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 ...


MAY the water of Śiva’s sweat, fresh from the embrace of Gaurī,[1] which the God of Love when afraid of the fire of Śiva’s eye employs as his aqueous weapon, protect you.

Listen to the following tale of the Vidyādharas, which the excellent Gaṇa Puṣpadanta heard on Mount Kailāsa from the god of the matted locks, and which Kāṇabhūti heard on the earth from the same Puṣpadanta after he had become Vararuci, and which Guṇāḍhya heard from Kāṇabhūti, and Sātavāhana heard from Guṇāḍhya.


Story of Udayana, King of Vatsa

[M] (Main story line continued) There is a land[2] famous under the name of Vatsa, that appears as if it had been made by the Creator as an earthly rival to dash the pride of heaven. In the centre of it is a great city named Kauśāmbī, the favourite dwelling-place of the Goddess of Prosperity; the ear-ornament, so to speak, of the earth. In it dwelt a king named Śatānīka, sprung from the Pāṇḍava family; he was the son of Janamejaya, and the grandson of King Parīkṣit, who was the great-grandson of Abhimanyu. The first progenitor of his race was Arjuna, the might of whose strong arm was tested in a struggle with the mighty arms of Śiva[3]; his wife was the earth, and also Viṣṇumatī his queen: the first produced jewels, but the second did not produce a son. Once on a time, as that king was roaming about in his passion for the chase, he made acquaintance in the forest with the hermit Śāṇḍilya. That worthy sage, finding out that the king desired a son, came to Kauśāmbī and administered to his queen an artfully prepared oblation[4] consecrated with mystic verses. Then he had a son born to him called Sahasrānīka. And his father was adorned by him as excellence is by modesty. Then in course of time Śatānīka made that son crown prince and, though he still enjoyed kingly pleasures, ceased to trouble himself about the cares of government. Then a war arose between the gods and Asuras, and Indra sent Mātali as a messenger to that king begging for aid. Then he committed his son and his kingdom to the care of his principal minister, who was called Yogandhara, and his commander-in-chief, whose name was Supratīka, and went to Indra with Mātali to slay the Asuras in fight. That king, having slain many Asuras, of whom Yamadaṃṣṭra was the chief, under the eyes of Indra, met death in that very battle. The king’s body was brought back by Mātali, and the queen burnt herself with it, and the royal dignity descended to his son Sahasrānīka. Wonderful to say, when that king ascended his father’s throne the heads of the kings on every side of his dominions were bent down with the weight. Then Indra sent Mātali, and brought to heaven that Sahasrānīka, as being the son of his friend, that he might be present at the great feast which he was holding to celebrate his victory over his foes. There the king saw the gods, attended by their fair ones, sporting in the garden of Nandana, and desiring for himself a suitable wife, fell into low spirits.

Then Indra, perceiving this desire of his, said to him:

“King, away with despondency; this desire of thine shall be accomplished. For there has been born upon the earth one who was long ago ordained a suitable match for thee. For listen to the following history, which I now proceed to relate to thee:—

“Long ago I went to the Court of Brahmā in order to visit him, and a certain Vasu named Vidhūma followed me. While we were there an Apsaras named Alambuṣā came to see Brahmā, and her robe was blown aside by the wind. And the Vasu when he beheld her was overpowered by love, and the Apsaras too had her eyes immediately attracted by his form. The lotus-sprung god[5] when he beheld that looked me full in the face, and I, knowing his meaning, in wrath cursed those two:

‘Be born, you two shameless creatures, into the world of mortals, and there become man and wife.’

That Vasu has been born as thou, Sahasrānīka, the son of Śatānīka, an ornament to the race of the moon. And that Apsaras too has been born in Ayodhyā as the daughter of King Kṛtavarman, Mṛgāvatī by name, she shall be thy wife.”

By these words of Indra the flame of love was fanned in the passionate[6] heart of the king and burst out into full blaze; as a fire when fanned by the wind. Indra then dismissed the king from heaven with all due honour in his own chariot, and he set out with Mātali[7] for his capital.

But as he was starting the Apsaras Tilottamā said to him out of affection:

“King, I have somewhat to say to thee; wait a moment.”

But he, thinking on Mṛgāvatī, went off without hearing what she said; then Tilottamā in her rage cursed him:

“King, thou shalt be separated for fourteen years from her who has so engrossed thy mind that thou dost not hear my speech.”

