(Last Updated on : 06/08/2010)
Kathasaritsagara literally means 'Ocean of Stories' and is defined as a unique literary work of Sanskrit literature. Kathasaritsagara comprises stories as told by Somadeva, a Kashmir Shaivite Brhamin. Most of the literary texts discuss about the moral codes and prevalent ethical life of the ancient Indian society
. Contrarily, the stories of Kathasaritsagara particularly talk about the earthly pleasures and desires of the people. Sometimes a particular idea occurs at several places in the different stories of Kathasaritsagara. The scholars refer to a single context of this popular work.
Among the magical beliefs and practices mentioned in Kathasaritsagara the noteworthy ones are magic powers of spells of witches, which are derived from the eating of human flesh, facilitate a person to fly in the air. It is stated that magical charm is employed for gaining the love of a woman and further magic can make a person invisible to others. Interestingly, some stories of Kathasaritsagara say that a mendicant, performing magical rites on a corpse, can bring it back to life and can use the animated body in any form as he wishes. Among other things caused by magic, noted ones are the formation of illusion; the mendicant is said to have been carried by the corpse and a Banyan tree
in the graveyard, when duly worshipped, can disclose miracles. It also states several measures to protect a delivery house or birth-chamber, which includes windows covered with arka and shami
plants, a variety of weapons to be kept hanging in the room, blazing of jewel-lamps, usage of many charms and spells and other invocations by magicians, etc. Further, charms for appeasing the fire, to change the shape of human beings, etc are also mentioned. There are means of propitiating the sea with jewels and spells to drive away Raksasas are also stated in Kathasaritsagara. A recluse is stated to eat the flesh of children in other stories of this literary work. It also states that human flesh is offered to Vetalas.
In some parts of Kathasaritsagara, there are references to tree-worship and the throbbing of the right eye of a man is believed to be a good sign. Magical practices also have mentions in certain sections of Kathasaritsagara. A vessel, a stick and the shoes, belonging to Asura Maya, are stated to have several magical powers. Like for instance, whatever food is wished in the vessel it will be obtainable instantly, whatever is written with the stick proves to be true and whoever wears the shoes acquires the power of flying through the air. Moreover, in Kathasaritsagara there is reference to spells for breaking walls as well as chains and there is said to be a special charm that can produce a dream. Grains of rice that are given by the servants of God are considered to be never-ending.
A glimpse of the popular beliefs and ideas of the ancient Indian societies can be obtained from Kathasaritsagara. It presents a popular belief regarding Yaksinis giving troubles to human beings. An interesting conviction stated in this literary work mentions that, when a person sneezed, he would die if someone did not say 'God bless you'. An elixir or a medicated substance, prepared with the meat of a wild goat, was believed to ensure the birth of a son and it appears that people used to think that fruits of some enchanted trees if taken surely led to death. Further, there are charms also for controlling Vetalas, for securing long life, and for producing dreams.
Beef-eating seemed to have been resorted to even by Brahmins
in times of pain or distress. Some of the wicked portents are a crow sitting on one's left hand, a dog running from the left direction to right, a snake appearing on the right, thumping of the left shoulder and arm, etc. According to some verses of Kathasaritsagara the terrible cry of a jackal was considered as worrying and the howling of a jackal on one's left side was also supposed to foretell evil. Some other evil omens mentioned in Kathasaritsagara were lightning flashes striking the banners, blowing of dreadful wind uprooting trees, vultures circling overhead, etc.
In Kathasaritsagara, there are references to protecting herbs and a man's capacity for accepting the language of all beasts and birds. It was believed that one's spirits, being elevated or depressed, indicated the approach of good or evil fortune. There is a reference to a specific jewel that was believed to act as a talisman against old age, disease and demons. Besides these beliefs, Kathasaritsagara also gives reference to the custom of sacrificing a human being before a goddess.