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 ...

29. Story of the Golden City

IN the meanwhile the young Brāhman Śaktideva, in very low spirits, having been rejected with contempt by the princess he longed for, said to himself:

“To-day by asserting falsely that I had seen the Golden City I certainly incurred contempt, but I did not obtain that princess. So I must roam through the earth to find it, until I have either seen that city or lost my life. For of what use is my life, unless I can return, having seen that city, and obtain the princess as the prize of the achievement?”

Having thus taken a vow, that Brāhman set out from the city of Vardhamāna, directing his course toward the southern quarter; and as he journeyed he at last reached the great forest of the Vindhya range, and entered it, which was difficult and long as his own undertaking. And that forest, so to speak, fanned, with the soft leaves of its trees shaken by the wind, him, who was heated by the multitudinous rays of the sun; and through grief at being overrun with many robbers it made its cry heard day and night in the shrill screams of animals which were being slain in it by lions and other noisome beasts. And it seemed, by the unchecked rays of heat flashed upward from its wild deserts, to endeavour to conquer the fierce brightness of the sun: in it, though there was no accumulation of water, calamity was to be easily purchased[1]: and its space seemed ever to extend before the traveller as fast as he crossed it.

In the course of many days he accomplished a long journey through this forest, and beheld in it a great lake of pure cold water in a lonely spot, which seemed to lord it over all lakes, with its lotuses like lofty umbrellas, and its swans like gleaming white chowries. In the water of that lake he performed the customary ablutions, and on its northern shore he beheld a hermitage with beautiful fruit-bearing trees; and he saw an old hermit named Sūryatapas sitting at the foot of an Aśvattha tree, surrounded by ascetics, adorned with a rosary, the beads of which by their number seemed to be the knots that marked the centuries of his life,[2] and which rested against the extremity of his ear that was white with age. And he approached that hermit with a bow, and the hermit welcomed him with hospitable greetings.

And the hermit, after entertaining him with fruits and other delicacies, asked him:

“Whence have you come, and whither are you going? Tell me, good sir.”

And Śaktideva, inclining respectfully, said to that hermit:

“I have come, venerable sir, from the city of Vardhamāna, and I have undertaken to go to the Golden City in accordance with a vow. But I do not know where that city lies; tell me, venerable sir, if you know.”

The hermit answered:

“My son, I have lived eight hundred years in this hermitage, and I have never even heard of that city.”

Śaktideva, when he heard this from the hermit, was cast down, and said again:

“Then my wanderings through the earth will end by my dying here.”

Then that hermit, having gradually elicited the whole story, said to him:

“If you are firmly resolved, then do what I tell you. Three yojanas from here there is a country named Kāmpilya, and in it is a mountain named Uttara, and on it there is a hermitage. There dwells my noble elder brother named Dīrghatapas [see notes on the motif of old age]; go to him, he being old may perhaps know of that city.”

When Śaktideva heard that, hope arose in his breast, and having spent the night there, he quickly set out in the morning from that place.

And wearied with the laborious journey through difficult forest country, he at last reached that region of Kāmpilya and ascended that mountain Uttara; and there he beheld that hermit Dīrghatapas in a hermitage, and he was delighted and approached him with a bow; and the hermit received him hospitably, and Śaktideva said to him:

“I am on my way to the City of Gold spoken of by the king’s daughter; but I do not know, venerable sir, where that city is. However, I am bound to find it, so I have been sent to you by the sage Sūryatapas in order that I may discover where it lies.”

When he had said this, the hermit answered him:

“Though I am so old, my son, I have never heard of that city till today; I have made acquaintance with various travellers from foreign lands, and I have never heard anyone speak of it, much less have I seen it. But I am sure it must be in some distant foreign island, and I can tell you an expedient to help you in this matter; there is in the midst of the ocean an island named Utsthala, and in it there is a rich king of the Niṣādas[3] named Satyavrata. He goes to and fro among all the other islands, and he may have seen or heard of that city. Therefore go first to the city named Viṭaṅkapura, situated on the border of the sea. And from that place go with some merchant in a ship to the island where that Niṣāda dwells, in order that you may attain your object.”

When Śaktideva heard this from the hermit, he immediately followed his advice, and taking leave of him set out from the hermitage. And after accomplishing many kos and crossing many lands he reached the city of Viṭaṅkapura, the ornament of the seashore. There he sought out a merchant named Samudradatta, who traded with the island of Utsthala, and struck up a friendship with him. And he went on board his ship with him, and having food for the voyage fully supplied by his kindness, he set out on the ocean path. Then, when they had but a short distance to travel, there arose a black cloud with rumbling thunder, resembling a roaring Rākṣasa, with flickering lightning to represent his lolling tongue. And a furious hurricane began to blow like Destiny herself, whirling up light objects and hurling down heavy.[4] And from the sea, lashed by the wind, great waves rose aloft like the mountains equipped with wings,[5] indignant that their asylum had been attacked. And that vessel rose on high one moment, and the next moment plunged below, as if exhibiting how rich men are first elevated and then cast down.

