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 ...


VICTORY to the Conqueror of Obstacles,[1] who marks with a line, like the parting of the hair, the principal mountains[2] by the mighty fanning of his ear-flaps, pointing out, as it were, a path of success!


[M] (Main story line continued) Then Udayana, the King of Vatsa, remaining in Kauśāmbī, enjoyed the conquered earth which was under one umbrella[3]; and the happy monarch devolved the care of his empire upon Yaugandharāyaṇa and Rumaṇvat, and addicted himself to pleasure only in the society of Vasantaka. Himself playing on the lute, in the company of the queens Vāsavadattā and Padmāvatī, he was engaged in a perpetual concert. While the notes of his lyre were married to the soft sweet song of the queens, the rapid movement of his executing finger alone indicated the difference of the sounds. And while the roof of the palace was white with moonlight as with his own glory, he drank wine in plenteous streams, as he had swallowed the pride of his enemies[4]; beautiful women brought him, as he sat retired, in vessels of gold, wine flaming with rosy glow,[5] as it were the water of his appointment as ruler in the empire of love; he divided between the two queens the cordial liquor, red, delicious and pellucid, in which danced the reflection of their faces; as he did his own heart, impassioned, enraptured and transparent, in which the same image was found.

His eyes were never sated with resting on the faces of those queens, which had the eyebrows arched, and blushed with the rosy hue of love, though envy and anger were far from them. The scene of his banquet, filled with many crystal goblets of wine, gleamed like a lake of white lotuses tinged red with the rising sun. And occasionally, accompanied by huntsmen, clad in a vest of dark green as the palāsa tree, he ranged, bow and arrows in hand, the forest full of wild beasts, which was of the same colour as himself. He slew with arrows herds of wild boars besmeared with mud, as the sun disperses with its dense rays the masses of darkness; when he ran towards them the antelopes, fleeing in terror, seemed like the sidelong glances of the quarters previously conquered[6] by him.

And when he slew the buffaloes, the ground, red with blood, looked like a bed of red lotuses come to thank him humbly for delivering it from the goring of their horns. When the lions too were transfixed by his javelins falling in their open mouths, and their lives issued from them with a suppressed roar, he was delighted. In that wood he employed dogs in the ravines and nets in the glades; this was the method of his pursuit of the chase, in which he relied only upon his own resources.

While he was thus engaged in his pleasant enjoyments, one day the hermit Nārada came to him as he was in the hall of audience, diffusing a halo with the radiance of his body, like the sun, the orb of heaven, descending therefrom out of love for the Solar dynasty. The king welcomed him, inclining before him again and again, and the sage stood a moment as if pleased and said to that king:

“Listen, O King; I will tell you a story in a few words. You had an ancestor once, a king of the name of Pāṇḍu; he like you had two noble wives; one wife of the mighty prince was named Kuntī and the other Mādrī.[7] That Pāṇḍu conquered this sea-engirdled earth, and was very prosperous, and being addicted to the vice of hunting, he went one day to the forest. There he let fly an arrow and slew a hermit of the name of Arindama, who was sporting with his wife in the form of a deer.[8]

That hermit abandoned that deer-form, and with his breath struggling in his throat cursed that Pāṇḍu, who in his despair had flung away his bow:

‘Since I have been slain while sporting at will by thee, inconsiderate one, thou also shalt die in the embraces of thy wife.’

Having been thus cursed, Pāṇḍu, through fear of its effect, abandoned the desire of enjoyment, and accompanied by his wives lived in a tranquil grove of ascetic quietism. While he was there, one day, impelled by that curse, he suddenly approached his beloved Mādrī, and died. So you may rest assured that the occupation called hunting is a madness of kings, for other kings have been done to death by it, even as the various deer they have slain. For how can hunting produce benign results, since the genius of hunting is like a female Rākṣasa, roaring horribly, intent on raw flesh, defiled with dust, with upstanding hair and lances for teeth. Therefore give up that useless exertion, the sport of hunting; wild elephants and their slayers are exposed to the same risk of losing their lives. And you, who are ordained for prosperity, are dear to me on account of my friendship with your ancestors, so hear how you are to have a son who is to be a portion of the God of Love.

“Long ago, when Rati worshipped Śiva with praises in order to effect the restoration of Kāma’s body, Śiva, being pleased, told her this secret in few words:

‘This Gaurī,[9] desiring a son, shall descend to earth with a part of herself, and, after propitiating me, shall give birth to an incarnation of Kāma.’

