Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,050,534 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) THEN Udayana took the kingdom of Vatsa, which his father had bequeathed to him, and, establishing himself in Kauśāmbī, ruled his subjects well. But gradually he began to devolve the cares of empire upon his ministers, Yaugandharāyaṇa and others, and gave himself up entirely to pleasures. He was continually engaged in the chase, and day and night he played on the melodious lute which Vāsuki[1] gave him long ago; and he subdued evermore infuriated wild elephants, overpowered by the fascinating spell of its strings’ dulcet sound, and, taming them, brought them home.[2]

That King of Vatsa drank wine adorned by the reflection of the moon-faces of fair women, and at the same time robbed his ministers’ faces of their cheerful hue.[3]

Only one anxiety had he to bear; he kept thinking:

“Nowhere is a wife found equal to me in birth and personal appearance; the maiden named Vāsavadattā alone has a liking for me,[4] but how is she to be obtained?”

Caṇḍamahāsena also, in Ujjayinī, thought:

“There is no suitable husband to be found for my daughter in the world, except one Udayana by name, and he has ever been my enemy. Then how can I make him my son-in-law and my submissive ally? There is only one device which can effect it. He wanders about alone in the forest capturing elephants, for he is a king addicted to the vice of hunting; I will make use of this failing of his to entrap him and bring him here by a stratagem; and, as he is acquainted with music, I will make this daughter of mine his pupil, and then his eye will without doubt be charmed with her, and he will certainly become my son-in-law, and my obedient ally. No other artifice seems applicable in this case for making him submissive to my will.”

Having thus reflected, he went to the temple of Durgā, in order that his scheme might be blessed with success, and, after worship and praise, offered a prayer to the goddess.

And there he heard a bodiless voice saying:

“This desire of thine, O king, shall shortly be accomplished.”

Then he returned satisfied, and deliberated over that very matter with the minister Buddhadatta,[5] saying:

“That prince is elated with pride, he is free from avarice, his subjects are attached to him, and he is of great power, therefore he cannot be reached by any of the four usual expedients beginning with negotiation, nevertheless let negotiation be tried first.”[6]

Having thus deliberated, the king gave this order to an ambassador:

“Go and give the King of Vatsa this message from me: ‘My daughter desires to be thy pupil in music; if thou love us, come here and teach her.’”

When sent off by the king with this message, the ambassador went and repeated it to the King of Vatsa in Kauśāmbī exactly as it was delivered; and the King of Vatsa, after hearing this uncourteous message from the ambassador, repeated it in private to the minister Yaugandharāyaṇa, saying:

“Why did that monarch send me that insolent message? What can be the villain’s object in making such a proposal?”

When the king asked him this question, the great minister Yaugandharāyaṇa, who was stern to his master for his good, thus answered him:

“Your reputation for vice[7] has shot up in the earth like a creeper, and this, O king, is its biting bitter fruit. For that King Caṇḍamahāsena, thinking that you are the slave of your passions, intends to ensnare you by means of his beautiful daughter, throw you into prison, and so make you his unresisting instrument. Therefore abandon kingly vices, for kings that fall into them are easily captured by their enemies, even as elephants are taken in pits.”

When his minister had said this to him, the resolute King of Vatsa sent in return an ambassador to Caṇḍamahāsena with the following reply: —

“If thy daughter desires to become my pupil, then send her here.”

When he had sent this reply, that King of Vatsa said to his ministers:

“I will march and bring Caṇḍamahāsena here in chains.”

When he heard that, the head minister Yaugandharāyaṇa said:

“That is not a fitting thing to do, my king, nor is it in thy power to do it. For Caṇḍamahāsena is a mighty monarch, and not to be subdued by thee. And in proof of this hear his whole history, which I now proceed to relate to thee:


6. Story of King Caṇḍamahāsena

There is in this land a city named Ujjayinī, the ornament of the earth, that, so to speak, laughs to scorn with its palaces of enamelled whiteness[8] Amarāvatī, the city of the gods. In that city dwells Śiva himself, the lord of existence, under the form of Mahākāla,[9] when he desists from the kingly vice of absenting himself on the heights of Mount Kailāsa. In that city lived a king named Mahendravarman, best of monarchs, and he had a son like himself, named Jayasena. Then to that Jayasena was born a son named Mahāsena, matchless in strength of arm, an elephant among monarchs.

