Vikram and the Vampire, by Richard Burton

Conclusion.

At Raja Vikram’s silence the Baital was greatly surprised, and he praised the royal courage and resolution to the skies. Still he did not give up the contest at once.

“Allow me, great king,” pursued the Demon, in a dry tone of voice, “to wish you joy. After so many failures you have at length succeeded in repressing your loquacity. I will not stop to enquire whether it was humility and self-restraint which prevented your answering my last question, or whether Rajait was mere ignorance and inability. Of course I suspect the latter, but to say the truth your condescension in at last taking a Vampire’s advice, flatters me so much, that I will not look too narrowly into cause or motive.”

Raja Vikram winced, but maintained a stubborn silence, squeezing his lips lest they should open involuntarily.

“Now, however, your majesty has mortified, we will suppose, a somewhat exacting vanity, I also will in my turn forego the pleasure which I had anticipated in seeing you a corpse and in entering your royal body for a short time, just to know how queer it must feel to be a king. And what is more, I will now perform my original promise, and you shall derive from me a benefit which none but myself can bestow. First, however, allow me to ask you, will you let me have a little more air?”

Dharma Dhwaj pulled his father’s sleeve, but this time Raja Vikram required no reminder: wild horses or the executioner’s saw, beginning at the shoulder, would not have drawn a word from him. Observing his obstinate silence, the Baital, with an ominous smile, continued:

“Now give ear, O warrior king, to what I am about to tell thee, and bear in mind the giant’s saying, ‘A man is justified in killing one who has a design to kill him.’ The young merchant Mal Deo, who placed such magnificent presents at your royal feet, and Shanta–Shil the devotee saint, who works his spells, incantations, and magical rites in a cemetery on the banks of the Godaveri river, are, as thou knowest, one person — the terrible Jogi, whose wrath your father aroused in his folly, and whose revenge your blood alone can satisfy. With regard to myself, the oilman’s son, the same Jogi, fearing lest I might interfere with his projects of universal dominion, slew me by the power of his penance, and has kept me suspended, a trap for you, head downwards from the sires-tree.

“That Jogi it was, you now know, who sent you to fetch me back to him on your back. And when you cast me at his feet he will return thanks to you and praise your valour, perseverance and resolution to the skies. I warn you to beware. He will lead you to the shrine of Durga, and when he has finished his adoration he will say to you, ‘O great king, salute my deity with the eightlimbed reverence.’ ”

Here the Vampire whispered for a time and in a low tone, lest some listening goblin might carry his words if spoken out loud to the ears of the devotee Shanta–Shil.

At the end of the monologue a rustling sound was heard. It proceeded from the Baital, who was disengaging himself from the dead body in the bundle, and the burden became sensibly lighter upon the monarch’s back.

The departing Baital, however, did not forget to bid farewell to the warrior king and to his son. He complimented the former for the last time, in his own way, upon the royal humility and the prodigious self-mortification which he had displayed — qualities, he remarked, which never failed to ensure the proprietor’s success in all the worlds.

Raja Vikram stepped out joyfully, and soon reached the burning ground. There he found the Jogi, dressed in his usual habit, a deerskin thrown over his back, and twisted reeds instead of a garment hanging round his loins. The hair had fallen from his limbs and his skin was bleached ghastly white by exposure to the elements. A fire seemed to proceed from his mouth, and the matted locks dropping from his head to the ground were changed by the rays of the sun to the colour of gold or saffron. He had the beard of a goat and the ornaments of a king; his shoulders were high and his arms long, reaching to his knees: his nails grew to such a length as to curl round the ends of his fingers, and his feet resembled those of a tiger. He was drumming upon a skull, and incessantly exclaiming, “Ho, Kali! ho, Durga! ho, Devi!”

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As before, strange beings were holding their carnival in the Jogi’s presence. Monstrous Asuras, giant goblins, stood grimly gazing upon the scene with fixed eyes and motionless features. Rakshasas and messengers of Yama, fierce and hideous, assumed at pleasure the shapes of foul and ferocious beasts. Nagas and Bhutas, partly human and partly bestial, disported themselves in throngs about the upper air, and were dimly seen in the faint light of the dawn. Mighty Daityas, Bramba-daityas, and Pretas, the size of a man’s thumb, or dried up like leaves, and Pisachas of terrible power guarded the place. There were enormous goats, vivified by the spirits of those who had slain Brahmans; things with the bodies of men and the faces of horses, camels and monkeys; hideous worms containing the souls of those priests who had drunk spirituous liquors; men with one leg and one ear, and mischievous blood-sucking demons, who in life had stolen church property. There were vultures, wretches that had violated the beds of their spiritual fathers, restless ghosts that had loved low-caste women, shades for whom funeral rites had not been performed, and who could not cross the dread Vaitarani stream,188 and vital souls fresh from the horrors of Tamisra, or utter darkness, and the Usipatra Vana, or the sword-leaved forest. Pale spirits, Alayas, Gumas, Baitals, and Yakshas,189 beings of a base and vulgar order, glided over the ground, amongst corpses and skeletons animated by female fiends, Dakinis, Yoginis, Hakinis, and Shankinis, which were dancing in frightful revelry. The air was filled with supernatural sights and sounds, cries of owls and jackals, cats and crows, dogs, asses, and vultures, high above which rose the clashing of the bones with which the Jogi sat drumming upon the skull before him, and tending a huge cauldron of oil whose smoke was of blue fire. But as he raised his long lank arm, silver-white with ashes, the demons fled, and a momentary silence succeeded to their uproar. The tigers ceased to roar and the elephants to scream; the bears raised their snouts from their foul banquets, and the wolves dropped from their jaws the remnants of human flesh. And when they disappeared, the hooting of the owl, and ghastly “ha! ha!” of the curlew, and the howling of the jackal died away in the far distance, leaving a silence still more oppressive.

As Raja Vikram entered the burning-ground, the hollow sound of solitude alone met his ear. Sadly wailed the wet autumnal blast. The tall gaunt trees groaned aloud, and bowed and trembled like slaves bending before their masters. Huge purple clouds and patches and lines of glaring white mist coursed furiously across the black expanse of firmament, discharging threads and chains and lozenges and balls of white and blue, purple and pink lightning, followed by the deafening crash and roll of thunder, the dreadful roaring of the mighty wind, and the torrents of plashing rain. At times was heard in the distance the dull gurgling of the swollen river, interrupted by explosions, as slips of earth-bank fell headlong into the stream. But once more the Jogi raised his arm and all was still: nature lay breathless, as if awaiting the effect of his tremendous spells.

The warrior king drew near the terrible man, unstrung his bundle from his back, untwisted the portion which he held, threw open the cloth, and exposed to Shanta–Shil’s glittering eyes the corpse, which had now recovered its proper form — that of a young child. Seeing it, the devotee was highly pleased, and thanked Vikram the Brave, extolling his courage and daring above any monarch that had yet lived. After which he repeated certain charms facing towards the south, awakened the dead body, and placed it in a sitting position. He then in its presence sacrificed to his goddess, the White One,190 all that he had ready by his side — betel leaf and flowers, sandal wood and unbroken rice, fruits, perfumes, and the flesh of man untouched by steel. Lastly, he half filled his skull with burning embers, blew upon them till they shot forth tongues of crimson light, serving as a lamp, and motioning the Raja and his son to follow him, led the way to a little fane of the Destroying Deity erected in a dark clump of wood, outside and close to the burning ground.

They passed through the quadrangular outer court of the temple whose piazza was hung with deep shade.191 In silence they circumambulated the small central shrine, and whenever Shanta–Shil directed, Raja Vikram entered the Sabha, or vestibule, and struck three times upon the gong, which gave forth a loud and warning sound.

They then passed over the threshold, and looked into the gloomy inner depths. There stood Smashana–Kali,192 the goddess, in her most horrid form. She was a naked and very black woman, with half-severed head, partly cut and partly painted, resting on her shoulder; and her tongue lolled out from her wide yawning mouth193; her eyes were red like those of a drunkard; and her eyebrows were of the same colour: her thick coarse hair hung like a mantle to her heels. She was robed in an elephant’s hide, dried and withered, confined at the waist with a belt composed of the hands of the giants whom she had slain in war: two dead bodies formed her earrings, and her necklace was of bleached skulls. Her four arms supported a scimitar, a noose, a trident, and a ponderous mace. She stood with one leg on the breast of her husband, Shiva, and she rested the other on his thigh. Before the idol lay the utensils of worship, namely, dishes for the offerings, lamps, jugs, incense, copper cups, conches and gongs; and all of them smelt of blood.

As Raja Vikram and his son stood gazing upon the hideous spectacle, the devotee stooped down to place his skull-lamp upon the ground, and drew from out his ochre-coloured cloth a sharp sword which he hid behind his back.

“Prosperity to thine and thy son’s for ever and ever, O mighty Vikram!” exclaimed Shanta–Shil, after he had muttered a prayer before the image. “Verily thou hast right royally redeemed thy pledge, and by the virtue of thy presence all my wishes shall presently be accomplished. Behold! the Sun is about to drive his car over the eastern hills, and our task now ends. Do thou reverence before this my deity, worshipping the earth through thy nose, and so prostrating thyself that thy eight limbs may touch the ground.194 Thus shall thy glory and splendour be great; the Eight Powers195 and the Nine Treasures shall be thine, and prosperity shall ever remain under thy roof-tree.”

Raja Vikram, hearing these words, recalled suddenly to mind all that the Vampire had whispered to him. He brought his joined hands open up to his forehead, caused his two thumbs to touch his brow several times, and replied with the greatest humility,

“O pious person! I am a king ignorant of the way to do such obeisance. Thou art a spiritual preceptor: be pleased to teach me and I will do even as thou desirest.”

Then the Jogi, being a cunning man, fell into his own net. As he bent him down to salute the goddess, Vikram, drawing his sword, struck him upon the neck so violent a blow, that his head rolled from his body upon the ground. At the same moment Dharma Dhwaj, seizing his father’s arm, pulled him out of the way in time to escape being crushed by the image, which fell with the sound of thunder upon the floor of the temple.

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A small thin voice in the upper air was heard to cry, “A man is justified in killing one who has the desire to kill him.” Then glad shouts of triumph and victory were heard in all directions. They proceeded from the celestial choristers, the heavenly dancers, the mistresses of the gods, and the nymphs of Indra’s Paradise, who left their beds of gold and precious stones, their seats glorious as the meridian sun, their canals of crystal water, their perfumed groves, and their gardens where the wind ever blows in softest breezes, to applaud the valour and good fortune of the warrior king.

At last the brilliant god, Indra himself, with the thousand eyes, rising from the shade of the Parigat tree, the fragrance of whose flowers fills the heavens, appeared in his car drawn by yellow steeds and cleaving the thick vapours which surround the earth — whilst his attendants sounded the heavenly drums and rained a shower of blossoms and perfumes — bade the Vikramajit the Brave ask a boon.

The Raja joined his hands and respectfully replied,

“O mighty ruler of the lower firmament, let this my history become famous throughout the world!”

“It is well,” rejoined the god. “As long as the sun and moon endure, and the sky looks down upon the ground, so long shall this thy adventure be remembered over all the earth. Meanwhile rule thou mankind.”

Thus saying, Indra retired to the delicious Amrawati196 Vikram took up the corpses and threw them into the cauldron which Shanta–Shil had been tending. At once two heroes started into life, and Vikram said to them, “When I call you, come!”

With these mysterious words the king, followed by his son, returned to the palace unmolested. As the Vampire had predicted, everything was prosperous to him, and he presently obtained the remarkable titles, Sakaro, or foe of the Sakas, and Sakadhipati–Vikramaditya.

And when, after a long and happy life spent in bringing the world under the shadow of one umbrella, and in ruling it free from care, the warrior king Vikram entered the gloomy realms of Yama, from whom for mortals there is no escape, he left behind him a name that endured amongst men like the odour of the flower whose memory remains long after its form has mingled with the dust.197

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188 The Hindu Styx.

189 From Yaksha, to eat; as Rakshasas are from Raksha, to preserve. — See Hardy’s Manual of Buddhism, p. 57.

190 Shiva is always painted white, no one knows why. His wife Gauri has also a European complexion. Hence it is generally said that the sect popularly called “Thugs,” who were worshippers of these murderous gods. spared Englishmen, the latter being supposed to have some rapport with their deities.

191 The Hindu shrine is mostly a small building, with two inner compartments. the vestibule and the Garbagriha, or adytum, in which stands the image.

192 Meaning Kali of the cemetery (Smashana); another form of Durga.

193 Not being able to find victims, this pleasant deity, to satisfy her thirst for the curious juice, cut her own throat that the blood might spout up into her mouth. She once found herself dancing on her husband, and was so shocked that in surprise she put out her tongue to a great length, and remained motionless. She is often represented in this form.

194 This ashtanga, the most ceremonious of the five forms of Hindu salutation, consists of prostrating and of making the eight parts of the body — namely, the temples, nose and chin, knees and hands — touch the ground.

195 “Sidhis,” the personified Powers of Nature. At least, so we explain them: but people do not worship abstract powers.

196 The residence of Indra, king of heaven, built by Wishwa–Karma, the architect of the gods.

197 In other words, to the present day, whenever a Hindu novelist, romancer, or tale writer seeks a peg upon which to suspend the texture of his story, he invariably pitches upon the glorious, pious, and immortal memory of that Eastern King Arthur, Vikramaditya, shortly called Vikram.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:34