In days gone by, Vikramaditya, a great king ruled over a prosperous kingdom from his capital at Ujjain. Mighty as the sun – he was a king with immense love for learning as well as for adventure.

King Vikram sat in his court for hours every day, rewarding the virtuous, punishing the evil doers, and encouraging scholars, poets, musicians, and artists.

During such sessions, numerous people came to meet him. They brought for him gifts of jewels, gold or other precious things.

Among such visitors was a mendicant who, on every visit, presented the king with a fruit. The king accepted his humble gift with the same show of courtesy with which he would have accepted a diamond from a rich merchant.

He used to hand over the fruit to the royal storekeeper. One morning, the mendicant gave him his usual gift just when the king was going out to inspect his stables. The king accepted the fruit all right and went out while playing with it, tossing it up and then catching it as it came down.

It so happened that after a while the fruit fell down from his hand. Instantly a monkey who was on a nearby tree swooped down upon it and tried to crack it with his teeth.

The fruit broke and pop came out a handy ball of ruby. The king’s surprise knew no bounds. He picked up the ruby and sent for an expert.

He examined it and said it was the finest ruby he had ever seen. “What did you do with all the fruits I have been giving you?” the anxious king asked of his store-keeper.

“My lord, I threw them all into our store through the window!” replied the store-keeper. The king ordered him to fetch them, and when they were produced before him, he was further astonished and delighted to see that each one of the fruits contained a precious ruby.

When the mendicant came the next day, the king gave all attention to him and asked him: “Why have you bestowed so much kindness on me?” “To be frank, I expect you to help me in a very important work of mine, O king, but of that I’ll tell you in confidence,” replied the mendicant.

The king led him into the private audience chamber. The mendicant then said: “I know how brave you are. Hence I will ask you to do something which requires courage.

But, for that, you must meet me under a Banyan tree in the center of the cremation ground beyond the city, at night, on the 14th day of the dark half of the month.”

Vikram hesitated for a while. But the spirit of adventure got the better of him. He agreed to meet the mendicant at the appointed hour. It was a dark night with a terrible gale blowing. When Vikram approached the cremation ground, he was received by the howling foxes and jackals. As he made his way through the ground, he saw in the flashes from lightning fearful faces of ghouls and ghosts staring at him or dancing around him.

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But undaunted, Vikram reached the banyan tree. The mendicant was delighted to see him. “Now, what’s the work you want me to perform?” asked the king. “At the northern-most corner of this ground stands a very ancient tree. You will see a corpse hanging from one of its branches. Go and fetch it for me. I am seeking certain occult powers which I will get only if a king brings this particular corpse to me and if I practice certain rites sitting on it,” disclosed the mendicant.

To fetch a corpse that hung on a distant tree in that stormy night was not at all a pleasing task. But King Vikram braved the weather and the darkness as well as the menacing yells and shrieks of ghosts and ghouls and soon reached the old tree. Raising a burning torch he found the corpse hanging.

He climbed the tree and with a stroke of his sword cut the rope with which the corpse had been tied to the branch. The corpse fell to the ground, and gave out an eerie cry.

Vikram, not knowing that the corpse was possessed by a spirit, thought that the fellow was alive. He came down and lifted up the body lying sprawled on the ground. At that the corpse began to laugh.

Surprised, the king asked: “Why do you laugh?” No sooner had the king opened his mouth than the corpse slipped away from his hands and hung on to the tree by itself. Six times did King Vikram bring it down and six times the corpse gave him the slip. At last Vikram realized that the corpse did the mischief only when he talked.

On the seventh time Vikram put the corpse on his shoulder and began walking quietly. He had gone only a few steps when the corpse which, in fact, was a vampire, said: “O King, tiresome is the way. Let me tell you a tale to keep you amused!”

 

King Vikramaditya – Vikram Betal Stories



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