April 29, 2022

#08-207: The King and the Corpse: In the Cemetery

King Vikram grasps the Baital by the hair

Note: Having heard what happened in the palace, let's see what happened to King Vikram (and his son) in the cemetery.

Get Ready: Do you know any riddles?

Last lesson we saw how King Vikram promised a holy man named Shanta-Shil that he would join him for one night in a cemetery and do his bidding. This is part of the frame story of the collection known as Baital Pachisi, ("Twenty-five Tales of Baital"), also called Vikram and the Vampire or The King and the Corpse.

And so he did. Arriving at the cemetery with his son Dharma Dhwaj, both prepared for battle, King Vikram was met by terrors of all kinds: roaring tigers; trumpeting elephants; wolves, foxes, jackals, and hyenas devouring human remains; fiends, ghosts--and all you would expect.

And there, as ghastly as them all, in their midst calmly sat Shanta-Shil. "Come sit down, both of you," he said, and when they had, the king asked, "What do you command us?"

"O king," the yogi replied, "merely perform one task: about an hour from here you will find a body hanging from a tree. Just bring it to me."

The king and his son found the tree, which was burning from its roots to its leaves. And there, head downward, was a body, with its eyes wide open, thin like a skeleton, and hanging by its feet like a bat!

The king valiantly cut it down, but immediately it started to cry out like an infant in pain. He asked it, "Who are you?" but without replying it slipped from his fingers and resumed its place on the burning tree! Once more he cut it down and asked again, but with the same result. The angry king began to strike it with his sword, but it was like striking iron. The son too joined in, but to no avail.

The seventh time he failed, the ghoul spoke. He would allow the king to carry him away, on one condition: as they traveled, he would tell a story that ended with a riddle. If the king could not answer, he could take the ghoul to wherever he liked. If he could answer, he must, and the ghoul would fly back into the tree. But if he could answer and chose not to, the king's head would explode in a thousand pieces!

And so it went: 24 times the king set out with the ghoul, his son beside him. And 24 times he answered the riddle and the ghoul returned to the tree. Sometimes they were easy, and sometimes difficult, but always he answered. (The pleasure of this book is in the collected stories, which sadly we haven't room for here.)

The 25th time the ghoul asked a question the king could not answer, and it went like this:

After a fierce battle a father and a son find a queen and her daughter alive. The father marries the princess, and they have a daughter; the son marries the queen, and they have a son. What is the relationship of the two newborn children?

The king could not answer. (Can you?)

And so the ghoul was delivered to the holy man, and the king's promise was fulfilled.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. bidding
  2. frame story
  3. ghoul
  4. girded
  5. resumed
  6. task
  7. terrors
  8. valiantly
  9. witnessed
  10. yogi

  1. bravely
  2. an Indian holy person
  3. assigned job
  4. took again
  5. prepared
  6. frightening things
  7. a structure made to connect other stories
  8. command
  9. an evil demon fond of corpses
  10. saw

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 29, 2022

1 comment:

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