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

ONCE upon a time a king called Mahasen ruled over Ujjain city. In it too lived a Brahman called Devsharma and his son Gunakar. The son was a great gambler and he gambled away all his inheritance. Atlast his kinsmen drove him out of the house. As he had no money, he could no longer gamble, and when he was not gambling, he was not happy. In despair he set forth on a journey. He came to a city near which he saw an anchorite inhaling smoke. Gunakar went up to him, bowed to him and then sat down near him.

"My lad,' 1 said the anchorite, "would you like anything to eat?" "Yes," said Gunakar, "if you will be so good as to give me food, I shall be glad to eat it." The anchorite filled a skull with food and handed it to Gunakar. But the latter said, "I cannot eat food from a dead man's skull." As the youth would not eat, the anchorite repeated an incantation. *A Yakshani appeared before him. She clasped her hands and said, "Lord, what are your commands?" "Give this Brahman youth," answered the anchorite, "a dinner that he will like." The Yakshani at once created a beautiful palace, in which was to be found everything that a man's heart could desire. Then taking Gunakar by the
*A Yakshani is a female immortal who is particularly susceptible to incantations.

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hand, she led him into the palace, seated him on a throne and placed in front of him a gorgeous feast of which every dish had no less than six distinct flavours.

Gunakar enjoyed the feast and ate to his heart's content. The Yakshani gave him a roll of betelnut. Next, she powdered some saffron in some rose water and anointed him and put round his neck garlands of fragrant flowers. Then she robed him in rich clothes and led him to a splendid bed, heavy with costly draperies. The Brahman tired with his journey went fast asleep and the Yakshani returned to her dwelling place. When he awoke, he could see her nowhere. He went back to the ascetic and said, "The Yakshani has fled away; what am I to do?" "My lad," said the anchorite, "she was forced to come by the power of the incantation which I repeated. She will only stay with one who can repeat it correctly." "Reverend sir," cried Gunakar, "teach me for mercy's sake that spell. The anchorite told him the words of the spell and bade him go and sit at midnight in water and to remain there for forty consecutive days and nights repeating the words over and over again with his mind concentrated on them and on nothing else. Gunakar sat in water for forty days muttering the spell. Slowly and in great hardship the days passed by, but at the end no Yakshani appeared. "Reverend sir," said Gunakar to the anchorite, "I have done all that you told me, but nothing has come of it." "You must now," said the anchorite,

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"sit in fire for forty days repeating the spell." "Very well," said Gunakar, "but before I begin I must pay a visit to my home." He said good-bye to the anchorite and returned home. All his family flung themselves on his neck and said lovingly to him, "O Gunakar, where have you been all this time? Why did you desert your home?" His father said, "My son, the man who deserts a chaste wife will never prosper and merits the name of base-born. For it is written in the sacred books that there is no life like that of the householder and there is no happiness like a wife's love. Those who revile their parents deserve also the name of base-born. They will prosper neither on earth nor in heaven."

"My father," retorted Gunakar, "a man's body is made of flesh and blood. It is the dwelling place of acts done in a former life. Such is its nature that if it is not washed daily it becomes malodorous. The wise are those who have no affection for such a body. Again, what trust can be placed in that which is always being born again and that dies as often as is born? No matter how much a man tries, he can never make his body holy, any more than he can make coal white by scrubbing it. Mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, their name is legion! yet all of them perish. Therefore, all is vanity. Those who offer sacrifices are honoured by the gods, but those who become anchorites become themselves the dwelling places of the gods. I shall no longer stay at home; but henceforward I shall give

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myself up to the study of asceticism." With these words Gunakar left the spot and returned to the anchorite.
Gunakar for forty days sat in a burning fire repeating the anchorite's spell, but no Yakshani appeared. He went to the anchorite. The latter asked him whether the Yakshani had appeared. Gunakar replied that she had not. At this point the oilman's son said, "King Vikrama, tell me why Gunakar could not work the spell." King Vikrama answered, "To work a spell one must think of it and it only, when repeating it. For if the mind is disturbed the spell has no power. Without generosity no man can win fame. He who abandons the true path feels no shame when in the path of evil. He who does not give all his thoughts to God does not see God." "But," objected the oilman's son, "how can you say that one who sat for forty days in a burning fire in order that the spell might work, could not properly concentrate his thoughts?" "At the very time," answered King Vikrama, "that he was trying to work the spell, he went off to see his family. The anchorite got angry, for he saw that he had told the incantation to a man of unstable will. So, the Yakshani never came back. It is written in the sacred books that no matter how brave a man be, he must have fortune on his side; and that no matter how much a man strives, he will never get more than that to which his former life entitles him." When King Vikrama had finished speaking, he

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saw that he was alone. He realized that he had once more broken his promise. He returned to the burning ground, took the dead body down from the tree and flinging it once more over his shoulder began to retrace his steps. As he went, the oilman's son began to tell his eighteenth tale.