Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 9 – Analysis of Guṇāḍhya's Story

This article is part 9 of 13 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

An Examination of the Story[1] of Guṇāḍhya

Now let us take a look at why and how might have Vararuci, Kāṇabhūti, and Śātavāhana appeared in the context of the publication of the Bṛhat-kathā.

Both Kṣemendra and Somadeva composed their works based on a treatise in the Paiśācī language that was available in Kashmir during their time. The name of that source work was possibly ‘Bṛhat-kathā’ or ‘Bṛhat-kathā-sāra’ and it already contained the kathā-pīṭha-lambaka. But that lambaka was not a composition of Guṇāḍhya. Even so, that was also written in Paiśācī. I've mentioned before that Sātavāhana must have been the one who composed it and appended it to the treatise. Since we are unsure as to who this Sātavāhana is and when he lived, it is difficult to know when this segment was appended. We saw earlier that Paiśācī was among the Prakrits that was commonly in use by people in and around Kashmir. It appears that Paiśācī is an older form of Kāśmīrī and that it was not easily understood by the time of Somadeva—just like Haḻegannaḍa or Tamil to us (i.e. Kannaḍigas) today. If the educated folk had to understand and appreciate the work, it had to be in Sanskrit. At that point in time, Sanskrit was greatly honoured; Prakrit was not so widely in use; and superior literature had not yet developed in the regional languages. If Kṣemendra and Somadeva were not Sanskrit scholar-poets and if the prevalent Kāśmīrī language had a rich literary tradition by then, perhaps they would have composed it in their own tongue, Kāśmīrī! In those days, Sanskrit was respected greatly by the intelligentsia; those who wished to be educated (and respected as scholars) learnt Sanskrit; therefore they both wrote in Sanskrit. It is possible that they believed that the source book they had in front of them was a composition of Guṇāḍhya himself. Guṇāḍhya wrote his treatise in the bhūta-bhāṣā (literally ‘language of the ghosts’); perhaps Guṇāḍhya composed his work in bhūta-bhāṣā in the Kauśāmbi region or the Ujjayinī region and later the work travelled north it might have transformed into the regional Paiśācī or it might have got close to that (regional variant). There is also an opinion that both bhūta-bhāṣā and Paiśācī mean one and the same thing. And even if they were different languages, they might not have had too many differences—much like the regional variants of Hindi today. However, it appears that Somadeva and Kṣemendra did not have this difficulty at all. During the era when the early form of Kāśmīrī was identical with Paiśācī or when they were quite close linguistically, someone in Kashmir must have composed the kathā-pīṭha-lambaka in the Paiśācī language and added it to the treatise; perhaps because the story was in prose and written in a language akin to their own, it was fairly straightforward for them (to make this interpolation). It appears that Somadeva’s patron was a king of Kashmir who was a descendent of Sātavāhana and belonged to the same lineage (“श्रीसातवाहनकुलाम्बुधिपारिजातः सङ्ग्रामराज इति भूमिपतिर्बभूव। ...श्रीमाननन्त इति तत्कुलकल्पवृक्षः” says a praśasti). Therefore during the time of this Saṅgrāma-rāja or some other king of Kashmir, this segment must have been composed and appended. And since it had become such an integral part of the treatise by the time of Kṣemendra (to the point that it was indistinguishable), it must have been composed a century or two earlier.

The Pāḻī-Māgadhī languages that became popular among the people starting from the time of Gautama Buddha and Mahāvīra became the life-rivers (of communication) and Prakrit literature was born and flowed like a torrent. At a certain point in time, they enjoyed the same level of respect and popularity as Sanskrit. The Gāthā-sapta-śati (Gāhā-satta-saī) of Hāla [Śātavāhana] is in Prakrit; we find in it poems written in Prakrit by him and a host of other poets (Voḍisa, Culloha, Makaranda-sena, Amara-rāja, Kumārila, Śrī-rāja, Bhīma-svāmi, etc.); verses in Prakrit are quoted extensively in Sanskrit lakṣaṇa-granthas (works of poetics/aesthetics) such as Dhvanyāloka, Kāvya-prakāśa, Daśa-rūpaka, and so forth. There are many works propagating Prakirt meters. In twelfth century C.E., the poet Govardhana, while writing Ārya-sapta-śati in Sanskrit opines that Prakrit is the most appropriate language to write such poetry filled with essence/rasa, writing in Sanskrit involves a lot more effort and is difficult. He asks for forgiveness for writing in Sanskrit thus,

वाणी प्राकृतसमुचितरसा बलेनैव संस्कृतं नीता ।
निम्नानुरूपनीरा कलिन्दकन्येव गगनतलम् ॥

Vāṇī or speech in Prakrit, the most appropriate and filled with essence, has been forcibly pulled towards Sanskrit, like how the Kalinda-kanyā (Yamunā) naturally flowing downwards is pulled towards the sky.

