Kādambari is a romantic novel in Sanskrit. It was substantially
Bāṇabhaṭṭa in the first half of the 7th century CE,
who did not survive to see it through completion. The novel was
completed by Banabhatta's son Bhushanabhatta, according to the plan
laid out by his late father. It is conventionally divided into
Purvabhaga (earlier part) written by Banabhatta, and Uttarabhaga
(latter part) by Bhushanabhatta. (An alternate tradition gives the
son's name as Pulindabhatta.) 
The standard editions of the original
Sanskrit text are by Peterson
and Kane. There are translations into English by Kale, Layne
and Ridding; and an abridgement into Gujarati by
Bhalan (edited by
This novel has an extremely intricate plot which is difficult to
summarize with concision. Its central thread is that of a romantic
attachment (and eventual union) between the hero Chandrapeeda and the
heroine Kadambari. However, there are several competing subplots;
indeed, the heroine does not make her appearance until past the
midpoint. Many of the characters appear in multiple incarnations, some
as humans and some as demigods or animals. The narration proceeds in a
succession of nested frames; a large part of it is a retelling by a
parrot of a story which was told to it by a sage. The latter story
also contains several instances of one character relating a sub-story
to another character.
The plot has probably been adapted from the story of King Sumanas from
Brihatkatha (a conjectural collection of stories in the
Paishachi language). This story also appears in Somadeva's
Kathasaritsagara (which is believed to be a
Sanskrit precis of
Gunadhya's work). 
This work can be plausibly claimed to be one of the first novels in
the world; making due allowance for the ambiguities of such a
classification. In fact, two modern Indian languages (
Marathi) use 'kadambari' as a generic term for a romance or a novel.
Apart from the Kadambari,
Banabhatta is also the author of
Harshacharita, a biography of his patron king Harshavardhana. It is
this circumstance which allows one to date the author with a
reasonable degree of certainty.
(The paragraphs have been numbered for ease of reference. The original
text is continuous, and has no chapter divisions.The Purvabhaga (first
part) ends abruptly inside Paragraph 16, at a point when
speaking about her love-sickness to Patralekha, as narrated by the
latter to Chandrapeeda.)
There is a valiant king named Shudraka, who rules over a vast and
prosperous kingdom with the capital city of Vidisha. One day, a
Chandala (a low caste of forest-dwellers) maiden comes to his court
and makes a present of a parrot (named Vaishampayana) to the king.
After having eaten some tasty morsels and rested in the royal
chambers, the parrot begins to narrate his tale with the preamble,
"Your Majesty, this is a very long story; but if you are curious, it
will be told."
The parrot says that he used to live in the Vindhya forest with his
aging father. One day, the forest is overrun by Shabaras (a band of
hunters) who kill an enormous number of animals and cause great
destruction. Vaishampayana's father is dragged from his hollow and
murdered. After the commotion has died out, Vaishampayana wanders off,
and eventually finds refuge in a hermitage where he meets the divine
sage Jabali. The latter stares at the parrot for a while and remarks
that "He is experiencing the fruit of his own misbehaviour." The other
hermits become curious at this remark, and Jabali begins to narrate
the tale which fills a large part of the 'Kadambari'.
Jabali says that in the country of Avanti, there was a city called
Ujjayini which was ruled by King Tarapeeda. He had wealth, vitality,
spiritual knowledge, and a large harem, but no son. One night, the
king dreams that
Chandra (the Moon God) had entered the mouth of his
queen Vilasavati. He relates this dream to his chief minister
Shukanasa, who in turn confides that in his dream, a figure clad in
white placed a Pundarika (lotus) into the lap of his wife Manorama.
Within a few days, both wives are found to be pregnant, and each of
them gives birth to a boy. Tarapeeda's son is named Chandrapeeda, and
Shukanasa's son is named Vaishampayana. The two boys, who become bosom
friends, are raised together in a heavily fortified university built
especially for them. Chandrapeeda acquires a powerful and swift horse
called Indrayudha, which becomes his inseparable companion.
Having completed their education, the two friends reenter the capital
city. There are boisterous celebrations at their return, and
Chandrapeeda is ogled at by throngs of besotted young women. Queen
Vilasavati makes a present of a beautiful prepubescent girl named
Patralekha to her son. Tarapeeda decides to install his son as the
heir-apparent. Shukanasha gives him some worldly advice, after which,
Chandrapeeda and Vaishampayana, accompanied by a vast army, set forth
to conquer the world.
