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 Marubhūti, perceiving that Naravāhanadatta was pleased with the tale of Gomukha, in order to rival him, said:

“Women are generally fickle, but not always, for even courtesans are seen to be rich in good qualities, much more others. In proof of this, King, hear this famous tale.


52. Story of King Vikramāditya and the Courtesan

There was in Pāṭaliputra a king named Vikramāditya; he had two cherished friends, the King Hayapati,[1] and the King Gajapati,[2] who had large armies of horses and elephants. And that proud sovereign had a mighty enemy named Narasiṃha,[3] the lord of Pratiṣṭhāna, a king who had a large force of infantry.

Being angry with that enemy, and puffed up on account of the power of his allies, Vikramāditya rashly made this vow:

“I will so completely conquer that king, the lord of men, that the heralds and bards shall proclaim him at the door as my slave.”

Having made this vow, he summoned those allies, Hayapati and Gajapati, and, accompanied with a large force, shaking the earth with elephants and horses, marched with them to make a fierce attack on the lord of men, Narasiṃha.

When he arrived near Pratiṣṭhāna, Narasiṃha, the lord of men, put on his armour and went out to meet him. Then there took place between the two kings a battle that excited wonder, in which footmen fought with elephants and horses. And at last the army of Vikramāditya was routed by the forces of Narasiṃha, the lord of men, which contained many scores of footmen. And Vikramāditya, being routed, fled to his city Pāṭaliputra, and his two allies fled to their own countries. And Narasiṃha, the lord of men, entered his own city Pratiṣṭhāna, accompanied by heralds who praised his might.

Then Vikramāditya, not having gained his end, thought:

“Well, as that enemy is not to be conquered by arms, I will conquer him by policy; let some blame me if they like, but let not my oath be made void.”

Thus reflecting, he entrusted his kingdom to suitable ministers, and secretly went out of the city with one chief minister, named Buddhivara, and with five hundred well-born and brave Rājpūts, and in the disguise of a candidate for service[4] went to Pratiṣṭhāna, the city of his enemy. There he entered the splendid mansion[5] of a beautiful courtesan named Madanamālā, that resembled the palace of a king. It seemed to invite him with the silk of its banners, hoisted on the pinnacles of high ramparts, the points of which waved to and fro in the soft breeze.

It was guarded at the principal entrance, the east door, day and night, by twenty thousand footmen, equipped with all kinds of weapons. At each of the other three doors, looking towards the other cardinal points, it was defended by ten thousand warriors ever on the qui vive. In such guise the king entered, proclaimed by the warders, the enclosure of the palace, which, was divided into seven zones. In one zone it was adorned with many long lines of horses. In another the path was impeded by dense troops of elephants. In another it was surrounded with an imposing array of dense weapons. In another it was resplendent with many treasure-houses, that gleamed with the flash of jewels. In another a circle was always formed by a dense crowd of attendants. In another it was full of the noise of many bards reciting aloud, and in another resounding with the sound of drums beaten in concert. Beholding all these sights, the king at last reached, with his retinue, the splendid edifice in which Madanamālā dwelt.

She having heard with great interest from her attendants that, as he passed through the zones, the horses and other creatures were cured of their wounds,[6] thought that he must be some great one in disguise, and so she went to meet him, and bowed before him with love and curiosity, and bringing him in, seated him on a throne fit for a king. The king’s heart was ravished by her beauty, gracefulness and courtesy, and he saluted her without revealing who he was.

Then Madanamālā honoured that king with costly baths, flowers, perfumes, garments and ornaments. And she gave daily subsistence to those followers of his, and feasted him and his minister with all kinds of viands. And she spent the day with him in drinking and other diversions, and surrendered herself to him, having fallen in love with him at first sight. Vikramāditya, being thus entertained by her, day by day, continued, though in disguise, to live in a style suited to an emperor. And whatever and howmuchsoever wealth he was in the habit of giving to suppliants, Madanamālā gladly furnished him with from her own store. And she thought her body and wealth well employed while enjoyed by him, and she remained averse to gain and to other men. For out of love to him she even kept off, by stratagems, Narasiṃha, the king of that land, who came there, being enamoured of her.

While the king was being waited on in this fashion by Madanamālā he one day said in secret to his minister Buddhivara, who accompanied him:

“A courtesan desires wealth, and not even if she feels love does she become attached without it, for when Providence framed suitors he bestowed greed on these women. But this Madanamālā, though her wealth is being consumed by me, through her great love is not estranged from me; on the contrary, she delights in me. So how can I now make her a recompense, in order that my vow may in course of time be fully accomplished?”

