The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan — that Institute of Indian Culture in Mumbai - needed a Book University, a series of books which, if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, 50 of which were to be taken in hand almost at once. It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English, but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi. Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an all-India organization. The Bhavan is exerting its utmost to supply them. The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of the Indian culture in the light of modern knowledge and to suit our present day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.
Let me make our goal more explicit:
We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions which would allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities: we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the framework of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God, and is able to see Him in all and all in Him.
The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach.
In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modern, will be published in a form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.
This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate currents of world thought, as also the movements of the mind in India, which, though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration.
Fittingly, the Book University’s first venture is the Mahabharata, summarised by one of the greatest living Indians, C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita, by H. V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and a student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: "What is not in it, is nowhere." After twenty five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.
The Mahabharata is not as mere epic; it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival; but, above all, it has for its core the Gita, which is, as the world is beginning to find out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sagas in which the climax is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.
Through such books alone the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.
I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan’s activity successful.
There was a city named Dharanagar, the king of which was Gandharb Sen. He had four queens, and by them six sons, one more learned and more powerful than the other. Fate ruled: after some days the king died, and his eldest son, Shank by name, became king. Again, after some days, a younger brother, Vikram, after slaying his eldest brother, himself became king, and began to govern well. Day by day his dominion so increased that he became king of all India; and, after setting up his government on a firm basis, he inaugurated an epoch.
After some time the king thought that he ought to visit those countries of which he had heard.
Having decided on this, he made over his throne to his younger brother Bharthari, and himself assuming the guise of a devotee, set out to wander from land to land and forest to forest.
A Brahman was practising austerities in that city. One day a deity brought and presented to him the fruit of immortality. He then took the fruit home and said to his wife, “Whoever will eat this will become immortal; the deity told me this at the time of giving the fruit.” Hearing this the Brahman's wife wept excessively, and began to say "This is a great evil we have to suffer! For, becoming immortal, how long shall we go on begging alms? Nay, to die is better than this; if we die, then we escape from the trials of the world". Then the Brahman said, "I took the fruit and brought it; but hearing your words, I am bereft of understanding. Now I will do whatever you bid me do." Then his wife said to him, “Give this fruit to the king, and in exchange for it take wealth, whereby we may enjoy the advantages of this world as well as those of the world to come."
Hearing this, the Brahman went to the king and gave him his blessing; and after explaining the virtues of the fruit, he said, "Great king! If you take this fruit and give me some wealth, you will live long and I shall be happy". The king, having given the Brahman a lakh of rupees and dismissed him, entered the female apartments, and 'giving the fruit to the queen whom he loved most, said "O queen! Do eat this, for thou wilt become immortal, and wilt continue young for ever." The queen, hearing this, took the fruit from the king and he returned to his court.
A certain kotwal was the paramour of that queen: to him she gave the fruit. It so happened that a courtesan was the kotwal’s mistress; he gave the fruit to her and described its virtues. That courtesan thought to herself that the fruit was a fitting present for the king. Having determined on this, she went to the king, and presented the fruit. His majesty took the fruit and gave her much wealth; and contemplating the fruit, he became sick of the world, and began to say, “The perishable wealth of this world is of no use whatever; for through it one must ultimately fall into the pit of hell. Preferable to this is the practising of religious duties and the binding in the remembrance of the Deity, whereby it may be well in the future".
Coming to this conclusion, he entered the female apartments and asked the queen what she had done with the fruit he gave her. She replied, "I ate it up". Then the king showed the queen that fruit. She, setting her eyes on it, stood aghast, and was unable to make any reply. Then the king had the fruit washed and ate it, and abandoning his kingdom and throne, assumed the guise of a devotee, and betook himself to the jungle, unaccompanied and alone, without communicating his plan to anyone.
