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 ...


MAY the head of Śiva, studded with the nails of Gaurī engaged in playfully pulling his hair, and so appearing rich in many moons,[1] procure you prosperity.

May the God of the Elephant Face,[2] who, stretching forth his trunk wet with streaming ichor, curved at the extremity, seems to be bestowing successes, protect you.


[M] (Main story line continued) Thus the young son of the King of Vatsa, having married in Kauśāmbī Madanamañcukā, whom he loved as his life, remained living as he chose, with his ministers Gomukha and others, having obtained his wish.

And once on a time, when the feast of spring had arrived, adorned with the gushing notes of love-intoxicated cuckoos, in which the wind from the Malaya mountain set in motion by force the dance of the creepers, the feast of spring delightful with the hum of bees, the prince went to the garden with his ministers to amuse himself.

After roaming about there, his friend Tapantaka suddenly came, with his eyes expanded with delight, and stepping up to him said:

“Prince, I have seen not far from here a wonderful maiden, who has descended from heaven and is standing under an aśoka- tree, and that very maiden, who illumines the regions with her beauty, advancing towards me with her friends, sent me here to summon you.”

When Naravāhanadatta heard that, being eager to see her, he went quickly with his ministers to the foot of the tree. He beheld there that fair one, with her rolling eyes like bees, with her lips red like shoots, beautiful with breasts firm as clusters, having her body yellow with the dust of flowers, removing fatigue by her loveliness,[3] like the goddess of the garden appearing in a visible shape suited to her deity. And the prince approached the heavenly maiden, who bowed before him, and welcomed her, for his eyes were ravished with her beauty.

Then his minister Gomukha, after all had sat down, asked her:

“Who are you, auspicious one, and for what reason have you come here?”

When she heard that, she laid aside her modesty in obedience to the irresistible decree of Love, and frequently stealing sidelong glances at the lotus of Naravāhanadatta’s face, with an eye that shed matchless affection, she began thus at length to relate her own history.


49. Story of Ratnaprabhā

There is a mountain-chain called Himavat, famous in the three worlds; it has many peaks, but one of its peaks is the mount of Śiva, which is garlanded with the brightness of glittering jewels, and flashes with gleaming snow, and, like the expanse of the heaven, cannot be measured. Its plateaux are the home of magic powers and of magic herbs, which dispel old age, death and fear, and are to be obtained by the favour of Śiva. With its peaks yellow with the brightness of the bodies of many Vidyādharas, it transcends the glory of the peaks of Sumeru itself, the mighty hill of the immortals.

On it there is a golden city called Kāñcanaśṛṅga, which gleams refulgent with brightness, like the palace of the Sun. It extends many yojanas,[4] and in it there lives a king of the Vidyādharas named Hemaprabha, who is a firm votary of the husband of Umā. And though he has many wives he has only one queen, whom he loves dearly, named Alaṅkāraprabhā, as dear to him as Rohiṇī to the moon. With her the virtuous king used to rise up in the morning and bathe, and worship duly Śiva and his wife Gaurī, and then he would descend to the world of men, and give to poor Brāhmans every day a thousand gold pieces mixed with jewels. And then he returned from earth and attended to his kingly duties justly, and then he ate and drank, abiding by his vow like a hermit.

While days elapsed in this way, melancholy arose once in the bosom of the king, caused by his childlessness, but suggested by a passing occasion. And his beloved Queen Alaṅkāraprabhā, seeing that he was in very low spirits, asked him the cause of his sadness. Then the king said to her:

“I have all prosperity, but the one grief of childlessness afflicts me, O Queen. And this melancholy has arisen in my breast on the occasion of calling to mind a tale, which I heard long ago, of a virtuous man who had no son.”

Then the queen said to him: “Of what nature was that tale?”

