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Kathasaritasagara in Hindu Religion – A Collection Of Stories Of Ancient Hindu World

Kathasaritasagara means the ocean of rivers of stories and it is a collection of stories of ancient Hindu world. It was written by Somadeva in the 11th century AD who hailed from Kashmir. It is a collection of poetry and literature which has Sanskrit narrative poetry and also miscellaneous folklorist works. It also give insights into important aspects of Hindu religion of the period.

Kathasaritasagara is a storehouse of popular ideas and folklore which developed in oral tradition over the centuries in ancient India.

Kathasaritasagara has nearly 350 tales in 21,000 shlokas reflect the problems of common people of society and their problems.

 A Collection Of Stories Of Ancient Hindu World

Kathasaritasagara Inspired By Brihatkatha Of Gunadhya

Somadeva was only a redactor of an earlier collection of stories from folk sources, known as Brihatkatha, which is attributed to the little-known author Gunadhya. This collection, composed in Prakrit, is known as Paisachi and survives partly in Somadeva’s collection.
Legendary anecdotes are furnished by Somadeva about the birth of Gunadhya’s first story collection. We are told that these stories were first narrated by Lord Shiva for the entertainment of his consort, Goddess Parvati, on Mount Kailash in the Himalayan Mountains. They were overheard by a servant who was curse to be born on the earth as Pishacha.

In the original text by Gunadhya, there was clearly a depiction of the Aryan structure of the society with its castes and multiple religious faiths and professions. But the Kashmiri Brihatkatha made it a real ocean into which several rivers empty their waters. Thus the story of Nala and Damayanti (occurring in the Mahabharata and Puranas), the entire Panchatantra stories bearing on polity and moral values (lokaniti), Vetala Panchvimshati or the stories of the ghost and King Vikrama, are found in this ocean of Kathasaritasagara.

Stories of Ancient Hindu World And Common Hindus

We can see several strands of reality as understood by the Hindu mind in the stories of Kathasaritasagara. Important mythical beings found in Puranas are found in the stories.
Some of characters and incidents related to Hinduism in the stories are:
  • Mythical beings like yakshas and vidyadharas,
  • the motif of dohada  
  • cravings of pregnant women,
  • the institution of devadasis (sacred servants of the gods),
  • the appearance of Shiva with a necklace of human skulls,
  • religious practices invoking terrible spirits,
  • sacrifice of children to beget sons,
  • demons stalking in the night,
  •  magical articles like footwear making one fly in the air,
  • changing one’s shape at will,
  • suitors entrapped by women,
  • laughing fish, and
  •  the gift of half of one’s own life to revive the life of another.
Incidents associated with Hindu religion e are distributed widely throughout this work and the motifs have traveled all over the globe.

Most of the tales are very cleverly interlaced, though there are no internal relationships. 

Other important themes

  • Fictions like meeting with heavenly damsels, 
  • interference by gods, 
  • demons and sages in the affairs of men, 
  • the gifts of wonderful things like magic tables
  • the feats of the wizards and witches are common to many of them. 
  • We find curious money-seekers and gold diggers. 
  • The transformation of man into an animal is a recurring motif. 
  • Magic locks and keys occur, too. 
In this admixture of several elements, they resemble Jataka tales.

Other Stories - Merchants - Thieves - Boatmen

A note of realism is also found in some of the stories. We have stories of boatmen by the side of shipwrecked merchants, along with wonderful palaces at the bottom of seas, stories of adventurous heroes travelling on the earth, as well as romantic stories, in which love is aroused through dreams and portraits.

Stories of thieves and scoundrels rub shoulders with stories of wise men. The world of knaves and rouges is headed by master Muladeva, his wife and associates. Though they are antisocial in their work, they are characterized as lively and amiable. They ridicule the religious and those that champion them. As foils to faithful wives, we have a large number of women who deceive their husbands.

Style of Writing

To readers today what is most striking is Somadeva’s literary art. He is not only a story teller but a poet of the first order. In Somadeva’s hands the classical shloka meter acquires a new glow. In depicting the rasas of wonderment and high flow love, in describing the heartwarming and breathtaking exploits of adventurous men and women and in devising climaxes varying in different stories, Somadeva is a master. His style shifts easily to a pedestrian movement when he relates the incidents of these men and women in all their humdrum activities with their innocent joys and pains.

Somadeva’s age held the brilliant style of long compounds as most literary, but he avoided that extreme of Bana’s style. Somadeva may be said to have shaped for himself a new style, combining the merits of Valmiki and Kalidasa.

Through his style of writing Somadeva is able to hold the reader’s attention all along and ensure an unflagging interest in the stories by the mere variety and changing beauty of themes, at once romantic and imaginative.

If the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, represent the Vedic and Puranic culture of ancient period. Kathasaritasagara contains more detailed culture of the period and stories of common people. 

The stories of people in the forest and streets and their magic and culture of the Vedic and Puranic period is unraveled through the 350 odd stories in Kathasaritasagara.

Source - 
A History of Indian Literature Vol.III (1963)  Maurice Winternitz
Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume VI (IHRF) page 2 and 3



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