Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sage, the Wife and the Butcher

Kaushika was feeling incredibly proud of himself. He had left his home to pursue to study of the Scriptures and now he could proudly say that he had masted them all.
Kaushika was sitting under a tree as he opened his eyes from his meditation. On top of the tree sat a crane. The crane was making a loud noise and disturbed the sage. The sage stared at the crane angrily. The poor crane had no chance. It burst into flames.
Kaushika looked at the bird horrified that he had done something like this. But deep down he could not help but feel proud of himself. His powers of meditation were amazing. He had managed to destroy the crane with his thoughts alone....
Kaushika got up from under the tree and went to the nearby village is search of alms. He stood outside a house asking for alms. [In those days an ascetic standing outside the house was considered a priority and had to be fed first]. The lady from the house was about to come and serve the sage when her husband came home, tired and hungry. The lady turned her back to Kaushika. 'Please wait Sage! I will attend to my duties and come later!'
Kaushika bristled at the words of the lady. But the lady did not seem to notice. She attended to her husband while the sage waited. By the time the lady finished and came out to meet Kaushika, the sage was furious from hunger and the waiting. The lady smiled as she shook her head. 'Do you think, I am a crane?'
Kaushika was flabbergasted. There was no way this woman could know what had transpired when he was outside the village. He looked at the woman as she continued. 'You are a sage. A well-read man and you have no doubt mastered the scriptures....but you still have to learn the true meaning of what is written there!' The sage listened dumbfounded at the words of the wisdom from the woman.
'A mastery of the Scriptures is necessary for a virtuous life but reading alone would not help you achieve it, sir! You need to use all the teachings in your daily life for you to be able to understand what it means....I am a wife, a mother. My first duty lies towards these people and not towards you. Only after serving them, am I obliged to look after you. And you sir...' The woman looked at Kaushika with a slightly sad expression. ' still need to learn to control yourself. The crane came and sat on the tree. So what if it disturbed you? A man who had truly understood the Scriptures would know that none of these things would affect him in any way....But you got angry sir....' The woman shook her head. 'You still have many things to learn.'
Kaushika found that he could not talk. The words of the woman was simple, sharp and powerful. 'Please teach me some more about this 'virtue'!' He finally croaked.
The woman smiled. 'Sir! I have a lot of work. I may not be the right teacher to teach you these things.' Kaushika's face fell. The woman's face however brightened. 'There is a butcher in the city of Mithila! Please go and talk to him. He may be able to teach you what you need to know!'
Saying this the woman walked inside the house without a backward glance. Kaushika for the first time in his life realized that he really did not know anything. Without realizing Kaushika made preparations to go towards the city of Mithila.
There Kaushika was in for a surprise. Everyone in the city knew about the butcher and the butcher was highly respected. The man was a butcher and yet the people spoke of him as if he was a saint....Who was this man?
Kaushika saw the man outside his shop as he cut the meat pieces and handed it over to the customers. 'Sir, I am...'
The butcher nodded his head. 'You must be the sage whom the lady sent. Please wait....I am serving my customers. I am afraid I may be able to tell you what you wish to know only after I finish my work.'
Kaushika watched the man in a kind of trance. The man was a butcher. He killed animals and sold it to people. However the man did not look the least bit ashamed of what he was doing. In his face shone a strange light. A light of person who knew who he was. Kaushika had no doubt in the world that the butcher was an enlightened soul....
The sage watched while the butcher sold the meat and closed the shop for the day. He walked back to his home taking the sage with him. There he saw the butcher had a family and all of them looked happy and well. The butcher's parents looked thrilled on meeting the sage and they along with the butcher's wife looked after the sage well. The butcher's children were well mannered. The sage ate with the family. The food was simple and sufficient for him. After eating the food, the sage felt a strange sensation pass through him. He suddenly remembered his own parents....He had left them to study the Scriptures. What was his mother doing at this time....
'Sir! Who are you? What do you know about virtue? I think you are the only person in the whole world who knows the complete meaning of the word. Please teach it to me!'
The butcher smiled. 'Every person who does his duty and does it cheerfully with his whole heart leads a virtuous life....'
Kaushika frowned. 'Sir you are a butcher! How can you....'
The butcher smiled. 'It is my profession. My parents before me and their parents have all been butchers. I am just doing my family profession. There is no shame in it. I do it as my duty. My parents, my wife and my children....They are my life and I do everything that I can do to keep them happy. I do everything for them.....'
Kaushika felt a strange stirring in his heart. Suddenly his mother's broken words begging him not to leave them alone kept coming back. Shaking his head he looked at the butcher who was still speaking. 'A man who is totally in control of himself and does not let his emotions rule him....That is the sign of a learned man. A man who runs away from his responsibilities can never know the true meaning of virtue. Only and only when you do your duty and do it wholeheartedly, you can begin to know the true meaning of virtue....'
The butcher gave Kaushika full discourse on the soul and the means of attaining enlightenment.
By the time the butcher was finished, Kaushika was in a daze. He realized the crime he had committed by leaving his aged parents all alone at a time when they needed him the most. He turned to the butcher who had set him on the right path and asked with almost wonder in his voice. 'Sir! You are by far the greatest man I have ever seen....Then why is it that you are butcher. I cannot believe that you would have committed any crime to have to do a work which involves killing other animals...Why...?
The butcher smiled. 'Sir, in my previous life, I was a man who was well read in the Scriptures. My best friend was a king, who was extremely well versed in the art of warfare. From him I learned how to use the bow and arrow...' The butcher closed his eyes, wishing that he would forget what he was remembering. 'Once I went on a hunt with the king. The King killed a lot of animals in the forest and me....' The butcher breathed angrily. 'By mistake I killed a sage. A great sage who was meditating behind a tree.....' Kaushika listened with bated breath as the butcher continued. 'It was because of the curse of the sage that I was born as a butcher....'
The butcher continued. 'Even then in his last words, the sage taught me how to lead a virtuous life living as a butcher. It was the sage who taught me that no sin attaches to me if I do any work as my duty!...'