When the minister Buddhivara heard this, he said to the king:

“If this be so, give her some of those priceless jewels which the mendicant Prapañcabuddhi gave you.”

When the king heard that, he answered him:

“If I were to give them all to her I should not have made her a recompense worth speaking of; but I can free myself from obligation in another way, which is connected also with the story of that mendicant.”

When the minister heard this, he said:

“King, why did that mendicant court you? Tell me his story.”

When his minister Buddhivara preferred this request, the king said:

“Listen; I will tell you his story.


52a. King Vikramāditya and the Treacherous Mendicant

Long ago a mendicant named Prapañcabuddhi used to enter my hall of audience in Pāṭaliputra every day and give me a box. For a whole year I gave these boxes, just as they were, unopened, into the hand of my treasurer. One day one of these boxes presented by the mendicant by chance fell from my hand on to the ground and burst open. And a great jewel fell out of it, glittering like fire, and it appeared as if it were the mendicant’s heart, which I had not discerned before, revealed by him. When I saw that, I took it, and I had those other boxes brought which he had presented to me, and opened them, and took a jewel out of every one of them.

Then in astonishment I asked Prapañcabuddhi: “Why do you court me with such splendid jewels?”

Then the mendicant took me aside and said to me:

“On the fourteenth day of the black fortnight now approaching I have to perform a certain incantation at nightfall, in a cemetery outside this town. I desire you, my hero, to come and take part in that enterprise, for success is easily obtained when the obstacles to it are swept away by the aid of a hero.”

When the mendicant said this to me I agreed. So he went off delighted, and in a few days the fourteenth night of the black fortnight came and I remembered the speech of that ascetic.[7] Then I performed my daily observances and waited for the night, and after I had recited the evening prayer it happened that I rapidly fell asleep.

Then the adorable Hari, who is compassionate to his votaries, appeared to me in a dream, mounted on Garuḍa, with his breast marked with a lotus, and thus commended me:

“My son, this Prapañcabuddhi[8] is rightly named, for he will inveigle you into the cemetery to take part in the incantation of the circle[9] and will offer you up as a victim. So do not do what he tells you to do with the object of slaying you, but say to him: ‘You do it first, and when I have learned the way I will do it.’ Then, as he is showing you the way, take advantage of the opportunity and slay him immediately, and you will acquire the power that he desires to obtain.”

When Viṣṇu had said this he disappeared, and I woke up and thought:

“By the favour of Hari I have detected that magician, and this day I must slay him.”

Having thus reflected, when the first watch of the night was gone, I went, sword in hand, alone to that cemetery. There I beheld that mendicant, who had performed the ceremony of the circle incantation, and when the treacherous fellow saw me he welcomed me, and said:

“King, close your eyes and fall at full length on the ground with your face downwards, and in this way both of us will attain our ends.”

Then I answered him:

“Do it yourself first. Show me how to do it, and after I have learned I will do precisely as you do.”[10]

When the mendicant heard that, like a fool he fell on the earth, and I cut off his head with a stroke of my sword.

Then a voice was heard from the air:

“Bravo, King! By offering up to-day this rascally mendicant thou hast obtained the power of going through the air, which he wished to obtain. I, the God of Wealth, that move about at will, am pleased with thy courage. So ask me for another boon, whatever thou mayest desire.”

After saying this he manifested himself, and I, bowing before him, said:

“When I shall supplicate thee, adorable one, thou shalt appear on my thinking of thee, and grant me a suitable boon.”

The God of Wealth said: “So be it,” and disappeared. And having obtained magic power, I went back quickly to my own palace.


52. Story of King Vikramāditya and the Courtesan

“Thus I have told you my adventure, so by means of that boon of Kuvera I must now recompense Madanamālā. So you must now go back to Pāṭaliputra, taking with you my disguised Rājpūt retinue, and I, as soon as I have in a novel way recompensed my beloved, will immediately go there, with the intention of returning here.”

Having said this, and having performed his daily duties, the king dismissed his minister with his retinue. He said, “So be it,” and departed; and the king spent that night with Madanamālā, anxious about his approaching separation. She too, embracing him frequently, because her heart seemed to tell her that he was going to a distance, did not sleep all that night.

In the morning the king, having performed all his necessary duties, entered a chapel for the daily worship of the gods, on the pretence of repeating prayers.

