Sanskrit: Instrumental singular कथायोगेन in MBh 3:278:1


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England, English (UK)
And it's on to chapter 2 of the story of Sāvitrī and Satyavān in the Mahābhārata.

मार्कण्डेय उवाच।
अथ मद्राधिपो राजा नारदेन समागतः।
उपविष्टः सभामध्ये कथायोगेन भारत॥२-१॥
ततो ऽभिगम्य तीर्थानि सर्वाण्येवाश्रमांस्तथा।
आजगाम पितुर्वेश्म सावित्री सह मन्त्रिभिः॥२-२॥

I must admit, I'm finding the grammar of these verses quite difficult to sort out. What's really got me scratching my head is कथायोगेन - why is it in the instrumental singular? But we'll get to that in a minute.

Atha 'now, then, marks the start of the chapter, not always necessary to translate'
madrādhipo rājā 'the king of Madra'
nāradena samāgataḥ

Already I'm a little unsure. Now Monier-Williams translates samāgata- as 'come together, met, joined, assembled' and for sam- + ā- + gam- he has 'to come together, meet, be united with; to come to/near, approach, arrive at; to come back; to meet with, come upon, find'. So, the first question is, should we take this as a description of an event: 'the king of Madra was joined by Nārada, Nārada met with the king of Madra, etc.', or is it just a way of basically saying 'the king of Madra, together with Nārada' or just, basically, 'the king of Madra and Nārada'?


This is another tough one for me. For upaviṣṭa- Monier-Williams has 'seated, sitting; come to, arrived, entered (into any state or condition); occupied with, engaged in' and for upa- + viś- 'to go/come near; to sit down, take a seat; to enter; to stop, settle one's self; to sit near to; to apply or devote one's self to, cultivate'. So one possible interpretation is madrādhipo rājā nāradena upaviṣṭaḥ 'Nārada approached the king of Madra' - but that seems unlikely, given we already have madrādhipo rājā nāradena samāgataḥ so I think we can rule that out. Another possible interpretation is 'Nārada (nāradena) sat near to (upaviṣṭaḥ) the king of Madra (madrādhipo rājā).' So in these cases, again, we're describing an event that happened in the past. 'Nārada met', 'Nārada sat'. But perhaps we should read and translate these participles more like adjectives, more like participles in English, and less like finite verbs. Perhaps it should be 'the king of Madra (madrādhipo rājā) was seated (upaviṣṭaḥ) with Nārada (nāradena)'. Or, there is another thing I've been considering. Every translation I have consulted, without exception, translates upaviṣṭa- as 'seated'/sitting', but I couldn't help but notice the possible definition 'occupied with, engaged in' and the other one 'entered (into any state or condition)'. That got me thinking. What if the correct interpretation is 'the king of Madra was engaged with/in conversation'? Remember the question I started with: why is कथायोगेन in the instrumental? What if that is why? It's a theory that really caught my attention, but I'm just not sure it really fits with the past passive participle, I don't know.

Staying on that question, if upaviṣṭa- is 'seated/sitting', then what is kathāyogena? It could be something qualifying the other instrumental singular in the sentence - nāradena - but that doesn't seem to fit. Kathāyoga- is not a participle, it is not an adjective, it is a noun. So what do we do with it? How do we understand it? It could be an 'instrumental of reason' - perhaps madrādhipo rājā nāradena samāgataḥ kathāyogena 'Nārada joined the king of Madra in order to have a conversation'. That doesn't feel right, though. Appashastri Rashivadekar says this is to be taken to mean 'in the course of conversation, holding a discourse' and I found a French dictionary that says:

yogena adv. comme il convient | en conséquence de, selon <iic.>.
kathāyogena au cours de la conversation.

