Category Archives: Tales and Fables

The Hitopadesa

When it comes to Hindu works of political theory and political statecraft, it can be found in the various treatises throughout Hindu religious literature. Most of these treatises and stories are too difficult to be digested by the masses, especially if look back to times around the 8th century. There are two works of literature that allow for ease of consumption of these ideas. They are the Pancatantra and the Hitopadesa. The Pancatantra is the older of the two dating to around the 3rd century CE, but this is inconclusive as the stories presented are seemingly much older and this is possibly the first instance of them being written down. The Hitopadesa, on the other hand, does not come into existence until between the 8th and 12th century. The Hitopadesa was written by someone named Narayana and it was meant to teach young princes statecraft. This collection of fables sets to explain political statecraft by utilising animal tales. The collection itself is split into four sections, the acquisition of friends, the separation of friends, war, and peace. (Pinncott 1). The way the stories are told within the Hitopadesa is an old sage telling different stories of animal interaction to four young princes. In this way of storytelling, the Hitopadesa shares a lot of similarities with other fable collections, such as Aesop’s Fables. Also, it is considered to be what inspired the fables we see in collections like Aesop’s Fables (Srinivasan 70).

If we look at each of the sections that the Hitopadesa is broken into, we start to notice repeated themes, for example, choose your friends wisely. Each of these themes is easily explained through the stories presented in each section of the Hitopadesa. In the first section of the Hitopadesa, which is referred to as the acquisition of friends, there is a story of a vulture, a cat, and some birds. In this story, the vulture lives in a great tree with the birds and one day a cat approaches the tree and the birds wake the sleeping vulture to deal with the cat. The cat using honeyed words convinced the vulture to allow him to stay within the tree. As the days passed, the cat proceeded to eat the young birds without the vulture ever taking notice. The birds noticed that their young were slowly starting to disappear and they decided to investigate. The cat caught wind of this and snuck its way out of the tree without any notice. Upon discovering the remains of their young ones in the vultures hollow the birds proceeded to peck the vulture to death because they believed that the vulture was the one responsible for this (Pinncott 12-14). There are a few morals to this story, one of which is that one should never treat someone you hardly know as a friend, this is because one can never fully trust anyone upon their first meeting. Another moral that can be taken from this story is that one should trust their instincts. At first, the vulture did not want to take the cat into its hollow because it knew that the cat was a malicious being but because of the cat’s honeyed words the vulture was persuaded and that eventually led to its demise. This story is one of many that take place in the first section of this collection that deal with how to acquire the right friends.

Another story in this first part of the collection that deals with how to choose the right friends is about a deer, a jackal, and a crow. In this story, the jackal approaches the deer with intent to feast on its flesh and asks to be the deer’s friend, the deer accepts. When they return to the deer’s hovel, they are greeted by the deer’s old friend, the crow, who asks why the deer has made friends with the jackal and warns the deer of this decision. Listening to the crow’s advice but not heeding it, the deer continues to be friends with the jackal. The jackal one day convinces the deer to eat from a plentiful field of corn, which the deer does and fattens up. Then one day it becomes caught in a snare set by the farmer of the field. The jackal sees this and decides to wait for the human to return to kill the deer and take some of its flesh, then the jackal will devour what is left behind. Luckily for the deer, the crow comes looking for the deer and finds it caught in the snare and they then proceed to devise and execute a plan that will free the deer and kill the jackal (Pinncott 11-16). The moral of this story is like that of the vulture, the cat, and the birds, that one should never make a friend out of someone you just met and know little about. These two stories, along with the rest of the stories within the first section are highly cynical and seem to eschew the idea that no one is innocent until proven guilty and holds aloft the concept of nature over nurture.

The second section of the Hitopadesa deals with the separation of friends. In this section, there is a story of a washerman’s donkey and dog, in which the house of the washerman is being robbed and the dog refuses to bark to wake the master. The donkey notices this and inquires as to why the dog refused to bark to rouse the master, the dog responds that because the master is neglecting him he will neglect the master. The donkey takes great offence to this and scolds the dog and decides to bray to rouse the master. The donkey accomplishes arousing the master but it also scares away the robber. The master then beats the donkey to death for rousing him for what the master who failed to see the robber saw as nothing (Pinncott 36-37). The moral presented in this story is that it is better to mind one’s own business. This moral is seen in another story about a monkey who perished when it removed a wedge between two beams (Pinncott 36).

Another story in this section deals with monkeys and a bell. In this story, a robber from a certain village steals the temple bell and runs into the forest where he is attacked by a tiger who was curious about the sound. The tiger killed him leaving the bell on the ground. Eventually, a group of monkeys came by and picked up the bell and at night would ring it continuously because they enjoyed the music. When the villagers went in search of the strange bell ringing they found the corpse of the robber and heard the ringing of bells and decided that the forest was haunted by an evil spirit that would kill and then joyously ring a bell. One woman from the village did not believe that this was the case and ventured into the forest, and discover that it was not an evil spirit but a group of monkeys who were ringing the bell. So, with intelligence and courage, she received some gold from the king and used that gold to purchase various fruits and nuts. Then she tricked the monkeys to come down from their trees and eat the food, while they were eating happily the woman retrieved the bell and saved the town from the evil spirit (Pinncott 44). The moral presented in this story is that through intelligence and courage, one can overcome all odds and should not be afraid of small trifles. The morals presented in this section of the Hitopadesa deal with intelligence winning over all else, that one should approach all situations with these abilities least one should end up like the monkey. One should also not interfere with the disputes of another lest they end up like the donkey and one should also have the intelligence and courage to find the truth like the woman and the bell.

