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) THEN Yaugandharāyaṇa and the other ministers managed to conduct the King of Vatsa with his beloved, by the above-mentioned stratagem, to Lāvāṇaka. The king arrived at that place, which, by the roar of the host echoing through it, seemed, as it were, to proclaim that the ministers’ object would be successfully attained. And the King of Magadha, when he heard that the lord of Vatsa had arrived there with a large following, trembled, anticipating attack. But he, being wise, sent an ambassador to Yaugandharāyaṇa, and that excellent minister, well versed in his duties, received him gladly. The King of Vatsa, for his part, while staying in that place, ranged every day the wide-extended forest for the sake of sport.

One day, the king having gone to hunt, the wise Yaugandharāyaṇa, accompanied by Gopālaka, having arranged what was to be done, and taking with him also Rumaṇvat and Vasantaka, went secretly to the Queen Vāsavadattā, who bowed at their approach. There he used various representations to persuade her to assist in furthering the king’s interests, though she had been previously informed of the whole affair by her brother. And she agreed to the proposal, though it inflicted on her the pain of separation. What, indeed, is there which women of good family, who are attached to their husbands, will not endure? Thereupon the skilful Yaugandharāyaṇa made her assume the appearance of a Brāhman woman, having given her a charm which enabled her to change her shape. And he made Vasantaka one-eyed, and like a Brāhman boy, and as for himself, he in the same way assumed the appearance of an old Brāhman. Then that mighty-minded one took the queen, after she had assumed that appearance, and, accompanied by Vasantaka, set out leisurely for the town of Magadha. And so Vāsavadattā left her house and went in bodily presence along the road, though she wandered in spirit to her husband.

Then Rumaṇvat burned her pavilion with fire, and exclaimed aloud:

“Alas! alas! the queen and Vasantaka are burnt.”[1]

And so in that place there arose to heaven at the same time flames and lamentation; the flames gradually subsided; not so the sound of weeping.

Then Yaugandharāyaṇa, with Vāsavadattā and Vasantaka, reached the city of the King of Magadha, and seeing the Princess Padmāvatī in the garden he went up to her with those two, though the guards tried to prevent him. And Padmāvatī, when she saw the Queen Vāsavadattā in the dress of a Brāhman woman, fell in love with her at first sight. The princess ordered the guards to desist from their opposition, and had Yaugandharāyaṇa, who was disguised as a Brāhman, conducted into her presence.

And she addressed to him this question:

“Great Brāhman, who is this girl you have with you, and why are you come?”

And he answered her:

“Princess, this is my daughter, Āvantikā by name, and her husband, being addicted to vice,[2] has deserted her and fled somewhere or other. So I will leave her in your care, illustrious lady, while I go and find her husband and bring him back, which will be in a short time. And let this one-eyed boy, her brother, remain here near her, in order that she may not be grieved at having to remain alone.”

He said this to the princess, and she granted his request, and, taking leave of the queen, the good minister quickly returned to Lāvāṇaka.

Then Padmāvatī took with her Vāsavadattā, who was passing under the name of Āvantikā, and Vasantaka, who accompanied her in the form of a one-eyed boy; and showing her excellent disposition by her kind reception and affectionate treatment of them, entered her splendidly adorned palace; and there Vāsavadattā, seeing Sītā in the history of Rāma represented upon the painted walls, was enabled to bear her own sorrow.[3] And Padmāvatī perceived that Vāsavadattā was a person of very high rank, by her shape, her delicate softness, the graceful manner in which she sat down and ate, and also by the smell of her body,[4] which was fragrant as the blue lotus, and so she entertained her with luxurious comfort to her heart’s content, even such as she enjoyed herself.

And she thought to herself:

“Surely she is some distinguished person remaining here in concealment; did not Draupadī remain concealed in the palace of the King of Virāṭa?”

Then Vāsavadattā, out of regard to the princess, made for her unfading garlands and forehead-streaks, [see notes on Tilaka] as the King of Vatsa had previously taught her; and Padmāvatī’s mother, seeing her adorned with them, asked her privately who had made those garlands and streaks.

Then Padmāvatī said to her:

“There is dwelling here in my house a certain lady of the name of Āvantikā; she made all these for me.”

When her mother heard that she said to her:

“Then, my daughter, she is not a woman: she is some goddess, since she possesses such knowledge; gods and also hermits remain in the houses of good people for the sake of deluding them, and in proof of this listen to the following anecdote: —


17. Story of Kuntī

There was once a king named Kuntibhoja; and a hermit of the name of Durvāsas, who was exceedingly fond of deluding people, came and stayed in his palace. He commissioned his own daughter Kuntī to attend upon the hermit, and she diligently waited upon him.

And one day he, wishing to prove her, said to her:

“Cook boiled rice with milk and sugar quickly while I bathe, and then I will come and eat it.”