And that king, while cherishing his realm, reflected:

“I have not a sword worthy of me,[10] nor a wife of good family.”

Thus reflecting, that monarch went to the temple of Durgā, and there he remained without food, propitiating for a long time the goddess. Then he cut off pieces of his own flesh and offered a burnt-offering with them, whereupon the goddess Durgā, being pleased, appeared in visible shape and said to him:

“I am pleased with thee; receive from me this excellent sword; by means of its magic power thou shalt be invincible to all thy enemies. Moreover, thou shalt soon obtain as a wife Aṅgāravatī, the daughter of the Asura Aṅgāraka, the most beautiful maiden in the three worlds. And since thou didst here perform this very cruel penance, therefore thy name shall be Caṇḍamahāsena.”

Having said this and given him the sword, the goddess disappeared. But in the king there appeared joy at the fulfilment of his desire. He now possessed, O king, two jewels, his sword and a furious elephant named Naḍāgiri, which were to him what the thunderbolt and Airāvata are to Indra. Then that king, delighting in the power of these two, one day went to a great forest to hunt; and there he beheld an enormous and terrible wild boar; like the darkness of the night suddenly condensed into a solid mass in the daytime. That boar was not wounded by the king’s arrows, in spite of their sharpness, but after breaking the king’s chariot[11] fled and entered a cavern. The king, leaving that car of his, in revengeful pursuit of the boar, entered into that cavern with only his bow to aid him. And after he had gone a long distance he beheld a great and splendid capital, and astonished he sat down inside the city on the bank of a lake. While there he beheld a maiden moving along, surrounded by hundreds of women, like the arrow of love that cleaves the armour of self-restraint. She slowly approached the king, bathing him, so to speak, again and again in a look that rained in showers the nectar of love.[12]

She said:

“Who art thou, illustrious sir, and for what reason hast thou entered our home on this occasion?”

The king, being thus questioned by her, told her the whole truth; hearing which, she let fall from her eyes a passionate flood of tears, and from her heart all self-control.

The king said:

“Who art thou, and why dost thou weep?”

When he asked her this question she, being a prisoner to love at his will, answered him:

“The boar that entered here is the Daitya Aṅgāraka by name. And I am his daughter, O king, and my name is Aṅgāravatī. And he is of adamantine frame, and has carried off these hundred princesses from the palaces of kings and appointed them to attend on me. Moreover, this great Asura has become a Rākṣasa owing to a curse, but to-day, as he was exhausted with thirst and fatigue, even when he found you, he spared you. At present he has put off the form of a boar and is resting in his proper shape, but when he wakes up from his sleep he will without fail do you an injury. It is for this reason that I see no hope of a happy issue for you, and so these teardrops fall from my eyes like my vital spirits boiled with the fire of grief.”

When he heard this speech of Aṅgāravatī’s the king said to her:

“If you love me, do this which I ask you. When your father awakes, go and weep in front of him, and then he will certainly ask you the cause of your agitation; then you must say:

‘If someone were to slay thee, what would become of me?[13] This is the cause of my grief.’

If you do this there will be a happy issue both for you and me.”

When the king said this to her she promised him that she would do what he wished. And that Asura maiden, apprehending misfortune, placed the king in concealment and went near her sleeping father. Then the Daitya woke up, and she began to weep.

And then he said to her:

“Why do you weep, my daughter?”

She, with affected grief, said to him:

“If someone were to slay thee, what would become of me?”

Then he burst out laughing and said:

“Who could possibly slay me, my daughter?—for I am cased in adamant all over; only in my left hand is there an unguarded place, but that is protected by the bow.”

In these words the Daitya consoled his daughter, and all this was heard by the king in his concealment. Immediately afterwards the Dānava rose up and took his bath, and proceeded in devout silence to worship the god Śiva. At that moment the king appeared with his bow bent, and rushing up impetuously towards the Daitya, challenged him to fight. He, without interrupting his devout silence, lifted his left hand towards the king and made a sign that he must wait for a moment. The king for his part, being very quick, immediately smote him with an arrow in that hand which was his vital part.