Chandrapeeda subdues all the princes in the world, and decides to
settle for a temporary rest at Suvarnapura in the Himalayas. One day,
while riding his horse, he sees a couple of Kinnaras (a race of
demigods), and gives chase. They elude him however, and the prince
gets lost. He finds himself at the bank of the beautiful lake Acchoda.
Having quenched his thirst, he hears a sweet melody and begins to look
for its source. It is found to originate from the
Veena (lute) of a
heavenly and lustrous damsel dressed as an ascetic, sitting in a
temple of Lord Shiva.
The damsel, named Mahashveta, offers hospitality to Chandrapeeda. He
insists that she should narrate her story. Mahashveta begins the
narration in a gush of tears with the words, " O Prince, what is to be
gained by hearing my story of my renunciation of the world? But if you
are eager to know, I shall tell it."
Mahashveta relates that she is the daughter of a
demigod). One day, she had come to Lake Acchoda for a bath, when she
spotted a handsome young ascetic and was instantly smitten. An
enticing smell seemed to emanate from his body. The ascetic, too,
appeared to be overwhelmed by passion. She approaches a second young
sage (named Kapinjala), who tells her that her object of infatuation
is named Pundarika. He is the son of
Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) who
had conceived him while sitting on a lotus, by merely looking at the
great sage Shvetaketu. One day, as Kapinjala and Pundarika were
wandering in the Nandana forest, the goddess of the forest presented a
fresh mango sprout to Pundarika as an ornament for his ear. It is this
sprout which is the source of this smell.
Pundarika removes the sprout from Pundarika's ear, and places it onto
Mahashveta's ear. His rosary falls down, as he is trembling from the
pleasure of touching her cheek. Mahashveta wears it around her neck.
Kapinjala gives a scolding to Pundarika for succumbing to such a base
passion, contrary to his calling as an ascetic. Pundarika feels
abashed, and asks for his rosary back in mock-anger. Since Pundarika
is visibly befuddled due to his passion, Mahashveta deceives him by
giving him her strand of pearls instead of the rosary.
They part company, and that night Mahashveta is driven senseless by
her love-sickness. Her beetle-box bearer Taralika mentions to her that
she was approached by Pundarika, who enquired about her mistress. He
has given a love-letter for Mahashveta written on the bark of a tree
using the juice of a leaf as ink. Mahashveta loses her mind after
reading it, when the arrival of Kapinjala is announced. The latter
reports that Pundarika is driven to the brink of his existence by his
passion for Mahashveta, and henceforth his life is in her hands.
After Kapinjala has departed, Mahashveta is tormented and falls into a
swoon. As the moon rises, she leaves her palace to meet Pundarika.
However, she hears Kapinjala's wailing from a distance, who tells her
that Pundarika is dead. Mahashveta is heart-broken, and prepares to
immolate herself on the funeral pyre. At this moment, a divine being
descends from the skies and carries aloft Pundarika's body. He
admonishes Mahashveta not to give up her life, and reassures her that
"You two will be reunited." Kapinjala is agitated, and flies away
himself in pursuit of this being. Mahashveta believes herself to be
responsible for Pundarika's death. She has given up all worldly
pleasures, and is now an ascetic. This ends Mahashveta's narrative,
begun in Paragraph 7.
Chandrapeeda consoles Mahashveta and advises her not to blame herself.
He enquires after her companion Taralika. Mahashveta explains: The
Gandharva king Chitraratha and his queen Madira have a daughter named
Kadambari, who has been a childhood companion to me. She is filled
with despair due to my plight, and has vowed not to marry as long as I
am in grief. Kadambari's parents are vexed by this decision of hers,
and have asked me to persuade her. Thus, immediately before your
arrival here, I have sent Taralika to deliver my message to Kadambari.
The very next day, Taralika returns along with a young
Keyuraka. The latter says that
Kadambari was very upset by the message
and is firmly decided against marrying while Mahashveta's bereavement
continues. Mahashveta decides to visit
Kadambari herself, accompanied
by Chandrapeeda. They visit Mount Hemaketu (the Gandharvas' dwelling).
Immediately after Chandrapeeda and
Kadambari have seen each other, the
two are utterly in love.
Kadambari that she should let Chandrapeeda
return to his place, since his companions must be anxious about him.
Chandrapeeda returns, and is reunited with Vaishampayana, Patralekha
and his army. The next day, he is trailed by Keyuraka who brings the
Kadambari is suffering from pangs of separation.
