Written by Imran Khan
Who is King Vikramaditya ?
A Comic Hero.
Vikramaditya (Sanskrit: विक्रमादित्य) (102 BCE to 15 CE) was a legendary emperor of Ujjain, India, famed for his wisdom, valour and magnanimity. The title “Vikramaditya” was later assumed by many other kings in Indian history, notably the Gupta King Chandragupta II and Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya (popularly known as ‘Hemu‘).
The legendary Vikramaditya is a popular figure in both Sanskrit and regional languages in India. His name is conveniently associated with any event or monument whose historical details are unknown, though a whole cycles of tales have grown around him. The two most famous ones in Sanskrit are Vetala Panchvimshati or ‘ (“The 25 (tales) of the Vampire”) and Simhasana-Dwatrimshika (“The 32 (tales) of the throne”). These two are found in varying versions in Sanskrit and also in the regional languages.
The tales of the vampire (Vetala) tell twenty-five stories in which the king tries to capture and hold on to a vampire that tells a puzzling tale and ends it with a question for the king. In fact, earlier the king was approached by a Sadhu to bring the vampire to him but without uttering a word, otherwise the vampire would fly back to its place. The king can be quiet only if he does not know the answer, else his head would burst open. Unfortunately, the king discovers that he knows the answer to every question; therefore the cycle of catching the vampire and letting it escape continues for twenty-four times till the last question puzzles Vikramaditya. A version of these tales can be found embedded in the Katha-Saritsagara.
The name Vikramaditya–Sun of Valour–is probably not a proper name, but a title like Pharaoh or Tsar. No doubt Kalidasa intended to pay a tribute to his patron, the Sun of Valour, in the very title of his play, Urvashi won by Valour.
THE MYSTERIOUS ORIGINAL KING VIKRAMADITYA
Whoever may not have heard of the “Vikram-Betal” stories, the fascinating tales about the great King Vikramaditya and Betal, the vampire? Was he a real king or was he only a legendary, imaginary figure? If anything gets my goat, it is the seamless intertwining of the two, the truth and fiction. Let us take this guy under our microscope. After all, very few human beings are known as creators of eras named after them! We all know about Vikram Samvat.
Somewhere in wikipedia, you find the date of King Vikramaditya as 102 BC to 15 AD, but in the same sentence it is mentioned that he was a legendary emperor of Ujjain, India, known for his wisdom, valour and magnanimity! Where does history end and legend start? I am flummoxed!
However, the Vikram Era that starts from 56 BC is not legend but is historical, and is real even today. That year marks the defeat of the invading Sakas (powerful Central Asian Tribes) by King Vikramaditya when Ujjain was invaded. The Vikram Samvat calendar is popular in Northern India and in Western India. It is a lunar calendar and the year starts with the day after the new moon in Chaitra. While the Government of India has adopted the Saka Calendar (starting 78 AD) for official purposes, the Government of Nepal has been officially following the Vikram Samvat, which they call Bikram Samvat. One must remember that the Saka Era (starting 78 AD) is a misnomer in a sense since really speaking it also celebrates the defeat of Sakas, at the hands of the Satavahana King Shalivahana in the year 78 AD. The Saka era is also called Shalivahana era.
The Saka people (also called Scythians) of Central Asia did however settle down in North India from 2nd century BC to 4th century AD, and they gave rise to Indo-Scythians. Sakas occupied and ruled Western India too and the rulers were called Western Satraps. Large sections of the Rajasthanis (kshatriyas) are descendants of the Sakas. There is an amazing combination of foreign blood in the Hindus. Similarly, sections of Rajasthanis and Gujaratis are also considered the descendants of the fierce, formidable and cruel Huna tribe (also called the Huns) of Central Asia which over-ran and ruled North India, under their leader Toramana and later his son Mihirakula in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. The two father and son Hun rulers were cruel to the subjects and particularly destroyed Buddhist cities, monuments etc. Mihirakula became a Hindu towards the end of his life.
Coming back to the ancient King Vikramaditya, we find accounts about him in “Katha-Sarit-Sagara” (meaning Ocean of Tales) written in Sanskrit by a Kashmiri Pundit called Soma Deva Bhatta in the middle of the 12th century AD. Soma Deva wrote it for the entertainment of Queen Suryamati, wife of King Anantdeva of Kashmir. It is said that it consisted of 350 stories in 18 books, 124 chapters, 21000 verses and prose too! This is the biggest compilation of Indian tales ever.
Accounts and stories about King Vikramaditya that are found in the Katha-Sarit-Sagara were written 1200 years after his time, and the problem will be one of what is history and truth and what is fiction and legend. There sure must be some admixture of both! The 25 stories of Vikram-Betal form part of the work, as also accounts of Vikramaditya’s life.
