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 city called Chitrakuta. Over it ruled a king named Rupadatta. One day he mounted his horse and rode out to hunt. He lost his way in the middle of a great forest and found himself on the shores of a wide lake. Upon its surface lotuses were blooming, many kinds of waterfowl were sitting on its banks and calling each to its mate. All round was the shade of leafy trees. A cool fragrant breeze was blowing and the king who was weary from the heat tied his horse to a tree and spreading a carpet on the grass sat upon it. About half an hour later a young and beautiful maiden, the daughter of a hermit, passed by gathering flowers. Directly the king saw her, he loved her. When she was going away with the flowers, the king called to her, "Fair maid! Is this the way to treat me? I am a stranger who has come to your hermitage, yet you do not ask me if I need anything." On hearing the king's words, the maiden stopped. The king continued, "Even if a low caste stranger goes to the house of a high caste, yet he should be honoured. Be he thief, outcast or king, the stranger should always be honoured. Such is one's duty, because the stranger is the spiritual teacher of all." As the king spoke, the maiden gradually lifted her eyes to his. But before she could answer the hermit himself came. The king on seeing


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 him saluted him. The hermit blessed him as a son and asked him why he had come. "Reverend sir," replied the king, "I came here a-hunting." "But why," asked the hermit, "do you commit so terrible a sin? For it is written in the sacred books that the fruit of one man's sin is the punishment of many." "Reverend sir," replied the king, "give me, I pray you, some religious teaching." "O king listen," said the hermit, "to kill animals that live upon grass and water in the forest is a great sin. To feed birds and beasts is a virtuous act. He who consoles one who in fear begs for mercy, wins the merit of a great charity. There is no penance which equals in value to forgiveness. There is no happiness like contentment. There is no wealth like friendship. There is no virtue so great as mercy. Those who walk in righteousness and truth, who cherish their wives, who boast not of their wealth, learning, accomplishments, reputation and power, they in the end attain to salvation. But magicians, sorcerers, those who kill others in quarrels, kings who do not protect their subjects from oppressors, men who lead astray the wife of a king or the wife or daughter of a friend, they are in the end condemned to hell. For so it is written in the sacred books." When the king had heard this discourse, he clasped his hands and said, "Reverend sir! I cannot help the sins that I have hitherto committed through ignorance. But through God's mercy, I shall hereafter act as you have told me." The hermit was pleased and said, "O king, I am pleased


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with you. Ask of me any boon you will' "If you are really pleased with me," answered the king, "give me your daughter to be my bride." The hermit consented and married his daughter to the king by the Gandharva marriage rites. Then he returned to his hermitage. The king taking the hermit's daughter set out to return to his city. As they went, the sun set and the moon rose. The king saw a big tree by the road. He dismounted and tied his horse to one of its roots. And he and his bride lay down together on the king's carpet. In the middle of the night a hideous giant came and waking the king said, "O king, I am going to eat your wife." "Nay, do not eat her," cried the king, "I shall give you anything you ask for, if you will but spare her." "I shall spare her only on one condition," answered the giant. "You must yourself cut off the head of a Brahman boy of seven years old and give it to me." "Very well," replied the king, "come on the seventh day from now to my palace and I shall give you the head." Having thus snared the king into a promise, the giant went home. Next morning the king reached his palace. The minister went to congratulate him on his marriage. The king told him what had happened. " What shall I do," he continued, " for the giant will surely come on the seventh day?" "My lord king," said the minister, "do not be downcast. With Heaven's help all will be well." The minister took his leave and had made a golden jewel-studded image that weighed one and a quarter maund. He had it erected in the public


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square and asked the guards to tell everyone who stopped to look at it that the king would give it to any Brahman who would give his seven year old boy to the king, that he might cut his head off. Two days passed without result. On the third day a Brahman of that city who had three sons went to his wife and said, "I am going to offer one of my sons to the king and I am going to bring back home the golden image." When his wife heard this, she said, "I am not going to let you take the youngest." The Brahman said, "And I am not going to offer to the king the eldest." Hearing their talk, the second son said, "Take me father." The Brahman thought to himself: "In this world wealth is the chief thing. If riches go, happiness goes with them. He who is born poor lives in vain. The wise have said that poverty is the source of evil, the abiding place of iniquity, the home of recklessness, the mother of illusion and the enemy of religion. How can it, therefore, have any virtue? It has also been said that one should store up wealth against the day of trouble. One can then save one's wife by sacrificing one's wealth; but if need be, one should sacrifice both wife and wealth to save oneself." The Brahman, rambling in this fashion, took his son to the image and exchanging him for it took the image home. On the seventh day the giant, as arranged, came. The king worshipped the Brah[1]man boy by offering him scent, flowers, ghee, food, fruit, betel-nut, rich robes and by burning a lamp in front of him. Then he drew his sword and got ready to kill him. As the king did so, the boy first


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 laughed and then began to cry. A moment later the king had cut his head off. 1 When the giant saw how truly the king had kept his promise, he was pleased and said, "O king, ask a boon of me ! " " Sir giant !" said the king, "bring this boy back to life' The giant went to King Bibhishan* and through his help went to Patala. Thence he fetched ambrosia and with it restored the boy to life. At this point the oilman's son said, "King Vikrama! men weep at the approach of death. Why did the boy laugh?" King Vikrama answered: "The boy was astonished, because it is the custom of this world that mothers protect their children in childhood and fathers protect them in youth, while kings should always protect their subjects. But in his case his parents had sold him to the king for money; the king with his own sword was about to slay him and even the giant desired his death. Pity found no place in any heart. Because of his astonishment the boy laughed." When King Vikrama had finished speaking, he saw that he was alone. He realized that he had again broken his promise. He therefore returned to the burning ground. Flinging the dead body over his shoulder, he began to retrace his steps. As he did so, the oilman's son began to tell his twentieth story.


"King Bibhishan or Vibhishan was the brother of Ravan, king of Ceylon. After Ramachandra had killed Ravan and recovered Sita, he seated Bibhishan on the vacant throne, (see Indian Heroes). The giant, (a rakshas in the story) invoked Bibhishan help as he was the king of all the rakshsas.


00VikramBetaalIntroduction 01VajramukutAndPadmavati
02MadhumalotiAndHerSuitors 03KingRupsenAndVirvar
04The MainaAndTheParrot 05MahadeviAndTheGiant
06ParvatiAndTheWashermansBride 07PrincessTribhuvanasundari
08KingGunadipAndViramdeva 09SomadattaAndMadansena
10KingGunashekhar 11KingAndSeamaiden
12PrincessLavanyaAndThe Gandharva 13ShobhaniAndTheRobber
14PrincessChandraprabha 15KingJimutketuAndPrinceJimutvahan
16TheKingAndUnmadini 17GunakarAndTheAnchorite
18TheRobbersBride 19TheGiantAndTheBrahmanBoy