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, the next morning, when Naravāhanadatta was in Ratnaprabhā’s house, Gomukha and the others came to him. But Marubhūti, being a little sluggish with intoxication produced by drinking spirits, approached slowly, decorated with flowers and anointed with unguents.

Then Gomukha, with face amused at his novel conception of statesman-like behaviour, out of fun ridiculed him by imitating his stammering utterance and staggering gait, and said to him:

“How comes it that you, though the son of Yaugandharāyaṇa, do not know policy, that you drink spirits in the morning and come drunk into the presence of the prince?”

When the intoxicated Marubhūti heard this, he said to him in his anger:

“This should be said to me by the prince or some superior. But tell me, who are you that you take upon you to instruct me, you son of Ityaka?”

When he said this, Gomukha replied to him, smiling:

“Do princes reprove with their own mouths an ill-behaved servant? Undoubtedly their attendants must remind him of what is proper. And it is true that I am the son of Ityaka, but you are an ox of ministers[1]; your sluggishness alone would show it. The only fault is that you have no horns.”

When Gomukha said this to him, Marubhūti answered:

“You too, Gomukha, have much of the ox nature about you; but you are clearly of mixed breed, for you are not properly domesticated.”

When all laughed at hearing this, Gomukha said:

“This Marubhūti is literally a jewel, for who can introduce the thread of virtue[2] into that which cannot be pierced even by a thousand efforts? But a jewel of a man is a different kind of thing, for that is easily penetrated. As an illustration, listen to the story of the bridge of sand.


54. Story of Tapodatta

There lived in Pratiṣṭhāna a Brāhman of the name of Tapodatta. He, though his father kept worrying him; would not learn the sciences in his boyhood. Subsequently he found himself censured by all, and, being filled with regret, he went to the bank of the Ganges, in order to perform asceticism for the acquisition of knowledge. There he betook himself to severe mortification of the flesh, and while he was thus engaged Indra, who had beheld him with astonishment, came to him to prevent him, disguised as a Brāhman. And when he had come near him he kept taking grains of sand from the bank and throwing them into the billowy water of the Ganges.

When Tapodatta saw that, he broke his silence, and asked him out of curiosity:

“Brāhman, why do you do this unceasingly?”

And Indra, disguised as a Brāhman, when he had been persistently questioned by him, said:

“I am making a bridge over the Ganges for man and beast to cross by.”

Then Tapodatta said:

“You fool, is it possible to make a bridge over the Ganges with sand, which will be carried away at some future time by the current?”

When Indra, disguised as a Brāhman, heard that he said to him:

“If you know this truth, why do you attempt to acquire knowledge by vows and fasting, without reading or hearing lectures?[3] The horn of a hare[4] may really exist, and the sky may be adorned with painting, and writing may be performed without letters, if learning may be acquired without study. If it could be so acquired, no one in this world would study at all.”

When Indra, disguised as a Brāhman, had said this to Tapodatta, Tapodatta reflected, and thinking that he had spoken truth, put a stop to his self-mortification and went home.

[M] (Main story line continued)

“So, you see, a wise man is easily made to listen to reason, but the foolish Marubhūti cannot be induced to listen to reason, but when you admonish him he flies into a passion.”

When Gomukha said this, Hariśikha said before the company:

“It is true, O King, that the wise are easily induced to listen to reason.


55. Story of Virūpaśarman

For instance, there lived of old time in Benares a certain excellent Brāhman named Virūpaśarman, who was deformed and poor. And he, being despondent about his misshapen form and his poverty, went to the grove of ascetics there, and began to practise severe mortification of the flesh, through desire for beauty and wealth.

Then the king of the gods[5] assumed the vile shape of a deformed jackal with a diseased body and went and stood in front of him.

When he saw that unfortunate[6] creature with its body covered with flies, Virūpaśarman slowly reflected in his mind:

“Such creatures are born into the world on account of actions done in a former life, so is it a small thing for me that I was made thus by the Creator? Who can overstep the lot prescribed by Destiny?”

When Virūpaśarman perceived this, he brought self-mortification to an end and went home.


[M] (Main story line continued)

“So true is it, O King, that a wise man is instructed with little effort, but one whose mind is void of discernment is not instructed even with great exertion.”

