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 ...


HONOUR to the Conqueror of Obstacles whose favour, I ween, even the creator[1] implored, in order that he might accomplish the creation of the world without let or hindrance.

That five-arrowed God of Love conquers the world, at whose command even Śiva trembles, when he is being embraced by his beloved.


[M] (Main story line continued) Thus having obtained Vāsavadattā, that King of Vatsa gradually became most exclusively devoted to the pleasure of her society. But his prime minister Yaugandharāyaṇa, and his general Rumaṇvat, upheld day and night the burden of his empire.

And once upon a time the minister Yaugandharāyaṇa, full of anxiety, brought Rumaṇvat to his house at night and said to him as follows:—

“This lord of Vatsa is sprung from the Pāṇḍava race, and the whole earth is his by hereditary descent, as also the city named of the elephant.[2] All these this king has abandoned, not being desirous of making conquests, and his kingdom has so become confined to this one small corner of the earth. For he certainly remains devoted to women, wine and hunting, and he has delegated to us all the duty of thinking about his kingdom. So we by our own intelligence must take such steps as that he shall obtain the empire of the whole earth, which is his by hereditary right. For, if we do this, we shall have exhibited devotion to his cause, and performed our duty as ministers; for everything is accomplished by intellect, and in proof of this listen to the following tale:—


11. Story of the Clever Physician

Once on a time there was a king named Mahāsena, and he was attacked by another king far superior to him in power. Then the king’s ministers met together, and in order to prevent the ruin of his interests Mahāsena was persuaded by them to pay tribute to that enemy. And after he had paid tribute that haughty king was exceedingly afflicted, thinking to himself: “Why have I made submission to my enemy?” And his sorrow on that account caused an abscess to form in his vitals, and he was so pulled down by the abscess that at last he was at the point of death. Then a certain wise physician, considering that that case could not be cured by medicine, said falsely to that king: “O King, your wife is dead.” When he heard that, the king fell on the ground, and owing to the excessive violence of his grief the abscess burst of itself. And so the king recovered from his disease, and long enjoyed in the society of that queen the pleasures he desired, and conquered his enemies in his turn.[3]


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So, as that physician did his king a good turn by his wisdom, let us also do our king a good turn; let us gain for him the empire of the earth. And in this undertaking our only adversary is Pradyota, the King of Magadha[4]; for he is a foe in the rear that is always attacking us behind. So we must ask for our sovereign that pearl of princesses, his daughter,[5] named Padmāvatī. And by our cleverness we will conceal Vāsavadattā somewhere, and setting fire to her house, we will give out everywhere that the queen is burnt.

For in no other case will the King of Magadha give his daughter to our sovereign, for when I requested him to do so on a former occasion he answered:

‘I will not give my daughter, whom I love more than myself, to the King of Vatsa, for he is passionately attached to his wife Vāsavadattā.’

Moreover, as long as the queen is alive, the King of Vatsa will not marry anyone else; but if a report is once spread that the queen is burnt, all will succeed. And when Padmāvatī is secured, the King of Magadha will be our marriage connection, and will not attack us in the rear, but will become our ally. Then we will march to conquer the eastern quarter, and the others in due succession, so we shall obtain for the King of Vatsa all this earth. And if we only exert ourselves, this king will obtain the dominion of the earth, for long ago a divine voice predicted this.”

When Rumaṇvat heard this speech from the great minister Yaugandharāyaṇa, he feared that the plan would cover them with ridicule, and so he said to him:

“Deception practised for the sake of Padmāvatī might some day be the ruin of us both; in proof of this listen to the following tale:—


12. Story of the Hypocritical Ascetic

On the bank of the Ganges there is a city named Mākandikā; in that city long ago there was a certain ascetic who observed a vow of silence, and he lived on alms, and, surrounded by numerous other holy beggars, dwelt in a monastery within the precincts of a god’s temple where he had taken up his abode. Once, when he entered a certain merchant’s house to beg, he saw a beautiful maiden coming out with alms in her hand, and the rascal, seeing that she was wonderfully beautiful, was smitten with love, and exclaimed: “Ah! Ah! Alas!” And that merchant overheard him.

Then, taking the alms he had received, he departed to his own house; and then the merchant went there and said to him in his astonishment:

“Why did you to-day suddenly break your vow of silence[6] and say what you did?”

When he heard that, the ascetic said to the merchant:

“This daughter of yours has inauspicious marks[7]; when she marries, you will undoubtedly perish, wife, sons and all. So, when I saw her, I was afflicted, for you are my devoted adherent; and thus it was on your account that I broke silence and said what I did. So place this daughter of yours by night in a basket, on the top of which there must be a light, and set her adrift on the Ganges.”