And the next moment that ship, shrilly laden with the cries of the merchants, burst and split asunder as if with the weight. And the ship being broken, that merchant its owner fell into the sea, but floating through it on a plank he at last reached another vessel. But as Śaktideva fell a large fish, opening its mouth and neck, swallowed him without injuring any of his limbs. And as that fish was roaming at will in the midst of the sea it happened to pass near the island of Utsthala; and by chance some servants of that king of the fishermen, Satyavrata, who were engaged in the pursuit of small fish, came there and caught it. And those fishermen, proud of their prize, immediately dragged it along to show their king, for it was of enormous size. He too, out of curiosity, seeing that it was of such extraordinary size, ordered his servants to cut it open; and when it was cut open Śaktideva came out alive from its belly, having endured a second wonderful imprisonment in the womb. [see the legend of the huge fish]

Then the fisher-king Satyavrata, when he saw that young man come out and bestow his blessing on him, was astonished, and asked him:

“Who are you, and how did this lot of dwelling in the belly of the fish befall you? What means this exceedingly strange fate that you have suffered?”

When Śaktideva heard this he answered that king of the fishermen:

“I am a Brāhman of the name of Śaktideva from the city of Vardhamāna; and I am bound to visit the City of Gold, and because I do not know where it is, I have for a long time wandered far over the earth; then I gathered from a speech of Dīrghatapas’ that it was probably in an island, so I set out to find Satyavrata the king of the fishermen, who lives in the island of Utsthala, in order to learn its whereabouts, but on the way I suffered shipwreck, and so, having been whelmed in the sea and swallowed by a fish, I have been brought here now.”

When Śaktideva had said this, Satyavrata said to him:

“I am in truth Satyavrata, and this is the very island you were seeking; but though I have seen many islands I have never seen the city you desire to find, but I have heard of it as situated in one of the distant islands.”

Having said this, and perceiving that Śaktideva was cast down, Satyavrata, out of kindness for his guest, went on to say:

“Brāhman, do not be despondent; remain here this night, and to-morrow morning I will devise some expedient to enable you to attain your object.”

The Brāhman was thus consoled by the king, and sent off to a monastery of Brāhmans, where guests were readily entertained. There Śaktideva was supplied with food by a Brāhman named Viṣṇudatta, an inmate of the monastery, and entered into conversation with him. And in the course of that conversation, being questioned by him, he told him in a few words his country, his family and his whole history.

When Viṣṇudatta heard that, he immediately embraced him, and said in a voice indistinct from the syllables being choked with tears of joy:

“Bravo! you are the son of my maternal uncle and a fellow-countryman of mine. But I long ago in my childhood left that country to come here. So stop here awhile, and soon the stream of merchants and pilots that come here from other islands will accomplish your wish.”

Having told him his descent in these words, Viṣṇudatta waited upon Śaktideva with all becoming attentions. And Śaktideva, forgetting the toil of the journey, obtained delight, for the meeting of a relation in a foreign land is like a fountain of nectar in the desert. And he considered that the accomplishment of his object was near at hand, for good luck befalling one by the way indicates success in an undertaking. So he reclined at night sleepless upon his bed, with his mind fixed upon the attainment of his desire, and Viṣṇudatta, who was by his side, in order to encourage and delight him at the same time, related to him the following tale: —


29c. Aśokadatta and Vijayadatta [6]

Formerly there was a great Brāhman named Govindasvāmin, living on a great royal grant of land on the banks of the Yamunā. And in the course of time there were born to that virtuous Brāhman two sons like himself, Aśokadatta and Vijayadatta.

While they were living there, there arose a terrible famine in that land, and so Govindasvāmin said to his wife:

“This land is ruined by famine, and I cannot bear to behold the misery of my friends and relations. For who gives anything to anybody? So let us at any rate give away to our friends and relations what little food we possess and leave this country. And let us go with our family to Benares to live there.”

When he said this to his wife she consented, and he gave away his food and set out from that place with his wife, sons and servants. For men of noble soul cannot bear to witness the miseries of their relatives. And on the road he beheld a skull-bearing Śaiva ascetic, white with ashes, and with matted hair, like the god Śiva himself with his half-moon.

The Brāhman approached that wise man with a bow, and out of love for his sons asked him about their destiny, whether it should be good or bad, and that Yogī answered him:

“The future destiny of your sons is auspicious, but you shall be separated, Brāhman, from this younger one, Vijayadatta, and finally by the might of the second, Aśokadatta, you shall be united to him.”

Govindasvāmin, when that wise man said this to him, took leave of him and departed, overpowered with joy, grief and wonder; and after reaching Benares he spent the day there in a temple of Durgā outside the town, engaged in worshipping the goddess and suchlike occupations. And in the evening he encamped outside that temple under a tree with his family, in the company of pilgrims who had come from other countries. And at night, while all were asleep, wearied with their long journey, stretched out on strewn leaves and such other beds as travellers have to put up with, his younger son Vijayadatta, who was awake, was suddenly seized with a cold ague fit; that ague quickly made him tremble, and caused his hair to stand on end, as if it had been the fear of his approaching separation from his relations.

And oppressed with the cold he woke up his father, and said to him:

“A terrible ague afflicts me here now, father, so bring fuel and light me a fire to keep off the cold; in no other way can I obtain relief or get through the night.”

When Govindasvāmin heard him say this, he was distressed at his suffering, and said to him:

“Whence can I procure fire now, my son?”

Then his son said:

“Why, surely we can see a fire burning near us on this side, and it is very large, so why should I not go there and warm my body? So take me by the hand, for I have a shivering fit, and lead me there.”

Thus entreated by his son, the Brāhman went on to say:

“This is a cemetery,[7] and the fire is that of a funeral pyre, so how can you go to a place terrible from the presence of goblins and other spirits, for you are only a child?”

