The answer lies within

PRELUDE

Raja Vikramaditya, a legendary emperor of India was known for his generosity, wisdom, and immense courage. He was acclaimed far and wide as the man of his word, a man of integrity who would go above and beyond the call of his duty to keep his promises. This story dates back to the time when Raja Vikramaditya was tricked by an occultist, to capture a vetala to perform a yagya, in order to please the sorcerer’s revered deity.    

 Now, these vetalas were considered mystic and occult entities, said to be dwelling in the charnel grounds. Believed to be artfully cunning and keen witted, they possessed deep insights into the human psyche and were fancied by many, as the earliest soothsayers. The particular vetala, the king was asked to schlep resided in a decayed and a shriveled tree in the funeral grounds.    

*****   

With his saber held firmly in his fist, Vikram marched into the charnel grounds to lay hold of the vetala. It was almost midnight and the darkness surrounded Vikram in an adamant embrace, ready to swallow him any moment. Trees hammered and thrashed against each other abated by the howling wind, their branches leaning into his path, their sharp twigs curling and distorting, pricking Vikram’s skin, latching on to his clothes. The decaying, stagnant air was still wild enough to whip about; smattering withered dried leaves onto his face. 

Not the one to be bogged down by such trivialities, Vikram forged ahead with spunk and spirit, till he reached the tree the sorcerer had mentioned.  He couldn’t have missed it for the vetala was right there, hanging upside down, laughing hysterically. The shadows clustered around Vikram, dancing a vile dance in the dim light of the moon aided by the thick dark clouds which blotted out the vestigial traces of any luminescence. Vikram’s efforts to capture the vetala greatly regaled and amused the ghost who took extreme delight in agitating and tormenting Vikram. But Vikram, the dare -devil, successfully razed all the vicious tricks of the ghost, and walked away with his prized acquisition –the vampire—the vetala on his back.     

 “Ha! Ha! Ha! You have finally captured me O’ mighty king! But I can stay fastened firmly on your back only on one condition. You cannot utter a single word during our journey!”    

“But the journey is long and hard. We have to find a way to pass time! Let me tell you a story from long ago, but don’t ever forget my precondition! You open your mouth and consider me gone!!” the vetala exclaimed, cackling maliciously.   

  The vampire then began his narration —   

THE STORY 

This is a story of a kingdom, a kingdom called purushadhik. This province was located in a gorge, enveloped by the dark mahogany mountains from all sides, their peaks tremendous, serrated, and soaring rendering the region absolutely impenetrable. The place had no distinct landmarks to boast of, except the mirthless, amber sun in the daytime and fatigued, blasé stars in the night. However, the place was copiously inhabited. It was home to a distinct community, a congregation of people who were all of the same gender.   

The domain also struggled with many natural deficiencies and detriments. The climate was always enervating, and monotonous, the weather dreary and dull, the soil unfruitful, the surroundings bleak and barren with boulders all around. There under the big blotch of bronze, buff terrain, and equally tedious, cloudless cobalt sky, lived an all-male populace, echoing and emulating their milieu. The abundant and easily available food, in the form of mountain animals, along with the absence of customary grind of life’s struggles had rendered the people languid and lazy, indisposed to soporific, unproductive attitudes and habits, just like their infertile lands. They occupied their hours engaged in frivolous festivities, spending their days cheerfully with considerable gaiety. 

Their king, Purusha was a generous, intuitive, and extremely perceptive man who believed in leading from the front. His greatness was evident in the way he observed his people, attempting to anticipate their issues, much before any of them could voice it. Since the last few months, Purusha had a gnawing suspicion of a gradual change developing in the innate disposition of his men.

 His conjecture got validated one day, when he ventured out for yet another excursion around his kingdom. Lying on the side of the main pathway, he came across a mound of corpses piled on top of each other, their limbs jutting out awkwardly in different angles, their eyes lifeless and insipid. He covered his nose to block the putrid stench of decaying rotten flesh emanating from the heap of repose and ruin. His men had obviously abandoned their dead peers, leaving them out in the open to decompose, resigning them to a horrid fate of being gobbled and guzzled by the wild animals.

