A vetala (Sanskrit: वेताल vetāla) is a ghost-like being from Hindu mythology. The vetala are defined as spirits inhabiting cadavers and charnel grounds. These corpses may be used as vehicles for movement (as they no longer decay while so inhabited); but a vetala may also leave the body at will.
vetala (plural vetalas)
„Vetalas are almost entirely confined to cemeteries and burning-grounds, where they specialise in animating dead bodies… at cross-roads, or in the neighbourhood of cemeteries, an animated corpse of this description often lurks, watching for some unwary traveller whom it may be able to slay and eat… the thirst of the dead for human blood is well known from the classical example of Odysseus in Hades (Od., xi, 34 et seq.) and the trouble he had in keeping the shades from reviving their strength by drinking his blood. In order to prevent the dead from robbing the living in this way, the custom has arisen of pouring blood over graves.
In order to understand to what extent the Vetala of Hindu folk-tales is a vampire, we must try to define the term rather more closely. J.A. Macculoch says that a vampire may be defined as (1) the spirit of a dead man, or (2) his corpse, reanimated by his own spirit or by a demon, returning to sap the life of the living, by depriving them of blood or of some essential organ, in order to augment his own vitality. It will consequently be realized how widely the term vampire can be applied and how impossible it would be to differentiate, with any degree of exactness, between a demon, evil spirit, ghost and vampire. The vampire, as a demon that revitalises the corpses of perfectly innocent people, is found throughout Greece, Russia, India and China, and also in Polynesia, Melanesia and Indonesia. The more usual form of vampire, however, is a corpse reanimated by his own spirit and dealing out death and destruction in whatever unlucky household he choses to pay his nocturnal visits.
… Now the Vetala… is a curious individual. He is the Deccan Guardian, in which capacity he sits on a stone smeared with red paint, or is found in the prehistoric stone circles scattered over the hills. In fiction, however, he appears as a mischievous goblin… A study of his actions will show him to be quite above the ordinary run of demons. He is always ready to play some rather grim, practical joke on any unwary person who chances to wander near burning-ghats at night, for here are corpses lying about or hanging from stakes, and what more effective means could be formed to frighten the life out of humans than by tenanting a corpse!
I would describe the Vetala as `sporting´, in that he has an innate admiration for bravery and is perfectly ready to own himself beaten, and even to help and advise.“