Translation mine:

yogena adverb 'as it suits, suitably; as a consequnce of, according to, dependent on' [note Monier-Williams also offers the definition 'suitably, fitly, duly, in the right manner'. I'm not sure how to understand iic., I assume it's in initio compositi 'at the start of a compound' - the opposite of ifc. (in fine compositi 'at the end of a compound'), but I would never expect to see a declined form at the start of a compound at least in Sanskrit, so I find that a very odd note.]
kathāyogena 'in the course of conversation'

However, I have to say, I find this usage of the instrumental hard to classify under any of the possible uses of the instrumental Whitney gives, and I find him very comprehensive on this matter. Most of the translations seem to take this as a kind of instrumental absolute (which Whitney also specifically mentions) and translates this as 'when the king of Madra was conversing with Nārada', but if that is the case, she would not have a few more instrumentals in the sentence?

So now we move on to the next verse, which is a lot easier.

'bhigamya tīrthāni sarvāṇy evāśramāṃs 'having visited (abhigamya) all the pilgrimage sites (tīrthāni sarvāṇi) and the hermitages (āśramān)' ājagāma pitur veśma sāvitrī saha mantribhiḥ 'Sāvitrī (sāvitrī) came (ājagāma) with the ministers (saha mantribhiḥ) to her father's palace/house/abode (pitur veśma)'.

The final question is what to do with that little word tataḥ. This is one of those fiddly little words that has a hundred different meanings but often doesn't require any translation at all. Here though ... One possibility is that it goes with atha and is essentially redundant, quoting Monier-Williams: 'thereupon, then, after that, afterwards (sometimes corresponding to preceding particles like अग्रे, पुरस्, पूर्वम्, प्रथमम्, प्राक्; corresponding to प्रथम; also correlative of यद्, यत्र, यदा, यदि, चेद्; often superfluous after an ind.p. or after तदा or अथ)'. However, another possibility is that it does mean 'after that'. Perhaps it goes with abhigamya ('after visiting all the holy fords and the hermitages' - seems unlikely to me.) Perhaps, though, it goes with the verse above. Perhaps we should take the participles like finite verbs. 'Nārada approached the king of Madra in the middle of his court, sat down, and engaged him in conversation. Then, having visited all the pilgrimage sites and hermitages, Sāvitrī came, with the ministers, to her father's palace.' Or perhaps tataḥ has its meaning 'from there': tato 'bhigamya tīrthāni sarvāṇi 'having returned from all those pilgrimage sites' - again, that seems unlikely. Perhaps, though, it means 'to there': tata ājagāma pitur veśma sāvitrī 'Sāvitrī came to that place, her father's palace'. Or, perhaps it does mean 'then' and the participles should nevertheless be translated like adjectives. 'One day (atha), the king of Madra was seated in the middle of his court with Nārada and was conversing with the great sage. Then, Sāvitrī, having visited all the pilgrimage sites and the hermitages came with the ministers to her father's palace.'

Also, just while we're here. Do pitur veśma and sabhāmadhye necessarily refer to exactly the same place? I mean, sabhā has a lot of meanings: 'assembly, congregation, meeting, council, public audience; a place for public meetings, large assembly-room or hall, palace, court of a king or of justice, council-chamber, gambling-house'. What I mean is, when it says ājagāma pitur veśma, should we picture her walking right into the room where her father and Nārada are conversing, or has she merely arrived at the palace and her father and Nārada are having their conversation in one of the rooms of that palace? It doesn't really affect anything very much in terms of the fundamental meaning, but I feel it does influence the interpretation of tataḥ and how we translate the perticiples, and whether kathāyogena works well as an instrumental absolute or not.


I'm especially interested in this usage of the instrumental singular: is it an instrumental of reason? Is it an instrumental absolute? Does it have the meaning 'in the course of conversation, holding a discourse'? Is it somehow qualifying Nārada? Is it just a bit of a cheat to fit the metre?

This question might seem very wordy and all over the place, but I think how we understand kathāyogena affects and is affected by the rest of the two verses: both the individual words and the overarching structure of the sentence(s). If the basic sentence structure is: 'when the king and Nārada were talking, Sāvitrī returned' that works very well with the definition 'in the course of conversation, holding a discourse'. However, if we read the two verses as 'Nārada came to the court, sat down with the king and engaged him in conversation. Then (tataḥ), Sāvitrī came to her father's palace', well kathāyogena is even more of a mystery!
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