Kaushika looked at the butcher with a final understanding his eyes. He took leave of the butcher and went back to his aging parents. He served them well till the end of their days....

Thursday, October 3, 2013

King Vikramditya and the Vetal - Part 1

The story of King Vikramaditya is one where legend and myth have intertwined so much that it is impossible to separate them anymore. Vikramaditya was a great king and totally devoted himself to the welfare of his people. But the king was also interested in spiritual endeavours. He was a great devotee of Goddess Kali. However the King never neglected his kingdom for the sake of his spiritual activities.. He knew everything that happened in his country and solved any problems in the initial stages itself before it could blow up into any serious crisis. It is said that King Vikramditya had an extraordinarily efficient spy system and kept upto date information on neighbouring kingdoms as well.....
Most of Vikramditaya's life story is based on the Vetal Panchisi [The twenty five tales of the Vetal] and Simhasan Bathisi [The 32 stories told by the 32 statues in Indra's throne to Raja Bhoja extolling the virtues of King Vikramaditya.] The present story is how King Vikramaditya came to meet Vetal....
When King Vikramaditya was in court, a sage came to meet him. King Vikramaditya always kept his court door open to enable the public to come in at all times. So a sage approaching the king in itself was not unusual, but what he did surprised even Vikramaditya. The sage came forward and handed a mango to the king. He said nothing more and walked away.
King Vikramditya was curious. He kept the mango aside and wondered about the strange behaviour of the sage but could come up with no logical answer. The next day again the sage came and handed over another mango to him and without saying another word walked away....This went on for a few days as the king's curiosity grew day by day....
Finally when the sage came one day and handed over the mango to him, the king saw a monkey in the palace walls. After the sage had left, the king gave the mango to the monkey. The monkey bit open the fruit and spat something out. The king saw something red and bent to pick it up. He was stunned to see one of the biggest ruby stone he had ever seen....Shocked, the king ran to his chambers where the other fruits were being kept. He had all of them opened and found that each one of them had a ruby inside it.....The king was now baffled. A sage was coming out of nowhere and handing over the gem everyday and had not asked for anything in return....Who was the sage? What did he want? Why was he doing all this?....

