Baḥr al-asmār | Monography or Translations of known period | Fables and Tales | Survey | Perso-Indica

Fables and Tales

Monography or Translations of known period
Baḥr al-asmār

Most likely commissioned during the reign of Zayn al-‘Ābidīn in Kashmir (r. ca. 1418-1470), the Baḥr al-asmār was a Persian adaptation of the famous Sanskrit story collection Kathāsaritsāgara (Ocean of Streams of Stories). This store-house of tales by the Kashmirian court-poet Somadeva claims to be a retelling of another work, the non-extant Bṛhatkathā (Great Tale) composed centuries earlier in an unidentified Middle Indo-Aryan language (see Speyer 1968, pp. 9-44). The Kathāsaritsāgara (Somadeva 1915) dates from the second half of the 11th century; the time-span of its composition can be set between 1063 and 1081 (Bühler 1886, p. 558). Comprising 18 sections (lambaka) and 124 subsections called ‘waves’ (taraṅga), it has a length of about 20 000 stanzas. In the opening section (kathāpīṭha), Śiva is asked by Pārvatī to tell her a charming tale that nobody had ever heard before. This story is picked up by one of Śiva’s attendants (gaṇa), Puṣpadanta, who passes it on to his wife. Due to his eavesdropping, Puṣpadanta and his companion Mālyavān who had intervened on his behalf, are cursed by Pārvatī to be reborn as mortals and to stay on earth until they would proclaim the whole tale and write it down to be freed from the curse. The main storyline is interrupted by various tales, some of which can also be encountered in other Indian works (e.g. itihāsa and Purāṇas).

The Persian rendering under the name of Baḥr al-asmār is not extant today, it is known solely through evidence from other sources. A presumptive mention of it occurs in the Rājataraṅgiṇī by Śrīvara (fl. 1459-1505). The court-poet Śrīvara refers to the commissioning of translations of Sanskrit works into Persian, and vice versa by his patron Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (see Slaje 2005, p. 23), among them a translation of “a digest of the Bṛhatkathā” (bṛhatkathāsāra) which may refer to the Kathāsaritsāgara.

The second instance of an allusion to a Persian version of Somadeva’s work occurs in a later reworking of it commissioned during the reign of the Mughal ruler Akbar (r. 1556-1605). This reworking named Daryā-yi asmār is attributed to a certain Muṣtafā ibn Ḫāliqdād al-Hāšimī al-‘Abbāsī, also known as the translator of other works. In the preface, al-ʿAbbāsī mentions that he was called upon to rewrite an earlier rendering “of the book barhatkatā [...] which the Kashmirian Brahmin Sūmdēvbat [...] had shortened” and which “someone had undertaken during Zayn al-‘Ābidīn’s reign”, being fraught with Arabic expressions, in a more readable style.” (Ḫāliqdād ‘Abbāsī 1375š./1997, p. 4). This preface can be found in a manuscript stored in the State Central Library of Hyderabad (ms. 2642), one of the two manuscripts upon which Čand and ‘Ābidī based their edition (Ḫāliqdād ‘Abbāsī 1375š./1997, p. 8).

We find the third reference to a Persian version of Somadeva’s tales in ʿAbd al-Qādir Badā’ūnī’s Muntaḫab al-tawārīḫ. Curiosly, Badā’ūnī notes that he was assigned the task to translate the last volume (ǧild-i aḫīr) of a Persian adaptation of the Kathāsaritsāgara from Zayn al-‘Ābidīn’s time named Baḥr al-asmār and also to rewrite this earlier version in a more readable style. We do not know, however, whether al-‘Abbāsī and Badā’ūnī were aware of their respective efforts as none of them mentions the other (Ḫāliqdād ‘Abbāsī 1375š./1997, pp. 10-11). Both reworkings of the Baḥr al-asmār were presumably done after 1590 following the military annexation of Kashmir (Franke 2010, pp. 321-322). It is not sure whether Badā’ūnī’s version has come down to us. The second manuscript of a Persian rendering of the Kathāsaritsāgara, namely ms. 2410 in the India Office collection was ascribed to Badā’ūnī by Marshall (Marshall 1985, p. 20) and to Fayżī by Ethé (see Ethé 1980, I, p. 1105). As it lacks the first folios and a colophon, however, the translator cannot be identified.


Badā’ūnī, ‘Abd al-Qādir, 1986, Muntaḫab al-tawārīḫ, English translation: Muntakhabu-t-tawārīkh, 3 vols., G. S. A. Ranking - W. H. Lowe - T. W. Haig, eds., Delhi, Renaissance (1st ed. Calcutta, 1895-1899).

Bühler, Georg, 1886, “Über das Zeitalter des kaśmīrischen Dichters Somadeva”, Sitzungsberichte der Philosophisch-Historischen Classe der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, pp. 545 -558.

Ethé, Hermann, 1980, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, vols. 1-2 (1st edition Oxford 1903-1937).

Franke, Heike, 2010, “Akbar’s Kathāsaritsāgara: The Translator and Ilustrations of an Imperial Manuscript”, Muqarnas, 27, pp. 313-356.

Ḫāliqdād Abbāsī, Muṣtafā, 1375š./1997, Darya-yi asmār (tarjuma-yi katāsaritsāgar), Tārā Čand - Sayyid Amīr Ḥasan ‘Ābidī, eds., New Delhi, Aligarh Muslim University - Markaz-i taḥqīqāt-i fārsī - Rāyzan-i farhangī-yi sifārat-i jumhūrī-yi islāmī-yi Īrān.

Marshall, D. N., 1985, Mughals in India: A Bibliographical Survey of Manuscripts, London, Mansell (1st ed. 1967).

Slaje, Walter, 2005, “Kaschmir im Mittelalter und die Quellen der Geschichtswissenschaft”, Indo-Iranian Journal, 48, 1, pp. 1-70.

Somadeva, 1915, The Kathâsaritsâgara of Somadevabhatta, Pandit Durgâprasâd - Kâśhinâth Pândurang Parab, eds., revised by Wâsudev Laxmaṇ Shâstri Paṇsikar, Bombay (1st ed. 1889 ).

Speyer, Jacobus Samuel, 1968, Studies about the Kathāsaritsāgara, Wiesbaden (1st ed. 1908).



Anna Martin

Originally published: 13 October 2016
How to quote this article:

Martin, Anna, 2016, "Baḥr al-asmār", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.,

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Main Persian Title: Baḥr al-asmār
English Translation of Main Persian Title: The Ocean of [Streams of] Stories
Original Sources:
Approximate period of composition: 1418-1470
Place: Kashmir
Commissioner: Zayn al-‘Ābidīn 
Quoted sources on India:
Quoted sources on India (Unknown or not existent):
Later texts quoting this Work:

Daryā-yi asmār

Muntaḫab al-tawārīḫ