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 said to the King of Vatsa:

“King, it is known that you possess the favour of destiny, as well as courage; and I also have taken some trouble about the right course of policy to be pursued in this matter: therefore carry out as soon as possible your plan of conquering the regions.”

When his chief minister had said this to him, the King of Vatsa answered:

“Admitting that this is true, nevertheless the accomplishment of auspicious undertakings is always attended with difficulties, accordingly I will with this object propitiate Śiva by austerities, for without his favour how can I obtain what I desire?”

When they heard that, his ministers approved of his performing austerities, as the chiefs of the monkeys did in the case of Rāma, when he was intent upon building a bridge over the ocean. [see notes on Rāma’s bridge]

And after the king had fasted for three nights, engaged in austerities with the queens and the ministers, Śiva said to him in a dream:

“I am satisfied with thee, therefore rise up; thou shalt obtain an unimpeded triumph, and thou shalt soon have a son who shall be king of all the Vidyādharas.”

Then the king woke up, with all his fatigue removed by the favour of Śiva, like the new moon increased by the rays of the sun. And in the morning he delighted his ministers by telling them that dream, and the two queens, tender as flowers, who were worn out by the fasting they had endured to fulfil the vow. And they were refreshed by the description of his dream, well worthy of being drunk in with the ears, and its effect was like that of medicine,[1] for it restored their strength.

The king obtained by his austerities a power equal to that of his ancestors, and his wives obtained the saintly renown of matrons devoted to their husband. But on the morrow, when the feast at the end of the fast was celebrated, and the citizens were beside themselves with joy, Yaugandharāyaṇa thus addressed the king:

“You are fortunate, O King, in that the holy Śiva is so well disposed towards you, so proceed now to conquer your enemies, and then enjoy the prosperity won by your arm. For when prosperity is acquired by a king’s own virtues it remains fixed in his family, for blessings acquired by the virtues of the owners are never lost. And for this reason it was that that treasure long buried in the ground, which had been accumulated by your ancestors and then lost, was recovered by you. Moreover with reference to this matter hear the following tale:—


23. Story of Devadāsa

Long ago there was in the city of Pāṭaliputra a certain merchant’s son, sprung from a rich family, and his name was Devadāsa. And he married a wife from the city of Pauṇḍravardhana, the daughter of some rich merchant. When his father died, Devadāsa became, in course of time, addicted to vice, and lost all his wealth at play. And then his wife’s father came and took away to his own house in Pauṇḍravardhana his daughter, who was distressed by poverty and the other hardships of her lot.[2] Gradually the husband began to be afflicted by his misfortunes, and wishing to be set up in his business, he came to Pauṇḍravardhana to ask his father-in-law to lend him the capital which he required.

And having arrived in the evening at the city of Pauṇḍravardhana, seeing that he was begrimed with dust and in tattered garments, he thought to himself:

“How can I enter my father-in-law’s house in this state? In truth for a proud man death is preferable to exhibiting poverty before one’s relations.”

Thus reflecting, he went into the market-place, and remained outside a certain shop during the night, croucing with contracted body, like the lotus which is folded at night. And immediately he saw a certain young merchant open the door of that shop and enter it. And a moment after he saw a woman come with noiseless step to that same place, and rapidly enter. And while he fixed his eyes on the interior of the shop, in which a light was burning, he recognised in that woman his own wife.

Then Devadāsa seeing that wife of his repairing to another man, and bolting the door, being smitten with the thunderbolt of grief, thought to himself:

“A man deprived of wealth loses even his own body, how then can he hope to retain the affections of a woman? For women have fickleness implanted in their nature by an invariable law, like the flashes of lightning. So here I have an instance of the misfortunes which befall men who fall into the sea of vice, and of the behaviour of an independent woman who lives in her father’s house.”

