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 Kaliṅgasenā out of love went to the top of a palace on the highroad, to follow with her eyes the course of Somaprabhā, who had set out for her own home, and by chance a young king of the Vidyādharas, named Madanavega, travelling through the air, had a near view of her. The youth, beholding her, bewildering the three worlds with her beauty, like the bunch of peacock feathers of the juggler Kāma, was much troubled.

He reflected:

“Away with the Vidyādhara beauties! Not even the Apsarases deserve to be mentioned in presence of the surpassing loveliness of this mortal lady. So if she will not consent to become my wife, what is the profit of my life? But how can I associate with a mortal lady, being a Vidyādhara?”

Thereupon he called to mind the science named Prajñapti,[1] and that science, appearing in bodily form, thus addressed him:

“She is not really a mortal woman; she is an Apsaras, degraded in consequence of a curse, and born in the house of the august King Kaliṅgadatta.”

When the Vidyādhara had been thus informed by the science, he went off delighted and distracted with love; and, averse from all other things, reflected in his palace:

“It is not fitting for me to carry her off by force; for the possession of women by force is, according to a curse, fated to bring me death. So, in order to obtain her, I must propitiate Śiva by asceticism, for happiness is procurable by asceticism, and no other expedient presents itself.”

Thus he resolved, and the next day he went to the Ṛṣabha mountain, and standing on one foot performed penance without taking food.[2]

Then the husband of Ambikā was soon won over by Madanavega’s severe asceticism, and appearing to him, thus enjoined him:

“This maiden, named Kaliṅgasenā, is famous for beauty on the earth, and she cannot find any husband equal toher in the gift of loveliness. Only the King of Vatsa is a fitting match for her, and he longs to possess her, but, through fear of Vāsavadattā, does not dare to court her openly. And this princess, who is longing for a handsome husband, will hear of the King of Vatsa from the mouth of Somaprabhā, and repair to him to choose him as her husband. So, before her marriage takes place, assume the form of the impatient King of Vatsa and go and make her your wife by the gāndharva ceremony.[3] In this way, fair sir, you will obtain Kaliṅgasenā.”

Having received this command from Śiva, Madanavega prostrated himself before him, and returned to his home on the slope of the Kālakūṭa mountain.

Then Kaliṅgasenā went on enjoying herself in the city of Takṣaśilā, in the society of Somaprabhā, who went every night to her own home, and came back every morning to her friend, in her chariot that travelled through the air; and one day she said to Somaprabhā in private:

“My friend, you must not tell anyone what I tell you. Listen, and I will give you a reason that makes me think the time of my marriage has arrived. Ambassadors have been sent here by many kings to ask me in marriage. And they, after an interview with my father, have always hitherto been dismissed by him as they came. But now the king of the name of Prasenajit, who lives in Śrāvastī, has sent a messenger, and he alone has been received with honourable distinction by my father. And that course has been recommended by my mother, so I conjecture the king, my suitor, has been approved of by my father and mother as of sufficiently noble lineage. For he is born in that family in which were born Ambā and Ambālikā, the paternal grandmothers of the Kurus and Pāṇḍus. So, my friend, it is clear that they have now determined to bestow me in marriage on this King Prasenajit, in the city of Śrāvastī.”

When Somaprabhā heard this from Kaliṅgasenā, she suddenly shed from grief a copious shower of tears, creating, as it were, a second necklace.

And when her friend asked her the cause of her tears, that daughter of the Asura Maya, who had seen all the terrestrial world, said to her:

“Of the desirable requisites in a suitor, youth, good looks, noble birth, good disposition and wealth, youth is of the greatest importance; high birth, and so on, are of subordinate importance. But I have seen that King Prasenajit, and he is an old man: who cares about his high lineage, as he is old, any more than about the birth of the jasmine flower? You will be to be pitied when linked to him, who is white as snow, as the lotus-bed when linked to the winter, and your face will be a withered lotus. For this reason despondency has arisen in me, but I should be delighted if Udayana, the King of Vatsa, were to become your husband, O auspicious lady. For there is no king upon the earth equal to him in form, beauty, lineage, daring and riches. If, fair one, you should be married to that fitting mate, the display which the Creator has made in your case of his power to create beauty would have brought forth fruit.”