The sage said this and bathed quickly, and then he came to eat it, and Kuntī brought him the vessel full of that food; and then the hermit, knowing that it was almost red-hot with the heated rice, and seeing that she could not hold it in her hands,[5] cast a look at the back of Kuntī, and she, perceiving what was passing in the hermit’s mind, placed the vessel on her back; then he ate to his heart’s content, while Kuntī’s back was being burned, and because, though she was terribly burnt, she stood without being at all discomposed, the hermit was much pleased with her conduct, and after he had eaten granted her a boon.


[M] (main story line continued)

“So the hermit remained there, and in the same way this Āvantikā, who is now staying in your palace, is some distinguished person; therefore endeavour to conciliate her.”

When she heard this from the mouth of her mother, Padmāvatī showed the utmost consideration for Vāsavadattā, who was living disguised in her palace. And Vāsavadattā for her part, being separated from her lord, remained there pale with bereavement, like a lotus in the night.[6] But the various boyish grimaces which Vasantaka exhibited,[7] again and again called a smile into her face.

In the meanwhile the King of Vatsa, who had wandered away into very distant hunting-grounds, returned late in the evening to Lāvāṇaka. And there he saw the women’s apartments reduced to ashes by fire, and heard from his ministers that the queen was burnt, with Vasantaka. And when he heard it, he fell on the ground, and he was robbed of his senses by unconsciousness, that seemed to desire to remove the painful sense of grief. But in a moment he came to himself, and was burnt with sorrow in his heart, as if penetrated with the fire that strove to consume[8] the image of the queen imprinted there.

Then overpowered with sorrow he lamented, and thought of nothing but suicide; but a moment after he began to reflect, calling to mind the following prediction:—

“From this queen shall be born a son who shall reign over all the Vidyādharas. This is what the hermit Nārada told me, and it cannot be false. Moreover, that same hermit warned me that I should have sorrow for some time. And the affliction of Gopālaka seems to be but light. Besides, I cannot detect any excessive grief in Yaugandharāyaṇa and the other ministers, therefore I suspect the queen may possibly be alive. But the ministers may in this matter have employed a certain amount of politic artifice, therefore I may some day be reunited with the queen. So I see an end to this affliction.”[9]

Thus reflecting, and being exhorted by his ministers, the king established in his heart self-control. And Gopālaka sent off a private messenger immediately, without anyone’s knowing of it, to his sister, to comfort her, with an exact report of the state of affairs. Such being the situation in Lāvāṇaka, the spies of the King of Magadha, who were there, went off to him and told him all. The king, who was ever ready to seize the opportune moment, when he heard this, was once more anxious to give to the King of Vatsa his daughter Padmāvatī, who had before been asked in marriage by his ministers. Then he communicated his wishes with respect to this matter to the King of Vatsa, and also to Yaugandharāyaṇa. And by the advice of Yaugandharāyaṇa the King of Vatsa accepted the proposal, thinking to himself that perhaps this was the very reason why the queen had been concealed.

Then Yaugandharāyaṇa quickly ascertained an auspicious moment, and sent to the sovereign of Magadha an ambassador, with an answer to his proposal, which ran as follows:—

“Thy desire is approved by us, so on the seventh day from this the King of Vatsa will arrive at thy court to marry Padmāvatī, in order that he may quickly forget Vāsavadattā.”

This was the message which the great minister sent to that king. And that ambassador conveyed it to the King of Magadha, who received him joyfully.

Then the lord of Magadha made such preparations for the joyful occasion of the marriage as were in accordance with his love for his daughter, his own desire and his wealth; and Padmāvatī was delighted at hearing that she had obtained the bridegroom she desired; but when Vāsavadattā heard that news she was depressed in spirit. That intelligence, when it reached her ear, changed the colour of her face, and assisted the transformation effected by her disguise.

But Vasantaka said:

“In this way an enemy will be turned into a friend, and your husband will not be alienated from you.”

This speech of Vasantaka’s consoled her like a confidante, and enabled her to bear up.

Then the discreet lady again prepared for Padmāvatī unfading garlands and forehead-streaks, both of heavenly beauty, as her marriage was now nigh at hand; and when the seventh day from that arrived, the monarch of Vatsa actually came there with his troops, accompanied by his ministers, to marry her. How could he, in his state of bereavement, have ever thought of undertaking such a thing, if he had not hoped in that way to recover the queen? And the King of Magadha immediately came with great delight to meet him (who was a feast to the eyes of the king’s subjects), as the sea advances to meet the rising moon.

Then the monarch of Vatsa entered that city of the King of Magadha, and at the same time great joy entered the minds of the citizens on every side. There the women beheld him fascinating the mind,[10] though his frame was attenuated from bereavement, looking like the God of Love deprived of his wife Rati.