Accordingly, King, the goddess has been born in the form of this Vāsavadattā, daughter of Caṇḍamahāsena, and she has become your queen. So she, having propitiated Śiva, shall give birth to a son who shall be a portion of Kāma, and shall become the emperor of all the Vidyādharas.”

By this speech the Ṛṣi Nārada, whose words command respect, gave back to the king the earth which he had offered him as a present, and then disappeared. When he had departed, the King of Vatsa, in company with Vāsavadattā, in whom had arisen the desire of obtaining a son, spent the day in thinking about it.

The next day the chief warder, called Nityodita, came to the lord of Vatsa while he was in the hall of assembly and said to him:

“A certain distressed Brāhman woman, accompanied by two children, is standing at the door, O King, desiring to see your Highness.”

When the king heard this, he permitted her to enter, and so that Brāhman woman entered, thin, pale and begrimed, distressed by the tearing of her clothes and wounding of her self-respect, carrying in her bosom two children looking like Misery and Poverty. After she had made the proper obeisance she said to the king:

“I am a Brāhman woman of good caste, reduced to such poverty. As fate would have it, I gave birth to these two boys at the same time, and I have no milk for them, O King, without food. Therefore I have come, in my misery and helplessness, for protection to the king, who is kind to all who fly to him for protection; now my lord the king must determine what my lot is to be.”

When the king heard that, he was filled with pity, and said to the warder:

“Take this woman and commend her to the Queen Vāsavadattā.”

Then that woman was conducted into the presence of the queen by that warder, as it were by her own good actions marching in front of her. The queen, when she heard from that warder that the Brāhman woman who had come had been sent by the king, felt all the more confidence in her.

And when she saw that the woman, though poor, had two children, she thought:

“This is exceedingly unfair dealing on the part of the creator! Alas, he grudges a son to me, who am rich, and shows affection to one who is poor! I have not yet one son, but this woman has these twins.”

Thus reflecting, the queen, who was herself desiring a bath, gave orders to her servants to provide the Brāhman woman with a bath and other restoratives. After she had been provided with a bath, and had had clothes given her, and had been supplied by them with agreeable food, that Brāhman woman was refreshed like the heated earth bedewed with rain.

And as soon as she had been refreshed, the Queen Vāsavadattā, in order to test her by conversation, artfully said to her:

“O Brāhman lady, tell us some tale.”

When she heard that she agreed, and began to tell this story:


25. Story of Devadatta

In old time there was a certain petty monarch of the name of Jayadatta, and there was born to him a son, named Devadatta. And that wise king, wishing to marry his son, who was grown up, thus reflected:

“The prosperity of kings is very unstable, being like a courtesan to be enjoyed by force[10]; but the prosperity of merchants is like a woman of good family; it is steady and does not fly to another man. Therefore I will take a wife to my son from a merchant’s family, in order that misfortune may not overtake his throne, though it is surrounded with many relations.”

Having formed this resolve, that king sought for his son the daughter of a merchant in Pāṭaliputra named Vasudatta. Vasudatta for his part, eager for such a distinguished alliance, gave that daughter of his to the prince, though he dwelt in a remote foreign land.

And he loaded his son-in-law with wealth to such an extent that he no longer felt much respect for his father’s magnificence.[11] Then King Jayadatta dwelt happily with that son of his who had obtained the daughter of that rich merchant. Now one day the merchant Vasudatta came, full of desire to see his daughter, to the palace of his connection by marriage, and took away his daughter to his own home. Shortly after the King Jayadatta suddenly went to heaven, and that kingdom was seized by his relations, who rose in rebellion; through fear of them his son Devadatta was secretly taken away by his mother during the night to another country.

Then that mother, distressed in soul, said to the prince:

“Our feudal lord is the emperor who rules the eastern region; repair to him, my son; he will procure you the kingdom.”

When his mother said this to him, the prince answered her:

“Who will respect me if I go there without attendants?”

When she heard that, his mother went on to say:

“Go to the house of your father-in-law, and get money there, and so procure followers; and then repair to the emperor.”

Being urged in these words by his mother, the prince, though full of shame, slowly plodded on and reached his father-in-law’s house in the evening. But he could not bear to enter at such an unseasonable hour, for he was afraid of shedding tears, being bereaved of his father and having lost his worldly splendour; besides, shame withheld him.