The merchant said, “So I will,” and went away; and at night he did all he had been directed to do, out of pure fear. The timid are ever unreflecting.

The hermit for his part said at that time to his own pupils:

“Go to the Ganges, and when you see a basket floating along with a light on the top of it, bring it here secretly, but you must not open it, even if you hear a noise inside.”

They said, “We will do so,” and off they went; but before they reached the Ganges, strange to say, a certain prince went into the river to bathe. He, seeing that basket, which the merchant had thrown in, by the help of the light on it, got his servants to fetch it for him, and immediately opened it out of curiosity. And in it he saw that heart-enchanting girl, and he married her on the spot by the gāndharva ceremony of marriage. And he set the basket adrift on the Ganges, exactly as it was before, putting a lamp on the top of it, and placing a fierce monkey inside it.

The prince having departed with that pearl of maidens, the pupils of the hermit came there in the course of their search, and saw that basket, and took it up and carried it to the hermit.

Then he, being delighted, said to them:

“I will take this upstairs and perform incantations with it alone, but you must lie in silence this night.”

When he had said this, the ascetic took the basket to the top of the monastery and opened it, eager to behold the merchant’s daughter. And then a monkey of terrible appearance sprang out of it,[8] and rushed upon the ascetic, like his own immoral conduct incarnate in bodily form. The monkey in its fury immediately tore off with its teeth the nose of the wicked ascetic, and his ears with its claws, as if it had been a skilful executioner; and in that state the ascetic ran downstairs, and when his pupils beheld him they could with difficulty suppress their laughter. And early next morning everybody heard the story, and laughed heartily; but the merchant was delighted, and his daughter also, as she had obtained a good husband.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“And even as the ascetic made himself ridiculous, so too may we possibly become a laughing-stock, if we employ deceit, and fail after all. For the separation of the king from Vāsavadattā involves many disadvantages.”

When Rumaṇvat had said this to Yaugandharāyaṇa, the latter answered:

“In no other way can we conduct our enterprise successfully, and if we do not undertake the enterprise, it is certain that with this self-indulgent king we shall lose even what territory we have got; and the reputation which we have acquired for statesmanship will be tarnished, and we shall cease to be spoken of as men who show loyalty to their sovereign. For when a king is one who depends on himself for success, his ministers are considered merely the instruments of his wisdom; and in the case of such monarchs you would not have much to do with their success or failures. But when a king depends on his ministers for success, it is their wisdom that achieves his ends, and if they are wanting in enterprise he must bid a long farewell to all hope of greatness.[9] But if you fear the queen’s father Caṇḍamahāsena, I must tell you that he and his son and the queen also will do whatever I bid them.”

When Yaugandharāyaṇa, most resolute among the resolute, had said this, Rumaṇvat, whose heart dreaded some fatal blunder, again said to him:

“Even a discerning prince is afflicted by the pain of being separated from a beloved woman, much more will this King of Vatsa be. In proof of what I say, listen to the following tale:—


13. Story of Unmādinī [10]

Once on a time there was a king named Devasena, best of wise men, and the city of Śrāvastī was his capital. And in that city there was a wealthy merchant, and to him there was born a daughter of unparalleled beauty. And that daughter became known by the name of Unmādinī, because everyone who beheld her beauty became mad.

Her father, the merchant, thought:

“I must not give this daughter of mine to anyone without telling the king, or he may be angry.”

So he went and said to the king Devasena:

“King, I have a daughter who is a very pearl; take her if she finds favour in your eyes.”

When he heard that, the king sent some Brāhmans, his confidential ministers, saying to them:

“Go and see if that maiden possesses the auspicious marks [see notes on sāmudrika] or not.”

The ministers said, “We will do so,” and went. But when they beheld that merchant’s daughter, Unmādinī, love was suddenly produced in their souls, and they became utterly bewildered.

When they recovered their senses, the Brāhmans said to one another:

“If the king marries this maiden, he will think only of her, and will neglect the affairs of the state, and everything will go to rack and ruin; so what is the good of her?”

Accordingly they went and told the king, what was not true, that the maiden had inauspicious marks.

Then the merchant gave that Unmādinī, whom the king had refused, and who in her heart felt a proud resentment at it, to the king’s commander-in-chief. When she was in the house of her husband, she ascended one day to the roof, and exhibited herself to the king, who she knew would pass that way. And the moment the king beheld her, resembling a world-bewildering drug employed by the God of Love, distraction seemed to be produced within him. When he returned to his palace, and discovered that it was the same lady he had previously rejected, he was full of regret, and fell violently ill with fever.