And there the God of Wealth appeared before him on his thinking of him, and bowing before him the king craved that boon formerly promised, in the following words:

“O god, give me here to-day, in accordance with that boon which you promised me, five great indestructible golden figures of men,[11] such that, though their limbs may be continually cut off for any desired use, those limbs will grow again, exactly as before.”

The God of Wealth said:

“Even so; be there unto thee five such figures as thou desirest!”

Having said this, he immediately disappeared. And the king immediately beheld those five great golden figures of men suddenly standing in the chapel; then he went out delighted, and, not forgetting his promise, he flew up into the air and went to his city of Pāṭaliputra. There he was welcomed by his ministers and the citizens and his wives, and he remained engaged in his kingly duties, while his heart was far away in Pratiṣṭhāna.

In the meanwhile, in Pratiṣṭhāna, that beloved of his entered that chapel to see her love, who had entered it long before. And when she entered she did not perceive that beloved king anywhere, but she beheld five gigantic golden figures of men.

When she saw them, and did not find him, she reflected in her grief:

“Surely that love of mine was some Vidyādhara or Gandharva, who bestowed upon me these men and flew away up to heaven. So what am I to do with these figures, which are all a mere burden, now that I am deprived of him?”

Thus reflecting, she asked her servants over and over again for news of him, and went out and roamed about her domain. And she found no satisfaction anywhere, either in the palaces, the gardens, the chambers or other places; but she kept lamenting, grieved at being separated from her lover, ready to abandon the body.

Her attendants tried to comfort her, saying:

“Do not despair, mistress, for he is some god roaming about at will, and when he pleases he will return to you, fair one.”

With such hope-inspiring words did they at length so far console her that she made this vow:

“If in six months he does not grant me to behold him I will give away all my property and enter the fire.”

With this promise she fortified herself, and remained every day giving alms, thinking on that beloved of hers. And one day she cut off both the arms of one of those golden men and gave them to the Brāhmans, being intent on charity only. And the next day she perceived with astonishment that both arms had grown again, exactly as they were before. Then she proceeded to cut off the arms of the others, to give them away; and the arms of all of them grew again as they were before. Then she saw that they were indestructible, and every day she cut off the arms of the figures and gave them to studious Brāhmans, according to the number of Vedas they had read.

And in a few days a Brāhman, named Saṅgrāmadatta, having heard the fame of her bounty, which was spread abroad in every direction, came from Pāṭaliputra. He, being poor, but acquainted with four Vedas, and endowed with virtues, entered into her presence desiring a gift, being announced by the doorkeepers. She gave him as many arms of the golden figures as he knew Vedas, after bowing before him with limbs emaciated with her vow and pale with separation from her beloved. Then the Brāhman, having heard from her sorrow-stricken attendants the whole of her story, ending in that very terrible vow, was delighted, but at the same time despondent, and loading two camels with those golden arms went to his native city, Pāṭaliputra.

Then that Brāhman, thinking that his gold would not be safe there unless guarded by the king, entered the king’s presence and said to him, while he was sitting in the hall of judgment:

“Here I am, O great King, a Brāhman who am an inhabitant of thy town. I, being poor, and desiring wealth, went to the southern clime, and arrived at a city named Pratiṣṭhāna, belonging to King Narasiṃha. There, being desirous of a donation, I went to the house of Madanamālā, a courtesan of distinguished fame. For with her there lived long some divine being, who departed somewhere or other, after giving her five indestructible figures of men. Then the high-spirited woman became afflicted at his departure, and considering life to be poison-agony, and the body, that fruitless accumulation of delusion, to be merely a punishment for thieving, lost her patience, and being with difficulty consoled by her attendants, made this vow: ‘If in the space of six months he does not visit me, I must enter the fire, my soul being smitten by adversity.’

“Having made this vow, she, being resolved on death, and desiring to perform good actions, gives away every day very large gifts. And I beheld her, King, with tottering feet, conspicuous for the beauty of her person, though it was thin from fasting; with hand moistened with the water of giving, surrounded with maids like clustering bees, sorely afflicted, looking like the incarnation of the mast condition of the elephant of love.[12] And I think that lover who deserts her, and causes by his absence that fair one to abandon the body, deserves blame, indeed deserves death. She to-day gave to me, who know the four Vedas, four golden arms of human figures, according to right usage, proportioning her gift to the number of my Vedas. So I wish to purify my house with sacrifice and to follow a life of religion here; therefore let the king grant me protection.”

