Vampires have always been hot entertainment. Not Latin or Greek, my next book is a translation from Sanskrit of classic vampire stories familiarly called Bikram Betaal as told to all children on the subcontinent, to be published in 2011 by Orchid Press, Bangkok. Sir Richard Burton’s history is a fascinating adventure in itself. Preview PDF for download. Enjoy!
King Vikram and The Vampire
Classic Indian Tales of Adventure, Magic and Romance
Baital-Pachisi, Twenty-Five Tales of a Baital, Vetala Panchvimshati
by Sage Bhavabuti
retold and abridged by Richard Francis Sir Burton
Edited by his Wife
Preface to the Thai Edition (2554)
by C.J. Hinke
“Les fables, loin de grandir les hommes, la Nature et Dieu, rapetssent tout.”
“One who had eyes saw it; the blind will not understand it.
A poet, who is a boy, he has perceived it; he who understands it
will be his sire’s sire.“–Rig-Veda (I.164.16).
Preface to the Thai Edition (2554) :
The dark of night
ALL societies and cultures worldwide have an oral tradition of ghost stories. These are most often told within the circle of the evening fire to instruct (and scare!) young children to respect and obedience. As books came to be written, ghost stories were copied to manuscripts and set to print.
However, it must be fair to say that Sage Bhavabuti’s 25 ghost stories, King Vikram and The Vampire, are some of the oldest extant examples. The hero of the stories, King Vikram, is thought to be Vikramāditya who ruled much of India (Bharat) in the first century BC.
The Burton translation into English selects 11 of the best chapters of Baital-pachisi (Hindi), sometimes transliterated “betal” or “betaal”, and “pacheesi”. In their original Sanskrit the stories are known as Vetala Panchvimshati. Baital or vetala are mythological undead fiends who occupy and animate corpses.
A great deal of the body of traditional literature from many cultures contains political and cultural commentary and criticism. Baital-pachisi is almost uncomfortably direct in its commentary on women and gender relationships. The stories are also remarkably direct commentary on the proper role, duties and conduct of kings no less applicable to modern Constitutional monarchies than to ancient Indian sultanates.
Although Sage Bhavabuti transcribed these original fables and legends in Sanskrit in the 8th century, Sir Richard Burton was not fluent in that language so it is thought that, because of the book’s Hindi title, he must have translated it from the Hindi language. It is unsurprising that Burton chose these stories for translation as they contains much of the indirect romantic, erotic and just plain weird the explorer thrived upon. Although European traders and explorers were known in ancient India, it is of particular interest that Bhavabhuti presaged the European occupation of India accomplished by the employment of modern weapons nearly a millennium before they occurred.
Burton’s fascination with all things sexual greatly influenced his later translations which were far more direct and even graphic than Baital-pachisi. His most famous translations include The Book of One Thousand Nights and a Night from the seventh- to 15th-century Persian and Sage Vātsyāyana’s Kama Sutra from the second-century Sanskrit.
Although history records 18 original Indian dialects, Sanskrit is thought to be more than 10,000 years old. The earliest recorded Sanskrit texts occur from about 2000 BC. Sanskrit (संस्कृता वाक् saṃskṛtā vāk, abbreviated to संस्कृतम् saṃskṛtam) is the classical, historical language of Indian culture and scholarship and forms the liturgy for both Hinduism and Buddhism. India itself is various called Aryavartta, Bharat Khanda or simply Bharat or Zambudwipa.
It remains one of the 22 official languages of India. As the daily spoken language of some Indian villages, only about 14,000 fluent speakers remain. In religious circles, however, there are nearly 50,000 fluent scholars. The Central Board of Secondary Education, which administers secondary certificates, offers Sanskrit in high schools and also offers it as a third official language, after Hindi and English, for examinations.
Sanskrit played an important role in the development of Western linguistics. Sir William Jones addressed the Asiatic Society in Calcutta (now spelled Kolkata) on February 2, 1786: “The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.”
The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit. The earliest scripture Rigveda is written in its most archaic form, with its oldest core dating back to at least 1500 BCE. This makes Rigvedic Sanskrit one of the oldest of any Indo-Iranian (Indo-Aryan) language. Sanskrit composes more than 50 % of modern Indo-Aryan and Indo-European language families.
Sanskrit mantras and slokas are recited by millions of Hindus and most temple functions are conducted entirely in Sanskrit, often in its Vedic form.
Sanskrit has also strongly influenced Sino-Tibetan languages to the north through the spread of Buddhist texts in translation. Mahayana Buddhism was spread to China by missionaries carrying the Buddha’s discourses as texts in both Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and classical Sanskrit, and many terms were transliterated directly and added to the Chinese vocabulary.