Determined to find the answers, the next day the king waited impatiently for the sage to come in.
The sage came in the next day and handed over the mango when the king stopped him. 'Who are you sir? Why are you giving me all these precious gifts? I cannot take gifts from a man I do not know for no apparent reason!'
The sage smiled. 'King! I am a devotee of Goddess Kali! I have heard that you also worship her! I know that you are a brave and powerful man. I need an important work to be done which can be done only by someone who is brave, daring and courageous....That was the reason I presented you with all those gifts....Would you help me?'
The king's curiosity had now increased a thousandfold. He knew that he had to know the reason for the strange behaviour of the sage. He nodded his head.
The sage's face broke into a wrinkled smile. 'In the coming moonless night, please come to the burial ground in the far side of the city near the forest. I will tell you what needs to be done when you come there!' The sage said enigmatically and walked away from there.
The promised night the king went to the burial ground and found the sage waiting for him there....The sage pointed to the forest. 'In the middle of the forest, there was a tamarind tree. There is a corpse hanging from the tree.' The king nodded his head. Dead bodies nor forests....neither scared him....'Your job is to bring the corpse to me....' The king looked at the sage waiting for an explanation. The sage smiled and continued. 'You see I have to perform a ritual and the corpse is essential for the ritual....Only when I complete the ritual on the corpse, I would be blessed with power from the Goddess!'
The king was not satisfied with the explanations but he had promised the sage and realized that he was bound by his word and soon set off.
After walking for some time, King Vikramaditya was deep inside the forest. There he found a tamarind tree and a corpse hanging from it just the way the sage had described.
The king climbed up the tree and pulled the corpse down. He put the corpse on his shoulder and about to walk when he heard a strange giggle from the corpse.
Shaken, the king dropped the corpse. The 'corpse' got up. The king thought the man was alive and ran towards him. 'Are you alright?' No sooner had the king spoken these words, than the corpse flew back to the branch of the tree and hung there upside down. For a few seconds the king was stunned....The corpse looked exactly the way it was...lifeless..Taken aback, Vikramaditya started wondering......
However he realized that he had made a promise to the sage that he would bring the corpse down....The king climbed up the tree again and pulled the corpse down. As the king pulled the body to his shoulders, he felt the body move. He put the corpse down and shook it. 'Who are you?' The minute he said the words, corpse again flew back to the tree...
The king realized that the corpse was haunted....probably by a vetal. Subsequently the king also realized that every time he talked the corpse flew back...
This time the king pulled the corpse down and walked away quietly. He heard a shrill giggle from the corpse. The king realized that this was the work of the ghost haunting the dead body and kept his mouth shut and concentrated on walking forward.
After some time the giggles subsided and the 'corpse' spoke. 'I am Vetal, my king!' King Vikramditya was silent making sure he did not talk by mistake....I sense greatness in you and courage!' King Vikramditya could almost hear respect in the Vetal's words. 'I also know that you would not speak....But I can...And it is a long journey....back to the sage!' King Vikramditya wondered about how the Vetal knew about that but did not say anything. 'Why don't I pass the journey with a story?' The king did not say anything. The Vetal took the silence as consent and started with its stories.....

