Vetala Panchavimshati (Sanskrit: वेतालपञ्चविंशति, IAST: vetālapañcaviṃśati) or Baital Pachisi ("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 Kathasaritsagara ("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 are popular in India and have been translated into many Indian vernaculars. Several English translations exist, based on Sanskrit recensions and on Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi versions. Probably best-known English version is that of Sir Richard Francis Burton which is, however, not a translation but a very free adaptation.
The legendary king Vikramāditya (Vikrama) promises a vamachari (a tantric sorcerer) that he will capture a vetala (or Baital), a celestial spirit Pishacha, celestial spirit analogous to a vampire in Western literature who hangs upside-down 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 aftermath 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.
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.
The children's 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 1985, the story was developed by Sagar Films (Pvt. Ltd.), as a Television serial 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.
Another vampire called Vetaala and his spellbook Paddu were found by a boy called Vikram "Vicky" Sharma in the TV series Vicky & Vetaal.
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.
A web series titled The Vetala was released in 2009, written and directed by Damon Vignale. The series reveals a CGI vetala character in the final episode.
2017 Tamil film Vikram Vedha was a modern-day adaptation of Vikram Betal story with the characterisation of King Vikramadithyan and the celestial spirit Vedhalam derived from that plot. The title of the film was also derived from the two key characters from the folktale.
Recensions, editions, and translations
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)
- Somadeva (1862), Brockhaus, Hermann, ed., Kathā Sarit Sāgara, Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus — Books VI, VII & VIII; and Books IX–XVIII (1866)
- Tawney, C. H. (1884), The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story, 2, Calcutta: J. W. Thomas, at the Baptist Mission Press, pp. 232–360
- Penzer, N. M. (1926), The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney's Translation of Somadeva's Katha Sarit Sagara, VI, London: Chas. J. Sawyer — Tawney's translation of Brockhaus text, but with corrections and additions based on Durgāprasād (below)
- Penzer, N. M. (1927), The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney's Translation of Somadeva's Katha Sarit Sagara, VII, London: Chas. J. Sawyer — Tawney's translation of Brockhaus text, but with corrections and additions based on Durgāprasād (below)
- Pandit Durgāprasāda; Kāśīnātha Pāṇḍuraṅga Paraba, eds. (1889), The Kathâsaritsâgara of Somadevabhatta, The Nirnaya-Sâgara Press
- Jambhaladatta (11th–14th century CE)
- Emeneau, M. B., ed. (1934), Jambhaladatta's version of the Vetālapañcavinśati, American Oriental Series, 4, New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society
- 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.
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 Lallu Lal and others. 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. Thus it became the basis of several Hindi editions, and Indian vernacular and English translations; many of these frequently reprinted.
- Lāl, Lallū (1805), Buetal Pucheesee; being a collection of twenty-five stories ... translated into Hindoostanee from the Brij Bhakka of Soorut Kubeeshwur, Calcutta
- Hollings, Captain W. (1848), The Bytal Pucheesee: translated into English, Calcutta: W. Ridsdale — Reprinted several times between 1848 and 1921 (some later editions as Baital Pachisi). 1884 edition on the Internet Archive
- Barker, W. Burckhardt (1855), Eastwick, E. B., ed., The Baitál Pachísí; or, Twenty-five Tales of a Demon, Hertford: Stephen Austin — A new edition of the Hindí text, with each word expressed in the Hindústaní character immediately under the corresponding word in the Nágarí; and with a perfectly literal English interlinear translation, accompanied by a free translation in English at the foot of each page, and explanatory notes.
- Forbes, Duncan (1861), The Baitāl Pachīsī; or The Twenty-five Tales of a Demon, London: Wm. H. Allen & Co. — A new and corrected Edition, with a vocabulary of all the words occurring in the text.
- Munshi, Ghulam Mohammad (1868), The Baitál-Pachísí; or The Twenty-five Stories of a Demon, Bombay: The Oriental Press — Translated from Dr. Forbes's new and correct edition.
- Platts, John (1871), The Baitāl Pachīsī; or The Twenty-five Tales of a Sprite, London: Wm. H. Allen & Co. — Translated from the Hindi text of Dr. Duncan Forbes.
- Burton, Richard F. (1893) , Vikram & the Vampire; or Tales of Hindu Devilry (Memorial ed.), London: Longmans, Green, and Co. — Not a translation, but a retelling "more Burtonian than Indian", based on one or more of the Hindustani editions or translations.
- Kṛishṇa, Kālī (1834), Bytal Puchisi; or the Twenty-five Tales of Bytal, Calcutta — Translated from the Brujbhakha into English.
- Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 225.
- Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 226.
- 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."
- "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.
- Forbes 1861, pp. vii–viii.
- Barker 1855 p vi.
- Rajan 1995 lxii.
- Vikram and The Vampire translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton (also available at World Wide School Library)
- Twenty-Two Goblins at Project Gutenberg: Translation by Arthur W. Ryder
- Twenty Two Goblins public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- Original Sanskrit text by Somadeva in Harvard-Kyoto transliteration