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) AND the next day, as Naravāhanadatta was in the apartments of Ratnaprabhā, talking over various subjects with his ministers, he suddenly heard a sound, which appeared to be like that of a man weeping outside in the courtyard of the palace.

And when someone asked, “What is that?” the female attendants came and said:

“My lord, the chamberlain Dharmagiri is weeping here. For a foolish friend of his came here just now and said that his brother, who went on a pilgrimage to holy places, was dead in a foreign land. He, bewildered with grief, forgot that he was in the court and began to lament, but he has been just now taken outside by the servants and conducted to his own house.”

When the prince heard this he was grieved, and Ratnaprabhā, moved with pity, said in a despondent tone:

“Alas! the grief which is produced by the loss of dear relatives is hard to bear! Why did not the Creator make men exempt from old age and death?”

When Marubhūti heard this speech of the queen’s he said:

“Queen, how can mortals ever attain this good fortune? For listen to the following story, which I will tell you, bearing on this question.


57. Story of King Cirāyus and his Minister Nāgārjuna

In the city of Cirāyus there was in old time a king, named Cirāyus,[1] who was indeed long-lived, and the home of all good fortune. He had a compassionate, generous and gifted minister, named Nāgārjuna, who was sprung from a portion of a Bodhisattva,[2] who knew the use of all drugs, and by making an elixir he rendered himself and that king free from old age, and long-lived.

One day an infant son of that minister Nāgārjuna, whom he loved more than any of his other children, died. He felt grief on that account, and by the force of his asceticism and knowledge proceeded to prepare out of certain ingredients the Water of Immortality,[3] in order to prevent mortals from dying. But while he was waiting for the auspicious moment in which to infuse a particular drug Indra found out what was going on.

And Indra, having consulted with the gods, said to the two Aśvins[4]:

“Go and give this message to Nāgārjuna on the earth from me:

‘Why have you, though a minister, begun this revolutionary proceeding of making the Water of Life? Are you determined now to conquer the Creator, who indeed created men subject to the law of death, since you propose to make men immortal by preparing the Water of Life? If this takes place, what difference will there be between gods and men? And the constitution of the universe will be broken up, because there will be no sacrificer and no recipient of sacrifice. So, by my advice, discontinue this preparation of the Water of Life, otherwise the gods will be angry and will certainly curse you. And your son, through grief for whom you are engaged in this attempt, is now in Svarga.’”

With this message Indra dispatched the two Aśvins. And they arrived at the house of Nāgārjuna, and, after receiving the argha,[5] told Nāgārjuna, who was pleased with their visit, the message of Indra, and informed him that his son was with the gods in heaven.

Then Nāgārjuna, being despondent, thought:

“Never mind the gods; but if I do not obey the command of Indra these Aśvins will inflict a curse on me. So let this Water of Life go; I have not accomplished my desire; however, my son, on account of my good deeds in a former life, has gone to the abode of bliss.”

Having thus reflected, Nāgārjuna said to these two gods, the Aśvins:

“I obey the command of Indra. I will desist from making the Water of Life. If you two had not come I should have completed the preparation of the Water of Life in five days and freed this whole earth from old age and death.”

When Nāgārjuna had said this he buried, by their advice, the Water of Life, which was almost completed, in the earth before their eyes. Then the Aśvins took leave of him and went and told Indra in heaven that their errand was accomplished, and the king of gods rejoiced.

And in the meanwhile Nāgārjuna’s master, the King Cirāyus, anointed his son Jīvahara crown prince. And when he was anointed, his mother, the Queen Dhanaparā, on his coming in great delight to salute her, said to him as soon as she saw him:

“Why do you rejoice without cause, my son, at having obtained this dignity of crown prince, for this is not a step to the attainment of the kingly dignity, not even by the help of asceticism? For many crown princes, sons of your father, have died, and not one of them has obtained the throne; they have all inherited disappointment. For Nāgārjuna has given this king an elixir, by the help of which he is now in the eighth century of his age. And who knows how many more centuries will pass over the head of this king, who makes his short-lived sons crown princes.”