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

King Vikramaditya and the Vetal - Part 2

'King! Just because you are determined not to talk, that would not stop me! As I already said it is a long journey and it is a rather bleak forest. So I will tell you a colourful story to brighten up the way.' The Vetal said with a grin.
King Vikramaditya had draped the corpse which was haunted by the Vetal,over his shoulder and was determined not to talk. Every time he talked, the Vetal flew back to the neem tree....
The King had a promise to keep. He had to take the corpse back to the sage who was waiting for him in Kali's temple....
King Vikramditya let out a deep breath, not saying anything. The Vetal grinned and continued.
'In the kingdom of Kanchannapur there lived a boy called Kurupshana [It means ugly looking in Sanskrit]. The reason the boy was called so was that he was born with stunted hands.
Unfortunately for Kurupshana, his troubles were far from over as his mother died soon after giving birth to him and his father remarried. His step mother did not like Kurupshana at all. His step mother would often point out to Kurupshana about how useless he was because of his stunted hands and ill-treated him.
It was at this time that the brave king of Kanchannapur, King Chandradeep announced all over the kingdom about the marriage of his daughter – Princess Indumathi.....
Princess Indumathi was an only child to her father and her father had brought her up teaching her all about weapons, warfare and the administration of the kingdom.
When the time came for her to marry, Princess Indumathi realized that she could not just marry anybody...After all the person marrying her would eventually become the King of Kanchannapur. So she knew that she would have to choose a man who was very brave and strong.
'Father! I am going to conduct a test. Only a person who satisfies the test may become my husband!' She told her father one day.
'What test?' Her father asked her suspiciously.
Princess Indumathi told him. The king realized that her daughter had specifically designed this test to make sure that only a person who was brave and strong would even attempt it....Still he knew that it was dangerous....He called his minister and asked him to send a message to all the Kings and Princes from the neighbouring kingdoms stating that Princess Indumathi was conducting a test and any person who satisfied it, would be eligible to marry the princess. He then also had the message announced all around the kingdom....
Kurupshana was sitting dejected as he had just heard the sharp tongue of his step mother belittling him. Hearing to his step mother, all his life, he was cursing his fate...He just wanted to escape it.
It was at this time that he heard the announcement regarding Indumathi's marriage. Just to escape from the words of his step mother, Kurupshana followed the announcer and went back to the capital.
There on the appointed day he saw the princes and kings from the neighbouring kingdoms come. He saw the beautiful princess Indumathi in the centre.
'Welcome to all of you! Today, I have asked all of you to come for fulfilling a test. Please remember that any person who marries me would one day become the King of the Kingdom. So keeping this in mind I have devised a competition, which is meant only for the bravest people!' Princess Indumathi looked around and studied all the princes and kings and smiled.
Princess Indumathi pointed to a small wall and small cage of swords made below it on the ground near the wall. 'All of you must be wondering about the competition I have set up for you! You will have to climb the wall and jump inside the cage of swords. Any person who does so and comes out without a scratch would be eligible to marry me!'
Princess Indumathi and King Chadradeep immediately realized that not many people were willing to participate in the competition. They all felt that it was too dangerous....
Princess Indumathi was looking crestfallen when she saw an ugly looking man with stunted hands come forward. 'Princess! I am Kurupshana! I wish to try my luck at this....'
Both the princess and the king blinked. They had expected one of the kings or the princes to accept the challenge, not a common man and that too someone with stunted hands. Before the king or the princess could stop Kurupshana, he started climbing the wall. Everyone watched the scene mesmerized as Kurupshana with great difficulty climbed the wall and reached the top. Everyone watched breath stakingly as Kurupshana jumped....
Kurupshana himself was stunned when he saw that he had jumped perfectly inside the circle. Because of his stunted hands, the swords in the cage had totally missed his body. There was not even a scratch on him....
The people around clapped their hands and encouraged the brave man.
The king and the princess for their part were shocked. They definitely did not expect that Kurupshana would participate in the competition let alone win it....
Kurupshana was brought out of the cage. He smiled as he looked at the King and the Princess and bowed his head. 'My king and Princess, please listen to me, I have no intention of marrying the princess. I did not participate in the competition to marry the princess. And I have already got a reward far better than I hoped for....Thank you!'
Saying this Kurupshana walked away from there leaving the entire audience spell bound...
'King! Now tell me, was Krurupshana not being silly? He had won the competition and after that he had refused the hand of the princess! And despite this he said that he had got a greater reward. What was the prize he got?'
'Kurupshana was undoubtedly a very smart man. He had realized that if he won the competition, he would marry the princess and become the future king. As a king it was his duty to protect his subject and for that it was necessary for him to raise a sword and fight. Kurupshana was smart enough to realize that he could never fight with a sword...' King Vikramaditya spoke admiring the Krurupshana from the story. 'So refusing to marry the princess was a smart thing to do!'
'And remember the reason Kurupshana came here. He came here to escape the jibes of his step mother. He had won a competition that normal people would not even compete in. It was a proud moment for him that he could do something that others could not. He could now stand up and face his step mother because he had proved that he could do things that people could not....That was the greatest reward of his life!'
'You truly are a wise king!' The Vetal remarked with a gloating face as King Vikraditya winced realizing that he had spoken. The last King Vikramditya saw was the smirking Vetal flying back to the neem tree....

