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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXII (1998-1999)

FOREWORD TO SOMADEVA'S KATHASARITSAGARA

(THE OCEAN OF STORY BY N. M. PENZER)

Sir Richard Carnac Temple

With these preliminary remarks let me start upon my own observations on the subject of Mr. Penzer's great work. I judge from the Invocation that Somadeva, the author of the original book, was a Saiva Brahman of Kashmir. His real name was Soma, deva being a mere suffix to the names of Brahmans, royalties and the like. Mr. Penzer shows that he must have composed his verses about A.D. 1070, or about two hundred and fifty years after Vasugupta introduced into Kashmir the Saiva form of the Hindu religion peculiar to Kashmir, which was subsequently spread widely by his pupil Kallata Bhattra. Later on, but still one hundred years before Somadeva, it was further spread by Bhaskara, and then in Somadeva' own time made popular by Abhinava Gupta, the great Saiva writer, and his pupils Kshemarja and Yogaraja. The last three, how must have been Somadeva's contemporaries, were much influenced by the philosophic teaching of another Soma - Somananda, to give him his full name - who with his pupil Utpalacharya created the Advaita (Monistic) Saiva Philosophy, known as the Trika, about two hundred years before Somadeva. Other important Kashmiri philosophic writers before Somadeva's date were Utpala Vaishnava and Rama-kantha. So while Somadeva was composing his distichs for the delectation of Suryavati, the Queen of King Ananta of Kashmir, at a time when the political situation was "one of discontent, intrigue, bloodshed and despair," it was also - as has often, happened in Eastern history - a time of great religious activity. The religion and its philosophy were Aryan in form, meaning by the term "religion" a doctrine claiming to be revealed, and by "philosophy" a doctrine claiming to be reasoned out.

There is plenty of evidence of the Brahmanic nature of the Katha Sarit Sagara. Here is a strong instance. The story of the birth and early days of Vararuchi (p. 11 ff.) is not only Indian but also typically Brahmanical. Inter alia he exhibits his wonderful memory to Kanabhuti, the Yaksha, turned Pisacha, king of the Vindhya wilds, telling the king how his mother had said to some Brahmans that "this boy will remember by heart everything that he has once heard." And then he relates that they "recited to me a Pratisakhya," a peculiarly difficult and uninviting grammatical treatise, and that he immediately repeated it back to them. The same class of memory is claimed by Gunadhya in his account (p. 75) of how the Katantra or Kalapaka grammar was revealed to him by the god Skanda (Karttikeya). Now, though the claim put forward by Vararuchi is extravagant, the extraordinary accuracy of memory cultivated by the ancient Brahman and Bardic classes in India still exists, and has been taken advantage of by Sir Aurel Stein and Sir George Grierson in reproducing from word of many mouths the text of the Lalla-vakyani six centuries after the date of the authoress Lal Ded with an accuracy which the written word does not possess. Accurate memory is not a monopoly of the Brahmans and Bards of India, but it is no doubt specifically characteristic of them.

The point of the Brahmanic character of Somadeva's collection of tales is of importance to the present argument. The author of the Katha Sarit Sagara isa Brahman, and he gives the work a Brahmanic - i.e. an Aryan - form, giving rise, prima facie, to the assumption that the origin of the tales is to be sought in the land whence the Aryans came, somewhere to the west of India proper. But it is clear that the author purported to make a general collection of tales current in India about A.D. 1000, or rather he claims to have made a selection, as did his contemporary Kashmiri Brahman Kshemendra in his Brihat Katha Manjari out of a much older, but now lost, work, Gunadhya's Brihat Katha or Great Tale. This general collection contains to my mind certain tales, customs and folk-lore which do not appear to be Aryan in origin. The writer or his original has in fact drawn on popular Indian folklore, whether Aryan or non-Aryan, connecting his tales by rather simple literary devices, so that they are all made to run together as parts or one general story.