Now Mātali heard that curse, but the king, yearning for his beloved, did not. In the chariot he went to Kauśāmbī, but in spirit he went to Ayodhyā. Then the king told with longing heart all that he had heard from Indra with reference to Mṛgāvatī to his ministers, Yogandhara and the others; and not being able to endure delay, he sent an ambassador to Ayodhyā to ask her father Kṛtavarman for the hand of that maiden.

And Kṛtavarman having heard from the ambassador his commission, told in his joy the Queen Kalāvatī, and then she said to him:

“King, we ought certainly to give Mṛgāvatī to Sahasrānīka, and, I remember, a certain Brāhman told me this very thing in a dream.”

Then in his delight the king showed to the ambassador Mṛgāvatī’s wonderful skill in dancing, singing and other accomplishments, and her matchless beauty; so the King Kṛtavarman gave to Sahasrānīka that daughter of his who was unequalled as a mine of graceful arts, and who shone like an incarnation of the moon. That marriage of Sahasrānīka and Mṛgāvatī was one in which the good qualities of either party supplemented those of the other, and might be compared to the union of learning and intelligence.

Not long after sons were born to the king’s ministers; Yogandhara had a son born to him named Yaugandharāyaṇa; and Supratīka had a son born to him named Rumaṇvat. And to the king’s master of the revels was born a son named Vasantaka. Then in a few days Mṛgāvatī became slightly pale and promised to bear a child to King Sahasrānīka. And then she asked the king, who was never tired of looking at her, to gratify her longing[8] by filling a tank of blood for her to bathe in. [also see notes on the magical properties of blood] Accordingly the king, who was a righteous man, in order to gratify her desire, had a tank filled with the juice of lac and other red extracts, so that it seemed to be full of blood. And while she was bathing in that lake, and covered with red dye, a bird of the race of Garuḍa[9] suddenly pounced upon her and carried her off, thinking she was raw flesh. As soon as she was carried away in some unknown direction by the bird the king became distracted, and his self-command forsook him as if in order to go in search of her. His heart was so attached to his beloved that it was in very truth carried off by that bird, and thus he fell senseless upon the earth. As soon as he had recovered his senses, Mātali, who had discovered all by his divine power, descended through the air and came where the king was. He consoled the king, and told him the curse of Tilottamā with its destined end, as he had heard it long ago, and then he took his departure.

Then the king, tormented with grief, lamented on this wise:

“Alas, my beloved, that wicked Tilottamā has accomplished her desire.”

But having learned the facts about the curse, and having received advice from his ministers, he managed, though with difficulty, to retain his life through hope of a future reunion.

But that bird which had carried off Mṛgāvatī, as soon as it found out that she was alive, abandoned her, and, as fate would have it, left her on the mountain where the sun rises. And when the bird let her drop and departed, the queen, distracted with grief and fear, saw that she was left unprotected on the slope of a trackless mountain. While she was weeping in the forest, alone, with only one garment to cover her, an enormous serpent rose up and prepared to swallow her. Then she for whom prosperity was reserved in the future was delivered by some heavenly hero who came down and slew the serpent and disappeared almost as soon as he was seen. Thereupon she, longing for death, flung herself down in front of a wild elephant, but even he spared her as if out of compassion. Wonderful was it that even a wild beast did not slay her when she fell in his way! Or rather it was not to be wondered at. What cannot the will of Śiva effect?

Then the girl, tardy with the weight of her womb, desiring to hurl herself down from a precipice, and thinking upon that lord of hers, wept aloud; and a hermit’s son, who had wandered there in search of roots and fruits, hearing that, came up, and found her looking like the incarnation of sorrow. And he, after questioning the queen about her adventures, and comforting her as well as he could, with a heart melted with compassion led her off to the hermitage of Jamadagni. There she beheld Jamadagni, looking like the incarnation of comfort, whose brightness so illumined the eastern mountain that it seemed as if the rising sun ever rested on it. When she fell at his feet, that hermit who was kind to all who came to him for help, and possessed heavenly insight, said to her who was tortured with the pain of separation:

“Here there shall be born to thee, my daughter, a son who shall uphold the family of his father, and thou shalt be reunited to thy husband; therefore weep not.”

