The capital of Ujjain was known far and wide for its prosperity. Crime rates were low and people’s problems were heard and resolved. Such prosperity prevailed in King Vikramaditya’s rule. Every morning, before sitting on the throne, he interacted with the common people and paid heed to their problems.
During one such morning, a sage gave him a fruit. Vikram accepted it and then continued meeting other people. The next day, the sage gave him another fruit, and Vikram again accepted it. This kept on happening day after day.
One day, Vikram grew suspicious of the sage’s gift. He cut the fruit he received that day into two perfect halves. To his surprise, the center was filled with priceless jewels. He ordered his treasures to cut the other fruits, and indeed, jewels poured out of them too.
The next day when the sage visited again with a fruit in his hand, Vikram confronted him, “There isn’t a reason for me to accept these precious jewels, please take them back. Instead, tell me the reason behind all of this.” The sage folded his hands to pay his respects to Vikram. He said, “My Lord, I wanted to get your attention because what I want to tell you may not be easy for me to say and for you to hear. I need your braveness for a spiritual goal. If you are willing to help me, come to the forest… alone. I will wait for you under the Banyan tree.”
Vikram found everything about this conversation very odd, but promised the sage that he will be there. That night when Vikram arrived at the forest, the sage was waiting for him and told him, “O great king, go south and you shall find a burial ground at the end of the forest. There lies an old Tamarind tree on which a corpse hangs upside down. I want you to bring that corpse to me so that I can complete my spiritual goal.” Vikram abides by the sage’s request. A promise is a promise.
Vikram reached the burial ground and found the corpse. He climbed up the tree and cut the rope that held it. The corpse fell on the ground with a thud and suddenly a wild laughter filled the silent forest. Vikram went to pick up the corpse, but it suddenly came back to life. The corpse struggled out of Vikram’s grip but Vikram was strong, he picked up the alive corpse and placed him on his shoulders and began walking out the graveyard.
The corpse told Vikram, “I knew the sage would put you up to this task. I know who you are Vikram. I know you have the power to defeat Indra and in front of that, I am just merely Betaal. I won’t try to escape you but we have to cover a long journey, so why don’t I keep telling you stories. But there are some conditions. At the end of the tale, I will ask you a question, if you don’t know the answer, I will come along with you. If you know the answer but still don’t utter a word, then your head will blow up into pieces and if you answer, I will fly back to the lair because I won’t be able to help it” Vikram found this condition quite bearable and silently agreed. And thus started the saga of Betaal’s stories.