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

King Vikramaditya and the Vetal - Part 3

'King,I must admit, your determination is admirable!' The Vetal said as King Vikramaditya again climbed up the Neem tree and draped the corpse haunted by the Vetal around his shoulders and carried the body down again. King Vikram grunted and was careful not to say anything.
'As you are not willing to give up, neither am I!' Vetal continued with grudging respect. 'I am about to tell you a very interesting story which involves a very rich girl marrying a thief!' King Vikramaditya looked surprised but he did not say anything.
The Vetal looked slyly because he realized that he had the undivided attention of the king. The Vetal continued.
'I have seen this incident with my own eyes. And I still don't understand it....' The corpse shrugged as it continued. 'King! There was a kingdom of Chaurasya where there was a king by name Veerendra. Though his kingdom was very prosperous, unfortunately there were many daring thefts all over the kingdom. The thefts were so bad that the merchants themselves went and represented to the king that if something was not done about the thefts, they would be forced to leave the kingdom.'
The Vetal sighed continuing the story. 'The King was worried and asked his guards to redouble their efforts. He himself led his men and after a lot of attacks, finally they caught the thief. The thief was a very handsome looking man with a devil may care attitude. As he was captured, the king looked at him angrily. 'You are an able-bodied and intelligent man. Why on earth did you waste your time stealing the hard earned money of the people?'
The thief looked at the king with a strange glint in his eyes. 'I wanted to be a soldier, king!' The king looked stunned as the thief continued. 'I wanted to join your army and protect the people!'
'What happened?' The king asked faintly almost afraid to know the answer.
'Corruption!' The thief yelled. 'Your ministers! They would not let me anywhere near you! All they did was make more and more rules and made sure you never met me!' The king looked at the thief as he continued. 'That is the reason I am thief, king! I am thief because you are a bad ruler!'
The king was shaken by the reply of the thief. Stunned, he ordered his men to take away the thief to the dungeons. The thief was to be taken around the kingdom the next day, for all the people to see that the king had caught the thief and the thief was to be hanged in the evening.
The king remained brooding the next day and half heartedly ordered for the thief to be taken around the kingdom.
In the same kingdom there was a very rich merchant who had a beautiful daughter Shobha. Because she was an only child, she was brought up with a lot of love and care. Though the merchant had brought forward a lot of suitors for his daughter, she had refused all of them under one pretext or the other.
When the thief was taken around the kingdom, Shobha saw the thief. While the others saw the end of their thieving problems, Shobha saw a handsome, dashing and resourceful man. She fell in love with him immediately, right then and there. As she saw the entire scene, she realized that the thief was going to be hanged that evening. Unable to bear it, Shobha went to her father and begged him to ask the king to spare his life.

