King Vikramaditya: A Noble Sacrifice
It was a dark, moonless night. Occasional flashes of lightning lit up the sombre scene, causing an eerie dance of jerky and frightening shadows in the cremation ground. The spine-chilling howl of a jackal or the blood-curdling laughter of some unseen evil spirit cut into the silence that hung, shroud-like, over the area. Altogether, it was a scene that would strike terror into the bravest heart, nothing could daunt the intrepid King Vikram.
Once again, he made his way to the ancient gnarled tree from which the corpse hung. Bones crunched under his feet and a screeching ghost rose from the dust in shuddering frenzy as he marched ahead.
Oblivious to all this, he reached the tree and brought down the corpse. Slinging it astride his shoulder, he had just begun his return journey when the vampire that possessed the corpse said, “O King! I do not know what inspires you to come to this graveyard at dead of night, braving all the danger and discomfort of such a venture! I have seen many idealistic youths who claimed willingness to lay down their very lives for the sake of their noble cause. But at the first sign of danger, they forgot all their ideals and turned into cowards! Let me tell you the story of one such youth, Giridhar.”
The vampire then narrated the following story:
The valley of Bhargavgiri was inhabited by a group of tribals. Their chief, Kondadev, had a son named Giridhar who was a very self-respecting person. This was not to say that he was proud or haughty; in no way did he misuse his position as the chief’s son, nor did he ever display any sign of arrogance. On the contrary, he was helpful and friendly to all. His greatest desire was for the eventually relented.
Long ago, the valley had been a virtual treasure trove of medicinal herbs of all kinds, and rare species of flora and fauna. When the news of this natural bounty reached the ears of the King of Kanchanpur, greed inspired him to send his soldiers to the valley. They persecuted the tribals and took away by force the honey, herbs and animal products they had collected. Deprived of their means of livelihood, the innocent tribals were in despair.
As usual, the annual festival of Bhargavi took place that year with great fanfare. The army commander of Kanchanpur and his soldiers were among the worshippers. In the course of the festival, the tribal priest was possessed by the spirit of the goddess and he went into a trance. Jumping and leaping in a frenzy, he shouted, “If you desire the welfare of your people, do as I say! On every full-moon day, you must first make me an offering of three pots of honey, 31 deer horns and three basketfull of herbs, and then hand them over as your tribute to the soldiers of Kanchanpur. This practice should continue until the King of Kanchanpur, of his own accord, frees you from vassalage. Otherwise it will end in your ruin!”
The tribal chieftain bowed to the dictates of the goddess. From then on, Bhargavgiri was recognised as Kanchanpur’s vassal. The soldiers of Kanchanpur stopped persecuting the tribals, but continued to take away all the forest produce month after month. The practice continued, and it was in this manner that the tribals had reached their present impoverished condition.
Giridhar was enraged by the story. He addressed his fellow tribals: “Why should we surrender the honey and other things, collected by us with much difficulty, to others? This forest is our home and as such, whatever grows here is our property. We should resist this injustice. If we stand united, no one can take away our rights!”
Kondadev was upset to hear his son inciting the tribals against Kanchanpur. He warned him, “Remember, my son, we are no match for the king’s huge army!” After thinking the matter over, Giridhar told his father, “Didn’t the goddess say that the tribute-paying can stop when the king himself sets us free? I shall go to Kanchanpur, meet the king and tell him of the difficulties we’re facing.” His father advised him to present his case humbly and courteously, so that the king would be moved to relent. Giridhar agreed. Accompanied by two friends, he set out for the capital of Kanchanpur.
On reaching his destination, he met King Kanakasena, enlightened him about the plight of the tribals, and requested him to free the valley from bondage. The king heard him out, and finally declared “Bhargavgiri is our vassal, and is bound to obey us. If you don’t wish to pay the tribute due to us, you may leave the valley and go to live elsewhere!” Forgive me, Your Majesty,” said Giridhar politely, “but that’s impossible. The valley of Bhargavgiri is our mother, and we cannot even contemplate leaving her!” He bowed and left the court.
A week later, as the king was holding court, a tribal youth entered, bowed to him, and handed him a letter. It was from Giridhar, and read as follows:
“O’ King! My forefathers were scared by an oracle’s threat and agreed to pay tribute to you. For three generations now, we have continued the practice, undergoing much hardship in the process. We slave and slog, while you enjoy the fruits of our labor. This cannot go on any longer. I came in person to meet you and tell you of our problems, but you turned a deaf ear to my pleas. Now there is no other go but to tell you that we wish to break free of your tyranny. My men are ready to fight to the death, but I am not in favor of unnecessary bloodshed. So, I suggest an alternative. As the representative of the tribals, I am ready to fight a duel with any of your warriors. If I win, you must declare Bhargavgiri valley independent; if I lose, my people shall go away, leaving the valley to you. If you are ready to meet my challenge, kindly let me know where and when you intend to have the duel.”
Boiling with anger, the king snapped at the messenger, “Very well! On the evening of the next full-moon day, the duel shall be held in the palace grounds. Tell Giridhar to be ready!”
Arrangements were made for a duel as per the king’s order. Giridhar arrived at the venue, accompanied by two friends. Something totally unexpected happened. The king’s guards surrounded Giridhar, took him prisoner, and bound his hand and foot before dragging him to the king. In a tone brimming with sarcasm, the king declared: “Giridhar, your bravery is commendable indeed! But by defying me, you have put your life in danger. You have incited the peace-loving tribals and filled their innocent minds with fiery ideas of independence and pride.
Your crime is nothing short of treason. You deserve to be punished with death. But like you, I wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Now that the tribals are bent on getting their freedom, it will not be easy to rule over them. So I shall set them free on one condition.”
“What is it?” asked Giridhar. “If you desire freedom for your homeland, you should agree to give up your freedom. You shall remain in this palace for the rest of your life, as a slave of Kanchanpur!” Giridhar was startled. A moment later, he bowed and said, “So be it. I willingly accept your condition!” Having concluded the story, the vampire asked, “O King! How could Giridhar, a proud, freedom-loving youth, so tamely agree to become a slave? Was it not his cowardice that made him abandon his ideals when confronted with adverse conditions? Answer me, or your head shall shatter into a thousand fragments!”
King Vikram replied, “Giridhar never abandoned his ideals or changed his stand. He had all along desired freedom for his tribe. In the end, he succeeded in winning it – albeit at great personal cost. He sacrificed his own freedom for that of his tribe. Sacrificing one’s personal honor for that of his family, his family’s honor for that of his village, his village’s honor for that of his kingdom all these are examples of truly noble deeds. Giridhar was one who made such a noble sacrifice. In no way did he prove himself a coward. On the contrary, he deserves praise for his courage and selflessness!”
As soon as the King finished speaking, the vampire, along with the corpse, moved off his shoulder with a jerk and flew back to the tree. With a little sigh, King Vikram squared his shoulders and retraced his steps towards the tree.