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The Five and Twenty Tales of the Genie (Vetalapancavinsati)

The Five and Twenty Tales of the Genie (Vetalapancavinsati)
Item Code: NAF283
Author: Sivadasa
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1995
ISBN: 9780144000456
Pages: 322
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.0 inch x 5.0 inch
weight of the books : 230 gms
Back of the Book

The genie tells Vikramadityo twenty tales each of which ends with a riddle. These stories of beautiful princesses, intrepid courtiers and courageous monarch present situations which vikramadtiya is likely to face as a king and he is required to find solutions almost as though he were dispensing justice in his own court. With each onswer Vikramadityo display immense wisdom and a perfect knowledge of dharma (the law) proving that he is indeed the ideal monarch he is reputed to be. The twenty fifth tale in the collection is the epilogue of the narrative.

Five and twenty tales of the Genie (vetalapancavinsati) is believed to have been set down by Sivadasa something between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries CE though there is no historical evidence of this. No biographical details are available for Sivadasa and the name could well be a nom de plume.

About the Book

There are no biographical details available for Sivadasa, the author of The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie. From a careful reading of the text, however, we can glean the following facts: Sivadasa was a man of great learning, even erudition; he wrote primarily for a certain type of reader-the gallants, well-educated, cultivated men-about-town with a keen interest in the fine arts and beautiful women. Sivadasa's text is often humorous; he is gently critical and takes a shot at pomposity pretentiousness and sanctimonious hypocrisy. He poses problems that tease the reader into thought, making his work more than just a retelling of an ancient body of tales.

About the Author

Chandra Rajan studied Sanskrit from the age of nine, in the time-honoured manner, with a pandit in Madras. She went to St. Stephen's College, Delhi, where she had a distinguished academic record and took degrees in English and Sanskrit. Trained early in Carnatic music, she studied Western music in New York. She has taught English at Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi University, and at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.

Her publications include: Winged Words; Re-Visians, a volume of verse; Kalidasa: The Loom of Time, and a translation of the Pancaianira by Visnu Sarma was published in Penguin Classics in 1989 and 1993 respectively.

Chandra Rajan is currently working on a children's version of the Pancatantra and a translation and critical study of Bana's famous prose romance, Kadambari, She is also involved in a long-term project for the Sahitya Akademi-a translation of the complete works of Kalidasa.


The vetalapancavinsati as it is generally known is an important work of narrative fiction the katha belonging originally to the rich age old tradition of storytelling in India, and later committed to writing. In its popularity and in its contribution to popular tales elsewhere in the world, it is second only to the pancatantra.

Of the four main recessions of this work of fiction two are parts of larger wholes and tow are autonomous text one by Sivadasa and the other by Jambhaladatta. Sivadasa text is the finer of these two and more interesting to modern readers because it is problematic and raises issues that tease the reader into thought. It is a sadly neglected and little known text. In fact in is a minor classic as I have attempted to show in the introduction. It deserves to be looked at as a literary text and not simply a collection of amusing tales.

Because the Katha is a very important part of Sanskrit literature I have devoted some space in the introduction to give a brief account of its distinctive features in both its oral and written expressions.

Texts in the oral tradition are not fixed they are therefore subject to many changes during the course of transmission. The various recensions of a text that originated in the oral tradition are not identical for this reason. I have therefore tried to give an idea of how different such text can be in different recensions by translating and including in this volume parts of the other autonomous recension by Jambhaladatta in the appendix. I have included the frame story the epilogue and conclusion and six tales. Three of the tales (21, 22, 23), of the Jambhaladatta text are not found in Sivadas recension of the Vetalapancavinsatika (the last syllable ‘ka’ expresses diminution, to convey the idea that the tales are short). The three other tales common to both text numbers 7, 11, 20, in the Jambhaladatta text and tale numbers 8, 10 and 22, in Sivadasa text are told differently. Sivadasa often place his tales in a particular context and makes a point by juxtaposing two different points of view or draws an ironic parallel between opposing views an in Tale 22 the difference between precept and practice. The sermon at the beginning on the worthlessness of earthly pursuits is in contrast to the Brhamana Narayana entering youthful body in order to enjoy the many pleasures of life. Jambhaladatta simply tells the tale as it is.


No monarch in the annals of India long history has caught and held the popular imagination in wonder and delight as the fabled emperor Vikramaditya (the sun of Valour) has. Down the centuries and throughout the length and breadth of the country Vikramaditya magnificence and courage nobility and wisdom and magnanimity have been proverbial. Warrior and conqueror an undaunted hero a scholar and patron of the art he was set up as the ideal ready to give, to reach out and to help the weak and needy not counting the cost and without a thought of the greatest risks to his own life. His many adventures and exploits those brave deeds exhibiting valour tempered by compassion which is the true mark of heroism was the stuff of which many tales were spun and then collected to form story cycles. The Simhasanadvatrimasika (the Thirty two tales of the lion throne) is one such work.