The third section of the Hitopadesa deals with war. In this section, there is a story of a herd of elephants whose watering hole has dried up and they fear that they will die of thirst, but they hear of a lake that has yet to dry up in another jungle. It was then decided that the elephants would travel to this lake in this far away jungle as to not perish from thirst. When the herd of elephants saw the lake, they stampeded over to it, crushing hundreds of rabbits under foot. The rabbits who retreated to their king needed a plan that could drive the elephants from their land. So, the rabbit king went to speak with the king of the elephants and unable to reach the king of the elephants the rabbit king decided to climb a nearby hill and proclaimed that he was a messenger sent from the moon god. The rabbit king informed the elephant king that he had angered the moon god by drinking from his sacred lake. This terrified the elephant king so much so that he took his herd and left, leaving the rabbits alone with their lake (Pinncott 60-61). The moral that is presented in this story is that wit can win over might. This moral is an important lesson when it comes to warfare, in that it teaches that any battle can be won with the right strategy.

Another story from this section of the Hitopadesa is about a soldier who offers his services to a king for a hefty sum, the king then decides to pay him for 4 days upfront and observes closely what the man does with the gold. The king finds that the man gave half of the gold to the gods and the Brahmin, a quarter to the poor and less fortunate and kept the last quarter for his own sustenance and pleasure. He did this all while maintaining his position at the gate always unless relieved by royal permission. After a few days, the king received word of weeping coming from the front gate; the king promptly sent the man to investigate and upon approaching what was a weeping woman, he had a vision. In that vision, he learns that the king has but three days to live and to save him, the man must behead his first-born son. The man does this but also takes his own life than his wife proceeds to take hers; the king discovers this and laments offering up his own life to save the three of them. The Goddess appears and lets him know that his sacrifice was not required and she was simply testing him. Upon hearing this, the king asked if the three of them who sacrificed themselves to be revived. Upon their revival, the king asked the man about the source of the weeping and the man replied, that it was just a woman who fled when he approached (Pinncott 72-74). The moral of this story is that the greatest man does not brag about his deeds, but remains quiet and accepts them as a part of himself. This moral also plays nicely with the concept of warfaring in that one who does not boast of his accomplishments will not receive any challenges, and when he is challenged he will have a fortune at his side.

The last section of the Hitopadesa deals with peace. In this section, there is a story of a crane and a crab. In this story, there is a crane that can eat from a pond whenever he needs to but as he grows older, he becomes unable to catch the fish of the pond and begins to starve. The crane then devises a plan to make it seem like the pond is drying up and that he knows of another pond that is further away that is safe. The crane then offers to carry the residences of the lake to the pond but because he is old, he must rest between voyages. On the first voyage, he takes some fish but instead of heading to the pond, he heads to a nearby hill and eats the fish, the crane repeats this for a while until he regains his strength back. One day, a crab wishes to be carried to the pond and the crane becomes excited thinking he can try some new food takes the crab. During the voyage, the crab asks the crane if they are about to reach the pond, but the crane simply replies that he will eat him and that there is no pond. Angered by this, the crab promptly grabs the cranes neck and breaks it, killing the crane. The crab returns to the pond and tells the pond of what was transpiring (Pinncott 84-85). The moral of this story is that greed in excess is harmful. This moral can be used when bartering for peace because sometimes if you are bartering for peace and you have the most to gain from the peace deal, you must not be too greedy because you might also have the most to lose.

The Hitopadesa is one of the most translated works of Hindu literature and is still extremely relevant today. The lessons and teachings held within the Hitopadesa are easily applied to contemporary problems that youth or people, in general, can use. Like the European collection of fables called Aesop’s fables, the Hitopadesa is used to teach Sanskrit literature and writing to young Hindus learning their first language or for a student who seeks to learn Sanskrit, it is an excellent starting point (Pincott iii).

References and Further Recommended Reading

Pincott, Frederic and Francis Johnson (2004) Hitopadesa: A New Literal Translation from the Sanskrit text of F. Johnson for the use of students. New Delhi: Cosmo Publication.

Srinivasian, R. (1995) “When Beasts Teach Humans-Political Wisdom.” New Quest: 69-80. Accessed February 26, 2017.

Shanbhag, D.N. (1974) “Two Conclusion from the Hitopadesa: A Reappraisal” Journal of the Karnatak University: 24-29. Accessed March 30, 2017.

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Article was written by Kurtis Verrier (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.


The Pancatantra is an interesting case in terms of Indian literature, it has travelled far and wide since around 550 AD when it is documented to have left India as it travelled to the Persian court of King Khorsro Anushirvan (Rajan 1). It was the first Indian book to be printed on a printing press under the name of Das Buch der Beyspiele (The Book of Examples) (Rajan 1). Many fairy tales and nursery rhymes from around the world may find origin or influence in the Pancatantra, for example Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Nights and Sindbad (Bedekar 1). With so many retellings of these stories there is often a need to change it for local appeal. Although certain changes are unavoidable, some changes can completely change the tone of a story or book. For example, in the version translated by Thomas North the first book has a sequel where the interfering jackal is tried and killed for his part in the death of the bull (Rajan 2).

The Pancatantra is an ancient collection of Indian fairy tales that the introduction attributes to a Brahmin by the name of Vishnu Sharma. Vishnu Sharma was hired by a king to teach his three sons the art of intelligent living and he used the five books of the Pancatantra to do so. The five books are The Loss of Friends, The Winning of Friends, Of Crows and Owls, Loss of Gains and, Ill-considered Action (Ryder 15). Each book contains many stories, each with a lesson on how an individual should conduct themselves (Rajan, 3). Many of these stories are about animals personified with some of them containing exclusively human characters.