The rudely discarded, lifeless heap of bodies, lying there untended, underlined and emphasized their transient actuality; it was a stark reminder of their perishable existence. Purusha shivered as he felt a void, a dark vacuum closing in, on his kingdom snuffing out all the hopes and happiness of his men. Although his people walked around pretending everything was okay but Purusha realized that underneath the merry faces lay despondent, disconsolate hearts. Purusha looked around; most of his subjects were way past their prime. It was obviously no wonder that the death was seeking claim, wiping down the population of his province at an alarming rate.  

The ground beneath his feet got rockier with each step, the ascent arduous and cumbersome, making him pause frequently and reflect on the shift that had come over his men. The gray spindly clouds riled in, filling him with an abject gloom and melancholy. He had to find a way to stir passion and quell the expanding despair in his subjects, a plan to rustle vitality in their grim and dismal existence.    

****   

King Purusha lazily opened his eyes; his mind was still glazed with the residuum of a vivid dream. The dream that had seemed like a forgotten memory was actually a vision from the past ricocheting, knocking down the beliefs, he had assumed irrefutable and irreversible.    

The journey from his dream reminded him of an actual sojourn that he had undertaken with his father when he was little. He could feel the warmth of his father’s hand as he tried to dig up the lost memories from the recesses of his mind. His father had taken him to a secret sanctum, a haven hidden deep in the innards of the mighty mountains.   

This is where it all begins; the area reveals itself every now and then. You’d be fortunate to find it again in your lifetime”, his father had said. 

He let his memory and the celestial forces guide him. He trudged along for what seemed a long time. And, then something made him stop suddenly. He looked around.

The place had apparently decided to reveal itself in his hour of need.   

The trees arched, hunching down to form a canopy over the leaf- strewn narrow path which was intriguing and alluring at the same time. He sauntered inside. A gust of the spring breeze greeted him, dancing around in a swirl, imbued with the aroma of flowers and green meadows. The effulgent rays of the sun lay in a languid, lazy sprawl, radiating warmth across the stretch. He kept moving forward and this is when he came across a tall lanky tree with low spreading shrub and long trailing branches.    

He remembered his father’s voice from the dream as he stroked the tree’s bark, “The tree has divine attributes. The person desirous of a progeny has to spend a day, wrapping himself snugly around the tree’s trunk, losing himself in its ambrosial scents while practicing detachment from the outer world. The tree then bestows its ethereal blessings on the person by absorbing his hereditary constitution and transmitting it to its roots.”   

 Purusha walked a little further from the tree, guided by his father’s voice, “The roots then take it to the core of the earth and then after a few months, about nine miles away from the tree, the ground opens up into a small furrow. And then from deep inside the entrails of the earth emerges a male baby, a gift of the divine, to join our race and take us further into the future. This is how all of us came about!”  

His father continued as Purusha took a few steps more, coming across a feathery cushioned nest, “But the babies are way too tender and immature to be taken away by the men-folk at that moment and therefore they are placed in this cozy shelter. The nest graciously and devotedly takes care of all the needs of the neonates until the time the baby is old enough to live with us.”   

Purusha felt a surge of joy as he felt a weight shifting off his shoulders.  A profound and deep feeling of bliss came over him. His stride became lighter and jaunty, as he thanked his father and the seraphic beings for entrusting him with such a gift. The bequest could infuse much-needed verve and vigor in his men. Their own offspring! Wouldn’t it be remarkable? He thought. 

He was about to turn back to his quaint sovereign, when the sound of gushing water caught his attention. He followed the direction of the sound and sure enough, hidden behind the thicket of trees lay a burbling, babbling brook. Glinting brightly, it swirled, over the rocks, gently curving around the trees. Chords of soft light radiated on its surface, making it shimmer and glimmer with tiny sparkles.