When that virtuous woman heard that speech of the hermit’s she took up her abode in that hermitage, and entertained hope of a reunion with her beloved. And some days after the blameless one gave birth to a charmingly beautiful son, as association with the good produces good manners.

At that moment a voice was heard from heaven:

“An august king of great renown has been born, Udayana by name, and his son shall be monarch of all the Vidyādharas.”

That voice restored to the heart of Mṛgāvatī joy which she had long forgotten. Gradually that boy grew up to size and strength in that grove of asceticism, accompanied by his own excellent qualities as playmates. And the heroic child had the sacraments appropriate to a member of the warrior caste performed for him by Jamadagni, and was instructed by him in the sciences and the practice of archery. And out of love for him Mṛgāvatī drew off from her own wrist, and placed on his, a bracelet marked with the name of Sahasrānīka.

Then that Udayana, roaming about once upon a time in pursuit of deer, beheld in the forest a snake that had been forcibly captured by a Śavara.[10]

And he, feeling pity for the beautiful snake, said to that Śavara:

“Let go this snake to please me.”

Then that Śavara said:

“My lord, this is my livelihood, for I am a poor man, and I always maintain myself by exhibiting dancing snakes. The snake I previously had having died, I searched through the great wood, and finding this one, overpowered him by charms and captured him.”

When he heard this, the generous Udayana gave that Śavara the bracelet which his mother had bestowed on him, and persuaded him to set the snake at liberty. The Śavara took the bracelet and departed, and then the snake, being pleased with Udayana, bowed before him and said as follows:—

“I am the eldest brother of Vāsuki,[11] called Vasunemi: receive from me, whom thou hast preserved, this lute, sweet in the sounding of its strings, divided according to the division of the quarter-tones, and betel leaf, together with the art of weaving unfading garlands and adorning the forehead with marks that never become indistinct.”

Then Udayana, furnished with all these, and dismissed by the snake, returned to the hermitage of Jamadagni, raining nectar, so to speak, into the eyes of his mother. [also see notes on snakes]

In the meantime that Śavara who had lighted on this forest, and while roaming about in it had obtained the bracelet from Udayana by the will of fate, was caught attempting to sell this ornament, marked with the king’s name, in the market, and was arrested by the police, and brought up in court before the King. Then King Sahasrānīka himself asked him in sorrow whence he had obtained the bracelet. Then that Śavara told him the whole story of his obtaining possession of the bracelet, beginning with his capture of the snake upon the eastern mountain. Hearing that from the Śavara, and beholding that bracelet of his beloved, King Sahasrānīka ascended the swing of doubt.

Then a divine voice from heaven delighted the king, who was tortured with the fire of separation, as do the raindrops the peacock when afflicted with the heat, uttering these words: “Thy curse is at an end, O king, and that wife of thine, Mṛgāvatī, is residing in the hermitage of Jamadagni together with thy son.” Then that day at last came to an end, though being made long by anxious expectation, and on the morrow that King Sahasrānīka, making the Śavara show him the way, set out with his army for that hermitage on the eastern mountain, in order quickly to recover his beloved wife.

[Additional note: the Garuḍa bird]

Footnotes and references:


I.e. Durgā.


At last the Ocean of Story really commences.— n.m.p.


I believe this refers to Arjuna’s combat with the god when he had assumed the form of a Kirāta, or mountaineer. Śiva is here called Tripurāri, the enemy or destroyer of Tripura. Dr Brockhaus renders it quite differently.


Composed of rice, milk, sugar and spices.--For similar child-giving drinks see L. B. Day’s Folk-Tales of Bengal, p. 187, and Knowles’ Folk-Tales of Kashmir, pp. 131 and 416. Cf also the child-giving mango in Freer’s Old Deccan Days, p. 254. —n.m.p.


Brahmā. He emerges from a lotus growing from the navel of Vishnu.


In the word sasnehe there is probably a pun, sneha meaning “love,” and also “oil.”


The charioteer of Indra.


On the curious motif of the longings of pregnancy see Appendix III at the end of the volume. —n.m.p.


See note at the end of this chapter.— n.m.p.


A wild mountaineer. Dr Bühler observes that the names of these tribes are used very vaguely in Sanskrit story-books.


Sovereign of the snakes.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: