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Folio from Kathasaritsagara.JPG
A 16th century folio from an Indian retelling of the Kathasaritsagara

The Kathāsaritsāgara ("Ocean of the Streams of Stories") is a famous 11th-century collection of Indian legends, fairy tales and folk tales as retold in Sanskrit by a Shaiva named Somadeva.

Kathasaritsagara is said to have been adopted from Guṇāḍhya's Brihatkatha, which was written in a poorly-understood language known as Paiśācī. The work is no longer extant but several later adaptations still exist — the Kathasaritsagara, Brihatkathamanjari and Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha. However, none of these recensions necessarily derives directly from Gunadhya, and each may have intermediate versions. Scholars compare Guṇāḍhya with Vyasa and Valmiki even though he did not write the now long-lost Brihatkatha in Sanskrit. Presently available are its two Sanskrit recensions, the Brihatkathamanjari by Kshemendra and the Kathasaritsagara by Somadeva.


Probable relationship between versions of the Brihatkatha
Relationships of chief characters in the Brihatkatha (as evidenced by the derived texts Brihatkathashlokasamgraha, Brihatkathamanjari, and Kathasaritsagara).

The work consists of 18 books of 124 chapters and approximately 22,000 ślokas (distichs) in addition to prose sections.[1] The śloka consists of 2 half-verses of 16 syllables each. Thus, syllabically, the Kathāsaritsāgara is approximately equal to 66,000 lines of iambic pentameter; by comparison, John Milton's Paradise Lost weighs in at 10,565 lines. All this pales in comparison to the (presumably legendary) 700,000 ślokas of the lost original Brihatkatha. The principal tale is the narrative of the adventures of Naravahanadatta, son of the legendary king Udayana. A large number of tales are built around this central story, making it the largest existing collection of Indian tales. It also contains early recensions of the Panchatantra in Book 10; and the Vetālapañcaviṃśati, or Baital Pachisi, in Book 12.

The Kathāsaritsāgara is generally believed to derive from Gunadhya's lost Brihatkatha written in the lost Paisaci dialect. But the Kashmirian (or "Northwestern") Brihatkatha that Somadeva adapted may be quite different from the Paisaci ur-text, as at least 5 apparent descendants of Gunadhya's work exist — all quite different in form and content, the best-known (after the Kathāsaritsāgara itself) probably being the Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha of Budhasvamin from Nepal. Like the Panchatantra, tales from the Kathāsaritsāgara (or its related versions) travelled to many parts of the world.

Editions and translations[edit]


  • Pandit Durgāprasāda; Kāśīnātha Pāṇḍuraṅga Paraba, eds. (1889), The Kathâsaritsâgara of Somadevabhatta, The Nirnaya-Sâgara Press
  • Pandit Durgāprasāda; Kāśīnātha Pāṇḍuraṅga Paraba; Wasudev Laxman Shastri Pansikar, eds. (1915), The Kathâsaritsâgara of Somadevabhatta (3rd ed.), The Nirnaya-Sâgara Press



The book was a favourite of scholar of Buddhism Herbert V. Guenther, according to Jodi Reneé Lang, Ph.D.[2]

The idea of a sea of stories was an inspiration for Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.[3]

Illustrations from an edition of the Kathasaritsagara, c.1590
Tale of the Cunning Siddhikari
Somaprabha and a Celestial Nymph Listening to Music

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Penzer 1924 Vol I, p xxxi.
  2. ^ "Jodi Reneé Lang, Ph.D.: Herbert Guenther, The Man".
  3. ^ The Ocean of the Rivers of Story Volume One, trans. by James Mallinson, Clay Sanskrit Library (New York: New York University Press, 2007), p. 23.

External links[edit]