Holy smoke!

Read the previous part here

Meanwhile, rumors of Bhartharī’s abdication spread like wildfire, and soon reached King Vikram’s ears too. He was enjoying his journeys, but he knew that duty beckoned. And so King Vikram decided to return to the capital, and take back control of his kingdom.

Illustration by the renowned Karatholuvu Chandrasekaran Shivashankaran

It was midnight, as King Vikram crossed the border into Dhārānagar. As soon as he did, a voice cried out and said “Who are you? What are you doing here, and where do you think you are going? Stop, and tell me your name!”

Vikram answered “I am King Vikram, and I am returning to my own kingdom. Who are you and how dare you stop me?”

“I have been sent here by Indra, to guard the kingdom. If you truly are King Vikram, prove it to me by fighting me first”, came the reply, as the deva made his appearance.

The king tightened his waist-cloth, as the deva rushed towards him. A fierce and long battle ensued, but at the end of it, King Vikram threw down the deva and sat on his chest, with his hand snaked around the deva’s neck.

The deva cried out “Oh king, you have defeated me, but I grant you life!”

King Vikram smiled. “Are you mad? To whom will you grant life? I can, if I wish, kill you now in an instant, so how are you even in a position to grant me life?”

The deva replied “Oh mighty king! I will save you from certain death, but you have to listen to me patiently first. Once you hear what I have to say, you will understand everything.”

The king loosened his grip around the deva’s neck. “Go on”, he said, and listened intently.

A long time ago, there lived a very generous and just king named ChandraBhān. It so happened, that one day, when he was riding through the forest, he saw a yogi suspended head-downwards from a peepal tree. Below, a small fire was lit, and a constant stream of smoke rose, engulfing the yogi.

The king got down and watched from a distance – the yogi remained suspended, not for a minute, or an hour, but for the whole day, inhaling this smoke the whole time. Intrigued, the king stayed on through the night, but as morning dawned, the yogi had not shifted from his position.

He kept thinking of the yogi as he reached his palace. “Who is he? What was he doing there, suspended from a tree? I have to know more…”

He called his minister and said “Spread the word. There is a certain yogi in the forest, who spends his days suspended upside-down from a tree. I was riding for long, and so I don’t remember which path I saw him from. Also, there was an eerie feeling around him, and he may have some occult powers. So I did not disturb.”

He continued “But I want to know more about this yogi, and I want him to be brought to my court, of his own accord. Make an announcement in the kingdom…whosoever brings that yogi to me, willingly, will receive a thousand gold coins as a reward.”

Many days passed. No one took up the challenge. A yogi, who could perform such a feat, surely had more powers. And no one wanted to incur his wrath by disturbing him.

More than a month later, a certain courtesan, having heard about the reward, approached the king in his court.

“If you command me, and promise me the reward, I will only enter this court after bearing a child by this yogi, and bring that child along, riding on his shoulders”, she declared.

The king was astonished, but quickly agreed. He gave her a betel-nut as a token of their arrangement, and wished her luck.

to be continued…