Chandrapeeda, immediately mounts his horse Indrayudha, and accompanied
by Patralekha, speeds away towards Kadambari.
Kadambari is growing
pale from desire. Chandrapeeda coyly offers to cure her by suggesting
that his body is at her service, but
Kadambari demurs. As Chandrapeeda
is about to leave,
Kadambari requests that Patralekha be left behind
as her companion. This is agreed to, and Chandrapeeda returns to his
He receives a letter from his father Tarapeeda complaining of his
prolonged absence and requesting his immediate return to the kingdom.
Chandrapeeda sends a messenger to Kadambari, leaves Vaishampayana in
charge of the slowly returning army and marches rapidly onwards
towards the capital. In a few days he reaches Ujjayini. Along the way
he comes across a Chandika temple and witnesses the antics of a very
Dravida ascetic. (This part seems to have been
composed merely for amusement, and has no connection with the later
narrative.) Chandrapeeda's parents and the citizens are delighted to
see him. In a few days, Patralekha brings news that
suffering exceedingly from love-sickness.
Keyuraka arrives shortly thereafter, confirming this description of
Kadambari. Chandrapeeda's own state of mind is quite the same. He
decides to solicit the help of his friend Vaishampayana. He goes forth
and meets his returning army, but hears the following strange account
from his generals: while the army was camped at Lake Acchoda,
Vaishampayana went into a state of trance and seemed to be searching
for something. He now refuses to be separated from the lake.
Chandrapeeda becomes anxious for his friend and sets out in search of
him, having taken leave of his parents. However, he finds no trace of
Vaishampayana at Lake Acchoda. He meets Mahashveta however, who
narrates the following story. She saw a young
Brahmin wandering about,
who made passionate advances of love towards her. She was inflamed by
anger, and cursed him that he would turn into a parrot. That very
moment he fell lifeless on the ground. It was only later that she
learnt that the youth was Chandrapeeda's friend Vaishampayana.
Chandrapeeda is rendered unconscious by this news. At this moment,
Kadambari (who has told her parents that she is leaving to see
Mahashveta), arrives at the scene, accompanied by Patralekha. They
both fall into a swoon after seeing Chandrapeeda lying on the ground.
Kadambari recovers, still thinking that Chandrapeeda is dead, she
prepares to immolate herself on his funeral pyre.
At this moment, a disembodied voice calls out from the sky: 'My child
Mahashveta, the body of Pundarika is in my world. He remains
imperishable until he unites with you. On the other hand, although
Chandrapeeda's soul has fled because of a curse; his body is made of
light, and thus forever imperishable.
Kadambari must see to it that
his body is carefully guarded.' Everyone is astonished. Patralekha
exclaims that it is not proper for Indrayudha to remain on earth while
his master is no more. She mounts him, and throws herself along with
the horse into the Acchoda lake.
The very next moment, Kapinjala emerges from the lake. Mahashveta is
delighted to see her lover Pundarika's friend, and is curious to know
his tale. Kapinjala narrates as follows: I chased the heavenly being
who had carried aloft Pundarika's body (Paragraph 11) to the moon
world. This being declared himself to be the Moon God.
The latter said to Kapinjala: ' I was once cursed by your friend
(Pundarika) for no sound reason, that I would suffer from unrequited
love more than once. I cursed him back saying that he would share my
agonies. However, once I discovered that he is the lover of Mahashveta
(who has a kinship with my race), I brought his body here to preserve
it. You (Kapinjala) should go and consult the sage Shvetaketu
(Paragraph 8) about seeking his son's deliverance.'
Kapinjala continues: 'As I hurled myself towards Shvetaketu, I
inadvertently ran over an erascible sage who cursed me that I would
become a horse. I implored his pardon. The sage relented and said that
the curse would only last until my rider was alive. I further
requested him that even as a horse, I should not be separated from my
friend Pundarika. Thereupon, the sage told me that the Moon God would
be born upon the earth as Tarapeeda's son, who would be my rider.
Pundarika would be reborn as the chief minister's son and a companion
to my rider. After hearing this, I fell into the ocean below, and
reemerged as a horse.
Since I had retained memories of my past life even after having turned
into a horse, I purposefully brought Chandrapeeda here in pursuit of
Kinnara couple. Vaishampayana, the youth cursed by you
(Mahashveta), was in fact Pundarika himself in his earlier birth.'
