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 ...

[M] (main story line continued) IN accordance with this request of Guṇāḍhya that heavenly tale consisting of seven stories was told by 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; and that great poet, for fear that the Vidyādharas should steal his composition, wrote it with his own blood in the forest, not possessing ink. And so the Vidyādharas, Siddhas and other demigods came to hear it, and the heaven above where Kāṇabhūti was reciting was, as it were, continually covered with a canopy. And Kāṇabhūti, when he had seen that great tale composed by Guṇāḍhya, was released from his curse and went to his own place. There were also other Piśācas that accompanied him in his wanderings: they too, all of them, attained heaven, having heard that heavenly tale.

Then that great poet Guṇāḍhya began to reflect:

“I must make this Great Tale[1] of mine current on the earth, for that is the condition that the goddess mentioned when she revealed how my course would end. Then how shall I make it current? To whom shall I give it?”

Then his two disciples who had followed him, one of whom was called Guṇadeva, and the other Nandideva, said to him:

“The glorious Sātavāhana alone is a fit person to give this poem to, for, being a man of taste, he will diffuse the poem far and wide, as the wind diffuses the perfume of the flower.”

“So be it,” said Guṇāḍhya, and gave the book to those two accomplished disciples and sent them to that king with it; and went himself to that same Pratiṣṭhāna, but remained outside the city in the garden planted by the goddess, where he arranged that they should meet him. And his disciples went and showed the poem to King Sātavāhana, telling him at the same time that it was the work of Guṇāḍhya.

When he heard that Paiśācha language and saw that they had the appearance of Piśācas, that king, led astray by pride of learning, said with a sneer:

“The seven hundred thousand couplets are a weighty authority, but the Paiśācha language is barbarous, and the letters are written in blood. Away with this Paiśācha tale.”

Then the two pupils took the book and returned by the way which they had come, and told the whole circumstance to Guṇāḍhya. Guṇāḍhya for his part, when he heard it, was immediately overcome with sorrow. Who indeed is not inly grieved when scorned by a competent authority? Then he went with his disciples to a craggy hill at no great distance, in an unfrequented but pleasant spot, and first prepared a consecrated fire cavity. Then he took the leaves one by one, and after he had read them aloud to the beasts and birds, he flung them into the fire, while his disciples looked on with tearful eyes. But he reserved one story, consisting of one hundred thousand couplets, containing the history of Naravāhanadatta, for the sake of his two disciples, as they particularly fancied it. And while he was reading out and burning that heavenly tale, all the deer, boars, buffaloes and other wild animals came there, leaving their pasturage, and formed a circle round him, listening with tears in their eyes, unable to quit the spot.[2]

In the meanwhile King Sātavāhana fell sick. And the physicians said that his illness was due to eating meat wanting in nutritive qualities. And when the cooks were scolded for it they said:

“The hunters bring in to us flesh of this kind.”

And when the hunters were taken to task they said:

“On a hill not very far from here there is a Brāhman reading, who throws into a fire every leaf as soon as he has read it; so all the animals go there and listen, without ever grazing; they never wander anywhere else; consequently this flesh of theirs is wanting in nutritive properties on account of their going without food.”

When he heard this speech of the hunters he made them show him the way, and out of curiosity went in person to see Guṇāḍhya, and he beheld him, owing to his forest life, overspread with matted locks that looked like the smoke of the fire of his curse, that was almost extinguished.

Then the king recognised him as he stood in the midst of the weeping animals, and after he had respectfully saluted him, he asked him for an explanation of all the circumstances. That wise Brāhman then related to the king in the language of the demons his own history as Puṣpadanta, giving an account of the curse and all the circumstances which originated the descent of the tale to earth. Then the king, discovering that he was an incarnation of a Gaṇa, bowed at his feet, and asked him for that celestial tale that had issued from the mouth of Śiva.

Then Guṇāḍhya said to that King Sātavāhana:

“O king! I have burnt six tales containing six hundred thousand couplets; but there is one tale consisting of a hundred thousand couplets, take that,[3] and these two pupils of mine shall explain it to you.”

So spake Guṇāḍhya and took leave of the king, and then by strength of devotion laid aside his earthly body and, released from the curse, ascended to his own heavenly home. Then the king took that tale which Guṇāḍhya had given, called Bṛhat Kathā, containing the adventures of Naravāhanadatta, and went to his own city. And there he bestowed on Guṇadeva and Nandideva, the pupils of the poet who composed that tale, lands, gold, garments, beasts of burden, palaces and treasures. And having recovered the sense of that tale with their help, Sātavāhana composed the book named Kathāpīṭha, in order to show how the tale came to be first made known in the Paiśācha language. Now that tale was so full of various interest that men were so taken with it as to forget the tales of the gods, and after producing that effect in the city it attained uninterrupted renown in the three worlds.

[Additional note: The Paiśāchī language]

Footnotes and references:




Compare the story of Orpheus.


It is unnecessary to remind the reader of the story of the Sibyl.

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