And that great Asura Aṅgāraka, being pierced in the vital spot, immediately uttered a terrible cry and fell on the ground, and exclaimed, as his life departed:

“If that man who has slain me when thirsty does not offer water to my manes every year, then his five ministers shall perish.”

After he had said this that Daitya died, and the king, taking his daughter Aṅgāravatī as a prize, returned to Ujjayinī.

There the king Caṇḍamahāsena married that Daitya maiden, and two sons were born to him, the first named Gopālaka and the second Pālaka; and when they were born he held a feast in honour of Indra on their account.

Then Indra, being pleased, said to that king in a dream:

“By my favour thou shalt obtain a matchless daughter.”

Then in course of time a graceful daughter was born to that king, like a second and more wonderful shape of the moon made by the Creator.

And on that occasion a voice was heard from heaven:

“She shall give birth to a son, who shall be a very incarnation of the God of Love, and king of the Vidyādharas.”

Then the king gave that daughter the name of Vāsavadattā, because she was given by Indra being pleased with him.


[M] (Main story line continued) And that maiden still remains unmarried in the house of her father, like the Goddess of Prosperity in the hollow cavity of the ocean before it was churned. That King Caṇḍamahāsena cannot indeed be conquered by you, O king; in the first place, because he is so powerful, and, in the next place, because his realm is situated in a difficult country. Moreover, he is ever longing to give you that daughter of his in marriage, but, being a proud monarch, he desires the triumph of himself and his adherents. But I think you must certainly marry that Vāsavadattā.” When he heard this that king immediately lost his heart to Vāsavadattā.[14]



Cf. the story of Ohimé in the Sicilianische Marchen, collected by Laura Gonzenbach, where Maruzza asks Ohimé how it would be possible to kill him. So in Indian Fairy Tales, collected by Miss Stokes, Hiralāl Bāsā persuades Sonahrī Rānī to ask his father where he keeps his soul. Some interesting remarks on this subject will be found in the notes to this tale (Indian Fairy Tales, p. 260). See also No. 1 in Campbell’s Tales of the Western Highlands, and Dr Reinhold Kohler’s remarks in Orient und Occident, vol. ii, p. 100 . Cf also Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales, pp. 80, 81 and 136 , and Veckenstedt’s Wendische Sagen, p. 72.

In the “Gehörnte Siegfried” (Simrock’s Deutsche Volksbūcher, vol. iii, pp. 368 and 41 6) the hero is made invulnerable everywhere but between the shoulders by being smeared with the melted fat of a dragon. Cf also the story of Achilles. For the transformation of Caṇḍamahāsena into a boar cf Bartsch’s Sagen, Marchen und gebräuche aus Meklenburg, vol. ii, pp. 144, 145, and Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, vol. ii, p. 14. See also Schôppner’s Geschichte der Bayerischen Lande, vol. i, p. 258.-

The idea of life depending on some extraneous object dates from the earliest times. It first appears on a papyrus of the nineteenth dynasty sold by Madame Elizabeth d’Orbiney to the British Museum in 1857. The tale which is known as “The Story of the Two Brothers” contains many interesting incidents to which we shall have to refer in a later volume. Among them is a clear account of an external soul. We read (Maspero, Popular Stories of Ancient Egypt, p. 10): “I shall take out my heart by magic to place it on the top of the flower of the acacia; and when the acacia is cut down and my heart falls to the ground thou shalt come to seek for it. When thou shalt have passed seven years in seeking for it, be not disheartened, but when once thou hast found it place it in a vase of fresh water; without doubt I shall live anew, and recompense the evil that shall have been done to me.”