By means of these speeches, artfully framed by Somaprabhā, the mind of Kaliṅgasenā was impelled as if by engines, and flew towards the King of Vatsa.

And then the princess asked the daughter of Maya:

“Friend, how is it that he is called the King of Vatsa? In what race was he born? And whence was he named Udayana? Tell me.”

Then Somaprabhā said:

“Listen, friend, I will tell you that.

“There is a land, the ornament of the earth, named Vatsa. In it there is a city named Kauśāmbī, like a second Amarāvatī; and he is called the King of Vatsa because he rules there. And hear his lineage, my friend, related by me. Arjuna of the Pāṇḍava race had a son named Abhimanyu, and he, skilled in breaking the close rings of the hostile army, destroyed the force of the Kauravas. From him there sprang a king named Parīkṣit, the head of the race of Bharata, and from him sprang Janamejaya, who performed the snake-sacrifice. His son was Śatānīka, who settled in Kauśāmbī, and he was slain in a war between the gods and Asuras after slaying many giants. His son was King Sahasrānīka, an object of praise to the world, to whom Indra sent his chariot, and he went to heaven and returned thence. To him was born this Udayana by the Queen Mṛgāvatī, the ornament of the race of the Moon, a king that is a feast to the eyes of the world. Hear, too, the reason of his name. That Mṛgāvatī, the mother of this high-born king, being pregnant, felt a desire to bathe in a lake of blood, and her husband, afraid of committing sin, had a lake made of liquid lac and other coloured fluids, in which she plunged. Then a bird of the race of Garuḍa pounced upon her, thinking she was raw flesh, and carried her off, and, as fate would have it, left her alive on the mountain of the sunrise. And there the hermit Jamadagni saw her, and comforted her, promising her reunion with her husband, and she remained there in his hermitage. For such was the curse inflicted upon her husband by Tilottamā, jealous on account of his neglecting her, which caused him separation from his wife for a season. And in some days she brought forth a son in the hermitage of Jamadagni, on that very mountain of the sunrise, as the sky brings forth the new moon.

And because he was born on the mountain of the sunrise the gods then and there gave him the name of Udayana, uttering from heaven this bodiless voice:

‘This Udayana, who is now born, shall be sovereign of the whole earth; and there shall be born to him a son, who shall be emperor of all the Vidyādharas.’[4]

“Sahasrānīka, for his part, who had been informed of the real state of the case by Mātali, and had fixed his hope on the termination of his curse, with difficulty got through the time without that Mṛgāvatī. But when the curse had expired the king obtained his token from a Śavara who, as fate would have it, had come from the mountain of the sunrise. And then he was informed of the truth by a voice from heaven, and making that Śavara his guide, he went to the mountain of the sunrise. There he found his wife Mṛgāvatī like the success of his wishes, and her son Udayana like the realm of fancy. With them he returned to Kauśāmbī, and appointed his son crown prince, pleased with the excellence of his qualities; and he gave him the sons of his ministers, Yaugandharāyaṇa and others. When his son took the burden of the kingdom off his shoulders he enjoyed pleasures for a long time in the society of Mṛgāvatī. And in time the king established his son, that very Udayana, on the throne, and being old went with his wife and ministers on the long journey. So Udayana has obtained that kingdom that belonged to his father, and having conquered all his enemies, rules the earth with the help of Yaugandharāyaṇa.”