Thus he reflected as he stood outside, and he seemed to himself to hear his wife confidentially conversing with her lover. So he applied his ear to the door, and that wicked woman was at that moment saying in secret to the merchant, her paramour:

“Listen; as I am so fond of you, I will today tell you a secret: my husband long ago had a greatgrandfather named Vīravarman; in the courtyard of his house he secretly buried in the ground four jars of gold, one jar in each of the four corners. And he then informed one of his wives of that fact, and his wife at the time of her death told her daughter-in-law, she told it to her daughter-in-law, who was my mother-in-law, and my mother-in-law told it to me. So this is an oral tradition in my husband’s family, descending through the mothers-in-law. But I did not tell it to my husband though he is poor, for he is odious to me as being addicted to gambling, but you are above all dear to me. So go to my husband’s town and buy the house from him with money, and after you have obtained that gold come here and live happily with me.”

When the merchant, her paramour, heard this from that treacherous woman, he was much pleased with her, thinking that he had obtained a treasure without any trouble. Devadāsa, for his part, who was outside, bore henceforth the hope of wealth, so to speak, riveted in his heart with those piercing words of his wicked wife. So he went thence quickly to the city of Pāṭaliputra, and after reaching his house he took that treasure and appropriated it. Then that merchant, who was in secret the paramour of his wife, arrived in that country on pretence of trading, but in reality eager to obtain the treasure. So he bought that house from Devadāsa, who made it over to him for a large sum of money. Then Devadāsa set up another home, and cunningly brought back that wife of his from the house of his father-in-law.

When this had been done, that wicked merchant, who was the lover of his wife, not having obtained the treasure, came and said to him:

“This house of yours is old and I do not like it; so give me back my money and take back your own house.”

Thus he demanded, and Devadāsa refused, and being engaged in a violent altercation, they both went before the king. In his presence Devadāsa poured forth the whole story of his wife, painful to him as venom concealed in his breast. Then the king had his wife summoned, and after ascertaining the truth of the case he punished that adulterous merchant with the loss of all his property. Devadāsa for his part cut off the nose[3] of that wicked wife, and married another, and then lived happily in his native city on the treasure he had obtained.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“Thus treasure obtained by virtuous methods is continued to a man’s posterity, but treasure of another kind is as easily melted away as a flake of snow when the rain begins to fall. Therefore a man should endeavour to obtain wealth by lawful methods, but a king especially, since wealth is the root of the tree of empire. So honour all your ministers according to custom, in order that you may obtain success, and then accomplish the conquest of the regions, so as to gain opulence in addition to virtue. For out of regard to the fact that you are allied by marriage with your two powerful fathers-in-law, few kings will oppose you; most will join you. However, this King of Benares named Brahmadatta is always your enemy, therefore conquer him first; when he is conquered, conquer the eastern quarter and gradually all the quarters, and exalt the glory of the race of Pāṇḍu gleaming white like a lotus.”

When his chief minister said this to him, the King of Vatsa consented, eager for conquest, and ordered his subjects to prepare for the expedition; and he gave the sovereignty of the country of Videha to his brother-in-law Gopālaka, by way of reward for his assistance, thereby showing his knowledge of policy; and he gave to Siṃhavarman, the brother of Padmāvatī, who came to his assistance with his forces, the land of Cedi, treating him with great respect; and the monarch summoned Pulindaka, the friendly King of the Bhillas,[4] who filled the quarters with his hordes, as the rainy season fills them with clouds; and while the preparation for the expedition was going on in the great king’s territories a strange anxiety was produced in the heart of his enemies; but Yaugandharāyaṇa first sent spies to Benares to find out the proceedings of King Brahmadatta; then on an auspicious day, being cheered with omens portending victory, the King of Vatsa first marched against Brahmadatta in the eastern quarter, having mounted[5] a tall victorious elephant, with a lofty umbrella on its back, as a furious lion ascends a mountain with one tree in full bloom on it.

