Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 5 – Sanskrit and English Translations, Guṇāḍhya

This article is part 5 of 20 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

The Sanskrit Translation of Bhat-kathā by Durvinīta

Till now the available Sanskrit works related to the Bhat-kathā are only three—composed by Kṣemendra, Somadeva, Budha-svāmin. But even earlier, in the times of Bhāsa (3rd century CE) Daṇḍin, Bāṇa, Subandhu, Harṣa (6th and 7th centuries CE) it was famous. Then, which was the literary work containing these stories? It can’t be the original Bhat-kathā by Guṇāḍhya. It was lost by the time of Daṇḍin. As he says in his Kāvyādarśa,

कथा हि बहुभाषाभिस्संस्कृतेन च बध्यते ।
भूतभाषामयीं प्राहुरद्भुतार्थां बृहत्कथाम् ॥ १.३८

As to a kathā it is composed in all languages as also in Sanskrit. The Bhat-kathā is said to be in the language of ghosts (Paiśācī) and contains miraculous incidents. (Kāvyādarśa of Daṇḍin, S K Belvalkar)

By this it becomes evident that he had not seen the original Bhat-kathā written in Paiśācī. He does not clearly state what was ‘the story’ that was in Sanskrit and the other languages. But there should be some source work for – his Daśa-kumāra-carita, Bāna’s Kādambarī, Subandhu’s Vāsava-dattā, Harṣa’s Ratnāvalī, and Bhāsa’s Svapna-vāsava-dattā. All of them might not have relied upon unwritten stories that were just familiar to the people of their era. Since it isn’t the original in Bhūta-bhāā, it should be a Sanskrit work. Daṇḍin does not specifically say that Bhat-kathā in Sanskrit is nonexistent. We can only understand that the original in Paiśācī was supposed to be better (lit. more awesome) than the Sanskrit one. Even in Sanskrit, the name given to that work would have been Bhat-kathā[1]—just like we call Rāmāyaa and Mahābhārata in Kannada as ‘Rāmāyaa’ and ‘Mahābhārata,’ not something else. Which work might this be? Who might have authored it? None have answered these questions. We come to know through inscriptions that Durvinīta, who lived in the sixth century CE, wrote Bhat-kathā in Sanskrit. Even this is hearsay; the work itself is not available. It appears that Félix Lacôte had opined that this might have been the source for Budha-svāmin’s Bhat-kathā-śloka-sagraha too.[2] Also, according to U Ve Swaminatha Iyer, Durvinīta’s Sanskrit Bhat-kathā could have been the source for the Tamil Pèrukadai. Durvinīta was the Western Ganga king who ruled from Talakāḍu, sometime during the first part of 6th century CE. In the copper-plates obtained in Gummareddypura of Srinivasapura Taluk in Kolar district, we see following words inscribed: ‘शब्दावतार-कारेण देव-भारती-निबद्ध-वड्ड-कथेन[3] किरातार्जुनीये पञ्चदश-सर्ग-टीका-कारेण दुर्विनीत-नामधेयेन’ (Mysore Archaeological Report, 1912, paragraphs 65–69). From this we come to know that Durvinīta authored a work called ‘Śabdāvatāra,’ brought out Bhat-kathā in Sanskrit[4], and wrote the commentary for the fifteenth sarga of Kirātārjunīya. The same is affirmed by the inscriptions on bronze plates obtained at Hebbur (Epigraphia Carnatica, Volume 12, p. 17), Uttanur (Mysore Archaeological Report, 1916, p. 36), and other places too. We don’t know if this translation was in prose or poetry. We learn from Nṛpatuṅga (Kavirājamārga 1.29) that Durvinīta was one of the ancient composers of Kannada prose. [John Faithfull] Fleet rejected all the West Ganga inscriptions of that age as inauthentic and that they cannot be relied upon. However, R Narasimhacharya has showed with evidence, that the Gummareddypura copper inscriptions are not fake[5]. Although [Moriz] Winternitz, [Arthur] Keith and others, like Fleet, have said that these inscriptions are not reliable, even today it’s not like there are no Western scholars who support Narasimhacharya’s conclusion (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, 1943, p. 35)[6]. Since we do not have the ‘Bhat-kathā’ which Durvinīta wrote in ‘Deva-Bhāratī’, all our discussions about the authenticity of these inscriptions and the veracity of their information on Durvinīta would only be guesswork.

