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Nilima Sinha

A Project of Dipavali Sen
Year 2015, pp. 232, Rs.399.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 11 November 2016

We have all read stories about Vikram and Vetal, in various forms and versions, and more specially, in the Amar Chitra Katha. Dipavali’s book, based on the same stories, might have given the feeling that it is the same old stuff once again. But the refreshing way in which she has handled the subject makes the book a real pleasure to read. She has treated the familiar mythology by ‘both abridging and expanding’ the original, and writing it in a modern style while staying close to its Sanskrit text. The Sanskrit names are always followed by words that explain the meaning of the names. For example the meaning of the names Gunashekhara, Indulekha, Dharmadhavaja, Abhayachandra are given as ‘virtuous’, ‘crescent moon’, ‘super-righteous, and ‘unafraid’, respectively. The explanations add a colourful touch and provide a better understanding of the character’s personality. In most versions of the Vikram Vetal saga, only the stories are presented, one by one, as told to King Vikram by the Vetal. At the end of each story a question is put to the King who gives a wise and correct answer. As soon as he does so the Vetal flies back to his perch on the tree and the King is forced to fetch him once again. Not much is known about the context in which the stories are told. What happens before or after often remains brief or unexplained. Dipavali, however, begins with an introduction which relates the story from the very beginning. It is a long and complicated narration that takes many pages in the telling. It explains the story of Aditya, the original character who becomes a mendicant in his attempt to attain the eight ‘siddhis’ or attainments that would make him the most powerful person on earth. Centuries later, after a long series of strange and fantastic incidents, it is King Vikramaditya, born as part of the mendicant, who succeeds in attaining the eight ‘siddhis’. He does so with the help of the spirit, ‘vetal’, who dwells in a dead body hanging on the branch of a tree. Stories within stories, leading from one to another, can become quite puzzling for the ordinary reader. But curiosity impels the reader to carry on till the mystery is solved and a satisfactory end is reached, that is, the King has gained the Eight Attainments that make him the most powerful person on earth. ...

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