Sometimes but scarcely ever, the tree, the earth, or the nest are forced to take a breather, to unwind and rejuvenate. That is when the brook fills in their position. After a plea from the person concerned, specifying the role it is requested to play, the brook temporarily swaps roles with the absent entity, acting as a transitory substitute for them. But don’t worry too much about it; it is more of a backup plan, an alternate provision by the cosmos. The sacred three: the tree, the earth, and the nest are always there; tireless and tenacious, satiating all our incessant demands on them, helping us unconditionally whenever we’ve needed them. They are our true saviors”, his father’s sound echoed in his head. 

Purusha knew that in the sacred haven, he had found the solution to his problems. He felt uplifted, whole, and one with the universe as he made his way to the exit. He knew that in the sanctum, he had met the divine and absolute embodiment of the creation’s feminine facet. But as he walked out a question troubled him.

****

This is when the vetala stopped to catch his breath. He took a deep sigh and then put forth a question for deliberation, “O’ King! The question, I ask of you, is the same that troubled king Purusha. As you already know Purusha correctly understood that the creation had shown a glimpse of its feminine traits in the sanctum but…, tell me dear king, which one among those entities is to be considered the most esteemed and essential feminine attribute? Which is the role that commands the highest regard, the utmost respect and comes closest to the creator’s definition of a female? Which one of them embodies the trait, the nature cherishes in a female?”

If you know the answer to the confounding question and yet choose not to answer me, then your head will burst into a thousand pieces. However, in case you do decide to answer, I am coerced to remind you of my precondition, you talk and I go back to my tree.” The vetala exclaimed.

 “O’ lord of the yogis, you know everything, yet you pose such a query. I will tell you what I think!”

“Although the attributes, the tree, the earth, and the nest demonstrate are all revered and treasured feminine virtues but none of them is higher than the other.

Take for example, the tree; is a companion, a consort imparting pleasure and solace to the wilted and parched souls, helping not only in the procreation but also in bringing about tranquility and joy.

The earth opening itself to deliver a being symbolizes the mother giving birth. A creator in its own right, the mother repeatedly invests a piece of herself to conceive and create the future.

The quality of the nest is no way lesser than the other two. It nurtures, acting as a provider, supporting, sustaining, and bolstering life.

Though sacred and highly exalted, these traits are still not the most treasured and most admired virtues because they are tainted by the ‘burden of expectations’. Considered as ‘a gift to man’ these entities trudge and plod relentlessly to fulfill the objectives man wants them to attain.

The brook on the other hand, considers itself unbound by rules and roles. It is capable of being anything and anyone, can efficiently fulfill any of the sacred responsibilities and roles that the other entities perform, if she so wishes and desires. She is not limited and restrained and she vehemently refuses to be defined by man’s expectations.

She freely seeks and explores, and in her quest discovers her own exquisite beauty and elegance, which then gets reflected in everything surrounding her.  Just like the cosmos, it keeps rediscovering and redefining itself, all the time keeping her power of choice unscathed. And this is why O ‘ vetala, I consider the brook as an absolute and perfect embodiment of all the traits the cosmos admires and cherishes in a woman”, Vikram concluded.

The vetala erupted into wild laughter, “Dear king you are not only an erudite scholar but also worldly wise and sharp witted! I bow before your superlative insightful justification!”

But you forgot my precondition, and that is why I take my leave”, the vetala chortled as he took off once again, soaring and swooping in the inky sky with Vikram hot on his heels.
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 GLOSSARY:
Rajaequivalent to king or princely ruler in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. 
Vetala-a ghost-like being from Hindu mythology.
Yagya-refers to the ritual done in front of a sacred fire, often with mantras 
Purusha – Hindi word meaning a male human being.
Purushadhik- Hindi word (purusha+ adhik) – literal meaning too many men. 

DISCLAIMER– All the characters and places except king Vikramaditya and the vetala are fictitious and figment of author’s fertile and underutilized imagination. The plot was conceived after binge watching Vikram-vetala series in a moment of author’s weakness. It obviously raised a few eyebrows and restored her status as the ‘museum piece’ in her household.
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Supriya Bansal
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