Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie by Sivadasa

Despite the overall darkness of the frame story - the acrid stench of the cremation grounds, an ascetic who brutally murders a child he has had with a courtesan, a necromancer seeking mastery over the world, and a decaying corpse inhabited by a genie, telling tales to an emperor - the stories in this volume are court tales of romantic love and crossed destinies, magical yogis and fairy brides, wise kings and wiley tricksters. These tales haved a real charm about them, and reflect a rich oral tradition masterfully compiled by the medieval poet Sivadasa.

Each of the tales told by the genie are designed to test the wisdom of the legendary emperor Vikramaditya, who is called upon at the conclusion of each story to pass judgement regarding the actions of those within the story. As the tales progress, the emperor gains the trust and admiration of the genie, who ultimately reveals how Vikramaditya can vanquish the sorcerer and gain the Eight Powers which the sorcerer covets for himself.

The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie (which saw an earlier bastardized version by the Victorian adventurer and rogue Sir Richard Burton called Vikram and the Vampire) is one of a recent series of Indian/Sanskrit classics translated and published by Penguin. This excellent series illustrates that the legacy of ancient Indian literature is not confined to the justifiably revered epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.