When her son heard that he was despondent, and she went on to say to him:

“If you desire the throne, adopt this expedient. This minister Nāgārjuna every day, after he has performed the day’s devotions, gives gifts at the time of taking food, and makes this proclamation: ‘Who is a suppliant? Who wants anything? To whom can I give anything, and what?’ At that moment go to him and say: ‘Give me your head.’ Then he, being a truthful man, will have his head cut off; and out of sorrow for his death this king will die, or retire to the forest; then you will obtain the crown. There is no other expedient available in this matter.”

When he heard this speech from his mother the prince was delighted, and he consented, and determined to carry her advice into effect; for the lust of sovereign sway is cruel and overcomes one’s affection for one’s friends.

Then that prince went, the next day, of his own accord to the house of that Nāgārjuna, at the time when he took his food. And when the minister cried out, “Who requires anything, and what does he require?” he entered and asked him for his head.

The minister said:

“This is strange, my son. What can you do with this head of mine? For it is only an agglomeration of flesh, bone and hair. To what use can you put it? Nevertheless, if it is of any use to you, cut it off and take it.”

With these words he offered his neck to him. But it had been so hardened by the elixir that, though he struck at it for a long time, he could not cut it, but broke many swords over it.

In the meanwhile the king, hearing of it, arrived, and asked him not to give away his head; but Nāgārjuna said to him:

“I can remember my former births, and I have given away my head ninety-nine times in my various births. This, my lord, will be the hundredth time of my giving away my head. So do not say anything against it, for no suppliant ever leaves my presence disappointed. So I will now present your son with my head; for this delay was made by me only in order to behold your face.”

Thus he spoke, and embraced that king, and brought a powder out of his closet, with which he smeared the sword of that prince. Then the prince cut off the head of the minister Nāgārjuna with a blow of that sword, as a man cuts a lotus from its stalk.

Then a great cry of wailing was raised, and the king was on the point of giving up his own life when a bodiless voice sounded from the heaven in these words:

“Do not do what you ought not, King. You should not lament your friend Nāgārjuna, for he will not be born again, but has attained the condition of a Buddha.”

When King Cirāyus heard this, he gave up the idea of suicide, but bestowed great gifts, and out of grief left his throne and went to the forest. There in time he obtained by asceticism eternal bliss.

Then his son Jīvahara obtained his kingdom; and soon after his accession he allowed dissension to arise in his realm, and was slain by the sons of Nāgārjuna, remembering their father’s murder. Then through sorrow for him his mother’s heart broke. How can prosperity befall those who walk in the path trodden by the ignoble?

And a son of that King Cirāyus, born to him by another wife, named Śatāyus, was placed on his throne by his chief ministers.


[M] (main story line continued)

“Thus, as the gods would not permit Nāgārjuna to carry out the task of destroying death, which he had undertaken, he became subject to death. Therefore it is true that this world of living beings was appointed by the Creator unstable, and full of grief hard to ward off, and even with hundreds of efforts it is impossible for anyone to do anything here which the Creator does not wish him to do.”

When Marubhūti had told this story he ceased speaking, and Naravāhanadatta rose up with his ministers and performed his daily duties.

[Additional note: on the Aśvins]

Footnotes and references:


I.e. long-lived.


I.e. “one whose essence is perfect knowledge” (sattva = “essence,” “own nature,” svabhāva). Although this is probably the original meaning of the word, historically a bodhisattva = “one who is on the way to the attainment of perfect knowledge”—i.e. a future Buddha. For a full authoritative article on the subject see “Bodhisattva,” by L. de la Vallée Poussin, in Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. ii, pp. 739-753.—n.m.p.


See chap. iv. of Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales; Veckenstedt’s Wendische Sagen, p. 221; Bernhard Schmidt’s Griechische Märchen, p. 125.——This is, of course, the Amṛta which was produced at the Churning of the Ocean (see Vol. I, pp. 3n1, 55n1). As is only natural, the “Water of Life” motif dates back from the very earliest ages, and was closely connected with the early Babylonian worship of Ishtar. For an interesting chapter on the Water of Life see Macculloch, Childhood of Fiction, p. 52 et. seq. Sir George Grierson tells us (Folk-Lore, vol. xi, 1900, pp. 433-434) that in Eastern Hindustan there is a universal belief that the Water of Life actually exists in everyone’s little finger, and if he only knew how to do the trick he would be able to put it, so to speak, on tap. Bihari folk-lore is full of references to this.— n.m.p.


See the note at the end of this chapter.— n.m.p.


Water, rice, dūrva grass, etc., offered to guests.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: