Vikram and Betal Stories – Three men dispute about a woman
On the lovely banks of Jumna’s stream there was a city known as Dharmasthal–the Place of Duty; and therein dwelt a certain Brahman called Keshav. He was a very pious man, in the constant habit of performing penance and worship upon the river Sidi. He modelled his own clay images instead of buying them from others; he painted holy stones red at the top, and made to them offerings of flowers, fruit, water, sweetmeats, and fried peas. He had become a learned man somewhat late in life, having, until twenty years old, neglected his reading, and addicted himself to worshipping the beautiful youth Kama-Deva and Rati his wife, accompanied by the cuckoo, the humming-bee, and sweet breezes.
One day his parents having rebuked him sharply for his ungovernable conduct, Keshav wandered to a neighbouring hamlet, and hid himself in the tall fig-tree which shadowed a celebrated image of Panchanan. Presently an evil thought arose in his head: he defiled the god, and threw him into the nearest tank.
The next morning, when the person arrived whose livelihood depended on the image, he discovered that his god was gone. He returned into the village distracted, and all was soon in an uproar about the lost deity.
In the midst of this confusion the parents of Keshav arrived, seeking for their son; and a man in the crowd declared that he had seen a young man sitting in Panchanan’s tree, but what had become of the god he knew not.
The runaway at length appeared, and the suspicions of the villagers fell upon him as the stealer of Panchanan. He confessed the fact, pointed out the place where he had thrown the stone, and added that he had polluted the god. All hands and eyes were raised in amazement at this atrocious crime, and every one present declared that Panchanan would certainly punish the daring insult by immediate death. Keshav was dreadfully frightened; he began to obey his parents from that very hour, and applied to his studies so sedulously that he soon became the most learned man of his country.
Now Keshav the Brahman had a daughter whose name was the Madhumalati or Sweet Jasmine. She was very beautiful. Whence did the gods procure the materials to form so exquisite a face? They took a portion of the most excellent part of the moon to form that beautiful face? Does any one seek a proof of this? Let him look at the empty places left in the moon. Her eyes resembled the full-blown blue nymphaea; her arms the charming stalk of the lotus; her flowing tresses the thick darkness of night.
When this lovely person arrived at a marriageable age, her mother, father, and brother, all three became very anxious about her. For the wise have said, “A daughter nubile but without a husband is ever a calamity hanging over a house.” And, “Kings, women, and climbing plants love those who are near them.” Also, “Who is there that has not suffered from the sex? for a woman cannot be kept in due subjection, either by gifts or kindness, or correct conduct, or the greatest services, or the laws of morality, or by the terror of punishment, for she cannot discriminate between good and evil.”
It so happened that one day Keshav the Brahman went to the marriage of a certain customer of his, and his son repaired to the house of a spiritual preceptor in order to read. During their absence, a young man came to the house, when the Sweet Jasmine’s mother, inferring his good qualities from his good looks, said to him, “I will give to thee my daughter in marriage.” The father also had promised his daughter to a Brahman youth whom he had met at the house of his employer; and the brother likewise had betrothed his sister to a fellow student at the place where he had gone to read.
After some days father and son came home, accompanied by these two suitors, and in the house a third was already seated. The name of the first was Tribikram, of the second Baman, and of the third Madhusadan. The three were equal in mind and body, in knowledge, and in age.
Then the father, looking upon them, said to himself, “Ho! there is one bride and three bridegrooms; to whom shall I give, and to whom shall I not give? We three have pledged our word to these three. A strange circumstance has occurred; what must we do?”
He then proposed to them a trial of wisdom, and made them agree that he who should quote the most excellent saying of the wise should become his daughter’s husband.
Quoth Tribikram: “Courage is tried in war; integrity in the payment of debt and interest; friendship in distress; and the faithfulness of a wife in the day of poverty.”