Guṇāḍhya might have been born in the era when Prakrit still had great prominence. If it was ridiculed as Piśāca/Ghost language, was not understood by anyone, would he have written in it? Guṇāḍhya was not a ṣi like Vyāsa or Vālmīki, not a scholar in Sanskrit, not an erudite poet; but people’s poet, storyteller. Probably Paiśācī may have been his mother tongue. Bṛhat-kathā too became famous due to its intrinsic quality like the Mahā-bhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. When Prakrit lost its prominence, Sanskrit gained, and when Chāyā (translations from Prakrit to Sanskrit are always called as Chāyā) was required, the story involving Vararuci, Kāṇabhūti, Guṇāḍhya, and Sātavāhana might have come up. Sātavāhanas were patrons of Prakrit. That is evident during the times of Hāla. This tradition must have been passed on to him by his forefathers; there is an opinion that they might not have been Aryans; also if they were in an era when Pālī was widely spoken, giving importance to Prakrit seems natural. That might be the reason Guṇāḍhya found respect and patronage in their courts, dedicated his work to them, or that was what has been imagined to be so. When they became patrons of Sanskrit, to learn the grammar easily, Śarva-varmā’s Kātantra or Kalāpa might have come into existence. The story of Modaka even though in this form can’t be believed is interesting. Hence it still remains. There are such legends about Kālidāsa and other such poets too. Vararuci is Eka-śruta-dhara (retains in memory if he listens something one time); a better scholar than Pāṇini; hails from Kauśāmbī; Vatsarāja’s story is from Kauśāmbī; it seems quite natural that Vararuci narrates that. Wonder in which language did he convey it to Kāṇabhūti! By the import of the story it seems like he was able to do it in Paiśācī itself. Isn’t he the author of Prākṛta-prakāśa? Kāṇabhūti is anyway a Piśāca/ghost; He narrated the story to Guṇāḍhya in Paiśācī. Guṇāḍhya indeed wrote it in Paiśācī. To ascribe a silly reason to the fact that he chose Paiśācī over Sanskrit and Prakrit, seems like these stories about how he competed with Śarva-varmā, renounced everything, and lived with ghosts are made up. The story of Gaṇāvatāras to give a Purāṇic tinge, to propagate the greatness of Śiva and Pārvatī. Kashmir since the times of Vasu-gupta and Kallaṭa-bhaṭṭa (8th Century C.E.) has been the stronghold of Śaivism.

Just because Guṇāḍhya listened to Kāṇabhūti’s narration in Paiśācī and wrote it in that language doesn’t mean that language had the attributes of Paiśācī as prescribed by the Prakrit Grammar nor that it means that it is indeed the language of ghosts. Probably the language of the tribal people, or language which was uncivilized or unrefined (e.g. in present day what we can think of the language spoken by Soligas or Todavas) may have been condescendingly referred to as the language of ghosts by the people of that era. It might have been of the central region or the northern regions; Kāṇabhūti hailed from Vindhya region, and for Vararuci to go there and narrate the story to him, there is another reason. One end of Udayana’s story happens in Kauśāmbi, and the other, in Ujjayini. Furthermore, many of the sub-stories take place in and around Ujjayini. One wonders as to how many people like Kāṇabhūti and Vararuci, Guṇāḍhya heard these stories from, roaming the regions of the Vindhyās, Ujjayini and Kauśāmbi, and in which all languages, in order to compile them! It is no surprise if people talk about him in the same breath as Vyāsa and Vālmīki, venerating him as the great poet who composed this stupendous work. If if is the faith of the believers, that composing such a colossal and otherworldly work is beyond the ordinary human abilities, and that it is possible only through the grace of Parameśvara and that too only for divine beings who take birth as humans, even such a belief is worthy of respect - for when has any gigantic endeavor been accomplished, without divine blessings?

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 In the treatises of both Kṣemendra and Somadeva, the kathā-mukha-lambaka begins with a summarized version of this story.

गुणाढ्येनेति लिखितां शातवाहनभूपतिः।
बृहत्कथामकथयद्विदुषां सुहृदां पुरः॥ 1

महेश्वरात्पुष्पदन्तः काणभूतिरिमां ततः।
तस्माद्गुणाढ्यस्तस्माच्च श्रुतवान् शातवाहनः॥ 2

कैलासे धूर्जटेर्वक्त्रात्पुष्पदन्तं गणोत्तमम्।
तस्माद्वररुचिभूतात्काणभूतं च भूतले॥ 2

काणभूतेर्गुणाढ्यं च गुणाढ्यात्सातवाहनम्।
यत्प्राप्तं श्रुणुतेदं तद्विद्याधरकथाद्भुतम्॥ 3

The story must have been there in the source book of both these works. Perhaps in the kathā-pīṭha-lambaka, this summarized version was further expanded? Or has it summarized the story, given that it is the beginning of the work? There is no reference to Paiśācī in these summarized verses; the story of ‘modaka’ is also not present.



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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