Then the King of Vatsa entered the palace of the lord of Magadha, and proceeded to the chamber prepared for the marriage ceremony, which was full of women whose husbands were still alive. In that chamber he beheld Padmāvatī adorned for the wedding, surpassing with the full moon of her face the circle of the full moon. And seeing that she had garlands and forehead-streaks such as he himself only could make, the king could not help wondering where she got them. Then he ascended the raised platform of the altar, and his taking her hand there was a commencement of his taking the tribute[11] of the whole earth. The smoke of the altar dimmed his eyes with tears, as supposing that he could not bear to witness the ceremony, since he loved Vāsavadattā so much. Then the face of Padmāvatī, reddened with circumambulating the fire, appeared as if full of anger on account of her perceiving what was passing in her husband’s mind.

When the ceremony of marriage was completed, the King of Vatsa let the hand of Padmāvatī quit his, but he never even for a moment allowed the image of Vāsavadattā to be absent from his heart. Then the King of Magadha gave him jewels in such abundance that the earth seemed to be deprived of her gems, they all having been extracted. And Yaugandharāyaṇa, calling the fire to witness on that occasion, made the King of Magadha undertake never to injure his master. So that festive scene proceeded, with the distribution of garments and ornaments, with the songs of excellent minstrels and the dancing of dancing-girls. In the meanwhile Vāsavadattā remained unobserved, hoping for the glory of her husband, appearing[12] to be asleep, like the beauty of the moon in the day.

Then the King of Vatsa went to the women’s apartments, and the skilful Yaugandharāyaṇa, being afraid that he would see the queen, and that so the whole secret would be divulged, said to the sovereign of Magadha:

“Prince, this very day the King of Vatsa will set forth from thy house.”

The King of Magadha consented to it, and then the minister made the very same announcement to the King of Vatsa, and he also approved of it.

Then the King of Vatsa set out from that place, after his attendants had eaten and drunk, together with his ministers, escorting his bride Padmāvatī. And Vāsavadattā, ascending a comfortable carriage send by Padmāvatī, with its great horses[13] also put at her disposal by her, went secretly in the rear of the army, making the transformed Vasantaka precede her. At last the King of Vatsa reached Lāvāṇaka, and entered his own house, together with his bride, but thought all the time only of the Queen Vāsavadattā. The queen also arrived, and entered the house of Gopālaka at night, making the chamberlains wait round it. There she saw her brother Gopālaka, who showed her great attention, and she embraced his neck, weeping, while his eyes filled with tears; and at that moment arrived Yaugandharāyaṇa, true to his previous agreement, together with Rumaṇvat, and the queen showed him all due courtesy.

And while he was engaged in dispelling the queen’s grief, caused by the great effort she had made and her separation from her husband, those chamberlains repaired to Padmāvatī and said:

“Queen, Āvantikā has arrived, but she has in a strange way dismissed us, and gone to the house of Prince Gopālaka.”

When Padmāvatī heard that representation from her chamberlains she was alarmed, and in the presence of the King of Vatsa answered them:

“Go and say to Āvantikā:

‘The queen says:

“You are a deposit in my hands, so what business have you where you are? Come where I am.”’”

When they heard that they departed, and the king asked Padmāvatī in private who made for her the unfading garlands and forehead-streaks.

Then she said:

“It is all the product of the great artistic skill of the lady named Āvantikā, who was deposited in my house by a certain Brāhman.”

No sooner did the king hear that than he went off to the house of Gopālaka, thinking that surely Vāsavadattā would be there. And he entered the house, at the door of which eunuchs were standing,[14] and within which were the queen, Gopālaka, the two ministers and Vasantaka. There he saw Vāsavadattā returned from banishment, like the orb of the moon freed from its eclipse. Then he fell on the earth delirious with the poison of grief, and trembling was produced in the heart of Vāsavadattā. Then she too fell on the earth with limbs pale from separation, and lamented aloud, blaming her own conduct. And that couple, afflicted with grief, lamented so that even the face of Yaugandharāyaṇa was washed with tears.

And then Padmāvatī too heard that wailing, which seemed so little suited to the occasion, and came in a state of bewilderment to the place whence it proceeded. And gradually finding out the truth with respect to the king and Vāsavadattā, she was reduced to the same state; for good women are affectionate and tender-hearted.

And Vāsavadattā frequently exclaimed with tears:

“What profit is there in my life that causes only sorrow to my husband?”

Then the calm Yaugandharāyaṇa said to the King of Vatsa:

“King, I have done all this in order to make you universal emperor, by marrying you to the daughter of the sovereign of Magadha, and the queen is not in the slightest degree to blame; moreover this, her rival wife, is witness to her good behaviour during her absence from you.”