The merchant was unable to refuse his daughter and went to the king requesting him to spare the thief. Looking at the reactions of the people in the kingdom, the king realized that hanging the thief was the only option available to him.
The merchant told his daughter of the king's decision. Shobha then visited the king herself. By this time the thief was also brought back to the court and was about to be executed.
'King! I know that you will not spare the life of the man! Then please give me the permission to die beside my beloved. I consider him to be my husband!' Shobha said looking at the thief.
The thief when he heard this he wept uncontrollably and then burst out laughing. The king was however now thoroughly disgruntled. He felt that it was wrong for the thief to die. So he granted mercy to the thief. The thief was pardoned of his crimes and he married Shobha and started living as a soldier in the king's army. The thief was brave and valourous and rose rapidly in the ranks of the king's army...' The Vetal however shook his head. 'But I am not here to talk about the good fortune of the thief, my king! I just do not understand the reactions of the thief! Why on earth would be laugh and cry? I was there....' The Vetal said, stressing it, 'and I still don't understand it....'
'The thief's reactions are perfectly normal! He was filled with utter regret that a girl like Shobha had not loved him before he had entered into his dark life as a thief..If she had loved him before, then he probably never would have become a thief....And then he laughed at his destiny, because Shobha had chosen a perfectly wrong time to fall in love with him....a few minutes before his death....' King Vikramaditya said unable to stop himself.

'Right as always, wise king!'

King Vikram sighed as he felt the corpse fly away from his shoulders.....

King Vikramaditya and the Vetal - Part 4

'I guess, you are now ready for another story!' The corpse possessed by the Vetal started talking the minute, King Vikramditya pulled the corpse down and tried to carry it with him to the Sage who was waiting for him.
The King sighed when he heard the words of the Vetal. He had been trying to take the corpse to a sage who was waiting for him in the temple of Goddess Kali. The Vetal who had possessed the body was bound to the corpse by some spell. Unfortunately that spell could be broken if anyone spoke. The king had realized it after trying to get the corpse down the first few times. But then the King kept silent as he carried the corpse to the sage.

But the Vetal in the corpse had been clever too. To pass the time in the forest, the Vetal had been telling the king, very interesting stories and had stopped the stories at crucial points and asked the King the reason for the behaviour of the characters in the stories. Unable to stop himself, the king had answered all the questions till now.....and the Vetal had flown back to the tree.

'Ok king! I will tell you the story of a brave, beautiful and intelligent princess! You see I have been thinking and I still cannot understand how such a princess acted out of arrogance and even broke her own word....' The Vetal slyly noted that the king bristled at the words. Probably the king could not tolerate the fact that any princess would break her word. But the Vetal grinned. He had the undivided attention of the King.

'In a far away kingdom was a brave king – Rajendran. He was well versed in arts and Scriptures and he was just and very well loved king. He and his wife had a daughter Princess Sona.
Princess Sona being an only child was obviously the heir apparent to the throne. So not only was she taught the general studies of a princess she was also taught in the arts of weapons and warfare. Princess Sona also realizing that she would have to take over the reigns of the kingdom from her father practiced diligently. She soon became excellent in the art of fighting.

Soon when the Princess reached a marriageable age, her parents asked her whether she was interested in any person and wanted a swayamvara to choose a man for her.
Princess Sona refused. 'Father! Mother! The man I choose is going to be called as the king of this kingdom. Why, he may even be called upon to fight for this kingdom if need be....' The king nodded as the princess continued. 'So I am going to marry only if he is able to defeat me in a one on one fight...'

The king and queen saw the logic behind the request of the princess and happily agreed to the condition. The princess did not voice the other reason behind her condition. She knew that the princes from the other kingdoms would be expecting a weak princess to fight against and would come hoping that they would very easily defeat the princess and take over the kingdom. This way when the princes fought against her, they would realize that the kingdom was being led by someone strong and powerful and would not dare attack the kingdom....

And so the announcement was made in all the kingdoms. Just as the princess had expected people from all over the country came to fight with the princess. The princes had all expected an easy battle, but Princess Sona was nowhere near the class of the princes. She was able to defeat the princes very very easily. All of them went home dejected.
One of the Prince was Prince Uday from the neighbouring kingdom. He noted the unusual condition of the princess and unlike the other princess did not immediately jump to any conclusions. He realized that any princess who could impose such a condition was obviously confident of her own fighting abilities. He decided that instead of challenging the princess he first had to observe and then decide....

And so Prince Uday daily watched as he saw Princess Sona fight the other princes. He had been enthralled when he saw the princess fight. He had never seen anyone fight like this. Her strategies, her maneuvering.... her reflexes were something that even Prince Uday himself knew nothing about. He was watching the last fight of the princess with bated breath. He saw the Princess as she effortlessly disposed off a particularly difficult opponent. Unable to contain himself, Prince Uday clapped appreciatively. 'Well Done! Well Done, princess!That was the best move, I have ever seen you execute, till date!'

Surprised Princess Sona turned as she saw a face in a crowd looking at her with genuine respect. Princess Sona realized that the man who had spoken was definitely not a common watcher. He was someone who had understood the intricacies of the fight and appreciated it. She looked further to acknowledge the man however the face was lost in the crowd....

Everyday after Prince Uday watched Sona he would practise some of the moves he had seen her do and was soon confident that he could take on the princess. And so the day came. Prince Uday challenged the princess. As was the custom in those days, both the opponents had covered their faces to prevent serious damage to the face.

And so a glorious fight started between the princess and prince. Both of them were equally good and Prince Uday thanks to his new found knowledge was able to completely counter all the strategies of the princess. The princess herself was surprised and the crowd watched spell bound as the Princess looked like she had met her match...The crowd was even more thrilled when they saw the Prince win the fight and they all cheered loudly.....

The Prince victoriously removed his mask and turned to see the defeated princess. The princess was looking happily at the man and was about to open her mouth to greet him when the greeting died in her mouth. 'You?' The princess looked at Prince Uday. 'You were the one from the other day....You have been watching my fights for some time now, haven't you?'

Prince Uday nodded his head.

King Rajendran came forward and said. 'Prince Uday! As you have fulfilled the condition of the the power vested in me....'

'Father!' Princess Sona looked hurt as she turned to her father. 'I cannot marry him!' Princess Sona looked at the stunned king and looked at Prince Uday. 'I am sorry prince! Though I have promised that I would marry anyone who defeats me, I cannot marry you!'

Prince Uday stared at Princess Sona for a few minutes and then nodded his head. 'You are right, my princess! I should not marry you!' Saying the prince walked away leaving a flabbergasted kingdom behind...

'Of all the arrogance!' Vetal ranted as he stopped the story. 'Princess Sona had been beaten in a fight, fair and square and still she refused to marry the man....She broke her word...plain and simple....She could not tolerate the fact that someone had beaten her and she refused to marry the man!And that silly Prince Uday also foolishly refused to enforce the promise made by the princess!' The Vetal said almost fuming.

'No Vetal! You do not understand! They are the most intelligent people I have heard about! The relationship between Princess Sona and Prince Uday was not that of a man and a woman. Princess Sona was for all practical purposes the teacher, the Guru of Prince Uday! Prince Uday had learnt to wield the sword from Princess Sona! The relationship between a teacher and student is sanctified....Both the Prince and the Princess respected it and did not want to sully it....That was the reason they did not want to get married with each other....' King Vikramaditya said almost gushing and then he realized his folly as he heard the laughing voice of the Vetal.

'You must be so clever that you figured that out, king!' The Vetal flew back to the tree....

King Vikramaditya and the Vetal - Part 5

'Don't you get tired of pulling me down every time, my king?' The corpse asked almost sighing. 'I have lost count the number of times that I have flown away from you! Any sensible man would have given it up! But you.....' There was a tone in the Vetal's voice which conveyed the exasperation and the grudging respect for the king.

King Vikramditya said nothing and hauled up the corpse and put it across his shoulders and set off towards the Kali temple. He mused as he thought the words of the Vetal. Somehow throughout the night...through all the stories, it never occurred to him, not once, to walk away....Somehow that option never entered his mind....

'Ok king! So what story shall I tell you now?' The Vetal paused for a few seconds. The king almost wished that the Vetal did not know anymore stories. Invariably the stories of the Vetal were extremely interesting and the questions asked by the Vetal were so intellectually stimulating that King Vikramaditya had been unable to keep quiet...And then the process started again....The corpse flew back to the tree and then the king dragged it down....King Vikramditya sighed.....

'Ah!' The delight in the Vetal's tone was unmistakable and the king was almost depressed. He was sure that the Vetal had found the perfect story to lure him into talking again.

'Do you want to know the story of the men who came forward to marry one girl?' The Vetal asked not really expecting an answer. The Vetal continued after a few minutes of silence.

'Not far from here, in a rich and prosperous kingdom, there lived a pious priest. Now the priest had a beautiful daughter by name Mandakini.

The daughter was extremely intelligent and beautiful. When she reached of marriageable age, she did not have one suitor....' King Vikramaditya looked a little puzzled as the laughing voice of the Vetal continued. 'Mandakini had three handsome and well brought up men who were willing to marry her!'

Each one came and told Mandakini and her father that they loved the girl very much and desperately wanted to marry her!

In the excitement of the days that followed, Mandakini neglected her health. Unfortunately for her she was afflicted at that time, by a dangerous disease which proved fatal....The three men and the priest were horror struck when Mandakini died a few days later....

The three men were heart broken. One of them decided that he had nothing to live in life and gave up everything and became an ascetic. The second man took the ashes of the girl and kept it close to himself. So mush so that he spread the ashes even in his bed so that that he felt that he could always be close to her even when he was sleeping. The third man took her bones and kept them with himself. He decided that he would take the bones to the Ganga and give Mandakini a proper funeral so that she would be assured of a place in heaven.

The ascetic roamed many villages and saw many strange sights. As he was roaming through a village he was invited to stay in the house of the one of the men there. The man seemed extremely secretive about one particular room in his house, which he always kept locked. Out of curiosity the ascetic peered inside the room when the man was inside it. The ascetic was stunned to see that the man had indeed a powerful secret with him. The man had a book with him which when recited could bring the dead back to life!

Dizzy with disbelief and not caring about anything, the ascetic stole the book and ran from the village. He ran and ran and finally came to Mandakini's village. There was the man who still had kept Mandakini's ashes safe with him. The two men called the third man who had gone to Ganga and asked him to bring Mandakini's bones.

When the man returned with the bones and the ashes were placed near it, the ascetic read out from the book. The three of them watched with bated breath as the mantra in the book began to take effect. The three men watched stunned as Mandakini opened her eyes as if waking from a sleep.

Now came a bigger problem.

'Mandakini is mine!' The ascetic screamed. 'I was the one who brought the book which brought her back to life....So I am the one who can marry her!'

The man who had gone to Ganga laughed hollowly. 'You! Exactly on what would you have used the mantra, if I had not brought the bones with me! It was only because I kept the bones safe that your mantra has any effect! If anyone, it is me who has the right to marry her!'

The last man laughed bitterly at the two of them. 'Mandakini has always been with me! The years that she had been dead, I stayed in her house and she stayed with me in the form of her ashes! I will have to be her husband!'

'The question this time, is whom do you think is the best person to be her husband?' The Vetal asked slyly.

'The man who slept on her ashes! He is the only person who can be her husband!' came a prompt reply. 'The ascetic who read the mantra was the one who gave Mandakini, life! A man who gives life is the father! So he cannot marry her. The man who took the bones to Ganga, performed the duties of a son, so he is also ineligible to marry her! So the only person who can marry her is the man who had the ashes with him! He slept on the ashes out of love for her! So he is the only one who can be the husband!'

King Vikram sighed as he felt the corpse fly away from him....