As per Katha-Sarit-Sagara, Vikramaditya was the son of King Mahendraditya of the Paramara Dynasty. However, the Paramara (also known as Pawar) Dynasty came into being around 800 AD only, founded by Upendra. The most significant Paramara Ruler was Bhoja I and the capital city was Dharanagara (present Dhar). Thus, the Ocean seems to be off the mark. However, the Betal story in the Katha-Sarit-Sagara does go with the original Vikramaditya of the first century BC!
“Bhavishya Purana” in verse form has a lot to say about the life of Vikramaditya. It is one of the major 18 Puranas and is said to have been written by Vyasa several centuries before Christ. The work literally means “History of the Future”. The Purana starts with the greatness of Shiva, Vishnu, Surya etc. It has uncannily predicted, believe it or not, the following – Jesus Christ, Muhammad, fall of Sanskrit, Chandragupta, Ashoka, Chaitanya, Akbar, Jaichandra, British Rule, Hitler etc. The events are written as having already taken place.
The following account owes itself to the “Bhavishya Purana” as for Vikramaditya, whom we may call Vikram here for brevity. Vikram’s father was Gandharvasena, son of Lord Indra. Are we not into myths here? Once, while Apsara Mohini was on her way to meet Siva on Mount Kailasa, Gandharvasena (Vikram’s father) happened to obstruct her way. Enraged at this, Lord Indra cursed him (his own son Gandharvasena) and turned him into a donkey with certain riders. We may omit portions regarding the donkey becoming a human again. Vikram was only 5 years old when he entered a penance for 12 years. He was bestowed with extraordinary power and insights. His elder brother Bhartuhari renounced his throne and the kingdom came to Vikram. King Vikram was known for justice, sagacity, wisdom, valour, charity and generosity.
I will not go into any aspect of the twenty five Vikram-Betal stories known as “Vetala Panchavimshati” which are fascinating to say the least. Some years ago, Doordarshan telecast the stories in a serial. I shall try to attempt a separate blog about the stories. There are also 32 stories relating to Vikramaditya Simhasan (throne) and they are called “Simhasana Dwatrimshika“. King Shalivahana of Paithan after whom Saka era is named, is said to be Vikram’s grandson.
KAABA AND KING VIKRAM:
Of late, an excitement has been aroused among the people with the alleged discovery of King Vikram’s inscription inside the Kaaba at Mecca. It is alleged that there is a Shiva lingam inside the Kaaba. Thus, Arabia came under the vast extent of King Vikram’s empire. Prophet Mohammad, it is said, took the crescent moon emblem for Islam from Shiva’s adornment. There are quite a few articles in the Net on this subject. However, the Net is hardly the place where you get to really read scientific or highly scholarly papers. I am personally unable to judge the authenticity of all the claims about Kaaba. The readers may throw light on this giving links.
The title “Vikramaditya” was adopted by some well-known kings of India in later times. Notable examples are the Gupta King Chandragupta the second Vikramaditya and Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya (also known as Hemu). The former, the great Gupta King, who was the son of Samudragupta, and who ruled from 375 to 413 AD, defeated the last king Rudrasimha III of the Shaka Satrap Dynasty in Gujerat and annexed that kingdom to his vast territory. Hemu (1501-56), the son of a Brahmin priest, became a trusted Army Chief and Prime Minister under the Suri Dynasty (Afghans). The Afghans (Suris) and Mughals (Babar and Humayun) were at loggerheads for the Delhi Throne. Hemu benefited by this and took the Delhi throne in 1556 for a short time and ruled as a Hindu Emperor after 350 years of rule by Muslims.
As far as Vikramaditya was concerned, the fiction part could be that he was Lord Indra’s grandson and that his father was turned into a horse for some time. Also, despite the loveliness of the Betal tales, the Betal communicating with Vikram is certainly an impossibility.
I took out my copy of “An Advanced History of India” by RC Majumdar and two others. It is a standard and advanced textbook used by History PG students. This is what the book says (at p.112, 4th edition):
“Some scholars attribute to Azes I the foundation of that reckoning commencing 58 BC which afterwards came to be known as Vikrama samvat., but the matter cannot be regarded as certain.Indian tradition ascribes to it an Indian origin. It (tradition) was handed down by the Malava tribe, and in the post-Gupta period came to be associated with the great Vikramaditya, the destroyer of the Sakas”.
For me the above skeletal passage is so disappointing! (Azes was a foreigner and how can Azes establish a Vikram era????)
So, Majumdar has totally neglected King Vikramaditya of the first century BC! He talks about indigenous origin, since Azes was a foreigner. This is the poor way our history is written!
Then I took out my copy of the “Oxford History of India” by Vincent Smith. On p.167 (4th edition), Smith says;
” Later in life, he (Chandragupta II ) took the additional title Vikramaditya (“Sun of Prowess’), which is associated by tradition with the Raja of Ujjain who is believed to have defeated the Sakas and established the Vikrama era in 58-57 BC. It is possible that such a Raja may really have existed, although the tradition has not been verified by the discovery of inscriptions, coins or monuments“.
