Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 1 – Kathāmṛta and Kathā-sarit-sāgara

This article is part 1 of 20 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

कवीन्द्रमानसाम्भोजनिवासभ्रमरीं नमः।
देवीं सहृदयानन्दशब्दमूर्तिं सरस्वतीं॥

श्रीरामायणभारतबृहत्कथानां कवीन्नमस्कुर्मः।
त्रिस्रोता इव सरसा सरस्वती स्फुरति यैर्भिन्ना॥

When I decided to write Vacana-bhārata, I wanted to take a look at how Kṣemendra had condensed the epic and so perused through his work Bhārata-mañjarī [which is an abridged retelling of the great epic]. During the same period, I also happened to go through two of his other abridged poetical works – the Rāmāyaṇa-mañjarī and the Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī. At that point, a thought crossed my mind –  why not I translate the Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī into Kannada? Later I felt that much more than a faithful translation of that work into Kannada, what would be useful is a fresh prose book in Kannada that would be an abridged retelling of the Bṛhat-kathā based on Kṣemendra’s work as well as the Kathā-sarit-sāgara [of Somadeva]. I began condensing the work just like I had done with the Mahā-bhārata and began writing the work in prose. The present work, Kathāmṛta, is a result of that effort.


In sum, Kathāmṛta is an abridged retelling of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara. Although I constantly referred to the Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī all through the process of writing, I have hardly used anything from it. The name ‘Kathāmṛta’ is not something that I came up with. It has been indicated by the poet in the maṅgala-śloka itself.[1] Instead of calling my work ‘A Kannada Translation of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara’ or ‘An Essential Abridgement (sāra-saṅgraha) of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara’ I preferred the short and sweet ‘Kathāmṛta.’ It’s true that one might not immediately recognize which treatise this is, upon hearing this name the first time. However, if one recollects that at one point in time it is possible that the Bṛhat-kathā—Vatsarāja’s story—was simply called ‘kathā’ (story)[2], then one would realize that the title ‘Kathāmṛta’ is not inappropriate.

Translations of Kathā-sarit-sāgara in Kannada

As far as I know, the first translation of Kathā-sarit-sāgara in Kannada was done by Śrīkaṇṭha-śarma[3] of Sagara [Shivamogga district, Karnataka]. It was published in 1908 by Bharati Sampangi Ramayya who was the editor of Savinuḍi[4], as the twelfth book in a series of books. This was only the first volume (demy ⅛ size, 534 pages; price: one rupee and eight annas). It has only the first nine lambakas and they have not been divided into taraṅgas. In the end of every lambaka there is a verse in the kanda metre, which goes –

ಮಂಗಳಗುಣಗಣ್ಯತಿಮ್ಮಪಾರ್ಯತನೂಜಂ |
ಭೃಂಗಂ ಶ್ರೀಕಂಠಶರ್ಮನಿದನಿನ್ತುಸಿರ್ದಂ ||

The grandson of the noble Liṅgārya,
the son of Timmapa (Timmappa),
endowed with good qualities, Śrīkaṇṭha-śarma,
the bee hovering at the feet-lotus of Śiva
who holds Gaṅgā on his head,
told (translated) thus.

It is not known whether he had not even translated the rest, or if he did, why he didn't publish the other nine lambakas. There is neither a prologue nor benedictory verses in this work. The language is a bit archaic, but still beautiful Kannada. Sanskrit has been used minimally and to the extent possible, Kannada is used. One example (on page 505) is:

ಬೆರಗಾಗಿ ನಿಂತು ಶರಣುಮಾಡಿದವರಿಗೆ ಹರಕೆ ಹಾಕಿದಳು

She blessed them who stood awestruck and sought her refuge.

Likewise we find words and usages like ಮರಿಯಾದೆ / mariyādè (respect), ಕರೆತರೆ / karètarè (bringing or receiving someone), and ಪಯಿಠಣೆ / payiṭhaṇè (probably a Marathi word; it has multiple meanings depending on the context: decoration, menu, beauty, details, description, seasoning, and connection). It can more or less be called a faithful translation, except that some parts here and there have been left out; thus it is also a summarization. It is beyond the scope of the present work to analyse why and due to what reasons those parts have been left out or summarized. However, those who are interested in the evolution of Hosagannaḍa (modern Kannada) will find it profitable to study it. The book is no longer in print.

