22The MagicianAndTheDeadYouth
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 a king named Vidagadha lived in Vishvapur city. In it also lived a Brahman called Narayan. One day he thought to himself, "My body is old. It will be a good thing to abandon my old body and enter some young man's body." For, he had learnt how to do this. When the chance came he did so. Then he wept and then he laughed. Then in his new body he returned home. He said to his friends who knew his skill as a magician, "I have now become an anchorite. He who turns his mind into a corpse by the fire of austerities upon the shores of the lake of hope and at the same time cools his limbs, he is the skilled anchorite. For the state of men who live in this world is as follows:


The body is wasted, the hair is gray;

The face falls in and the teeth decay;

Man takes a stick to support his frame

But hope in his heart rules just the same.

Evening falls when the day is dead.

When night is over the dawn glows red,

Grow the days to weeks, the weeks to years,

And childhood goes with its smiles and tears.

On the heels of youth Old Age comes fast

And Death, grim Death, claims all at last." "


But as no one knows who he himself is, or who others are, why should any look for another? 


The Magician and the dead Youth 137


In the end all go and none remains. The body, the mind, the love of this world are all false roads. The wise guards himself against them. He puts aside hope and ambition, and taking a stick in his hand, becomes an ascetic. He puts aside love and anger, greed, intoxication and envy and spends the rest of his life in visiting the sacred places. Thus he attains salvation. This world is as false as a dream. Why, therefore, like anything in it or set your heart upon it? Just as the rind of the plantain has no sweetness, so there is no sweetness in this world. Those who take pride in their riches, their youth or their learning are fools. So too are those anchorites who wandering with a staff in their hands grow fast by begging milk and sweetmeats  and smile on women. For they vainly exchange an imperishable for a perishable happiness. I am now going to make a pilgrimage to the various shrines of India." When his relatives heard this pious discourse, they were greatly edified.


At this point the oilman's son said, "King Vikrama, why did the man first weep and then laugh?" " Because," answered King Vikrama, "he remembered the sports of his childhood and the joys of his youth and he wept because he was leaving a body in which he had lived so long and which he had grown to love. Then when he saw that by his own unaided skill he had won for himself a new body, he laughed with pleasure.

When the king had finished speaking, he saw that he was alone. He saw that he had again broken his promise. He returned to the burning


138. Tales of King Vikrama


ground and taking the dead body on his back began once more to retrace his steps. As he went, the oilman's son began to tell his twenty-third tale.


00VikramBetaalIntroduction 01VajramukutAndPadmavati
02MadhumalotiAndHerSuitors 03KingRupsenAndVirvar
04The MainaAndTheParrot 05MahadeviAndTheGiant
06ParvatiAndTheWashermansBride 07PrincessTribhuvanasundari
08KingGunadipAndViramdeva 09SomadattaAndMadansena
10KingGunashekhar 11KingAndSeamaiden
12PrincessLavanyaAndThe Gandharva 13ShobhaniAndTheRobber
14PrincessChandraprabha 15KingJimutketuAndPrinceJimutvahan
16TheKingAndUnmadini 17GunakarAndTheAnchorite
18TheRobbersBride 19TheGiantAndTheBrahmanBoy
20MadanmanjariKamalakarAndDhanwati 21TheLionAndTheFourLearnedMen
22The MagicianAndTheDeadYouth