Once there lived in Kumar-nagar a Brahman called Vishnu-bhuti. He had a son named Deva-bhuti. This boy was exceedingly intelligent and quickly mastered all the scriptures and all the sciences. But his spirit led him astray; he committed heinous sins and became a goblin when he died.
It was only after becoming a goblin that Deva-bhuti learned wisdom. To redeem himself, the goblin thought of imparting his learning to a deserving young man. He made his home on a pipal tree in the forest and chanted the Vedas.
Although he was once a learned Brahman, he was now a goblin. So he used to kill and eat such wild beasts as came within his reach. If any human beings went near the tree, he would accost them. Realising that a goblin was talking to them, they ran away in panic. Soon- one knew that a goblin haunted the pipal tree.
Not long after Deva-bhuti be- came a goblin, a youth came to Kumar-nagar. This youth, whose name was Gonardiya, had his share of learning at Banaras, which was his native place. Not satisfied with what he had learned, he searched for a teacher to teach him more.
The pandits of Kumar-nagar tested him and said, “Son, you already know what all we know. The one person who could have probably added to your store of knowledge is now a goblin haunting a pipal tree in the forest.”
“Then,” said Gonardiya, “I shall pay him a visit.”
“No, no!” they told him. “Don’t be rash. Be satisfied with what you have got, which is not inconsiderable.”
But the young man was bent upon meeting the frightful goblin at all cost. Making inquiries here and there, he found his way to the haunted pipal. He heard the Vedic chant coming from the tree. Sat under the tree and began to chant in unison with the goblin.
The goblin jumped in front of the young man and shrieked, “Who are you? How dare you chant the Vedas as though you are my equal?”
“Pardon me, sir,” said Gonardiya humbly. “I have not come to challenge you but to become your pupil and learn new things. My name is Gonardiya, and I come from Banaras.”
The goblin was pleased with these words. “Perfect, my son!” he said. “I have been waiting for someone like you. Let me know what all you have studied.” But when the young man told him what he had already learned, the goblin was thoroughly discouraged.
“I don’t know what I can teach you,” he said. “You already know all I know.”
Gonardiya, too, was disappointed.
“Let me do one thing,” said the spirit, cheerful again. “Let me find a bride for you and thus redeem my sins. You are a highly eligible bachelor. You obey me and do what I tell you?” Gonardiya assented.
“If you travel further south, you will come to Jayapur. The King of that city has a daughter called Madayanti. She is a beautiful and scholarly maiden. Her father is trying to find a suitable husband for her. I shall possess her and not leave her until you turn up. Then the King will marry her to you.”
By this time, the King of Jayapur had obtained portraits of all the eligible princes. Princess Madayanti was to see them and select one of them. Maids were despatched to fetch the Princess. But by the time they went to the Princess, she was already possessed by the spirit. She quickly picked up the maids one by one and tossed them away.
In a moment, the entire palace was in utter confusion. The King sent his guards to restrain the Princess, but she killed each man with a single blow.
The King sent for all the spirit doctors in the city. They chanted mantras and did several tantras, but it was all useless. None of those doctors would go near the Princess because one or two who dared to do so had their skulls and limbs broken.
The poor King nearly lost his mind. Madayanti was his only child. Her marriage was at hand, and everything was going on nicely when this spirit possessed her. This news would spread with the swiftness of wind, and no one would ever marry her!
The King proclaimed to the effect that anyone who would rid the Princess of the spirit would not only marry her but also succeed him to the throne.
This proclamation had only one immediate effect-some more spirit doctors arrived from distant places and were promptly punished by the Princess.
Then Gonardiya arrived in Jayapur. He went to see the King. “O King,” he said, “I come to rid your daughter of the spirit that molests her.”
The King pained the youth and said, “No, my boy! You are too young to succeed where eminent doctors failed.”
Gonardiya smiled. “How can they control the spirit,” he asked, “which is destined to be controlled by me?”
The King saw something in this young man who reassured him. He told his servants to guide the youth to the Princess.
Gonardiya saw the Princess standing in the middle of the room, her hair streaming down. She was pretty frightening to look at.
Seeing him, she uttered such a loud grunt that the walls shook.
Gonardiya folded his hands in supplication, and recited the following verse:
भूतेन्द्र तव शिष्योहं गोनदीयाभिधानकः पूर्वोदित वरं देहि देवभूते नमो नमः
(O King of Spirits, I am your disciple Gonardiya. Please grant me the boon you have promised me. I bow to the great Deva-bhuti!)
At once, there was a strange transformation in the Princess. She ceased to look frightening. Suddenly she went limp and fell unconscious.
Gonardiya directed the servants and maids to lay the Princess on a couch and attend to her. After many days she began to retake nourishment, and she was her usual self in a couple of weeks.
The King kept his word. He gave Madayanti in marriage to Gonardiya and crowned him the future King of the land.
Deva-bhuti found redemption. Those who passed through the forest heard no more Vedic recitals from the once-haunted pipal tree.