The second translation is by Sri. Cidambara Panḍita of Tarikere [Chikkamagaluru district, Karnataka]. At the behest of Mysore University, he worked on a translation around thirty years ago (c. 1922). But due to lack of support from the university, he published it himself in the form of a magazine named Karṇāṭaka Kathā-sarit-sāgara and also in other magazines like Sad-bodha-candrike and Vicāra-taraṅgiṇī from 1921 to 1934. It came out in a single volume (demy ⅛ size, around 700 pages). It was later known that to complete the work it would have needed two more volumes, that the translations were ready, and due to lack of facilities/funding the publication came to a halt. His translation goes on till the first three taraṅgas of the Sūrya-prabhā laṃbaka, i.e. the eighth laṃbaka. Even this edition skips the prologue and the benedictory verses. The language is simple. The book is out of print.


The Kathā-sarit-sāgara is quite an expansive work of poetry in Sanskrit. The work is in the form of verses and its language is easily accessible. Its construction, on the other hand, is tight. There are not many alaṅkāras (linguistic embellishments, at the level of sound and/or meaning; figures of speech) or kavi-samayas (poetic conventions) used in the work. All the verses are set to the anuṣṭup-chandas. However, at the end of each taraṅga (literally, ‘wave;’ roughly translates into ‘chapter’), a different chandas is used (as is usually the case with all works of Sanskrit poetry – a change of chandas at the end indicates the completion of a chapter). At the beginning of each ‘lambaka’ (canto, segment), the poet has included benedictory verses dedicated to either one or more of the following deities – Śiva, Pārvatī, Gaṇapati, Sarasvatī, and Manmatha. (The current work, ‘Kathāmṛta’ includes those benedictory verses too).

Kathā-sarit-sāgara consists of eighteen lambakas, 124 taraṅgas, and about 22,000 verses. (The Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey put together only amount to about half the size of Kathā-sarit-sāgara ). A lambaka is the equivalent of the kāṇḍas of the Rāmāyaṇa or parvas of the Mahābhārata. It is a large segment consisting of many taraṅgas, the cognates of adhyāyas of the epics. From the praśasti (laudation) that occurs at the end of the work, we infer that the Kathā-sarit-sāgara  was composed by Somadeva Bhaṭṭa, the son of Rāmadeva Bhaṭṭa. He wrote it for ‘citta-vinoda’—‘to entertain’—Sūryamatī, the wife of the King Anantarāja (r. 1029–1064) of Kāśmīr. Thus, we can estimate that the work was composed between 1063 and 1081 CE.

To be continued...

Editorial note:

Following the tremendous response received for the English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata, we’re thrilled to present the English translation of yet another of the learned professor’s works. Every Friday, starting from today, we will publish a serialized English translation of Prof. Krishna Shastri’s Kathāmṛta, his abridged prose version of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara. The English translation is done by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.



[1] इदं गुरुगिरीन्द्रजाप्रणयमन्दरान्दोलनात्
पुरा किल कथामृतं हरमुखाम्बुधेरुद्गतम्।
प्रसह्य रसयन्ति ये विगतविघ्नलब्धर्द्धयो
धुरं दधति वैबुधीं भुवि भवप्रसादेन ते॥

Also see verse #12 of the praśasti that appears at the start of Somadeva’s work –

नानाकथामृतमयस्य बृहत्कथायाः सारस्य सज्जनमनोम्बुधिपूर्णचन्द्रः।
सोमेनविप्रवरभूरिगुणाभिरामरामात्मजेन विहितः खलु संग्रहोऽयम्॥

[2] Discussed later in the introduction under the subheading ‘Evolution of the Bṛhat-kathā

[3]In English, in the title page of this book, the author’s name is mentioned as N. Srikantayya. It is also mentioned that he is the author of many books such as Mālatī-mādhava-prakaraṇa-kathā, Vāsava-dattā, Gītāmṛta-mahodadhi, Gītā-sāra-sarvasva etc. The 1,000 copies that were printed were exhausted ten years prior to the date of this work (c. 1942) and hence it was difficult to find it. I’m indebted to Sri. H N Rao brothers, well-known book vendors in Bangalore, for providing me with the only copy of the book they possessed.

[4] Savinuḍi was in publication around the 1900s. The editor, Sampangi Ramayya, has done yeoman service by  publishing many books in Kannada. He passed away in the 1950s.




Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

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Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...