Having in these words quickly told her in confidence the story of Udayana, she again said to her friend Kaliṅgasenā:

“Thus that king is called the King of Vatsa, fair one, because he rules in Vatsa, and since he comes of the Pāṇḍava lineage, he is also descended from the race of the sun. And the gods gave him the name of Udayana because he was born on the mountain of the sunrise, and in this world even the God of Love is not a match for him in beauty. He alone is a husband fit for you, most beautiful lady of the three worlds, and he, being a lover of beauty, no doubt longs for you, who are famous for it. But, my friend, his head wife is Vāsavadattā, the daughter of Caṇḍamahāsena. And she selected him herself, deserting her relations in the ardour of her passion, and so sparing the blushes of Uṣā, Śakuntalā and other maidens. And a son has been born to him by her, called Naravāhanadatta, who is appointed by the gods as the future emperor of the Vidyādharas. So it is through fear of her that the King of Vatsa does not send here to ask for your hand, but she has been seen by me, and she does not vie with you in the gift of beauty.”

When her friend Somaprabhā said this, Kaliṅgasenā, being in love with the King of Vatsa,[5] answered her:

“I know all this; but what can I do, as I am under the power of my parents? But in this you, who know all things and possess magic power, are my refuge.”

Somaprabhā then said to her:

“The whole matter depends on destiny; in proof of it hear the following tale:—


39. Story of Tejasvatī [6]

Once on a time there lived in Ujjayinī a king named Vikramasena, and he had a daughter named Tejasvatī, matchless in beauty. And she disapproved of every king who sued for her hand. But one day, while she was on the roof of her palace, she saw a man, and, as fate would have it, she felt a desire to meet him as he was very handsome, and she sent her confidante to him to communicate to him her desire.

The confidante went and entreated the man, who shrank from such an audacious step, and at last, with much difficulty, she made him, against his will, agree to an assignation, saying:

“Await, good sir, the arrival of the princess at night in this retired temple which you see here.”

After saying this, she took leave of him, and went and told the Princess Tejasvatī, who for her part remained watching the sun. But that man, though he had consented, fled somewhere else out of fear: a frog is not capable of relishing the fibres of a bed of red lotuses.

In the meanwhile a certain prince of high lineage came, as his father was dead, to visit the king, who had been his father’s friend. And that handsome young prince, named Somadatta, whose kingdom and wealth had been taken by pretenders, arriving at night, entered by accident, to pass the night there, that very temple in which the confidante of the princess had arranged a meeting with the man. While he was there the princess, blind with passion, approached him, without distinguishing who he was, and made him her self-chosen husband. The wise prince gladly received in silence the bride offered him by fate, who foreshadowed his union with the future Fortune of Royalty. And the princess soon perceived that he was very charming, and considered that she had not been deceived by the Creator. Immediately they conversed together, and the two separated according to agreement; the princess to her own palace, while the king spent the rest of the night there.

In the morning the prince went and announced his name by the mouth of the warder, and, being recognised, entered into the presence of the king. There he told his sorrow on account of his kingdom having been taken away, and other insults, and the king agreed to assist him in overthrowing his enemies. And he determined to give him the daughter he had long desired to give away, and then and there told his intention to the ministers. Then the queen told the king his daughter’s adventure, having been informed of it before by herself, through the mouths of trusty confidantes.

Then the king was astonished at finding that calamity had been averted and his desire attained by mere chance, as in the fable of the crow and the palm,[7] and thereupon one of the ministers said to the king:

“Fate watches to ensure the objects of auspicious persons, as good servants of their masters, when the latter are not on the look-out. And to illustrate this I will tell you the following tale. Listen.


39a. The Brāhman Hariśarman

[also see notes on the story of Hariśarman]

There was a certain Brāhman in a certain village, named Hariśarman.[8] He was poor and foolish and in evil case for want of employment, and he had very many children, that he might reap the fruit of his misdeeds in a former life. He wandered about begging with his family, and at last he reached a certain city, and entered the service of a rich householder called Sthūladatta. He made his sons keepers of this householder’s cows and other possessions, and his wife a servant to him, and he himself lived near his house, performing the duty of an attendant.

One day there was a feast on account of the marriage of the daughter of Sthūladatta, largely attended by many friends of the bridegroom, and merry-makers. And then Hariśarman entertained a hope that he would be able to fill himself up to the throat with ghee and flesh and other dainties, together with his family, in the house of his patron. While he was anxiously expecting that occasion, no one thought of him.