The longest book in the Pancatantra is the first one, The Loss of Friends. This book tells the story of a bull left in the forest by his owner after getting stuck in mud. He becomes very happy, grazing all day and bellowing in happiness. The bellowing unnerves a lion who is the King of the Jungle and a couple Jackals, who were once members of his court begin plotting. Throughout this book, they argue about what actions should be taken, telling stories to illustrate their points. One of them goes to talk to the king and is told of the fear that the king feels over the loud animal that he had heard. The bull is brought to the king by this jackal and they become close friends. The jackals become worried by this and hatch a plan to create a rift between the two friends. The same jackal as mentioned before wrongfully informs the king that the bull is planning to kill him and take his power for his own. The jackal claims that the king should kill the bull before the bull can kill him. The king is skeptical and asks for proof; the jackal claims that the bull will look angry with the king and that would be his proof. The jackal visits the bull next claiming the king plans to kill him as they are too different. The bull takes offence to this and plans to start a war with the king. This scares the jackal as a war could lead the death of the king. He urges the bull to simply leave the country. The bull is skeptical of his friend’s plans and the jackal claims that if the king looks at him with anger, that is proof of his plan. Upon returning to his companion and relaying his story, the other jackal calls him wicked. Elsewhere the bull questions his friendship with the lion and goes to see him. The lion, who believed the jackal’s lies attacks the bull and they start to fight. The jackals, seeing this, fear for their king’s safety, the less involved one calling the involved one out for his foolishness in interfering in the kings matters. All this time the battle between the two friends raged on with the lion killing the bull in the process. The king feeling remorse for his actions is comforted by the meddling jackal who tells him that the bull deserved no sympathy because of his treachery (Ryder pg. 19-210).

The second book of the Pancatantra is called The Gaining of Friends. It is shorter than the first book. It tells the story about four friends, a crow, a mouse, a turtle and a deer. In the beginning the crow warns the dove of a trap set by a hunter, but the dove does not listen. Which causes him to lead his retainers into the trap. They fly as one group to the home of the mouse, who helps them get out of the net. The crow follows them and after they leave, starts a friendship with the mouse. One day the crow decides that he wants to leave the country as he is dissatisfied with the way things are. The mouse, also unhappy with the way of things, decides to go with him. They travel to the lake home of the crow’s friend, the turtle, who welcomes them with open arms. The mouse explains that after getting food for other mice from a hermit, the hermit found and emptied the mouse’s food store, making him unable to get food for the other mice. One day they meet a deer who is running away from a hunter and they welcome him into their friend group. Later the deer is caught in a net and while the friends free him the hunter arrives, all the friends except for the turtle escape. This leads the other three friends to plan a rescue, allowing the turtle to escape the hunter (Ryder pg. 213-288).

The third book of the Pancatantra is Of Crows and Owls. The story begins with two warring factions, the crows and the owls. The owls killed any crows that were not at their home tree and the King of crows wanted to find a solution to this murder of his subjects. His ministers put forward different options. His oldest councillor offered a plan that would allow for an attack on the home of the owls, though its location was unknown. The plan had the King fake an attack on the old councillor, allowing the owls to find him, and convincing them to reveal the location of their home to him. The plan succeeded as only one of the Owl King’s ministers advised killing the crow. The crow had the Owl King’s full trust, but the minister continued to mistrust the crow. Unable to convince his colleagues and his king of the danger the crow posed; the minister left the cave, taking his own ministers with him. After that, the crow minister blocked the entrance under the pretense of building a nest and went to get the other crows. They burnt the pile of twigs, killing all the owls inside. When asked how he managed to fool his foes, he explained that he was friendly with the owls so they would not suspect him of lying (Ryder 291- 378).

The fourth book of the Pancatantra is called The Loss of Gains. This book tells of a monkey who lives in a rose apple tree. Once a day a crocodile comes by and the monkey offers to feed him. This becomes a daily thing and they become close friends. The crocodile’s wife upon hearing how her husband got the food asks him to bring her the monkey’s heart. He initially denies her but eventually gives in to her desire. The crocodile invites the monkey to his home and the monkey accepts his invitation. Together they travel towards the crocodile’s home with the monkey riding on the back of the crocodile. Once in deeper water the crocodile speaks of his plan to take the monkey’s heart. The monkey claims it is back in the tree and urges the crocodile to take him back to the tree so they can retrieve it. They return and the monkey calls the crocodile foolish and cuts off his friendship with him. The crocodile only wishing to please his wife, pleads with the monkey to come with him, only to learn that his wife is dead from fasting. He is saddened, but the monkey tells him that he should be celebrating as she wasn’t a very good wife. Soon the crocodile learns that a large crocodile has moved into his home, prompting him to seek advice from the monkey. The monkey tells him that he should fight the crocodile for his home as he will either die or kill his opponent. The crocodile chose to take the monkey’s advice. He fought the other crocodile for his home and won (Ryder 381- 423).

The fifth book of the Pancatantra is the last one, it is called Ill-Considered Actions. At the beginning of the story a merchant is told in a dream that the Jain monk who would visit him that day, this monk would turn to gold if struck on the head with a stick, and the monk did. The barber witnessed this and thought that he could replicate the results, so he invited all the Jain monks at the temple to his house and beat them. The soldiers heard the crying of the monks and intervened. They took the barber to court and the judges ruled he would be impaled for his poor actions. There is a new story after this one of four Brahmins who are struck with poverty and decide to leave the city. They encounter a man who gives each of them a quill, telling them that where the quill falls from their hands, they should dig and find treasure. The first Brahmin found copper where his quill fell, but the other three decide to continue hoping for better treasure. The next quill to drop led the Brahmin to find silver. But the other two continued still hoping for better treasure. The third quill fell and the Brahmin found gold. The fourth Brahmin, thinking there must be something even better in his future, continued without his friend. After much wandering, he finds a man with a wheel spinning on his head, and asks the man for water. The wheel leaves the man’s head and settles on the Brahmin’s. The man explained that the only way to escape is for some other person with a quill to speak to the current wheel bearer as the Brahmin spoke to him. The man further explained that his body will be maintained eternally until he leaves. The Brahmin who found the gold started to wonder about his friend and decided to go find him. Upon finding him, he is told the story and chastises his friend for being greedy. The wheel-bearer pleads with his friend not to leave him there, but as there is nothing to be done about his current situation, the gold-finder bids his friend goodbye and returns home (Ryder 427-470).