In this work king Bhoja of dhara discovered by chance Vikramaitya lion throne that for wan of a worthy successor had been hidden away after the great monarch met his death in a great battle. Bhoja was stopped from ascending the throne by the first of the thirty two jewelled statuettes that adorned one at each end the sixteen golden steps that led up to the gem studded golden throne. Each of the thirty two statuettes told him by turns a tale illustrating the pre-eminent virtues of the dead monarch. Each tale ended with the same statement that Bhoja could set foot on the step if he truly regarded himself as a worthy successor to the monarch who had occupied the throne with such rare distinction in the past. King Bhoja stood abashed. According to the frame story in this story cycle the thirty two tales of the Lion throne bhoja paid homage to the illustrious monarch long dead b worshipping the throne with flowers and other articles of adoration. But he never tried to ascend the throne. Now king Bhoja a historical monarch (1055 CE) was a great ruler and a good ruler according to history. He was a renowned warrior a and conqueror an accomplished scholars poet mathematicians and astronomer with many books to his credit on these subject and on poetics: a patron of the arts and a great builder. In short he was rather like Vikramaditya himself that illustrious monarch who had ruled over that same region Malava (Malwa) a millennium before that powerful paramara dynasty of Bhoja held sway. Yet the storytellers of those times made him bow before the earlier monarch and accept second place. Such was the incomparable greatness of Vikramaditya name and the aura of his immeasurable fame in the popular imagination of that and of all time. His name was magic.

The vikramaditya story complex is extensive and has continued to be part of the living tradition of storytelling to which it originally belonged circulating at the level of oral transmission side by side with the written and then the later printed texts.

Besides the thirty two tale of the lion throne a cycle of the vikramaditya tale is to be found in the great Kashmiri work of fiction the Kathasaritsagara (ocean of story streams) composed around 107 CD, by Somadeva who contemporaneous with king Bhoja. This Vikramaditya story cycle is the concluding portion of the Kathasaritsagara (vol. 9 Tawney Penzer).

The most popular and celebrated of the tales that constitute the vikramaditya story complex however is the vikramaditya with a vetala a genie. A Vetala is a suprahuman being similar to the djinn a familiar character that we meet in so many of the tales in the Arabian night for instance Aladdin and the Lamp. This extraordinary encounter is the theme of the Vetalapancavinstika the five and twenty (short) tales of the genie or the vetala tales for shorts.

Four main recensions in Sanskrit of this widely popular Katha have survived with known authorship. And numerous versions came into existence in other Indian languages over a long period the most important of these being the versions in Vrajbhasha i.e., old Hindi (the Baital Pacisi) Tamil (the Vedalakkadaigal); and the Marathi version.

Of the four Sanskrit recensions two are found as parts of larger wholes set in mosaic of colourful tales and story cycles within an over arching frae and connected by a continuous narrative. These are the two Kashmiri works of narrative fiction of the eleventh century CE that are vast collection of tales then current in Kashmiri works of collections of tales then current in Kashmir. Somadeva Kathasaritasgara (about 1070 CE), already referred to and Ksemendra brahtkathamarnjari (Blossom Sprays of the Great tale), 1037 CE, composed some twenty years earlier both these works are in verse Somadeva being the finer because he is the better poet and a skilled storyteller. To these two important works that are justly famous is owned the preservation of many of fine tale and many a delightful story cycle which otherwise might have been lost forever a tragedy that has overtaken ancient Indian literary works too often.

It is believed that the Vetala Tales was originally an autonomous work and not part of any other large collection of stories. And we do have two recensions autonomous of the work. One is by Sivadasa in a mix of verse and prose a literary form known as champu which appears to have been popular in medieval Sanskrit literature. It is possible that the champu is a form deriver directly from the oral tradition om storytelling as distinctive from story writing. For oral narratives are a mixture of narrative and passages of singing as can be seen from the performance of contemporary artists in the oral tradition. And thesung passages would tend to be in verse. Initially a transitional literary form perhaps when oral narratives were being committed to writing the mixed form or champu might have been appropriated by later writers as a new literary form. In narrative fiction that uses a mix of verse and prose the two styles would be employed for different purpose the prose for narrative to carry the story line the verse for description and commentary for authorial observation and non fictional didactic material. This is how Sivadasa uses the two styles. And we see the same distinctive uses of verse and prose for different purpose in the pancataantra.

The other autonomous text of the Vetala Tales is by Jambhaladatta which is wholly in prose with a verse or two thrown in here and there. None of Jambhaladatta verses except for the opening ones have any merit.

However something of historic interest leaps up from the opening page of Jambhaladatta text to arrest the reader attention in the second introductory verse he writes.

Having heard these tales of the genie five and twenty filled with fine flavour from varadeva lotus mouth he who was minister for peace and war Jambhaladatta in reverence for his preceptor, has set them down in word few but fitting, in order that these tales so fabulous would always live preserved in men memories.

At some point in the course of oral transmission works of narrative fiction the katha, would have been committed to writing giving rise to several versions or recensions. Lines 6-7 of the above quotation one of the main incentives to do so for they imply that already in the medieval period (the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries CE) oral expressions might have been in danger of being lost. Dates provenance authorship and such data are almost impossible to come by in the case of oral texts and rarely do we get to witness the transition of an oral text to a written one. Yet this is precisely what we see happening right before our eyes here in the above quoted verse. Jambhaladatta having heard the Vetala Tales has written them down so that they are not lost to posterity. The verse also indicates another characteristic of oral storytelling. The text are passed on from preceptor to pupil by word of mouth.

