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 Luchal. Over it ruled a king called Sudaksh, and in it lived a merchant whose name was Dhanadhyaksh, who had a daughter called Dhanvati. While she was still a child, her father married her to a youth called Gouridatta. In course of time she gave birth to a daughter to whom she gave the name of Mohini. When the little girl was only seven, her father Gouridatta died. His kinsmen at once seized all his property. In despair, Dhanvati, late one night, took her little girl by the hand and started to return home. After some distance she lost her way and by mistake entered a burning ground. Therein stood a stake upon which a robber had been impaled. Suddenly her hand touched the robber's foot. "Who at such a time of night hurts my foot?" roared the robber. Dhanvati replied, "I never meant to hurt you. I did it without knowing that I did it. Therefore, please forgive me." "Lady," answered the robber, "no one gives another happiness or pain. A man enjoys such fortune as he is destined to enjoy. If a man says that he did such and such a thing, he speaks foolishly. For a man is bound fast by his actions in a former life. These actions drag a man hither and thither as they will. No one knows what is in store for him. A man makes plans, but fortune brings them to nought."


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After listening to this long speech, Dhanvati said, "Who are you, sir?" "I am a robber," was the answer. "I have been impaled for three days on this stake. Yet even now my life will not depart." "But," answered Dhanvati, "why?" "I have never been married," answered the robber, "and in the hope of my marriage my life still clings to my body. If you will give me your daughter, I shall give you a crore of rupees." Now the cause of sin is greed, the cause of disease is infection, and the cause of grief is friendship. Only he is happy who avoids all three. But no one ever does avoid them. Thus it befell that through her desire to get the money, Dhanvati agreed to marry her daughter to the robber. "Very well," she said, ''but suppose that thereafter she wants to have a son, how can she have one?" "When she grows to womanhood," answered the robber, "you must marry her to some handsome Brahman. Give him five hundred gold coins as her dowry, and she will become the mother of a son." On hearing these words Dhanvati walked round the stake and married her little girl to the robber. The latter then said, "If you go to the east, you will see a banian tree near a dark well. At the foot of the tree is the buried treasure, take it and keep it." Having said this, he died. Dhanvati went to the spot and found the treasure. Taking only a few rupees with her she went to her parents* house. She told them what had happened. Then she went with them to her husband's village and built a big house and lived


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 in it. As the years passed, her daughter Mohini grew up. One day as she was standing by the upper window of her house a Brahman youth passed by. Directly, she saw him, she fell in love with him. "Go at once," she said to her maid servant, "and take him to my mother." The maid servant did so. Dhanvati said to the youth, "Good sir, I have a daughter, if you will marry her and she bears you a son, I shall give you a hundred rupees." The Brahman agreed. That night they were married. A year later Mohini gave birth to a son. On the sixth night after his birth, she had a dream. She saw an anchorite. His hair was in a matted coil; on his forehead was the moon. His body was smeared with white ashes. He was seated on a white lotus. A white snake was twined about his neck, from which hung a garland of skulls. In one hand he carried a human head. In the other he had a trident. He was of great stature and his look was terrible. He said to Mohini, "Tomorrow at midnight put your little boy in a box and put with him a bag containing a thousand rupees. Then leave the box by the door of the king's palace." Just then Mohini awoke and saw that it was broad daylight. She told her mother her dream. That night she put her little boy and the money in a box and left it opposite the king's door. That night the king saw in a dream, a man of gigantic stature, who had ten arms, five heads with three eyes each, enormous teeth, and a moon on each forehead. The man said to the king, "A


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box has been left at your door. In it you will find a baby boy. Take him in. He will rule over your kingdom." Just then the king awoke. He told his dream to the queen. Next he went to the palace door and found the box. He opened it and found inside a baby boy and a bag containing a thousand rupees, The king lifted up the baby boy and told the sentry to carry inside the bag of a thousand rupees. The king next went to the queen and placed the baby boy in her lap. By this time the sun had risen. He sent for the wise men and astrologers and asked them to see if the child had any of the marks of royal blood. Now there was among the wise men one especially skilled in chiromancy (palmistry). He said, "My lord king, I can see three clear marks. The first is the boy's broad chest, the second is his lofty forehead, the third is the length of his body. Besides these he has all the thirty-two points which are said to indicate a hero. He is certainly destined to rule a kingdom." When the king heard this, he gave large sums in charity. He next took off the jewels that he was wearing and giving them to the Brahmans bade them name the child. "Great king," they replied, "take the boy and sit with it near the queen. Then bid all your subjects hold high festival. Thereafter we shall give the child a name in the manner required by the sacred books." The king told the minister to make arrangements as the Brahmans had orderd. The minister sent criers through all the city to announce to


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all that the queen had borne the king a son. When the citizens heard this, they poured out of their houses and flocked to the royal palace. In the palace the musicians played gay tunes and in the temples were held thanksgiving services. The king placed the boy on the queen's lap and sat with her on the same dining platform. As they did so, the Brahmans began to repeat sacred verses. Lastly after examining the stars, an astrologer gave the boy the name of Hardatta. As time passed the boy grew. When he was nine years old, he knew the sacred books, the fourteen sciences and had become famous for his learning. Suddenly his parents died. He succeeded them on the throne and began to rule wisely and well. After some years had passed, he thought to himself, " Although my parents gave me life, I have done nothing for them in return. For it is said that only those who show mercy to all are wise and will in the end go to heaven. Those whose minds are impure, reap nothing from their charities, their devotions, their austerities and their pilgrimages. Those who without faith worship their fathers' spirits do it in vain and their fathers' spirits remain uncomforted." After these reflections, King Hardatta resolved to go to Gaya and offer sacred cakes to his father's spirit. He went to the banks of the Phalgu river and began to offer sacred cakes. Instantly three hands arose from the river. The king became perplexed, for he wondered into which hand he should give the sacred cake. INSTANTLY THREE HANDS AROSE FROM THE RIVER


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At this point the oilman's son said, "Tell me King Vikrama, in which of the three hands should King Hardatta have placed the sacred cake?" "In none of them," answered King Vikrama. "The robber was not King Hardatta's father. The Brahman sold himself for a hundred rupees. The king only took the child because there were a thousand rupees in the box. Neither the robber, the Brahman, nor the king deserved any offerings." When the king had finished speaking, he saw that he was alone. He realized that he had once more broken his promise. He returned to the burning ground where the dead body was hanging from one of the branches. He flung it over his shoulder and began once more to retrace his steps. As he did so, the oilman's son began to tell his nineteenth


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