Although Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit is not actually proper Sanskrit, its grammar and vocabulary are substantially the same. Buddhist texts composed in classical Sanskrit were primarily found in philosophical schools such the Madhyamaka. In Tibet, many original Sanskrit texts survive only in Tibetan translation. These are found in the 225-volume Tanjur [also known as Bstan-hgyur], the first part composed of hymns and praises and the second and third composed of commentaries on the tantra and sutras, treatises, letters, dictionaries, grammars and even medical texts. Sanskrit also has influence on Chinese through Buddhist sutras. Chinese words like 剎那 chànà (Skt. क्षन kṣana ‘instantaneous period of time’) were borrowed from Sanskrit.
The Thai language contains many loan words from Sanskrit. For example, in Thai, Ravāna – the emperor of Lanka is called ‘Thosakanth’ which is a derivation of his Sanskrit name ‘Dashakanth’, meaning “of ten necks”).
Many Sanskrit loan words are also found in traditional Malay, modern Indonesian, and numerous Philippine languages, including almost 50% of Old Javanese and also, Vietnamese, through Sinified hybrid Sanskrit.
The grammar of classical Sanskrit was written down by the Indian scholar Pānini around the fourth-century BC. Sanskrit is the deep core of the cultures of South and Southeast Asia and bears similar relationship as Latin and Greek to the Romance languages. Of course, Sanskrit has significantly influenced the modern languages of India and Nepal.
The corpus of Sanskrit literature encompasses a rich tradition of poetry and drama as well as scientific, technical, philosophical and religious texts. Today, Sanskrit continues to be widely used as an ecclesiastical language in Hindu religious rituals in the forms of hymns (kirtan), mantras and prayers. Spoken Sanskrit is still used in some traditional institutions in India, and there is some enthusiasm for its more general revival.
Sanskrit scholar Sheldon I. Pollock compared Sanskrit to the “dead” language of Latin in an academic journal article, “The Death of Sanskrit” in 2001: “Both died slowly, and earliest as a vehicle of literary expression, while much longer retaining significance for learned discourse with its universalist claims. Both were subject to periodic renewals or forced rebirths, sometimes in connection with a politics of translocal aspiration… At the same time… both came to be ever more exclusively associated with narrow forms of religion and priestcraft, despite centuries of a secular aesthetic.”
Sir Richard Burton (1821–1890) was fascinated by Sanskrit as were other open-minded free thinkers since India was colonised by England at the beginning of the 17th-century. Burton led an extraordinary and gifted life as an English explorer, adventurer, translator, writer, soldier, Orientalist, ethnologist, linguist, poet, hypnotist, fencer and diplomat, more remarkable in a bygone age when travel was much more difficult. He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America as well as for his broad knowledge of languages and cultures. He spoke at least 29 European, Asian, and African languages.
Burton showed an early gift for languages and quickly learned French, Italian, Neapolitan and Latin, as well as several dialects. In his youth, he was rumoured to have had an affair with a young Roma (Gypsy) woman, and learned the rudiments of her language. Burton continued to gratify his love of languages by studying Arabic at Trinity College, Oxford, where he also spent his time learning falconry and fencing. His family’s fondness for foreign travel seems to have planted the seed for Burton to consider himself an outsider no matter where he was.
Burton enlisted in the army of the British East India Company and was posted to the 18th Bombay Native Infantry in Gujarat. In India he became a proficient speaker of Hindustani, Gujarati, Punjabi and Marathi along with Hindu culture and Persian and Arabic.
Burton’s fellow soldiers considered strange his interest (and active participation) in the cultures and religions of India. Many accused him of “going native” and called him a “White Nigger”. Burton’s peculiar habits set him apart from other soldiers. He kept a large menagerie of tame monkeys in the hopes of learning their language. He also earned the name “Ruffian Dick” for his “demonic ferocity as a fighter and because he had fought in single combat more enemies than perhaps any other man of his time.”
He was appointed to the Company’s Sindh survey, where he learned to use the equipment which later served him as an explorer. At this time he began to travel in disguise. He adopted the alias of Mirza Abdullah and often fooled local people and fellow officers into failing to recognise him. It is known that he participated in an undercover investigation of a brothel in Karachi said to be frequented by English soldiers where the prostitutes were young boys.
His life-long interest in sexual practices led him to produce a detailed report which was later to cause trouble for Burton when subsequent readers of the report (which Burton had been assured would be kept secret) came to believe that Burton had, himself, participated in some of the practices described in his writing.
His seven years in India gave Burton a familiarity with the customs and behaviour of Muslims and prepared him to attempt a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina) in 1853, which first made Burton famous. He travelled in disguise among the Muslims of Sindh, and prepared for the trip by study and practice (including being circumcised to further lower the risk of being discovered).
Burton was not the first non-Muslim European to make the Hajj which was first believed to have been made by Ludovico di Barthema in 1503. However, Burton’s pilgrimage is the most famous and the best documented.
