The Transposed Heads
Vikram was not one to give up easily. He understood that Bethal took the corpse and returned to the tree because he broke his silence to reply to Bethal. He removed the corpse from the tree and, carrying it on his shoulder, began walking towards the burial ground in silence.
“O King, you are a wise man, said Bethal to the King. “So you can clear a small doubt of mine. But before I tell you of my doubt, I must tell you a story. So listen.” He began the following story:
There was a Kali temple in the city of Shobha-vati. In front of the temple, there was a tank. Every year a male took place there, and people came from far and near in hundreds of thousands for this meal. They bathed in the tank and paid their homage to Goddess Kali.
One particular year Dhaval, a youth from the community of washermen, came for the meal. There he saw a beautiful girl belonging to his community and fell in love with her. He learned that her name was Sundari. He also ascertained her father’s name and her native place. He swore not to touch food until he got Sundari for a wife.
Dhaval’s father saw something wrong and learned the truth from the boy.
“You needn’t take vows, son,” he told Dhaval. The girl’s father happens to be a friend of mine. I don’t think he will turn you down if I make an offer. I am going to meet him right now. Get up and have your food.”
And the marriage was soon arranged. On an auspicious day, Sundari was married to Dhaval. She came to live with her husband, and Dhaval was the happiest man on earth.
Some time passed. One day Sundari’s brother came to see Dhaval and invited both his sister and brother-in-law to his place, where Gowri Vratam was to be performed.
The next day Dhaval started with his wife and brother-in-law to his father-in-law’s place. Their way lay across the city of Shobha-vati. When they reached the Kali Temple, Dhaval had an irresistible urge to go and see the goddess. He also asked his wife and her brother to accompany him, but they remained behind since they did not want to enter the temple with empty hands. Dhaval went into the temple alone.
When Dhaval saw the splendid image of the mighty goddess with eighteen hands with the Buffalo Demon under her feet, he was seized with an uncontrollable ecstasy. The sacrificial sword was near the image.
“Others make sacrifices to this goddess of goddesses and derive small benefits. Let me sacrifice myself to Her. He took up the sword and cut his head. His head rolled, and his body fell forward.
Sundari waited for return her husband’s return and then sent her brother to call him. Her brother saw what happened to Dhaval and sacrificed, singing himself to the goddess of ecstasy.
Seeing neither of the men returned, Sundari was panic-stricken. She went into the temple and caught both of them sacrificed.
Sundari cried and tried to strangle herself to death when she heard words proceeding from the goddess:
“Don’t be foolish, child. I never asked the boys to sacrifice themselves for me. They did so out of sheer ecstasy. Put their bodies and heads together, and I shall bring them back to life.”
Sundari’s sorrow was turned to overpowering joy. She did not even wait to wipe the tears from her eyes. In the dim light of the temple, she joined the heads of both bodies, and the two young men were alive again. Only, in her haste and confusion, Sundari had joined her husband’s head to the body of her brother and her brother’s head to her husband’s body.
Having finished the story, Bethal said: “O King, please tell me which of these young men was now her husband, and which one her brother? Your head will be split if you know the answer and do not speak.”
“There is not much ground for doubt here,” the King replied. “The head is the most important organ in the body. So the man with the husband’s head is her husband while the other is her brother.”
The King’s silence was broken, and Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.