Vetalas, from N.M. Penzer (ed.), `Ocean of Story´, 1923

“ After the king had proceeded on his way to his capital, the hero entered that cemetery, the interior of which was difficult to penetrate, as it was filled with dense darkness within; in it there were awful evening oblations offered with the human flesh scattered about by the jackals; in places the cemetery was lighted up by the flaming beacons of the blazing funeral pyres, and in it the Vetalas made terrible music with the clapping of their hands, so that it seemed as if it were the palace of black night. Then he cried aloud: `Who asked the king for water?´ And he heard from one quarter an answer. `I asked for it. ´Following the voice he went to a funeral pyre near, and beheld a man impaled on the top of a stake, and underneath it he saw a woman that he had never seen before, weeping, adorned with beautiful ornaments, lovely in every limb – like the night adorned with the rays of the moon, now that the moon itself had set, its splendour having waned in the dark fortnight, come to worship the funeral pyre. He asked the woman: `Who are you, and why are you standing weeping here?´ She answered him: `I am the ill-fated wife of him who is here impaled, and I am waiting here with the firm intention of ascending the funeral pyre with him. And I am waiting some time for his life to leave his body, for though it is the third day of his impalement his breath does not depart. And he often asks for that water which I have brought here, but I cannot reach his mouth, my friend, as the stake is high.´When he heard that speech of hers, the mighty hero said to her: `But here is water in my hand sent to him by the king, so place your foot on my back and lift it to his mouth, for the mere touching of another man in sore need does not disgrace a woman.´ When she heard that, she consented, and, taking the water, she climbed up so as to plant her two feet on the back of Asókadatta, who bent down at the foot of the stake. Soon after, as drops of blood unexpectedly began to fall upon the earth and on his back, the hero lifted up his face and looked. Then he saw that woman cutting slice after slice of that impaled man´s flesh with a knife and eating it. Then, perceiving that she was some horrible demon, he dragged her down in a rage, and took hold of her foot with its tinkling anklets in order to dash her to pieces on the earth. She for her part dragged away from him that foot, and by her deluding power quickly flew up into the heaven and became invisible. And the jewelled anklet, which had fallen from her foot while she was dragging it away, remained in one of Asókadatta´s hands. Then he, reflecting that she had disappeared after showing herself mild at first, and evil-working in the middle, and at the end horror-striking by assuming a terrible form, like association with wicked men, and seeing that heavenly anklet in his hand, was astonished, grieved and delighted at the same time; and then he left that cemetery, taking the anklet with him, and went to his own house, and in the morning, after bathing, to the palace of the king.

And when the king said, `Did you give the water to the man who was impaled?´ he said he had done so, and gave him that anklet; and when the king of his own accord asked him where it came from, he told that king his wonderful and terrible night adventure. And then the king, perceiving that his courage was superior to that of all men, though he was before pleased with his other excellent qualities, was now more exceedingly delighted; and he took that anklet in his joy and gave it with his own hand to the queen, and described to her the way in which he had obtained it. And she, hearing the story and beholding that heavenly-jewelled anklet, rejoiced in her heart… Then the king said to her: `Queen, in birth, in learning, in truthfulness and beauty Asókadatta is great among the great; and I think it would be a good thing if he were to become the husband of our lovely daughter Madanalekha…“


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