Baman proceeded: “That woman is destitute of virtue who in her father’s house is not in subjection, who wanders to feasts and amusements, who throws off her veil in the presence of men, who remains as a guest in the houses of strangers, who is much devoted to sleep, who drinks inebriating beverages, and who delights in distance from her husband.”
“Let none,” pursued Madhusadan, “confide in the sea, nor in whatever has claws or horns, or who carries deadly weapons; neither in a woman, nor in a king.”
Whilst the Brahman was doubting which to prefer, and rather inclining to the latter sentiment, a serpent bit the beautiful girl, and in a few hours she died.
Stunned by this awful sudden death, the father and the three suitors sat for a time motionless. They then arose, used great exertions, and brought all kinds of sorcerers, wise men and women who charm away poisons by incantations. These having seen the girl said, “She cannot return to life.” The first declared, “A person always dies who has been bitten by a snake on the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, and fourteenth days of the lunar month.” The second asserted, “One who has been bitten on a Saturday or a Tuesday does not survive.” The third opined, “Poison infused during certain six lunar mansions cannot be got under.” Quoth the fourth, “One who has been bitten in any organ of sense, the lower lip, the cheek, the neck, or the stomach, cannot escape death.” The fifth said, “In this case even Brahma, the Creator, could not restore life–of what account, then, are we? Do you perform the funeral rites; we will depart.”
Thus saying, the sorcerers went their way. The mourning father took up his daughter’s corpse and caused it to be burnt, in the place where dead bodies are usually burnt, and returned to his house.
After that the three young men said to one another, “We must now seek happiness elsewhere. And what better can we do than obey the words of Indra, the God of Air, who spake thus ?–
“‘For a man who does not travel about there is no felicity, and a good man who stays at home is a bad man. Indra is the friend of him who travels. Travel!
“‘A traveller’s legs are like blossoming branches, and he himself grows and gathers the fruit. All his wrongs vanish, destroyed by his exertion on the roadside. Travel!
“‘The fortune of a man who sits, sits also; it rises when he rises; it sleeps when he sleeps; it moves well when he moves. Travel!
“‘A man who sleeps is like the Iron Age. A man who awakes is like the Bronze Age. A man who rises up is like the Silver Age. A man who travels is like the Golden Age. Travel!
“‘A traveller finds honey; a traveller finds sweet figs. Look at the happiness of the sun, who travailing never tires. Travel!”‘
Before parting they divided the relics of the beloved one, and then they went their way.
Tribikram, having separated and tied up the burnt bones, became one of the Vaisheshikas, in those days a powerful sect. He solemnly forswore the eight great crimes, namely: feeding at night; slaying any animal; eating the fruit of trees that give milk, or pumpkins or young bamboos: tasting honey or flesh; plundering the wealth of others; taking by force a married woman; eating flowers, butter, or cheese; and worshipping the gods of other religions. He learned that the highest act of virtue is to abstain from doing injury to sentient creatures; that crime does not justify the destruction of life; and that kings, as the administrators of criminal justice, are the greatest of sinners. He professed the five vows of total abstinence from falsehood, eating flesh or fish, theft, drinking spirits, and marriage. He bound himself to possess nothing beyond a white loin-cloth, a towel to wipe the mouth, a beggar’s dish, and a brush of woollen threads to sweep the ground for fear of treading on insects. And he was ordered to fear secular affairs; the miseries of a future state; the receiving from others more than the food of a day at once; all accidents; provisions, if connected with the destruction of animal life; death and disgrace; also to please all, and to obtain compassion from all.
He attempted to banish his love. He said to himself, “Surely it was owing only to my pride and selfishness that I ever looked upon a woman as capable of affording happiness; and I thought, ‘Ah! ah! thine eyes roll about like the tail of the water-wagtail, thy lips resemble the ripe fruit, thy bosom is like the lotus bud, thy form is resplendent as gold melted in a crucible, the moon wanes through desire to imitate the shadow of thy face, thou resemblest the pleasure-house of Cupid; the happiness of all time is concentrated in thee; a touch from thee would surely give life to a dead image; at thy approach a living admirer would be changed by joy into a lifeless stone; obtaining thee I can face all the horrors of war; and were I pierced by showers of arrows, one glance of thee would heal all my wounds.’