And his expedition was facilitated[6] by the autumn, which arrived as a harbinger of good fortune, and showed him an easy path, across rivers flowing with diminished volume, and he filled the face of the land with his shouting forces, so as to produce the appearance of a sudden rainy season without clouds; and then the cardinal points, resounding with the echoes of the roaring of his host, seemed to be telling one another their fears of his coming, and his horses, collecting the brightness of the sun on their golden trappings, moved along, followed, as it were, by the fire pleased with the purification of his army.[7]

And his elephants with their ears like white chowries, and with streams of ichor flowing from their temples reddened by being mixed with vermilion, appeared, as he marched along, like the sons of the mountains, streaked with the white clouds of autumn, and pouring down streams of water coloured with red mineral, sent by the parent hills, in their fear, to join his expedition. And the dust from the earth concealed the brightness of the sun, as if thinking that the king could not endure the effulgent splendour of rivals. And the two queens followed the king step by step on the way, like the Goddess of Fame, and the Fortune of Victory, attracted by his politic virtues.[8] The silk of his host’s banners, tossed to and fro in the wind, seemed to say to his enemies: “Bend in submission, or flee.” Thus he marched, beholding the districts full of blown white lotuses, like the uplifted hoods of the serpent Śeṣa[9]  terrified with fear of the destruction of the world.

In the meanwhile those spies, commissioned by Yaugandharāyaṇa, assuming the vows of skull-bearing worshippers of Śiva,[10] reached the city of Benares. And one of them, who was acquainted with the art of juggling, exhibiting his skill, assumed the part of teacher, and the others passed themselves off as his pupils.

And they celebrated that pretended teacher, who subsisted on alms, from place to place, saying:

“This master of ours is acquainted with past, present and future.”

Whatever that sage predicted, in the way of fires and so on, to those who came to consult him about the future, his pupils took care to bring about secretly; so he became famous. He gained complete ascendancy over the mind of a certain Rājpūt courtier there, a favourite of the king, who was won over by this mean skill of the teacher. And when the war with the King of Vatsa came on, the King Brahmadatta began to consult him by the agency of the Rājpūt, so that he learnt the secrets of the government.

Then the minister of Brahmadatta, Yogakaraṇḍaka, laid snares in the path of the King of Vatsa as he advanced. He tainted, by means of poison and other deleterious substances, the trees, flowering creepers, water and grass all along the line of march. And he sent poison damsels[11] as dancing-girls among the enemy’s host, and he also dispatched nocturnal assassins into their midst. But that spy, who had assumed the character of a prophet, found all this out, and then quickly informed Yaugandharāyaṇa of it by means of his companions. Yaugandharāyaṇa for his part, when he found it out, purified at every step along the line of march the poisoned grass, water, and so on, by means of corrective antidotes, and forbade in the camp the society of strange women, and with the help of Rumaṇvat he captured and put to death those assassins. When he heard of that, Brahmadatta, having found all his stratagems fail, came to the conclusion that the King of Vatsa, who filled with his forces the whole country, was hard to overcome. After deliberating and sending an ambassador, he came in person to the King of Vatsa, who was encamped near, placing his clasped hands upon his head in token of submission.

The King of Vatsa for his part, when the King of Benares came to him, bringing a present, received him with respect and kindness; for heroes love submission. He being thus subdued, that mighty king went on pacifying the East, making the yielding bend, but extirpating the obstinate, as the wind treats the trees, until he reached the eastern ocean, rolling with quivering waves, as it were, trembling with terror on account of the Ganges having been conquered. On its extreme shore he set up a pillar of victory,[12] looking like the king of the serpents emerging from the world below to crave immunity for Pātāla. Then the people of Kaliṅga[13] submitted and paid tribute, and acted as the king’s guides, so that the renown of that renowned one ascended the mountain of Mahendra. Having conquered a forest of kings by means of his elephants, which seemed like the peaks of the Vindhya come to him terrified at the conquest of Mahendra, he went to the southern quarter. There he made his enemies cease their threatening murmurs and take to the mountains, strengthless[25] and pale, treating them as the season of autumn treats the clouds.

