refers also to the tale of Ali Baba. In Burma there are still made very large jars of glazed pottery called Pegu or Martaban (Mortivan) jars for storage purposes, quite large enough to hide human beings in, and there are many stories of their use for such a purpose. There was an old and considerable trade in them Eastwards and Westwards, and their existence would well account for such a story as that of Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves, and to give use to similar tales in India, which would then be non-Aryan in origin.[4]

In some instances whether the origin of one class of Somadeva’s tales is Aryan or not appears to be very doubtful, though prolonged research may still reveal the real source. are the stories of the Wandering Soul, and of the External Soul or Life-index or Life-token, which are common in Indian folk-tales, and are all found in the Kathā Sarit Sāgara—e.g. (pp. 37-38):

Indradatta, who was an adept in magic, said: ‘I will enter the body of this dead [Nanda] king,’”


Vyāḍi remained in an empty temple to guard the body of Indradatta.”

But (p. 39)

“the body of Indradatta was burned after Vyāḍi had been hustled out of the temple.”

Mr Penzer has excellent notes on these ideas, and it is difficult at present to conjecture whether they indicate an Aryan or a non-Aryan origin. Later on in the volume Caṇḍamahāsena of Ujjayinī slays the Daitya (demon) Aṅgāraka by (p. 127) smiting “him with an arrow in that hand which was his vital part.” Here, again, are we in the presence of Aryan or non-Aryan tradition?

Once again, Mr Penzer has a story and a valuable note on page 80 ff. on the wide spread of sign-language, commenting on the statement that the maiden Śrī, daughter of the king, made Devadatta a sign. She “took with her teeth a flower and threw it down to him,” which act his preceptor explained to him meant that he was “to go to this temple rich in flowers, called Puṣpadanta, and wait there.” Here the wide distribution of the idea conveyed in the use of Sign-language makes it difficult to suggest either an Aryan or a non-Aryan origin for it.

Yet, again, the form of the superhuman bird, Garuḍa (p. 141) and of its exploits is so Indian that one is loath to give it any but an Indian Aryan origin, but the nature of its spread is such that for the present, at any rate, it seems impossible to say whence it came, in or out of India. The same may be said about the idea of Metamorphosis by means of a charm (pp. 136-137), in order to forward the objects of the hero or the actors in a tale, about which a long book could be well written!

Also the notions about the Longings of Pregnancy and the Blood Covenant in their various aspects are so widely spread over the world that it seems as yet difficult to assert that they originated in India and migrated outwards.

So, too, the spread of making Phallic Cakes and the like at festivals is such that it seems quite as likely that the custom originally arose in Europe as in India. The same remark applies to Circumambulation at Hindu weddings with the object of reverence at the right hand. Mr Penzer’s elaborate note (p. 190 ff.) referring to marriage Vāsavadattā to the King of Vatsa (p. 184) seems to make the idea quite as old in Europe as in India or the East generally.

Lastly, in the course of the story of the founding of Pāṭaliputra (p. 22) occurs the incident of a pair of shoes which give “the power of flying through the air,” and of a staff with which whatever is written “turns out to be true.” On this Mr Penzer has (pp. 25-29) a long and valuable note: the “Magical Articles Motif in Folk-lore.” He thinks that “there is no doubt that it did travel from the East.”

But he hesitates as to this opinion and finally he says (p. 29):

“It seems very probable that the incident of the fight over the magical articles was directly derived from the East, while the idea of the magical articles themselves was, in some form or other, already established in Western Märchen.”

Does this account for its world-wide existence? May it not be that the idea of a magical article is non-Aryan and the particular uses to which it is put, in the folk-tales so far collected, are Aryan in origin? But even if they are the uses would not necessarily have arisen in India. There are clearly many questions yet to answer here, far as Mr Penzer has driven his probe into the mystery.

In one instance of a common folk-tale motif or incident[5] we seem to be on the border-line between Aryan and non-Aryan. At page 32 we have a version of the Entrapped Suitor, where a woman holds up an illicit gallant to ridicule. In dealing with this tale and its concomitants, the Test of Chastity, the Faith Token and the Act of Truth, Mr Penzer in a long note states that it is to be found throughout both Asia and Europe, and he considers that “it forms without doubt an example of a migratory tale,” and is of opinion that “the original form of the story, and origin of all others, is that in the Ocean of Story” (p. 42). That is to say, it is Indian and migrated from India outwards. If Indian, is it, then, Aryan or non-Aryan?

This type of story in all its forms occurs in the volume at page 32 and in the stories of Devasmitā, Siddhikharī and Śaktimatī (p. 153 ff.), and Mr Penzer has some illuminating special notes thereon (pp. 165-171). But some of his parallels in Europe and Western Asia are very old, and if the idea at the root ot them all is Indian it must be very old also—much older than the Kathā Sarit Sāgara as we have it. Something of the same kind can be said of the stories of the Laughing Fish (pp. 46-47) and the Gift of Half one’s own Life (p. 188), and with even more force regarding the Letter of Death (p. 52), widely known in Europe also.