So he remained in the verandah of an almshouse near, and at night he suddenly beheld a woman descending with a rope from his father-in-law’s house, and immediately he recognised her as his wife, for she was so resplendent with jewels that she looked like a meteor fallen from the clouds; and he was much grieved thereat. But she, though she saw him, did not recognise him, as he was emaciated and begrimed, and asked him who he was. When he heard that, he answered: “I am a traveller.” Then the merchant’s daughter entered the almshouse, and the prince followed her secretly to watch her. There she advanced towards a certain man, and he towards her, and asking why she had come so late, he bestowed several kicks on her.[12] Then the passion of the wicked woman was doubled, and she appeased him, and remained with him on the most affectionate terms.[13]

When he saw that, the discreet prince reflected:

“This is not the time for me to show anger, for I have other affairs in hand; and how could I employ against these two contemptible creatures, this wife of mine and the man who has done me this wrong, this sword which is to be used against my foes? Or what quarrel have I with this adulteress, for this is the work of malignant desire that showers calamities upon me, showing skill in the game of testing my firmness? It is my marriage with a woman below me in rank that is in fault, not the woman herself; how can a female crow leave the male crow to take pleasure in a cuckoo?”

Thus reflecting, he allowed that wife of his to remain in the society of her paramour; for in the minds of heroes possessed with an ardent desire of victory, of what importance is woman, valueless as a straw? But at the moment when his wife ardently embraced her paramour there fell from her ear an ornament thickly studded with valuable jewels. And she did not observe this, but at the end of her interview, taking leave of her paramour, returned hurriedly to her house as she came. And that unlawful lover also departed somewhere or other.

Then the prince saw that jewelled ornament, and took it up; it flashed with many jewel-gleams, dispelling the gathering darkness of despondency, and seemed like a hand-lamp obtained by him to assist him in searching for his lost prosperity. The prince immediately perceived that it was very valuable, and went off, having obtained all he required, to Kanyākubja; there he pledged that ornament for a hundred thousand gold pieces, and after buying horses and elephants went into the presence of the emperor. And with the troops which he gave him he marched, and slew his enemies in fight, and recovered his father’s kingdom; and his mother applauded his success.

Then he redeemed from pawn that ornament, and sent it to his father-in-law to reveal that unsuspected secret; his father-in-law, when he saw that earring of his daughter’s, which had come to him in such a way, was confounded, and showed it to her.

She looked upon it, lost long ago like her own virtue; and when she heard that it had been sent by her husband she was distracted, and called to mind the whole circumstance:

“This is the very ornament which I let fall in the almshouse the night I saw that unknown traveller standing there; so that must undoubtedly have been my husband come to test my virtue, but I did not recognise him, and he picked up this ornament.”

While the merchant’s daughter was going through this train of reflection, her heart, afflicted by the misfortune of her unchastity having been discovered, in its agony, broke. Then her father artfully questioned a maid of hers who knew all her secrets, and found out the truth, and so ceased to mourn for his daughter; as for the prince, after he recovered the kingdom, he obtained as wife the daughter of the emperor, won by his virtues, and enjoyed the highest prosperity.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So you see that the hearts of women are hard as adamant in daring sin, but are soft as a flower when the tremor of fear falls upon them. But there are some few women born in good families that, having hearts [14] and of transparent purity, become like pearls, the ornaments of the earth. And the fortune of kings is ever bounding away like a doe, but the wise know how to bind it by the tether of firmness, as you see in my story; therefore those who desire good fortune must not abandon their virtue even in calamity, and of this principle my present circumstances are an illustration, for I preserved my character, O Queen, even in this calamity, and that has borne me fruit in the shape of the good fortune of beholding you.”

Having heard this tale from the mouth of that Brāhman woman, the Queen Vāsavadattā, feeling respect for her, immediately thought:

“Surely this Brāhman woman must be of good family, for the indirect way in which she alluded to her own virtue and her boldness in speech prove that she is of gentle birth, and this is the reason why she showed such tact in entering the king’s court of justice.”

Having gone through these reflections, the queen again said to the Brāhman woman:

“Whose wife are you, or what is the history of your life? Tell me.”

When she heard that, the Brāhman woman again began to speak:


26. Story of Piṅgalikā

Queen, there was a certain Brāhman in the country of Mālava, named Agnidatta, the home of Fortune and of Learning, who willingly impoverished himself to help suppliants. And in course of time there were born to him two sons like himself: the eldest was called Śaṅkaradatta and the other Śāntikara. Of these two, O glorious one, Śāntikara suddenly left his father’s house in quest of learning, while he was still a boy, and went I know not whither, and the other son, his elder brother, married me, who am the daughter of Yajñadatta, who collected wealth for the sake of sacrifice only. In the course of time the father of my husband, who was named Agnidatta, being old, went to the next world, and his wife followed him[15]; and my husband left me, when I was pregnant, to go to holy places, and through sorrow for his loss abandoned the body in fire purified by the goddess Sarasvatī; and when that fact was told us by those who accompanied him in his pilgrimage, I was not permitted to follow him by my relations, as I was pregnant.

Then, while my grief was fresh, brigands suddenly swooped down on us and plundered my house and all the royal grant; immediately I fled with three Brāhman women from that place, for fear that I might be outraged, taking with me very few garments. And, as the whole kingdom was ravaged, I went to a distant land, accompanied by them, and remained there a month, only supporting myself by menial drudgery. And then, hearing from people that the King of Vatsa was the refuge of the helpless, I came here with the three Brāhman women, with no other travelling provision than my virtue; and as soon as I arrived I gave birth at the same time to two boys. Thus, though I have the friendly assistance of these three Brāhman women, I have suffered bereavement, banishment, poverty; and now comes this birth of twins. Alas, Providence has opened to me the door of calamity!

Accordingly, reflecting that I had no other means of maintaining these children, I laid aside shame, the ornament of women, and entering into the king’s court I made a petition to him. Who is able to endure the sight of misery of youthful offspring? And in consequence of his order, I have come into your august presence, and my calamities have turned back, as if ordered away from your door. This is my history: as for my name, it is Piṅgalikā, because from my childhood my eyes have been reddened by the smoke of burnt-offerings. And that brother-in-law of mine Śāntikara dwells in a foreign land, but in what land he is now living I have not as yet discovered.


[M] (Main story line continued) When the Brāhman woman had told her history in these words, the queen came to the conclusion that she was a lady of high birth, and, after reflecting, said this to her with an affectionate manner:

“There is dwelling here a foreign Brāhman of the name of Śāntikara, and he is our domestic chaplain; I am certain he will turn out to be your brother-in-law.”

After saying this to the eager Brāhman lady, the queen allowed that night to pass, and the next morning sent for Śāntikara and asked him about his descent. And when he had told her his descent, she, ascertaining that the two accounts tallied completely, showed him that Brāhman lady, and said to him:

“Here is your brother’s wife.”

And when they recognised one another, and he had heard of the death of his relations, he took the Brāhman lady, the wife of his brother, to his own house. There he mourned exceedingly, as was natural, for the death of his parents and his brother, and comforted the lady, who was accompanied by her two children.

And the Queen Vāsavadattā settled that the Brāhman lady’s two young sons should be the domestic chaplains of her future son, and the queen gave the eldest the name of Śāntisoma, and the next of Vaiśvānara, and she bestowed on them much wealth. The people of this world are like a blind man, being led to the place of recompense by their own actions going before them,[16] and their courage is merely an instrument. Then those two children and their mother and Śāntikara remained united there, having obtained wealth.

Then once upon a time, as days went on, the Queen Vāsavadattā beheld from her palace a certain woman of the caste of potters coming with five sons, bringing plates, and she said to the Brāhman lady Piṅgalikā, who was at her side:

“Observe, my friend, this woman has five sons, and I have not even one as yet[17]; to such an extent is such a one the possessor of merit, while such a one as myself is not.”

Then Piṅgalikā said:

“Queen, these numerous sons are people who have committed many sins in a previous existence, and are born to poor people in order that they may suffer for them; but the son that shall be born to such a one as you must have been in a former life a very virtuous person. Therefore do not be impatient, you will soon obtain a son such as you deserve.”

Though Piṅgalikā said this to her, Vāsavadattā, being eager for the birth of a son, remained with her mind overpowered by anxiety about it. At that moment the King of Vatsa came, and perceiving what was in her heart, said:

“Queen, Nārada said that you should obtain a son by propitiating Śiva, therefore we must continually propitiate Śiva, that granter of boons.”

Upon that, the queen quickly determined upon performing a vow, and when she had taken a vow, the king and his ministers, and the whole kingdom also, took a vow to propitiate Śiva; and after the royal couple had fasted for three nights, that lord was so pleased that he himself appeared to them and commanded them in a dream:

“Rise up; from you shall spring a son who shall be a portion of the God of Love, and owing to my favour shall be king of all the Vidyādharas.”

When the god, whose crest is the moon, had said this and disappeared, that couple woke up, and immediately felt unfeigned joy at having obtained their boon, and considered that they had gained their object. And in the morning the king and queen rose up, and after delighting the subjects with the taste of the nectarous story of their dream, kept high festival with their relations and servants, and broke in this manner the fast of their vow. After some days had passed, a certain man with matted locks came and gave the Queen Vāsavadattā a fruit in her dream. Then the King of Vatsa rejoiced with the queen, who informed him of that clear dream, and he was congratulated by his ministers, and supposing that the god of the moon-crest had given her a son under the form of a fruit, he considered the fulfilment of his wish to be not far off.[18]

Footnotes and references:


I.e. Gaṇeśa, who has an elephant’s head.


Seven principal mountains are supposed to exist in each Varsha, or division of a continent.


See Appendix II, pp. 263-272.— n.m.p.


There is a reference here to the mada, or ichor, which exudes from an elephant’s temples when in rut.


Rāga also means “passion.”


The quarters are often conceived of as women.


For an outline of this story as related in the Mahābhārata see p. 16.—N.M.P.


In the eighteenth tale of the Gesta Romanorum Julian is led into trouble by pursuing a deer. The animal turns round and says to him: “ Thou who pursuest me so fiercely shalt be the destruction of thy parents.” See also Bernhard Schmidt’s Griecliische Märchen, p. 38: “A popular ballad referring to the story of Digenes gives him a life of 300 years, and represents his death as due to his killing a hind that had on its shoulder the image of the Virgin Mary, a legend the foundation of which is possibly a recollection of the old mythological story of the hind of Artemis killed by Agamemnon” [Sophocles’ Electra, 568]. In the “ Romance of Doolin of Mayence,” Guyon kills a hermit by mistake for a deer (Liebrecht’s translation of Dunlop’s History of Fiction, p. 138). See also De Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, pp. 84-86;-and W. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-Lore of Northern India, vol. ii, p. 238. —n.m.p.


I.e. Umā or Pārvatī.


As a courtesan is not enjoyed by force, the sense seems doubtful. Barnett explains in a letter to me on the subject that balavad does literally mean “forcibly,” but that the word is more usual in the sense of “intensely,” as of rain, wind, sound, etc. Thus the meaning here is “to be intensely (or thoroughly) enjoyed.”— n.m.p.


The D. text reads agalad instead of acalad, “that his pride on account of his father’s splendour vanished.” —n.m.p.


Cf. an incident in “Gül and Sanaubar” (Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 144)—also the “Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince,” Nights (Burton, vol. i, p. 72), and see Chauvin, Bibliographic des Ouvrages Arabes, vi, p. 57n2.— n.m.p.


This is not a correct rendering of yadṛcchayā. It means literally, “casually,” “by chance,” or “arbitrarily.” Barnett suggests that its meaning here is “at her own pleasure,” “of her own free will”—thus “wantonly” would perhaps be the best translation. —n.m.p.


Here there is a pun, suvṛtta meaning also “well rounded.”


I.e. burned herself with his body.


Purogaiḥ means “done in a previous life,” and also “going before.”


Cf. Gaal, Märchen der Magyaren, p. 364; Gonzenbach’s Sicilianische Märchen, vol. i, pp. 285, 294.


The whole question of supernatural birth in Märchen, Sagas and custom has been ably discussed in detail by Hartland, The Legend of Perseus, vol. i, pp. 71-1 SI (the reference on p. 76 to the Kathā Sarit Sāgara should be ii, 565). See also V. Chauvin, op. cit., v, p. 43, under the heading “Conceptions extraordinaires.”

In the “Story of King Parityāgasena, his Wicked Wife and his Two Sons” which appears in a later volume, the two wives receive two heavenly fruits from Durgā. So in Chapter CXX the mother of the future King Vikramāditya is given a fruit by Śiva. The fruit in question is sometimes a mango, as in Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales, p. 41; Frere, Old Deccan Days, p. 254; Sāstrī, Folk-Lore in Southern India, p. 140. In Stokes, op. cit., p. 91, lichī fruits are given, while in other tales it is a pomegranate. It is unnecessary to give further examples, as Hartland has recorded anything of importance. —n.m.p.

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