Budha-svāmī’s Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha is probably older than both Kathā-sarit-sāgara and Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī. It’s time is unknown. Lacôte opines that the work might be from the eighth or the ninth century CE. Since the manuscript was first found in Nepal, it has been guessed that the author must be from Nepal. The poet has divided the work into sargas. There are no lambakas, unlike the works of Somadeva and Kṣemendra. It also doesn’t contain taraṅgas and gucchas. It seems like the poet envisioned an epic poetry structure like Rāmāyaṇa while writing it, but unlike Rāmāyaṇa there are no divisions like the Kāṇḍas. Many opine that it is more faithful to the original Bṛhat-kathā. But how can it be said if the original is not at all available? It may be an independent retelling based on the original. Because, unlike Somadeva and Kṣemendra, the poet never says that he is translating the original Bṛhat-kathā in Paiśācī into Sanskrit. For that matter, Guṇāḍhya’s name appears only once somewhere in the middle. When Vegavanta (Vega-vān) asks to describe the kingdom of Mānasa-vega, the poet through the characters say that it is impossible even to Guṇāḍhya to do so.
आसन्नस्थण्डिलस्थौ तौ पृष्टवानथ वेगवान् ।
राज्ञो मानसवेगस्य राज्यं नो वर्ण्यतामिति ॥१४.५९
Vega-vān asked them (who were sitting on the ground), to describe the kingdom of Mānasa-vega.
ताभ्यामुक्तमशक्यं तद्गुणाढ्येनापि शंसितुम् ।
तमपेक्ष्य तु राजानः शेषाश्छत्रविडम्बकाः॥१४.६०
They said that even Guṇāḍhya is not capable of describing it, compared to Mānasa-vega, all other kings are just showoffs (lit. umbrella-parodying)
Note: Royal umbrella (generally white in colour) is one of the insignia of being a king, here even though they have their kinsmen carry umbrella upon their heads around they aren’t worthy to be called kings.
The first three sargas describe how, after the sons of Mahāsena, Gopāla and Pālaka, having ruled the kingdom, went to Vāna-prastha, after which, Avanti-vardhana, the son of Gopāla, was crowned as the king. When his wife, Surasa-mañjarī was kidnapped by a Vidyā-dhara named Ipphaka, he is caught by another Vidyā-dhara named Divākara-deva and was brought to the court of the king of Vidyā-dharas, Nara-vāhana-datta. He orders them to be taken to the hermitage of Kaśyapa, where they will be investigated and he also proceeds to go there along with his family. Avanti-vardhana’s uncle Pālaka will also be residing in the hermitage. After reuniting Avanti-vardhana and Surasa-mañjarī, punishing Ipphaka for his misdeed, Kaśyapa with other sages ask Nara-vāhana-datta about his affluence and how he managed to have so many wives. Nara-vāhana-datta narrates his story (4.12). This ‘Prologue’ has been provided in the Appendix Two of this book.
In the next twenty five sargas, Nara-vāhana-datta’s birth, his growth, his six marriages have been described. It seems he had twenty six wives (5.43,50). Whether the poet’s intention was to describe all these twenty six marriages, how far he had gone in this, how many sargas and ślokas he wrote, no one knows. At present we know of twenty eight sargas, 4539 ślokas. Every sarga narrates a standalone story completely before moving to the next one. This has led to a lot of variations in the number of ślokas in a particular sarga. The 18th sarga has 703 ślokas while the 6th sarga has only 33 ślokas.
Even though Nara-vāhana-datta starts by saying he wants to narrate his story, he actually narrates the story of Udayana first. By then both Padmāvatī and Vāsavadattā are already married to Udayana. He does not narrate anything about their weddings which have been the subject of famous Plays like Svapna-vāsavadattā. The other stories - the desire of Mṛgāvatī, the mother of Udayana, Udayana’s birth etc. have been narrated as a flashback. In this and many other aspects it differs from the Kashmir renditions of the story. To what extent the original text or the poet himself is the reason for these discrepancies is difficult to decide.
Following are the first ten verses from the Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha:
महाखाता महाशाला पुर्यस्त्युज्जयिनीति या ।
महाम्भोधिमहाशैलमेखलेव महामही ॥ १.१
There exists a city named Ujjayinī, which is girdled with great moats and towering buildings, like the great earth is, by the great oceans and mountains.