Jinasena (c. 825 CE) and Ranna (c. 950 CE) knew about Guṇāḍhya’s Bhat-kathā (Sanskrit Ādi-purāa 1.115; Gadā-yuddha 4.41). However, we do not know which rendition of Bhat-kathā it was, nor if they had indeed seen it, or had only heard about it.

[Charles Henry] Tawney’s English Translation – Ocean of Story

Like they did with all the important works of Sanskrit literature, Englishmen have translated and published Kathā-sarit-sāgara too – in ten big volumes (1924–28). The books have high quality paper with clear lettering, elegant printing, and are well bound. Each volume has around 400 pages, contains a foreword, notes, appendices, indexes – and stands tall in proud testimony to the westerners’ scholarship, dedication, and achievements in the field of literature. Scholars who were widely renowned in multiple literary fields, like Sir. R C Temple, Sir. G A Grierson, M Gaster, F W Thomas, E Denison Ross, A R Wright, M Bloomfield, W R Halliday, Sir Atul Chatterjee have written forewords. The whole of the tenth volume contains only the indexes and bibliography of reference publications and books.

A German publisher called Brockhouse published the original text of Kathā-sarit-sāgara for the first time in 1839–62. This was translated to English by C H Tawney, and the Asiatic Society of Bengal published it in two volumes in 1880–84. With the aim of bringing it as an enlarged version containing all the necessary literary tools, N M Pencer published it in ten volumes as narrated above. The study of stories came to be called ‘Storyology’ (kathā-śāstra). Just as the stories of India were studied, the story-telling traditions from around the world were thoroughly examined as well. This led to the growth of comparative studies in storyology, similar to the already existing comparative studies in dharma, religion, and language.

Charles Henry Tawney, MA, CIE (1837–1922) served as a professor for History (1865) and English (1866) at the Presidency College in Calcutta and later became the Principal of the College (1875). He then rose to become the head of the Educational Sector and also took up the role of the Registrar (1877–89) of the Calcutta University. He retired in 1892, returned to England and served as the Chief of the India Council until 1903. He was not only well-versed in European languages but also in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, and others. He composed prose translations of the Uttara-rāma-caritam and avikāgnimitram into English in about 1874–75 and also rendered two Śatakas of Bhartṛhari in English verse. His magnum opus was his translation of the Kathā-sarit-sāgara into English.

[Translators’ note: The description of the appendices of the English translations have been omitted in our translation. The appendices can be found in the volumes uploaded on Internet Archive. Here is a web-page containing links to all ten volumes.]


I mentioned earlier that Guṇāḍhya composed the Bhat-kathā in the Paiśācī (Prākṛta) language and made an offering of it to King Śātavāhana of Pratiṣṭhāna[7], who in turn wrote a prefatory section called the ‘Kathā-pīha-lambaka’ (which appears at the start of the work) in the same Paiśācī tongue and appended it to the beginning of the treatise. Guṇāḍhya appears to have heard this story in Paiśācī from one Kāṇabhūti who lived in the Vindhyā province. Kāṇabhūti had heard it from Vararuci (also known as Kātyāyana) of Kauśambi. The Kathā-pīha tells us that all three of them (Vararuci, Kāṇabhūti, and Guṇāḍhya) had taken human births as a result of a śāpa (curse) and would obtain mukti (release) only upon spreading these wondrous tales among the people of the earth. One wonders the reason for Vararuci of Kauśambi (or Pāṭalīputra) coming all the way to the Vindhyā province and narrating it to Kāṇabhūti, who in turn told Guṇāḍhya in order to spread the stories widely; why didn’t a single person suffice to accomplish this task! Before we examine this in some detail, let us take a look at another source that alludes to the story of Guṇāḍhya.