The commander-in-chief, the husband of the lady, came to him and earnestly entreated him to take her, saying:

“She is a slave; she is not the lawful wife of another; or, if it seem fit, I will repudiate her in the temple, then my lord can take her for his own.”

But the king said to him:

“I will not take unto myself another man’s wife, and if you repudiate her, your righteousness will be at an end, and you will deserve punishment at my hands.”

When they heard that, the other ministers remained silent, and the king was gradually consumed by love’s burning, and so died.[11]


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So that king perished, though of firm soul, being deprived of Unmādinī; but what will become of the lord of Vatsa without Vāsavadattā?”

When Yaugandharāyaṇa heard this from Rumaṇvat, he answered:

“Affliction is bravely endured by kings who have their eyes firmly fixed on their duty. Did not Rāma, when commissioned by the gods, who were obliged to resort to that contrivance to kill Rāvaṇa, endure the pain of separation from Queen Sītā?”

When he heard this, Rumaṇvat said in answer:

“Such as Rāma are gods; their souls can endure all things. But the thing is intolerable to men; in proof whereof listen to the following tale:—


14. Story of the Loving Couple who died of Separation

There is on this earth a great city rich in jewels, named Mathurā. In it there lived a certain young merchant called Illaka. And he had a dear wife whose mind was devoted to him alone. Once on a time, while he was dwelling with her, the young merchant determined to go to another country on account of the exigencies of his affairs. And that wife of his wished to go with him. For when a woman is passionately attached to anyone she cannot endure to be separated from him. And then that young merchant set out, having offered the usual preliminary prayer for success in his undertaking, and did not take with him that wife of his, though she had dressed herself for the journey. She, looking after him when he had started, with tears in her eyes, stood supporting herself against the panel of the door of the courtyard. Then, he being out of sight, she was no longer able to endure her grief; but she was too timid to follow him. So her breath left her body. And as soon as the young merchant came to know of that, he returned, and to his horror found that dear wife of his a corpse, with pale though lovely complexion, set off by her waving locks, like the spirit of beauty that tenants the moon fallen down to earth in the day during her sleep.[12] So he took her in his arms and wept over her, and immediately the vital spirits left his body, which was on fire with the flame of grief, as if they were afraid to remain. [see notes on the ten stages of love-sickness] So that married couple perished by mutual separation, and therefore we must take care that the king is not separated from the queen.


[M] (Main story line continued) When he had said this, Rumaṇvat ceased, with his mind full of apprehension, but the wise Yaugandharāyaṇa, that ocean of calm resolution, answered him:

“I have arranged the whole plan, and the affairs of kings often require such steps to be taken; in proof of it hear the following tale:—


15. Story of Puṇyasena

There lived long ago in Ujjayinī a king named Puṇyasena, and once on a time a powerful sovereign came and attacked him. Then his resolute ministers, seeing that that king was hard to conquer, spread everywhere a false report that their own sovereign Puṇyasena was dead; and they placed him in concealment, and burnt some other man’s corpse with all the ceremonies appropriate to a king, and they proposed to the hostile king through an ambassador that, as they had now no king, he should come and be their king. The hostile monarch was pleased and consented, and then the ministers assembled, accompanied by soldiers, and proceeded to storm his camp. And the enemy’s army being destroyed, Puṇyasena’s ministers brought him out of concealment, and having recovered their power put that hostile king to death.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“Such necessities will arise in monarchs’ affairs, therefore let us resolutely accomplish this business of the king’s by spreading a report of the queen’s having been burnt.”

When he heard this from Yaugandharāyaṇa, who had made up his mind, Rumaṇvat said:

“If this is resolved upon, let us send for Gopālaka, the queen’s respected brother, and let us take all our measures duly, after consultation with him.”

Then Yaugandharāyaṇa said, “So be it,” and Rumaṇvat allowed himself to be guided, in determining what was to be done, by the confidence which he placed in his colleague.

The next day these dexterous ministers sent off a messenger of their own to bring Gopālaka, on the pretext that his relations longed to see him. And as he had only departed before on account of urgent business, Gopālaka came at the request of the messenger, seeming like an incarnate festival. And the very day he came Yaugandharāyaṇa took him by night to his own house, together with Rumaṇvat, and there he told him of that daring scheme which he wished to undertake, all of which he had before deliberated about together with that Rumaṇvat; and Gopālaka, desiring the good of the King of Vatsa, consented to the scheme, though he knew it would bring sorrow to his sister; for the mind of good men is ever fixed upon duty.