This closes the narration of Kapinjala begun in Paragraph 21.
Mahashveta is heartbroken at the fact that she has lost her lover for
a second time.
Kadambari enquires after Patralekha who had entered the lake with the
horse. However, Kapinjala knows nothing about this, and he leaps into
the sky to meet Shvetaketu.
Kadambari whiles away her time watching
over Chandrapeeda's lifeless body, which shows no signs of decay.
A messenger sent by
Kadambari informs Chandrapeeda's parents of their
son's plight. Tarapeeda, Vilasavati, Shukanasa and Manorama arrive at
the scene, and are very sorrowful. Tarapeeda gives up all wordly
pleasures, and begins to spend his days in the forest near his son's
body. Jabali reveals that Vaishampayana (who was cursed by Mahashveta)
is the very parrot who is present in the hermitage with them. This
ends the narrative of Jabali, begun in Paragraph 2.
The parrot Vaishampayana continues his narration. He says: 'After
Jabali had finished, all of my past life came back to me. I requested
him to tell me something of my friend Chandrapeeda's present birth,
but he was dismissive. Jabali told me that although as Pundarika I was
an ascetic; I came under the pall of sensual desire, because I was
born only of a woman's seed (Paragraph 8) and hence lacked the
requisite element of manliness.
After the assembly in Jabali's hermitage has broken up for the night,
I (the parrot) became sorrowful at my own degradation from the state
of an ascetic
Brahmin to that of an animal. At the very moment, the
sage Kapinjala arrived at the hermitage. He embraced me and wept with
joy. Kapinjala told me (the parrot): 'I have met your father
Shvetaketu, who directed me here. Your woes are about to end.'
Afterwards, Kapinjala left the hermitage.
Eventually, my wings grew stronger, and I could fly. I set off in the
northern direction to meet Mahashveta. On my way I fell asleep due to
fatigue, and when I woke up, found myself caught in a snare laid by a
Chandala (forest-dweller). I was taken to a
Chandala girl who said to
me, "Ah my son! You cannot leave me now." Then she brought me here in
a golden cage, and made a present of myself to you (King Shudraka). I
do not know who this girl is, and why she calls me her son.' This ends
the narration of the parrot (begun in Paragraph 1).
King Shudraka becomes curious and summons the
Chandala girl. The girl
tells the king that she is Lakshmi, Pundarika's mother (Paragraph 8).
Moreover, the king is no other than Chandrapeeda (the Moon God). The
mutual curses between the Moon and Pundarika are now at an end. At
these words, the king remembers everything in his former life, and
slumps in a state of love-sickness for Kadambari.
At Mahashveta's hermitage, the season of spring arrives gloriously.
Chandrapeeda is brought back to life by the touch of Kadambari's hand.
He says that since the curse is over, he has abandoned the earthly
body of Shudraka. Pundarika appears from heaven in the form in which
Mahashveta had fallen in love with him. Both the couples are united.
The parents of all the lovers gather around them, and everyone is
overcome with joy.
Kadambari asks Chandrapeeda about Patralekha's whereabouts.
Chandrapeeda tells her that Patralekha is in fact Rohini (a
demigoddess and a spouse of the Moon) who had come to the mortal world
to take care of Chandrapeeda during his curse.
Chandrapeeda enjoy their first sexual union. Chandrapeeda returns to
Ujjayini, and installs Pundarika as the King. He divides his days
between Ujjayini and Mount Hemaketu. The two couples live in eternal
^ a b Layne, Gwendolyn (1991). Kadambari: A Classic
Sanskrit story of
Magical Transformations (Translation into English). New York and
London: Garland Publishing.
^ Peterson, Peter G. (1884). Kadambari. Bombay: Government Central
^ Kane, P. V. (1921). The
Kadambari of Banabhatta: Purvabhaga. Bombay:
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
^ a b Kale, M.R. (1968). Bana's Kadambari: Purvabhaga Complete
(Translation into English). Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass
^ Ridding, C.M. (1896). The
Kadambari of Bana (Translation into
English). London: Royal Asiatic Society.
The Kādambarī of Bāṇa at
Project Gutenberg (1896 translation by
C. M. Ridding)
Kadambari (3rd ed) (1928). Tr. M. R. Kale, Delhi: Motilal
Kadambari - Purva Bagha on the
Internet Archive (edition by Kasinatha
Kādambarī (Uttarabhāga) edited by P. V. Kane on the Inter