When the brave Vijayadatta heard that speech of his affectionate father he laughed, and said in his confidence:

“What can the wretched goblins and other evil ones do to me? Am I a weakling? So take me there without fear.”

When he said this so persistently, his father led him there, and the boy warming his body approached the pyre, which seemed to bear on itself the presiding deity of the Rākṣasas[8] in visible form, with the smoke of the flames for dishevelled hair, devouring the flesh of men. The boy at once encouraged his father[9] and asked him what the round thing was that he saw inside the pyre.

And his father, standing at his side, answered him:

“This, my son, is the skull of a man which is burning in the pyre.”

Then the boy in his recklessness struck the skull with a piece of wood lighted at the top and clove it. The brains spouted up from it and entered his mouth, like the initiation into the practices of the Rākṣasas, bestowed upon him by the funeral flame. And by tasting them that boy became a Rākṣasa, [see note on vile magical practices] with hair standing on end, with sword that he had drawn from the flame, terrible with projecting tusks: so he seized the skull and, drinking the brains from it, he licked it with tongue restlessly quivering like the flames of fire that clung to the bone. Then he flung aside the skull, and lifting his sword he attempted to slay his own father Govindasvāmin.

But at that moment a voice came out from the cemetery:

Kapālasphoṭa,[10] thou god, thou oughtest not to slay thy father. Come here.”

When the boy heard that, having obtained the title of Kapālasphoṭa and become a Rākṣasa, he let his father alone and disappeared; and his father departed, exclaiming aloud:

“Alas, my son! Alas, my virtuous son! Alas, Vijayadatta!”

And he returned to the temple of Durgā, and in the morning he told his wife and his eldest son Aśokadatta what had taken place. Then that unfortunate man together with them suffered an attack of the fire of grief, terrible like the falling of lightning from a cloud, so that the other people who were sojourning in Benares, and had come to visit the shrine of the goddess, came up to him and sympathised heartily with his sorrow.

In the meanwhile a great merchant, who had come to worship the goddess, named Samudradatta, beheld Govindasvāmin in that state. The good man approached him and comforted him, and immediately took him and his family home to his own house. And there he provided him with a bath and other luxuries, for this is the innate tendency of the great, to have mercy upon the wretched. Govindasvāmin also and his wife recovered their self-command, having heard[11] the speech of the great Śaiva ascetic, hoping to be reunited to their son. And thenceforth he lived in that city of Benares, in the house of that rich merchant, having been asked by him to do so. And there his other son Aśokadatta grew up to be a young man, and after studying the sciences learnt boxing and wrestling. And gradually he attained such eminence in these arts that he was not surpassed by any champion on the earth. And once on a time there was a great gathering of wrestlers at an idol procession,[12] and a great and famous wrestler came from the Deccan. He conquered all the other wrestlers of the King of Benares, who was called Pratāpamukuṭa, before his eyes. Then the king had Aśokadatta quickly summoned from the house of that excellent merchant, and ordered him to contend with that wrestler. That wrestler began the combat by catching the arm of Aśokadatta with his hand, but Aśokadatta seized his arm and hurled him to the ground. Then the field of combat, as it were, pleased, applauded the victor with the resounding noise produced by the fall of that champion wrestler. And the king being gratified, loaded Aśokadatta with jewels, and having seen his might, he made him his own personal attendant. So he became a favourite of the king’s, and in time attained great prosperity, for to one who possesses heroic qualities a king who appreciates merit is a perfect treasure-house.

Once on a time that king went on the fourteenth day of the month away from his capital, to worship the god Śiva in a splendid temple in a distant town. After he had paid his devotions, he was returning by night near the cemetery when he heard this utterance issue from it:

“O King, the chief magistrate out of private malice proclaimed that I deserved death, and it is now the third day since I was impaled, and even now my life will not leave my body, though I am innocent, so I am exceedingly thirsty. O King, order water to be given me.”

When the king heard it, out of pity he said to his personal attendant Aśokadatta:

“Send that man some water.”

Then Aśokadatta said:

“Who would go there at night? So I had better go myself.”

Accordingly he took the water and set off.

After the king had proceeded on his way to his capital, the hero entered that cemetery, the interior of which was difficult to penetrate, as it was filled with dense darkness within; in it there were awful evening oblations offered with the human flesh scattered about by the jackals; in places the cemetery was lighted up by the flaming beacons of the blazing funeral pyres, and in it the Vetālas made terrible music with the clapping of their hands, so that it seemed as if it were the palace of black night.[13]

Then he cried aloud:

“Who asked the king for water?”

And he heard from one quarter an answer: “I asked for it.” Following the voice he went to a funeral pyre near, and beheld a man impaled on the top of a stake, and underneath it he saw a woman that he had never seen before, weeping, adorned with beautiful ornaments, lovely in every limb—like the night adorned with the rays of the moon, now that the moon itself had set, its splendour having waned in the dark fortnight, come to worship the funeral pyre.[14]

He asked the woman:

“Who are you, mother,[15] and why are you standing weeping here?”

She answered him:

“I am the ill-fated wife of him who is here impaled, and I am waiting here with the firm intention of ascending the funeral pyre with him. And I am waiting some time for his life to leave his body, for though it is the third day of his impalement his breath does not depart. And he often asks for that water which I have brought here, but I cannot reach his mouth, my friend, as the stake is high.”