प्रासादान् यत्र पश्यन्तः संततान् हैमराजतान् ।
मेरुकैलासकूटेभ्यः स्पृहयन्ति न नागराः ॥ १.२
The citizens of Ujjayinī, gazing upon its towering structures made of gold and silver, do not seek Meru and Kailāsa and other mountains.
वेदमौर्वीविपञ्चीनां ध्वनयः प्रतिमन्दिरम् ।
यत्र संनिपतन्तोऽपि न बाधन्ते परस्परम् ॥ १.३
Where the pastimes are the reverberation of Vedic chants and the bow-string-twangs in all homes, coexisting peacefully.
कृतं वर्णनया तस्या यस्यां सततमासते ।
महाकालप्रभृतयस्त्यक्त्वा शिवपुरं गणाः ॥ १.४
Where Śiva and his retinue of Gaṇas, having abandoned their abode, drawn by Ujjayinī’s depiction, have made it their permanent home
तस्यामासीन्महासेनो महासेनः क्षितीश्वरः ।
यस्य देवीसहस्राणि षोडश श्रीपतेरिव ॥ १.५
In such Ujjayinī lived an emperor called Mahāsena, who true to his name, possessed a great army, and who like Kṛṣṇa, had sixteen thousand consorts.
चिरं पालयतस्तस्य प्रजाः शास्तोक्तकारिणः ।
गोपालः पालकश्चेति सुतौ जातौ गुणाम्बुधी ॥ १.६
This long reigning emperor to the people of Ujjayinī who diligently carried out their duties as ordained by the scriptures, was blessed with two sons Gopāla and Pālaka, who were truly oceans of good qualities.
बृहस्पतिसमश्चास्य मन्त्री भरतरोहकः ।
रोहन्तकः सुरोहश्च तस्यास्तां तत्समौ सुतौ ॥ १.७
His minister-in-chief was Bharata-rohaka, who equalled Bṛhaspati in wisdom, and had two equally wise sons: Rohanta and Suroha.
नरेन्द्रमन्त्रिपुत्राणां चतुर्विद्यार्थवेदिनाम् ।
प्रयोगेषु च दक्षाणां यान्ति स्म दिवसाः सुखं॥ १.८
Under the watchful eyes of the King, his minister and their sons who were experts in the four streams of knowledge (ānvīkṣikī – logic, trayī – three vedas, vārttā – intelligence, daṇḍa-nīti – justice lit.by punishment) in both theory and application, years of enduring peace prevailed.
अथ गां पालयामास गोपालः पितृपालिताम् ।
पालकोऽपि यवीयस्त्वाद्यौवराज्यमपालयत् ॥ १.९
Eventually, Gopāla ruled the land after his father; even as Pālaka, being the younger prince, was made the heir apparent.
मन्त्रिपुत्रौ तु मन्त्रित्वमथ भूमिर्नवेश्वरा ।
नवमन्त्रिकृतारक्षा जायते स्म पुनर्नवा ॥ १.१०
The two sons of the minister were appointed to the position held earlier by their father. The earth was thus renewed with protection, under the aegis of the new lords and ministers.
One need not wonder if the first part of the work has gotten lost over time. Kālidāsa commences Megha-dūta and Kumāra-sambhavam similarly, without any benedictory verses. Further up in Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha, we can see the influence of Kālidāsa’s style. For instance, we can see that the tenth verse above clearly follows from Raghu-vaṃśa 4-11: ‘nave tasmin mahī-pāle sarvaṃ navam-ivābhavat’. Later we see clear influences of Mahā-bhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Kumāra-sambhavam in general and other influences specifically in the following verses: 5-25 by Megha-dūta , 9-24, 16-25 by Abhijñāna-śākuntalam , 10-272 by Mālavikāgnimitram , 5-39 by Mṛcchakaṭikā , 10-142 by Mudrā-rākṣasa and others. It is not possible to conclusively state the nature and extent of poetic kinship and who predates the other, between Budha-svāmi on the one hand, and Kālidāsa and other great poets on the other. Comparing it with Kathā-sarit-sāgara and Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī we can say that this work is no doubt better. The poet is a great master of vocabulary; but still the language is simple. The verse in the end of a sarga employs a different meter as is the tradition of poetry in Sanskrit.
To be continued...
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.