Sasemira-Katha or the Tale of Sasemira

Sasemira-Katha or the Tale of Sasemira

The tale, I am going to relate here, is an English translation from the Sanskrit original bearing the same name. The translation is done by my self. I learnt the story in school as part of Sanskrit text and liked it so much  that it has stuck to me ever since.

The Story

Once upon a time, there lived a king by the name Nanda. He administered his kingdom Vaishali well. His wife’s name was Bhaanumati and the name of his prime minister was Sharadananda who was like the Indra’s Brihaspati. It so happened, on a flimsy ground, the king banished this minister from his kingdom.

One day, Nanda’s son Jayapala went on an animal-hunt to a forest. After killing many animals, he sighted a krishnasaara (black antelope). Pursuing it, he entered a dense forest. In the process, his entire army was left behind. The krishnasara , also, went out of sight. Riding alone on the horse, the prince came upon a sarovara (lake) surrounded by forest. He alighted from the horse, tied it to a tree and drank water. While he was going to sit under the shade of the tree, he saw in front of him a very formidable and dreadful (atikaraalah) tiger named Chitraka. On seeing the tiger, the horse snapped the rope from the tree and ran towards the city. The prince, trembling with fear, climbed the tree holding its branches. On reaching a safe height, he was shocked to find a bear already sitting on that branch of the tree. He was again frightened to the core (punarbhrisham bhayam praaptah).

The bear said: “Rajakumara (prince), do not fear me. I will do no harm to you since you have come to me for protection and refuge (sharanagatah). Trust me and do not be afraid of the tiger”. The prince said, “Oh, Bear King! There is no deed that would bring greater punya (moral or religious merit) to you than protecting a refugee. Saving the life of a living creature is worth a thousand sacrifices and charity”.

The bear also assured the prince. The tiger, by that time, came beneath the tree. The sun also set. Excessively fatigued, when the prince was trying to sleep at night, the bear told the prince, ‘You will fall down from the tree. Therefore, sleep on my lap.” Hearing these words, the prince slept on the bear’s lap (bhallookasya angke).

Then the tiger Chitraka, referring to the prince, spoke to the bear: ‘This man is your enemy. He has come to the forest from a village and will come here again to hunt and will kill you. Why have you given this enemy a place on your lap? Even if you were his benefactor, he is a human and will do harm (apakaaram) to you; therefore drop him down. I will eat him and go away happily. You also will go to your abode.’ The bear said, “Whatever might happen to me, I will not drop him down as he has taken refuge in me. To take the life of a refugee is a big sin (mahat patakam).”

So the prince slept. When he awoke, the bear told the prince, “I will sleep for a while, you keep awake” and the bear slept near to the prince. Then the tiger told the prince, “Don’t trust the bear. He has sharp claws. He appears to be fickle- minded (cancalachitta). Therefore, even his kindness causes fear and is dangerous. He is keeping you alive because he wants to eat you himself. Therefore you drop him down. I will eat him and go away. You too will return to your village”.

Hearing these words, the prince dropped the bear down. But the bear did not fall  down because it was holding on to branches of the tree. On seeing the bear again, fear gripped the prince. The bear said, “Oh the most wicked, for what, do you fear? You have to suffer the consequence of your past deeds. I curse you to become a Pishaaca (ogre, demon) and keep speaking SASEMIRA, SASEMIRA, SASEMIRA…… . By that time, it became day-light. The tiger left the place. The bear too, having imprecated (shaptva) the prince, went away to his abode.

The prince wandered about in the forest as a Pishaca uttering ‘SASEMIRA’ all the time. His horse reached the village alone without him. The people reported to the king that the horse has come without its rider. The king told his ministers:  “When the prince went out for the hunt there was an ill omen.  He did not pay heed to it and went. That is why the horse on which he went has returned without him. We will all go to the forest and search for him?”