Then he was distressed at getting nothing to eat, and he said to his wife at night:

“It is owing to my poverty and stupidity that I am treated with such disrespect here; so I will display, by means of an artifice, an assumed knowledge, in order that I may become an object of respect to this Sthūladatta, and when you get an opportunity, tell him that I possess supernatural knowledge.”

He said this to her, and after turning the matter over in his mind, while people were asleep he took away from the house of Sthūladatta a horse on which his son-in-law rode. He placed it in concealment at some distance, and in the morning the friends of the bridegroom could not find the horse, though they searched in every direction.

Then, while Sthūladatta was distressed at the evil omen, and searching for the thieves who had carried off the horse, the wife of Hariśarman came and said to him:

“My husband is a wise man, skilled in astrology and sciences of that kind, and he will procure for you the horse; why do you not ask him?”

When Sthūladatta heard that, he called that Hariśarman, who said:

“Yesterday I was forgotten, but to-day, now the horse is stolen, I am called to mind.”

And Sthūladatta then propitiated the Brāhman with these words:

“I forgot you, forgive me,”

and asked him to tell him who had taken away their horse.

Then Hariśarman drew all kinds of pretended diagrams, and said:

“The horse has been placed by thieves on the boundary line south from this place. It is concealed there, and before it is carried off to a distance, as it will be at close of day, quickly go and bring it.”

When they heard that, many men ran and brought the horse quickly, praising the discernment of Hariśarman. Then Hariśarman was honoured by all men as a sage, and dwelt there in happiness, honoured by Sthūladatta.

Then, as days went on, much wealth, consisting of gold and jewels, was carried off by a thief from the palace of the king. As the thief was not known, the king quickly summoned Hariśarman on account of his reputation for supernatural knowledge.

And he, when summoned, tried to gain time, and said:

“I will tell you to-morrow,”

and then he was placed in a chamber by the king and carefully guarded. And he was despondent about his pretended knowledge.[9] Now in that palace there was a maid named Jihvā,[10] who, with the assistance of her brother, had carried off that wealth from the interior of the palace; she, being alarmed at Hariśarman’s knowledge, went at night and applied her ear to the door of that chamber in order to find out what he was about. And Hariśarman, who was alone inside, was at that very moment blaming his own tongue, that had made a vain assumption of his knowledge.

He said:

“O tongue, what is this that you have done, through desire of enjoyment? Ill-conducted one, endure now punishment in this place.”

When Jihvā heard this, she thought in her terror that she had been discovered by this wise man, and by an artifice she managed to get in where he was, and falling at his feet, she said to that supposed sage:

Brahman, here I am, that Jihvā whom you have discovered to be the thief of the wealth, and after I took it I buried it in the earth in a garden behind the palace, under a pomegranate-tree. So spare me, and receive the small quantity of gold which is in my possession.”

When Hariśarman heard that, he said to her proudly:

“Depart, I know all this; I know the past, present and future; but I will not denounce you, being a miserable creature that has implored my protection. But whatever gold is in your possession you must give back to me.”

When he said this to the maid, she consented, and departed quickly.

But Hariśarman reflected in his astonishment:

“Fate, if propitious, brings about, as if in sport, a thing that cannot be accomplished, for in this matter, when calamity was near, success has unexpectedly been attained by me. While I was blaming my tongue [jihvā] the thief Jihvā flung herself at my feet. Secret crimes, I see, manifest themselves by means of fear.”

In these reflections he passed the night happily in the chamber. And in the morning he brought the king by some skilful parade of pretended knowledge into the garden, and led him up to the treasure, which was buried there, and he said that the thief had escaped with a part of it. Then the king was pleased, and proceeded to give him villages.

But the minister, named Devajñānin, whispered in the king’s ear:

“How can a man possess such knowledge unattainable by men without having studied treatises? So you may be certain that this is a specimen of the way he makes a dishonest livelihood, by having a secret intelligence with thieves. So it will be better to test him by some new artifice.”