The throne of Vikram became vacant. When this news reached king Indra, he sent a demon to guard Dharanagar. He kept watch over the city day and night. To be brief, the report spread from country to country that king Bharthari had abandoned his government and gone away. King Vikrama, too, heard the news, and immediately came to his country. It was then midnight: he was entering the city at that hour, when the demon called out, "Who art thou? and whither goest thou? Stand still, and mention thy name". Then the king said, “It is I, king Vikram; I am entering my own city: who art thou to challenge me.” Then the demon replied, "The deities have sent me to guard this city: if you are really king Vikram, first fight with me, and then enter the city."
On hearing these words the king tightened his waistband and challenged the demon. Thereupon the demon, too, stood up to him. The battle began. At last the king threw the demon down and sat upon his breast. Then he said, "O king! thou hast brought me low; I grant thy life as a boon”. Upon this the king, laughing, said "Thou are gone mad; whose life does thou grant?" Did I will, I could slay thee; how canst thou grant me life?" Then the demon said, "O king! I am about to save thee from death; first attend to a tale of mine, and thereafter rule over the whole world free from all care." At length the king set him free, and began to listen attentively to his tale.
Then the demon addressed him thus:
"There was in this city a very liberal king, named Chandrabhan. One day he went forth casually into the jungle; When, what should he behold but an ascetic hanging, head downwards, from a tree, and sustaining himself by inhaling smoke alone — neither receiving anything from any one, nor speaking to any one. Perceiving this state of his, the king returned home and seating himself in his court, said, ‘whoever will bring this ascetic here shall, receive a lakh of rupees. A courtesan hearing these words, came to the king and spake thus: ‘If I obtain your majesty’s leave, I will have a child begotten by that ascetic and bring it here mounted on his shoulder’.
"The king was astonished to hear this speech, and binding the courtesan in fulfillment of her contract of bringing the ascetic, dismissed her by giving her a betel—leaf. She went to that wild region, and reaching the ascetic’s place perceived that he was really hanging head—downwards, neither eating nor drinking anything, and that he was withered up. In short, that courtesan prepared some sweetmeat and put it into the ascetic’s mouth: finding it sweet, he ate it up with zest. Thereupon, the courtesan offered more to his mouth. Thus for two days did she continue feeding him with a sweetmant, by eating which he gained a certain degree of strength. Then, opening his eyes, and descending from the tree, he inquired of her. ‘What business has brought thee hither'?
"The courtesan replied, ‘I am the daughter of a god; I was practising religious austerities in heaven; I have now come into this wild'. The devotee said again, ‘Where is thy hut? Show it to me.’ Thereupon, the courtesan brought the ascetic to her hut, and commenced feeding him with savoury viands, so that the ascetic left off inhaling smoke, and` took to eating food and drinking water daily. I Eventually Cupid troubled him, upon which he had carnal desire, which disturbed his austere practices; and the courtesan became pregnant. In ten months a boy was born, and when he was some months old, the courtesan said to the devotee, ‘O saint! You should now set out on a pilgrimage whereby all the sins of the flesh may be blotted out.’
‘De1uding him with such words, she mounted the boy on his shoulder and started for the king’s court, whence she had set out pledged to accomplish this. When she came before the king, his majesty recognised her from a distance and seeing the child on the shoulder of the devotee, began saying to the courtiers, ‘Just see! This is the very same courtesan who went to bring the devotee!’ They replied, ‘O king! You are quite right; this is the very same; and be pleased to observe that all that she had stated ir1 your majesty’s presence ere she set forth, has come to pass.’
“When the ascetic heard these remarks of the king and courtiers, he perceived that the king had adopted these measures to disturb his religious meditations. With these thoughts in his mind, the devotee returned from thence, and getting out of the city, slew the child, repaired to another jungle, and began to perform peanace. And after some time that king died, and the devotee completed his penance.
The short of the story is that you three men have been born under one asterism, one conjunction, and in one moment. You took birth in a king's house; the second was an oilman’s child; the third, the devotee, was born in a potter’s house. You still govern here, while the oilman’s son was the ruler of the infernal regions; but that potter, bringing his religious meditations to perfection, has killed the oilman, turned him into a demon in a burning ground and placed him hanging head downwards on a siris-tree, and is intent on killing you. If you escape him, you will rule. I have apprised you of all these circumstances; do not be careless with regard to them". Having narrated thus much, the demon departed and the king entered the private apartments in his palace.
