Vikram and Betal Stories – Of a woman who told the truth
“Listen, great king!” again began the Baital.
An unimportant Baniya (trader), Hiranyadatt, had a daughter, whose name was Madansena Sundari, the beautiful army of Cupid. Her face was like the moon; her hair like the clouds; her eyes like those of a muskrat; her eyebrows like a bent bow; her nose like a parrot’s bill; her neck like that of a dove; her teeth like pomegranate grains; the red colour of her lips like that of a gourd; her waist lithe and bending like the pards: her hands and feet like softest blossoms; her complexion like the jasmine-in fact, day by day the splendour of her youth increased.
When she had arrived at maturity, her father and mother began often to resolve in their minds the subject of her marriage. And the people of all that country side ruled by Birbar king of Madanpur bruited it abroad that in the house of Hiranyadatt had been born a daughter by whose beauty gods, men, and munis (sages) were fascinated.
Thereupon many, causing their portraits to be painted, sent them by messengers to Hiranyadatt the Baniya, who showed them all to his daughter. But she was capricious, as beauties sometimes are, and when her father said, “Make choice of a husband thyself,” she told him that none pleased her, and moreover she begged of him to find her a husband who possessed good looks, good qualities, and good sense.
At length, when some days had passed, four suitors came from four different countries. The father told them that he must have from each some indication that he possessed the required qualities; that he was pleased with their looks, but that they must satisfy him about their knowledge.
“I have,” the first said, “a perfect acquaintance with the Shastras (or Scriptures); in science there is none to rival me. As for my handsome mien, it may plainly be seen by you.”
The second exclaimed, “My attainments are unique in the knowledge of archery. I am acquainted with the art of discharging arrows and killing anything which though not seen is heard, and my fine proportions are plainly visible to you.”
The third continued, “I understand the language of land and water animals, of birds and of beasts, and I have no equal in strength. Of my comeliness you yourself may judge.”
“I have the knowledge,” quoth the fourth, “how to make a certain cloth which can be sold for five rubies: having sold it I give the proceeds of one ruby to a Brahman, of the second I make an offering to a deity, a third I wear on my own person, a fourth I keep for my wife; and, having sold the fifth, I spend it in giving feasts. This is my knowledge, and none other is acquainted with it. My good looks are apparent.”
The father hearing these speeches began to reflect, “It is said that excess in anything is not good. Sita was very lovely, but the demon Ravana carried her away; and Bali king of Mahabahpur gave much alms, but at length he became poor. My daughter is too fair to remain a maiden; to which of these shall I give her?”
So saying, Hiranyadatt went to his daughter, explained the qualities of the four suitors, and asked, “To which shall I give thee?” On hearing these words she was abashed; and, hanging down her head, knew not what to reply.
Then the Baniya, having reflected, said to himself, “He who is acquainted with the Shastras is a Brahman, he who could shoot an arrow at the sound was a Kshatriya or warrior, and he who made the cloth was a Shudra or servile. But the youth who understands the language of birds is of our own caste. To him, therefore, will I marry her.” And accordingly he proceeded with the betrothal of his daughter.
Meanwhile Madansena went one day, during the spring season into the garden for a stroll. It happened, just before she came out, that Somdatt, the son of the merchant Dharmdatt, had gone for pleasure into the forest, and was returning through the same garden to his home.
He was fascinated at the sight of the maiden, and said to his friend, “Brother, if I can obtain her my life will be prosperous, and if I do not obtain her my living in the world will be in vain.”
Having thus spoken, and becoming restless from the fear of separation, he involuntarily drew near to her, and seizing her hand, said–“If thou wilt not form an affection for me, I will throw away my life on thy account.”
“Be pleased not to do this,” she replied; “it will be sinful, and it will involve me in the guilt and punishment of shedding blood; hence I shall be miserable in this world and in that to be.”
“Thy blandishments,” he replied, “have pierced my heart, and the consuming thought of parting from thee has burnt up my body, and memory and understanding have been destroyed by this pain; and from excess of love I have no sense of right or wrong. But if thou wilt make me a promise, I will live again.”
She replied, “Truly the Kali Yug (iron age) has commenced, since which time falsehood has increased in the world and truth has diminished; people talk smoothly with their tongues, but nourish deceit in their hearts; religion is destroyed, crime has increased, and the earth has begun to give little fruit. Kings levy fines, Brahmans have waxed covetous, the son obeys not his sire’s commands, brother distrusts brother; friendship has departed from amongst friends; sincerity has left masters; servants have given up service; man has abandoned manliness; and woman has abandoned modesty. Five days hence, my marriage is to be; but if thou slay not thyself, I will visit thee first, and after that I will remain with my husband.”
Having given this promise, and having sworn by the Ganges, she returned home. The merchant’s son also went his way.
Presently the marriage ceremonies came on, and Hiranyadatt the Baniya expended a lakh of rupees in feasts and presents to the bridegroom. The bodies of the twain were anointed with turmeric, the bride was made to hold in her hand the iron box for eye paint, and the youth a pair of betel scissors. During the night before the wedding there was loud and shrill music, the heads and limbs of the young couple were rubbed with an ointment of oil, and the bridegroom’s head was duly shaved. The wedding procession was very grand. The streets were a blaze of flambeaux and torches carried in the hand, fireworks by the ton were discharged as the people passed; elephants, camels, and horses richly caparisoned, were placed in convenient situations; and before the procession had reached the house of the bride half a dozen wicked boys and bad young men were killed or wounded. After the marriage formulas were repeated, the Baniya gave a feast or supper, and the food was so excellent that all sat down quietly, no one uttered a complaint, or brought dishonour on the bride’s family, or cut with scissors the garments of his neighbour.