Thus spoke Hariśikha, and Gomukha assented, but Marubhūti, who was drunk and did not understand a joke, said in great anger:

“There is power in the speech of Gomukha, but there is no might in the arms of men like you. A garrulous, quarrelsome, effeminate person makes heroes blush.”[7]

When Marubhūti said this, being eager for a fight, Prince Naravāhanadatta, with a smile on his face, himself tried to appease him, and after dismissing him to his house, the prince, who loved the friends of his youth, performed the duties of the day, and so spent it in great comfort.

And the next day, when all these ministers came, and among them Marubhūti bowed down with shame, his beloved Ratnaprabhā spake thus to the prince:

“You, my husband, are very fortunate in that you have these pure-hearted ministers bound to you by the fetters of a love dating from early childhood, and they are happy in possessing such an affectionate master; you have been gained by one another through actions in a former state of existence; of that there can be no doubt.”

When the queen said this, Tapantaka, the son of Vasantaka, the companion in amusements of Naravāhanadatta, remarked:

“It is true; our master has been gained by our actions in a former life. For everything depends upon the power of actions in a former life. Hear in illustration of it the following tale:—


56. Story of King Vilāsaśīla and the Physician Taruṇacandra

There dwelt in a city named Vilāsapura, the home of Śiva, a king rightly named Vilāsaśīla.[8] He had a queen named Kamalaprabhā, whom he valued as his life, and he long remained with her, addicted to pleasure only. Then in course of time there came upon the king old age, the thief of beauty, and when he beheld it he was sorely grieved.

He thought to himself:

“How can I show to the queen my face marred with grey hairs, like a snow-smitten lotus?[9] Alas! it is better that I should die.”

Busied with reflections like these, the king summoned into his hall of audience a physician named Taruṇacandra[10] and thus spake to him respectfully:

“My good man, because you are clever and devoted to me, I ask you whether there is any artifice by which this old age can be averted.”

When Taruṇacandra, who was rightly named as being only of the magnitude of one digit, and desiring to become a full moon, heard that, the cunning fellow reflected:

“I must make my profit out of this blockhead of a king, and I shall soon discover the means of doing it.”

Having thus reflected, the physician said to the king:

“If you will remain in an underground chamber alone, O King, for eight months, and take this medicine, I engage to remove your old age.”[11]

When the king heard this, he had such an underground chamber prepared; for fools intent on objects of sense cannot endure reflection. But the ministers used arguments like the following with him:

“O King, by the goodness and asceticism and self-denial of men of old time, and by the virtue of the age, elixirs were produced. But these forest remedies,[12] which we hear of now, O King, owing to the want of proper materials, produce the opposite effect to that which is intended, and this is quite in accordance with the treatises[13]; for rogues do in this way make sport with fools. Does time past ever return, O king?”

Still these arguments did not penetrate into his soul, for it was encased in the thick armour of violent sensual desire. And, in accordance with the advice of that physician, he entered that underground chamber alone, excluding the numerous retinue that usually waits upon a king. And alone, with one servant belonging to that physician, he made himself a slave to the taking of drugs and the rest of the treatment. And the king remained there in that dark subterranean den, which seemed as if it were the overflowing, through abundance, of the ignorance of his heart.

And after the king had spent six months in that underground chamber that wicked physician, seeing that his senility had increased, brought a certain young man who resembled him in appearance, with whom he had agreed that he would make him king. Then he dug a tunnel into that underground chamber from a distance, and after killing the king in his sleep he brought his corpse out by the underground passage and threw it into a dark well. All this was done at night. And by the same tunnel he introduced that young man into the underground chamber and closed that tunnel.

What audacious wickedness will not a low fellow, who is held in check by no restraints, commit when he gets a favourable chance of practising upon fools?

Then the next day the physician said to all the subjects:

“This king has been made young again by me in six months, and in two months his form will be changed again. So show yourselves to him now at a little distance.”

Thus he spake, and brought them all to the door of the underground chamber, and showed them to the young man, telling him at the same time their names and occupations. By this artifice he kept instructing that young man in the underground chamber in the names of all the subjects every day for two months, not excepting even the inhabitants of the harem.

And when a fitting time came he brought the young man, after he had been well fed,[14] out of the subterranean chamber, saying:

“This king has become young again.”

And the young man was surrounded by the delighted subjects, who exclaimed:

“This is our own king restored by drugs.”