The Pancatantra is universally appealing, and people can understand the moral teachings of the stories. The message is clear, the stories are interesting, and it allows for an easy method of imparting knowledge to children because stories like the ones found in the Pancatantra are a more engaging medium of learning.













Bibliography and Related Readings

Bedekar, Vijay (2008, December 27th) History of Migration of Panchatatra and What it can Teach Us. Paper presented at Suhbashita, Panchatantra & Gnomic Literature in Ancient & Medieval India, Thane College Campus, Thane, Maharashtra. Thane, Maharashtra: Institute for Oriental Study. Retrieved from

González-Reimann, L., & Taylor, M. (2009). The fall of the indigo jackal: The discourse of division in purnabhadra’s pañcatantra. The Journal of Asian Studies, 68(4), 1337. doi:

Rajan, C. (2000). Panchatantra: The globe-trotting classic of India. Bookbird, 38(4), 6-9.

Retrieved from

Ryder, Arthur (1925) Pancatantra. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from

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Indian Literature

Aesop’s Fables


Arabian Nights

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This Article was written by: Kayla Schewe (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

A Brief Examination of The Kathasaritsagara

The Kathasaritsagara, also known as the Ocean of the Streams of Stories is a 11th-century Sanskrit text composed of Indian fairy tales and legends. Similarly to other stories, legends and epics, a Saiva [a follower of the Hindu tradition favoring the god Siva] named Somadeva retells the Kathasaritsagara. The Kathasaritsagara is a well-known adaptation to the Brihatkatha (Big Story), an Indian epic written by Gunadhya, often compared to Vyasa, the author and a character in the Mahabharata. Gunadhya, is credited as the author of the Brhatkatha, although it is not written in Sanskrit, rather, written in the hard to understand, and archaic language of Paisaci. The Brhatkatha was lost, and can now be only tracked through its two adaptations, being the previously mentioned Kathasaritsagara, and the Brhatkathamanjari written by Kshemendra, a 11th century poet.

The Kathasaritsagara as written by Somadeva, consists of 18 books written in Sanskrit, but was adapted into English by Charles Henry Tawney, an English scholar highly revered for his multi-lingual skills that lead him to often translate Indian legends to English. Tawney published two volumes of the English translated Kathasaritsagara, as The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story between 1880-1884. Norman Mosley Penzer expanded upon Tawneys English translation adding commentary and notes, publishing his The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha sarit sagara in 10 volumes between 1924-1928.

The original Kathasaritsagara is written in Sanskrit, an Indian prose. There are 18 books in Somadeva’s text. The first book is Kathapitha, followed by Kathainukha, Chaturdarika, Mandanamanhuka, Ratnaprabha, Suryaprabha, Alankarvavati, Saktiyasa, Vela, Sasankavati, Madiravati, Mahabhisheka, Suratamanjari, Padmabati and then the last book; Vishamasila. Tawney’s English adaptation, published in two volumes, compiles Somdeva’s 18 books into 56 chapters in the first volume, and 69 chapters in the second volume.

While the Kathasaritsagara itself is a compilation of many stories and legends, there is a great emphasis on the story of Udayana and his son. The first tale in the Kathasaritsagara follows the story of Pushpadanta, and the curse the Mountain Goddess places on him, as he travels around in human form in an attempt to cure his curse. The story of Udayana and his son, Naravahanadatta, in which the role of King is passed on through three generations.

The Story of Pushpadanta’s Curse, and His Human Life as Vararuchi:

Somdeva’s first book, compiled into chapters one to eight in Tawney’s The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story, begins with the introduction of Pushpandanta, a loyal devotee to Siva, eavesdropping into a conversation between Siva and his beloved, Kaliasa, the Mountain Goddess. This story spreads, and Kaliasa learns of Pushpadanta’s intrusion. Angry by his disobedience, Kaliasa curses him, while also telling him how to free himself from the curse (Tawney 1880: 4). Pushpandanta, now wandering the earth as a human named Vararuchi, has grown forgetting his origins and his past life. He runs into a character named Kanabhuti, who was also a loyal devotee to Siva, telling him the story that Pushpandanta started. After Kanabhuti is finished telling the story, Vararuchi remembers that he was once Pushpandanta, and then sets to trying to end the curse.

Similarly to other Hindu legends, the Kathasaritsagara has many side stories that tie into the main story. Continuing with the fourth chapter in Tawney’s adaptation, Vararuchi comes upon a beautiful woman and falls in love with her. During the night, Sarasvati, the goddess of eloquence and learning, visits him in a dream and tells him that the woman he fell in love with, Upankosa, was Sarasvati’s lover in a past life and is still destined to her. Vararuchi, marries Upankosa regardless. In a humorous side story, Upankosa refutes the advances of several men while Vararuchi is gone performing a ritual. Later in the story Vararuchi is told to find Badarika, a hermit in the forest. After proving himself to Badarika, Vararuchi then sacrifices his body through fire, “putting off his mortal condition”, and then ascending to his heavenly home (Tawney 1880: 31).

In chapter six, Gunadhya, the author of the Brhatkatha and also a character, recites the story of his life to Kanabhuti. Kanabhuti in return, recites the tale of Pushapandanta, in which Gunadhya then writes it in the Paisaci language, but fearful of having his composition stolen, writes it in his own blood (Tawney 1880: 47). Empathetic to Vararuchi’s condition, Gunadhya sends his heavenly tale to earth, in which king Satavahana disregarded the work, “… the Paisacha language is barbarous, and the letters are written in blood; away with this Paisacha tale” (Tawney 1880: 48). Gunadhya, overcome with sorrow, then destroys the book in a fire as his two disciples, Gunadeva and Nandideva, watch and listen tearfully. King Satavahana falls ill, in which leads him to search out Gunadhya. At this point, Gunadhya had almost burnt his entire tale, save for one section, named the Vrihat Katha. King Satavahana takes this tale and the two pupils as Gunadhya dies, and ascends to his heavenly home. To conclude the story, Satavahana recompiles the original tale with the help of the two pupils, and names it the Kathapitha, redistributing the story similarly to how Pushpadanta spread Siva’s story(Tawney 1880: 49).