When he heard that speech of hers, the mighty hero said to her:

“But here is water in my hand sent to him by the king, so place your foot on my back and lift it to his mouth, for the mere toucing of another man in sore need does not disgrace a woman.”

When she heard that, she consented, and, taking the water, she climbed up so as to plant her two feet on the back of Aśokadatta, who bent down at the foot of the stake. Soon after, as drops of blood unexpectedly began to fall upon the earth and on his back, the hero lifted up his face and looked. Then he saw that woman cutting off slice after slice of that impaled man’s flesh with a knife and eating it.[16]

Then, perceiving that she was some horrible demon,[17] he dragged her down in a rage, and took hold of her foot with its tinkling anklets in order to dash her to pieces on the earth. She for her part dragged away from him that foot, and by her deluding power quickly flew up into the heaven and became invisible. And the jewelled anklet, which had fallen from her foot while she was dragging it away, remained in one of Aśokadatta’s hands. Then he, reflecting that she had disappeared after showing herself mild at first, and evil-working in the middle, and at the end horror-striking by assuming a terrible form, like association with wicked men, and seeing that heavenly anklet in his hand, was astonished, grieved and delighted at the same time; and then he left that cemetery, taking the anklet with him, and went to his own house, and in the morning, after bathing, to the palace of the king.

And when the king said,

“Did you give the water to the man who was impaled?”

he said he had done so, and gave him that anklet; and when the king of his own accord asked him where it came from, he told that king his wonderful and terrible night adventure. And then the king, perceiving that his courage was superior to that of all men, though he was before pleased with his other excellent qualities, was now more exceedingly delighted; and he took that anklet in his joy and gave it with his own hand to the queen, and described to her the way in which he had obtained it. And she, hearing the story and beholding that heavenly-jewelled anklet, rejoiced in her heart and was continually engaged in extolling Aśokadatta.

Then the king said to her:

“Queen, in birth, in learning, in truthfulness and beauty Aśokadatta is great among the great; and I think it would be a good thing if he were to become the husband of our lovely daughter Madanalekhā; in a bridegroom these qualities are to be looked for, not fortune that vanishes in a moment, so I will give my daughter to this excellent hero.”

When she heard that speech of her husband’s, that queen approving the proposal said:

“It is quite fitting, for the youth will be an appropriate match for her, and her heart has been captivated by him, for she saw him in a spring-garden, and for some days her mind has been in a state of vacancy and she neither hears nor sees. I heard of it from her confidante, and, after spending an anxious night, towards morning I fell asleep, and I remember I was thus addressed by some heavenly woman in a dream:

‘My child, thou must not give this thy daughter Madanalekhā to anyone but Aśokadatta, for she is his wife acquired by him in a former birth.’

And when I heard it I woke up, and in the morning I went myself on the strength of that dream and consoled my daughter. And now my husband has of his own accord proposed the marriage to me. Let her, therefore, be united to him, as a spring-creeper to its stalk.”[18]

When the king’s beloved wife said this to him, he was pleased, and he made festal rejoicings, and summoning Aśokadatta gave that daughter to him. And the union of those two, the daughter of the king, and the son of the great Brāhman, was such that each enhanced the other’s glory, like the union of prosperity and modesty.

And once upon a time the queen said to the king, with reference to the anklet brought by Aśokadatta:

“My husband, this anklet by itself does not look well, so let another be made like it.”

When the king heard that, he gave an order to the goldsmiths and other craftsmen of the kind, to make a second anklet like that.

But they, after examining it, said:

“It is impossible, O king, to make another like it, for the work is heavenly, not human. There are not many jewels of this kind upon the earth, so let another be sought for where this was obtained.”

When the king and the queen heard this, they were despondent, and Aśokadatta, who was there, on seeing that, immediately said:

“I myself will bring you a fellow to that anklet.”

And having made this promise he could not give up the project on which he was resolved, although the king, terrified at his temerity, endeavoured to dissuade him out of affection.

And taking the anklet he went again on the fourteenth night of the black fortnight to the cemetery where he had first obtained it; and after he had entered that cemetery which was full of Rākṣasas as it was of trees, besmirched with the copious smoke of the funeral pyres, and with men hanging from their trunks[19] which were weighed down and surrounded with nooses, he did not at first see that woman that he had seen before, but he thought of an admirable device for obtaining that bracelet, which was nothing else than the selling of human flesh.[20]

So he pulled down a corpse from the noose by which it was suspended on the tree, and he wandered about in the cemetery, crying aloud:

“Human flesh for sale, buy, buy!”[21]

And immediately a woman called to him from a distance, saying:

“Courageous man, bring the human flesh and come along with me.”

When he heard that, he advanced, following that woman, and beheld at no great distance under a tree a lady of heavenly appearance, surrounded with women, sitting on a throne, glittering with jewelled ornaments, whom he would never have expected to find in such a place, any more than to find a lotus in a desert.

And having been led up by that woman, he approached the lady seated as has been described, and said:

“Here I am; I sell human flesh; buy, buy!”

And then the lady of heavenly appearance said to him:

“Courageous hero, for what price will you sell the flesh?”

Then the hero, the corpse hanging over his shoulder and back, said to her, showing her at the same time that single jewelled anklet which was in his hand:

“I will give this flesh to whoever will give me a second anklet like this one; if you have got a second like it, take the flesh.”