I find Smith to be vastly better than Majumdar!
Is Kutub Minar (in Delhi) king Vikramadiya’s tower commemorating his conquest of Arabia.???
Kutub Minar did not EXIST at the time of Vikramiditya!
The Qutb Minar (also spelled Qutab or Qutub, Urdu: قطب
منار), a tower in Delhi, India, is at 72.5 meters the world’s tallest brick minaret. Construction commenced in 1193 under the orders of India’s first Muslim ruler Qutb-ud-din Aibak, and the topmost storey of the minaret was completed in 1386 by Firuz Shah Tughluq. The complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Delhi, and was also India’s most visited monument in 2006, as it attracted 3.9 million visitors, even more than the Taj Mahal, which drew about 2.5 million visitors more than the MAHA KUMBH mela.
If Kutub Minar was a Hindu atrominical tower as Oak claimed what about, the other towers present in undivided India ???
Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and wishing to surpass it, Qutbuddin Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, commenced construction of the QutbMinar in 1193, but could only complete its base. His successor, Iltutmish, added three more stories and, in 1386, Firuz Shah Tughluq constructed the fifth and the last story. The development of architectural styles from Aibak to Tughluq is quite evident in the minaret. Like earlier towers erected by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids in Afghanistan, the Qutb Minar comprises several superposed flanged and cylindrical shafts, separated by balconies carried on Muqarnas corbels.
The purpose for building this monument has been variously speculated upon. It could take the usual role of a minaret, calling people for prayer in the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, the earliest extant mosque built by the Delhi Sultans. Other possibilities are a tower of victory, a monument signifying the might of
Islam, or a watch tower for defense.
Oak says: Firstly, the inscription on the iron pillar near the so-called Kutub Minar refers to the marriage of the victorious king Vikramaditya to the princess of Balhika. This Balhika is none other than the Balkh region in West Asia. It could be that Arabia was wrestled by king Vikramaditya from the ruler of Balkh who concluded a treaty by giving his daughter in marriage to the victor.
BUT Balhika/ bahlika has nothing to do with either King Vikramaditya or Kutub Minar, it predates both. Bahlika finds mention in Atharvaveda, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas, Vartikka of Katyayana, Brhatsamhita, Amarkosha etc and in the ancient Inscriptions. The inhabitants of Bahlika were known as the Bahlikas. The other variations of Bahlika are Bahli, Balhika, Vahlika, Valhika, Bahlava, Bahlam/Bahlim, Bahlayana and Bahluva etc.
According to the Puranic traditions, Dhrshta was one of the nine sons of Manu. From him came a number of clans called Dharshtakas who were reckoned as Kshatriyas. According to Shiva Purana the Dharshtaka princes became rulers of Bahlika.
Satapatha Brahmana knows of a king named Bahlika Pratipeya whom it calls Kauravya (=Kaurava) . It has been pointed out that this Kaurava king is identical with Bahlika Pratipeya of Mahabharata.
According to Mahabharata evidence, the king of Bahlika was present at Syamantapanchaka at Kurukshetra on the occasion of a solar eclipse. Also the name ‘Bahlika Desa’ originates from the name of the middle son of King Pratipa of Hastinapura, Bahlika, who devoted his life to conquer these old Aryan territories in the Uttarapatha. Hence, being the elder to King Santanu, Bahlika was the paternal uncle of Bhishma and pre-dates him.
The King of Bahlika presented to Yudhishtra a golden chariot yoked with four white Kamboja studs at the time of Rajsuya ceremony (2.53.5).
OAK says; Secondly, the township adjoining the so called Kutub Minar is named Mehrauli after Mihira who was the renowned astronomer-mathematician of king Vikram’s court. Mehrauli is the corrupt form of Sanskrit ‘Mihira-Awali’ signifying a row of houses raised for Mihira and his helpers and assistants working on astronomical observations made from the tower.
Mehrauli, Which was earlier known as Mihirawali means Home of Mihir, was founded by the King Mihir Bhoja of the Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty. Mehrauli is one of the seven ancient cities that make up the present state of Delhi. The Lal Kot fort was constructed by the Gurjar Tanwar chief Anangpal I around AD 731 and expanded by AnangPal II in the 11th century, who shifted his capital to Lal Kot from Kannauj. The Gurjar Tanwars were defeated by the Chauhans in the 12th century. Prithviraj Chauhan further expanded the fort and called it Qila Rai Pithora. He was defeated in 1192 by Mohammed Ghori, who put his general Qutb-ud-din Aybak in charge and returned to Afghanistan. Mehrauli remained the capital of the Kanas dynasty which ruled until 1290. During the Khilji dynasty, the capital shifted to Siri.
I Challenge to show me a single proof from any authentic and proved historical database the existence of an Vikramaditya’s empire outside the Indian subcontinent as claimed by Mr P N Oak!
For those Interested in reading the fairy tales of Vikram and Betala here are the links :-