The story of Udayana and his son, Naravahanadatta:

Udayana, the child of King Sahasranika and Queen Mrigavati, was born after a bird carried off his mother while she was bathing, separating Mrigavati from King Sahasranika, leaving the King tormented in grief. The bird realizes she is not food, and drops her into the wilderness (Tawney 1880: 54). Scared, she weeps loudly, catching the attention of a hermit’s son. The hermit, Jamadagni and his son, take care of Mrigavati as she gives birth to Udayana. During his birth, a voice from the heavens spoke “an august king of great renown has been born, Udayana by name, and his son should be monarch of all the Vidyadharas” (Tawney 1880: 55). Udayana grew up to be virtuous, heroic, and intelligent under Jamadagni, who taught him the sciences and archery. In a side story, Udayana shows his virtuous nature by saving a beautiful snake caught by a hunter. He trades the snake’s life for a bracelet he wore that bore the King’s name written on it. The hunter then tries to sell the bracelet, catching the attention of a servant working for the king, who then reports that his wife was alive. The King sets out to find his wife, finally coming upon the hermitage of Jamadagni. Jamadagni hands Mrigavati and Udayana over to King Sahasranika, as they made the long journey back to their kingdom of Vatsa. The King then appoints Udayana as prince, and him and his wife Mrigavati retire to the forest.

Udayana as a ruler becomes bored, and gives into the pleasures of royalty rather than becoming a Dharmic ruler. King Udayana’s only worry was finding a suitable wife, and through a lengthy side story, marries the daughter, Vasavadatta, of the neighboring kingdom’s King, Chandamamahasena. King Chandamahasena was a sworn enemy of Udayana and the Vatsa kingdom, and captured Udayana as a prisoner. Vasavadatta grew fond of Udayana while he was kept a prisoner, and they escaped from King Chandamahasena to complete a marriage ceremony in the Vindhya forest, and Vasavadatta became the Queen of Vatsa (Tawney 1880: 94). A scheme is composed by Yaugandharayana to make the King a better ruler. Through Yaugandharayana’s planning, the Queen fakes her death in a fire, and is taken to the kingdom of Magadha where the princess Padmavati takes in Queen Vasavadatta who conceals her true identity under the alias Avantika. King Udayana, similarly to his father before him, is thrown into a fit of sorrow and grief and considers suicide, before realizing that she might still possibly be alive and further investigates her condition. The king is convinced to marry Padmavati, the Princess of Magadha before the truth is revealed, in which the King happily rules with his two wives as the two Queens of Vatsa (Tawney 1880: 145).

Later in the story, in a dream, Siva tells King Udayana that he “shalt soon have a son who shall be king of all the Vidyaharas” (Tawney 1880: 145). Having a renewed energy, the King sets out to conquer the Benares region, ruled by King Brahmadatta. His father-in-law, Chandamahasena, and the King of Magadha honor his victory by devoting their kingdoms under his rule. Anxious for the birth of a son, Vasavadatta soon becomes pregnant after summoning Siva who informs her that her son will be the incarnation of the God of Love, Kama (Tawney 1880: 167). Vasavadatta gives birth to her son, and the whole kingdom celebrates the birth of Naravahanadatta. The King’s ministers also had sons about the same age, in which Naravahanadatta grew up with.

Naravahanadatta, like his father before him, is raised with the appreciation for the sciences and archery by his father and two mothers, Vasavadatta and Padmavati. In another humorous side story, Naravahanadatta turns eight, and the King Udayana is faced with a difficult decision. To either wed Kalingasena, daughter of King Kalingadatta, in which his passion will be sated, but if he consents to the marriage, Vasavadatta, Padmavati and Naravahanadatta will all die. He debates the options while his wives scheme, encouraging him to marry the Princess, knowing that their encouragement will make him reflect, and decide not to marry her. With the help of the Kings sly minister, Yaugandharayana, the two Queens convince King Udayana not to marry Kalingsena. Kalingsena admits she’s married to another, and pregnant with her husband’s child. The king decided that the daughter of Kalingsena will be beautiful enough for his son, Naravahanadatta, and therefore, will be the next appointed queen (Tawney 1880: 305). The Daughter, of Kalingsena, named Madanamanchuka, grew up to be very beautiful as predicted, while the Kings ministers sons all grew up with the prince as well, Gomukha becoming the closest of friends to the young prince. Not long after, Naravahanadatta and Madanamanchuka are married, becoming his head wife as he gains other wives throughout the rest of the tales.

The story of Udayana now focuses on its third generation. The King and Queen of Hemaprabha give birth to a girl, named Ratnaprabha in which a voice from the heaven tells the Queen that she is to marry the young prince Naravahanadatta once he’s old enough to realize his divine nature, as the incarnate of Kama. Impatient, Ratnaprabha goes to meet Naravahanadatta, and are married. Naravahanadatta grows up as a mischievous but virtuous among his ministers, remaining in his fathers, gaining a harem, while waiting for his turn to become the Emperor. Marriage is a reoccurring theme in Naravahanadatta’s story, as he also marries Alankaravati after the King of the Vidyadharas bestows her upon him (Tawney 1880: 485).

