Baital Pachisi

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A picture of Vetala hanging by a tree and Vikrama in the background.

Vetala Panchavimshati (Sanskrit: वेतालपञ्चविंशति, IAST: vetālapañcaviṃśati orBaital Pachisi (Bengali) ("Twenty five tales of Baital"), is a collection of tales and legends within a frame story, from India. It was originally written in Sanskrit.

One of its oldest recensions is found in the 12th Book of the Kathā-Sarita-Sāgara ("Ocean of the Streams of Story"), a work in Sanskrit compiled in the 11th century by Somadeva, but based on yet older materials, now lost. This recension comprises in fact twenty four tales, the frame narrative itself being the twenty fifth. The two other major recensions in Sanskrit are those by Śivadāsa and Jambhaladatta.

The Vetala stories have been popular in India, and have been translated into many Indian vernaculars.[1] Several English translations exist, based on Sanskrit recensions and on Hindi,Tamil, and Marathi versions.[2] Probably the most well-known English version is that of Sir Richard Francis Burton which is, however, not a translation but a very free adaptation.[3]

Plot[edit]

For a comparison of the content of different versions, see List of Vetala Tales.

The legendary King Vikrama, identified as Vikramāditya (c. 1st century BC), promises a vamachari (a tantric sorcerer) that he will capture a vetala (or Baital), a celestial spirit who hangs from a tree and inhabits and animates dead bodies.

King Vikrama faces many difficulties in bringing the vetala to the tantric. Each time Vikram tries to capture the vetala, it tells a story that ends with a riddle. If Vikrama cannot answer the question correctly, the vampire consents to remain in captivity. If the king knows the answer but still keeps quiet, then his head shall burst into thousand pieces. And if King Vikrama answers the question correctly, the vampire would escape and return to his tree. He knows the answer to every question; therefore the cycle of catching and releasing the vampire continues twenty-four times.

On the twenty-fifth attempt, the Vetala tells the story of a father and a son in the after-math of a devastating war. They find the queen and the princess alive in the chaos, and decide to take them home. In due time, the son marries the queen and the father marries the princess. Eventually, the son and the queen have a son, and the father and the princess have a daughter. The vetala asks what the relation between the two newborn children is. The question stumps Vikrama. Satisfied, the vetala allows himself to be taken to the tantric.

On their way to the tantric, Vetala tells his story. His parents did not have a son and a tantric blessed them with twin sons on a condition that both be educated under him. Vetala was taught everything in the world but often ill treated. Whereas his brother was taught just what was needed but always well treated. Vetala came to know that the tantric planned to give his brother back to his parents and Vetala instead would be sacrificed as he was an 'all- knowing kumara' and by sacrificing him the tantric could be immortal and rule the world using his tantric powers. Vetal also reveals that now the tantric's plan is to sacrifice Vikram, beheading him as he bowed in front of the goddess. Then tantric could then gain control over the vetala and sacrifice his soul, thus achieving his evil ambition. The vetala suggests that the king asks the tantric how to perform his obeisance, then take advantage of that moment to behead the sorcerer himself. Vikramāditya does exactly as told by vetala and he is blessed by Lord Indra and Devi Kali. The vetala offers the king a boon, whereupon Vikram requests that the tantric's heart and mind be cleaned of all sins and his life be restored as a good living being and that the vetala would come to the king's aid when needed.

Variation[edit]

A variation of this story replaces the vetal with a minor celestial who, in exchange for his own life, reveals the plot by two tradesmen (replacing the sorcerer) to assassinate Vikrama and advises Vikrama to trick them into positions of vulnerability as described above. Having killed them, Vikrama is offered a reward by the goddess, who grants him two spirits loyal to Her as his servants.

Other media[edit]

The story was popularized by Sagar Films (Pvt. Ltd.), which released a 1985 serial[4] titled Vikram aur Betaal, starring Arun Govil as Vikrama and Sajjan Kumar as the Vetala. It was aired on Doordarshan, the public television broadcaster of India.

A remake of that serial by the new generation of Sagar Films (Pvt. Ltd.), titled Kahaniyaan Vikram aur Betaal Ki, was aired on the Indian satellite channel Colors.

Another vampire called Vetaala and his spellbook Paddu were found by a boy called Vikram "Vicky" Sharma in the TV series Vicky & Vetaal.

A popular children's periodical, Chandamama, featured a serial story titled New Tales of Vikram and Betal for many years. As the title suggests, the original premise of the story is maintained, as new stories are told by Vetala to King Vikrama.

In the novel, Alif the Unseen (2012), a character named Vikrama the Vampire appears as a jinn. He tells how thousands of years ago, King Vikrama had set off to defeat the Vetala, a vampire jinn terrorizing one of his villages. Vikrama won the Vetala's game of wits, but forfeited his life. The Vetala now inhabits his body. [1]

Recensions, editions, and translations[edit]

Sanskrit[edit]

Both the Kṣemendra and Somadeva recensions derive from the unattested "Northwestern" Bṛhatkathā, and include the Vetala Tales as a small part of their huge inventory. The recensions of Śivadāsa and Jambhaladatta contain only the Vetala Tales and have an unknown relationship to each other and to the other Sanskrit recensions.

Kṣemendra's Bṛhatkathāmanjarī (1037 CE)
  • Anonymous Sanskrit summary of Kṣemendra
Somadeva's Kathāsaritsāgara (1070 CE)
Jambhaladatta (11th–14th century CE)
Śivadāsa (11th–14th century CE)
  • Uhle, Heinrich, ed. (1914), Die Vetālapañcaviṃśatikā des Sivadāsa, Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Königlich-Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig : Philosophisch-historische Klasse 66, Leipzig: Teubner 
    • Ritschl, E.; Schetelich, M., eds. (1989), Die fünfundzwanzig Erzählungen des Totendämons, Leipzig Translation of Śivadāsa recension.
    • Rajan, Chandra (1995), Śivadāsa: The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie, Penguin Books Translated from Uhle's Sanskrit edition.

Hindi[edit]

Some time between 1719 and 1749, Ṣūrat Kabīshwar translated Śivadāsa's Sanskrit recension into Braj Bhasha; this work was subsequently translated in 1805 under the direction of John Gilchrist into the closely related Hindustani language by Lallū Lāl and others.[5] This was a popular work that played an early role in the development of Literary Hindi and was selected as a Hindustani test-book for military service students in the East India Company.[6] Thus it became the basis of several Hindi editions, and Indian vernacular and English translations; many of these frequently reprinted.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 225.
  2. ^ Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 226.
  3. ^ Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 227. Penzer goes on to observe "What Burton has really done is to use a portion of the Vetāla tales as a peg on which to hang elaborate 'improvements' entirely of his own invention."
  4. ^ "Sagar Arts". Retrieved 25 February 2014. "The legend says that Vikram aur Betaal has been one of the most popular fantasy shows made for children and had won acclaim and huge popularity during its run on Doordarshan National Network in the year 1985." 
  5. ^ Forbes 1861, pp. vii–viii.
  6. ^ Barker 1855 p vi.
  7. ^ Rajan 1995 lxii.

External links[edit]