“My mind is now averted from the world. Seeing her I say, ‘Is this the form by which men are bewitched? This is a basket covered with skin; it contains bones, flesh, blood, and impurities. The stupid creature who is captivated by this–is there a cannibal feeding in Currim a greater cannibal than he? These persons call a thing made up of impure matter a face, and drink its charms as a drunkard swallows the inebriating liquor from his cup. The blind, infatuated beings! Why should I be pleased or displeased with this body, composed of flesh and blood? It is my duty to seek Him who is the Lord of this body, and to disregard everything which gives rise either to pleasure or to pain.'”
Baman, the second suitor, tied up a bundle of his beloved one’s ashes, and followed–somewhat prematurely–the precepts of the great lawgiver Manu. “When the father of a family perceives his muscles becoming flaccid, and his hair grey, and sees the child of his child, let him then take refuge in a forest. Let him take up his consecrated fire and all his domestic implements for making oblations to it, and, departing from the town to the lonely wood, let him dwell in it with complete power over his organs of sense and of action. With many sorts of pure food, such as holy sages used to eat, with green herbs, roots, and fruit, let him perform the five great sacraments, introducing them with due ceremonies. Let him wear a black antelope-hide, or a vesture of bark; let him bathe evening and morning; let him suffer the hair of his head, his beard and his nails to grow continually. Let him slide backwards and forwards on the ground; or let him stand a whole day on tiptoe; or let him continue in motion, rising and sitting alternately; but at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset, let him go to the waters and bathe In the hot season let him sit exposed to five fires, four blazing around him, with the sun above; in the rains let him stand uncovered, without even a mantle, where the clouds pour the heaviest showers; in the cold season let him wear damp clothes, and let him increase by degrees the austerity of his devotions. Then, having reposited his holy fires, as the law directs, in his mind, let him live without external fire, without a mansion, wholly silent, feeding on roots and fruit.”
Meanwhile Madhusadan the third, having taken a wallet and neckband, became a Jogi, and began to wander far and wide, living on nothing but chaff, and practicing his devotions. In order to see Brahma he attended to the following duties; 1. Hearing; 2. Meditation; 3. Fixing the Mind; 4. Absorbing the Mind. He combated the three evils, restlessness, injuriousness, voluptuousness by settling the Deity in his spirit, by subjecting his senses, and by destroying desire. Thus he would do away with the illusion (Maya) which conceals all true knowledge. He repeated the name of the Deity till it appeared to him in the form of a Dry Light or glory. Though connected with the affairs of life, that is, with affairs belonging to a body containing blood, bones, and impurities; to organs which are blind, palsied, and full of weakness and error; to a mind filled with thirst, hunger, sorrow, infatuation; to confirmed habits, and to the fruits of former births: still he strove not to view these things as realities. He made a companion of a dog, honouring it with his own food, so as the better to think on spirit. He practiced all the five operations connected with the vital air, or air collected in the body. He attended much to Pranayama, or the gradual suppression of breathing, and he secured fixedness of mind as follows. By placing his sight and thoughts on the tip of his nose he perceived smell; on the tip of his tongue he realized taste, on the root of his tongue he knew sound, and so forth. He practiced the eighty-four Asana or postures, raising his hand to the wonders of the heavens, till he felt no longer the inconveniences of heat or cold, hunger or thirst. He particularly preferred the Padma or lotus-posture, which consists of bringing the feet to the sides, holding the right in the left hand and the left in the right. In the work of suppressing his breath he permitted its respiration to reach at furthest twelve fingers’ breadth, and gradually diminished the distance from his nostrils till he could confine it to the length of twelve fingers from his nose, and even after restraining it for some time he would draw it from no greater distance than from his heart. As respects time, he began by retaining inspiration for twenty-six seconds, and he enlarged this period gradually till he became perfect. He sat cross-legged, closing with his fingers all the avenues of inspiration, and he practiced Prityahara, or the power of restraining the members of the body and mind, with meditation and concentration, to which there are four enemies, viz., a sleepy heart, human passions, a confused mind, and attachment to anything but the one Brahma. He also cultivated Yama, that is, inoffensiveness, truth, honesty, the forsaking of all evil in the world, and the refusal of gifts except for sacrifice, and Nihama, i.e., purity relative to the use of water after defilement, pleasure in everything whether in prosperity or adversity, renouncing food when hungry, and keeping down the body. Thus delivered from these four enemies of the flesh, he resembled the unruffled flame of the lamp, and by Brahmagnana, or meditating on the Deity, placing his mind on the sun, moon, fire, or any other luminous body, or within his heart, or at the bottom of his throat, or in the centre of his skull, he was enabled to ascend from gross images of omnipotence to the works and the divine wisdom of the glorious original.
One day Madhusadan, the Jogi, went to a certain house for food, and the householder having seen him began to say, “Be so good as to take your food here this day!” The visitor sat down, and when the victuals were ready, the host caused his feet and hands to be washed, and leading him to the Chauka, or square place upon which meals are served, seated him and sat by him. And he quoted the scripture: “No guest must be dismissed in the evening by a housekeeper: he is sent by the returning sun, and whether he come in fit season or unseasonably, he must not sojourn in the house without entertainment: let me not eat any delicate food, without asking my guest to partake of it: the satisfaction of a guest will assuredly bring the housekeeper wealth, reputation, long life, and a place in heaven.”
The householder’s wife then came to serve up the food, rice and split peas, oil, and spices, all cooked in a new earthen pot with pure firewood. Part of the meal was served and the rest remained to be served, when the woman’s little child began to cry aloud and to catch hold of its mother’s dress. She endeavoured to release herself, but the boy would not let go, and the more she coaxed the more he cried, and was obstinate. On this the mother became angry, took up the boy and threw him upon the fire, which instantly burnt him to ashes.
Madhusadan, the Jogi, seeing this, rose up without eating. The master of the house said to him, “Why eatest thou not?” He replied, “I am ‘ Atithi,’ that is to say, to be entertained at your house, but how can one eat under the roof of a person who has committed such a Rakshasa-like (devilish) deed? Is it not said, ‘He who does not govern his passions, lives in vain’? ‘A foolish king, a person puffed up with riches, and a weak child, desire that which cannot be procured’? Also, ‘A king destroys his enemies, even when flying; and the touch of an elephant, as well as the breath of a serpent, are fatal; but the wicked destroy even while laughing’?”
Hearing this, the householder smiled; presently he arose and went to another part of the tenement, and brought back with him a book, treating on Sanjivnividya, or the science of restoring the dead to life. This he had taken from its hidden place, two beams almost touching one another with the ends in the opposite wall. The precious volume was in single leaves, some six inches broad by treble that length, and the paper was stained with yellow orpiment and the juice of tamarind seeds to keep away insects.
The householder opened the cloth containing the book, untied the flat boards at the top and bottom, and took out from it a charm. Having repeated this Mantra, with many ceremonies, he at once restored the child to life, saying, “Of all precious things, knowledge is the most valuable; other riches may be stolen, or diminished by expenditure, but knowledge is immortal, and the greater the expenditure the greater the increase; it can be shared with none, and it defies the power of the thief.”
The Jogi, seeing this marvel, took thought in his heart, “If I could obtain that book, I would restore my beloved to life, and give up this course of uncomfortable postures and difficulty of breathing.” With this resolution he sat down to his food, and remained in the house.
At length night came, and after a time, all, having eaten supper, and gone to their sleeping-places, lay down. The Jogi also went to rest in one part of the house, but did not allow sleep to close his eyes. When he thought that a fourth part of the hours of darkness had sped, and that all were deep in slumber, then he got up very quietly, and going into the room of the master of the house, he took down the book from the beam-ends and went his ways.
