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.

HERE was once upou a time a town called Punyapur. Over it ruled a king called Vallabharam His prime minister's name was Satyaprakash. One day the king said
to his minister, "He who being a king does not enjoy the society of pretty girls might just as well not be a king at all." With hese words he handed over the whole business of his kingdom to his prime minister, and throwing aside all his cares spent all his days among the fairest faces in India.
One day the prime minister was sitting sadly in his house. His beautiful wife Laxmi came to him and said, "My lord, why do you look so care­worn and weary'?" "Because," answered her husband, "I am anxious about the king. He passes the whole of his time in pleasure, and I have become quite ill through his anxiety as to his future." "If that is so, my lord," said Laxmi, "you should go on a pilgrimage to some shrine. For many years you have served the king. It is time that you enjoyed a holiday." For a time the minister thought over his wife's counsel. When he next went to see the king, he begged and obtained leave to go on a pilgrimage. In the course of it he came to Setubandh Rameshwaram.* After he had worshipped at the shrine, he left the
*The extreme southerly point of India.

King Vallabharam and the Sea Maiden 75
temple. He looked out over the ocean. Suddenly he saw a very strange thing. In the middle of the sea stood a tree with an ebony trunk. Its leaves were emeralds. Its flowers were of coral and its fruits topazes. His wonder grew when he noticed that sitting on the top of the tree was a beautiful girl who played on a lute and sang to it a low, lilthing song. The tree remained above the sea for about a quarter of an hour. Then it slowly disappeared beneath the waves. The minister was so amazed at what he had seen that that very day he set out to return to his own city. Prostrating him­ self before the king with clasped hands, he cried, "My lord king, I have seen a marvellous thing." "Tell me about it," said the king. "But," said the minister, "if I tell this story stranger than what men see in their wildest dreams - men will deem me mad. Yet what I am about to tell you I have seen with my own eyes." Then he told the king all about the strange tree and the sea maiden whom he had seen sitting and singing upon it.
When he had ended his tale the king instantly handed over his kingdom to his minister and started alone for the South., After some days he reached the seashore near Rameshwaram. He went inside the temple and worshipped at the shrine. When he came out he looked across the waters and,.just s his minister had done, he saw the jewelled tree with the beautiful maid upon it standing in the middle of the ocean. Directly the king saw it, he sprang into the sea and swimming out to the tree climbed into its branches. As soon as he hadÜ

76 Tales of King Vikrama
done so, the tree sank right down below the sea to Patala. When it stopped, the peautiful maiden said to him, "Brave man, what led you to come here'?" "I fell in love with your beauty," answered the king, "and I have followed you in the hope of winning you for my bride." "I am ready to be your bride," said the maiden, "but only on one condition. You must always promise to leave me upon the fourteenth day of the dark half of the month." The king promised and they were at once married by the Gandharva marriage rites. When the fourteenth day of the dark half of the month came, the sea maiden said to the king, "Today you must leave me." The king agreed and going away, hid himself in a spot where he .could see everything without being seen. At midnight he saw a giant come in and offer to kiss his wife. Instantly the king rushed at the giant, "Vile giant," he cried, "do not dare to touch my wife. First do battle with me. I fear you not. Before seeing you I might have feared to fight a giant, but now I fear nothing."
As he spoke the king slashed so fiercely at the giant's neck that with a single stroke he severed his enemy's head from his body. When his wife saw what he had done she cried joyfully: "My brave husband, you do not know how grateful I am to you! For just as jewels are not to be found on every mountain, nor sandalwood trees in every forest, nor pearls in the. head of every elephant, so heroes are not to he found in every city." "But," asked the king, "why did that giant come on theÜ

King Vallabharam and the Sea Maiden 77
fourteenth day of the dark half of the month?" "Listen," answered the sea maiden, "and I shall tell you. My name is Sundari. My father is an immortal.* It was his custom .never to eat his dinner without me beside him. One day I was not at home at dinner time. My father grew very angry. He cursed me saying that a giant would come to persecute me on the fourteenth of the dark half of every month. When I heard his curse, I cried to him: 'My father, have pity on me and take back the curse that you have laid on me'. He said in answer, 'If the husband whom, you marry is really a brave man, he will kill the giant and free you from my curse' and, as he foretold, so it has happened. Now I must go to my father and make obeisance to him."
The king said, "If you are really grateful to me, you must repay me by coming with me to see my city. Thereafter you can go and see your father." The sea maiden agreed. The king took her to his capital. When the news spread that the king was returning, his people beat drums, played music and rejoiced. Beggars gathered together to receive alms and give him their blessings. And the king scattered largesse on all sides. After some days had passed, Sundari said, "My lord king, I want to go and see my·father.'!' The king grew very sad and began to sigh deeply. "Very well," he said, "go if you will." Sundari felt pity for him and answered: "No, I shall not go.'' "'Why not'?"
* A Vidhyadhara in the original (See Tale 15).

78 ·Tales of King Vikrama
asked the king. "My father," said Sundari, "is an immortal. I have become the wife of a mortal; whom he will despise. So I shall not go." When the king heard her words he was so delighted that he distributed lakhs of rupees in charity.- But when the minister came to know of her resolve, his heart burst within his breast and he died instantly.
At this point the oilman's son said: "King Vikrama, tell me what it was that killed the minister. " The minister feared," answered King Vikrama, "that the king would spend all his days in the society of the new queen and would, for the rest of his life, neglect the affairs of the state. Ruin would overtake his subjects, deserted by their king. It was this fear that killed him."
\Vhen King Vikrama had finished speaking, he saw that he was alone. He realised that he had again broken his promise. He went·back to the burning ground and flinging the dead body over his shoulder began once more to retrace his steps. As he went, the oilman's son began to tell his twelfth tale.


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