In Tawney’s The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story volume two, Naravahanadatta’s closest friend and minister, Gomukha tells the young prince several stories and moral tales preparing the prince for his turn in the throne. In the meanwhile, he’s preparing to marry Saktiyasas, but he gets restless and impatient while waiting. Gomukha tells him stories throughout the time to keep him distracted. After marrying Saktiyasas, Naravahanadatta gains another wife, Lalitalochana, whom faked the identity of his first wife, Madanamanchuka, so the Prince of Vatsa would listen to her proclaim her love to him. He takes Lalitalochana to the Malaya Mountain to celebrate spring. While Lalitalochana is picking flowers, a hermit named Pisangajata spots Naravahanadatta, and invites him to his hermitage to tell him the lengthy side story of Mrigankadatta, son to King Amaradatta. The hermit’s story reflects Naravahanadatta’s own worry of not being near his head consort, Madanamanchuka. The Hermit consoles him by saying “ as Mrigankadatta in old time gained Sansakavati after enduring affliction, you also will regain your Madanamanchuka” (Tawney 1884: 427). With renewed hope, Naravahanadatta leaves the hermitage with Lalitalochana to find Madanamanchuka.

Returning home looking dejected, Marubhuti tells Naravahanadatta that his head wife is in the Garden, in which the prince races off to. Madanamanchuka tells her husband why she had left, admitting that because she had forgotten the oblations she promised the Yakshas she’d make, they took her away, and demanded that she re-do their marriage ceremony. Unknown to Naravahanadatta, the supposed Madanamanchuka was actually Vidyahari Vegavati in disguise. After Narahanadatta marries Vidyahari Vehavati, he sees through her disguise, she shows him her true form, and flies away with him. He’s gone for some time, soon forgetting about his other wives and his ministers after he marries Bhagirathayasas. Worried, he makes the long trip back to his fathers palace, and has to battle Manasavega, who has stolen his wife, Madanamanchuka, similar to the Ramayana in which Ravana steals Sita from Rama, and Rama must go to save her. During a fight with Manasavega, Naravahanadatta is thrown down a mountain, in which Amitagati insists he now accepts his role as Emperor (Tawney 1884: 469). The new Emperor’s army defeats Manasavega, and he is finally reunited with Madanamanchuka, and he is free to enjoy the rest of life’s pleasures, becoming the Lord Paramount over all of Vidyadhara with his many ministers and 25 wives (Tawney 1884: 505).

The Kathasaritsagara, rich with legends and folklore, also makes references to other Hindu stories, such as the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. As well as its references to other Hindu epics, the Kathasaritsagara is very obvious with to which God it preffers. Somadeva, as a Saiva, tailors his adaptation of Gundhya’s Brihatkatha to favor Siva, as Siva is the main God the characters turn to, and offers the most help. The Kathasaritsagara is not well known for its moral tales, however a life lesson can be taken from all of the stories presented.


Sternbach, Ludwik (1980) Aphorisms and proverbs in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara. Lucknow: Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad.

Mosley, Norman (1924) The Ocean of Story, Being C.H. Tawney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha Sarit Sagara (Or Oceans of streams of story). London: Private print.

Tawney, Charles H. (1880) The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story. Calcutta: Printed by J.W. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press.

Tawney, Charles H. (1884) The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the streams of story. Calcutta: Printed by J.W. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press.




Charles Henry Tawney






Normal Mosley Penzer










Article written by: Dakota Knull (March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kathasaritsagara

The Kathasaritsagara, also known under the title of “Ocean of the Streams of Story,” is a compilation of individual fables that, collectively, make up the whole of the Kathasaritsagara. The individual accredited with compiling the Kathasaritsagara, as the exact origins of the individual fables are unknown, was an eleventh century Kashmire Brahmin by the name of Somadeva Bhatta. (Haase 531; Franke 316). The collection falls under the category of Indian art called kavya; individuals who utilized kavya art forms “display their skill…by presenting well-known subjects in a refined and sophisticated poetical form” (Franke 316). It is noted by several sources, and within the prefaces of such translators as C.H. Tawney’s 1880 English version of the Kathasaritsagara, that the work was compiled for the entertainment of a queen by the name of Suryamati, the wife of a king named Anantadeva of Kashmir (Haase 531-532; Franke 316). It is also believed that in addition to simple entertainment, the Kathasaritsagara was compiled with the intention of providing the queen with a form of distraction and comfort from several hardships that were experienced in the family, particularly surrounding her husband and son (Franke 316). The hardships were characterized by the hatred and animosity that existed between Suryamati’s husband, Anantadeva, and their son (Franke 316). Unfortunately, the animosity between Anantadeva and Suryamati’s son eventually led to Anantadeva commiting the act of suicide (Franke 316).

Over the years since the Kathasaritsagara was first compiled, the work has been translated and edited, in whole or in part, from the original Sanskrit versions into languages such as German, English, and Persian. Each translation and editation of the Kathasaritsagara holds its own merits and backstories.

Several known editors and translators have worked versions of the Kathasaritsagara into English variations. One such translator of the work is Sir Richard Francis Burton. Specifically, Sir Richard Francis Burton worked with one of the fables in the Kathasaritsagara in order to translate that particular piece into English. The fable that Burton translated is entitled Vetalapanchavinsati, however, it is also known through its translated names of “Tales of a Vampire, Vikram and the Vampire,” as well as “Tales of Indian Devilry” (Haase 532; Burton 1868). An easily accessible version of Burton’s work can be found online (Burton 1868).

Another popular English version of the Kathasaritsagara was translated by C.H. Tawney in the year of 1880. Tawney’s translation has resulted in the entirety of the Kathasaritsagara being available to audiences in the English language. Within his version, C.H. Tawney provides an index, glossary, as well as commentary. The commentary that C.H. Tawney provides can be found at the bottom of several of the pages, some of which includes comparisons of the fables present in the Kathasaritsagara to others. C.H. Tawney’s translation of the Kathasaritsagara is available online, but it is broken into two volumes (Haase 532; Penzer 3). An edited version of Tawney’s translation by N.M Penzer contains ten volumes (Haase 532; Penzer 3).

