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 in the town of Jalasthal, there ruled a king called Vartaman. In it lived a Brahman called Vishnuswami, who had four sons. One was a gambler, the second -was an evil-liver, the third was a criminal, and the fourth was an atheist. One day Vishnuswami lectured his sons saying, "Fortune never dwells in the house of a gambler. For it is written in the law books that one should cut off a gambler's nose and ears and drive him from the city. Then others warned by his fate will give up gambling. A gambler who has a wife and children is the same as if he had them not, for he never knows when this punishment may not descend on him. In the same way, those who fall in love with dancing girls only make themselves unhappy. Wise men shun such women. Fools give them their love and for their sakes ruin their health their careers, their intellects, their morals and their religion. Such men pay no heed to the words of their spiritual pastors and masters. They squander their money and in the end take to thieving. Further, those who say that all religion is false, atheists who are not ashamed to say that man all his life should do nothing but enjoy himself, they corrupt not only themselves, but others. If a cat eats her own kittens, is she likely to let a mouse go scot free?" "Those," the old man continued,


134 Tales of King Vikrama


 "who do not study in their boyhood, but waste their youth in pleasure and their manhood in vanity, bitterly repent night and day in their old age." When the old man had finished, his four sons were overcome by remorse and they agreed that it was better to die than to live without learning. "Let us, therefore," they said one to the other, "go into a far country and acquire learning." They went off together to another town and after some years of study, became learned men and set out towards their own home. On the way they saw a dead lion. A man had separated its bones, its flesh, and its skin and had put them in a leather well-bucket and was taking them away. "Here," said the four brothers, "is a chance of displaying our learning." One of them went to the man who carried the lion's remains and bought them from him. Then he opened the well-bucket, and sprinkling some water repeated some magical words. In- stantly the bones re-united. The second repeated some other words, and the flesh stuck again to the bones. The third in the same way made the skin grow once more upon the flesh. The fourth restored the lion to life. Instantly the lion rushed at the four brothers and ate them up. When the oilman's son had reached this point, he said, "Who of those four was the biggest fool?" King Vikrama answered, "He who restored the lion to life. For, it is said that learning without wisdom is of no use. To be both learned and wise is the best of all. But wisdom by itself is better than learning by itself. Those who have no wisdom


The Lion and the Four learned Men 135


perish like the man who restored the lion to life." When King Vikrama had finished speaking, he saw that he was alone. He remembered that he had again broken his promise. He went back to the burning ground and flinging the dead body over his shoulder, began to retrace his steps. As he did so, the oilman's son began to tell his twenty-second
00VikramBetaalIntroduction 01VajramukutAndPadmavati
02MadhumalotiAndHerSuitors 03KingRupsenAndVirvar
04The MainaAndTheParrot 05MahadeviAndTheGiant
06ParvatiAndTheWashermansBride 07PrincessTribhuvanasundari
08KingGunadipAndViramdeva 09SomadattaAndMadansena
10KingGunashekhar 11KingAndSeamaiden
12PrincessLavanyaAndThe Gandharva 13ShobhaniAndTheRobber
14PrincessChandraprabha 15KingJimutketuAndPrinceJimutvahan
16TheKingAndUnmadini 17GunakarAndTheAnchorite
18TheRobbersBride 19TheGiantAndTheBrahmanBoy
20MadanmanjariKamalakarAndDhanwati 21TheLionAndTheFourLearnedMen