The Aryan invasions of India were spread over a long period and the progress about the country was very slow. The Aryans came across at least one race, the Dravidians, equal to themselves in mental capacity, and across many others whose minds they could more or less easily dominate. Neither the Dravidians nor the others were of their form of civilization and traditions, but they all mingled with them in some degree or other, at any rate to the extent of social contact, generally as master and servant. The consequent development was on the recognised lines of evolution as far as the author of the Katha Sarit Sagara and his hearers were concerned. That is to say, it was fundamentally Aryan, with accretions from every race with which the Aryans had come in close contact for, say, three thousand years by Somadeva's time. These races were Dravidians, "Kolarians" or, shall we say, "aborigines," and people across the Northern and lantern frontiers - all very different in origin from the Aryans. They all carried their religious, folktales and folk-lore with them, and cannot but have infected the indigenous corresponding nations of the Aryans of India with alien ideas and folk-tales.

Here then it seems that we have a line, as it were, given us for research: whence did the various non-Aryan tales and ideas come? It is not an easy line to follow, as the period is so late and the whole matter by that time already so complicated. Suppose a custom or tale is non-Aryan Indian - i.e. Dravidian or "Kolarian" - or Farther Indian (Mon, Shan, Tibeto-Burman) by origin: by Somadeva's date it had plenty of time to be assimilated and take on an Aryan form. Suppose it to date back before the Aryan irruption into India: its existence in principle now or at some ancient date in Western Asia or Europe would not prove that is arose either in India or in Europe or Western Asia. Suppose research to show a tale or idea to be of general occurrence in India, Asia, Europe, Africa, and even in America and the Pacific Islands: recent works show so much and so ancient communication all the world over as to make one very careful as to asserting origin. Suppose we find a story in Siam, in Indonesia, in Persia, in Europe, in South Africa, as well as in India: it might well have gone thence out of India or gone through or even round India in either direction. To show how this kind of thing can happen I printed in 1901 a tale told in the Nicobars in Nicobarese form to a European officer who was a Dane by nationality, Mr. A. de Roepstorff, which turned out to be a Norse tale he had himself told the people some years before. Wherever, then, a civilization or a people travels, there go also folklore and custom. Take as an example the recent travel westwards in Europe of the Christmas Tree and the Easter Egg. The whole question is very difficult. Even if we trace a tale or an idea to the Jatakas, to the earliest part of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, to the oldest Puranas to the Brahmanas, to the very Vedas themselves - that does not make it Indian or Aryan in origin.

However, I do not personally feel inclined to despair. Work like that of Mr. Penzer will, I feel sure, if continued seriously, go far to solve this principles of the puzzle - to help to unlock the secret of the actual line that the progress of civilization has taken to the past. I take it that a tab or idea in the Katha Sarit Sagara may be found to be by origin:

1. Aryan, with analogies among Asiatic and European Aryan peoples.
2. Semitic, with analogies in Western Asiatic countries and elsewhere among Semitic peoples.
3. Asiatic with analogies among Mongolian peoples.
4. Non-Aryan Indian with analogies among Dravidian, "Kolarian", Farther Indian or other Indian peoples.
5. General, with analogies spread widely over the world perhaps from an ascertainable source.
6. A merely literary invention of Indian Aryans, such as the origin of the town name Pataliputra, or of the personal name of Gunadhya, Malyavan and other celebrities of old. Folk etymology of that kind has never died down in India as the (Revenue) Settlement Reports of the middle nineteenth century show - e.g. one such Report soberly stated that "the Malee (mall, gardener) Caste" had an origin in a river - born boy foundling of Rajput descent, taken over by a low-class woman who mothered him; so he afterwards became known as the ma lee (as the Report spelt it) or his "mother took him." It is a case of the old Indian widely and persistently used effort to raise caste status by an etymological legend. It was used in the earliest European days in India when the Malayalam washermen claimed to Barbosa a Nayar descent, which an ancestor was said to have forfeited "by a mistake" - and there are signs of it in the Katha Sarit Sagara....
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