Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dark was the night and weird the atmosphere...

Dark was the night and weird the atmosphere­­­­­. It rained from time to time; gusts of wind shook the trees. Between thunderclaps and the moaning of jackals could be heard the eerie laughter of spirits. Flashes of lightning revealed fearsome faces.

For those wondering where they have come across these lines, Chandamama it is, in the new tales of Vikram and Vetal that they featured for several decades and still continue. I loved the colorful delineation in paragraph mentioned above and had almost mugged it up! I have a collection that dates back from 1976 till around 1996 and I particularly looked forward to reading these stories in every issue that I had hoarded through subscriptions and old ‘raddiwalas’ (waste/old paper buyers and sellers). 

Vikram and Vetal (Vampire) has for long enamored generations of Indians with stories of wit, mystery and stimulation of those grey cells. The courageous King Vikramaditya sought to dislodge a vampire from his hideout in an eerie jungle replete with ghosts, jackals, and several monsters and deliver him to a tantric to fulfill a promise. The Vetal turned out to be loquacious, and he made a deal with Vikramaditya – If the King could answer his questions after listening to a story he narrated during the walk, then the Vetal would fly back to his original hideout. If he could not or did not, then he would stick around.

A page from Chandamama
The stories were particularly interesting revolving around kings, queens, commoners, princesses and a host of issues – ethics, morals, love, courage, dishonesty etc.  The conundrum at the end of each story was particularly thought provoking and the King usually had his quick correct answer ready which he blabbered out which had the Vetal laughing all the way back to the tree!
The original tales which are 24 in number are as old as older than the 11th century –incorporated in the Kathā-Sarit-Sāgara ("Ocean of the Streams of Story"), which is a work in Sanskrit compiled by Somadeva. Sir Richard Francis Burton adapted these stories in his translated English compilation of 11 tales in his largely fictitious work Vikram and the Vampire. I recently read this adaptation and found it to be highly intriguing and I almost thought I was reading the original stories. Next on my reading list would be the more original 22 Goblins by Arthur W Ryder.
The King did not continue his cycle of walking up and down with the Vetal for eternity like I once used to think seeing the Chandamama tales never ended! The last or the 24th story had him befuddled with this one tale.  In a kingdom ravaged by war, a man married a princess and his son married her mother, the queen and they had kids. The question to King Vikramaditya was – ‘What is the relationship between the children?’ The discombobulated relationship flummoxed the King and he was unable to answer this question resulting the end of his ordeal and delivering the vampire to the evil tantric.  The evil tantric had hatched a plan to slay the King but was finally outsmarted by clever King Vikramaditya. With this the tales of Vikram and Vetal concluded originally, but like most hallowed classics the legacy lives on with more tales being concocted around the same lines in books and on television.

PS - I was delighted recently to see all the old Chandamamas archived on their website http://www.chandamama.com/archive/storyArchive.htm Loved those enthralling folktales and stories then, loved them now again.


  1. Awesome post, i read lot stories about Vikram and vetal.Thanx for d link.I relished Vikram-vetal's stories in Hindi.Never read in english. :)

  2. Even I had read the stories of Vikram & Vetal when I was a kid ( now 55 years). The illustration shown in the blog was same at 'that' time too. There was a TV serial named 'Vikram Aur Vetal' in mid 80s which too was a hit ( later the hero Arun Govil who played Vikramaditya went on to play role of Rama in Ramanand Saagar's popular epic Ramayan).

  3. I used to watch the show on television as a small kid but never did read any book on it. I loved the tales, they were very interesting and witty. I never had any clue that there are only 24 stories of it, dating back to the 11th century! Would love to go through the book you mentioned someday.. Many Thanks for sharing all the info and the link.

  4. @Nickymax007 - thanks. Chandamama in its several languages was certainly a boon!

    @Baba - I am sure kids right from the 11th century reveled in these tales! I think I used to watch that program, but don't remember it much.

    @Arti - Do read the Richard Burton book. It indeed was a captivating read.

  5. Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories of childhood, Richa. I bored my colleagues at work with talk of chandamama and champak and parag after reading your post. And thank you even more for providing the link to chandamama's archives. :-)

  6. @Sudhagee - enjoy the Chandamamas!I still love browsing through them.

  7. I will forward the link to my elder sister who introduced me to chandamama when I was a kid. Loved them and had a huge collection in Tamil but then constant shifting of houses made sure they were lost somewhere along the way. I can now renew the acquaintance albeit in English.

  8. @zephyr - the chandamama archives certainly brought back several stories and memories!

  9. That was a nice trip down the years gone by. Thanks for the link: I'm off to the Past!