The King Vikramāditya, hearing these tidings of his beloved from the mouth of the Brāhman, had his mind suddenly turned towards her. And he commanded his doorkeeper to do what the Brāhman wished, and thinking how constant was the affection of his mistress, who valued her life as stubble, and in his impatience supposing that she would be able to assist him in accomplishing his vow, and remembering that the time fixed for her abandoning the body had almost arrived, he quickly committed his kingdom to the care of his ministers, and flying through the air reached Pratiṣṭhāna, and entered the house of his beloved. There he beheld his beloved, with raiment pellucid like the moonlight, having given her wealth away to Paṇḍits,[13] attenuated like a digit of the moon at the time of its change.

Madanamālā, for her part, on beholding him arrived unexpectedly, the quintessence of nectar to her eyes, was for a moment like one amazed. Then she embraced him, and threw round his neck the noose of her arms, as if fearing that he would escape again.

And she said to him with a voice the accents of which were choked with tears:

“Cruel one, why did you depart and forsake my innocent self?”

The king said: “Come, I will tell you in private,” and went inside with her, welcomed by her attendants. There he revealed to her who he was, and described his circumstances, how he came there to conquer King Narasiṃha by an artifice, and how, after slaying Prapañcabuddhi, he acquired the power of flying through the air, and how he was enabled to reward her by a boon that he obtained from the Lord of Wealth, and how, hearing tidings of her from a Brāhman, he had returned there.

Having told the whole story, beginning with the subject of his vow, he again said to her:

“So, my beloved, that King Narasiṃha, being very mighty, is not to be conquered by armies, and he contended with me in single combat, but I did not slay him, for I possess the power of flying in the air, and he can only go on the earth; for who that is a true Kṣatriya would desire to conquer in an unfair combat? The object of my vow is, that that king may be announced by the heralds as waiting at the door; do you assist me in that.”

When the courtesan heard this she said:

“I am honoured by your request.”

And summoning her heralds she said to them:

“When the King Narasiṃha shall come to my house, you must stand near the door with attentive eyes, and while he is entering you must say again and again: ‘King, Prince Narasiṃha is loyal and devoted to thee.’ And when he looks up and asks: ‘Who is here?’ you must immediately say to him: ‘Vikramāditya is here.’”

After giving them these orders she dismissed them, and then she said to the female warder:

“You must not prevent King Narasiṃha from entering here.”

After issuing these orders Madanamālā remained in a state of supreme felicity, having regained the lord of her life, and gave away her wealth fearlessly.

Then King Narasiṃha, having heard of that profuse liberality of hers, which was due to her possession of the golden figures, though he had given her up, came to visit her house.

And while he entered, not being forbidden by the warder, all the heralds shouted in a loud voice, beginning at the outer door:

“King, Prince Narasiṃha is submissive and devoted.”

When that sovereign heard that, he was angry and alarmed, and when he asked who was there, and found out that King Vikramāditya was there, he waited a moment and went through the following reflections:

“So this king has forced his way into my kingdom and carried out the vow he made long ago, that I should be announced at his door. In truth this king is a man of might, since he has thus beaten me to-day. And I must not slay him by force, since he has come alone to a house in my dominions. So I had better enter now.”

Having thus reflected, King Narasiṃha entered, announced by all the heralds. And King Vikramāditya, on beholding him enter with a smile on his face, rose up also with smiling countenance and embraced him. Then those two kings sat down and inquired after one another’s welfare, while Madanamālā stood by their side.

And in the course of conversation Narasiṃha asked Vikramāditya where he had obtained those golden figures. Then Vikramāditya told him the whole of that strange adventure of his, how he had slain the base ascetic and acquired the power of flying through the air, and how, by virtue of the boon of the God of Wealth, he had obtained five indestructible gigantic golden figures. Then King Narasiṃha chose that king for his friend, discovering that he was of great might, that he possessed the power of flying, and that he had a good heart. And having made him his friend, he welcomed him with the prescribed rites of hospitality, and taking him to his own palace, he entertained him with all the attentions paid to himself. And King Vikramāditya, after having been thus honoured, was dismissed by him and returned to the house of Madanamālā.