In the “Adventure of Satni-Khamoîs with the Mummies,” which appears on a papyrus of Ptolemaic age, we find the first example of concealing an article in numerous boxes for the sake of safety. In later days this motif was applied to the external soul, and, as we shall see shortly, it is this form of the story which has spread through so many nations. In the Egyptian tale of Satni-Khamoîs the hidden article is the famous book of Thoth, which gave the possessor superhuman knowledge of every kind. It was naturally very hard to obtain, and is described as being “ in the midst of the sea of Coptos in an iron coffer. The iron coffer contains a bronze coffer; the bronze coffer contains a coffer of cinnamon wood; the coffer of cinnamon wood contains a coffer of ivory and ebony; the coffer of ivory and ebony contains a coffer of silver; the coffer of silver contains a coffer of gold, and the book is in that. And there is a schene (12,000 royal cubits of 52 centimetres each) of reptiles round the coffer in which is the book, and there is an immortal serpent rolled round the coffer in question” (Maspero, op. cit., pp. 124, 125).

The scientific study of the “external soul,” or “life-index,” has occupied the attention of several scholars. See, for instance, Cox, Aryan Mythology, vol. ii, pp. 36, 330; De Gubernatis, op. cit., vol. i, p. 168 ; Edward Clodd on the “Philosophy of Punchkin” in the Folk-Lore Journal, 1884, vol. ii, p. 302; Steel and Temple’s Wide-Awake Stories, pp. 404, 405; Clouston, Popular Tales and Fictions, vol. i, pp. 347-351; Macculloch, The Childhood of Fiction, p. 118 et seq.; Frazer, The Golden Bough, vol. ix, p. 95 et seq.; Sidney Hartland, Legend of Perseus, vol. ii, pp. 1-54, and his article, “Life-Token,” in Hastings’ Ency. Bel. Eth., vol. viii, pp. 44-47; and Ruth Norton in her article, “The Life-index: A Hindu Fiction Motif,” in Studies in Honor of Maurice Bloomfield, 1920 , pp. 211-224.

The subject divides itself into two main headings:

  1. The life of a person is dependent on some external object.
  2. The condition of a certain object shows to his friends or relations the state of a person’s health or chastity.

It is only the first division with which we are concerned in this note. The other will be discussed later when the text warrants it. There is, however, the same original idea running through both varieties of “life-index.” As Hartland has shown in his article, “Life-Token” (see above), there is a widespread belief of a distinct organic connection between the life-token and the person whose condition it exhibits. The life-token is derived from the doctrine of sympathetic magic, according to which any portion of a living being, though severed, remains in mystic union with the bulk, and is affected by whatever affects the bulk. This belief being so general, we find that it has entered not only into the folk-tales, but into the custom and superstition of a very wide variety of countries. Examples are given by Hartland from different parts of all five continents.

I have already shown in a note on p. 37 how it is commonly supposed that the soul wanders about in sleep, etc. We must, however, use the word “soul” with care. It is sometimes referred to in stories as “heart” or “life,” or perhaps there is no direct reference except the information that if a certain object or animal is destroyed the person with whom it is mystically connected will die. In the ancient Egyptian “Story of the Two Brothers” we saw it was a “heart” which was put in the acacia-tree, not in any way hidden, but merely awaiting its fate, as the owner knew that in time the tree would be cut down and his heart would fall and so he would die. This idea, with certain alterations of details, occurs in numerous folk-tales and in the customs of savage peoples. The Eastern story-teller, always ready to exaggerate and embroider, introduced the idea of making the “soul” as hard to find as possible, thus he encases it in a series of various articles or animals and puts it in some apparently inaccessible place, which, as we have already seen, was first employed by the ancient Egyptians with regard to the magic book of Thoth.

It is this form of life-index motif that has spread all over India and slowly migrated to Europe via Persia, Arabia and the Mediterranean. We shall first of all consider briefly the occurrence of this motif in Hindu fiction.

In Freer’s Old Deccan Days, in the “Story of Punchkin” (p. 13), the magician’s life ends when a little green parrot is killed. The bird is in a cage, in the sixth of six chattees of water, in a circle of palm-trees in a thick jungle, in a desolate country hundreds of thousands of miles away, guarded by thousands of genii. In Miss Stokes’ Indian Fairy Tales the demon’s life depends on a maina (hill-starling), in a nest, on a tree, on the other side of a great sea.

