Somdev Bhatt 11th Century. Original in Sanskrit.
English Translation: C. A. KINCAID, c. v. o. Indian Civil Serice  1921


Background. "Vikram Aur Betaal" is a series of enchanting tales derived from the 11th-century work 'Betaal Pachisi' by Kashmiri poet Somdev Bhatt. The narrative follows the wise and adventurous King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. When a mendicant consistently gifts him fruits containing rubies, the king's curiosity is piqued. Meeting the mendicant under specific, eerie conditions, Vikramaditya learns of a task only he can perform: to retrieve a corpse, Betaal, from an ancient tree for the mendicant's mystical rituals.

As King Vikramaditya carries the corpse, Betaal's spirit tells him tales, concluding each with a riddle. If Vikramaditya knows the answer but stays silent, his head will shatter. But answering breaks his vow, and Betaal returns to the tree, making the king restart his mission. After 25 stories, Betaal reveals the mendicant's ulterior motive: to gain unparalleled powers by sacrificing the king. Forewarned by Betaal, Vikramaditya confronts the mendicant and, through his wit, triumphs over the deceitful ascetic.
In the town of Ujjain, King Mahabal ruled with a messenger named Haridas, who had a beautiful daughter, Mahadevi. As Mahadevi came of age, she and Haridas sought a virtuous husband for her. Haridas travels on the king's orders to meet King Harischandra, with whom he discusses the fallen moral state of the world in the era of Kaliyuga.
Upon Haridas's return, he finds three suitors vying for Mahadevi's hand in marriage, all with unique talents. While Haridas contemplates the decision, a giant kidnaps Mahadevi. One suitor uses his chariot to transport another, who bravely defeats the giant and rescues Mahadevi. Yet, the question remains: which suitor truly deserves Mahadevi's hand?
King Vikrama opines that the suitor who risked his life to fight the giant should be chosen. However, as he concludes, King Vikrama realizes he's broken his promise and returns to retrieve the body he was carrying, as the oilman's son begins to narrate another story.
ONCE in the town of Ujjain there ruled a king called Mahabal. He had a messenger named Haridas and the messenger had a beautiful daughter whose name was Mahadevi. When she reached womanhood, he began to think how he should find her a husband and so through her happiness win happiness himself. One day as he was thinking about her marriage, she herself went up to him and said, "My father, give me as a husband some youth endowed with all the virtues." "l shall try to, my daughter," answered Haridas. One day the king sent for Haridas and said to him, "In the Deccan I have a friend, King Harichandra. I want you to go to him and convey to him my salutations and find out whether all is well with him." Haridas did as the king bade him and gave to King Harischandra the message. King Harischandra was so pleased with him that he insisted on Haridas stopping with him for several days.
One day King Harischandra said to Haridas, "0 Haridas, has the Kaliyuga * begun yet'?" Haridas folded his hands and said, "Certainly, 0 king;
* According to Hindu belief there have been four ages. The Satyayuga, the Tretayuga, the Dwaparayuga, and the Kaliyuga. The Kaliyuga began after the battle of Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and Duryodhan. It is the evil age and will endure for 432,000 years. At its close the world will be destroyed.

50. Tales of King Vikrama
we are now in Kaliyuga. Wickedness is in full swing. Truth has lost all its value. Men speak soft words when they meditate treachery. No one observes any religion. Sons disobey their fathers, wives their husbands, princes their gods, subjects their rulers.
Disrespect has taken the place of learning. Vice knows no bounds. Men live only for the present and steep themselves in wickedness and folly. They plot night and day to rob other men of their wives and their riches. Though a man be of high caste, yet if he is poor, he is without honour. The wise man to-day is the man who cheats his neighbor and grinds the faces of the poor. Only the wealthy are deemed holy. The man who gets money by crime is esteemed a saint. To have no money is to commit sin. The fool is he who refuses to cheat his friend. The brave king is he who drives another king from his kingdom. The traitor is the true statesman.
The skillful prince is he who strips his subjects of their very clothes. The generous man is he who distributes bribes. If a man spares another's life after robbing him of everything he possesses, he is accounted noble. Kings spend their days in riotous living and hand over all the business of their kingdom to their ministers. They never consider the sufferings of their subjects and only show favour to flatterers. They act just as their whims prompt them. Whatever words the king utters for sooth are sacred. Whatever his conduct is, it is righteous. In short, the real duty of the king, which is to protect his subjects, never enters the king's mind

Mahadevi and the Gi nt 51
even in his dreams. The gods too, because men have ceased to worship them, have ceased to act like gods. Men have weak and delicate children because they begin in boyhood to lead vicious lives. Men through their wickedness have lost their ancient vigour. The anchorites whom we see are, but cut-throats disguised. Clever men anxious to get notoriety have started new ways and false ideas. They win the young and foolish to their side. Thus, all kinds of evil practices flourish. Yes, without doubt this is the Kaliyuga!" King Harischandra much impressed by this speech and complimented Haridas upon it. Then he went back to his palace. Shortly afterwards a Brahman youth went up to Haridas and said, "I have come, 0 best of men, to ask you to bestow upon me your accomplished daughter". "Young man," said Haridas, "I shall only give my daughter to that youth, who unites in his own person all the virtues." The young Brahman replied, "I have mastered all the sciences." "If so," said Haridas, "give me some proof of it." The Brahman youth answered, "I have made a chariot that needs. no horse to pull it. It will take you of itself to any spot you wish". "Show it to me tomorrow morning," said Haridas.
The following morning the Brahman youth brought the chariot. He and Haridas entered it and in a very short time it brought them to Ujjain. On reaching his home Haridas learnt that his eldest son had promised in his absence to give his sister to another Brahman boy, who also possessed all

52 Ta les of King Vikrama
the virtues and that his wife had promised Mahadevi to yet a third Brahman boy of no less merits. Haridas was deeply perplexed, for he could not decide to whom to give his daughter. He turned the matter over and over again, but he could not make up his mind. Some days later a giant* entered the house by night and seizing the girl carried her off to his home among the Vindhya mountains. For it has been said that excess in all things is evil. It was because of her excessive beauty that Sita was carried off by Ravan. It was because of his excessive pride that Ravan and all his family perished. It was because of excessive generosity that Bali lost all his wealth.
Next morning the household missed Mahadevi and searched everywhere for her in vain. At last, Haridas asked the three suitors to look for her. One of them by his magic discovered that the giant had carried her off to the Vindhyas. The second suitor said, "I shall kill that giant and bring her back". The third said, ''Get into my chariot. It will take you there and after you have killed the giant it will bring you back". The second suitor entered the chariot. It took him to the Vindhyas. There he fought the giant and killed him and

* The original word is Rakshas. I think it is best rendered by either 'giant' or 'ogre'.· The meaning in the next sentence is a little, but I understand it to be that the father should not have worried so much and taken so long to make up his mind. Had he decided earlier, the girl could have been married and would have gone to her husband's home before the Rakshas came.

Mahadevi and the Giant 53
afterwards brought back Haridas's daughter. Then all the three suitors began once more to quarrel, each claiming that he had done the most towards winning her. Again Haridas was perplexed, for he could not make up his mind to which of the three he ought to give Mahadevi.
At this point the oilman's son said, "O king, to which of the three should Haridas have given her?" King Vikrama said, "To the one who fought and killed the giant." "Why?" asked the oilman's son. "Because," said the king, "the other two only helped him. Whereas he went and at the risk of his life fought the giant. So Haridas should have given the maid to him."
When the king had finished speaking, he saw that he was alone. He remembered that he had again broken his promise, and knew that the dead body had gone back to the tree. He went back to the burning ground, placed it on his shoulder and once more started on his journey. As he went, the oilman's son began to tell his sixth tale.


00VikramBetaalIntroduction 01VajramukutAndPadmavati
02MadhumalotiAndHerSuitors 03KingRupsenAndVirvar
04The MainaAndTheParrot 05MahadeviAndTheGiant
06ParvatiAndTheWashermansBride 07PrincessTribhuvanasundari
08KingGunadipAndViramdeva 09SomadattaAndMadansena
10KingGunashekhar 11KingAndSeamaiden
12PrincessLavanyaAndThe Gandharva 13ShobhaniAndTheRobber
14PrincessChandraprabha 15KingJimutketuAndPrinceJimutvahan
16TheKingAndUnmadini 17GunakarAndTheAnchorite