Unfortunately there is no clue to the dates of these two men Varadeva the storyteller and his pupil, Jambhaladatta they were ministers for peace and war of foreign ministers are given. Jambhaladatta signs himself in the colophon of his text as Minister for peace and war. But in which kingdom in medieval India of the many kingdoms large and small weak or powerful they served as minister and whether one succeeded the other in the same high post are facts that will never be known.

A fifth recension extant is of little consequence being merely a text that closely follows the versions of the Vetala tales in the two Kashmiri works of fictions already referred to of somadeva Bhatta and Ksemendra.

The four main recensions of the Vetala tales noted already are of a comparatively late date. They belong to medieval literature of the period of the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries CE and have been set down i.e. committed to writing during this period by the four author whose names appear in the manuscripts in the introductory verses and/or colophon or at the end of each tale as in the Sivadasa text. But the stories themselves are much, much older. They go far back in time. For storytelling in India is indeed an ancient art and a very sophisticates and polished art at that. Like other well known works of fiction the katha such as the Jataka Tales3, the sukasaptati4 and that best known best loved and most celebrated of them all the inimitable pancantantra the vetala tales belonged originally to the rich age old oral literature of the country. The poet and playwright kalidasa who is placed either in the first century BCE or the fourth century CE for such is the state of uncertainty in the matter of dates of ancient Indian authors and text refers in his beautiful poem Megadutam to village elders in Avanti who are well versed in the Udayana tales and again to skilled storyteller in Ujjayini recounting old tales to entertain their visiting kin. Incidentally Udayana is the hero of the first part of the Kathasaritsagara; book II contain Udayana tales, tales of his life and loves (vol. I Tawney Penzer).

The Mahabharta a veritable treasure house of stories is the earliest surviving work of narrative fiction beside being much else for it is a multi faceted encyclopaedic text as it has come down to us. We find stories that are often taken out of the Mahabharta used by later writers play wrights and writers of fiction. It is a text that has suffered much heavy editing during its long course of oral transmission with many addition and revision made to it but in its initial form of articulation as an oral text without all the accretions that it has acquired over many centuries the Mahabharata has to be placed in the first quarter of the first quarter of the first millennium BCE the period that might be characterized as the Heroic age with its distinctive socio-political structures economy and values. The text as we have it today probably began taking shape a few centuries later possibly around the fifth century BCE to continue to grow and evolve over a long stretch of time.

Certain stories are also common to more than one it not several works of fiction and not necessarily taken out of the Mahabharata. They are told differently placed in different context put to different uses and present slight variations in detail. This points to a common source. Presumably stories that were part of the vast repertory of storytelling as distinct from story writing once formed a body of floating tales that was the common heritage of ancient communities tales of love and war romance and high adventure of magic the marvellous and horrific beast fables moral tales humorous folk tales; tales of mighty deeds of heroism loyalty and sacrifice. The Mahabharata also mentions another group of tales that were current the celestial tales the tales told of devas and asuras and the stories of men Nagas and Ghandharvas (the Mahabharta) it should be noted that here the sage saunaka head of the hermitage in the Naimisa Forest distinguishes the three world with their inhabitants of ancient Indian cosmography.

Like the mighty ocean into which rivers and streams from many place and from many directions flow constantly adding to its store of waters so also the vast repertory of stories would have been constantly added to as new tales were brought by travellers of all sorts returning home; sailors soldiers merchants pilgrims all reporting strange sights and stranger happenings. Tale 8, for instance in the sivadas text suggests just such a possibility. The use of the image of the ocean and rivers flowing into it might be noted in the little that Somadeva has given to his great work of fiction Kathasaritasagara (story stream ocean).

These ancient tales would have been told re-told countless times for entertainment and edification. And in the course of oral transmission the tales would inevitably have been revised changed in many ways; minor changes as in changes of locale names of places and persons and slight variations in narrative detail; major changes such as changes in tone and orientation aims and purposes as well.

Storytelling is an eminently portable art, with few, minimal props: a drum a stringed instrument and side-kick. Any place functions as its theatre; temples and palaces fair grounds and marketplaces sacred fords and forest retreats and often the shade of the banyan tree in a village. But the audiences are always different. And skilled storytellers feel the pulse of their audience and revise with a keen eye to relevance and contemporary appeal. A storyteller has the advantage of getting a feedback an immediate response so that he can improvise on the spur of the moment. And he does. Narrator and creator he combines continuity with freshness bringing the spice of novelty into a well worn tale to give it a new lease of life. That itinerant storytellers or narrators (kathakas) and bards (sutas) carried around the narratives they had inherited having learnt them by rote from parent or preceptor (the Sanskrit term guru signifies both); that certain versions of tales were passed down the generation from father to son in certain families of kathakas and sutas or in the succession of preceptor pupil (guru-sisya-parampara) that skilled narrator revised the inherited material all this is patently clear from certain passages in the opening chapter of the Mahabharata (I.1.10-12; 1.5.1-7; I.13.5-7; 1.53.27-33).

