Dr Suresh Venkita, our Group Medical Director, a senior cardiologist and an avid writer, has yet again shared this lovely story from his desk.


Betaal Chabbisi – the conclusion

Rhea meets Rama

'I gave you a brief respite, Oh Vikramaditya, 'said the Betaal.

'While you slept in the comfort of the royal bed, I swung like a pendulum on this tree, ticking away time. I was waiting for your return, which I knew you would,' it continued sagely.

It droned on. 'It is time to tell you the twenty-sixth story. It is about an event that should not have happened during your illustrious reign.'

For those who have come in late:

Chandragupta Vikramaditya was a great king who ruled over a vast and prosperous kingdom from his capital at Ujjain in the third century AD. He had a love for learning as well as for adventure. He was brave, fearless, and strong-willed.

Every day many visitors carrying gifts used to visit the King who used to accept them very graciously.

Among such visitors was a mendicant who presented the King with a fruit on every visit, which the King would hand over to the royal storekeeper.

One day, while handling the fruit, it fell, and a precious stone, a ruby, emerged. The King was surprised.

He ordered to check all the fruits, and all the fruits yielded a beautiful ruby. The King decided to meet the mendicant.

However, the mendicant set a condition that the King must meet him under a banyan tree in the center of the cremation ground beyond the city, at night, on the 14th day of the dark half of the month. The King met him and asked the mendicant why he was doing this. The mendicant told him that there was a task that only a King like Vikramaditya could perform. He should visit the northern-most corner of the ground where he would find a very ancient tree and a corpse hanging from one of its branches. He would have to fetch it for the mendicant. The mendicant was seeking certain occult powers which he would get subject to a King bringing this particular corpse, Betaal, to him. Also, he was required to practice certain rites sitting on it.

The King was required to remove the corpse of Betaal from the treetop and carry it on his shoulder to another place in silence. En route, the spirit of Betaal would narrate a story to the King. After completing the story, the Betaal would pose a query. If he (the King) knew the answer, he was required to respond lest his head should burst into thousand pieces.

But if he does speak out, he would break the vow of silence, and Betaal would fly back to the treetop.

The King would go after it and start all over again. And so on and on. It was a ‘no win’ situation in which the King found himself unwittingly trapped forever.

The Betaal told the King twenty-five stories.

However, impressed by the determination of the King, Betaal finally disclosed the real motive of the mendicant.

The mendicant planned to practice certain rites sitting on Betaal, but he also had plans to kill the King to get all powers and rule the country. Thus warned of possible danger, Vikramadityawent to the mendicant but was alert and on guard. The Betaal proved to be right; the mendicant tried to kill him.

However, Vikramaditya outwitted the mendicant and killed him. The Betaal, who witnessed the proceedings, returned to the tree.

Back to the Betaal and the King:

The Betaal said, 'You killed a mendicant, but with good reason. I am now going to tell you the twentysixth story, of a man in your realm who killed a maiden.'

The Betaal also reminded the King, 'But the rules of this encounter have not changed. They are exactly as before.'

The Betaalnarrated the twenty-sixth story:

'Supratik, the Chief of Police and Internal Security at Ujjain, walked rapidly up to the riverside, just as the body was being fished out.

The officer supervising the operation turned around and saluted his commander immediately.

Supratik was terse, and barked out instructions 'Carry the body, lay it out on the grass and stand back.'

It was the body of a very young woman.

Though bloated, it was apparent that she must have been a remarkably beautiful person in life.

The few ornaments she wore, like nose and earrings and a gold chain around her neck, were intact. In the kingdom of the righteous and virtuous king, Chandragupta Vikramaditya, theft was unknown.

'Suicide,' declared Supratik, 'Do we know of any missing woman?'

'Not yet,' responded the supervising officer, without turning again to his superior officer. He was an older official, observant, and thoughtful. Something seemed to bother him.

'A courtesan, perhaps. May have been intoxicated, slipped, and fell into the river,' observed Supratik.

The body language of the supervising officer seemed to irritate Supratik. 'You don't agree?' he rasped.

'Sir, I shall report to you after I set up a cover around her and examine the body in detail,' he responded politely but firmly.

'Close this,' Supratik was impatient. 'I need you to investigate a disorder at the palace, 'he commanded.

The officer completed his examination and walked up to him. He stood very close and said sotto voce, 'Yes, we do have two women, very much her age reported missing in the past. But we could not find them. I expect to hear shortly about another missing, but this time we have the body. '

His voice dropped even more 'I have made two observations. I found one leg chained, the other end broken. It was possibly attached to a heavy object that was meant to sink the body. The second is a deep puncture wound at the back of the chest; the instrument must have pierced the heart. I suspect it was a dagger of some sort.'

Supratik was silent for a short while and then spoke.

'You are suggesting foul play. It has never happened in the kingdom. Dispose of the body, do not file your report and return to me. I shall be on the riverside; we will discuss this.'

Supratik sat beside the river and was thoughtful. The officer returned in a short while. By then, the sun had set, and it was swiftly getting darker on the river banks. The few stragglers who were around had also left. The officer walked up to him. Supratik put his hand around his shoulder and walked with him to the waterline, which had now risen, as though in high tide. During the rainy season, the river had always swelled to a sea. The waves lapped around their legs and seemed to rise unusually high, as though reaching out to divine forces that emanated from the moon and invited tides. In one swift, smooth, movement Supratik removed his dagger from its sheath attached to a sash around his waist and stabbed him deep into his heart from the back. He had his other hand wrapped firmly over his mouth to stifle any cry. As the officer crumpled, Supratik effortlessly eased him into the water. As blood profusely stained the water, he pushed him firmly into the current, and the body disappeared within minutes into the inky blackness of the night.

Supratik gave no thought to the fact that the river Kshipram was one of the most sacred rivers of the land on whose east bank sat the holy city of Ujjain. Every 12 years, the Kumbh Mela took place on the city's elaborate riverside ghats, as do yearly celebrations of the river goddess Kshipra. The word Kshipra itself stood as a symbol of 'purity' of soul, emotions, body, and also for 'chastity' or 'clarity.'

But the river was not new to blood; it had an ancient history of blood that flowed along its waters to make it crimson. Legend had it that once Lord Shiva went begging for alms, using the skull of Lord Brahma as the begging bowl. Nowhere in the three worlds did he manage to get any alms. Ultimately, he went to Vaikunth, the abode of Lord Vishnu, and asked Lord Vishnu for alms. In response, Lord Vishnu showed Lord Shiva his index finger, which enraged the latter. Lord Shiva took out his Trishul, or trident, and cut Lord Vishnu's fingers. The Preserver's fingers began to bleed profusely, the blood accumulated in Brahma's skull, and soon overflowed from it. The flow became a stream and finally a river – the Kshipra.

Supratik was perhaps destined to acquire a distorted perception of women.

In Indian mythology, his name stood for Kamadeva or Manmatha, the Hindu god of love or desire.

One of the first myths regarding Kamadeva was that of his incineration by Shiva.

In the narrative, Indra and the gods were suffering at the hands of the demon Tarakasura who could only be defeated by Shiva's son. Brahma advised that Parvati should seduce Shiva since their offspring would be able to defeat Taraka. Indra assigned Kamadeva to break Shiva's meditation. To create a congenial atmosphere, Kamadeva (Madana) established an early spring (akāla-Vasantha). He evaded Shiva's guard, Nandi, by taking the form of the fragrant southern breeze, and entered Shiva's abode.

Stringing his bow, he shot a flower-arrow at the sleeping Shiva.

When woken by the arrow, Shiva was furious. He opened his third eye, which reducedMadanato ashes.

Parvati pleaded with Siva to restore Madana to life. Shiva agreed to let Madana live but in a disembodied form; hence, Kamadeva was also called Ananga.

The myth took a strange turn when Kamadeva himself succumbed to desire. He was required to worship his lover to be relieved from this passion and its associated curse. That curse involved ten stages - attraction, attachment, determination, loss of sleep, starvation, disinterest in other matters, shamelessness, madness, a state of being stunned, and ultimately death. Thus Kamadeva, the agent, became the victim of his charm.

Supratik's life also took its strange turn when he succumbed to desire. He was required to worship his lovers so that he would be free from this passion and its curse. He adored them to death. At least three young women fell victim to this strange obsession.

The Betaal concluded his story and posed the question, 'How would you deal with this murderer?'

The King did not know the answer, at least, not then.

He summoned Supratik to his chamber.

He spoke, 'The dagger, which I once gave you to guard this country, was today removed from your possession and returned to me because you used that, at least thrice, to seek relief from a private curse.'

He continued, 'That dagger is on a table in the next room.'

He concluded, ' Do you wish to seek a definitive solution to your burden and find peace?'

Supratik chose to end his torment.

The King, who finally met the Betaal’stwo contradictory stipulations, also found relief to his torment.

Dr. Venkita S Suresh

Dr. Venkita S Suresh,
Group Medical Director and Dean of Studies,
DNB and other post-graduate training programs.

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