The Five and Twenty Tales of the Genie
  • The Five and Twenty Tales of the Genie

  • Half mythical, heroic and sagacious, the emperor Vikramaditya is widely regarded as India's greatest monarch. This collection of stories tells of the ruler's fabled encounter with a vetala, a genie who inhabits the body of a corpse. The emperor begs the spirit for his help against a mighty necromancer and is told in return twenty-four tales, each of which presents a situation he might face as a king and culminates in a riddle that he must solve. With each answer, Vikramaditya displays his deep wisdom, proving himself to be the ideal monarch and winning, in the twenty-fifth tale, the guidance he needs from the vetala to destroy his powerful enemy. Written down in medieval times but inspired by an oral tradition stretching back centuries, these wise and witty tales rank amongst the great masterpieces of Sanskrit literature.

There are no biographical details available for Sivadasa, the author of The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie. From a careful reading of the text, however, we can glean the following facts: Sivadasa was a man of great learning, even erudition; he wrote primarily for a certain type of reader-the gallants,well-educated, cultivated men-about-town with a keen interest in the fine arts and beautiful women, Sivadasa's text is often humorous; he is gently critical and takes a shot at pomposity, pretentiousness and sanctimonious hypocrisy. He poses problems that tease the reader into thought, making his work more than just a retelling of an ancient body of tales.

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