When she heard that, she said to him:

“I have a second like it, for this very single anklet was taken by you from me. I am that very woman who was seen by you near the impaled man, but you do not recognise me now, because I have assumed another shape. So what is the use of flesh? If you do what I tell you, I will give you my second anklet, which matches the one in your hand.”

When she said this to the hero, he consented, and said:

“I will immediately do whatever you say.”

Then she told him her whole desire from the beginning:

“There is, good sir, a city named Trighaṇṭa on a peak of the Himālayas. In it there lived a heroic prince of the Rākṣasas named Lambajihva. I am his wife, Vidyucchikhā by name, and I can change my form at will. And as fate would have it, that husband of mine, after the birth of my daughter, was slain in battle fighting in front of the King Kapālasphoṭa; then that king being pleased gave me his own city, and I have lived with my daughter in great comfort on its proceeds up to the present time. And that daughter of mine has by this time grown up to fresh womanhood, and I have great anxiety in my mind as to how to obtain for her a brave husband.

Then being here on the fourteenth night of the lunar fortnight, and seeing you coming along this way with the king, I thought:

‘This good-looking youth is a hero and a fit match for my daughter, so why should I not devise some stratagem for obtaining him?’

Thus I determined, and imitating the voice of an impaled person, I asked for water, and brought you into the middle of that cemetery by a trick. And there I exhibited my delusive power in assuming a false shape and other characteristics, and, saying what was false, I imposed upon you there, though only for a moment. And I artfully left one of my anklets there to attract you again, like a binding chain to draw you, and then I came away. And to-day I have obtained you by that very expedient; so come to my house, marry my daughter and receive the other anklet.”

When the Rākṣasī said this to him, the hero consented, and by means of her magic power he went with her through the air to her city. And he saw that city built of gold on a peak of the Himālayas, like the orb of the sun fixed in one spot, being weary with the toil of wandering through the heavens. There he married that daughter of the Prince of the Rākṣasas, by name Vidyutprabhā, like the success of his own daring incarnate in bodily form. And Aśokadatta dwelt with that loved one some time in that city, enjoying great comfort by means of his mother-in-law’s wealth.

Then he said to his mother-in-law:

“Give me that anklet, for I must now go to the city of Benares, for I myself long ago promised the king that I would bring a second anklet, that would vie with the first one so distinguished for its unparalleled beauty.”

The mother-in-law gave him that second anklet of hers and in addition a golden lotus.[22]

Then he left that city with the anklet and the lotus, after promising to return, and his mother-in-law by the power of her magic knowledge carried him once more through the air to the cemetery.

And then she stopped under the tree and said to him:

“I always come here on the fourteenth night of the black fortnight, and whenever you come here on that[23] night you will find me here under the banyan-tree.”

When Aśokadatta heard this, he agreed to come there on that night, and took leave of that Rākṣasī, and went first to his father’s house. And just as he was gladdening by his unexpected arrival his parents, who were grieved by such an absence of his, which doubled their grief for their separation from their younger son, the king, his father-in-law, who had heard of his arrival, came in. The king indulged in a long outburst of joy, embracing him who bent before him, with limbs the hairs of which stood on end like thorns, as if terrified at toucing one so daring.[24]

Then Aśokadatta entered with him the palace of the king, like joy incarnate in bodily form; and he gave to the king those two anklets matched together, which so to speak praised his valour with their tinkling; and he bestowed on that king the beautiful golden lotus, as it were the lotus with which the presiding Fortune of the Rākṣasas’ treasure plays, torn from her hand. Then being questioned out of curiosity by the king and queen he told the story of his exploits, which poured nectar into their ears.

The king then exclaimed:

“Is glittering glory, which astonishes the mind by the description of wonderful exploits, ever obtained without a man’s bringing himself to display boldness?”

Thus the king spoke on that occasion, and he and the queen, who had obtained the pair of anklets, considered their object in life attained, now that they had such a son-in-law. And then that palace, resounding with festal instruments, appeared as if it were chanting the virtues of Aśokadatta.

And on the next day the king dedicated the golden lotus in a temple made by himself, placing it upon a beautiful silver vessel; and the two together, the vessel and the lotus, gleamed white and red like the glory of the king and the might[25] of Aśokadatta.

And beholding them thus, the king, a devout worshipper of Śiva, with eyes expanded with joy, spoke inspired with the rapture of adoration:

“Ah! this lofty vessel appears, with this lotus upon it, like Śiva white with ashes, with his auburn matted locks. If I had a second golden lotus like it I would place it in this second silver vessel.”

When Aśokadatta heard this speech of the king’s, he said:

“I, King, will bring you a second golden lotus.”

When the king heard that, he answered him:

“I have no need of another lotus; a truce to your temerity!”

Then as days went on, Aśokadatta being desirous of bringing a golden lotus, the fourteenth day of the black fortnight returned; and that evening the sun, the golden lotus of the sky-lake, went to the mountain of setting, as if out of fear, knowing his desire for a golden lotus; and when the shades of night, brown as smoke, began immediately to spread everywhere like Rākṣasas, proud of having swallowed the red clouds of evening as if they were raw flesh, and the mouth of night like that of an awful goblin began to yawn, shining and terrible as tamāla, full of flickering flames,[26] Aśokadatta of his own accord left the palace where the princess was asleep, and again went to that cemetery. There he beheld at the foot of that banyan-tree his mother-in-law the Rākṣasī, who had again come, and who received him with a courteous welcome; and with her the youth went again to her home, the peak of the Himālayas, where his wife was anxiously awaiting him.

