The Eligible Suitor

VIKRAM once again went back to the tree and got down the corpse. He put it on his shoulder and began to walk to- wards the burial ground in silence.

“O King!” said the Bethal of the corpse. “I am sorry to have to put you in so much trouble. To lighten your task, I shall tell you a small story.”

On the banks of the Ganges (said Bethal), there was a village called Brahma-sthal. In that village, there lived a Brahman named Agni-swami. He had a daughter, Mandara-vati, who excelled with the fairies in beauty. While Agni-swami was contemplating the marriage of his daughter, three young men came to him, suing for Mandara-vati’s hand. All three were equally determined either to marry her or die in case they failed to do so.

The three boys were equally qualified in every respect, and poor Agni-swami could not choose between them. Even if he could, the two who were refused the hand of Mandara-Vati were sure to kill themselves.

While Agni-swami was in this fix, the problem was unexpectedly solved for him. Mandara-Vati fell ill and, after a few days, died of her illness. The three youths lamented her death, took the dead body to the burial ground and cremated it with the proper ritual. One of the three stayed on in the burial ground. Over the spot where Mandara-Vati’s body was burnt to ashes, he put up a shade and lay himself down in the ashes of the dear departed, eating such food as was brought to him by people who cared to do so.

Another of the young men collected some of the ashes of the dead girl and went away to submerge them in the Ganges.

The death of Man saddened the third young Mandara-Vati, so he lost interest in everything and wandered all over the land aimlessly. One day he reached a village, and a Brahman invited him for food. As the Brahman and the young man were having the meal, the Brahman’s infant son started crying. The mother tried her best to quieten the child but in vain. Ultimately, she got disgusted with the child and threw him into the burning fireplace.

At once, the young man stood up and said, “I shan’t eat! You are not human beings but devils! I should be eternally damned if I accept your hospitality.”

“O Sir!” said the Brahman protesting. “Don’t draw hasty conclusions. We are not devils. Don’t think that we do not love our child. We happen to have with us the secret of restoring life to the dead. That was why my wife threw the babe into the blazing fire.”

But the young man would not believe a word of it. So Brahman took a book hanging on a peg on the wall. He also took a pinch of dust. Having read out a magic chant from the book, he threw the dust on the dead child. At once, the child returned to life without any traces of burning.

The guest was now thoroughly satisfied, and he finished his meal. Now his mind was on the book hanging from the peg on the wall. He wanted it more than anything else in the whole world. That night, while the others were sleeping soundly, the youth got up from his bed, took the book and departed.

By the time he reached the village of Agni-swami, the other youth who had attended to the submersion of Mandara-vati’s ashes in the Ganges also returned. Both of them went to the young man lying in the ashes of Mandara-vati.

The youth who stole the book told the secret to the other two. Then he took a pinch of dust, read the magic chant from the book, and threw the dust into the ashes. At once, Mandara-Vati stood before them in all her beauty, alive and completely cured of her illness.

The three youths took her to her father and again started quarrelling for her hand.

“I brought her back to life,” said one.

“When she was dead, I was the one who did what a husband should do. I carried out the submersion ceremony with her ashes,” said another.

“Even in death, I never left her. I’ve been hugging her ashes all the time, and I’ve more right to become her husband than anyone else,” said the third.

Poor Agni-swami could not decide whose claim to his daughter’s hand was the greatest. Having finished the story, Be that said. “O King, of the three young men who was the most eligible to become the husband. Of Mandara-vati? The one who gave her life, the one who attended- ed to the submersion ceremony or the one who hugged her ashes? Your head shall split if you know the answer and still do not speak.”

“He who gives life shall be deemed equal to a father,” said Vikram. “And he who carries out the submersion of the ashes of an unmarried girl should be considered only as her brother. So the most eligible young men were those who would not part from Mandara-vati even after her death.”

The King’s silence was broken, and Bethal again returned to the tree with the corpse.

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