- Gunadhya is the author of a lost work, the BRI-HATKATHA, a vast collection of tales dating from the early centuries of the Common Era. The stories generally had a secular character and imparted nuggets of wisdom.Nothing is definitively known about Gunad-hya’s life, but legends do exist. One well-known legend tells the fabulous story of how the book came to be written. Gunadhya was made a min-ister of the great king Satavahana. One warm day, the king and his wives began to bathe in the lake. When the king splashed water on his wives, one of them asked him to stop in the SAN-SKRIT language. In response to her request, the king ordered sweets. His wife laughed, saying, “I never knew I had such an ignorant husband! How can we eat sweets when we are so wet? You don’t understand Sanskrit well enough to know that I said, ‘Stop splashing me!’ ‘Stop splashing’ in Sanskrit sounds like ‘bring sweets’ if you don’t understand the simple grammatical rule that two words often run together!”The king thereupon returned to his palace and shut himself in his rooms. For the rest of the day he sat silently staring into space, refusing all food. When his two wisest ministers, Sarvavarma and Gunadhya, arrived to help, the king broke his silence, asking, “How long, my ministers, will it take me to learn Sanskrit if I work hard? What good is it to be a king, to have all this wealth, all these wives, these lands, if I am ignorant?” First Sage Gunadhya answered: “Most people need 12 years to learn Sanskrit grammar, but I will teach you in six years!” Sarvavarma jealously retorted, “The king does not have time to spend six years in such hardship. I will teach you in six months!” Gunadhya made this vow: “Sarvavarma, if you accomplish such an impossible feat, I shall renounce Sanskrit, Prakrit, and all the vernacular languages.” Sarvavarma replied angrily, “And if I don’t accomplish this, I shall carry your shoes on my head for 12 years!”The king was happy, feeling he would soon be rid of his ignorance. Sarvavarma knew that what he had promised was impossible. He prayed to SARASVATI, goddess of learning. As a result of her intervention Sarvavarma was able to teach the king Sanskrit very quickly. The king bowed down to Sarvavarma, calling him “great teacher.” Gunadhya, having lost the bet, left the kingdom with two of his disciples.Gunadhya traveled in silence since he had vowed to give up all known languages. During his wanderings, he entered a wild forest, where he met a group of Paishachas, demons who spoke their seemingly incomprehensible demon lan-guage, used only in remote parts of India. The sage was able to learn this unusual language and begin speaking again, since the language was not one of the three types he had sworn to give up.Gunadhya was now able to understand the words of a wild-looking old forest dweller. This man greeted Gunadhya joyfully as if he had been awaiting this moment for many years, and in fact he had. He was a celestial who had been cursed to become a man, but he knew the curse would be lifted if he told a certain story to Gunadhya, who had been the cursed man’s companion in a previ-ous life. The curse would end if Gunadhya could make the story famous.When Gunadhya realized the man’s true iden-tity, he appealed to him: “Tell the story told by SHIVA so that our curses will all end!” As the man recounted the divine tale, which comprised seven stories in the Paishachi language, the area where he sat seemed covered with a canopy of celestial beings hovering as they listened in the air above his head. Finishing his story the forest man returned to the celestial realm.For the next seven years, Gunadhya recorded the story he had heard in 700,000 couplets, using the demon language. Since he had no ink and no paper, the great poet wrote the story’s verses on tree bark in his own blood. When he finished he sent it to the king Satavahana, so that it would spread through the world. But when the king, who now knew Sanskrit, saw this disgusting book written in blood in a low language, he ordered it thrown away.Gunadhya grew sad and depressed. He went with his students to the top of a hill and made a sacred fire. He had saved the last seventh of the tale, consisting of 100,000 verses, because his stu-dents loved it. As he was reading this tale aloud and beginning to burn its pages, every animal in the surrounding area listened and wept.In the meantime, the king had fallen ill and needed meat, but because all the animals were lis-tening to Gunadhya and not eating, they were too lean to kill. When the king heard this, he asked the hunters to lead him to the man telling the tale. He recognized Gunadhya, who appeared to be a forest dweller with long matted hair, sitting in the midst of the circle of weeping animals. Gunadhya then told the king the curse and the circumstances that caused the great story to descend to Earth. The king then knew that Gunadhya was a celestial. He begged him for the full story, but, unfortunately, only one-seventh remained. The king took the great story, called the Brihatkatha, and went to his palace. He had the work translated into Sanskrit, and that is how the story indeed became famous throughout the world.Further reading: Sarla Khosla, Brhatkatha and Its Con-tributions (Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 2003); S. N. Prasad, Studies in Gunadhya (Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia, 1977); Arshia Sattar, trans., Tales from the Kathasaritsagara (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
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