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A vetala (Sanskrit vetāla or वेताळ) is a ghost-like being from Hindu mythology. The vetala are defined as spirits inhabiting corpses and charnel grounds. These corpses may be used as vehicles for movement (as they no longer decay while so inhabited); but a vetala may also leave the body at will.

Gray (undated: c2009) provides a survey of chthonic charnel ground accoutrement motif such as skull imagery in the textual tradition of the Yogini tantras and discusses 'vetala' (Sanskrit).[1]


A vetala (Sanskrit vetāla or वेताळ) is a vampire-like being. They are wraiths that can inhabit and reanimate corpses.

In Hindu folklore, the vetala is a spirit which haunts cemeteries and takes possession of corpses[citation needed]. Some are hostile spirits of the dead trapped in the 'twilight zone' between life and afterlife. These creatures can be repelled by the chanting of mantras. Sometimes one can free them from their ghostly existence by performing their funerary rites. Sometimes they are known to haunt the living. They have an uncanny knowledge about the past, present, and future which they communicate and manipulate the person's mind through dreams, in order to control the person. They also have a deep insight into human nature. They also communicate through thoughts. Therefore, many sorcerers seek to capture them and turn them into slaves and use them for selfish gain.

A sorcerer once asked King Vikramaditya to capture and bring him a Vetala-inhabited corpse from a tree in a Smasana. The only way to do that was by keeping silent. Every time Vikramaditya caught the vetala, the vetala would enchant the king with a story that ended with a question. No matter how hard he tried, Vikramaditya could not resist answering the question. This would enable the vetala to escape and return to his tree. The stories of the vetala have been compiled in the book Baital Pachisi.

There is a strong Vetala cult in the Konkan region, under the names of Betal, Vetal, etc. since Shri Betal is said to be the brother of Shri Shantadurga. Therefore, wherever a temple of Shantadurga is, there will be a temple dedicated in honour of Shri Betal either in the temple complex of Shri Shantadurga or somewhere in the sylvan surroundings. It seems, however, that the relation between the literary Vetala and this demigod's is feeble at best. There is a Shri Betal temple in Amona, Goa. Vetál is the worshipper (or sevak) of Kala Bhairava and is the head of all spirits and ghouls and vampires and all kinds of pisachas. He has another form which is more potent and fiery, that of Agni Vetal who is the sevak of none other than Ma Kali. Lord Agnivetal has flames on his head and controls fire. He is also known as Agya Vetal. Agnivetal is used by Tantriks to perform evil magic. But it isn't Lord Agnivetal's fault because the Tantriks misuse the powers given to them on propitiating Agnivetal (rather his daityas who are at his feet — they are the ones who accept the blood sacrifices). So, according to sacred Hindu texts the person can get rid of the evil spirits by chanting a mantra: "Durgamba durgamba durgaa durgae durgamba – Om namah Shivaya" (together as one mantram).

In popular culture[edit]

The most popular "vetala" story is Baital Pachisi. Vikram Aur Betaal was a television programme directed by Ramanand Sagar, that aired on DD National channel which was based on Baital Pachisi. They are also part of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott and television shows such as Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gray, David B. (n.d.). 'Skull Imagery and Skull Magic in the Yogini Tantras'. Santa Clara University. Source: [1] (accessed: Tuesday February 2, 2010)