Book Review - Sinhasan Battisi


Worded by : Gopal Sharma
Translated by : Arun Kumar

Image result for sinhasan battisi manoj publicationsA chance stroll to a railway station book trolley on Nagpur Railway station lead me to yet another discovery – having had prior experience of a rewarding nature on such strolleys, I was open to more experimentation after reading good, and yet cheap books on Chhatrapati Shivaji and The Mahatma. This time, I found a book that took my memory back to my childhood and young adult years – the fabled stories of Sinhasan Battisi… and at a very cheap Rs 40/-! Not believing my luck, I went for it like a shot

The stories of the Sinhasan Battisi revolve around the Ujjain King Vikramaditya, who also is credited with the Sanaatani Calender Vikram Samvat, which is one of the two major calendars still followed in Modern India – Vikram Samvat, and Shaka era. {For Western readers – we use local calendars, one of the above two – for almost every cultural event wherein everything is determined by the Sanaatani dates} This book is a series of short stories, well  documented through the ages in a series of ancient writings.

But first, a small word on King Vikramaditya : he was a first century BCE king, and quite a fabled king, renowned for his good traits and qualities, as also for his overall excellent rule. While it is true that there were at least two Kings with the same title, given that the stories are around the King who started the Vikram Samvat – as per me,  it seems pretty clear that we are talking of the time period of around the first century BCE in these stories, as the Vikram Samvat era starts at 57 BCE

The book starts with King Bhoj – thought to be a parmar king of around 1000-1100 AD in Ujjain – discovering a lovely throne of stunning beauty buried deep within the Earth. Transfixed by the splendor of this throne, he decides to install it in his court, and use it for his own throne. But the moment he tries to sit on it, he is prevented from doing so by a puppet – one of the 32 that adorn the throne – that comes alive, and tells him that he doesn’t deserve this throne, and tells him a story of the greatness of the original owner of the throne, the great King Vikramaditya. The puppet  then asks King Bhoj are you as great a ruler?

There are 32 such puppets, and each time the King attempts to use the throne, he is prevented from doing so by another of the puppets, who each time tell a story of the original owner of the throne, and asks at the end – do you think you are as great a ruler as the great King? If you are not, then you do not deserve to sit on the throne – and advises King Bhoj to try again, and forget about sitting. Eventually, in later tales, the puppets start telling him to forget about the throne altogether…

These tales are incredible tales, stories of charity, valour, good governance, benevolence and all the good qualities that a well-loved ruler and human being should have; stories that build character as well as entertain all at the same time. These are stories of humility, of incredible sacrifice and pain on self for the sake of others, of complete selflessness, of justified anger and valour, of a strong moral timber and of a an incredible ruler who was clearly one of the finest ever to rule in Ancient India

Even if you grant that some of the tales are allegorical in nature, it is significant that not one tale talks of greatness of King Vikramaditya in terms generally understood for greatness in our Modern Western-dominated world-view, a world view which calls conquering kings great. Instead, the picture that emerges – even if you make allowances for exaggeration and allegories, is of a ruler who was a genuine people-first man, a ruler who cared deeply for each subject, and yet who had full support from the nobility who never deposed him even when he was away on his long absences due to his charitable works. This itself tells the tale of a tight, fair and able administrator!

Much has been written of the historicity of King Vikramaditya – it is now known there were at least two kings who bore this title; much has been debated; but it cannot be denied that the Vikram Samvat Calendar still exists, and has wide Modern usage and following; the tales specifically credit King Vikramaditya of Ujjain with this calendar. The first  known written record is from around 11th-14th centuries {from a quick internet search} and there are a series of writings since. Furthermore, there are various references in more ancient works right from the 1st Century BCE that seem to prove that we are talking of a genuine historical figure.

This book is a fast read, short and can be read in one sitting on a journey, is very cheap, and is very entertaining and great fun to read. It also gives a superb series of short lessons on Good Administration, Charity, the virtues of being selfless, placing people above self {Managers read that as placing team above self}, honesty, integrity, hard work – or, in short – all the good and desirable qualities that we would ideally love to see in ourselves and our children… 


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