The frame story of the Mahabharata is set in the hermitage of saunaka in the Naimisa forest. The narrator is the suta Ugrasravas, who is in the direct line of succession of preceptor/parent/pupil of the ancient narrators of this great saga that is the tale of the tribe the tale of the celebrated tribe of bharatas of the Vedic age. Vyasa is its first narrator/author as we know it. It is of interest to note that the sage sauaka, kulapati (head) of the hermitage and spokesman for the audience of sages makes a request from time to time to the narrator asking him to tell them a particular tales or an account of a special lineage of kings and sages or an episode of interest to the audience. He makes a point as well of instructing the narrator to tell a tale exactly as his father had narrated it before them the sages of the Naimsia forest in the past. No changes please seems to be the concern of this audience. The implication s clearly that bards/narrators often revised the narratives.

It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that the stories comprising the Vetala Tales, or any other work of narrative fiction for that matter were not invented by the authors under whose names the texts appeared at a later date. The stories are old; they have been re-used. The story material is ancient inherited; it is re-worked, re-shaped, re-organized and re-articulated. Therefore there is the existence of several recensions of one original text if one can speak in terms of an original and its derived versions in the case of oral literature.

Somadeva who has included in his work a version of the Vetala Tales in its entirety presumably the version that (kathamukha) of the Kathasaritsagara that he was only presenting in his work the essential brhutkatha (the great tale) an ancient work of fiction consisting of thousands of stories that had been lost (Kathasaritsagara 1.1.3). he adds that his book is modelled precisely on the lost work without any deviation; that contents so as to preserve the cohesion and intrinsic logic of the tales as far as possible; and that the has only given to the work the words that were needed to do all this (emphasis mine). What somadeva is virtually saying here is that his work the Kathasaritsagara is a re-telling of this ancient work of fiction Gundahya Brhatkatha (circa 200 BEC or the beginning of the firs millennium CE).

The Brhatkatha seems in some strange way to have disappeared from canon sometime toward the close of the first millennium CE. It is referred to in terms of the highest praise in the work of seventh century writers; poets writers of fiction poeticians Bana Dandin and others who view the work canonically and accord its author Gunadhya a status to or even equal to that of vyasa and valmiki authors of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. References the Brhatkatha are also found in Kampuchean stone inscriptions of the ninth century.

Tradition has a way of creating legends round ancient authors and their works; and to account for the loss of the Brhatkatha tradition has provided one. Gunadhya the court poet of the Satavahana emperor, angered by his royal master curt rejection of his magnum opus (the Brhatkatha that he had written during his self imposed exile in the Vindhyan forests with his own blood for he had no ink left the court and in a moment o hurt pride stated burning the leaves on which he had written his book. Fortunately the emperor relented and set for him and Gunadhya was stopped before he had completely destroyed his work. But only a small portion of it about a seventh could be salvaged and retrieved.

Presumably, somadeva used this truncated Brhatkatha the Kashmiri version current in his time re-shaping re-organizing doubted that the Vetala tales which is included in its entirety in somadeva great work (vol. 6, 7, Tawney Penzer Kathasaritsagara) ever formed part of the original Brhatkatha of Gunadhya or whether any of the Vikramaditya stories that are found in the Kathasaritsagara (vol. 9. Tawney Penzer Kathasaritsagara) belonged to it either. It is probably that the vetala tales were tacked on to the Kashmiri Brhatkatha before somadeva times. Their origin has to be sought elsewhere for it is most unlikely that Kashmiri was the provenance of the original Brhatkatha or of the vikramaditya story corpus and the vetala tales for that matter. The Gunadhya legends and tradition place the Brhatkatha or of the Vikramaditya story corpus and the vetala tales for that matter. The gunadhya legends and tradition place the Brhatkatha and its author in the deccan Gunadhya according to tradition was the court poet of the satavahana emperor. The satavahana empire (circa 200 BCE 300 CE) was a southern empire which at the height of its power controlled the entire peninsula barring the traditional choal country in the deep south and extended up to Ujjayini (Ujjain Madhya Pradesh) both the vetala tales and the Brhatkatha in its Kashmiri versions located their frame stories in Pratishthana on the Godavari the Satavahana capital (modern Paithan, near Aurangabad) in the western deccan. These narratives appear to have migrated a long way from home to Kashmir carried by itinerant storytellers and subjected to changes in the process of transmission.

Working from the premise that it is highly unlikely that the vetala tales ever formed part of the lost brhatkatha in its original form, it is not in any doubt that the Ur-vetala tales of some ancient anonymous storyteller is lost. All that we have are recensions of this original narrative long vanished almost a millennium later. The recensions are re-telling at several removes. Given its protean character that compels a narrative that originates in the oral tradition of storytelling to revise itself continuously thereby constantly renewing itself it is a forlorn hope indeed that sets out to seek and find its absolute beginning. What has survived is the re-telling a re-telling that is one of a series of re-telling that is also lost.

In this connection it is interesting and illuminating to refer to the frame story in the tamil version of the vetala tales which places the ultimate origins of storytelling using a legend in a world beyond the world where the ultimate ground of creation Siva abides.

