Baital Pachisi

See here for the Doordarshan serial Vikram aur Betaal.

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.[1] Several English translations exist, based on Sanskrit recensions and on Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi versions.[2] Probably best-known English version is that of Sir Richard Francis Burton which is, however, not a translation but a very free adaptation.[3]

RF Burton Vikram and the Vampire (1870) Illustrated by Ernest Griset page048
Ernest Griset's depiction of Vikram and the Baital in Richard Francis Burton's 1870 retelling of the story.


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.

Arthur W Ryder Twenty-Two Goblins (1917) Illustrated by Perham W Nahl page214f
Father and son meet mother and daughter, in the Baital's final tale. Illustration by Perham Wilhelm Nahl from Arthur W. Ryder's Twenty-two Goblins.

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.

RF Burton Vikram and the Vampire (1870) Illustrated by Ernest Griset page317
Vikram prepares to behead the tantric. Illustration by Ernest Griset from Burton's Vikram and the Vampire.

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.

Other media

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[4] 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.

A remake of that serial by the new generation of Sagar Films (Pvt. Ltd.), titled Kahaniyaan Vikram aur Betaal Ki, was aired on the Indian satellite channel Colors.

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.[5]

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.[6]

Currently, &TV is airing a new series Vikram Betaal Ki Rahasya Gatha, where actors Aham Sharma and Makrand Deshpande as playing the role of King Vikramaditya and betaal respectively.

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. BrockhausBooks VI, VII & VIII; and Books IX–XVIII (1866)
  • Pandit Durgāprasāda; Kāśīnātha Pāṇḍuraṅga Paraba, eds. (1889), The Kathâsaritsâgara of Somadevabhatta, The Nirnaya-Sâgara Press
Jambhaladatta (11th–14th century CE)
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, LeipzigTranslation of Śivadāsa recension.
    • Rajan, Chandra (1995), Śivadāsa: The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie, Penguin BooksTranslated 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.[7] 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.[8] Thus it became the basis of several Hindi editions, and Indian vernacular and English translations; many of these frequently reprinted.


  1. ^ Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 225.
  2. ^ Penzer 1924, Vol VI, p 226.
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Forbes 1861, pp. vii–viii.
  8. ^ Barker 1855 p vi.
  9. ^ Rajan 1995 lxii.

External links

Damon Vignale

Damon Vignale is a Canadian writer, director, and producer working in film and television. He has directed the films Little Brother of War and The Entrance. He released the web series The Vetala in 2009, drawn from the Baital Pachisi, a collection of Sanskrit tales and legends, which received a 2010 Gemini Award. Vignale’s debut documentary film The Exhibition world premiered in the Next Program of the 2013 Hot Docs International Film Festival. The film won the 2014 International Emmy Award for Arts Programming. Vignale's television credits as a writer-producer include CTV's homicide series Motive, Bravo's police drama 19-2, and the ITV/BritBox series The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco.

Vignale is creator and showrunner of the original crime-drama series The Murders produced by City TV and Muse Entertainment. The series stars Jessica Lucas as a rookie homicide detective whose negligence in a fellow officer’s death has her searching for redemption in her investigations. Rogers Media announced production commencing October 9, 2018

Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kathai

Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kathai (lit. This is a story narrated by a phantom) is an upcoming Indian Tamil-language fantasy film directed by Rathindran R. Prasad. An adaptation of the folk tale collection Baital Pachisi, the film features Ashwin Kakumanu, Abhay Deol, Aishwarya Rajesh, Guru Somasundaram and Greg Burridge in the lead roles. Featuring music by Ghibran and cinematography by Roberto Zazzara, the film began production in mid 2016.

The Exotic Enchanter

The Exotic Enchanter is an anthology of four fantasy short stories edited by American writers L. Sprague de Camp and Christopher Stasheff. The Exotic Enchanter is the second volume in the continuation of the Harold Shea series by de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. It was first published in paperback by Baen Books in 1995; an ebook edition followed from the same publisher in September 2013. All the pieces are original to the anthology.

De Camp and Pratt's original Harold Shea stories are parallel world tales in which universes where magic works coexist with our own, and in which those based on the mythologies, legends, and literary fantasies of our world and can be reached by aligning one's mind to them by a system of symbolic logic. In these stories psychologist Harold Shea and his colleagues Reed Chalmers, Walter Bayard, and Vaclav Polacek (Votsy), travel to a number of such worlds. In the course of their travels other characters are added to the main cast, including Belphebe and Florimel, who become the wives of Shea and Chalmers, and Pete Brodsky, a policeman who is accidentally swept up into the chaos. The Exotic Enchanter continues the new format of the series introduced in de Camp and Stasheff's previous volume, The Enchanter Reborn (1992), in which it was opened up into a shared world to which other authors were invited to contribute. In addition to stories by de Camp and Stasheff, who collectively oversaw the project, this volume includes contributions by Roland J. Green and Frieda A. Murray (in collaboration) and Tom Wham. Green and Murray may have worked from an outline provided by the editors as in the previous volume, though this is not stated. Wham's contribution is a distillation into concrete story form of his earlier authorized Harold Shea gamebook, Prospero's Isle, originally published by Tor Books in October 1987.The action in the first two stories concludes the quest by Shea and Chalmers to rescue Florimel that began in the previous volume, where she was kidnapped by the malevolent enchanter Malambroso. Their mission takes them into the worlds of the old Russian Tale of Igor's Campaign in "Enchanter Kiev," and that of Bhavabhuti's Baital Pachisi (or "Vikram and the Vampire"), a proto-Arabian Nights collection of Indian tales, in "Sir Harold and the Hindu King." After Florimel is finally recovered Shea and Belphebe must undertake a similar mission to Edgar Rice Burroughs's fictional version of Mars in "Sir Harold of Zodanga," this time to recover their daughter Voglinda, likewise seized by the unrepentant Malambroso. "Harold Shakespeare," the final tale, sends Shea and Belephebe on an unrelated adventure precipitated by the foolishness of Shea's colleague Polacek, into William Shakespeare's The Tempest.


A vetala (Sanskrit: वेताल vetāla) is a ghost-like being from Hindu mythology. The vetala are defined as spirits inhabiting cadavers 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. Historians have established that vetala is based on an ancient character from the state of Bengal.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).

Vikram Betaal Ki Rahasya Gatha

Vikram Betaal Ki Rahasya Gatha is a mythological serial created by Peninsula Pictures based on Baital Pachisi. The series is airing on &TV and digitally on ZEE5 platform, starring Aham Sharma and Makrand Deshpande in lead roles.

Baital Pachisi
Television adaptations
Film adaptations

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