And after he had remained some time with his wife he said to his mother-in-law:

“Give me a second golden lotus from somewhere or other.”

When she heard that, she said to him:

“Whence can I procure another golden lotus? But there is a lake here belonging to our King Kapālasphoṭa, where golden lotuses of this kind grow on all sides. From that lake he gave that one lotus to my husband as a token of affection.”

When she said this, he answered her:

“Then take me to that lake in order that I may myself take a golden lotus from it.”

She then attempted to dissuade him, saying:

“It is impossible; for the lake is guarded by terrible Rākṣasas”;

but nevertheless he would not desist from his importunity. Then at last his mother-in-law was with much difficulty induced to take him there, and he beheld from afar that heavenly lake on the plateau of a lofty mountain, covered with dense and tall-stalked lotuses of gleaming gold, as if from continually facing the sun’s rays they had drunk them in, and so become interpenetrated with them.

So he went there and began to gather the lotuses; and while he was thus engaged the terrible Rākṣasas who guarded it endeavoured to prevent him from doing so.

And being armed he killed some of them, but the others fled and told their King Kapālasphoṭa,[27] and when that King of the Rākṣasas heard of it he was enraged, and came there himself, and saw Aśokadatta with the lotuses he had carried off.

And in his astonishment he exclaimed as he recognised his brother:

“What! is this my brother Aśokadatta come here?”

Then he flung away his weapon, and, with his eyes washed with tears of joy, he quickly ran and fell at his feet, and said to him:

“I am Vijayadatta, your younger brother; we are both the sons of that excellent Brāhman Govindasvāmin. And by the appointment of destiny I became a Rākṣasa such as you see, and have continued such for this long time; and I am called Kapālasphoṭa from my cleaving the skull on the funeral pyre. But now from seeing you I have remembered my former Brāhman nature, and that Rākṣasa nature of mine, that clouded my mind with delusion, has left me.”

When Vi jayadatta said this, Aśokadatta embraced him, and, so to speak, washed with copious tears of joy his body defiled by the Rākṣasa nature. And while he was thus engaged there descended from heaven by divine command the spiritual guide of the Vidyādharas, named Kauśika.

And he, approaching these two brothers, said:

“You and your family are all Vidyādharas, who have been reduced to this state by a curse, and now the curse of all of you has terminated. So receive these sciences, which belong to you, and which you must share with your relations. And return to your own proper dwelling, taking with you your relations.”

Having said this, the spiritual guide, after bestowing the sciences on them, ascended to heaven.

And they, having become Vidyādharas, awoke from their long dream and went through the air to that peak of the Himālayas, taking with them the golden lotuses; and there Aśokadatta repaired to his wife, the daughter of the King of the Rākṣasas, and then her curse came to an end and she became a Vidyādharī. And those two brothers went in a moment with that fair-eyed one to Benares, travelling through the air. And there they visited their parents, who were scorched with the fire of separation, and refreshed them by pouring upon them the revivifying nectar of their own appearance. And those two, who, without changing the body, had gone through such wonderful transformations, produced joy not only in their parents, but in the people at large. And when Vijayadatta’s father, after so long a separation, folded him in a close embrace, he filled not only his arms, but also his desire.

Then the King Pratāpamukuṭa, the father-in-law of Aśokadatta, hearing of it, came there in high delight; and Aśokadatta, being kindly received by the king, entered with his relations the king’s palace, in which his beloved was anxiously awaiting him, and which was in a state of festal rejoicing. And he gave many golden lotuses to that king, and the king was delighted at getting more than he had asked for.

Then Vijayadatta’s father Govindasvāmin, full of wonder and curiosity, said to him in the presence of all:

“Tell me, my son, what sort of adventures you had after you had become a Rākṣasa in the cemetery during the night.”

Then Vijayadatta said to him:

“My father, when in my reckless frivolity I had cloven the burning skull on the funeral pyre, as fate would have it, I immediately, as you saw, became a Rākṣasa by its brains having entered my mouth, being bewildered with delusion. Then I was summoned by the other Rākṣasas, who gave me the name of Kapālasphoṭa, and I joined them. And then I was led by them to their sovereign, the King of the Rākṣasas, and he, when he saw me, was pleased with me and appointed me commander-in-chief. And once on a time that King of the Rākṣasas went, in his infatuation, to attack the Gandharvas, and was there slain in battle by his foes. And then his subjects accepted my rule, so I dwelt in his city and ruled those Rākṣasas; and while I was there I suddenly beheld that elder brother of mine, Aśokadatta, who had come for golden lotuses, and the sight of him put a stop to that Rākṣasa nature in me. What follows, how we were released from the power of the curse, and thereby recovered our sciences,[28] all this my elder brother will relate to you.”

When Vijayadatta had told this story, Aśokadatta began to tell his from the beginning:

“Long ago we were Vidyādharas, and from the heaven we beheld the daughters of the hermits bathing in the Ganges near the hermitage of Gālava,[29] and then we fell suddenly in love with them, and they returned our affection; all this took place in secret, but their relations, who possessed heavenly insight, found it out and cursed us in their anger:

‘May you two wicked ones be born both of you to a mortal woman, and then you shall be separated in a marvellous manner, but when the second of you shall behold the first arrived in a distant land, inaccessible to man, and shall recognise him, then you shall have your magic knowledge restored to you by the spiritual preceptor of the Vidyādharas, and you shall again become Vidyādharas, released from the curse and reunited to your friends.’

