All our scriptures, including the great epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata) were carried forward in an oral tradition – with Sanskrit as the medium, and hence preserved for thousands of years. They were all the form of stories – for the need to narrate has been as old as civilisation itself. In later periods, kathakaars, or storytellers, wandered from village to village, carrying with them a bag of tales that entertained the young and old alike. The stories of the Pañcatantra and Hitopadeśa later went on to be translated into Persian, then Arabic, and then reached the Western world. Historians also attribute the source of Aesop’s Fables to the katha parampara of the East.
This oral tradition then continued into the evolution of dance, music, art and theatre – thus weaving together a rich legacy of the learning tradition.
Stories engage the listener, entertain them, and open the doors to vivid imagination. The best way to learn, is through a story. The kid in you will vouch for that, but the adult inside you looks for a certificate:)
And so here is a story for you. Its from वेतालपञ्चविंशति (Vetāla Panchavimshati) or what is more commonly known as the Vikram Betal stories. If you need more, I have all 25 of them, and you can read them here.
The fourteenth story
The thief and the merchant’s daughter
स त्रिविक्रमसेनो ऽथ गत्वा तं शिंशपातरोः ।
भूयो ऽप्य् आसाद्य वेतालं स्कन्धे जग्राह भूपतिः ॥ १२,२१.१ ॥
प्रस्थितं च तम् उर्वीशं स वेतालो ऽभ्यधात् पुनः ।
राजञ् श्रान्तो ऽसि तच् चित्रां कथाम् आख्यामि ते शृणु ॥ १२,२१.२ ॥
King Vikram went back to the tree, and bringing down the Vetāla, placed him across his shoulders and started to walk back.
The Vetāla said to the king “O king, you seem to be tired. So here is a story to refresh you!”
अस्त्य् अयोध्येति नगरी राजधानी बभूव या ।
रक्षःकुलकृतान्तस्य रामरूपस्य शार्ङ्गिणः ॥ १२,२१.३ ॥
तस्यां राजाभवद् वीरकेतुर् नाम ररक्ष यः ।
क्षोणीम् इमां महाबाहुः प्राकारो नगरीम् इव ॥ १२,२१.४ ॥
तस्मिन् महीपताव् अस्यां पुर्याम् एको महावणिक् ।
रत्नदत्ताभिधानो ऽभूद् वणिङ्नीवहनायकः ॥ १२,२१.५ ॥
नन्दयन्त्यभिधानायां पत्न्यां तस्योदपद्यत ।
सुता रत्नवती नाम देवताराधनार्जिता ॥ १२,२१.६ ॥
सा च तस्य पितुर् वेश्मन्य् अवर्धत मनस्विनी ।
रूपलावण्यविनयैः सहैव सहजैर् गुणैः ॥ १२,२१.७ ॥
यौवनस्थां च तां तस्माद् रत्नदत्तान् न केवलम् ।
महान्तो वणिजो यावद् राजानो ऽपि ययाचिरे ॥ १२,२१.८ ॥
सा तु पुंद्वेषिणी नैच्छद् भर्तारम् अपि वासवम् ।
प्राणत्यागोद्यता सेहे न विवाहकथाम् अपि ॥ १२,२१.९ ॥
तेन तस्याः पिता तूष्णीं तस्थौ वात्सल्यदुःस्थितः ।
स च प्रवादो ऽयोद्यायां तस्यां सर्वत्र पप्रथे ॥ १२,२१.१० ॥
There exists a city named Ayodhyā, which was once the capital of Sri Rāma, the avatār of Viṣṇu and the annihilator of the Rākṣasas.
In this city, many many years back, lived a mighty king named Vīraketu. He was the most powerful ruler in Bhāratvarsha in those times.
In the same city, there lived a very prosperous merchant named Ratnadatta. He had a wife named Nandayantī, and from her a daughter named Ratnavatī.
Ratnavatī had been born after a lot of difficulty, and penance, and so Ratnadatta and his wife pampered their daughter a lot as she grew up.
And Ratnavatī did grow up to be very beautiful and intelligent. Her beauty was the talk of the town and not only did many big merchants, but also many great kings, asked her hand in marriage.
But there as a problem. Ratnavatī hated all men, she could not stand the sight of them. She told her father that even if the king of the devas, Indra, came to ask her hand in marriage, she would refuse.
This made her father very unhappy, and this news too became the talk of the town.
अत्रान्तरे सदा चौरैर् मुष्यमाणाः किलाखिलाः ।
संभूयात्र नृपं पौरा वीरकेतुं व्यजिज्ञपन् ॥ १२,२१.११ ॥
नित्यं मुष्यामहे चौरै रात्रौ रात्राव् इह प्रभो ।
लक्ष्यन्ते ते च नास्माभिस् तद् देवो वेत्तु यत् परम् ॥ १२,२१.१२ ॥
इति पौरैः स विज्ञप्तो राजा ताम् अभितः पुरीम् ।
तस्करान्वेषणे छन्नान् आदिशद् रत्रिरक्षकान् ॥ १२,२१.१३ ॥
ते ऽपि प्रापुर् न यच् चौरान् पुरी सामुष्यतैव च ।
तदैकदा स्वयं राजा निशि स्वैरं विनिर्ययौ ॥ १२,२१.१४ ॥
एकाकी चात्तशस्त्रो ऽत्र भ्रमन् सो ऽपश्यद् एकतः ।
एकं प्राकारपृष्टेन यान्तं कम् अपि पूरुषम् ॥ १२,२१.१५ ॥
सशङ्कलोलनयनं पश्यन्तं पृष्टतो मुहुः ॥ १२,२१.१६ ॥
अयं स नूनं चौरो मे मुष्णात्य् एकचरः पुरीम् ।
इति मत्वैव निकटं स तस्योपययौ नृपः ॥ १२,२१.१७ ॥
There came a time when some thieves became active in the city. There were robberies in many houses, and so in due course, many subjects complained to the king…
“We are being robbed almost daily now, and have been unable to catch these thieves. And so we request you to help us!”
King Vīraketu immediately called his soldiers and asked them to start to make rounds at night, in plainclothes, in order to spot, and catch the thieves.
Many nights passed this way, but the soldiers were not able to make any headway, and the robberies continued unabated.
One night, frustrated with the non-performance of his soldiers, the king himself went out at night, in plainclothes.
He roamed about the quiet streets for many hours, without avail.
Then, as he turned into a corner, he noticed a shadow climbing up a wall. There was a lot of dexterity and agility in his movements, and he made his way across the top of the wall, without a sound.
The figure often turned around and was on the lookout. “This is surely the thief that everyone has been searching for”, thought the king to himself, as he approached the figure, his hand on his sword, ready to strike at any moment.
Suddenly, the thief turned around and…
to be continued…