One particular German version of the Kathasaritsagara, was translated by an individual by the name of Hermann Brechams. His version of the Kathasaritsagara is noted by Donald Haase, in his work “The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales.” The German version that has been translated by Breckhams is available online, similarly to other translated versions of the work (Breckhams 1862). A noted Sanskrit version of the text has been edited by two men, known as Pandit Durgaprasad and his son, Kashinath Pandurang Parab. Another edited version, in Sanskrit, of the Kathasaritsagara was completed by Brockhaus; The two versions are compared for their differences by Speyer (Speyer 61-75). A copy of the Sanskrit version, of the Kathasaritsagara, Pandit Durgaprasad and Kashinath Pandurang Parab’s translation is available to audiences online (Parab & Durgaprasad 1930; Speyer 61).

The Persian version of the Kathasaritsagara was translated from Sanskrit into Persian for the Mughal emperor, Akbar (Franke 313). The translation likely was inspired upon the visit of Akbar to Srinagar in the year of 1589 (Franke 313). It is suspected that during his visit to Srinagar that Akbar became introduced to the Kathasaritsagara, and then ordered its translation into the Persian language (Franke 313). One well-known version of the Kathasaritsagara that was translated for Akbar contained illustrations in addition to the translation of the collection (Franke 313). Unfortunately, one cannot find a whole copy of such a manuscript anymore, at least not of that concerning the translations that had been created for Akbar (Franke 313-315). The reason that one cannot find a whole manuscript from Akbar’s time in Persian is due to the fact that it was disassembled; what is left of the manuscript can be found in portions (Franke 313-315). Some of the illustrations that are believed to have originated from the manuscript, created for Akbar, are now in private collections and in the collections or available to be viewed through museums (Franke 313-315). Museums that currently have some of the illustrations from the manuscript in their collections includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Franke 313-315; The Metropolitan Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The Metropolitan Museum currently portrays two of their acquired illustrations from the Kathasaritsagara in their online collection (The Metropolitan Museum). The Los Angeles County Museum of Art displays three illustrations from the Kathasaritsagara (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

The Kathasaritsagara, as a collection of fables, adheres to the general role that stories categorized under the term of fables follows. Fables are categorized separately from other forms of literature due to the fact that fables are meant to serve a specific purpose aside from that of providing entertainment or information. As stated by H.J. Blackham, “A fable takes or invents representative material offered to reflection.” (Blackham 224) Therefore, the overall purpose of fables can be understood as a way in which to provide readers and audiences with narratives that allow for the reader to gain insight to utilize within the context of different situations in their lives. The Kathasaritsagara begins by laying a foundation story under which many of the fables carry on in separate stories that are able to be connected, similarly to that of a series. Each individual story provides audiences with a message or lesson to be passed on for the individual to apply into the lives of the audience members.

The Kathasaritsagara is divided into eighteen separate books; the Kathapitha, Kathamukha, Lavanaka, Naravahanadattajanana, Chaturdarika, Madanamanchuka, Ratnaprabha, Suryaprabha, Alankaravati, Saktiyasas, Vela, Sasankavati, Madiravati, Pancha, Mahabhisheka, Suratamanjari, Padmavati, and Vishamasila (Tawney 1). Each of the eighteen books have their own set of chapters. Several chapters within each of the books are capable of standing alone, with the addition of the chapters also having the capability of acting as fables. Within the first book of the Kathasaritsagara, the Kathapitha, each of the individual chapters provides an independent story that is still linked to the main story of the book. The individual chapters are situated and presented to the audience in such a way that each one is capable of portraying a lesson or motif to the audience and reader. The capability of the chapters to stand as individual narratives, that are capable of portraying lessons and motifs that can be applied to one’s life as is dictated under the categorization of fables (Blackham 224), is a great characteristic of the Kathasaritsagara that one can and should analyze.

The ability for one to be able to categorize many of the stories within the work as being capable of being categorized as a collection of fables is evident as soon as the first book within the Kathasaritsagara, the Kathapitha. In the case of the first book, the primary story is told in the first chapter where the goddess Parvati harshly punishes Pushpadanta as well as a Gana Malyavan who attempted to intercede on behalf of Pushpadanta (Tawney 4-5). The punishment was that the two pramathas would be cursed to be mortals until such a time that they would be able to complete two separate, yet interceding tasks (Tawney 4-5). As time passes, Parvati comes to regret her harsh punishment that had been born out of quick anger and jealousy (Tawney 5). The first chapter of the first book acts as both an introduction to what the whole of the book’s chapters’ plots are based upon. The first book in itself is also capable of acting as a standalone story with its own motif and lesson. As a fable, the first chapter of the Kathapitha provides audiences with a story in which one can discern the disadvantages associated with several actions including quick temperament and eavesdropping. The third chapter, in the Kathapitha, as well as other chapters in the Kathapitha, share a similar function of acting as a fable, however, unlike the initial chapter of the book, it has a story that can act independently or, as it is within the Kathasaritsagara, as a continuation of the book. Pushpadanta encounters the Gana Malyavan, who had attempted to intercede on his behalf, thus allowing for the completion of half of the curse’s cure followed by the beginning of the second half through the telling of several stories (Tawney 4-5, 11-16). The main story within the chapter is centered around a character named Putraka and his family. The motif of the fable is centered around the advantages of living in virtue despite the unvirtuous, greedy, and evil acts of others. The story begins by describing how Putraka’s parents and two sets of aunts and uncles came to meet, followed by the abandonment of his mother and aunts by their husbands in the time of a famine (Tawney 11). The virtue of the three women in regards towards the care of Putraka as well as their loyalty of austerities and duty towards their husbands, despite their abandonment, led to good fortunes and blessings from the god Siva (Tawney 11-12). Putraka eventually welcomed his father and uncles back into the family, after he had become king. His uncles and father, however, were not satisfied with the wealth and power that they obtained from their relationship to Putraka – they lusted after more. The three men arranged for a group of assassins to kill Putraka upon a visitation to a temple, of which Putraka was able to dissuade by persuading the assassins to accept payment for his life. Once the deal was struck, Putraka left his kingdom. Despite the careful planning of the three men and the actions of Putraka to leave the kingdom quietly as if he had indeed been assassinated, his father and uncles were put to death for their treason against Putraka (Tawney 12-13). During his flight from the kingdom, that had been his home, Putraka came across two men fighting over a series of inheritance. The men were greedy, and so Putraka was able to trick them by proclaiming that the two men commit to a race, the winner of which would win all three items. The men agreed to the plan and left the items in Putraka’s presence, once the men were out of sight, Putraka took the pieces of inheritance the men were fighting over for himself (Tawney 13-15). In another kingdom, he fell in love with a daughter of the kingdom’s king (Tawney 15-16). The two of them escaped the kingdom after the king discovered their romance (Tawney 15-16). With the inheritance that Putraka came to possess from the two fighting men, he and his new wife created a kingdom of their own (Tawney 16).

