Sagas from the Far East/Vikramâditja's Deeds

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While Vikramâditja continued to rule over his subjects in justice, and to make them prosperous and happy, another mighty king entered Nirvâna. As he left no son, and as there was no one of his family left, nor any one with any title to be his heir, a youth of the people was elected to fill the throne. The same night that he had been installed on the throne, however, he came to die. The next day another youth was elected, and he also died the same night. And so it was the next night, and the next, and yet no one could divine of what malady all these kings died.

At last the thing reached the ears of Vikramâditja.

Then Vikramâditja arose, and Schalû with him, and disguising themselves as two beggars, they took the way to the capital of this sorely-tried kingdom, to bring it deliverance.

When they came near the entrance of the city, they turned in to rest at a small house by the wayside. Within they found an aged couple, who were preparing splendid raiment for a handsome youth, who was their son; but they cried the while with bitter tears. Then said Vikramâditja,—

"Why do you mourn so bitterly, good people?"

"Our King is dead," replied they, "and as he has left no succession, one of the people was chosen by lot to fill the office of King, but he died the same night; and when another was similarly chosen, he likewise died. Thus it happens every night. Now, to-day the lot has fallen on our son; he will therefore of a certainty die to-night: therefore do we mourn."

Then answered Vikramâditja, "To me and my companion, who are but two miserable beggars, it matters little whether we live or die. Keep your son with you, therefore, and we two will ascend the throne this morning in his place and die to-night in his stead."

But the parents replied, "It is not for us to decide the thing. Behold, the matter stands in the hands of three prudent and experienced ministers, but we will go and bring the proposal before them."

The parents went, therefore, and laid the proposal of the beggars before the three prudent and experienced ministers, who answered them, saying, "If these men are willing to die after reigning but twenty-four hours why should we say them nay? Let them be brought hither to us."

Then the beggars were brought in, and the ministers installed them on the throne, saying to the people, "Hitherto we have been accustomed to meet together early in the morning to bury our King. But this time, as we shall have two kings to bury instead of one, see that you come together right early."

Vikramâditja meantime set himself to examine all the affairs of the kingdom, that he might discover to what was to be ascribed the death of the King every night. And when he had well inquired into every matter, he found that it had formerly been the custom of the King to make every night a secret offering[1] to the devas, and to the genii of earth and water, and to the eight kinds of spirits, but that the succeeding kings had neglected the sacrifice, and therefore the spirits had slain them. Then the most high and magnanimous king Vikramâditja appointed out of the royal treasury what was necessary to pay for the accustomed offering; then he called upon the spirits and offered the sacrifice. The spirits, delighted to see their honour return, made the king a present of a handsome Mongolian tent and went up again.

The people, too, who had come together early in the morning, with much wood to make the funeral obsequies of the Kings, were filled with delight to find the spell broken, and in return they gave him the jewel Dsching, filling the air with their cries of gladness and gratitude, calling him the King decreed by fate to rule over them. Thus Vikramâditja became their King.




While now Vikramâditja reigned over all his people in justice and equity complaint was brought before him against one of his ministers, that he oppressed the people and dealt fraudulently with them; and Vikramâditja, having tried his cause, judged him worthy of death. But when he was brought before him to receive sentence he pleaded for life so earnestly that the magnanimous King answered him, "Why should the life of the most abject be taken? Let him but be driven forth from the habitation of men."