The Kāverī being crossed by him in his victorious onset, and the glory of the king of the Chola[14] race being surpassed, were befouled at the same time. He no longer allowed the Muralas[15] to exalt their heads, for they were completely beaten down by tributes imposed on them.[16] Though his elephants drank the waters of the Godāvarī divided into seven streams, they seemed to discharge them again sevenfold in the form of ichor. Then the king crossed the Revā and reached Ujjayinī, and entered the city, being made by King Caṇḍamahāsena to precede him. And there he became the target of the amorous sidelong glances of the ladies of Mālava, who shine with twofold beauty by loosening their braided hair and wearing garlands; and he remained there in great comfort, hospitably entertained by his father-in-law, so that he even forgot the long-regretted enjoyments of his native land. And Vāsavadattā was continually at her parent’s side, remembering her childhood, seeming despondent even in her happiness.

The King Caṇḍamahāsena was as much delighted at meeting Padmāvatī as he was at meeting again his own daughter. But after he had rested some days, the delighted King of Vatsa, reinforced by the troops of his father-in-law, marched towards the western region; his curved sword[17] was surely the smoke of the fire of his valour, since it dimmed with gushing tears the eyes of the women of Lāṭa; the mountain of Mandara, when its woods were broken through by his elephants, seemed to tremble lest he should root it up to churn the sea.[18] Surely he was a splendid luminary excelling the sun and other orbs, since in his victorious career he enjoyed a glorious rising even in the western quarter. Then he went to Alakā, distinguished by the presence of Kuvera, displaying its beauties before him—that is to say, to the quarter made lovely by the smile of Kailāsa—and having subdued the King of Sindh, at the head of his cavalry he destroyed the Mlecchas as Rāma destroyed the Rākṣasas at the head of the army of monkeys; the cavalry squadrons of the Turuṣkas[19] were broken on the masses of his elephants, as the waves of the agitated sea on the woods that line the seashore. The august hero received the tribute of his foes, and cut off the head of the wicked King of the Pārasīkas[20] as Viṣṇu did that of Rāhu.[21] His glory, after he had inflicted a defeat on the Hūṇas,[22] made the four quarters resound, and poured down the Himālaya like a second Ganges. When the hosts of the monarch, whose enemies were still from fear, were shouting, a hostile answer was heard only in the hollows of the rocks. It is not strange that then the King of Kāmarūpa,[23] bending before him with head deprived of the umbrella,[24] was without shade and also without brightness. Then that sovereign returned, followed by elephants presented by the King of Kāmarūpa, resembling moving rocks made over to him by the mountains by way of tribute.

Having thus conquered the earth, the King of Vatsa with his attendants reached the city of Magadha, the father of Padmāvatī. But the King of Magadha, when he arrived with the queens, was as joyous as the God of Love when the moon illuminates the night. Vāsavadattā, who had lived with him before without being recognised, was now made known to him, and he considered her deserving of the highest regard.

Then that victorious King of Vatsa, having been honoured by the King of Magadha with his whole city, followed by the minds of all the people which pursued him out of affection, having swallowed the surface of the earth with his mighty army, returned to Lāvāṇaka in his own dominions.

Footnotes and references:


Perhaps we should read svādvauṣadha, “sweet medicine.”


As we shall see in the note on p. 88n1, this was considered in the Ṛg-Veda quite sufficient for the wife to turn to another man. —n.m.p.


In the oldest historical period of India there was no word for “adultery”; yet its occurrence is distinctly proved, if proof be needed among a highly developed culture like the Aryan, by various passages in the Ṛg-Veda. One in particular is of special interest here as it shows that the adultery of a woman whose husband gambled was of quite ordinary occurrence. The passage is in verse 4 of the didactic poem Ṛg-Veda, x, 34: “Others lay hands on the wife of the man who abandons himself to the dice.”