From a conversation of Indra Lord of the immortals and the sage Narada a courier par excellence and messenger of sorts we learn that the lord Siva narrated the tales of Vikramaditya and the vetala in private on Kailasa peak in the Himalayas the temporal abode of the divine to his consort parvati the mother of the universe who had requested the lord to tell her tales never told before. A certain Brahmana overheard the narration (how he got there and secured a secret hiding place to listen is not told) but coming down to earth (?), he retailed the very same tales as told by the lord siva to his own wife. Thus what was exclusive and private became public intellectual property gaining common knowledge siva learning of this transgression of the Brahmana cursed the unfortunate man to became a vetala.

Transported to a wilderness the Brahmana vetala had inhabit a corpse hanging on the branch of a murunga tree however when the Brahmana, contrite, pleaded for release. Siva set a term to the curse saying that he would be freed from the curse when whosoever he told the tales to listened to them and answered the questions that he as a vetala would ask the listener. One among the several purposes of the question answer exercise that concludes each tale in teh Vetala tales is thus indicated though neither of the autonomous texts of the vetala Tales Sivadasa and Jambhaladatta include the curse.

By positing such a hoary antiquity to storytelling and projecting it far back in time to the quasi-eternal and temporal abode of divinity and by making the divine pair Siva and Sakti (Parvati) as the primal narrator and audience tradition is pointing to a very ancient and undateable origin for it this apocryphal and defines its special nature. Storytelling is timeless. Like fire it is brought down to earth for man use and entertainment. A narrative is a re-telling and will always be that. However far back in time it is traced to it always remain a re-telling we are still left not with an original not with absolute beginnings of a narrative of any narrative but with successive re-telling the one in the original narration on Mt. Kailasa in the divine world of the timeless is simply to state this ineluctable fact in a mythic form.

Since nothing exists before the earliest recensions of the Vetala tales which form part of the eleventh century Kashmiri when the parent text from which the Sivadasa recession derives was current or the versions oral or written from which the tamil and old Hindi version derive. At one time several version oral and/or written of such a widely popular work of fiction as the Vetala tales would have been current in different parts of the country. In the case of the Pancatantra no fewer than twenty five recensions have survived no two versions identical. However most of the vetala tale recensions appear to have been lost.

An oral narrative is like the banyan tree a tree so distinctive a feature of the Indian landscape a tree that sends down vital aerial roots to push themselves deeply into the surrounding soil take root firmly and put out fresh shoots. In decades and centuries a whole banyan tree complex comes into existence. No tow of the siblings are identical recognizable similarities. So it is with oral texts.

Since no two of the four main recensions of the vetala tales are identical and since the much later Old Hindi and Tamil version are also not identical either with each other or with any of the four Sanskrit recensions it is not in any doubt that they all derive each for a separate individual version oral or written. The two kashmiri recensions probably had the same parent namely some work of fiction or collection of tales current in tenth century Kashmir. But the Sivadasa recension is clearly divergent as are the Hindi Tamil version. All of the parent version from which the extent recensions are derived appear to be lost.

It is in the frame stories of the four Sanskrit recensions and the Tamil Hindi versions of the Vetala tales that the differences are mainly present. Many of the stories set within the frame are common and reasons for this have already been indicated. But an important fact to bear in mind is that though the paraphrasable contents of the tales might be the same, the stories themselves are told differently; and how a story is told is as important as the story itself. On the other hand, the different in the frame stories are highly significant because the frame story defines the tone of the work as a whole and conveys the vision that directs and orders the narrative. And in the sivadasa text the preamble and frame story which together form a kind of prologue, the Kathamukha are crucial in determining the tone and structure of the work and in conveying the specific vision of the author. This prologue to his text is the most compelling in its role other versions of the vetala tales. It is prologue that is problematic and teases the modern reader into thought Sivadasa succeeds in doing this by first by first introducing a tale of a tale of the hero Vikramaditya father and the strange events surrounding the birth or the hero himself that is not found in any other frame story in the Hindi Tamil version of a later date. And he follows this up by suggesting through structured and language the significant in the text of an ordeal cum lest and the hero has to face and undergo successfully befor he can fulfil the great destiny that had been foretold for him in the prologue. Because of its crucial importance in the structure of the text the prologue will be discussed later in some detail but at this point the identity of the hero Vikramaditya has to be examined first.

The hero of the vetala tales goes under several names Vikramasena (the king whose armies strode froth victorious); Vikramakesari (The lion of valour: Kesari lion); Vikramanka (marked out by valour: anka-mark) and Vikramaditya (Vikrama + aditya= the sun of valour). (The term vikrama that is part of all these names signifies valour; heroism and the act of striding forth.) The lost name Vikramaditya is the one that is generally found to be employed in history and legend. Aditya as one of the many names for the sun brings in solar association and gives the monarch solar attributes. Vikramaditya is the monarch who lazes like the sun sustaining as well as destroying. He strides forth in glory in the world like the sun wheeling though space illuminating the whole world. He is the centre and ruler of the world just as the sun is the ruler of the universe and his wheel of glory and justice like the sun disc rolls over the entire earth as the ancient Indians knew it. Rich with all these resonances the name vikramaitya first the given name for a particular monarch was later assumed by other monarchs in India as a title. And in adopting this title they appropriated in India as a title. And in adopting this title they appropriated the glory and fame of the original possessor of the name. Who we this monarch is the question that has to be asked now.

Who was Vikramaditya? Was he a historical king? Tradition asserts that he was. Many historian argue that he was not and produce half-a-dozen king who went by that name or adopted it as a title in history. Having done that they finally settle upon chadragupta Vikramaditya (fourth century CE) the greatest of the Gupta emperors as the real monarch the vikramaditya of story and legend.

However tradition should not be summarily dismissed as it too often done in discussing problems of dates and data in ancient Indian history as so much story or legends. Legend it is true often done in discussing problems of dates and data in ancient Indian history as so much story or legend. Legend it is true often surrounds the name and fame of certain historical personage; great monarch and saints and poets. Legends too often have a basis however slender in actual fact and events of history. And it cannot be denied that there is some story in history some attempts to mythologize important figures create legends around them and build images of them even in our own age that prides itself on its factual objectivity and accuracy in recording events. Tradition asserts that there was a monarch by the name of Vikramaditya ruler of a vast and powerful kingdom who lived at the close of the first millennium BCE and whose capital was Ujjayini that he was a most illustrious and noble king, just, accomplished a great warrior and munificent patron of the arts in short the embodiment of the very ideal of kingship; that he routed the saka invaders pushed them out and established the Vikrama era in 57 BCE to commemorate the victory. But most scholars deny this monarch any historicity. Indeed they relegate him totally to the realm of legend and romance. Since the historicity of this remarkable ruler is in question an as it can neither be proved not disproved that he was a real monarch we could perforce be content to regard him as at best a quasi historical figure like king Arthur of the round table or the Charlemagne of story and song and leave it at that: but this is not a very satisfactory way of dealing with the vikrmaditya problem. An alternative might be suggested. In all probability the monarch vikramaditya of tradition of story and legend is a composite figure made up of the lives and legend is a than one historical ruler who was outstanding in one respect or another several remarkable monarch might have come together in the popular an ideal and symbol of the Indian concept of a perfect sovereign. Certain fact support this suggestion. In the sivadas recension of the Vetala tale the frame story is located in Pratishtana a great capital of the ancient world situated on the banks of the Godavari. The prince born in that city is named vikramaditya he is the hero of the vetala tales. Pradishtantpura is modern paithan in Maharashtra now famous for its exquisitely woven in silk her of the vikramditya story cyle that form the concluding portion of the kathasaritsagara the hero is the ruler of Malava at Ujjayini.

As noted already vikramaditya is known under several names in the vetala text. Might it be possible that this rather casual way of using many names for the one hero of the vetala tales reflects a successive superimposition of the image of several monarch one after the other on all the rulers who appropriated the name of the original monarch Vikramaditya several notable ruler and of their eminent virtues and their exploits and present us with a composite figure. As the original tales or the early form of the vetala tales as we now have it travalled from place to place and from one royal court to another in the early days of its peregrinations could it be that the tales relating to a particular monarch a great and noble warrior perhaps were appropriated with all its association of adventure and glory by bard and storytelling they served and whose deeds real and imaginary they celebrated in story and song? We might speculated endlessly after this fashion but the probability that something like this did actually take place is high.

It seems very likely that there was an actual historical king named vikramaditya at the close of the first millennium BCE who was a ruler of the Malavas. He might very well have been an exemplary king in many era, which might be the same era as the vkrama era believed to have been established by the emperor vikramaditya in 57 BCE. This same monarch is in tradition credited with having fought the invading sakas (Scythians) routed them and pushed them out of the malva region. The difficulty however that faces us here is that this king vikramaditya reigned at Ujjayini on the banks of the river sipra a tributary of the great Naramda whereas out king vikramaditya of the vetala tales in this volume reigned after the death of his father Gandharvasena at pratishanapura on the banks of the river.

So much for the riddle of the great hero Vikramaditya the king with many names celebrated for his many noble virtues and kingly qualities and for many a heroic deed. Who is the real vikramditya? We many never know. As far as the hero in the world of the text is concerned he has to be viewed as the fabled monarch who ruled over the whole earth wisely and well and afterwards became king of the vidyadharas in their fabled kingdom. While kings whose dated we know for certain crumbled into dust and are just names in the pages of history this king who reigns supreme as he has for a couple of millennia in the land of the imagination is immortal. And now we proceed to examine the structure of works in which his name and fame are enshrined.

The structural pattern characteristic of many work of fiction in India consists of a frame story with a number of stories set within the frame and a continuous narrative running through the whole work. This pattern that I shall define as the frame-emboxment structure might be more less complex and complicated but it is the basic pattern created and established but it is the basic pattern created and established very early in Indian literature by the genius of Vyasa in the Mahabharata (circa 800 BCE) it is followed by later writers of fiction visnu sarma (the pancatantra), Bana (Kadambari) Dandin (tales of the ten Princes), somadeva (Kathasaritsagara) and other whose works have fewer complications and therefore less complexity as for example the author of the Sukasaptati.