Having been cursed in this way by those hermits, we were both born here in this land, and you know the whole story of our separation; and now by going to the city of the King of the Rākṣasas, by virtue of my mother-in-law’s magic power, to fetch the golden lotuses I have found this younger brother of mine. And in that very place we obtained the sciences[30] from our preceptor Prajñaptikauśika, and suddenly becoming Vidyādharas we have quickly arrived here.”

Thus Aśokadatta spoke, and then that hero of various adventures, delighted at having escaped the darkness of the curse, bestowed on his parents and his beloved, the daughter of the king, his wonderful sciences of many kinds, so that their minds were suddenly awakened and they became Vidyādharas.

Then the happy hero took leave of the king, and with his brother, his parents and his two wives flew up and quickly reached through the air the palace of his emperor. There he beheld him, and received his orders, and so did his brother, and he bore henceforth the name of Aśokavega, and his brother of Vijayavega. And both the brothers, having become noble Vidyādhara youths, went, accompanied by their relations, to the splendid mountain named Govindakūṭa, which now became their home. And Pratāpamukuṭa, the King of Benares, overpowered by wonder, placed one of the golden lotuses in the second vessel in his temple, and offered to Śiva the other golden lotuses presented by Aśokadatta, and, delighted with the honour of his connection, considered his family highly fortunate.


29. Story of the Golden City

“Thus divine persons become incarnate for some reason, and are born in this world of men, and possessing their native virtue and courage, attain successes which it is hard to win. So I am persuaded that you, O sea of courage, are some portion of a divinity, and will attain success as you desire; daring in achievements hard to accomplish even by the great, generally indicates a surpassingly excellent nature. Moreover, the Princess Kanakarekhā, whom you love, must surely be a heavenly being, otherwise being a mere child how could she desire a husband that has seen the Golden City?”

Having heard in secret this long and interesting story from Viṣṇudatta, Śaktideva, desiring in his heart to behold the Golden City, and supporting himself with resolute patience, managed to get through the night.

[Additional note: Tantric rites in the Mālatī Mādhava]

Footnotes and references:


Probably a poor pun--there is a play upon the words jala, “water,” and jaḍa, “fools,” thus the sense is: “The forest is without gatherings of water (or fools), yet it is fertile in misfortune” (Barnett). —n.m.p.


Lenormant in his Chaldæan Magic and Sorcery, p. 41 (English translation), observes:

“We must add to the number of those mysterious rites the use of certain enchanted drinks, which doubtless really contained medicinal drugs, as a cure for diseases, and also of magic knots, the efficacy of which was firmly believed in, even up to the Middle Ages”

See also Ralston’s Songs of the Russian People, p. 288.- Cf the speech of the river-goddess, Tamasā, in Act III of the Uttara Rāma Charita as translated by Wilson (Select Specimens of the Theatre of the Hindus, vol. ii, 1827):

“And homage therefore should be done
This day to their great Sire, the Sun,
For that the lucky knot has told,
Twelve years their rapid course have rolled,
Since, from the daughter of the Earth,
Kusa and Lava drew their birth.”

In a note explaining the “lucky knot” Wilson states that the expression alludes to the practice, still in use amongst the Hindus, of making a knot every year of a person’s life in the string or thread which is wound round the paper scroll on which the calculations of his nativity are inscribed. For collected references on knots in magic and ritual see Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. iii, pp. 293-317.— n.m.p.


Wild aboriginal tribes not belonging to the Aryan race.


Destiny often elevates the worthless, and hurls down men of worth.—Clouston (Popular Tales and Fictions, vol. i, p. 407) compares this sentiment with Defoe’s scathing reply to Lord Haversham’s Vindication of his Speech:

“Fate makes footballs of men; kicks some upstairs and some down; some are advanced without honour, others suppressed without infamy;—some are raised without merit, some are crushed without crime; and no man knows, by the beginning of things, whether his course will issue in a peerage or a pillory.”

And these passages from the drama of Mṛcchakaṭika, or The Toy Cart (Wilson, Theatre of the Hindus):

“ Fate views the world
A scene of mutual and perpetual struggle;
And sports with life as if it were a wheel
That draws the limpid water from the well;
For some are raised to affluence, some depressed
In want, and some are borne awhile aloft,
And some hurled down to wretchedness and woe.”

“ O Fate! thou sportest with the fortunes of mankind,
Like drops of water trembling on the lotus-leaf.”



The usual story is that Indra cut off the wings of all except Maināka, the son of Himavat by Menā. He took refuge in the sea. Here it is represented that more escaped. So in Bhartṛhari Nīti Śataka, st. 76 (Bombay edition).


Cf. Grimm’s Märchen, No. 60 ; Sicilianische Märchen, Nos. 39 and 40, with Dr Köhler’s notes.


If such a word can be applied to a place where bodies are burnt.—The usual expression is “burning-ground” or “burning-ghāṭ.”—n.m.p.


See Vol. I, pp. 204, 205. When Hanumān, the monkey-god, entered Laṅkā in the form of a cat, to reconnoitre, he saw that the Rākṣasas who slept in the house

“were of every shape and form. Some of them disgusted the eye, while some were beautiful to look on. Some had long arms and frightful shapes; some were very fat and some were very lean; some were dwarf and some were prodigiously tall. Some had only one eye, and others had only one ear. Some had monstrous bellies, hanging breasts, long projecting teeth, and crooked thighs; whilst others were exceedingly beautiful to behold and clothed in great splendour. Some had the heads of serpents, some the heads of asses, some of horses, and some of elephants.”