The method of punishment mentioned in our text is found in other places besides India; thus in Mexico the woman had her nose and ears cut off, and was stoned to death (see A. de Herrera, West Indies, vol. iv, p. 338, and W. Prescott, Peru, p. 21). Every conceivable form of punishment imaginable has been employed in different parts of the world. For full details reference should be made to the numerous articles on “ Adultery” in Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. i, pp. 122-137. Among the Pārdhi caste of Central India, the punishment for adultery in either sex consists in cutting off a piece of the left ear with a razor. See Russell, Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces, vol. iv, p. 364; Ronaldshay, India, a Bird’s-Eye View, 1924, p. 48, and cf. Flinders Petrie, “Assyrian and Hittite Society,” Ancient Egypt, March 1924, p. 23 et seq. — n . m . p .


I.e. Bheels.—See Vol. I, p. 152n1. — n.m.p.


I read ārūḍhaḥ.


A MS. in the Sanskrit College reads sambhavaḥ for the sampadaḥ of Dr Brockhaus’ text.


Lustratio exercitus; waving lights formed part of the ceremony.


It also means “drawing cords.”


He is sometimes represented as bearing the entire world on one of his heads.—See Vol. I, p. 109n2.— n.m.p.


The Śaiva mendicants have ten classes, known collectively as Daśnāmīs, “ ten names.” Among other more respectable orders are included the Aghorī, a sect of ascetics who follow the most vile practices imaginable. They are also known by the name of Kāpālika or Kapāladhārin (Skr. kāpāla, “a skull,” dhārin, “carrying”). For fuller details see H. W. Barrow, “Aghoris and Aghorapanthis,” Journ. Anth. Soc. Bomb vol. iii, No. 4, 1893, pp. 197-251; W. Crooke, “Aghori,” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth.,vol. i, pp. 210-213. The connection of skulls with the worship of Śiva has already occurred in the Ocean of Story (Vol. I, p. 5 , 5nl ).—n.m.p.


For a detailed account of poison damsels, etc., see Appendix III at the end of this volume.— n.m.p.


Jayastanibha. Wilson remarks that the erection of these columns is often alluded to by Hindu writers, and explains the characters of the solitary columns which are sometimes met with, as the Lāṭ at Delhi, the pillars at Allahābād, Bubbal, etc.


Kaliṅga is usually described as extending from Orissa to Drāviḍa or below Madras, the coast of the Northern Circars. It appears, however, to be sometimes the Delta of the Ganges. It was known to the ancients as Regio Caliṅgarum, and is familiar to the natives of the Eastern Archipelago by the name of Kling (Wilson).


Chola was the sovereignty of the western part of the peninsula on the Carnatic, extending southwards to Tañjore, where it was bounded by the Pāṇḍyan kingdom. It appears to have been the Regio Soretanum of Ptolemy, and the Chola maṇdala, or district, furnishes the modern appellation of the Coromandel coast (Wilson, Essays, p. 24In).


Murala is another name for Kerala, now Malabar (Hall). Wilson identifies it with the Curula of Ptolemy.-Barnett, however, considers this very dubious— n.m.p.


By kāntā and kucexu being separated in the Brockhaus text, Tawney misunderstood the whole phrase. The D. text reads it as one word, the translation being:

“Not only did he not allow the Muralas to keep their heads high, he abated also the elevation of the women’s breasts beaten down by their own hands (in mourning over their killed relations).”

See Speyer, op. cit., p. 102.— n.m.p.


Or perhaps more literally “creeper-like sword.” Probably the expression means “flexible, well-tempered sword,” as Professor Nīlmani Mukhopādhyāya has suggested to me.


It has been employed for this purpose by the gods and Asuras. Lāṭa=the Larice of Ptolemy (Wilson).—i.e. Gujarāt. See Cambridge History of India, vol. i, p. 606.


Turks, the Indo-scythæ of the ancients (Wilson).




See note on p. 81.—n.m.p.


Perhaps the Huns.


The western portion of Assam (Wilson).


See Appendix II, pp. 263-272.— n.m.p.


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