Vyasa carried the frame emboxment device to its farther limit to compose a multi dimensional layered text in the great Mahabharata saga whose structure he further complicated by bringing in several individual story cycles introducing may kinds of non-fictional material and weaving it all together into the fabric of the main narrative the Bharata war. Vyasa great text has no second although it is paralleled in accomplishment in a much more limited but compact manner in the pancatantra.

With its multiple levels of narration (and modes of narration as well) each set in its individual frame a sub frame and the whole set within set within the over arching double frame; with its plurality of narrator each with his/her own audience and functioning within the sub frame yet related to other narration and to the central narrative this was a literary form that offered unlimited opportunities and scope for the writing of fiction. What vyasa succeeded in creating was a literary form quite revolutionary in the craft of fiction; a unique form; a new genre which might be viewed and discussed as novelistic. In the Mahabharata saga (and I am mainly referring to a text that can be predicated hypothetically as vyasa text minus the later accretions namely the huge chunks of didactic and philosophical material that Anusasana Parva mainly) Vyasa has at his command and array of literary devices that he uses with superb artistry: flashbacks prophecies the curse recollection (remembrance or smarana) and recognition. These devices serve to effect a fusion of time to bring time past and time future into the present moment. There are also other devices that vyasa emplysl metamorphosis confusion of identify and so on. The employment of these device extends the range of imaginative responses and opens windows into world of aesthetic. Later writers who inherited this unique form had at their command a flexible mode of narration which would enable them to set themselves goals other than mere storytelling for entertainment which no doubt is a legitimate and valid aim but one that leaves much to be desired.

The two autonomous recensions of the vetala tales of Sivadasa and Jambhaladatta follow a simplified form of the classic pattern outlined already. There is the frame story and twenty four (twenty-five in the Jambhaladatta recension) stories and the continuous narrative. Three character only are employed the hero the villain and the genie the vetala who combines in himself the roles of narrator and actor. This is a far cry from the multivocal texts of vyasa and visnu sarma where the large number of characters provide multiple points of view. The goals of our two authors of the twelfth thirteenth centuries are different and limited. Jambhaladatta gives us a text that aims at straightforward uncomplicated storytelling for the sheer joy of telling a good tale as best as the storyteller can and the reader delight at reading a good tale well told the most part. Jambhaladatta’s narrative is at time written in a somewhat pedestrian prose and lacks depth. Sivadasa text on the other hand is a finer text a deeply thoughtfully text. It is a text that is troubled at times burdened by an awareness of the presence of wrongdoing even evil in the stark sense of the term and of subsequent moral retribution. There is a storing sense of the way in the order of existence interact to determine human action. The text rehearses the inexorable march of events to its bitter end on a course set in motion by an initial act that on the surface appears to be trifling but in fact turns out to be tragic in nature and brings a set of bizarre happenings in its wake. This rather trifling act is the petty revenge that king Gandharvasena in a moment of pique wreaks on an unoffending ascetic sitting in silent penance in the forest. The king action flowing out of inordinate pride is an act of wrongdoing unworthy of a virtuous and responsible monarch it sows the seed of evil. Order is broken disorder enters. Innocent blood is shed in a gruesome manner and the unnatural act of a father (the ascetic) killing his own little son blazes a trail of evil of foul murder and deeply laid plots to commit more foul murder practise deception and villainy until finally the evil is extinguished by another killing which is a ritual slaying. Blood pays for blood. Blood washes away blood. And a new dawn sees the re-establishment of order and harmony. The righteous age of vikramaditya is ushered in. But it is not all that simply and straightforward as will be demonstrated in the following paragraphs.

Sivadasa text is problematic. It raises issues poses problems. It hangs the hero vikramaditya on the horns of vexing dilemmas. Questions trouble the readers (and one suspects the author himself) as they ponder over imponderable and tease them into thought. For instance if we consider the strange events surrounding the birth of our hero we have first a child killed by its own father then its triply fragmented frame produces conception in three women in three different places somehow. But how? The reader trying to figure out this macabre situation savour the fascination of being in a state of uncertainty. He is more than perplexed he is hunted and sense depths of meaning that he cannot quite get a handle on. However it is the very essence of folk and fairy tales to present inexplicable situations and suggest rather than state.

Sivadasa strong sense of wrongdoing and the subsequent moral retribution is the imperative that dictates his handling of the inherited story material. He re-shapes the received text driven by his moral concerns and literary objectives. And we see this in the manner in which he structures his narrative; and in the language in the gnomic verse and in two specific passages of description (p. 13 and PP. 17-19).

A couple of examples from the text to illustrate the issues that Sivadasa raises and the dilemmas he places his hero in should be useful.

The most important element in the structure of the narrative is the preamble (or Prologue) that form the story of Vikramaditya father and the ascetic Valkalasana. This story that rehearses events in the past before the hero king Vikramaditya and the villain the yogi Kasantasila are born is not found in the other three recensions of the Vetala Tales. Where Sivadasa found this particular tale is something that we cannot even begin to speculate about. But that he saw the possibilities latent in the Gandharvasena Valkalasana tale is evidence of his artistic sense and his vision. He has seized upon the possibilities contained in the material of this particular story and made skilful use of it to convey his sense of evil and moral retribution; his view of kingship with its conflicting duties and responsibilities his aesthetic concern to suggest avenues of exploration of certain element in the narrative structure not ethically and philosophically but imaginatively. For example the nature of the strange bond that link the three character in the text hero villain and vetala and establish certain relationships; the special status awarded to the question answer passages at the end of each tale; the significance that the text reveals to the reader of the genie disappearing act and the hero repeated return to the tree both of which enclose each tale setting apart the storybook world from the necromancing Ksantisila demonic world.