Then the young man, having thus obtained the kingdom, bathed; and performed with much pleasure, by the help of his ministers, the kingly duties. And from that time forth he lived in much felicity, transacting regal business and sporting with the ladies of the harem, having obtained the name of Ajara.[15] And all the subjects considered that he was their former king transformed by drugs, not guessing the truth, and not suspecting the proceedings of the physician.

And King Ajara, having gained over the subjects and the Queen Kamalaprabhā by kind treatment, enjoyed the royal fortune together with his friends. Then he summoned a friend called Bheṣajacandra and another called Padmadarśana and made both of them like himself, satisfying them with gifts of elephants, horses and villages. And he honoured the physician Taruṇacandra on account of the advancement he had conferred on him, but he did not repose confidence in him because his soul had fallen from truth and virtue.

And once on a time the physician of his own motion said to the king:

“Why do you make me of no account and act independently? Have you forgotten the occasion on which I made you king?”

When King Ajara heard that, he said to the physician:

“Ha! you are a fool. What man does anything for anyone, or gives anything to anyone? My friend, it is our deeds in a former state of existence that give and do. Therefore do not boast yourself, for this elevation I attained by asceticism, and I will soon show you this by ocular proof.”

When he said this to the physician, the latter reflected as one terrified:

“This man is not to be intimidated and speaks like a resolute sage. It is better to overawe that master, the secret of whose character is instability,[16] but that cannot be done with this man, so I must submit to him. In the meanwhile let me wait and see what he will show me so manifestly.”

Thus reflecting, the physician said, “It is true,” and held his peace.

And the next day King Ajara went out to roam about and amuse himself with his friends, waited on by Taruṇacandra and others. And as he was strolling he reached the bank of a river, and in it he saw five golden lotuses come floating down the current.

And he made his servants bring them, and taking them and looking at them, he said to the physician Taruṇacandra, who was standing near him:

“Go up along the bank of this river and look for the place where these lotuses are produced; and when you have seen it, return, for I feel great curiosity about these wonderful lotuses, and you are my skilful friend.”

When he was thus commissioned by the king the physician, not being able to help himself, said, “So be it,” and went the way he was ordered. And the king returned to his capital; but the physician travelled on, and in course of time reached a temple of Śiva that stood on the bank of that river. And in front of it, on the shore of a holy bathing-place in that stream, he beheld a great banyan-tree, and a man’s skeleton suspended on it. And while, fatigued with his journey, he was resting after bathing and worshipping the god, a cloud came there and rained. And from that human skeleton hanging on the branches of the banyan-tree, when rained upon by the cloud, there fell drops of water.[17] And when they fell into the water of the bathing-place in that river the physician observed that those golden lotuses were immediately produced from them.

The physician said to himself:

“Ha! what is this wonder? Whom can I ask in the uninhabited wood? Or, rather, who knows the creation of Destiny that is full of so many marvels? I have beheld this mine of golden lotuses; so I will throw this human skeleton into the sacred water. Let right be done, and let golden lotuses grow from its back.”

After these reflections he flung the skeleton down from the top of that tree; and after spending the day there the physician set out the next day for his own country, having accomplished the object for which he was sent.

And in a few days he reached Vilāsapura, and went, emaciated and soiled with his journey, to the court of King Ajara. The doorkeeper announced him, and he went in and prostrated himself at the feet of the king.

The king asked him how he was, and while he was relating his adventure the king put everyone else out of the hall and himself said:

“So you have seen, my friend, the place where the golden lotuses are produced, that most holy sanctuary of Śiva; and you saw there a skeleton on a banyan-tree; know that that is my former body. I hung there in old time by my feet, and in that way performed asceticism, until I dried up my body and abandoned it. And, owing to the nobility of my penance, from the drops of rain-water that fall from that skeleton of mine are produced golden lotuses. And in that you threw my skeleton into the water of that holy bathing-place you did what was right, for you were my friend in a former birth. And this Bheṣajacandra and this Padmadarśana, they also were friends, who associated with me in a former birth. So it is owing to the might of that asceticism, my friend, that recollection of my former birth and knowledge and empire have been bestowed on me. By an artifice I have given you ocular proof of this, and you have described it with a token, telling how you flung down the skeleton; so you must not boast to me, saying that you gave me the kingdom; and you must not allow your mind to be discontented, for no one gives anything to anyone without the help of actions in a former life. From his birth a man eats the fruit of the tree of his former actions.”

