April 27, 2022

#08-206: The King and the Corpse: In the Palace

A modern statue of the legendary King Vikram (Vikramaditya)

Note: The stories in this collection are set in a frame story and, as often happens, it is every bit as interesting as the tales themselves.

Get Ready: Have you ever received a gift and not discovered until later how valuable (or useful) it is?

The story collection sometimes called Baital Pachisi, meaning "Twenty-five (tales) of Baital," is also called Vikram and the Vampire or The King and the Corpse. But before we get to the corpse, let's meet the king in the story's Prologue.

The great King Vikram sat daily in court to judge the cases of all who came. Often he would find that the cause of complaint involved a woman; other times it was a money claim; and he often consulted experts in the law before rendering a decision. He was famously patient with the rough language from irritated plaintiffs and defendants, from the infirm, and from old men beyond eighty.

One day a rich young merchant named Mal Deo arrived in the city. Upon being received, he gave the king a fruit which he had brought, and then spread a carpet on the floor and sat down. After a quarter of an hour, and making no request, he arose and went away.

Fearing he might get poisoned, the king sent for the master of the household and gave him the present, ordering him to keep it very carefully. The young merchant came every day to court, each time giving him another piece of fruit, but saying nothing.

One morning King Vikram went to inspect his stables. The young merchant came there, too, and again gave him a piece of fruit. The king was tossing the fruit thoughtfully in the air when he accidentally dropped it to the ground. Quick as a flash, a monkey from the women's quarters snatched it and ran away. The king's guards followed him, and saw him throw the fruit through a window into a storeroom.

When they forced the room's door open, the guards found a pile of rotting fruit, and amongst them were a number of large, brilliant rubies! When the king was informed, he took the young merchant aside and asked him suspiciously, "Why have you given us all this wealth?"

"I have been taught, O King," he replied, "that one cannot approach empty-handed a king, a spiritual teacher, a judge, a young maiden, or the mother of such a maiden, especially if one is going to make a request. Every fruit I have given you had one of these baubles inside."

It was true: his jeweler estimated the worth of all the rubies at ten million million gold pieces! Although the king was naturally delighted, he was still suspicious.

Upon further questioning, Mal Deo told the king, "I did not wish to discuss my case in public, and used the fruit to gain a private audience with Your Majesty. And now that we are alone, I can tell you: I am not Mal Deo, but Shanta-Shil, a devotee. I need you to come to a cemetery, where I will perform rituals that will give me great power. I ask you to pass one night there, doing anything I request. You will gain a spiritual benefit, and, with your help, I will surely be successful."

Though chilled at the thought of a night in a cemetery, the king put on a brave face and agreed, and so they planned to meet on the Monday evening the 14th of the dark half of the month of August.

We'll see what happened in the cemetery in the next lesson.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. baubles
  2. chilled
  3. corpse
  4. devotee
  5. empty-handed
  6. maiden
  7. rituals
  8. rubies
  9. snatched
  10. suspiciously

  1. religious exercises
  2. grabbed
  3. frightened
  4. a dead body
  5. doubtfully; without trusting
  6. cheap ornaments; trinkets
  7. expensive red jewels
  8. a religious follower
  9. without anything to offer
  10. an unmarried young woman

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 27, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. c; 3. d; 4. h; 5. i; 6. j; 7. a; 8. g; 9. b; 10. e