Corpses that spin tales…

Read the previous part here

The yogi replied “I just have one task for you, o mighty king. But one, that only you can execute. A few hundred yards to our south, is a place where the dead bodies are cremated. In the middle of that ground is a banyan tree, on which a corpse hangs upside-down. Bring that corpse to me…”

Illustration by the renowned Karatholuvu Chandrasekaran Shivashankaran

King Vikram nodded, and set out. The yogi continued with his ritual, and the apparitions continued their dance in wild abandon.

It was raining heavily, and the night was darker than usual. It seemed that it may never rain again, such was the torrent of water that crashed onto the earth mercilessly.

Eerie sounds rent the air, loud enough to frighten the strongest men, but the king continued to make his way through the thick forest. Snakes clung to his legs, but King Vikram freed himself from their clutches and kept going. It seemed like forever, but finally he reached the main cremation ground.

It was very quiet – so quiet that one could hear one’s own breath. King Vikram saw some funeral pyres simmering in the distance, and as he looked across the ground, he saw the banyan tree to his right. It was a huge tree – with thousands of branches, and every leaf on every branch was burning slowly, as if set on fire many years ago, with many more years to go.

Suddenly, he heard strange voices coming from that tree. “Kill him! Kill him!”, the unseen voices screamed. “Don’t let him get away!”

The king kept calm. “That is the same yogi that the deva warned me about”, he reflected. “But why does he want me to fetch a dead body?”

Going closer, he saw a corpse hanging upside down from a huge branch. It was tied with a rope, and swinging very slowly, as if beckoning him closer.

The king unsheathed his sword, climbed up the tree, and in one swift stroke, cut the corpse free. The body fell down, and immediately began to gnash it’s teeth, and weep softly.

“Who are you? Are you alive?”, said the king.

The corpse, having heard the question, burst out laughing. It climbed up the tree once again, and hung itself upside down, and continued to laugh. The king was surprised, but he climbed up the tree, and brought down the corpse once again.

“Who are you? Tell me!”, said the king sternly, as he thought in his mind – “This may be the one who was born in the house of the commoner, and whom the yogi has confined to the tree with his tantra vidya…”

The Baitāl refused to answer, and so the king tied it up in a cloth, and lifted it onto his back. As he started to walk, the Baitāl finally spoke.

“Who are you? And where are you taking me?”

“I am Vikram, and I am taking you to the yogi.”

The Baitāl laughed. “Very well”, he said. “I will come with you. But on one condition. You are to remain silent throughout the journey. If you utter even one word, I will return to the tree!”

The king agreed, and continued to walk.

“O king! When people are learned, clever and full of wisdom, they spend their days learning and relishing the knowledge of the Shāstras”, said the Baitāl. “Only fools spend time sleeping and in waste. We have a long journey ahead, and so let me speak something of wisdom, rather than remain silent and waste this time….”

“Oh mighty king, let me tell you a story…”

to be continued…