The twist…

Read the previous part here

“So tell me, o King, about the children who were born in the course of time to the mother and daughter by the son and the father…what relationship did they bear to one another?”

Remember, if you know the answer, and don’t tell me the truth, your head will burst into a hundred pieces!

Illustration by the renowned Karatholuvu Chandrasekaran Shivashankaran

एतद् वेतालतः श्रुत्वा विमृशन् बहुधापि सः ।
नाज्ञासीत् तद् यदा राजा तूष्णीकः प्रययौ तदा ॥ १२,३१.६० ॥

ततस् तदंसकूटस्थो वेतालो विहसन् हृदि ।
मृतपूरुषदेहान्तो निविष्टः समचिन्तयत् ॥ १२,३१.६१ ॥

नायं राजा महाप्रश्ने वेत्त्य् अस्मिन् दातुम् उत्तरम् ।
तेन तूष्णीं व्रजत्य् एष हृष्टो ऽतिचतुरैः पदैः ॥ १२,३१.६२ ॥

न च वञ्चयितुं शक्यः सत्त्वराशिर् अयं परम् ।
क्रीडन् भिक्षुः स चास्माभिर् इयतैव न शाम्यति ॥ १२,३१.६३ ॥

तद् अद्य वञ्चयित्वा तं दुरात्मानम् उपायतः ।
तत्सिद्धिं भाविकल्याणे राजन्य् अस्मिन् निवेशये ॥ १२,३१.६४ ॥

When the king heard the Vetāla’s question, he tried his best to find an answer, but failed. And so, unable to answer this question, he kept walking in silence.

The Vetāla understood that he had finally puzzled the king, and so he laughed to himself, and thought…

“The king does not know this answer! If he did, he would surely tell me, since my curse is very powerful.”

“I should stop deceiving this valorous king now, and deceive that evil person in the guise of the yogi. I am pleased with the king’s efforts, and will let him have the Siddhi of this task for himself and the overall benefit of this world…”

It has been more than seven months since I started the वेतालपञ्चविंशति(Vetala Panchavimshati)…better known as the stories of Vikram and Betaal. If you recall from the episode – A visit to the cremation ground – ShāntiShila had asked King Vikram to perform a task…here is a recap.


“Oh great king, you have spoken the truth. One who possesses virtue, possesses everything. It is only virtue that stays with us – riches, power, prestige, all come and go. My king, each of these gems is invaluable, priceless pieces that have no equal. Each ruby is worth a kingdom, and more. There is no one who can put a price on any of them, and there is no one who can pay a price, or even a tenth, for any of them”, replied the jeweler.

The king, having heard what the jeweler had to say, thanked him, turned to the yogi and said “My entire kingdom is not as valuable as just one of these rubies. Tell me why you, who has renounced the world, chose to give me such riches.”

ShāntiShila replied “O King! Talks on mantras, Ayurveda and aushadhiy (medicinal herbs), good qualities, matters of the household, and scandals – are not to be spoken aloud and in public. I am willing to speak to you in private. षट्-कर्णो भिद्यते मन्त्रश् चतुष्कर्णः स्थिरो भवेत् तस्मात् सर्व-प्रयत्नेन षट्कर्णं वर्जयेत् सुधीः ॥ A secret that is heard by six ears will most certainly be leaked; a discussion that is limited to four ears will always be kept secret. And if it is limited to two ears, then even Brahma cannot come to know of it. Therefore the wise should always avoid a discussion that is heard by six ears.”

Hearing him speak this way, King Vikram took ShāntiShila to his private chambers, sat him down, and said “O holy saint! You have brought me so many riches, yet have not even accepted a grain of rice from me. I am indebted to you. Tell me what you desire from me, and I will make sure that it is done.”

ShāntiShila replied “O mighty king! I am going to conduct a ritual on the banks of the river Godāvarī, in a large cremation ground. This ritual is intense, and will result in me having control over all the eight Siddhis. All I ask from you is to stay with me during the process. If you are with me, my ritual will be successful.

King Vikram replied “I humbly accept your invitation. When should I come there?”

ShāntiShila said “On the night of Bhānuvasarah (Tuesday), the fourteenth night of the Krishna Paksha of Bhādrapada, you are to come to me, armed, but alone.”

King Vikram replied “You have my word. I will be there.” 

ShāntiShila bowed to the king, and left. King Vikram sat down, deep in thought. 

It was the fourteenth night of the Krishna Paksha of Bhādrapada, and King Vikram reached the cremation ground. ShāntiShila was there, sitting alone with a small fire burning in front of him. 

“Come, sit down, o king”, he said, without turning his head. 

The king looked around. there were frightful figures, apparitions, surrounding the yogi, dancing in wild abandon. ShāntiShila was seated in their midst, two skulls in hand, chanting mantras as he moved the skulls in a slow circle. Vikram was not frightened, nor alarmed, since he had expected this. He sat down a few feet away, and said “Tell me, o yogi, what can I do for you?”

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…”

to be continued…