Betal, also known as Baital, is a character from an ancient collection of Indian tales called Baital Pachisi. The fantasy tale was originally written in Sanskrit and over the ages has been translated into English and numerous Indian languages.
Betal was a celestial spirit who resided in a forest. It would hang from a tree and inhabit dead bodies.
Legend has it that a sorcerer once approached King Vikramaditya, the brave emperor of Ujjain, and asked a favour from him to capture Betal, the celestial spirit. King Vikramaditya, agreed to honour the sorcerer’s wish. But the King could capture Betal on only one condition – Betal must be captured in silence, without uttering a word. On entering the forest, Vikramaditya manages to catch the celestial spirit and carries it through the forest on his back. While hanging on to the back of the King, Betal, blessed with knowledge and wisdom, started to narrate a story, at the end of which he asked a question to the King, urging him to solve the story’s puzzle, and thus break the King’s silence. King Vikram, also blessed with knowledge and wisdom, then, urged by Betal, solved the puzzle and broke his silence. On doing so, Betal, gaining its freedom, flew away into the forest and took to the trees. Thus, the whole process of catching Betal began all over again. Every time the King managed to get a hold of Betal, it started weaving another engrossing and complicated story. The cycle of catching and losing Betal continues for 24 times, each time involving a short puzzling story, until the 25th time when Betal’s question stumps King Vikramaditya into silence. Satisfied, the celestial spirit Betal allows itself to be taken to the sorcerer.
To understand and enjoy this tale in its entirety, and to know what happens after Betal’s capture and what these thought provoking short stories say, take the opportunity to grab a copy of Baital Pachisi or one of its numerous translated adaptations.
The tales of Vikram and Betal have entertained, educated, and passed on wisdom to children and adults throughout the ages, and continue to capture the imagination of millions in India.