So they drove him forth from the habitation of men. Now it had been the minister's custom, in pursuance of a vow, to observe three fast-days every month[1]. And so it happened, that one day after they had driven him forth from the habitations of men, on the day succeeding one of his fasts, he found himself quite without any thing to eat; nor could he discover any fruit or any herb which could serve as a means of subsistence. Recollecting, then, that one day he had made four little offering-tapers out of wax and bread crumbs, he went and searched out the shrine where he had offered them, that he might take them to eat. But see! when he stretched forth his hand to take one of them it glided away from before him and hid itself behind another of the offering-tapers; and when he would have taken that one, they both hid themselves behind the third. And when he stretched forth his hand to have taken the third, the three together, in like manner, glided behind the fourth. And when he stretched forth his hand to have taken the four together, they all glided away together from off the altar and out of the shrine altogether, and so swiftly that it was as much as he could do to follow after them and keep them in sight. Going on steadily behind them he came at last to a cave of a rock, and brushwood growing over it. Herein they disappeared. Then when he would have crept in after them into the cave of the rock, two he-goats, standing over the portal of the cave, sculptured in stone, spoke to him, saying, "Beware, and enter not! for this is a place of bad omen. Within this cave sits the beauteous Dâkinî[2] Tegrijin Nâran[3] sunk in deep contemplation and speaketh never. Whoso can make her open her lips twice to speak to man, to him is the joy given to bear her home for his own. But let it not occur to thee to make the bold attempt of inducing her to open her lips to speak, for already five hundred sons of kings have tried and failed; and behold they all languish in interminable prison at the feet of the Silent Haughty One, sunk in deep contemplation."

And as they spoke they bent low their heads, and pointed their horns at him, to forbid him the entrance.

The minister, however, had no mind to try the issue, but rather seized with a great panic he turned him and fled without so much as heeding whither his steps led him. Thus running he chanced to come with his head at full butt against the magnanimous King Vikramâditja, just then taking his walk abroad.

"How now, evil man?" exclaimed the magnanimous King. "Whence comest thou, fleeing as from an evil conscience?"

Then the minister prostrated himself before him, and told him all he had learnt from the two he-goats sculptured in stone, concerning Naran-Dâkinî.

When Vikramâditja had heard the story, he commanded that the evil minister should be guarded, to see whether the event proved that he had spoken the truth; but, taking with him Schalû and three far-sighted and experienced ministers, he went on till he came to the cave and saw the two he-goats sculptured in stone standing over the portal. The he-goats would have made the same discourse to him as to the evil minister, but he commanded them silence. Then he transformed Schalû into an aramâlâ[4] in his hand, but the three ministers into the altar that stood before the Dâkinî, and the lamp that burned thereon, and the granite vessel for burning incense placed at the foot of the same[5]; laying this charge upon them: "I will come in," said he, "as though a wayfarer who knew you not, and sitting down I will tell a saga of olden time. Then all of you four give an interpretation of my saga quite perverse from the real meaning, and if the Dâkinî be prudent and full of understanding she will open her lips to speak to vindicate the right meaning of the story."

Presently, therefore, after he had completed the transformation of Schalû and the three far-seeing and experienced ministers, and having himself assumed the appearance of a king on his travels, he entered the cave and sat down over against the altar which stood before the Dâkinî Naran, the Silent Haughty One, sunk in deep contemplation. Then said he, "In that it was told me in this place dwells the all-fair Tegrijin Naran-Dâkinî, I, who am King of Gambudvîpa, am come hither to visit her;" and as he spoke he looked furtively up towards the Dâkinî, to see whether he had moved her to open her lips to speak.

But the all-beauteous Naran-Dâkinî, the Silent Haughty One, sat still and gave forth no sign.

Then spoke the King again, saying, "On occasion of this my coming, O Naran-Dâkinî, tell thou me one of the sagas of old; or else, if thou prefer to hold thy peace, then will I tell one to thee."

Again he looked up, but Naran Dâkinî Tegrijin, the Silent Haughty One, sat sunk in deep contemplation and gave forth no sign.

As the King paused, one of the far-seeing and experienced ministers, even the one whom he had transformed into the altar that stood before the Dâkinî, spoke, saying,—

"While from the lips of the all-beauteous Naran-Chatun[6] no word of answer proceeds, how should it beseem me, the Altar, a non-souled object, to speak. Nevertheless, seeing that so great and magnanimous a King has come hither and has propounded a question, I will yet dare, even I, to answer him. For, seeing that Naran-Chatun is so immersed in her own contemplations, she cannot give ear to the words of the King, I who, standing all the day before her in silence, and hearing no word of wisdom in any of the sagas of old, even I would fain be instructed by the words of the King."