When the king said this to the physician he saw that it was true, and he remained satisfied with the king’s service, and was never afterwards discontented. And that noble-minded King Ajara, who remembered his former birth, honoured the physician becomingly with gifts of wealth, and lived comfortably with his wives and friends, enjoying the earth conquered by his policy, and originally obtained by his good actions, without an opponent.


[M] (Main story line continued) Thus in this world all the good and bad fortune that befalls all men at all times is earned by actions in a former life. For this reason I think we must have earned you for our lord in a former birth, otherwise how could you be so kind to us while there are other men in existence?” Then Naravāhanadatta, having heard in the company of his beloved, from the mouth of Tapantaka, this strangely pleasing and entertaining tale, rose up to bathe. And after he had bathed he went into the presence of his father, the King of Vatsa, frequently raining nectar into the eyes of his mother, and after taking food he spent that day and night in drinking and other pleasures with his parents and his wife and his ministers.

[Additional note: the “impossibilities” motif]

Footnotes and references:


I.e. a great or distinguished minister. “Bull” is more literal than “ox,” but does not suit the English idiom so well. Gomukha means “ox-face.”


Guṇa means “virtue” and also “a thread.”——Cf. Raghuvaṃśa, i. 4.—N.M.P.


For examples of this “Impossibilities” motif see the note at the end of this chapter.—n.m.p.


I read rūpam for rūpyam.


I.e. Indra.


Literally, “having no auspicious marks."


In the D. text we read vācālaiḥ kalahaḥ klībaiḥ, and B.’s compound Gomukhavāci is written as two separate words. We thus get a much better rendering: “Men like you, Gomukha, have only strength in their tongue, not in their arms. It is blameful for heroes to quarrel with effeminate braggarts.” See Speyer, op. cit., p. 113.—n.m.p.


I.e. fond of enjoyment.


For a note on the “Grey Hair” motif see Vol. I, p. 121n1.—n.m.p.


I.e. new moon.


In the Mahāvastu Avadāna (in Dr R. L. Mitra’s Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal, p. 123) a girl named Amitā is cured of leprosy by being shut up in an underground chamber.


I suppose this must mean “prepared of the flesh of wild goats.” A MS. in the Sanskrit College reads ramyāni, “pleasant.”


In the D. text we have a slightly different reading, and Speyer (pp. cit., p. 114) would translate:

But in the present time, O King, these elixirs are only heard of [=they do not exist in reality], and owing to the want of proper materials, produce the opposite effect to that which is intended. For this reason it is not fit [to do] so [as the physician advises]”—n.m.p.


Pluṣṭa is a mistake for puṣṭa; see Böhtlingk and Roth v.s.


I.e. free from old age.


This clause seems unmeaning. Instead of yad rahasyaṃ taraṅgatvam of the B. text, we find in the I), text yad rahasyāntaraṅgatvaṃ svāmisaṃvananam, etc.,

“Even the most excellent means to gain one’s master’s favour, the possessing a secret in common, is useless with this man; so I must submit to him.”

See Speyer, op. cit., p. 114.—n.m.p.


This reminds one of the thirteenth story in the Gesta Romanorum.——In this tale a man is walking through a meadow and on becoming thirsty seeks to quench his thirst in a rivulet of pure water, but the more he drinks the more thirsty he becomes. Amazed at this, he determines to trace the water to its source to see if he can satisfy his thirst there, and on his way he meets an old man to whom he explains his predicament. The old man points out the source of the stream and looking in the direction the other beholds a putrid dog, with its mouth wide open and its teeth black and decayed, through which the whole fountain gushes in a surprising manner. The man regards the stream with terror and confusion, and being apprehensive of poison is afraid to drink again. He is, however, encouraged to do so by the old man and finds to his surprise that the water immediately slakes his thirst. By this the old man explains that, in the same way, you should not abstain from going to Mass merely because you disapprove of the priest.

In the Mahābhārata (I, cxcix) we read of golden lotuses floating along the current, whereupon Indra, desirous of ascertaining whence they come, proceeds along the course of the stream and discovers that they emanate from a woman whose tear-drops, as they fall on the stream, are being transformed into golden lotuses.

In one of Steel and Temple’s Wide-Awake Stories, “Prince Lionheart and his Three Friends,” the hero sees a stream down which rubies are floating. He follows the stream and finds a golden basket hanging from a tree in which lies the head of a beautiful maiden. The blood dropping from her throat turns into rubies and floats with the current. See also Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-Lore of Northern India, vol. i, pp. 40-41.—n.m.p.

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