When asked this question, the king told her the tale briefly in the following words:—


49a. Sattvaśīla and the Two Treasures

In the town of Citrakūṭa there was a king named Brāhmaṇavara, rightly named, for he was devoted to honouring Brāhmans. He had a victorious servant named Sattvaśīla, who devoted himself exclusively to war, and every month Sattvaśīla received a hundred gold pieces from that king. But, as he was munificent, that gold was not enough for him, especially as his childlessness made the pleasure of giving the sole pleasure to which he was addicted.

Sattvaśīla was continually reflecting:

“The Disposer has not given me a son to gladden me, but he has given me the vice of generosity, and that too without wealth. It is better to be produced in the world as an old barren tree or a stone than as a poor man altogether abandoned to the vice of giving away money.”

But once on a time Sattvaśīla, while wandering in a garden, happened by luck to find a treasure; and with the help of his servants he quickly brought home that hoard, which gleamed with much gold and glittered with priceless stones. Out of that he provided himself with pleasures, and gave wealth to Brāhmans, slaves and friends, and thus the virtuous man spent his life.

Meanwhile his relations, beholding this, guessed the secret, and went to the king’s palace, and of their own accord informed the king that Sattvaśīla had found a treasure. Then Sattvaśīla was summoned by the king, and by order of the doorkeeper remained standing for a moment in a lonely part of the king’s courtyard. There, as he was scratching the earth with the hilt of a līlāvajra[5] that was in his hand, he found another large treasure in a copper vessel. It appeared like his own heart, displayed openly for him by Destiny, pleased with his virtue, in order that he might propitiate the king with it. So he covered it up again with earth as it was before, and when summoned by the doorkeeper entered the king’s presence.

When he had made his bow there, the king himself said:

“I have come to learn that you have obtained a treasure, so surrender it to me.”

And Sattvaśīla for his part answered him then and there:

“O King, tell me: shall I give you the first treasure I found, or the one I found today?”

The king said to him:

“Give the one recently found.”

And thereupon Sattvaśīla went to a corner of the king’s courtyard and gave him up the treasure.

Then the king, being pleased with the treasure, dismissed Sattvaśīla with these words:

“Enjoy the first-found treasure as you please.”

So Sattvaśīla returned to his house. There he remained, increasing the propriety of his name with gifts and enjoyments, and so managing to dispel somehow or other the melancholy caused by the affliction of childlessness.


49. Story of Ratnaprabhā

“Such is the story of Sattvaśīla, which I heard long ago, and because I have recalled it to mind I remain sorrowful through thinking over the fact that I have no son.”

When the Queen Alaṅkāraprabhā was thus addressed by her husband Hemaprabha, the King of the Vidyādharas, she answered him:

“It is true. Fortune does assist the brave in this way. Did not Sattvaśīla, when in difficulties, obtain a second treasure? So you too will obtain your desire by the power of your courage. As an example of the truth of this, hear the story of Vikramatuṅga.


49 b. The Brave King Vikramatuṅga

There is a city called Pāṭaliputra, the ornament of the earth, filled with various beautiful jewels, the colours of which are so disposed as to form a perfect scale of colour. In that city there dwelt long ago a brave king named Vikramatuṅga, who in giving[6] never turned his back on a suppliant, nor in fighting on an enemy. That king one day entered the forest to hunt and saw there a Brāhman offering a sacrifice with vilva[7] fruits. When he saw him he was desirous to question him, but avoided going near him, and went off to a great distance with his army in his ardour for the chase. For a long time he sported with deer and lions, that rose up and fell slain by his hand, as if with foes,[8] and then he returned and beheld the Brāhman still intent on his sacrifice as before, and going up to him he bowed before him, and asked him his name and the advantage he hoped to derive from offering the vilva fruits.

Then the Brāhman blessed the king and said to him:

“I am a Brāhman named Nāgaśarman, and hear the fruit I hope from my sacrifice. When the God of Fire is pleased with this vilva sacrifice, then vilva fruits of gold will come out of the fire-cavity. Then the God of Fire will appear in bodily form and grant me a boon; and so I have spent much time in offering vilva fruits. But so little is my merit that even now the God of Fire is not propitiated.”[9]

When he said this, that king of resolute valour answered him:

“Then give me one vilva fruit that I may offer it, and I will to-day, O Brāhman, render the God of Fire propitious to you.”

