|Language Paisaci||Form epic|
Bṛhatkathā (Sanskrit, "the Great Narrative") is an ancient Indian epic, said to have been written by Guṇāḍhya in a poorly-understood language known as Paiśācī. The work is no longer extant but several later adaptations — the Kathasaritsagara, Brihatkathamanjari and Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha in Sanskrit, as well as the Peruṅkatai and Vasudevahiṃḍi in vernaculars — furnish tantalizing and often contradictory clues to its nature.
The date of its composition is uncertain. According to testimonials by later Sanskrit poets like Daṇḍin, Subandhu, and Bāṇa, the Bṛhatkathā existed in the 6th century AD. According to other estimates it predates that period by several more centuries. For example, if the Story of Udayana by poet Bhāsa (and also later by Harsha in Ratnavali) was inspired by Brihatkatha, it had to be older than the time of Bhāsa — itself uncertain, but before the 3rd century AD.
Although several derivative works are extant, they differ so greatly that they cannot be used to reconstruct the Bṛhatkathā in a literal sense. However, some strong inferences can be made about its content based on their similarities.
Due to a dohada ("pregnancy craving"), Mṛgāvatī, pregnant with Udayana, is either covered or immersed in red. A monstrous bird mistakes her for raw meat and carries her away, later dropping her. She is cared for in a hermitage, where she raises her son. Udayana obtains a wonderful lute, elephant-taming skills, and confidants; he and his mother eventually return to their home, Kauśāmbī.
Udayana is later captured by Pradyota, the King of Ujjayinī. Here, he teaches the lute to Pradyota's daughter, Vāsavadattā, and they fall in love. Eventually they escape to Kauśāmbī, where Udayana's rightful kingship is restored, and they are married. But fearing Udayana is getting soft, and desiring an additional political alliance, Udayana's ministers make him believe that Vāsavadattā is dead, and effect his marriage to Padmāvatī.
Though he is later reunited with Vāsavadattā, Udayana remains childless. Later, as a boon of Kubera, Vāsavadattā becomes pregnant with Naravāhanadatta (his name means "given by Kubera"), who is fated to become the emperor of the Vidyādharas.
Udayana's life serves as the prelude to the central story of his son, Naravānhanadatta. Unlike his father, who appears in several works unrelated to the Bṛhatkathā, Naravānhanadatta is known only from texts demonstrably linked to the Bṛhatkathā.
For the origin of Brihatkatha as described in Kathasaritsagara, see the diagram to the right.