Then Rumaṇvat again said:

“All this is well planned; but when the King of Vatsa hears that his wife is burnt he will be inclined to yield up his breath, and how is he to be prevented from doing so? This is a matter which ought to be considered. For though all the usual politic expedients may advantageously be employed, the principal element of sound statecraft is the averting of misfortune.”

Then Yaugandharāyaṇa, who had reflected on everything that was to be done, said:

“There need be no anxiety about this, for the queen is a princess, the younger sister of Gopālaka, and dearer to him than his life, and when the King of Vatsa sees how little afflicted Gopālaka is, he will think to himself, ‘Perhaps the queen may be alive after all,’ and so will be able to control his feelings. Moreover, he is of heroic disposition, and the marriage of Padmāvatī will be quickly got through, and then we can soon bring the queen out of concealment.”

Then Yaugandharāyaṇa and Gopālaka and Rumaṇvat, having made up their minds to this, deliberated as follows:—

“Let us adopt the artifice of going to Lāvāṇaka with the king and queen, for that district is a border district near the kingdom of Magadha. And because it contains admirable hunting-grounds, it will tempt the king to absent himself from the palace, so we can set the women’s apartments there on fire and carry out the plan[13] on which we have determined. And by an artifice we will take the queen and leave her in the palace of Padmāvatī, in order that Padmāvatī herself may be a witness to the queen’s virtuous behaviour in a state of concealment.”

Having thus deliberated together during the night, they all, with Yaugandharāyaṇa at their head, entered the king’s palace on the next day.

Then Rumaṇvat made the following representation to the king:—

“O King, it is a long time since we have gone to Lāvāṇaka, and it is a very delightful place; moreover, you will find capital hunting-grounds there, and grass for the horses can easily be obtained. And the King of Magadha, being so near, afflicts all that district. So let us go there for the sake of defending it, as well as for our own enjoyment.”

And the king, when he heard this, having his mind always set on enjoyment, determined to go to Lāvāṇaka together with Vāsavadattā.

The next day, the journey having been decided on, and the auspicious hour having been fixed by the astrologers, suddenly the hermit Nārada came to visit the monarch.

He illuminated the region with his splendour as he descended from the midst of heaven, and gave a feast to the eyes of all spectators, seeming as if he were the moon come down out of affection towards his own descendants.[14] After accepting the usual hospitable attentions, the hermit graciously gave to the king, who bowed humbly before him, a garland from the Pārijāta[15] tree. And he congratulated the queen, by whom he was politely received, promising her that she should have a son, who should be a portion of Kāma and king of all the Vidyādharas.

And then he said to the King of Vatsa, while Yaugandharāyaṇa was standing by:

“O King, the sight of your wife, Vāsavadattā, has strangely brought something to my recollection. In old time you had for ancestors Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers. And those five had one wife between them,[16] Draupadī by name. And she, like Vāsavadattā, was matchless in beauty.

Then, fearing that her beauty would do mischief, I said to them:

‘You must avoid jealousy, for that is the seed of calamities; in proof of it listen to the following tale, which I will relate to you:—


16. Story of Sunda and Upasunda

[also see notes on the story of Sunda and Upasunda]

There were two brothers, Asuras by race, Sunda and Upasunda, hard to overcome, inasmuch as they surpassed the three worlds in valour. And Brahmā, wishing to destroy them, gave an order to Viśvakarman,[17] and had constructed a heavenly woman named Tilottamā, in order to behold whose beauty even Śiva truly became four-faced, so as to look four ways at once, while she was devoutly circumambulating him. She, by the order of Brahmā, went to Sunda and Upasunda, while they were in the garden of Kailāsa, in order to seduce them. And both those two Asuras, distracted with love, seized the fair one at the same time by both her arms the moment they saw her near them. And as they were dragging her off in mutual opposition, they soon came to blows, and both of them were destroyed. To whom is not the attractive object called woman the cause of misfortune?


[M] (Main story line continued)

“‘And you, though many, have one love, Draupadī, therefore you must without fail avoid quarrelling about her. And by my advice always observe this rule with respect to her. When she is with the eldest, she must be considered a mother by the youngest; and when she is with the youngest, she must be considered a daughter-in-law by the eldest.’

Your ancestors, O King, accepted that speech of mine with unanimous consent, having their minds fixed on salutary counsels. And they were my friends, and it is through love for them that I have come to visit you here, King of Vatsa; therefore I give you this advice. Do you follow the counsel of your ministers, as they followed mine, and in a short time you will gain great success. For some time you will suffer grief, but you must not be too much distressed about it, for it will end in happiness.”