Madhusadan, the Jogi, went straight to the place where the beautiful Sweet Jasmine had been burned. There he found his two rivals sitting talking together and comparing experiences. They recognized him at once, and cried aloud to him, “Brother! thou also hast been wandering over the world; tell us this–hast thou learned anything which can profit us?” He replied, “I have learned the science of restoring the dead to life”; upon which they both exclaimed, “If thou hast really learned such knowledge, restore our beloved to life.”
Madhusadan proceeded to make his incantations, despite terrible sights in the air, the cries of jackals, owls, crows, cats, asses, vultures, dogs, and lizards, and the wrath of innumerable invisible beings, such as messengers of Yama (Pluto), ghosts, devils, demons, imps, fiends, devas, succubi, and others. All the three lovers drawing blood from their own bodies, offered it to the goddess Chandi, repeating the following incantation, “Hail! supreme delusion! Hail! goddess of the universe! Hail! thou who fulfillest the desires of all. May I presume to offer thee the blood of my body; and wilt thou deign to accept it, and be propitious towards me!”
They then made a burnt-offering of their flesh, and each one prayed, “Grant me, O goddess! to see the maiden alive again, in proportion to the fervency with which I present thee with mine own flesh, invoking thee to be propitious to me. Salutation to thee again and again, under the mysterious syllables any! any!”
Then they made a heap of the bones and the ashes, which had been carefully kept by Tribikram and Baman. As the Jogi Madhusadan proceeded with his incantation, a white vapour arose from the ground, and, gradually condensing, assumed a perispiritual form–the fluid envelope of the soul. The three spectators felt their blood freeze as the bones and the ashes were gradually absorbed into the before shadowy shape, and they were restored to themselves only when the maiden Madhuvati begged to be taken home to her mother.
Then Kama, God of Love, blinded them, and they began fiercely to quarrel about who should have the beautiful maid. Each wanted to be her sole master. Tribikram declared the bones to be the great fact of the incantation; Baman swore by the ashes; and Madhusadan laughed them both to scorn. No one could decide the dispute; the wisest doctors were all nonplussed; and as for the Raja–well! we do not go for wit or wisdom to kings. I wonder if the great Raja Vikram could decide which person the woman belonged to?
“To Baman, the man who kept her ashes, fellow!” exclaimed the hero, not a little offended by the free remarks of the fiend.
“Yet,” rejoined the Baital impudently, “if Tribikram had not preserved her bones how could she have been restored to life? And if Madhusadan had not learned the science of restoring the dead to life how could she have been revivified? At least, so it seems to me. But perhaps your royal wisdom may explain.”
“Devil!” said the king angrily, “Tribikram, who preserved her bones, by that act placed himself in the position of her son; therefore he could not marry her. Madhusadan, who, restoring her to life, gave her life, was evidently a father to her; he could not, then, become her husband. Therefore she was the wife of Baman, who had collected her ashes.”
“I am happy to see, O king,” exclaimed the Vampire, “that in spite of my presentiments, we are not to part company just yet. These little trips I hold to be, like lovers’ quarrels, the prelude to closer union. With your leave we will still practice a little suspension.”
And so saying, the Baital again ascended the tree, and was suspended there.
“Would it not be better,” thought the monarch, after recapturing and shouldering the fugitive, “for me to sit down this time and listen to the fellow’s story? Perhaps the double exercise of walking and thinking confuses me.”
With this idea Vikram placed his bundle upon the ground, well tied up with turband and waistband; then he seated himself cross-legged before it, and bade his son do the same.
The Vampire strongly objected to this measure, as it was contrary, he asserted, to the covenant between him and the Raja. Vikram replied by citing the very words of the agreement, proving that there was no allusion to walking or sitting.
Then the Baital became sulky, and swore that he would not utter another word. But he, too, was bound by the chain of destiny. Presently he opened his lips, with the normal prelude that he was about to tell a true tale.