He adopted various disguises including that of a Pashtun to account for any oddities in speech, but he still had to demonstrate an understanding of intricate Islamic ritual, and a familiarity with the minutiae of Eastern manners and etiquette. Burton’s trek to Mecca was quite dangerous and his caravan was attacked by bandits, a not-uncommon experience.
As he put it, although “…neither the Koran or Sultan enjoin the death of Jew or Christian intruding within the columns that note the sanctuary limits, nothing could save a European detected by the populace, or one who after pilgrimage declared himself an unbeliever.” The pilgrimage entitled him to the title of Hajji and to wear green head wrap. Burton’s own account of his journey is given in A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855).
In 1855, Burton travelled to the Crimea in Ukraine at the end of the Crimean War and explored East Africa to map the source of the Nile on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society from 1856 to 1860. He joined the Foreign Service in 1861 and, while consul to Fernando Po, the modern island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea, spent much of his time exploring West Africa.
Burton co-founded the Anthropological Society of London in 1863. In his own words, the main aim of the society (through the publication of the periodical Anthropologia) was “to supply travellers with an organ that would rescue their observations from the outer darkness of manuscript and print their curious information on social and sexual matters”.
In 1865, Burton was transferred to Santos in Brazil where he explored much of the central highlands by canoe. In 1869, he was appointed consul to Damascus in Syria because of his Middle Eastern language and cultural skills.
Burton’s writings fully express his interest in sex and sexuality. His travel writing is often full of details about the sexual lives of the inhabitants of areas he travelled through. He even made measurements of the lengths of the sexual organs of male inhabitants of various regions which he includes in his travel books.
Burton also describes sexual techniques common in the regions he visited, often hinting that he had participated, hence breaking both sexual and racial taboos of his day. However, Burton is said to have stated to a Catholic priest, “Sir, I’m proud to say I have committed every sin in the Decalogue”, known to Christians and followers of other Abrahamic religions as the Ten Commandments.
Burton had long had an interest in sexuality and erotic literature. However, the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 had resulted in many jail sentences for publishers, with prosecutions being brought by the Society for the Suppression of Vice. In order to circumvent the censors, he created the Kama Shastra Society to print and distribute books to its membership that would be illegal to publicly publish. Many people at the time considered the Kama Shastra Society and the books it published quite scandalous.
One of the most celebrated of all his books is his translation of the 16-volume The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885), (more commonly known in English as The Arabian Nights because of Andrew Lang’s abridged collection). The volumes were printed by Burton’s Kama Shashtra Society in a subscribers-only edition of one thousand with a guarantee that there would never be a larger printing of the books in this form. The stories collected were often sexual in content and were considered pornography at the time of publication. In particular, the Terminal Essay of the Nights was one of the first English language texts to dare address the practice of pederasty which he postulated was prevalent in an area of the southern latitudes named by him the “Sotadic zone”.
Rumors about Burton’s own sexuality were already circulating and were further incited by this work. However, Burton’s best-known translation is The Kama Sutra. He was, in fact, not the original translator as the original manuscript was in Sanskrit, a language in which he was not fluent. He collaborated on the work and provided translations from other manuscripts of later translations. His Kama Shashtra Society first printed the book in 1883 and numerous editions of the Burton translation are in print today.
His English translation from a French edition of the Arabic erotic guide The Perfumed Garden was printed as The Perfumed Garden of the Cheikh Nefzaoui: A Manual of Arabian Erotology (1886). After Burton’s death, his wife Isabel (nee Arundell, 1831-1896) burnt many of his papers, including a manuscript of a subsequent translation, The Scented Garden, containing the final chapter of the work, on pederasty. Burton had intended for this translation to be published after his death, to provide an income for his widow and as a final gesture of defiance against Victorian society.
Burton penned more than 50 travelogues, translations and cultural monographs, as well as a great number of articles for journals and periodicals, many of which have never been catalogued. All of Burton’s known works, including journal articles, have been collected in PDF facsimile format for free download at http://burtoniana.org, a fabulous fan-base, reference and textual repository.
He was awarded a knighthood by Queen Victoria in 1886. Burton died in Trieste, then part of Austria-Hungary in 1890.
On Burton’s return journey from Mecca, he composed The Kasidah (1880) patterned after The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام, circa 1100 AD) which has been cited as proof of his conversion to Sufism. The poem (and Burton’s notes and commentary on it) contain layers of Sufic meaning, and seem to have been designed to project Sufi teaching in the West.
Nothing speaks clearer of the great adventurer’s life, unconstrained by society’s censors, than this verse from The Kasidah:
“Do what thy manhood bids thee do
from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies
who makes and keeps his self-made laws”
Such is the fascinating history of King Vikram and The Vampire. I hope you relish and enjoy the discoveries of these ancient stories as I did. They are made to make you shiver in the dark of night…
This book, and its vampire, is fondly dedicated
to my daughter
Sally Atchara :
her mother is Kali,
she calls serpents with her fiddle
and loves ghost stories around the campfire…