And as the altar thus spoke, Naran Tegrijin Dâkinî cast a glance of scorn upon it, but the Silent Haughty One opened never her lips to speak.

Then the King took up his parable and poured forth one of the sagas of old after this manner, saying,—



"Long ages ago there went forth daily into one place four youths out of four tribes, to mind their flocks, one youth out of each tribe, and when their flocks left them leisure they amused themselves with pastimes together. Now it came to pass that one day one of them rising earlier than the rest, and finding himself at the place all alone, said within himself,—

"'How is the time weary, being here all alone!'

"And he took wood and sculptured it with loving care until he had fashioned a form like to his own, and yet not alike. And when he saw how brave a form he had fashioned, he cared no more to sport with the other shepherd youths, but went his way.

"The next morning the second of the youths rose earlier than the rest, and, coming to the place all alone, said within himself,—

"'How is the time weary, being here all alone!'

"And he cast about him for some pastime, and thus he found the form which the first youth had fashioned, and, finding it exceeding brave, he painted it over with the five colours, and when he saw how fair a form he had painted he cared no more to sport with the other shepherd youths, but went his way.

"The next morning the third of the youths rose earlier than the rest, and, coming to the place all alone, said within himself,—

"'How is the time weary, being here all alone!'

"And he cast about him for some pastime; thus he discovered the form which the first youth had fashioned and the second youth had painted, and he said,—

"'This figure is beautiful in form and colour, but it has no wit or understanding.' So he infused into it wit and understanding.

"And when he saw how clever was the form he had endowed with wit and understanding, he cared no more to sport with the shepherd youths, and he went his way.

"The fourth morning the fourth of the youths rose up the earliest, and, finding himself all alone at the trysting-place, said within himself,—

"'How is the time weary, being here all alone!'

"And, casting about to find some pastime, he discovered the form which the first youth had fashioned so brave, and the second youth had painted so fair, and the third youth had made so clever in wit and understanding, and he said,—

"'Behold the figure is beautiful in form and fair to behold in colour, and admirable for wit and understanding, but what skills all this when it hath not life?' And he put his lips to the lips of the figure and breathed softly into them, and behold it had a soul[8] that could be loved, and was woman.

"And when he saw her he loved her, and he cared no more to sport with the shepherd youths, but left all for her, that he might be with her and love her.

"But when the other shepherd youths saw that the figure had acquired a soul that could be loved, and was woman, they came back all the three and demanded possession of her by right of invention.

"The first youth said, 'She is mine by right of invention, because I fashioned her out of a block of wood that had had no form but for me.'

"The second said, 'She is mine by right of invention, because I painted her, and she had worn no tints fair to behold but for me.'

"The third said, 'She is mine by right of invention, because I gave her wit and understanding, and she had had no capacity for companionship but for me.'

"But the fourth said, 'She is mine by right of invention, because I breathed into her a soul that could be loved, nor was there any enjoyment in her but for me.'

"And while they all joyed in the thought of possessing her, they continued to strive on that they might see which should prevail. And when they found that none prevailed against the rest, they brought the matter before the King for him to decide.

"Say now therefore, O Naran-Dâkinî, I charge thee, in favour of which of these four was the King bound to decide that he had invented woman?"

And as the King left off from speaking he looked towards Naran-Dâkinî as challenging her to answer.

But Naran-Dâkinî, the Silent Haughty One, sat immersed in deep contemplation and held her peace, speaking never a word.