Then the Brāhman said to the king:

“How will you, unchastened and impure, propitiate that God of Fire, who is not satisfied with me, who remain thus faithful to my vow and am chastened?”

When the Brāhman said this to him, the king said to him again:

“Never mind; give me a vilva fruit and in a moment you shall behold a wonder.”

Then the Brāhman, full of curiosity, gave a vilva fruit to the king, and he then and there meditated with soul of firm valour:

“If thou art not satisfied with this vilva fruit, O God of Fire, then I will offer thee my own head,”

and thereupon offered the fruit. And the seven-rayed god appeared from the sacrificial cavity, bringing the king a golden vilva fruit as the fruit of his tree of valour.

And the Fire God, present in visible form, said to that king:

“I am pleased with thy courage, so receive a boon, O King.”

When the magnanimous king heard that, he bowed before him, and said:

“Grant this Brāhman his wish. What other boon do I require?”

On hearing this speech of the king’s the Fire God was much pleased, and said to him:

“O King, this Brāhman shall become a great lord of wealth, and thou also by my favour shalt have the prosperity of thy treasury ever undiminished.”

When the Fire God had, in these words, bestowed the boon, the Brāhman asked him this question:

“Thou hast appeared swiftly to a king that acts according to his own will, but not to me that am under vows: why is this, O revered one?”

Then the Fire God, the giver of boons, answered:

“If I had not granted him an interview this king of fierce courage would have offered his head in sacrifice to me. In this world successes quickly befall those of fierce spirit, but they come slowly, O Brāhman, to those of dull spirit like thee.”

Thus spake the God of Fire, and vanished, and the Brāhman Nāgaśarman took leave of the king, and in course of time became very rich. But the King Vikramatuṅga, whose courage had been thus seen by his dependents, returned amid their plaudits to his town of Pāṭaliputra.

When the king was dwelling there, the warder Śatruñjaya entered suddenly one day and said secretly to him:

“There is standing at the door, O King, a Brāhman lad, who says his name is Dattaśarman; he wishes to make a representation to you in private.”

The king gave the order to introduce him, and the lad was introduced, and after blessing the king he bowed before him and sat down. And he made this representation:

“King, by a certain device of powder I know how to make always excellent gold out of copper. [see notes on the history of alchemy] For that device was shown me by my spiritual teacher, and I saw with my own eyes that he made gold by that device.”

When the lad said this, the king ordered copper to be brought, and when it was melted the lad threw the powder upon it. But while the powder was being thrown an invisible Yakṣa carried it off, and the king alone saw him, having propitiated the God of Fire. And that copper did not turn into gold, as the powder did not reach it; thrice did the lad make the attempt and thrice his labour was in vain. Then the king, first of brave men, took the powder from the desponding lad and himself threw it on the melted copper; when he threw the powder the Yakṣa did not intercept it, but went away smiling. Accordingly the copper became gold by contact with that powder. Then the boy, astonished, asked the king for an explanation, and the king told him the incident of the Yakṣa, just as he had seen it. And having learned in this way the device of the powder from that lad, the king made him marry a wife, and

gave him all he wished, and having his treasury prosperously filled by means of the gold produced by that device, he himself enjoyed great happiness, together with his wives, and made Brāhmans rich.


49. Story of Ratnaprabhā

“Thus you see that the Lord grants their desires to men of fierce courage, seeming to be either terrified or pleased by them. And who, O King, is of more firm valour or more generous than you? So Śiva, when propitiated by you, will certainly give you a son; do not sorrow.”

The King Hemaprabha, when he heard this noble speech from the mouth of Queen Alaṅkāraprabhā, believed it and was pleased. And he considered that his own heart, radiant with cheerfulness, indicated that he would certainly obtain a son by propitiating Śiva.

