Katha Sarita Sagara (कथासरितसागर / kathaa sarita saagara)
(literally meaning 'Ocean Of Sea Of Stories') is an unique literary work in Sanskrit literature. It was composed by
a brahmin scholar from Kashmir named Soma Deva(somadeva) around 1170 AD. Many other famous works like
Arabian Nights have got inspiration from Katha Sarita Sagara. It is not surprising to find many common fairy
tales in Katha Sarita Sagara. It is said that Soma Deva composed it to entertain the queen Suryamati
(suryamatii), the wife of king Anantadeva (anantadeva), so that she can devote more time to worldly matters than
worshipping Lord Shiva.
Katha Sarita Sagara stands in contrast with other Indian Sanskrit scriptures. Almost all Sanskrit text teach or
promote an ethical life and moral code of conduct for all. In contrast to these almost all stories in
Katha Sarita Sagara talk about earthly living, earthly pleasure and fantacy.
Katha Sarita Sagara is a collection of hundreds of stories tied together through a complex web of different stories
tied together in threads. The author Soma Deva mentions that Katha Sarita Sagara is derived from a much bigger
work named Brihad Katha. The very first introduction chapter (Katha Pitha) mentions about seven volumes of
Brihad Katha, written by a scholar named Gunadhya (guNaadhyaaya) and presented to King Salivahana
(saalivaahana). However the King does not approve these stories as these were written in Paisachi (paisaachi)
language and not in Sanskrit. Disheartened Gunadhya then starts burning these volumes, after telling the stories
to animals in the forest. However finally King Salivahana reads the last remaining volume and saves it from
being burnt. He translates it into Sanskrit and names it as Brihad Katha. Though Brihad Katha is not available
today, there are enough compelling evidences to justify that it was existing and was famous in Indian literature.
Many of the stories are derived from stories in Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and historical events etc. However
almost all the original stories have been altered and written to form the thread of stories in Katha Sarita Sagara
than the original story or event. The famous stories from Betal Pachisi are also available in Katha Sarita Sagara
as part of a larger thread of stories.
Most of the characters in the stories are vidyaadharas or deme-gods, and similar non-human characters. Concepts
like boons, curses, re-birth, devine help, magical power etc., are very common in the stories. In fact these play
an important role in giving a completely new dimension to the different level of stories in which characters from
an outer level story can appear in a deeper level story as a different character and tell stories about themselve.
The Katha Pitha of Katha Sarita Sagara itself gives an insight into the magical stories that are part of it. It
starts with request of Goddess Parvati to Lord Shiva to tell her some story which has never been told before.
Lord Shiva tells the magical stories about the seven vidyadhara princes as their life is more interesting than
the human beings or Gods. His retainer Nandi (nandi) guards the place and no one else is allowed to enter. However
after being denied entry by Nandi, Pushpadanta (pushpadanta) one of the retainers (gaNa) of Lord Shiva takes
an invisible form and entes the place out of curiosity. He listens to these enchanting magical stories and later
narrates them to his wife Jaya (jayaa). She in turns tells those stories to Goddess Parvati. Goddess Parvati
gets angry thinking that Lord Shiva has told her stories that even a servant knows. However, after knowing the
actual events, she curses Pushpadanta to become a mortal on earth. Same fate awaits Maalyavaan (maalyavaan)
another retainer who tries to side with Pushpadanta. After lot of request from them she puts the conditions to
get back their former forms. Pushpadanta is to narrate the stories to Suppratika (supratika) another retainer
who has become a demon under some earlier curse. This will end the curse on Pushpadanta. Suppratika is to
narrate the stories to Maalyavaan and get back his former position. Malyavaan gets the most difficult task of
spreading the stores on earth before getting back his original form.
On earth, Pushpadanta becomes Varuruchi (varuruchi) and Malyavaan becomes Gunadhyaya (guNaadhyaaya). As the
flow of events occur, Varuruchi narates the stories to Kanabhuti (kaaNabhuti) the deamon (Suppratika under
curse), and gets freed from the curse. Similarly Kanabhuti narrates the stories to Gunadhyaya and becomes free
from the curse. Later Gunadhyaya writes these stories in Paisachi language and presents to king Salivahana.
As he disapproves the stories written in Paisachi language, disheartened Gunadhyaya narrates the stories to the
animals in forest and burns the writings one after another. King Salivahana comes to know about this and saves the
seventh story from being burnt. He later transalates these into Sanskrit as Brihad Katha. After this Gunadhyaya
is able to get back his previous form as Malyavaan.