Then Vikramāditya, having accomplished his difficult vow by his courage and intelligence, determined to go to his own city. And Madanamālā, being unable to remain separated from him, was eager to accompany him, and with the intention of abandoning her native land she bestowed her dwelling upon the Brāhmans. Then Vikramāditya, the moon of kings, went with her, whose mind was exclusively fixed on him, to his own city of Pāṭaliputra, followed by her elephants, horses and footmen. There he remained in happiness (accompanied by Madanamālā, who had abandoned her own country for his love), having formed an alliance with King Narasiṃha.


[M] (main story line continued)

“Thus, King, even courtesans are occasionally of noble character and as faithful to kings as their own wives, much more than matrons of high birth.”

On hearing this noble tale from the mouth of Marubhūti, the King Naravāhanadatta and his new wife Ratnaprabhā, sprung from the glorious race of the Vidyādharas, were much delighted.

Footnotes and references:


I.e. lord of horses.


I.e. lord of elephants.


I.e. man-lion.


Kārpaṭika: for the use of this word see Chapters XXIV, LXIII and LXXXI of this work.


As we have already seen (Vol. I, pp. 233, 234, 249), Indian prostitutes often acquired great power and wealth, and were at certain periods held in high esteem. Many are the temples that have been enriched by their gifts, and the stone inscriptions that have been raised to their memory. See, for instance, Bombay Gazetteer, vol. i, Part II, 1896, pp. 372, 394; also L. D. Barnett, Epigraphia Indica, vol. xv, p. 81, where many references are given.

Madanamālā was obviously a gaṇikā, the highest class of courtesan, corresponding to the Hetæræ of the Greeks (see Athenæus, Book XIII). In fiction they hold an important place, and are often represented as highly intellectual, generous, and of noble character. Cf., for instance, the character of Vasantasenā in the Mṛcchakaṭika; Vasantatilakā, a great friend of Princess Ratnamañjarī in the Kathākoça, p. 151; the maternal Kuberasenā in the Pariśiṣṭaparvan, ii, 225 et seq.; and the prostitute in the Prabandha-cintāmaṇi who was “a storehouse of intellect,” and for whom the king considered “a kingdom would be too small a present.” In the same collection we read (p. 116) of Cāulādevī, who is described as “a famous vessel of beauty and merit, excelling even matrons of good family.” See further Bloomfield, “The Character and Adventures of Mūladeva,” Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc., vol. Iii, 1913, pp. 630, 631.— n.m.p.


I follow sākūtam, the reading of the MS. in the Sanskrit College. So the wounds of Sir Urre of Huṅgary were healed, as soon as they were handled by the valiant Sir Launcelot (La Mort d'Arthure, vol. iii, p. 270).——Cf also Odyssey, xix, 457, and see Crooke, “Some Notes on Homeric Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore, vol. xix, 1908, p. 73. The B. text was faulty in this passage and Tawney made the best of it by following the MS. in the Sanskrit College, but, as Speyer (op. cit., p. 112) points out, the animal cures in the text seem quite out of place here, and the king was never represented as possessing any supernatural powers. The D. text shows that B.’s nirvraṇiṭa is a misread nirvarṇita. Thus the amended translation would be: "  She having heard from her attendants that, as he passed through the zones, he contemplated with interest the horses and other animals.”—n.m.p.


Here the word Śramaṇa is used, which generally means “Buddhist ascetic.”


I.e. deceitful-minded.


Cf. the story of Phalabhūti in the twentieth Taraṅga. I may here mention that Liebrecht points out a striking parallel to the story of Fulgentius (with which I have compared that of Phalabhūti) in the Nugæ Curialium of Gualterus Mapes (Zur Volkskunde, p. 38).


Cf. Sicilianische Märchen, vol. ii, p. 46, where the giant treacherously lets fall his gauntlet, and asks his adversary to pick it up. His adversary, the hero of the story, tells him to pick it up himself, and when the giant bends down for the purpose, cuts off his head with one blow of his sword.——Cf. the incident of the Domba in the story of the cunning Siddhikarī, Vol. I, p. 157; and see Bloomfield, “On False Ascetics and Nuns,” Journ. Amer. Orient. Soc., vol. xliv, No. 3, p. 215. —n.m.p.


See the note on automata on pp. 56-59 of this volume, and Cosquin, Études Folkloriqnes, p. 609.—n.m.p.


Here there is an elaborate pun: kara means “hand” and also “proboscis’’; dāna, “giving” and “the ichor that exudes from the temples of a mast elephant.” “Surrounded with clustering bees” may also mean, “surrounded with handmaids whose consolations worried her.”


The word vibudha also means “gods”—and the gods feed on the moon.

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