Vikramaditya and Betal
The great king Vikramaditya, who was known for his bravery and courage, had proceedings in his royal court. During this time he was gifted a fruit daily by a Sage, as a way of showing his admiration. This fruit used to go to his treasury like all the other treasures he received. The king didn’t understand why he was being presented with this fruit daily!
One day Vikram noticed a monkey sitting on the palace wall; while he was passing the fruit to the treasurer, the monkey snatched it and started to eat it. Suddenly a dazzling gem dropped out of the fruit; upon noticing this, Vikram gave an order to bring out all those fruits which had been collected until then.
Upon examining them, Vikram realized that they all held fine gems, and wondered what the Sage wanted to convey to him, and what he wanted in return. Next morning when the Sage returned to the court with yet another fruit, Vikram declined to accept it, and asked what the Sage wanted. The Sage said he needed a brave man for a spiritual accomplishment. He directed Vikram to accompany him to a particular burial ground forty miles from the kingdom, under a nearby banyan tree, and on a moonless night. When Vikram arrived there, the Sage asked him to go over to an old tamarind tree in the forest that had a corpse hanging there, upside down.
The Sage wanted Vikram to retrieve the corpse, in order to perform spiritual rites that would create harmony and peace amongst the people in the kingdom.
When Vikram found the corpse, he untied it. The corpse fell to the ground and started laughing. It was then that he realized it was a ghost, a Betaal! Despite this, he carried the body over his shoulders. After some time the ghost flew away to its original spot and Vikram had to go get him back. On the way, the ghost, Betaal, told Vikram that he would narrate stories to help make his walkless tedious, but if he uttered a single word, the Betaal would fly back to the tree. And, at the end of each story, there would be a riddle asked, which he would need to solve with his wisdom; if it wasn’t answered Vikram’s head would be blown into a thousand pieces. Now Vikram was in a dilemma…to speak or not to speak? But, he listened, one by one, to the stories that Betaal narrated…
Betaal started the story. There was a famous Devi temple in Patliputra. People from distant towns would regularly visit this temple. Once, two men named Suryamal and Chandrasen had come from another town to visit this temple. Just after the darshan, when Suryamal turned, he saw a beautiful woman praying there in the temple.
He immediately fell in love with her and thought about getting married to her. He told this to his friend Chandrasen. Chandrasen got very excited, and advised him to go and talk to the girl’s parents if he was really serious about her.
Both of them went to her residence and Suryamal asked her father for her hand. Her father agreed on one condition: his daughter was a great devotee of the Devi and she would wish to continue praying to the Devi twice a day, even after the marriage. Suryamal agreed to the proposal and was married to her. Just as they were to leave, the girl’s father asked them to stay over for one more day but they refused, saying there was going to be a Devi puja at his residence the day after, and that his mother had asked him to come back before that.
They left for their house. On the way in the jungle, robbers attacked them and beheaded both Suryamal and Chandrasen, then ran away. When the bride emerged from her palanquin, she saw her husband lying there dead. She was shocked and immediately tried to kill herself. Just then Devi Maa manifested and stopped her from doing so. Devi asked her to arrange the severed heads with the respective bodies. In her nervousness and in a hurry, the bride interchanged the heads with the bodies. By sprinkling nectar on them, Devi Maa brought them back to life-but as the bride had mixed up the heads, her husband’s head was now fastened to his friend’s body, and vice versa!
The bride was confused. Betaal asked Vikram: whom should the bride go with? Should she go with the one who has the head of her husband, or the one who has the body of her husband?
Vikram wisely replied that since all the bodily functions are controlled by the brain (head), they act according to the command of the brain. Hence the head is the most vital part of the body, and so the bride should go with the one who has the head of her husband. Betaal was very happy to hear this, but as Vikram had opened his mouth to speak, Betaal flew away.