The king, accompanied by his ministers and family members, went to the forest in the same direction the prince had gone. They spotted the prince wandering (paribhramantam) in the forest uttering ‘SASEMIRA’. Grief-stricken, they brought the prince to the palace. The king took the best medical help, but the prince could not be cured. After some time the king told the ministers, “Had my minister Sharadanand been here, he would have cured him in no time, but he has been banished by me”. So, when men do their work, they should do with due considerations. Then, in time of despair, no one could hinder him.

The minister said – if something is not to happen, it will not happen even with care. If something is to happen, it will happen even with no care (vinapi yatnena). Even if something is there right on your hands, it will not be yours if it is not to be yours (karatalagatamapi nashyati yasya hi bhavitavyata nasti).

The king told his ministers, “Please make the announcement (ghoshana) that whosoever will cure my son will be given half of my kingdom”. The ministers, having carried out the king’s order, came to the house of Sharadananda and related the entire story. Having heard everything, Sharadananda told the ministers, “You tell the king that I have a daughter and if he sees her, she will find some expedient way (upaayam karishyati)”. After hearing this from the ministers, the king agreed to the proposal. The king surrounded by his ministers went to minister Sharadananda’s house and took his seat. Then the prince also sat there uttering “SASEMIRA”. Hearing this and remaining behind the screen, Sharadananda read the following padyam (verse) whose first letter is ‘sa’:

sadbhaava-pratipannanaam vancane ka vidagdhata |
anka-maruhya suptanaam hantuh kim naama paurusham ||

On hearing this verse, the prince dropped the first letter from the four letters (“SA-SE-MI-RA”). Then Sharadanand recited the second verse which started with the letter ‘se’:

setum gatva samudrasya ganga-saagar-sangamam
Brahmahatyapi pramuchyate  mitra-drohee na muchyate || 

Having heard this, the prince left out the second letter and uttered only the two letters ‘MI-RA’. Then Sharadananda spoke the third Padya beginning with the letter ‘mi’:

mitra-drohee kritaghnashca yashca vishwasa-ghaatakah
Traayaste narakam yanti yavadabhootasamplavam || 

After this, the prince uttered only ‘RA’. Sharadananda then read out the fourth and the last shlokah (verse):

rajendra! nija-putrasya yadi kalyanamichhasi |
dehi daanam dvijatibhyo devataraadhanam kuru ||     

No sooner Sharadananda said this than the prince became normal. The prince, then, narrated to his father his experience with the bear. Thereupon, the king drew away the curtain, and saw, to his great delight, Sharadanand. The king saluted him bowing down and received him with honour.

Concluding Remarks:

The story has a number of messages. First, it tells that men are inherently treacherous. He can do anything for his interest. He may not hesitate to take the life of his benefactor, if situation arises, as in the present story where the prince totally forgot what good the bear-king did to him by way of giving him shelter and protection when he was on the run for his life pursued by a tiger. The bear did not hurt the prince in any way even though it could kill him.

To the contrary, the bear was generous and offered the prince, a stranger, to sleep on his lap. Another message the story tells: a person in position of responsibility should think well before taking any important decision. How much the good king Nanda had to suffer by banishing his wise minister Sharadanand on a trivial ground! The story tells that even in those olden days, there were intelligent minds of the like Sharadananda who, though not a physician by profession, had good knowledge of the curative value of music in setting right mental disorders.

– BY Dr. Sachidanand Das, PhD (Science), BSc (Gold Medallist)


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    • type in google search prince caught between tiger and bear and open result simhasana dvatrimsika the story and verses meaning given there

  • Dr Das, thank you for the apt explanation of the Tale of SASEMIRA….. though i had heard it from my grand mother as a kid never remember the meaning.
    Kiran Naikar

  • 1st verse says ” is there any cleverness in cheating one’s known well wishers, & indeed is there any manliness in murdering those those who sleep in ones arms?”
    2nd verse says ” even the slayer of a bramhin is releasedfrom his sin when he beholds the bridge across sea at point of dhanushkoti, but not the traitor to his friend”
    3rd verse says “the traitor to his friend, the ingrate,the thief,& one who violates guru’s bed all the 4 will go to hell as long as sun & moon exists”
    4th verse says ” king, if u desire ur son’s welfare, give gifts to the deserving. the householder is purified by charity”