Vampire nostalgia


I discovered – via a lucky google search – the full pdf of Richard Burton's Vikram and the Vampire in the Nalanda Digital Library. This book, which may be unfamiliar to most Western readers, is based on the Betal Pachisi (Twenty five tales of a vampire) a collection of Sanskrit apologues featuring the good king Vikramaditya of Ujjain, who – the preface informs us – could be considered as a King Arthur-like figure in Indian mythology. This is fun for me, because I had never read the unabridged version of Burton's book.

Coming back to them after so many years, the stories seem wonderful, even bizarre. Here is a very brief introduction to the book: King Vikram is entrusted with the task of fetching a vampire that hangs from a mimosa tree. Having brought down the vampire and slung it onto his back, Vikram is on his way, when the treacherous creature begins to speak. He tells Vikram a story (25 stories in all, eleven of which appear in Burton's book) and asks him a question at the end of each. The conditions are that if the king opens his mouth to answer either from vanity, or conceit, or from the vampire's treachery or from a moral duty, the vampire would leave him and go back to hang upside down from his tree. Only if the king remained silent out of humility or ignorance would the vampire accompany him to his destination. And so the tales begin. Time after time, Vikramaditya cannot help but answer the vampire's mischieviously designed queries. Time after time, the vampire, in an explosion of triumphant laughter, gives him the slip. Time after time, Vikramaditya pulls him down again and sets off on another journey, on another story.

As a child, I had read at least two abridged English versions of the stories, one in an illustrated storybook form and the other as a comic book. And most people in India are familiar with Vikram Aur Baital (Vikram and the Vampire), one of the most engaging TV serials of the 1980s. We watched it in the afternoons and scurried to our storybooks. For at least three generations and in many languages, a periodical story magazine named Chandamama (The Moon) continued to run the story of Vikram and the Ghost with the familiar words:

Dark was the night and fearsome the atmosphere…. but King Vikram swerved not.

And then, there followed one more story from the Betal Pachisi. I hear that Chandamama still carries the stories today, as it did when we were children, as it did when our parents were children themselves.

7 thoughts on “Vampire nostalgia”

  1. while surfing the net to get some information about ancient indian literature, i came across your article. it help me to recollect my childhod memories. i also was an avid reader of chandamama in my childhood. i believe that the magazine is carrying the stories which are not in the original version. if you please help me to lay hands on the original version and also if you have any information about “sinhasan battisi” please let me know. my e mail is <edit out to protect commenter from spam>.

  2. Shaktiraj: If you are referring to the original version of the Vikram-Betal stories, they are available in the downloadable PDF linked in my post. If you are referring to the original Sanskrit apologues, I’m afraid I don’t know where to find them.

    I have a vague recollection of watching Sinhasan Battisi on a B&W television *many* years ago. But I have never read these stories in book or comic form. Sorry that I can’t be of much help there.

  3. Thanks for the PDf. Cute to get it free, though I was after (found it) Melmoth reconciled. I am a petty author myself, if you want some free stuff (i.e. about vampires) I have some gratis at (click our authors and find me by name) as a goodie: published me and several other authors about vampires in their issue 4 (gratis & legal PDF awaits). ;o)

    My apologies for the flawed spelling before.

    1. In the end the vampire told Vikram that the sage who wants the body was in fact wanted to grab sinister powers and kill Vikramaditya and in the end of the story vikram killed the sage and befriended vampire who resides in his palace and helped him in many ways.

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