The portrayal of the Kathasaritsagara, as a collection of fables, continues on into the third book, the Lavanaka. Within this book, some of the stories portray that although pieces of literature are capable of offering guidance in the form of a fable, it is up to the individual to apply the lesson portrayed properly within the context of their life’s situations. A great example is shown in the first chapter in the third book. A great example is shown in the first chapter in the third book. Within the chapter, the main story introduced is that two ministers of a kingdom by the names of, Yaugandharayana and Rumanvat, meet to discuss the progress of the kingdom under the rule of their king (Tawney 101). It is believed that the king does not pose enough personal involvement in the growth and development of the kingdom, but rather in personal pleasures (Tawney 101). Both provide different points of view about how to address the subject intellectually and practically. Yaugandharayana and Rumanvat each support their cases through the utilization of different stories or fables (Tawney 101-104). Yaugandharayana made the claim that they should report to the king of a neighboring kingdom that the queen of their king, Vasavadatta, as dead in order to get the neighboring king’s daughter’s hand in marriage (Tawney 101). Yaugandharayana’s hope was that through the successful implementation of the deception, the kingdom would ultimately end up gaining an ally (Tawney 101). The reasoning behind Yaugandharayanana’s hope of a new, strong ally in the opposite kingdom is that the kingdoms, as one, would be able to conquer all of the kingdoms on earth with the aid of the neighboring king’s large, strong armies (Tawney 101). With the conquering of the world’s kingdoms, Yaugandharayanana portrays that the promotion of the growth of the kingdom would be accomplished and his king would have achieved his duty (Tawney 101). Yaugandharayana claimed that his plan would act similarly to the actions and rewards of the characters in the story that he presents as evidence that his idea is a good one (Tawney 101-102). Within the story that Yaugandharayana provided, a king who submitted to a rival king after being bested had come to develop an illness (Tawney 102). The illness was determined to have been derived from the mental applications on the king’s psyche from his submission to the rival king (Tawney 102). In order to cure the king, a physician informed him that his wife had dead. Later, upon hearing that his queen was alive, the king comes to prosper once more in glory (Tawney 102). Rumanvat presents this story as an example for his argument against Yaugandharayana (Tawney 102). Rumanvat presents his example as a way to express how he believes that Yaugandharayana’s plan of deception against the two kingdoms will ultimately lead to the eventual ruin of many individuals, himself and Yaugandharayana in particular (Tawney 102). The story that Rumanvat chooses to illustrate his point against the use of deceit for gain is focused around a character identified to be a deceitful ascetic (Tawney 102-104). Within the fable, the ascetic utilized his position to trick a merchant so that he would believe that his beautiful daughter was inauspicious (Tawney 103). Specifically, the ascetic proclaimed that the daughter’s inauspicious nature would ultimately lead to the death of her entire family (Tawney 103). The ascetic further claimed that the only way that the merchant could hope to save the family was to place his daughter into a basket with a lit lamp on a river, and send her a drift in the dead of night, a request to which the merchant adhered to (Tawney 103). On the prescribed night of the merchant’s daughter’s sending off on the river, the ascetic sent his followers to retrieve the daughter’s basket (Tawney 103). The ascetic sent his followers off without informing them of the events that led up to the task, or the contents of the basket, so that he could secretly claim the daughter for himself (Tawney 103). Before the followers could retrieve the basket, however, a good prince happened upon the basket as it drifted down the river, and married the daughter that evening (Tawney 103). The prince had the basket replaced in the river, with an occupant of a vicious monkey, which mutilated the ascetic upon his gaining of the basket – marking him in shame and humiliation in light of his deceit while those around him are happy (Tawney 103-104).






References and Further Recommended Reading


Blackham, H.J. (2013) The Fable as Literature. Sydney: Bloomsbury.


Breckhamms, Hermin (1862) Kathasaritsagara: Die Marchensammlung des Somadeva. Leipzig: F.A Brochaus.


Burton, Richard (1868) “Vikram and the Vampire or Tales of Indian Devilry” Fraser’s Magazine: 407-761.


Durgaprasad, Pandit and Kashinath Pandurang Parab (1930) Kathasaritsagara (Original Text): 4th Edition of Nirnay Sugar Press. Bombay: Nirnay Sugar Press.


Franke, Heike (2010) “Akbar’s “Kathasaritsagara”: The Translator and Illustrations of An Imperial Manuscript” Muqarnas vol. 27: 313-356.


Haase, Donald (2007) The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. London: Greenwood Publishing Group.


Los Angeles County Art Museum (2017)


Penzer, N.M. (1928) The Ocean of Story Being C.H. Tawny’s Translation of Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagara (or Ocean of Streams of Story) vol. 10. London: Chas J. Sawyer Ltd., Grafton House.


Speyer, Jacob Samuel (1908) Studies about the Kathasaritsagara. Amsterdam: Johannes Muller.


Tawny,C.H., (1880) Kathasaritsagara vol.1. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press.


The Metropolitan Museum (2000-2017)


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Article written by: Victoria Jean Layton (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.