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 when King Dharmatma was ruling in Dharmapur there lived in it a Brahman called Govind who knew the four sacred books by heart and the six sciences. He was well versed also in faith, doctrine and ritual. He had four sons called Haridatta, Somadatta, Yadnyadatta and Brahmadatta. They too, were studious and learned and they always did what their father told them. One day the eldest son died. Through grief at his death Govind fell so sick that he was on the point of death also. Vishnuswami, the king's priest, hearing of this went to lecture him. "Man," he said, "is born to sorrow. In his childhood he plays; in his youth he finds happiness in love. In old age he suffers pain because of the decay of his body. To the dwellers in this world are given many sorrows and few joys. This world is but the seed of the tree of sorrow. Though a man sit on the top of a tree, or the peak of a mountain, or descend into hell, or hide under the water, or conceal himself in an iron cage, yet he shall not escape death. Wise men and fools, rich and poor, the learned, the strong, the weak death strikes them all down. A man's life is at most a hundred years. Half of it passes at night. Of the other half a half is spent uselessly in childhood and old age. The rest is wasted in disputes, in separations, in envy, in sorrow, in vanities and vain intrigues. Life is like a ripple


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on water. What happiness then can a man get from it? True men in this Kaliyuga are hard to find. Daily we see countries decay. Kings are covetous and the earth yields but scant fruits. Thieves and wicked men trouble us overmuch. Religion, penance and truth are hardly to be found. Monarchs are without righteousness. Brahmans are corrupt, men are uxorious, women are untrue, sons revile their fathers. And of the rest why speak? Friends plot against friends and all men hate one another. Because of their irreligion men's lives have become wretched. Death did not spare Abhimanyu* although he had Krishna for an uncle and Arjuna for a father. When death is so strong, it is folly for men to hunger after happiness. When death takes away a man, he has to leave his wealth behind him in his house. His father, mother, brother and wife seize it and say, "His body is burdening the earth; let us take it quickly to the burning ground." Then he who used to sleep on a couch, sweet with the perfume of flowers, is stretched upon dry wood and burnt or else buried in the ground. And with him die alike his virtues and his vices. When the night has passed, the day appears; when the moon has set, the sun rises; when youth is gone, old age comes and when old age passes, there comes death. In this way the wheel of time revolves; yet although Man sees it all he grows no wiser. Behold! in the Satyayuga * Abhimanyu was the son of Arjuna and Subhadra, Krishna's sister. Abhimanyu fell in the battle of Kurukshetra (see Indian Heroes).

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there lived a famous king called Mandhata* the renown of whose virtue and valour filled the whole earth. In the Tretayuga lived the divine Ramchandra who built a bridge across the ocean; who destroyed Lanka and killed Ravan. In the Dwaparayuga ruled King Yudhishthira of whose victories men still sing. Yet, my friend, Death spared none of them. The birds that soar in the sky, the fishes that live in the deeps of the sea all alike fall into the jaws of death. No one who has yet lived on earth has escaped sorrow. It is therefore fruitless to mourn. It is far better to practise righteousness and to repent, remembering that if one sorrow has come, many others are sure to follow." In this way Vishnuswami exhorted Govind. The latter reflected that it was useless to sit and mourn idly and that it would be better to do something by which he could acquire merit. He called his sons and said, "My sons, I am about to begin a sacrifice. Bring me a tortoise from the sea." As he ordered, his sons went to the seashore and gave a fisherman a rupee to catch a tortoise. When he had caught one, the three brothers instead of taking it to their father began to quarrel among


* King Mandhata was the son of King Yuvanaswa. He was the father of Purukutsa the founder of the house of Ayodhya in which was born the divine hero Ramchandra. King Mandhata having conquered all the earth conceived the impious idea of conquering all heaven also. But Indra sent against him a demon called Yavanasura who defeated and slew him.


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themselves, one said, "I am a great judge of cookery. If I touch the tortoise, it will make my hands smell". The second said, " If you are a great judge of cookery, yet I am no fool either. I am a great judge of the fair sex. Therefore, I shall not demean myself by touching the tortoise". The eldest son said, "I am a great judge of beds and therefore, I shall not touch the tortoise". In the end they left the tortoise and quarrelling all the way went to lay their case before the king. The sentry announced to the king that three Brahmans had come to lay a case before him. The king sent for them and asked, "What is your dispute?" The youngest brother said, "Great King! I am a great judge of cookery". The second brother said, "O Lord of the earth, I am a great judge of the fair sex". The eldest brother said, "O incarnation of Yudhisthira! I am a great judge of beds. We are quarrelling as to who is the cleverest among us. Decide between us, we pray you". The king replied, "You must each display before me your talents". "Very well," agreed the brothers. The king gave orders that various kinds of foods and dishes should be got ready. The cook prepared a banquet and placed it before him who was a great judge of cookery. As he lifted the first mouthful to his lips, he noticed a bad smell; he threw away the food, washed his hands and went to the king. " O reverend sir," said the king, "did you not like your meal?" "Great King," replied the Brahman, "I should have enjoyed it greatly, had the food not smelt bad". "But what


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 made it smell?" asked the king. "Great King," answered the Brahman, "the rice was grown in a burning ground and so it smells of dead bodies". The king sent for his store-keeper and asked him from what village the rice had come. "Great King," said the storekeeper, " the rice came from Shilapuri". The king sent for the headman of Shilapuri and asked him in what field the rice had grown. "Great King," said the headman, "the rice grew in a cultivated part of the burning ground". When the king heard this, he said to the Brahman, "Yes, indeed! you are a great judge of cookery". Next he sent a beautiful woman to the judge of the fair sex and peeped through a hole in the door to see what he would do. After they had talked together some time, the Brahman turned his back on her. When the king saw this, he went to his own room. Next morning the king sent for the Brahman and said, " Well ; what did you think of the lady?" "I did not admire her at all," said the Brahman. "But why?" asked the king. "Because," said the Brahman, "she smelt of goats". The king sent for his attendant and asked him whence he had brought the woman, and whence she had come, and who she was. "She is my sister's daughter," said the attendant, "her mother died when she was three months old, and I brought her up on goat's milk". When the king heard this, he said to the Brahman, "Yes; you are certainly a great judge of the fair sex". Next the king had a number of beautiful soft mattresses placed on a bed and bade him who


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was a great judge of beds sleep on it. Next morning the king sent for him and said, "Well, did you sleep soundly all night?" "Great King," answered the Brahman, "I did not sleep a wink all night". "Why?" asked the king. "There was, Great King," said the Brahman, "in the seventh mattress a single hair which irritated me; so I could not sleep". They searched the seventh mattress and found the hair. Then he said to the Brahman, "Yes; you are certainly a good judge of beds". At this point the oilman's son said, "King Vikrama, who would you say was the cleverest of the three brothers?" "The judge of beds," said King Vikrama. When he heard the king's words, the oilman's son began once more to hang from the tree. King Vikrama went back, took him down and began to retrace his steps. As he went, the oilman's son began his twenty-fourth 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 23TheThreeSonsOfGovind