List of Vetala Tales

Vetala Tales [1] is a popular collection of stories from India of unknown age and antiquity, but predating the 11th century CE. It exists in four main Sanskrit recensions (revisions). In addition, there also exists many modern translations into Indian and other vernaculars.

The collection consists of a series of unrelated tales, all told within the context of a frame story similar to Scheherezade's in Arabian nights. The exact content of the frame stories varies between versions, but always involves the core element of King Vikramaditya carrying a dead body to a yogi or holy man in a cemetery. The body is subsequently possessed by a Vetala (a predatory undead spirit in Hindu mythology, who tells Vikramaditya the tales contained in the narrative to pass the time, and then subsequently aids him in thwarting the yogi's nefarious scheme in the conclusion of the story. Unlike the Panchatantra, whose recensions and translations sometimes vary greatly (see List of Panchatantra Stories for a tabulated comparison), the overall content and structure of the Vetala Tales has remained relatively stable (though exhibiting many minor differences).

Versions compared

For additional bibliographic information, see Baital Pachisi.

  • Ks = Kshemendra: Brhatkathamanjari (c. 1037) — Sanskrit verse version of the "Northwestern" Brihatkatha; includes the Vetala Tales.
  • So = Somadeva: Kathasaritsagara (c. 1070) — Sanskrit verse version of the "Northwestern" Brihatkatha; includes the Vetala Tales in Book 12.
  • Ry = Arthur W. Ryder: Twenty-two Goblins (1917) — English translation of most of Somadeva's Vetala Tales text.
  • vB = J. A. B. van Buitenen: "The King and the Corpse" in Tales of Ancient India (1959) — English translation of about half of Somadeva's Vetala Tales text.
  • Ja = Jambhaladatta: Vetālapañcavinśati (11th- to 14th-century) — Sanskrit recension. (* indicates stories Emeneau considers to have been in Jambhaladatta's original text, but do not appear in the Bengali recension, which defines his edition.[2])
  • Ne = Newari version — Nepali version apparently based on Jambhaladatta, noted by Emeneau.
  • Si = Sivadasa: Vetālapañcavinśatika (11th- to 14th-century) — The Sanskrit recension that most modern translations ultimately derive from.
  • La = Lallu Lal: Buetal Pucheesee (1805) — Translation into Literary Hindi, deriving ultimately from Sivadasa. Frequently edited, reprinted, and translated (often as Baital Pachisi).
  • Ta = Tamil version — Noted by Penzer, but without specifying its derivation.
  • Bu = Sir Richard Francis Burton: Vikram and the Vampire (1870) — A loose retelling, based on the Hindi. Here, decimals indicate elements of multiple source stories combined within one Burtonian story.


The table below compares the content and order of tales in these versions. The frame story is never numbered, but sometimes the conclusion of the frame story is numbered, sometimes not; where it is not it is indicated with a decimal (e.g. "25.2") in the table.

Tale Ks[3] So[4][5] Ry[6] vB[7] Ja[8] Ne[9] Si[10] La[11] Ta[12] Bu[13]
How the prince obtained a wife111111111
Three young brahmans2221222226.2
King and two wise birds333333462
Adventures of Viravara444444373
Somaprabha and three suitors655665546.1
Lady and the changed heads7662876659
King's dependent and the nereid87778888
Three fastidious men58835523233
Anangarati and four suitors99999774.1
(Tamil story 9)9
Madanasena's rash promise1010101099104.2
Three very sensitive wives1111104111110101110
King Yasahketu and his wife121211*111112
Harisvamin and his bad luck1313121212121216
Merchant's daughter and thief141413*231313175
Magic pill151514513131414188
Sacrifice of Jimutavahana1616152424151519
Beautiful Unmadini17171661414161620
Brahman's son and magic power1818171515171713
The thief's son1919716161818
Brahman boy's sacrifice20201881717191921
Anangamanjari and Kamalakara2121191818202014
Four brothers and the lion222220919192121157
Hermit who wept and danced232321102020222222
How four merchant princes fared with the courtesan2121
How Muladeva obtained a bride for Sasideva2222
The ogre who ravaged King Arimaulimani's kingdom23
(Tamil story 23)23
Hermit who wept and danced (repeated)24
Father and son marry mother and daughter242422.

Frame story

The elements of the frame story vary significantly between versions, and the logical or narrative connections between them are not always made clear.

Sanskrit and Hindi frames

Transfers of throne and fruit

King Gandharvasena (father of Vikramaditya) dies. His 1st son, Shank, succeeds, but is killed by the 2nd son, Vikramaditya, who succeeds to the throne. However, Vikramaditya goes abroad, consigning the throne to the 3rd son, Bharthari. Then follows the episode of the Fruit of Immortality: the fruit gets passed around, its trail revealing conflicting loyalties; because of this, Bharthari becomes despondent and vacates the throne. Indra sends a demon to guard the city, but Vikramaditya returns to regain the throne and subdues the demon. The demon narrates the story of "Three sons" (below) to Vikramaditya.

