--> Skip to main content

Vetala In Hinduism – Story Origin Of Vetal - Temples - Common Beliefs

Vetala (Betal) is a very powerful semi-demonic being in Hinduism. Vetal are also worshipped in some temples and can animate dead human bodies. They take possession of the corpse in the cremation ground and acts through it. He is a favorite deity of tantriks and practitioners of black magic as per some Hindu religion scholars.

As per Hindu scriptures, Vetalas are attendants of Virabhadra – the fierce being that was created by Shiva. They have numerous magical powers.

It is also believed that Vetalas are subordinates to Hindu deities like Goddess Kali, Hanuman, Ganesha and Virabhadra.

In some regions, Vetala is counted among lowly spirits who heads Bhuta, Preta and Pishacha.

Story Origin Of Vetala

In the epics and Puranic literature Vetala is counted among the Shiva ganas. He is considered as an incarnation of Bhairava himself according to a legend in the Shiva Purana.

According to the story in the Shiva Purana, one day Goddess Girija and Shiva were enjoying each other's company in the privacy of their abode deputing Bhairava to guard its entrance. On Shiva's instruction Goddess Girija came out of her abode as she was. Bhairava was fascinated by her beauty but he refused her the permission to venture out. Angry Girija cursed him to incarnate on the earth as a Vetala. For the sake of his favorite gana Shiva too incarnated on the earth as Mahesha and following him Girija became Parvati.

Another legend recorded in the 46th canto of Kalika Purana says that two attendants of Shiva, Mahakala and Bhringi due to the curse of Gauri took birth on the earth as Bhairava and Vetala respectively.

Though the stories in Shiva Purana says that the Vetala was an incarnation of Bhairava, the cults run parallel to each other and have different followings.

Reference Of Vetala In Hindu Scriptures

As a member of Shiva family Vetala is known since ancient times. In the 45th canto of the Shalya Parva of Mahabharata there is a description of huge army of Skanda, son of Shiva. Vetala or Vaitali is mentioned as one of the warriors in this army. In the next canto in the same context we find the name of a mother goddess named Vetala-janani. It seems that worship and cult of Vetala and his mother was as old as the Mahabharata.

Some scriptures mention that Vetalas fought along with Mother Goddess Durga against the demons. They help the numerous manifestations of the Goddess Shakti in their fight against the demons.

According to Bhagavata Purana (10.63.10) when Krishna fought with Banasur and Shiva near Pragjyotishpur Vetalas along with Bhutas, Pramathas, Guhyakas, Dakinis, mother goddesses, Pishachas, Kushmandas were present in the army of Shiva.

In the Matsya Purana (149.7-16) there is a description of terrible war gods and demons fighting against each other. The battlefield was filled with blood and became a delightful place for eaters of human flesh and being full of dead bodies became the playground of Vetalas. This description leads us to think that Vetala was fond of drinking human blood and eating human flesh.

Common Belief Among People Regarding Vetala

The Vetala cult is still thriving in some parts of the country such as Maharashtra. The Vetala murtis are made of stone or wood. In some sects, there is a custom of worshipping Vetal by remaining nude and offering him the sacrifice of a sheep.

In the Kathasaritasagara there is mention of a mantra by which one can bring Vetala under control.

It is believed that Vetalas reside in corpse and they are offered wine, meat, and similar food items.

Some people propitiate Vetala to find hidden treasures and to cause harm to enemies. It is believed that Vetalas can find treasures and they can also possess the mind and body of a person and cause harm.

Vikram - Betal Stories 

The most popular stories of Vetala are found in the Pancavismati Katha – stories of Vikramaditya and Betal. In these stories Vetala are intelligent beings.

There are twenty five stories narrated by Vetal to King Trivikramsen who is also known by the popular short form Vikram. This section of 25 stories is known by the name Vetala-Panchvimshati. The stories have interesting format. At the close of story Vetal puts a riddle for the king to solve. The intelligent king gives correct replies earning the appreciation of Vetala.

Vetal Temples

In the Guruwar Peth of Pune there is a famous Vetal Temple. It is said that one of the Maratha Peshwas took his petition to him. One being obliged by the deity, he donated a large bell to the temple.

Another famous temple named after Vetal is situated in Bhubaneshwar. It was supposed to be built in the 8th century AD.

Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume XI
Mythology of Shiva and Shakti - M.L. Varadpande