The next day after this he and his wife bathed and worshipped Śiva, and he gave ninety millions of gold pieces to the Brāhmans, and without taking food he went through ascetic practices in front of Śiva, determined that he would either leave the body or propitiate the god, and continuing in asceticism he praised the giver of boons, the husband of the daughter of the mountain,[10] that lightly gave away the sea of milk to his votary Upamanyu, saying:

“Honour to thee, O husband of Gaurī, who art the cause of the creation, preservation and destruction of the world, who dost assume the eight special forms of ether and the rest.[11] Honour to thee, who sleepest on the ever-expanded lotus of the heart, that art Śambhu, the swan dwelling in the pure Mānasa lake.[12] Honour to thee, the exceeding marvellous Moon, of divine brightness, pure, of watery substance, to be beheld by those whose sins are put away; to thee whose beloved is half thy body,[13] and who nevertheless art supremely chaste. Honour to thee, who didst create the world by a wish, and art thyself the world.”

When the king had praised Śiva in these words, and fasted for three nights, the god appeared to him in a dream and spake as follows:

“Rise up, O King. There shall be born to thee a heroic son that shall uphold thy race. And thou shalt also obtain by the favour of Gaurī a glorious daughter, who is destined to be the queen of that treasure-house of glory, Naravāhanadatta, your future emperor.”

When Śiva had said this he disappeared, and Hemaprabha woke up, delighted, at the close of night. And by telling his dream he gladdened his wife Alaṅkāraprabhā, who had been told the same by Gaurī in a dream, and dwelt on the agreement of the two visions. And then the king rose up and bathed and worshipped Śiva, and after giving gifts, broke his fast, and kept high festival.

Then, after some days had passed, the Queen Alaṅkāraprabhā became pregnant by that king, and delighted her beloved by her face redolent of honey, with wildly rolling The Birth of eyes, so that it resembled a pale lotus with bees Vajraprabha hovering round it. Then she gave birth in due time to a son (whose noble lineage was proclaimed by the elevated longings of her pregnancy), as the sky gives birth to the orb of day. As soon as he was born the lying-in chamber was illuminated by his might, and so was made red as vermilion. And his father gave to that infant, that brought terror to the families of his enemies, the name of Vajraprabha, that had been appointed for him by a divine voice. Then the boy grew by degrees, being filled with accomplishments, and causing the exultation of his family, as the new moon fills out with digits[14] and causes the sea to rise.

Then, not long after, the queen of that King Hemaprabha again became pregnant. And when she was pregnant she sat upon a golden throne and became truly the jewel of the harem, adding special lustre to her settings. And in a chariot, in the shape of a beautiful lotus, manufactured by help of magic science, she roamed about in the sky, since her pregnant longings assumed that form.[15] But when the due time came a daughter was born to that queen, whose birth by the favour of Gaurī was a sufficient guarantee of her loveliness.

And this voice was then heard from heaven:

“She shall be the wife of Naravāhanadatta,”

which agreed with the words of Śiva’s revelation. And the king was just as much delighted at her birth as he was at that of his son, and gave her the name of Ratnaprabhā.

And Ratnaprabhā, adorned with her own science, grew up in the house of her father, producing illumination in all the quarters of the sky. Then the king made his son Vajraprabha, who had begun to wear armour, take a wife, and appointed him Crown Prince. And he devolved on him the burden of the kingdom, and remained at ease; but still one anxiety lingered in his heart, anxiety about the marriage of his daughter.

One day the king beheld that daughter, who was fit to be given away in marriage, sitting near him, and said to the Queen Alaṅkāraprabhā, who was in his presence:

“Observe, Queen, a daughter is a great misery in the three worlds, even though she is the ornament of her family—a misery, alas! even to the great. For this Ratnaprabhā, though modest, learned, young and beautiful, afflicts me because she has not obtained a husband.”

The queen said to him:

“She was proclaimed by the gods as the destined wife of Naravāhanadatta, our future emperor; why is she not given to him?”