Then the king of his own accord brought a new-covered pitcher, into which he had thrown a frog, and said to that Hariśarman:

“Brāhman, if you can guess what there is in this pitcher I will do you great honour to-day.”

When the Brāhman Hariśarman heard that, he thought that his last hour had come, and he called to mind the pet name of “frog” which his father had given him in his childhood in sport, and impelled by the deity he apostrophised himself by it, lamenting his hard fate, and suddenly exclaimed there:

“This is a fine pitcher for you, frog, since suddenly it has become the swift destroyer of your helpless self in this place.”

The people there, when they heard that, made a tumult of applause, because his speech chimed in so well with the object presented to him, and murmured:

“Ah! a great sage; he knows even about the frog!”

Then the king, thinking that this was all due to knowledge of divination, was highly delighted, and gave Hariśarman villages, with gold, umbrella,[11] and vehicles of all kinds. And immediately Hariśarman became like a feudal chief.


39. Story of Tejasvatī

“Thus good objects are brought about by fate for those whose actions in a former life have been good. Accordingly Fate made that daughter of yours, Tejasvatī, approach Somadatta, a man of equal birth, and kept away one who was unsuited to her.”

Hearing this from the mouth of his minister, the King Vikramasena gave his daughter to that prince as if she were the Goddess of Fortune. Then the prince went and overcame his enemies by the help of his father-in-law’s host, and being established in his own kingdom, lived happily in the company of his wife.


[M] (main story line continued)

“So true is it that all this happens by the special favour of Fate; who on earth would be able to join you, lovely as you are, with the King of Vatsa, though a suitable match for you, without the help of Fate? What can I do in this matter, friend Kaliṅgasenā?”

Kaliṅgasena, hearing this story in private from the mouth of Somaprabhā, became eager in her soul for union with the King of Vatsa, and, in her aspirations after him, began to feel in a less degree the fear of her relations and the warnings of modesty. Then the sun, the great lamp of the three worlds, being about to set, Somaprabhā, the daughter of the Asura Maya, having with difficulty taken leave, until her morning return, of her friend, whose mind was fixed upon her proposed attempt, went through the air to her own home.


Footnotes and references:


See Vol. II, p. 212n1.—n.m.p.


See Vol. I, p. 79n1.—n.m.p.


See Vol. I, pp. 87-88.— n.m.p.


This has already been described in greater detail in Vol. I, pp. 97-100.—N.M.P.


For examples of falling in love by mere description see Chauvin, Bibliographic des Outrages Arabes, v, p. 132. The ten stages of Hindu lovesickness have already been described in Vol. II, p. 9n2 Cf. also the humorous story of “The Unwise Schoolmaster who fell in Love by Report,” Nights, Burton, vol. v, pp. 117, 118; and ditto, vol. ix, p. 222, “Ibrahim and Jamilah.”—N.M.P.


Cf. the Pañcatantra, Benfey, vol. ii, p. 183 (first part of the fourth book), where the merchant’s son becomes the lover of the princess in mistake for someone else. When she discovers her error she lets him go on his uttering a maxim about predestination being the lot of man. This resembles the saying of Somadatta in the “Story of Phalabhūti” (No. 24 of this work, Vol. II, p. 97).

There is a very slight resemblance to the Decameron, day 2, nov. 2, where Rinaldo takes the place of the Marquis Azzo, but in this case the fair lady is merely using Rinaldo as a “second best.”—n.m.p.


This is well known in India now. A crow alighted on a palm-tree when just about to fall, and so it appeared that his weight made it fall. For this and many other hints I am indebted to Paṇḍit S. C. Mookerjea, of the Hindu School.


Benfey considers that this, as well as “Haripriya,” means “blockhead” (Orient und Occident, vol. i, p. 374).


A MS. in the Sanskrit College reads jñānavijña —i.e. “the knowing one,” “the astrologer.”


This word means “tongue.”


See Vol. II, p. 263 et seq.—n.m.p.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: