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Brihatkatha facts for kids

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by Guṇāḍhya
Brhatkatha stemma.svg
Probable relationship between versions of the Brihatkatha
Language Paisaci
Form epic

Bṛhatkathā (Sanskrit, "the Great Narrative") is an ancient Indian epic, said to have been written by Guṇāḍhya in a poorly-understood language known as Paiśācī. The work no longer exists but several later adaptations — the Kathāsaritsāgara (कथासरित्सागर), Bṛhatkathāmañjarī (बृहत्कथामंजरी) and Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha (बृहत्कथाश्लोकसंग्रह) in Sanskrit, as well as the Peruṅkatai and Vasudevahiṃḍi in vernaculars — make commentary on the piece.

The date of its composition is uncertain. According to testimonials by later Sanskrit poets such as Daṇḍin, Subandhu, and Bāṇa, the Bṛhatkathā existed in the 6th century CE. According to other estimates it predates that period by several more centuries. For example, if the story of Udayana by poet Bhāsa (and also later by Harsha in Ratnavali) was inspired by Brihatkatha, it had to be older than the time of Bhāsa — itself uncertain, but before the 3rd century CE.

Reconstructed content

BK relations
Relationships of chief characters in the Brihatkatha (as evidenced by the derived texts Brihatkathashlokasamgraha, Brihatkathamanjari, and Kathasaritsagara).

Although several derivative works remain today, they differ so greatly that they cannot be used to reconstruct the Bṛhatkathā in its totality. However, some strong inferences can be made about its content based on their similarities.


Due to a dohada ("pregnancy craving"), Mṛgāvatī, pregnant with Udayana, is either covered or immersed in red. A monstrous bird mistakes her for raw meat and carries her away, later dropping her. She is cared for in a hermitage, where she raises her son. Udayana obtains a wonderful lute, elephant-taming skills, and confidants; he and his mother eventually return to their home, Kauśāmbī.

Udayana is later captured by Pradyota, the King of Ujjayinī. Here, he teaches the lute to Pradyota's daughter, Vāsavadattā, and they fall in love. Eventually, they escape to Kauśāmbī, where Udayana's rightful kingship is restored, and they are married. But, fearing Udayana is weakening, and desiring an additional political alliance, Udayana's ministers make him believe that Vāsavadattā is dead, and arrange a marriage to Padmāvatī.

Though he is later reunited with Vāsavadattā, Udayana remains childless. Later, as a boon of Kubera, Vāsavadattā becomes pregnant with Naravāhanadatta (his name means "given by Kubera"), who is fated to become the emperor of the Vidyādharas.


Udayana's life serves as the prelude to the central story of his son, Naravānhanadatta. Unlike his father, who appears in several works unrelated to the Bṛhatkathā, Naravānhanadatta is known only from texts demonstrably linked to the Bṛhatkathā.

Equivalents of chief names
Sanskrit Tamil (Peruṅkatai)
Kauśāmbī Kōcampi
Ujjayinī Uñcai, Uñcēṉai
Gomukha Kōmukaṉ
Hariśikha Arucikaṉ
Kaliṅgasenā Kaliṅkacēṉai
Madanamañjukā Mataṉamañcikai
Mānasavega Māṇacavēkaṇ
Mārubhūtika (Bhūti, Marubhūti) Pūti
Naravānhanadatta Naravāṇatattaṉ
Padmāvatī Patumāpati
Pradyota Mahāsena Piraccōtaṉaṉ Maṟamāccēṉaṉ
Ṛṣabhaka Iṭapakaṉ
Rumaṇvān (Rumaṇvat) Urumaṇṇuvā
Śatānīka Catāṉikaṉ
Tapantaka Tavantakaṉ
Udayana Utayaṇaṉ
Vasantaka Vayantakaṉ
Vāsavadattā Vācavatattai
Vegavatī Vēkavati
Yaugandharāyaṇa Yūkantarāyaṇaṉ, Yūki
Placenames in gray.
Character equivalents in the Vasudevahiṃḍi
Sanskrit Mahārāṣṭri
Naravānhanadatta Vasudeva
Udayana Aṃdhagavaṇhi

Legendary origin

Gunadhya legend
Major characters and path of Shiva's story in the legend of Gunadhya, as told in the first Book of the Kathasaritsagara (Ocean of Rivers of Story).

For the origin of Brihatkatha as described in Kathasaritsagara, see the adjacent diagram.

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