Thereupon Padmāvatī, whose mind was free from jealousy, said:

“I am ready to enter the fire on the spot to prove her innocence.”

And the king said:

“I am in fault, as it was for my sake that the queen endured this great affliction.”

And Vāsavadattā, having firmly resolved, said:

“I must enter the fire to clear from suspicion the mind of the king.”

Then the wise Yaugandharāyaṇa, best of right-acting men, rinsed his mouth, with his face towards the east, and spoke a blameless speech:

“If I have been a benefactor to this king, and if the queen is free from stain, speak, ye guardians of the world; if it is not so, I will part from my body.”[15]

Thus he spoke and ceased, and this heavenly utterance was heard:

“Happy art thou, O King, that hast for minister Yaugandharāyaṇa, and for wife Vāsavadattā, who in a former birth was a goddess; not the slightest blame attaches to her.”

Having uttered this the Voice ceased.

All who were present, when they heard that sound, which resounded through all the regions, delightful as the deep thunder roar at the first coming of the rain-clouds, having endured affliction for a long time, lifted up their hands[16] and plainly imitated peafowl in their joy. Moreover, the King of Vatsa and Gopālaka praised that proceeding of Yaugandharāyaṇa’s, and the former already considered that the whole earth was subject to him. Then that king, possessing those two wives, whose affection was every day increased by living with him, like joy and tranquillity come to visit him in bodily form, was in a state of supreme felicity.

[Additional note: the “act of truth” motif in folk-lore]

Footnotes and references:


The story of the stratagem of Yaugandharāyaṇa forms the plot of a drama known as Svapna-vāsavadattā, attributed to the poet Bhāsa, although this authorship is uncertain. Its date is given by scholars at widely differing periods, varying from the fourth century b.c. to the seventh century a.d. The latest discussions on the subject will be found in the Journ. Boy. As. Soc., as follows:—Banerji-Śāstri, “The Plays of Bhāsa,” July 1921, pp. 267-282; Barnett, “Bhās”’ Oct. 1921, pp. 587-589; Thomas, “The Plays of Bhāsa,” Jan. 1922, pp. 79-83. See also A. K. and K. R. Piṣaroti, “Bhāsa’s Works, are they Genuine?”— Bull. Sch. Orient. Stud., vol. iii, 1923, pp. 107-117.

Translations of the Svapna-vāsavadattā have been made into several European languages. For the English renderings reference should be made to those by K. Rama Piṣaroti, Quart. Joum. Mythic. Soc., Baṅgalore, Jan., Apr., July, 1920, and Jan. 1921; and V. S. Sukthankar, Oxford, 1923. A full bibliography of texts, translations and critical articles appears in Sukthankar’s “Studies in Bhāsa,” Joum. Born. Br. Roy. As. Soc., vol. xxvi, No. 2, 1923, pp. 230-249.— n.m. p.


This is literally true. The king was addicted to the vyasana, or vice, of hunting.


The painting would represent Sītā in a cave in Laṅkā guarded by female demons. She had been abducted by Rāvaṇa, and, on her refusing to become his wife, had been confined in the cave, where she was patiently waiting for Rāma to rescue her. See Book III of the Rāmāyaṇa. — n.m.p.


The seclusion of ladies of high rank and the continual use of cosmetics after the bath would doubtless give a perfume to the skin which would require continued disuse to entirely eradicate. At a Brāhman wedding the bride is only allowed to use scented soaps provided they contain no animal fats.— n.m.p.


I read hastagrahāyogyām for the āhastagrahāyogyām of Dr Brockhaus.


The flower closes when the sun sets.


To keep up his character as a Brāhman boy.


I read dāhaiṣiṇā.


This suspicion of Udayana seems to rather weaken the plot. In the Svapna-vāsavadatta the king is made to believe that not only Vāsavadattā but also Yaugandharāyaṇa have been burnt to death. Thus the dénouement is considerably strengthened.—n.m.p.


This applies also to the God of Love, who bewilders the mind.


Kara means “hand” and also “tribute.”


I read iva for eva.


It seems unnecessary to add “with its great horses,” and this is explained by the reading of the Durgāprasād text, where we find tan mahattarakaiḥ instead of tanmahāluragaiḥ, thus meaning that attendants of high rank were put at her disposal. See Speyer, “Studies about the Kathāsaritsāgara,” Verh. Kun. Akad. Weten. Amst., viii, No. 5, 1908, p. 97.


Reading taddvārasthitamahattaram as one word.—I shall give a long note on Indian eunuchs in a later volume (Chapter XXXIII).— n.m.p.


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


Here the Durgāprasād text reads utkandharāq ca suciram, etc., meaning “ with uplifted necks,” which is more in keeping with the rest of the simile than “with uplifted hands.” —n.m.p.

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