When the queen said this to him, the king answered:

“In truth the maiden is fortunate that shall obtain him for a bridegroom. For he is an incarnation of Kāma upon earth. But he has not as yet attained his divine nature; therefore I am now waiting for his attainment of superhuman knowledge.”[16]

While he was thus speaking, Ratnaprabhā, by means of those accents of her father, which entered her ear like the words of the bewildering spell of the God of Love, became as if bewildered, as if possessed, as if asleep, as if in a picture, and her heart was captivated by that bridegroom. Then with difficulty she took a respectful leave of her parents, and went to her own private apartments, and managed at length to get to sleep at the end of the night.

Then the goddess Gaurī, being full of pity for her, gave her this command in a dream:

“To-morrow, my daughter, is an auspicious day; so thou must go to the city of Kauśāmbī and see thy future husband; and thence thy father, O auspicious one, will himself bring thee and him into this his city, and celebrate your marriage.”

So in the morning, when she woke up, she told that dream to her mother. Then her mother gave her leave to go, and she, knowing by her superhuman knowledge that her bridegroom was in the garden, set out from her own city to visit him.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“Thou knowest, O my husband, that I am that Ratnaprabhā, arrived to-day in a moment, full of impatience, and you all know the sequel.”

When he heard this speech of hers, that in sweetness exceeded nectar, and beheld the body of the Vidyādharī that was ambrosia to the eyes, Naravāhanadatta in his heart blamed the Creator, saying to himself:

“Why did he not make me all eye and ear?”

And he said to her:

“Fortunate am I; my birth and life has obtained its fruit, in that I, O beautiful one, have been thus visited by thee out of affection!”

When they had thus exchanged the protestations of new love, suddenly the army of the Vidyādharas was beheld there in the heaven.

Ratnaprabhā said immediately: “Here is my father come.”

And the King Hemaprabha descended from heaven with his son. And with his son Vajraprabha he approached that Naravāhanadatta, who gave him a courteous welcome. And while they stood for a moment paying one another the customary compliments, the King of Vatsa, who had heard of it, came with his ministers.

And then that Hemaprabha told the king, after he had performed towards him the rites of hospitality, the whole story exactly as it had been related by Ratnaprabhā, and said:

“I knew by the power of my supernatural knowledge that my daughter had come here, and I am aware of all that has happened in this place.[17]. . . .

For he will afterwards possess such an imperial chariot. Pray consent, and then thou shalt behold in a short time thy son, the prince returned here, united to his wife Ratnaprabhā.”

After he had addressed this prayer to the King of Vatsa, and he had consented to his wish, that Hemaprabha, with his son, prepared that chariot by his own magic skill and made Naravāhanadatta ascend it, together with Ratnaprabhā, whose face was cast down from modesty, followed by Gomukha and the others, and Yaugandharāyaṇa, who was also deputed to accompany him by his father, and thus Hemaprabha took him to his own capital, Kāñcanaśṛṅgaka.

And Naravāhanadatta, when he reached that city of his father-in-law, saw that it was all of gold, gleaming with golden ramparts, embraced, as it were, on all sides with rays issuing out like shoots, and so stretching forth innumerable arms in eagerness of love for that son-in-law. There the King Hemaprabha, of high enterprise, gave Ratnaprabhā with due ceremonies to him, as the sea gave Lakṣmī to Viṣṇu. And he gave him glittering heaps of jewels, gleaming like innumerable wedding fires lighted.[18] And in the city of that festive prince,

who was showering wealth, even the houses, being draped with flags, appeared as if they had received changes of raiment. And Naravāhanadatta, having performed the auspicious ceremony of marriage, remained there enjoying heavenly pleasures with Ratnaprabhā. And he amused himself by looking in her company at beautiful temples of the gods in gardens and lakes, having ascended with her the heaven by the might of her science.

So, after he had lived some days with his wife in the city of the King of the Vidyādharas, the son of the King of Vatsa determined, in accordance with the advice of Yaugandharāyaṇa, to return to his own city. Then his mother-in-law performed for him the auspicious ceremonies previous to starting, and his father-in-law again honoured him and his minister, and then he set out with Hemaprabha and his son, accompanied by his beloved, having again ascended that chariot. He soon arrived, like a stream of nectar to the eyes of his mother, and entered his city with Hemaprabha and his son and his own followers, bringing with him his wife, who made the King of Vatsa rejoice exceedingly with delight at beholding her. The King of Vatsa, of exalted fortune, with Vāsavadattā, welcomed that son, who bowed at his feet with his wife, and honoured Hemaprabha his new connection, as well as his son, in a manner conformable to his own dignity. Then, after that King of the Vidyādharas, Hemaprabha, had taken leave of the lord of Vatsa and his family, and had flown up into the heaven and gone to his own city, that Naravāhanadatta, together with Ratnaprabhā and Madanamañcukā, spent that day in happiness surrounded by his friends.

Footnotes and references:


The cédille under the c of candra should be erased in Dr Brockhaus’s text.


Gaṇeśa, who bestows success or the reverse, and is invoked in all undertakings. I read karan dānāmbhasā.


The word also means “shade.”


See Vol. I, p. 8nl.—n.m.p.


I have no idea what this word līlāvajra means. It is translated by Böhtlingk and Roth: ein wie ein Donnerkeil aussehendes Werkzeug.


Possibly there is a pun here; dāna, “giving” also means “cutting.”


The fruit of the Bel, well known to Anglo-Indians.


B. reads kaṇṭhakaiḥ for kandukaiḥ. Thus in the D. text the simile is one of playing with the ball. As the king kills in the sport of the chase so he gives the impression of playing with balls; utpatati denotes the “rising up” of the wounded or hunted deer and at the same time the jumping of the ball; both patanti, the animals when hit and unable to arise from the ground, the balls when coming down. See Speyer, op. cit., p. 111.—n.m.p.


For references to fire-worship see Vol. II, pp. 256, 257. On p. 256 I described the three fires as vaḍavāgni, laukikāgni and vṛka. These are, however, the three fires of modern Brāhman ritual. The Vedic fires which I should have mentioned are: gārhapatya, dakṣiṇa and the āhavanīya. In Manu (iii, 100, 185) two additional fires are also given: sabhya and āvasathya; but the first three, collectively known as tretā, are the most important.—n.m.p.


Pārvatī or Durgā, the wife of Śiva.


The others are the Sun, Fire, Water, Earth, Air, the Moon and the officiating Brāhman. For the latter is sometimes substituted paśupati, or lord of animals.


Possibly it also means “the swan of the temple of the mind.”


An allusion to the Ardha-nārīśvara form of Śiva.


Kalā, “digit of the moon” and also “accomplishment.”


For the dohada motif or “Longings of the Pregnant Woman” see Vol. I, Appendix III, pp. 221-228.—n.m.p.


The vidyā of the Vidyādharas. I read pratīkṣyate.


Here Professor Brockhaus suspects a hiatus.


Cf. this with the “jewel-lamps” in Vol. II, pp. 161-169, and on pp. 131n3, 132n of this volume, and with the luminous carbuncle in Gesta Romanorum, cvii. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, Book II, chap. v, says:

“Whether a carbuncle doth flame in the dark, or shine like a coal in the night, though generally agreed on by common believers, is very much questioned by many.”

See also Simrock’s Deutsche Volksbūcher, vol. i, p. 301; vol. iii, p. 12; vol. vi, p. 289. Lucian in his De Dea Syria, chap. xxxii, speaks of a precious stone of the name of λυχνίς, which was bright enough to light up a whole temple at night. We read in the history of the Pseudo-Callisthenes, Book II, chap. xlii, that Alexander found in the belly of a fish a precious stone which he had set in gold and used at night as a lamp. See also Baring-Gould’s CArious Myths of the Middle Ages, p. 42; Gaal, Märchen der Magyaren, p. 155; Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, iii, 14.——To the references given above I would add Clouston, Flowers from a PErsian Garden, 1894, pp. 196-197; and Chauvin, op. cit., v, p. 4n1.—n.m.p.

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