At page 84 is the well-known tale of King Śivi offering his flesh and finally all his body to protect a dove which had flown to him for shelter. This is believed to be Buddhistic in origin, but the idea is very old both in the East and in Europe, where it turns up in many forms, and in Shakespeare’s well-known borrowed tale of the Pound of Flesh. It is difficult to believe that it originated in India on the evidence at present available. The same comment is applicable to the story of Bālavinaṣṭaka, the Enfant Terrible at page 185, and to the Wishing Tree of Paradise, which is said (p. 144) to exist in Laṅkā, clearly from the context (p. 144) meaning Ceylon, of which the Rākṣasa (non-Aryan) Vibīṣaṇa was king. The whole story is interesting as it introduces the great Garuḍa bird and the Bālakhilyas, Elves engaged in austerities, as well as the Wishing Tree, the whole of which, the great bird, the elves and the tree, are world-wide in the East and Europe.

On the other hand, of ideas and customs which seem to be of Indian Aryan origin, and if found elsewhere to be primâ facie attributable to an Indian derivation, I may mention nostrums for procuring the birth of a son. The story of Devasmitā starts with a request from a merchant to some Brāhmans to procure him a son, which they do by means of ceremonies, and to “give an instance” a story is told of an “old-time king” who at a Brāhman suggestion, without demur kills his only son, over whom he had made a tremendous fuss because the child had been stung by an ant. Nostrums for procuring sons are peculiarly Indian, because of the Hindu’s necessity for an heir to perform his funeral rites in a manner that will secure him “salvation.” Murder of another person’s is a nostrum for securing an heir to the present day, as many cases in the Indian law courts show (see Indian Antiquary, vol. xxvii, p. 336). Various methods and customs for this purpose are very common in Indian folk-lore and seem to be an outcome of the Hindu religion.

I will now wind up this survey of the Kathā Sarit Sāgara by the presentation of what appear to me, primâ facie, to be instances of a possible folk-tale migration from Europe into India. At page 136 it is recounted that Yaugandharāyaṇa set out for Kauśambi via the Vindhya Forest and arrived at “ the burning ground of Mahākāla in Ujjayinī, which was densely tenanted by [ vētālas, i.e. ] vampires.” Here we have in thoroughly Indian form a reference to the well-known modern series of tales—the Baiṭāl Pachīsī— traced to the Kathā Sarit Sāgara, Book XII. But, as Mr Penzer points out in his note on this page, the Indian ideas about the vētāla closely resemble those of the Slavs about the vampire. Now, if we are to follow the modern researchers, who trace the Aryan migrations East and West from the South Russian plains, it is quite possible that the original migrants took with them the idea of the vampire— i.e. of the superhuman demoniacal tenant of dead bodies—wherever they or their influence wandered: so that in the vētāla we thus have an idea that wandered Eastwards from Southern Russia to India and not the other way round. I may here remark that the likeness of many Slavonic superstitions to those of India cannot but forcibly strike those who study the races of both Russia and India.

Again, in the story of Guṇāḍhya (pp. 76-78) there is a passage worth quoting in full. Kāṇabhūti explains to Guṇāḍhya that Bhūtivarman, a Rākṣasa possessed of “heavenly insight” said to him:

“‘We have no power in the day; wait, and I will tell you at night.’ I consented, and when night came on I asked him earnestly the reason why goblins delighted in disporting themselves, as they were doing. Then Bhūtivarman said to me: ‘Listen; I will relate what I heard Śiva say in a conversation with Brahmā. Rākṣasas, Yakṣas and Piśācas have no power in the day, being dazed with the brightness of the sun, therefore they delight in the night. And where the gods are not worshipped, and the Brāhmans, in due form, and where men eat contrary to the holy law, there also they have power. Where there is a man who abstains from flesh, or a virtuous woman, there they do not go. They never attack chaste men, heroes, or men awake.’”

Taking all the words after “they delight in the night” as a Brahmanical addition, the other notions appear to me to be originally European and not Asiatic or Indian, and if the idea is right, the Aryans brought them and their forerunners to India with them in their early wanderings. Research may show the truth. At any rate Mr Penzer’s note traces the notions in Ancient Egypt and China.

And here, after only just lifting the fringe of the curtain hiding the mystery, I must cease trespassing on Mr Penzer’s good nature and conclude this Foreword, hoping that something useful has been said towards indicating how research can be beneficially conducted in the future, and saying once again how greatly students of folk-lore have reason to be thankful to Mr Penzer for his present efforts.

Richard Carnac Temple.

Montreux, March 1924

Footnotes and references:


See J. C. Chatterjee, Kashmir Shaivaism (1914); Grierson and Barnett, Lallā-vākyāni (1920), and a forthcoming work on the last by myself, The Word of Lallā, the Prophetess, Cambridge University Press (1924).


I take the story of The Chanter of the Sāma Veda and the Courtesan (pp. 64-65) as good-natured chaff, showing how a learned Brāhman can be a fool in the ways of the world, the Chanter of the Sāma Veda being a species of our old friend Verdant Green of Oxford.


Report on the Census of India, Part I, vol. iii (“Andaman and Nicobar Islands”), p. 2S0.


See Indian Antiquary, vol. xxii, p. 364, and vol. xxxiii, p. 159.


See Mr Penzer’s note (p. 29) on the use of the term motif for the incident, theme, trait of a story.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: