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 Vāsavadattā on the next day said to the King of Vatsa in private, while he was surrounded by his ministers:

“My husband, ever since I have been pregnant with this child the difficulty of taking care of it afflicts my heart; and last night, after thinking over it long, I fell asleep with difficulty, and I am persuaded I saw a certain man come in my dream, glorious with a shape distinguished by matted auburn locks and a trident-bearing hand; and he, approaching me, said as if moved by compassion:

‘My daughter, you need not feel at all anxious about the child with which you are pregnant; I will protect it, for I gave it to you. And hear something more, which I will tell you to make you confide in me: a certain woman waits to make a petition to you to-morrow; she will come dragging her husband with her as a prisoner, reviling him, accompanied by five sons, begirt with many relations; and she is a wicked woman, who desires by the help of her relations to get that husband of hers put to death, and all that she will say will be false, And you, my daughter, must beforehand inform the King of Vatsa about this matter, in order that that good man may be freed from that wicked wife.’

This command that august one gave and vanished, and I immediately woke up, and lo! the morning had come.”

When the queen had said that, all spoke of the favour of Śiva, and were astonished, their minds eagerly expecting the fulfilment of the dream; when lo! at that very moment the chief warder entered and suddenly said to the King of Vatsa, who was compassionate to the afflicted:

“O King, a certain woman has come to make a representation, accompanied by her relations, bringing with her five sons, reviling her helpless husband.”

When the king heard that, being astonished at the way it tallied with the queen’s dream, he commanded the warder to bring her into his presence. And the Queen Vāsavadattā felt the greatest delight, having become certain that she would obtain a good son, on account of the truth of the dream. Then that woman entered by the command of the warder, accompanied by her husband, looked at with curiosity by all, who had their faces turned towards the door.

Then, having entered, she assumed an expression of misery, and making a bow according to rule, she addressed the king in council accompanied by the queen:

“This man, though he is my husband, does not give to me, helpless woman that I am, food, raiment and other necessaries, and yet I am free from blame with respect to him.”

When she had said this, her husband pleaded:

“King, this woman speaks falsely, supported by her relations, for she wishes me to be put to death. For I have given her supplies beforehand to last till the end of the year; and other relations of hers, who are impartial, are prepared to witness the truth of this for me.”

When he had said this to the king, the king of his own accord answered:

“The trident-bearing god himself has given evidence in this case, appearing to the queen in a dream. What need have we of more witnesses? This woman with her relations must be punished.”

When the king had delivered this judgment, the discreet Yaugandharāyaṇa said:

“Nevertheless, King, we must do what is right in accordance with the evidence of witnesses, otherwise the people, not knowing of the dream, would in no wise believe the justice of our proceedings.”

When the king heard that he consented, and had the witnesses summoned that moment, and they, being asked, deposed that that woman was speaking falsely. Then the king banished her, as she was plotting against one well known to be a good husband, from his territory, with her relations and her sons.

And with heart melting from pity he discharged her good husband, after giving him much treasure, sufficient for another marriage. And in connection with the whole affair the king remarked:

“An evil wife, of wildly[1] cruel nature, tears her still living husband like a she-wolf, when he has fallen into the pit of calamity; but an affectionate, noble and magnanimous wife averts sorrow as the shade[2] of the wayside tree averts heat, and is acquired by a man’s special merits.”

Then Vasantaka, who was a clever story-teller, being at the king’s side, said to him à propos of this: “ Moreover, King, hatred and affection are commonly produced in living beings in this world owing to their continually recalling the impressions of a past state of existence, and in proof of this hear the story which I am about to tell:


28. Story of Siṃhaparākrama

There was a king in Benares named Vikramacaṇḍa, and he had a favourite follower named Siṃhaparākrama, who was wonderfully successful in all battles and in all gambling contests. And he had a wife, very deformed both in body and mind, called by a name which expressed her nature, Kalahakārī.[3] This brave man continually obtained much money both from the king and from gambling, and, as soon as he got it, he gave it all to his wife. But the shrewish woman, backed by her three sons begotten by him, could not, in spite of this, remain one moment without a quarrel.

She continually worried by yelling out these words at him with her sons:

“You are always eating and drinking away from home, and you never give us anything.”

And though he was for ever trying to propitiate her with meat, drink and raiment, she tortured him day and night like an interminable thirst.

Then at last Siṃhaparākrama, vexed with indignation on that account, left his house and went on a pilgrimage to the goddess Durgā, that dwells in the Vindhya hills. While he was fasting, the goddess said to him in a dream:

“Rise up, my son; go to thy own city of Benares; there is an enormous Nyagrodha tree; by digging round its root thou wilt at once obtain a treasure. And in the treasure thou wilt find a dish of emerald, bright as a sword-blade, looking like a piece of the sky fallen down to earth; casting thy eyes on that, thou wilt see, as it were, reflected inside, the previous existence of every individual, in whatever case thou mayest wish to know it. By means of that thou wilt learn the previous birth of thy wife and of thyself, and having learned the truth wilt dwell there in happiness free from grief.”

Having thus been addressed by the goddess, Siṃhaparākrama woke up and broke his fast, and went in the morning to Benares; and after he had reached the city he found at the root of the Nyagrodha tree a treasure, and in it he discovered a large emerald dish, and, eager to learn the truth, he saw in that dish that in a previous birth his wife had been a terrible she-bear and himself a lion. And so, recognising that the hatred between himself and his wife was irremediable, owing to the influence of bitter enmity in a previous birth, he abandoned grief and bewilderment. Then Siṃhaparākrama examined many maidens by means of the dish, and discovering that they had belonged to alien races in a previous birth, he avoided them, but after he had discovered one who had been a lioness in a previous birth, and so was a suitable match for him, he married her as his second wife, and her name was Siṃhaśrī. And after assigning to that Kalahakārī one village only as her portion,[4] he lived, delighted with the acquisition of treasure, in the society of his new wife. Thus, O King, wives and others are friendly or hostile to men in this world by virtue of impressions in a previous state of existence.


[M] (main story line continued) When the King of Vatsa had heard this wonderful story from Vasantaka, he was exceedingly delighted, and so was the Queen Vāsavadattā. And the king was never weary day or night of contemplating the moon-like face of the pregnant queen. And as days went on there were born to all of his ministers in due course sons with auspicious marks, which heralded approaching good fortune. First there was born to Yaugandharāyaṇa, the chief minister, a son, Maru-bhūti by name. Then Rumaṇvat had a son called Hariśikha, and to Vasantaka there was born a son named Tapantaka. And to the head warder, called Nityodita, whose other title was Ityaka,[5] there was born a son named Gomukha.

And after they were born a great feast took place, and during it a bodiless voice was heard from heaven:

“These ministers shall crush the race of the enemies of the son of the King of Vatsa here, the future universal emperor.”

And as days went by the time drew near for the birth of the child with which the Queen Vāsavadattā was destined to present the King of Vatsa, and she repaired to the ornamented lying-in chamber, which was prepared by matrons having sons, and the windows of which were covered with arka and śamī plants. The room was hung with various weapons, rendered auspicious by being mixed with the gleam of jewel-lamps, shedding a blaze[6] able to protect the child[7]; and secured by conjurers who went through innumerable charms and spells and other incantations, so that it became a fortress of the matrons hard for calamity to storm; and there she brought forth in good time a prince of lovely aspect, as the heaven brings forth the moon from which stream pure nectarous rays.

The child, when born, not only irradiated that room, but the heart also of that mother, from which the darkness of grief had departed; then, as the delight of the inmates of the harem [see notes on harem] was gradually extended, the king heard of the birth of a son from the people who were admitted to it; the reason he did not give his kingdom in his delight to the person who announced it was that he was afraid of committing an impropriety, not that he was avaricious.

And so the king, suddenly coming to the harem with longing mind, beheld his son, and his hope bore fruit after a long delay. The child had a long red lower lip like a leaf, beautiful flowing hair like wool, and his whole face was like the lotus, which the Goddess of the Fortune of Empire carries for her delight. He was marked on his soft feet with umbrellas and chowries, as if the fortunes of other kings had beforehand abandoned their badges in his favour, out of fear.

Then, while the king shed with tearful eye, that swelled with the pressure of the fullness of the weight of his joy, drops that seemed to be drops of paternal affection,[8] and the ministers, with Yaugandharāyaṇa at their head, rejoiced, a voice was heard from heaven at that time to the following effect: —

“King, this son that is born to thee is an incarnation of Kāma, and know that his name is Naravāhanadatta; and he will soon become emperor of the kings of Vidyādharas, and maintain that position unwearied for a Kalpa of the gods.”[9]

When so much had been said, the voice stopped, and immediately a rain of flowers fell from heaven, and the sounds of the celestial drums went forth. Then the king, excessively delighted, made a great feast, which was rendered all the more solemn from the gods having begun it. The sound of cymbals floated in the air, rising from temples, as if to tell all the Vidyādharas of the birth of their king; and red banners, flying in the wind on the tops of the palaces, seemed with their splendour to fling red dye to one another. On earth beautiful women assembled and danced everywhere, as if they were the nymphs of heaven glad that the God of Love had been born with a body.[10] And the whole city appeared equally splendid with new dresses and ornaments bestowed by the rejoicing king. For while that rich king rained riches upon his dependents, nothing but the treasury was empty. And the ladies belonging to the families of the neighbouring chieftains came in from all sides, with auspicious prayers, versed in the good custom,[11] accompanied by dancing-girls bringing with them splendid presents, escorted by various excellent guards, attended with the sound of musical instruments, like all the cardinal points in bodily form. Every movement there was of the nature of a dance, every word uttered was attended with full vessels,[12] every action was of the nature of munificence, the city resounded with musical instruments, the people were adorned with red powder,[13] and the earth was covered with bards—all these were so in that city which was full of festivity.

Thus the great feast was carried on with increasing magnificence for many days, and did not come to an end before the wishes of the citizens were fully satisfied. And as days went on that infant prince grew like the new moon, and his father bestowed on him with appropriate formalities the name of Naravāhanadatta, which had been previously assigned to him by the heavenly voice. His father was delighted when he saw him make his first two or three tottering steps, in which gleamed the sheen of his smooth fair toe-nails, and when he heard him utter his first two or three indistinct words, showing his teeth which looked like buds.

Then the excellent ministers brought to the infant prince their infant sons, who delighted the heart of the king, and commended them to him. First Yaugandharāyaṇa brought Marubhūti, and then Rumaṇvat Hariśikha, and then the head warder named Ityaka brought Gomukha, and Vasantaka his son named Tapantaka. And the domestic chaplain Śāntikara presented the two twin sons of Piṅgalikā, his nephews Śāntisoma and Vaiśvānara. And at that moment there fell from heaven a rain of flowers from the gods, which a shout of joy made all the more auspicious, and the king rejoiced with the queens, having bestowed presents on that company of ministers’ sons. And that Prince Naravāhanadatta was always surrounded by those six ministers’ sons, devoted to him alone, who commanded respect even in their boyhood, as if with the six political measures[14] that are the cause of great prosperity. The days of the lord of Vatsa passed in great happiness, while he gazed affectionately on his son with his lotus-like face, going from lap to lap of the kings whose minds were lovingly attached to him, and making in his mirth a charming indistinct playful prattling.

[Additional note: precautions observed in the birth-chamber]

Footnotes and references:


Here there is a pun: ākula may also mean “by descent.”


Kulīnā may mean “falling on the earth,” referring to the shade of the tree. Mārgasthā means “in the right path” when applied to the wife.


I.e. Madam Contentious. Her husband’s name means “of lion-like might.”


Speyer (op. cit., p. 104) suggests grāsaikabhāginī as a more probable reading than grāmaikahhāginī, thus meaning that the repudiated wife was merely accorded her livelihood. Similar subsistence-allowances were given as punishment to the wicked officials in Mudrā-Rākṣasa, Act. Ill (see p. 135 of the Bombay edition).—n m.p.


I read (after Böhtlingk and Roth) Ityakāpara. See chapter xxxiv, śl. 115.


Tejas also means “might,” “courage.”


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


Sneha, which means “love,” also means “oil.” This is a fruitful source -of puns in Sanskrit.


Infinitely longer than a mortal Kalpa. A mortal Kalpa lasts 432 million years.


He is often called Anaṅga, “the bodiless”as his body was consumed by the fire of Śiva’s eye.


Or virtuous and generous.


It is still the custom to give presents of vessels filled with rice and coins. Empty vessels are inauspicious, and even now if a Bengali on going out of his house meets a person carrying an empty pitcher he turns back, and waits a minute or two.


This is the kunkam, kuṅkum, or kuṅku already mentioned in Vol. I, pp. 244, 256. It enters largely into Hindu ceremony and ritual, especially on auspicious occasions and at times of general rejoicing.

It is described as a pink powder made of turmeric, lime-juice and borax. It seems to be a more agreeable substitute for vermilion, whose constant use has probably an injurious effect on the skin and hair. The powder is used in the Maratha country in the same way as vermilion, and a married woman will smear a little patch on her forehead every day and never allow her husband to see her without it. See Russell, op. cit., vol. iv, p. 109. In the month of fasting (Shrāwan) the auspicious kunkam is not used, but at festivals such as the Holī it is greatly in evidence.— n.m.p.


Peace, war, march, halt, stratagem, and recourse to the protection of a mightier king.

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