The ceremony thus happily concluded, the husband brought Madansena home to his own house. After some days the wife of her husband’s youngest brother, and also the wife of his eldest brother, led her at night by force to her bridegroom, and seated her on a bed ornamented with flowers.
As her husband proceeded to take her hand, she jerked it away, and at once openly told him all that she had promised to Somdatt on condition of his not killing himself.
“All things,” rejoined the bridegroom, hearing her words, “have their sense ascertained by speech; in speech they have their basis, and from speech they proceed; consequently a falsifier of speech falsifies everything. If truly you are desirous of going to him, go!
“Receiving her husband’s permission, she arose and went off to the young merchant’s house in full dress. Upon the road a thief saw her, and in high good humour came up and asked –
“Whither goest thou at midnight in such darkness, having put on all these fine clothes and ornaments?”
She replied that she was going to the house of her beloved.
“And who here,” said the thief, “is thy protector?”
“Kama Deva,” she replied, “the beautiful youth who by his fiery arrows wounds with love the hearts of the inhabitants of the three worlds, Ratipati, the husband of Rati, accompanied by the kokila bird, the humming bee and gentle breezes.” She then told to the thief the whole story, adding –
“Destroy not my jewels: I give thee a promise before I go, that on my return thou shalt have all these ornaments.”
Hearing this the thief thought to himself that it would be useless now to destroy her jewels, when she had promised to give them to him presently of her own good will. He therefore let her go, and sat down and thus soliloquized:
“To me it is astonishing that he who sustained me in my mother’s womb should take no care of me now that I have been born and am able to enjoy the good things of this world. I know not whether he is asleep or dead. And I would rather swallow poison than ask man for money or favour. For these six things tend to lower a man:–friendship with the perfidious; causeless laughter; altercation with women; serving an unworthy master; riding an ass, and speaking any language but Sanskrit. And these five things the deity writes on our fate at the hour of birth:–first, age; secondly, action; thirdly, wealth; fourthly, science; fifthly, fame. I have now done a good deed, and as long as a man’s virtue is in the ascendant, all people becoming his servants obey him. But when virtuous deeds diminish, even his friends become inimical to him.”
Meanwhile Madansena had reached the place where Somdatt the young trader had fallen asleep.
She awoke him suddenly, and he springing up in alarm quickly asked her, “Art thou the daughter of a deity? or of a saint? or of a serpent? Tell me truly, who art thou? And whence hast thou come?”
She replied, “I am human–Madansena, the daughter of the Baniya Hiranyadatt. Dost thou not remember taking my hand in that grove, and declaring that thou wouldst slay thyself if I did not swear to visit thee first and after that remain with my husband?”
“Hast thou,” he inquired, “told all this to thy husband or not?”
She replied, “I have told him everything; and he, thoroughly understanding the whole affair, gave me permission.”
“This matter,” exclaimed Somdatt in a melancholy voice, “is like pearls without a suitable dress, or food without clarified butter, or singing without melody; they are all alike unnatural. In the same way, unclean clothes will mar beauty, bad food will undermine strength, a wicked wife will worry her husband to death, a disreputable son will ruin his family, an enraged demon will kill, and a woman, whether she love or hate, will be a source of pain. For there are few things which a woman will not do. She never brings to her tongue what is in her heart, she never speaks out what is on her tongue, and she never tells what she is doing. Truly the Deity has created woman a strange creature in this world.” He concluded with these words: “Return thou home with another man’s wife I have no concern.”
Madansena rose and departed. On her way she met the thief, who, hearing her tale, gave her great praise, and let her go unplundered.
She then went to her husband, and related the whole matter to him. But he had ceased to love her, and he said, “Neither a king nor a minister, nor a wife, nor a person’s hair nor his nails, look well out of their places. And the beauty of the kokila is its note, of an ugly man knowledge, of a devotee forgiveness, and of a woman her chastity.”
The Vampire having narrated thus far, suddenly asked the king, “Of these three, whose virtue was the greatest?”
Vikram, who had been greatly edified by the tale, forgot himself, and ejaculated, “The Thief’s.”
“And pray why?” asked the Baital.
“Because,” the hero explained, “when her husband saw that she loved another man, however purely, he ceased to feel affection for her. Somdatt let her go unharmed, for fear of being punished by the king. But there was no reason why the thief should fear the law and dismiss her; therefore he was the best.”
“Hi! hi! hi!” laughed the demon, spitefully. “Here, then, ends my story.”
Upon which, escaping as before from the cloth in which he was slung behind the Raja’s back, the Baital disappeared through the darkness of the night, leaving father and son looking at each other in dismay.
“Son Dharma Dhwaj,” quoth the great Vikram, “the next time when that villain Vampire asks me a question, I allow thee to take the liberty of pinching my arm even before I have had time to answer his questions. In this way we shall never, of a truth, end our task.”
“Your words be upon my head, sire,” replied the young prince. But he expected no good from his father’s new plan, as, arrived under the sires-tree, he heard the Baital laughing with all his might.”
Surely he is laughing at our beards, sire,” said the beardless prince, who hated to be laughed at like a young person.
“Let them laugh that win,” fiercely cried Raja Vikram, who hated to be laughed at like an elderly person.