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.



ONCE upon a time there was a town called Chandrakanti. Over it ruled a king called Nardharnamak;  and in it lived ,a merchant called Makaradhwaja who had a daughter named Shobhani. She was a beautiful girl and from day to day    her beauty increased.          It so happened that a number of thefts began to occur all over the city.  Many rich people were ruined by these thefts. At last the whole town went to the king's palace to complain of the trouble and loss that they had suffered. "We will not stay here any longer," they cried angrily to the king. "Nay," said the king soothingly, "what has happened has happened. It cannot be helped now.         But I promise that you will not be troubled anymore." The crowd was pacified and dispersed. The king then called his police and instructed them how they should patrol the city. He also ordered them to kilt any thief they caught at once without waiting for his per­ m1ss10n. The police carried out his commands and did their best to protect the citizens. Still the thefts continued. Again all the merchants and traders gathered together outside the palace.

"Lord King," they cried, "you have posted patrols all over the city. But the thefts instead of stopping are as bad as ever.'' The king dismissed the crowd saying, "Go now, to-night I shall myself patrol the city."


84      Tales of King Vikrama

When night came the king took his sword and shield and began to walk about through the town. Suddenly he saw a robber come towards him. He called out to the robber, "Who are you " "l am a robber," was the answer.     "Who are you'?" "I too am a robber," replied the king:     The robber was pleased at the reply and said, "Come along then; that is all right. We will both go and rob together."          The king agreed, and after walking and talking with the robber for some little distance, helped him to break into a house: After they had robbed it, they robbed several other houses in the same way.          When they had collected considerable spoil, the robber led the king outside the city to a well.  He and the king descended into the well. Inside it was a door that led into a cavern.  The robber posted the king at the door, while he himself took the booty inside.          After the robber had gone, a slave girl came out and seeing the king said, "My lord king, what has brought you here in the company of that villain'? Run away from there as quickly as you can, otherwise he will kill you directly he comes out.''   "l do not know the way,'' answered the king, ''so I cannot run away." The slave girl showed him the way out and the king returned to the palace.

Next morning the king called out his army and going to the well blockaded all the roads leading

to it and the cavern.    When the robber found that he could not get out of the cave, he went to the lord of it who was a giant. "My lord," he said  to the giant,  "the king is attacking  our  cavern,Ü


Shobhani and the Robber    85      _

you must help me, otherwise I shall have to desert you, and you will lose all your treasure and good name." The giant laughed and said,, "I am delighted to hear what you tell me. You have brought me a splendid meal and I am very grateful to you." With these words the giant rushed out of the cavern and began to eat up the army, men, horses and elephants, as fast as he could. A panic seized the troops. Those who could flee The others were all eaten up by the giant.

The king was running away all alone, when the robber called after him, "What! you a king's son and afraid! Shame on you!" When the king heard the robber's taunt, he turned and faced him. After a fierce fight the king wounded the robber and overcame him. He tied his hands and feet together and dragged him back to the city. There he had the robber's head shaved. He then seated him on a camel and after parading him about the streets, ordered him to be impaled. The citizens were delighted and shouted after the robber, "You are the man who stole all our property and now you are going to be impaled!"

When the procession was passing the house of the merchant Makaradhwaja, his daughter Shobhani heard the noise and asked her slave girl what it was.  The slave girl told her that according to the king's orders they were taking away the robber who had committed so many thefts in the town and were going to impale him. When Shobhani heard this, she looked out. Seeing how young and handsome the robber was, she fell inÜ


86      Tales of King Vikrama

Jove with him. She ran to her father and said, "My father; you must go to the king and somehow or other you must get him to spare that robber's life!"

"My child," answered the merchant, "how can I? The man has been robbing the whole town. Numbers of townsmen have lost their lives. The king will never listen to me." Shobhani answered, "If you offer the king all your riches, he will surely spare the robber. If you do not, I shall kill myself."

The merchant went to the king, "My lord king," he said, "take five lakhs of rupees and let the robber go."   The king got very angry and said, "This is fine talk. You want me to let go this ruffian who has ruined my capital.        I shall never let him go! never!"                

The merchant returned to his daughter and said, "My daughter, I said all I could to the king, but he would not listen to me." Just then the police brought the robber to the place where they were going to impale him. There they told him how the merchant's daughter had tried to save him. When he heard the story, he first burst into tears; Then he began to laugh loudly. A minute or two later the police impaled him.

when, he was dead, Shobhani made a funeral pyre. Then going to the gallows, she took down the robber's dead body and took it with her to the burning ground. As she was  lighting the pyre, the Goddess Parvati appeared before her and said: "My daughter, I have seen your courage and I amÜ


Shobhani and the Robber    87

pleased with you. Ask a boon and it will be granted to you." *Great goddess,". answered the maid, "the boon that I ask of you is that you restore this man to life."

At this point the oilman's son said, "King Vikrama, why did that robber first weep and then laugh?" "Listen," said King Vikrama, "and I shall tell you. He wept because he thought that he could never show his gratitude to the maid who to save him had offered all her wealth to the king. Then he thought how wonderful were the ways of Providence that a woman should feel love for him when he was about to die. For Providence does odd things, bestowing wealth on the unlucky, wisdom on the lowly, and beautiful wives on the ugly. And as he thought of all the strange things that Heaven orders, he could not restrain his laughter." When King Vikrama had finished, he saw that he was alone. Then he realized that he had again broken his promise.  He returned to the burning ground and flinging the dead body over his shoulder, he began once more to retrace his steps. As he went, the oilman's son began his fourteenth tale.


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