Sivdasa places the story of the king and the ascetic right at the beginning whereby it gains a special status and crucial importance. The frame story always has the effect of defining the tone of the work s a whole. In this case Sivadasa has the story of the ascetic and king Gandharvasena is addition to the frame story which is a normal part of the text in a frame emboxment structure. Together they have enormous significance. The effect is particularly evident in the question answer passage at the end of each tale which seen in the light of the prologue (the preamble and frame story) take on meaning and purpose to serve as more than link in the narrative structure providing the raison to tell yet another tale. Instead of being a mechanical device it becomes an integral part of the structure. Further in sivadas hand if function as the vehicle to convey an important aspect of his vision. These passages (the question answer passage and the authorial intervention at the beginning and of each tale) are employed to indicate and formulate a test and an ordeal that the hero is subjected to as it will become evident in the final sections of the introduction.

Next in importance is the frame story itself where the text proclaims the ideal of kingship implicit in the description of Vikramaditya who as legend and tradition claimed was the ideal monarch. (in Jambhaladatta text the description is perfunctory and nondescript) this long passage describing the fabled emperor on his lion throne ought not to be dismissed as a passage of flowery verse cast in a conventional mode of description. It has a purpose. Sivadas is here using theories of the divine origin of kings propounded in treatises on the Law (Dharma Sastras), that characterize the king as compounded of portions all the gods (manusmrti 7. 1-9). That inheritance is what makes kingship legitimate on earth and gives a king the right to rule. This is an ancient concept. The most important of a king many virtues are couched in the following lines in the Sivadasa narrative; like the noble ocean/ never o’erstepping the bounds set by the law ever honoured by the wise and virtuous; and the concluding lines of his passage are of special importance.

These lines ought to be linked to the climatic act in the epilogue the ritual killing of Ksantisila epilogue the ritual killing of Ksantisila.

We might note in passing that the father of the hero king Gandharvasena is far from being an ideal monarch.

Vikramaditya on the other hand is set up right at beginning in the opening of the frame story as an ideal monarch. However, Sivadasa follows this initial statement of an ideal with the actual encounter of king and yogi; and here he lays out the problems of the role of the ideal ruler as he shows the conduct of Vikramaditya a wise and just ruler being caught between conflicting imperatives. A ruler has to balance the often contrary demands or private and public good of personal honour and the well being and security of the state and the people. These are difficult decisions for any one holding the highest offices in a state at any time including our own. Sivadasa first makes use of the episode of the yogi bringing the king a gift of bilva a bribe or temptation?


Key to the pronunciation of Sanskrit wordsXI
About the title: Who is the Vetala?LXIV
The five and twenty tales of the genie as set down by Sivadasa1
Frame story12
Tale 1Of vajramukuta and the beautiful Padmavati20
Tale 2Of Mandaravati and her three suitor33
Tale 3Of the parrot and the myna37
Subtale IOf the wicked dhanaksaya and his virtuous wife40
Subtale IIOf the wicked wife and her Good Husband41
Tale 4Of viravara, the noble warrior50
Tale 5Of the beautiful mahadevi and her three suitors59
Tale 6Of the young bride who switched Heads64
Tale 7Of the beautiful tribhuvanasundari beauty of the triple word and her suitor69
Tale 8Of king gunadhipa gratitude72
Tale 9Of madanasena who kept her vows77
Tale 10Of three very delicate queens84
Tale 11Of king janavallabha and his fairy bride89
Tale 12Of the royal priest who lost all95
Tale 13Of the merchant daughter who loved a robber99
Tale 14Of muladeva prince of tricksters103
Tale 15Of Jimutavahana and his supreme sacrifice114
Tale 16Of unmadini fatal beauty126
Tale 17Of gunakara and the yogi who lost his magic powers133
Tale 18Who is prince haridatta real father?139
Tale 19Of the Brahmana boy who laughed facing death147
Tale 20Of star crossed lovers154
Tale 21Of the four foolish Brahmanas who revived the dead lion160
Tale 22Of the yogi who went from one body the another164
Tale 23Of three rather fasidious Brahmanas168
Tale 24Of Strange and ridding relationships176
Tale 25The epilogue and conclusion179
Appendix: Tales from the five and twenty tale of the genie as set down by Jambhaladatta183
Benedictory verses185
Tale 7Of king Pracandasinha and his Friend the skull bearer193
Tale 11Of the Three flower like delicate queens198
Tale 20Of the ascetic who entered the corpse of a brahmana youth200
Tale 21Of how four merchant princes fared with the courtesan202
Tale 22Of how muladeva obtained a bride for sasideva214
Tale 23Of the Orge who Ravaged king Arimaulimani kingdom221

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