After the hermit Nārada, so clever in indirectly intimating future prosperity, had said this duly to the King of Vatsa, he immediately disappeared. And then Yaugandharāyaṇa and all the other ministers, auguring from the speech of that great hermit that the scheme they had in view was about to succeed, became exceedingly zealous about carrying it into effect.

[Additional note: on polyandry]

Footnotes and references:


I read dhātā for dhātrā.


I.e. Hastināpura..


Here Wilson observes:

“The circumstances here related are not without analogies in fact. It is not marvellous, therefore, that we may trace them in fiction. The point of the story is the same as that of the ‘Deux Anglais à Paris,’ a Fabliau.”

Webster, Duchess of Malji, Act IV, sc. 2, tells a similar story:

“A great physician, when the Pope was sick
Of a deep melancholy, presented him
With several sorts of madmen, which wild object,
Being full of change and sport, freed him to laugh,
And so the imposthume broke.”

Cf. Henderson’s Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties, p. 131.-Reference should also be made to the Heptarneron, Margaret of Navarre, nouvelle lxxi, which treats of

“Une femme à l’extremité qui se mit en si grosse colère, voyant son mari qui baisait sa servante, qu’elle recouvra la santé.”

For the English translation see the five-volume edition printed in 1894 for the Society of English Bibliophilists, vol. v, p. 219 et seq. The story was imitated by Noel du Fail de la Hérissaye in his Contes d’Eutrapel (ch. v, “De la Goutte”), where the hero is called Glaume Esnaut de Tremeril. In Frere’s Old Deccan Days, p. 217, we read of a quarrel between a blind man and a deaf man, which got so serious that the blind man gave the deaf man a tremendous box on the ear, so violent indeed that it made the deaf man hear. The deaf man returned the blow so hard on the blind man’s face that his eyesight was immediately restored. It is unnecessary to give examples of the extraordinary cases of restoration of sight and hearing which constantly occurred in the Great War. A similar story to that in our text also occurs on p. 36 of this volume. —n.m.p.


This ancient kingdom corresponds to the modern districts of Patna, Gayā and Ṣāhābād in South Bihār. Its great importance in Indian history will be realised when we remember that it was not only the home of Buddhism and Jainism, but also the nucleus of two of the greatest of the Indian empires, the Maurya and the Gupta. Until the sixth century b.c. its capital was Girivraja, when its place was taken by Rājagṛha, the modern Rājgīr. Further information will be found in Rhys Davids’ Buddhist India, 1905; Cunningham’s Ancient Geography of India, 1871; and the Cambridge History of India, vol. i, 1922. —n.m.p.


In the dramatic version (see note 1, p. 21) of this incident Padmāvatī is described as sister of King Praydota. —n.m.p.


For the amazing austerities of ascetics see Vol. I, p. 79, note 1. —n.m.p.


See note on p. 7.— n.m.p.


Cf. Sagas from the Far East, tale xi, pp. 123, 124. Here the crime contemplated is murder, and the ape is represented by a tiger. This story bears a certain resemblance to the termination of “Alles aus einer Erbse,” Kaden’s Unter den Olivenbäumen, p. 22. See also pp. 75 and 220 of the same collection.—In the Pentamerone of Basile (Burton, vol. i, second diversion of the third day, p. 14.9 et seq.) a princess is set afloat in a box and found by a king, whose wife she eventually becomes. See also Tawney’s Kathākoqa, pp. 131-134.— n.m.p.


Literally, a handful of water, such as is offered to the Manes, is offered to Fortune. It is all over with his chance of attaining glory.


Cf. Sicilianische Märchen, Gonzenbach, vol. i, p. 220. Liebrecht, in note 485 to page 413 of his translation of Dunlop’s History of Fiction, compares this story with one in The Thousand and One Days of a princess of Kashmir, who was so beautiful that everyone who saw her went mad, or pined away.

He also mentions an Arabian tradition with respect to the Thracian sorceress Rhodope:

“The Arabs believe that one of the pyramids is haunted by a guardian spirit in the shape of a beautiful woman, the mere sight of whom drives men mad.”

He refers also to Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, note 6 to ch. vi, and The Adventures of Hatim Tai, translated by Duncan Forbes, p. 18.


See note to next story.—n.m.p.


In the original it is intended to compare the locks to the spots in the moon.


Reading yad hi.


The moon was the progenitor of the Pāṇḍava race.


One of the five trees of Paradise.


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


The architect or artist of the gods.

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