This narrative does not occur in any of the Sanskrit recensions. It begins Lāl's Hindi translation, and has a close analogue in the Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya (Simhāsana Dvātriṃśikā). Burton includes it in his introduction.

Three sons

A) A king comes across an ascetic absorbed in supernatural meditation. Out of pique the king decides to disturb the ascetic, and sends a harlot to seduce him. She succeeds and eventually brings the ascetic and his son to the city, at which point the ascetic realizes he has been tricked out of his merit. In anger he kills his child.

B) This leads (it is not explained how) to the birth of 3 children in the same city at the same time with linked destinies: the sons of a king, a potter, and an oil merchant. The potter's son kills the oil merchant's son.

This narrative occurs in Sivadasa and Lāl. Only in Lāl is it made clear that the king's son is Vikramaditya, the potter's son is the yogi (of the subsequent section), and the oil merchant's son is the body inhabited by the Vetala. In his conclusion, Jambhaladatta has the Vetala narrate his own previous history which is somewhat related to part B, but with a very different overall story. Burton has Indra's giant tell part B, then part A which occurs subsequently (the ascetic here being the yogi himself).

Yogi and Vetala

Every day, a yogi (Kṣāntiśīla in many versions) brings a fruit to Vikramaditya which he passes off to an attendant or minister. One day the fruit is accidentally broken open in the king's presence, revealing a priceless jewel. Investigation reveals that all the fruits likewise contained jewels. Vikramaditya questions the yogi who states that he intends to perform rites in a cremation-ground and asks the king to join him on a certain night. Vikramaditya agrees. When he does so, the yogi asks him to bring him a certain dead body hanging from a tree in another nearby cremation-ground. The body turns out to be inhabited by a vetala, who decides to pass the time on the way back to the yogi by telling tales.

This narrative occurs in all 4 Sanskrit recensions, as well as most other versions.


After the Vetala is done telling his tales, he helps Vikramaditya by predicting the yogi's treachery, and explaining a ruse by which he can avoid it. Vikramaditya finally succeeds in bringing the body to the yogi, and just before the end of the rite, tricks and kills the yogi. Vikramaditya then generally receives great power and specific boons (including that this very story achieve great renown).

This narrative occurs in all 4 Sanskrit recensions, as well as most other versions. The power and boons are attributed to different sources in different versions, e.g. a result of the rite itself (Sivadasa), gandharvas (Sivadasa), Indra (Lāl), Shiva (Somadeva), a goddess (Jambhaladatta).

An abbreviated version of "Yogi and Vetala" and the Conclusion is given as the 31st of the Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya (Simhāsana Dvātriṃśikā).

Other frames

The beginning of the Tamil version mirrors the frame story of the Katha-sarit-sagara, in that the Vetala is actually a Brahmin, cursed for repeating Shiva's tale — the Vetala Tales in fact — which the Vetala must now repeat until someone (Vikrama) can solve their riddles.[14]

Tibetan and Mongolian versions also exist in which not only the frame story, but also the component tales, are quite different.[15]


  1. (Sanskrit: वेतालपञ्चविंशति, IAST: vetālapañcaviṃśati "Vetala's 25 stories"; Hindi: Baital Pachisi "Baital's 25 [stories]". Numerous English titles include Twenty-five Tales of a Demon (and similar titles using instead "Sprite" or "Genie" or "Ghost" or "Goblin") and Vikram and the Vampire. Vetala Tales is used here as a designation for the collection in general, without reference to a specific version.
  2. "[T]he assumption is justified that the [original] Jambhaladatta text contained the disturbing number of 27 stories." (Emeneau 1934, p xvi.)
  3. Emeneau 1934, p xv.
  4. Penzer 1927, p 264.
  5. Emeneau 1934, p xv.
  6. Ryder 1917.
  7. Van Buitenen 1959, p 259-60.
  8. Emeneau 1934, p xv.
  9. Emeneau 1934, p xv.
  10. Emeneau 1934, p xv.
  11. Penzer 1927, p 264.
  12. Penzer 1927, p 264.
  13. Burton 1893.
  14. Penzer 1926, pp 231-232.
  15. Penzer 1926, pp 241-246.


  • Burton, Richard F. (1893) [1870], Vikram & the Vampire; or Tales of Hindu Devilry (Memorial ed.), London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
  • Emeneau, M. B., ed. (1934), Jambhaladatta's version of the Vetālapañcavinśati, American Oriental Series, 4, New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society
  • Haksar, A.N.D. (1998), Simhāsana Dvātriṃśikā: Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya, Penguin
  • Penzer, N. M. (1926), The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney's Translation of Somadeva's Katha Sarit Sagara, VI, London: Chas. J. Sawyer
  • Penzer, N. M. (1927), The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney's Translation of Somadeva's Katha Sarit Sagara, VII, London: Chas. J. Sawyer
  • Rajan, Chandra (1995), Śivadāsa: The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie, Penguin Books
  • Ryder, Arthur W. (1917), Twenty-two Goblins, London: J. M. Dent & Sons
  • Van Buitenen, J. A. B. (1959), Tales of Ancient India, University of Chicago Press
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