When it was mom, the king came forth and took his seat on the throne, and gave the order for a general session of the court. As many servants as there were, great and small, all came and made their offerings in his presence, and festive music was played. An extraordinary gladness and rejoicing possessed the whole city, such that in every house, dance, music and songs filled the air. After this the king began to govern justly.
It is related that one day an ascetic, named Shantshil, appeared at the king's court with a fruit in his hand, and, presenting the fruit to the king, spread a cloth and sat down there. After a short while he went away. On his departure, the king thought that this was probably the person of whom the demon had spoken. Harbouring this suspicion. He did not eat the fruit, and, summoning the steward, he gave it to him, with instructions to keep it carefully. The devotee, however, came constantly in this same manner, and left a fruit every day.
It so happened that one day the king went to inspect his stable, accompanied by some attendants. During that interval the ascetic, too, arrived there, and presented the king with a fruit in the usual manner. He began tossing it in the air, when all of a sudden it fell from his hand on the ground, and a monkey took it up and broke it in pieces. So exquisite a ruby came out of it that the king and his attendants were astonished at the sight of its brilliance. Thereupon the king said to the devotee, "Why hast thou given me this ruby?"
On this he said, “O great king! It is written in the Shastras that one should not go empty-handed to the following places, viz., those of kings, spiritual teachers, astrologers, physicians and daughters, for at such places one obtains benefit for benefit. Sire! Why do you speak of a single ruby? As many fruits as I have given. you, every one of them contains a jewel." Hearing these words, the king asked the steward to bring all the fruits he had given to him. On receiving the king’s order, the steward immediately brought them; and, having had the fruits broken open, he found a ruby in each. As he saw so many rubies, the king was excessively pleased, and summoning a tester of precious stones got the rubies tested, saying the while, “Nothing will accompany one from this world; integrity is the great essential in the world; tell me honestly, therefore the exact value of each gem".
Hearing these words, the jeweller said, "O king! You have spoken the truth. He whose integrity is safe, his all is safe : integrity alone accompanies us, and it is that which proves of advantage in both the worlds. Hear, O king! Each gem is perfect as to colour, stone and form. Were I to declare the value of each to be a crore of rupees, even that would not come up to the mark. In sooth, each gem is worth a clime". Hearing this, the king was pleased beyond measure, and conferring a robe of honour on the jeweller, dismissed him; and taking the devotee’s hand, he brought and seated him on the throne, and began thus: "My whole realm is not worth even one of these rubies; tell me, then, what is the reason that you, a religious mendicant, have presented me with so many gems?"
The asetic said, "Your majesty! It is not proper to speak publicly of the following things, magic and incantations, drugs employed in medicines, religious duties, family affairs, the eating of impure meat, evil speech which one has heard — all these things are not spoken of in public; I will tell you in private. Attend! It is a rule that whatever is heard by three pairs of ears remains no secret; the words which reach two pairs of ears no man hears; while the contents of one pair of ears are unknown to. Brahman himself, not to - speak of man.” On hearing these words, the king took the devotee apart and said, “O holy man.! You have given me so many rubies, and have not once partaken of food even; you have put me to great shame! Let me know what it is you desire.” The ascetic said, “Sire! I am about to practise magic arts in a large cremation ground on the bank of the river Godavari, whereby I shall acquire supernatural powers, and so I beg of you to pass one whole night with me; by your presence near me my magic arts will succeed.” Then the king said, "Very well, I will come : leave word with me about the day”. The ascetic said, "Do you come to me armed and unattended, on Tuesday evening of the dark half of the month Bhadon." The king replied, "You may go; I will surely come, and alone.”