For further details see Crooke, op. cit., vol. i, pp. 246-250. —n.m.p.


Samāśvasya, the reading of a MS. in the Sanskrit College, would perhaps give a better sense.


I.e. “ skull-cleaver.”


Perhaps we ought to read smritvā for śrutvā, “remembering” “calling to mind.”


Barnett (Golden Town, p. 16) translates simply “a religious festival.”—N.M.P.


Barnett (op. cit., p. 17) translates “while the tuneless hand-clapping of goblins rang out; it was like black Night’s own palace.”— n.m.p.


The passage is not clear. Speyer (op. cit., p. 105) points out that the difficulty vanishes when we read citārohāya of the D. text instead of citārcāya in Brockhaus. The wife, who sits down on the earth near her impaled husband, is duly compared to a night of the dark half of the month, at the time when the moon has set; both, in fact, are preparing to ascend the pyre that is to consume their husband—the woman after the death of the tortured man, and Night in the glow of the approaching dawn. —n.m.p.


As the lady was young and beautiful, this mode of address may seem strange, but it is an assurance that the speaker has no designs on the other’s chastity. It corresponds with the Arabic “Yā Ummī!”—“O my mother!” See Nights (Burton, vol. viii, p. 87).-— n.m.p.


So in Laura Gonzenbach’s Sicilianische Märchen, p. 66, a lovely woman opens with a knife the veins of the sleeping prince and drinks his blood. See also Veckenstedt’s IVendue he Sagen, p. 354. Ralston in his Russian Folk-Tales, p. 17, compares this part of the story with a Russian story called “The Friend” (Afanasief, vi, No. 66).—The incident in our text found its way into the story of “ Brave Seventee Bai,” Frere’s Old Deccan Days, pp. 27, 28. The best-known story of people digging up corpses and eating them occurs in the “History of Sidi Nu’uman,” Nights (Burton, Supp., vol. iii, pp. 325-336). A very similar tale is current at Palena, in the Abruzzi, and is given in vol. iii of the Archivio per lo studio delle Tradizioni Popolari (Palermo, 1882), p. 222. An important abstract was given by E. Sidney Hartland to W. S. Clouston, wrho printed it on pp. 585-586 of the same volume of the Nights as given above. In this case (as in that of Sidi Nu’uman) the attention of the husband is drawn to his wife’s behaviour as she cannot eat anything when at home and merely “picks a few grains of rice with a large pin.” Her suspicious husband follows her one night to the burial-ground, where she meets with certain female companions, who open a grave and feast on a newly buried corpse. When on the next day the husband shows he is no longer in ignorance of his wife’s strange pastime, he is immediately turned into a dog by her magic.

Other references will be found in Crooke, Popular Folk-Lore of Northern India, vol. ii, pp. 168 , 169; Chauvin, op. cit., vii, p. 199; and Macculloch, The Childhood of Fiction, ch. x. —n.m.p.


One is tempted to read vikṛtām lor vikṛtim, but vikṛti is translated by the Petersburg lexicographers as Gespeiusterscheinung. Vikṛtām would mean transformed into a Rākṣasī.


Indian rhetoric always compares the union of husband and wife to the creeper clinging to a tree. This is, moreover, found in the D. text, which reads vṛkṣeṇevārtam latā. See Speyer, op. cit., p. 105. Barnett (Golden Town, p. 18) translates “as a climbing plant of spring with its tree.”— n.m.p.


Skandha when applied to the Rākṣasas means “shoulder.”


Literally, “great flesh.” “Great” seems to give the idea of unlawfulness, as in the Greek μέγα ἔργνο.


This resembles the Tantric rite described in the Mālalī Mādhava. See note at the end of this chapter. —n.m.p.


Cf. the golden rose in Gaal, Märchen der Magyaren, p. 44.


Reading tasyān for tasmān.


Somadeva no doubt means that the hairs on the king’s body stood on end with joy.—See Vol. I, p. 120n1.— n.m.p.


According to the canons of Hindu rhetoric glory is always white.


Night is compared to a female goblin (Rākṣasī). These creatures have fiery mouths.


Cf. Sicilianische Märchen, collected by Laura Gonzenbach, vol. i, p. 160.


Magical sciences, in virtue of which they were Vidyādharas or science-holders.


A son or pupil of Viśvāmitra.


Prajñapti, “foreknowledge,” is one of the many “sciences” controlled by Vidyādharas, or “holders of magic science.”

She (for the science is feminine) occurs again at the beginning of Chapter XXX; in the “Story of Alaṅkāravatī,” Chapter LI; and in the “Story of the Silent Couple,” Chapter CXI. In Chapter XLV the art is said to be founded on Sāṅkhya and Yoga and is described as “the famous supernatural power, and the independence of knowledge, the dominion over matter that is characterised by lightness and other mystic properties.”

Various other sciences besides Prajñapti occur in this work, thus in Chapter XLVI the science called Mohanī, “bewitching,” appears, and in Chapter CVII it is Gaurī, “with three eyes, armed with a trident,” who paralysed the chief heroes of Naravāhanadatta’s army. See Bloomfield, Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., vol. lvi, 1917, pp. 1-6.—n.m.p.

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