Compare D’Penha, “Folk-Lore of Salsette,” Ind. Ant., xxii, p. 249, and Damant, “Bengali Folk-Lore,” Ind. Ant., i, 171. In L. B. Day’s Folk-Tales of Bengal, No. 1 , the “soul” is in a necklace, in a box, in the heart of a boal fish, in a tank.

Again in No. 4 of the same collection of tales the princess is told by the Rākṣasa that

“in a tank close by, deep down in the water, is a crystal pillar, on the top of which are two bees. If any human being can dive into the water and bring up these two bee 6 in one breath, and destroy them so that not a drop of blood falls to the ground, then we rākṣasas shall certainly die; but if a single drop of their blood falls to the ground, then from it will start a thousand rākṣasas.”

In Knowles, Folk-Tales of Kashmir, p. 383, and Ind. Ant., Sept. 1885, p. 250, the ogre’s life depends on that of a queen bee who lives in a honey-comb on a certain tree guarded by myriads of savage bees. Compare Steel and Temple’s Wide-Awake Stories, p. 59, and Damant’s article mentioned above, p. 117.

In a story appearing in H. H. Wilson’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Mackenzie MSS., i, p. 329, the life of Māirāvaṇa is divided up into five vital airs, which are secured in the bodies of five black bees living on a mountain 60,000 kos distant. (See also p. 218 of the same work.)

The bird appears to be the most popular index in Indian tales. Norton (op. cit., p. 217) gives numerous references. For more usual indexes see Chilli’s Folk-Tales of Hindustan, p. 114; Wadia’s “Folk-Lore in Western India,” Ind. Ant., xxii, p. 318; Bompas’ Folk-Lore of the Santal Parganas, p. 224; and Ramaswami Raju’s Tales of the Sixty Mandarins, p. 182. In O’Connor’s Folk-Tales of Tibet, p. 113 et seq., is the unique example of one mortal being the index of another mortal. Thus the boy in whose keeping is the giant’s soul is hidden in a subterranean chamber.

In the great majority of the above tales there is a captive princess, or an ogre’s daughter, who falls in love with the hero and tells him the way in which the obstacles to the destruction of the demon, or Rākṣasa, may be overcome.

We now turn to Persia and Arabia, where we find the “life-index” occurring in the “History of Nassar,” from the Persian Maḥbūb ul-Qulūb, reproduced in Clouston’s Group of Eastern Romances (see p. 30); while in Arabian literature it appears in the “Story of Sayf al-Muluk and Badi’a al-Jamal” (Burton, Nights, vol. vii, p. 350). Here the form of the motif is unusual, as the king of the Jann was told at his birth that he would be killed by the son of a king of mankind.

Accordingly, he says,

“I took it [the soul] and set it in the crop of a sparrow, and shut up the bird in a box. The box I set in a casket, and enclosing this in seven other caskets and seven chests, laid the whole in an alabastrine coffer, which I buried within the marge of yon earth-circling sea; for that these parts are far from the world of men and none of them can win thither. So now see, I have told thee what thou would’st know, so do thou tell none thereof, for it is a matter between me and thee.”

In Europe we still have the “soul” hidden in numerous “wrappings” which differ with the locality of the story. In Rome (“Story of Cajusse,” Busk, Folk-Lore of Rome) it is in a stone, in the head of a bird, in the head of a leveret, in the middle head of a seven-headed hydra. Miss Busk cites a Huṅgarian tale where the dwarfs life is finally discovered to be in a golden cockchafer, inside a golden cock, inside a golden sheep, inside a golden stag, in the ninety-ninth island.

In Russia (Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales, p. 103 et seq.) the life is in an egg, in a duck, in a casket, in an oak. In Serbia (Mijatovich’s Servian Folk-Lore, p. 172) it is in a board, in the heart of a fox, in a mountain. Similar “wrappings” of the “soul” will be found in Albania (Dozon, p. 132), South Slavonia (Wratislaw, p. 225), Schleswig-Holstein (Müllenhoff, p. 404), Norway (Asbjørnsen, No. 36; Dasent, p. 69) and the Hebrides (Campbell, p. 10). See J. Jacob’s Indian Fairy Tales, p. 238, 239-

We have thus seen that the idea of the “external soul” is of very old conception and is widely embedded in the customs and superstitions of numerous peoples of the world. This idea arose independently to a large extent, and no one nation can be definitely said to have “created” the idea, as is proved by its existence in remote corners of the globe—such as New Zealand.