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.

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


[1] Dhanika, the commentator of Daśa-rūpaka (10th century CE) has quoted two Sanskrit verses from Bṛhat-kathā. But these are available in Kṣemendra’s Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī. In terms of space and time, Dhanika isn’t too far from Kṣemendra. Wouldn’t Dhanika have access to the original in Paiśācī if it was available to Kṣemendra? In his mind was it only about propagating or establishing the part of Bṛhat-kathā when he used these two verses? Here is that part from Daśa-rūpaka –

इत्याद्यशेषमिह वस्तुविभेदजातं रामायणादि च विभाव्य बृहत्कथां च ।
आसूत्रयेत्तदनु नेतृरसानुगुण्याच्चित्रां कथामुचितचारुवचःप्रपञ्चैः ॥ १.६८

तत्र बृहत्कथामूलं मुद्राराक्षसम्

चाणक्यनाम्ना तेनाथ शकटालगृहे रहः।
कृत्यां विधाय सहसा सपुत्रो निहतो नृपः॥
योगानन्दयशश्शेषे पूर्वनन्दसुतस्ततः।
चन्द्रगुप्तः कृतो राजा चाणक्येन महौजसा ॥

Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī was composed during 1029–64 CE. Is this part in Daśa-rūpaka an extrapolation? Or is Dhanika from a later era?

[2] I believe Budhasvāmin’s work is based on an older Sanskrit version of Bṛhat-kathā; for his version shows by the side of traits relatively modern, traces of very curious archaisms. That earlier version may in all probability be Durvinīta’s. – Indian Antiquary, Vol. 42, p. 204.

[3] It is hard to establish that ‘vaḍḍa’ is the Prakrta derivative of ‘bṛhat’; it is easy to prove derivation from ‘vṛddha’. In this context, the meaning of ‘vṛddha’ is not just ‘old’; it might as well mean ‘grown’, ‘expansive’, and hence ‘big’. In Haḻagannaḍa, there is a Jain work written in prose form, called ‘Vaḍḍārādhane.’ Even here, the word ‘vaḍḍa’ means the same.

[4] One need not wonder whether ‘Devabharati’ means Sanskrit or Ardhamāgadhi. – Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, 1943, p. 35

[5] As far as I can see, there are no indications that would lead one to suspect the genuineness of the present record. Its language is not corrupt, the orthography is mostly unexceptionable and the paleography free from blunders with regard to the test letters, ba, kha, etc. The plates are beautifully engraved and appear to be a genuine record of the 6th century. – Mysore Archaeological Report, 1912, p. 36

[6] Even Fleet, in the end, seemed to accept this as true: Fleet “was almost inclined to admit the genuineness of these grants, though he differed from me (R Narasimhacharya) about their age.”

Fleet said about them, “It may be quite possible to establish the existence of a Ganga king named Durvinīta.” – Mysore Archaeological Report, 1921, p. 27.

[7] It is unclear if ‘Pratiṣṭhāna’ is the name of a town or a province –

प्रतिष्ठानेऽस्ति नगरं सुप्रतिष्ठितसंज्ञकम्॥ 1.6.8
स्वयं च गत्वा तत्रैव प्रतिष्ठानपुराद्बहिः॥ 1.8.12
अन्यच्च माल्यवानपि नगरवरे सुप्रतिष्ठिताख्ये सः।
जातो गुणाढ्यनामा... 1.1.65

Kṣemendra says ‘प्रसेनजित् सुप्रतिष्ठित’ (18.137). The Mahābhārata (3.83.72) speaks about a town called ‘Pratiṣṭhāna’ that was situated at the confluence of the rivers Gaṅgā and Yamunā.



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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इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

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...