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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Simhāsana Dvātriṃśikā:
Thirty-Two Tales of
the Throne of Vikramaditya


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To purchase Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya



Title: Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya
Author: (anonymous)
Genre: Novel
Written: ca. 13th century
Length: 194 pages
Original in: Sanskrit
Availability: Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya - US
Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya - UK
Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya - Canada
Les Trente-deux Récits du Trône - France
Der Löwenthron - Deutschland
  • Translated and with an Introduction by A.N.D.Haksar
  • Previously translated by Franklin Edgerton as Vikrama's Adventures (1926)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever idea, quick and entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       The anonymous Simhāsana Dvātriṃśikā: Thirty-Two Tales of the Throne of Vikramaditya is one of several collections about the legendary Vikramaditya (the best-known of which, in English, is Richard Burton's translation of Vikram and the Vampire). While this collection has been previously translated -- as Vikrama's Adventures, by Franklin Edgerton -- this is a welcome new edition, and it is good to see it included in the Penguin Classics series. (First published in India in 1998, the (international) Penguin Classics edition came out in 2006.)
       This cohesive two-part work offers both a clever framing structure as well as a series of very short tales (so short, in fact, that they can seem very compressed).
       The first part introduces Vikrama (Vikramaditya). They had a problem in Avanti -- every time they named a new ruler a genie: "would kill him the same night" -- but Vikramaditya was always up for a challenge, and asked the ministers to make him king. He managed to avoid the fate of his many predecessors, and proved to be a great ruler -- "There was no king on earth like Vikrama" -- but eventually also met his end. Since no one was worthy of sitting on his throne ("encrusted with rare and priceless gems" and supported by "thirty-two statuettes of precious moonstone") they eventually buried the throne "in a field of great purity".
       Years later a new king, Bhoja, comes across the throne. He takes a shine to it, brings it to his capital, and installs it there. Naturally, he wants to mount it, but when everything has been set up and an auspicious moment chosen and the grand ceremonial inauguration of the throne is to take place the first of the statuettes pipes up and asks him whether he really is as worthy as Vikramaditya was. And that's how the entire second part of the work proceeds, as time after time he gets ready to mount the throne, and each time another of the thirty-two statuettes asks him whether he really has the qualities Vikramaditya possessed, illustrating those qualities with a short story of his magnanimity, valour, daring, etc. etc.
       These tales are episodes from Vikramaditya's life and reign, each quickly showing why he was such a great ruler and man. What's most surprising in these tales is how forgiving he is. He almost always generously passes on whatever bounty he receives for his actions -- but often to those who hardly seem worthy. There's a brahmin who moans that he's spent a whole century making sacrifices to Siva, but she: "just will not grant her grace". For good reason, too: as she explains to Vikramaditya: "his mind is not fixed on me in devotion". Yet when she offers Vikramaditya a boon he passes it on to the brahmin, so that he can be satisfied.
       Another claims that after fifty years of celibacy the goddess appeared to him in his dreams and said it was time for him to get a family and become a householder. Vikramaditya sees through the brahmin's hogwash:

This man is lying, and so be it. Nevertheless, he seems to be in distress, and there is no question that his wish should be fulfilled.
       And how ! apparently:
     The king then had a new city built for the brahmin, appointed him as its ruler, and presented him with a hundred slave girls.
       By the seventeenth try, Bhoja knows what's coming:
     Curious to hear another statuette speak, the king came forward, pretending to mount the throne.
       Later, another statuette makes clear the impossible situation he's facing:
     Your Majesty can neither ascend this throne of Indra nor give it up. You only torment yourself.
       Yet he keeps coming back for more stories about the impossible-to-live-up-to Vikramaditya -- and, indeed, in a nice resolution, this turns out to be a test of sorts as well, with Bhoja acquitting himself well, leading to the final disposition of the throne.
       Vikramaditya's many encounters and tests are quick lessons -- often almost too quick. Nevertheless, it is all engagingly done and accessibly presented: a mix of verse and prose, the stories read easily in A.N.D.Haksar's translation. The morality presented here is also of particular interest, as much of it is not what one might expect from 'moral tales'; certainly it differs radically from that found in Christian tales of that period.
       An enjoyable and often very entertaining work; a worthy addition to the Penguin Classics series.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 January 2010

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