The idea of using the “external soul” as an attractive story motif by casing it in numerous articles, etc., arose in India (although it was originally used in Egypt to hide a magical book), whence the idea has migrated, with very little alteration, to other Eastern countries and to nearly every part of Europe.—n.m.p.

Footnotes and references:


Not Vāsuki, but his eldest brother.


Cf. the Vidhurapaṇḍita-Jātaka (Cambridge edition, vol. vi, p. 127), where the chief minister bewitched his hearers by his discourses on law “as elephants are fascinated by a favourite lute.”— n.m.p.


Chhāyā means “colour”; he drank their colour— i.e. made them pale. It also means “reflection in the wine.”


As Speyer remarks in his Studies about the Kathāsaritsāgara, p. 9f> (in all probability to be embodied in a later volume), Brockhaus’ reading purports an impossibility, as Udayana could at the most have heard of her only by name. Moreover, we find later that it is not for a long time that Vāsavadattā falls in love with Udayana, which is actually brought about by a plan of Udayana himself. The Durgāprasād text reads, kanyakā śrūyate param, etc., instead of hanyā kāmayate par am, etc., meaning, “there is but one maiden, they say (that suits me as a wife),” thus making much better sense. —n.m.p.


I.e. given by Buddha.


The four upāyas, or means of success, are: sāman (negotiation), which his pride would render futile; dāna (giving), which appeals to avarice; bheda (sowing dissension), which would be useless where a king is beloved by his subjects; and daṇḍa (open force), of no use in the case of a powerful king like Udayana.


The chief vices of kings denounced by Hindu writers on statecraft are: hunting, gambling, sleeping in the day, calumny, addiction to women, drinking spirits, dancing, singing, playing instrumental music and idle roaming. These proceed from the love of pleasure. Others proceed from anger—viz. tale-bearing, violence, insidious injury, envy, detraction, unjust seizure of property, abuse, assault. See Monier Williams, s.v. vyasana.—Speaking of the vices of caliphs in the Nights (vol. i, p. 190), Burton has the following note:—

“Injustice, Arab Zulm, the deadliest of monarchs’ sins. One of the sayings of Mohammed, popularly quoted, is, ‘ Kingdom endureth with Kufr or infidelity (i.e. without accepting Al-Islam) but endureth not with Zulm or injustice.’ Hence the good Moslem will not complain of the rule of Kafirs or Unbelievers, like the English, so long as they rule him righteously and according to his own law.”



Sudhādkauta may mean “white as plaster,” but more probably here “whitened with plaster,” like the houses in the European quarter of the “City of Palaces.”-The real Amarāvatī could also be described as “of enamelled whiteness” owing to its numerous white sculptures. They date from about 200 B.C., and were nearly all destroyed at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. To give some idea of the enormous extent of these white marble sculptures, it is estimated that the carved figures in just the outer rail of the stūpa must number about 14,000. The remaining bas-reliefs are now on the walls of the chief stairway of the British Museum.— n.m.p.


A liṅga of Śiva in Ujjayinī. Śiva is here compared to an earthly monarch subject to the vyasana of roaming. I take it the poet means Ujjayinī is a better place than Kailāsa.


Cf. the way in which Kandar goes in search of a sword in Prym and Socin’s Syrische Märchen, p. 205.


Dr Brockhaus translates it: “Stürzte den Wagen des Konigs um.” Can Syandana mean “horses,” like magni currus Achilli? If so, āhatya would mean “having killed.”


Rasa means “nectar,” and indeed any liquid, and also “emotion,” “passion.” The pun is, of course, most intentional in the original.


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


For the idea of falling in love by a mere mention or description see Chauvin, Bibliographic des Ouvrages Arabes, vol. v, p. 132, where numerous references are given.— n.m.p.