Having thus exacted a promise from the king and taken leave, he, for his part, went into a temple and made preparations, and taking all necessaries with him, went and fixed himself in a burning ground; while here the king began to ponder over what had happened. In the meantime, the moment for him to depart arrived. Upon this the king then and there girt his sword, tightened the cloth he wore between his legs, and betook himself alone to the devotee by night, and greeted him. The devotee requested him to be seated, whereupon the king sat down and then perceived goblins, evil spirits, and witches, in various frightful shapes, dancing around; while the ascetic, seated in the centre, was striking two skulls together to keep time. The king felt no fear or alarm on beholding this state of things; but said to the devotee, What command is there for me?" He replied, "O king! Now that you have come, do this: at a distance of two kos south of this place is a burning-ground, wherein is a siris-tree, on which a corpse is suspended; bring that corpse to me at once to this place, where I shall be performing my devotions.” Having despatched the king thither, he himself settled down in devotional attitude and. began muttering prayers.
For one thing, the darkness of the night was in itself terrifying; more than this, the down-pour of the rain was as unceasing as if it would rain right through the night: whilst the goblins and ghosts, too, were creating such an uproar that even daring heroes would have been agitated at the spectacle. The king, however, went on his way. The snakes, which kept coming and twining themselves about his legs, he disentangled by repeating incantations. At length, when after passing somehow or other over a perilous road, the king reached the burning—ground, he perceived that goblins were constantly seizing men and destroying them; witches continually munching the livers of children; tigers growling, and elephants screaming. In short, when he noticed the tree, he perceived that leaves and branches of it, from the root to the topmost twig, were burning furiously, while from all four sides arose a tumultuous cry of "Kill him! kill him! Seize him! Take care he does not escape!"
The king was not the least horrified on witnessing that state of things; but he said to himself, "It may or may not be so, but I am convinced this is the same devotee about whom the demon spoke to me." And having gone close and observed, he saw a corpse fastened by a string, and hanging head downwards. He was glad to see the corpse, thinking his trouble had been rewarded. Taking his sword and shield, he climbed the tree fearlessly, and struck such a blow with the sword that the rope was severed and the corpse fell down, and instantly began to weep aloud. On hearing his voice the king was pleased, and said to himself, "Well! This man at least is alive”. Then, descending, he enquired of him who he was. He burst out laughing as soon as he heard the question. The king was greatly astonished at this. Again the corpse climbed up the tree and suspended himself. The king, too, that instant climbed up, and clutching him under his arm, brought him down, and said, “Vile wretch! tell me who thou art.” He made no reply. The king reflected and said to himself, “Perhaps this is the very oilman whom the demon said the devotee had deposited in the place ‘where bodies are burnt”. Thus reflecting, he bound him up in his mantle and brought him to the devotee. The man who displayed such courage should be sure to succeed in his undertakings.
Then the ghoul said, ‘who art thou? And whither art thou taking me?” The king replied, “I am king Vikram, and am taking thee off to a devotee." He rejoined, "I will go on one condition: if thou utterest a word on the way, I will come straight back”. The king agreed to his condition and went off with him. Then the sprite said, "O king! Those who are learned, discerning and wise — their days are passed in the delight of song and the shastras, while the days of the unwise and foolish are spent in dissipation and sleaze. Hence, it is best that this long road should be beguiled by profitable converse: do you attend, O king! to the `story I relate."
Back of the Book
The STORIES OF VIKRAMADITYA are among the oldest collection of folk tales centering round the personality of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. First written in Sanskrit, a number of slightly differing versions are extant in all the major languages of India. The stories are most interesting.
The main purpose of these stories is to illustrate the generous deeds of a model king and emphasize moral lessons. In this light they are didactic, but in their ingenious plots, dramatic situations, portrayal of real life and correct appraisal of human character, they are superb. As the reader can easily notice, human nature has not changed a whit even after a thousand years at least.
The original authorship of these stories is unknown, even as their date; but they are generally believed to have originated during the period 11th to 13th centuries.
“Vetala Panchavimsati” or Twenty-five Tales of a Ghoul is a cycle of most absorbing tales related by a Ghoul. They were first published in the Bhavan’s Journal and proved very popular. A sister volume to these “Stories of Vikramaditya” has also been published in this series under the caption of “Simhasana Dwatrimsika.”
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