Then when the far-sighted and experienced ministers saw that she held her peace, one of them, even the one whom Vikramâditja had transformed into the lamp before the altar, spoke, saying,—

"It were meet indeed that an unsouled object such as I, the Lamp, should not venture to speak in presence of our mistress, Naran-Chatun. But as so great a King has come to visit us, and has propounded to us a question to which Naran-Chatun does not see fit to reply, even I, the Lamp, will attempt to answer him. To me, then, it seems that the answer is clear, for by whom could the figure be said to be invented saving by the youth who first fashioned it? He who gave a mere block of wood a beautiful form must be allowed to have invented it."

Naran-Dâkinî cast a glance of disgust and scorn upon the lamp, yet spoke she never a word.

Then spoke the far-seeing and experienced minister whom Vikramâditja had transformed into the thurible at the foot of the altar, saying,—

"It were meet indeed that an unsouled object such as I, the Incense-burner, should not venture to speak in presence of our mistress, Naran-Chatun. But as so great a King has come to visit us, and has propounded a question to us to which Naran-Chatun does not see fit to reply, even I, the Thurible, will attempt to answer him. And to me indeed the answer is plain, for to whom could the figure be said to belong, if not to the youth who painted it and made a mere stump beautiful and lifelike with fair tints of colour?"

At these words of the incense-vessel Naran-Dâkinî cast upon it a look of scorn and contempt, but opened not her lips to speak.

Then spoke Schalû, whom Vikramâditja had transformed into his aramâlâ, with impetuosity, saying, "Nay, but surely he alone could have the right of invention who endowed a painted log with wit and understanding. Surely he who made a stump of a tree to think must be allowed to have invented it."

When Naran-Dâkinî saw with what a confident air the aramâlâ pronounced this sentence, even as though he had settled the whole matter, she could contain herself no longer, and then burst from her lips these words, while her eyes lighted on the objects that had spoken with exceeding indignation,—

"Of miserable understanding are ye all! How then venture ye, unsouled objects, to expound the matter when I, a reasonable being, scarcely dare pronounce upon the question? What other interpretation of this parable, however, can there be than this:—The youth who first fashioned the figure of a block of wood, did not he stand in place of the father? He who painted it with tints fair to behold, did not he stand in place of the mother? He who gave wit and understanding, is not he the Lama? But he who gave a soul that could be loved, was it not he alone who made woman? To whom, therefore, else should she have belonged by right of invention? And to whom should woman belong if not to her husband?"

Thus Tegrijin Naran Dâkinî had been brought to speak once; but the proposition requiring that the Silent Haughty One should speak twice to man, the magnanimous King proceeded without making allusion to his first success, saying,—

"Now that I have told a saga of old, it is the turn that one of you should also tell us a tale to entertain the mind." And as he spoke he addressed himself to Naran-Dâkinî. Nevertheless Naran-Dâkinî had entered again into her deep contemplation, and held her peace, saying never a word.

Then said the far-seeing and experienced minister whom the King had transformed into the altar,—

"As Naran-Chatun continues to sit in her place and to utter no sound in answer to the word of the high King who has come so far to visit us, even I, though I be an unsouled object, will venture to reply, asking him that he will again open to us the treasures of story."

At these words Naran-Dâkinî cast a meaning glance upon her altar, but spoke not.

Then opened the magnanimous King again the treasures of story.



"Long ages ago two were travelling through a mountainous country, a man and his wife. And behold as they journeyed there reached them from the other side of a rock a voice of such surpassing sweetness that the two stood still to listen, the man and his wife; and not they only, but their very beasts pricked up their ears erect to drink in the sound.

"Then spoke the woman,—

"'A man with a voice so melodious must be a man goodly to see. Shall we not stop and find him out?'"

"But the saying pleased not her husband, nor was he minded that she should see who it was that sang so sweetly; therefore he answered her,—

"'Wherefore should we search him out; is it not enough that we hear his voice?'

"When the wife had heard his answer, she said no more about searching out whence the voice proceeded; only the first time they passed a mountain-rill she said to her husband,—

"'Behold, I faint for thirst in this heat. Now, as thou lovest me, fetch me a draught of that cool water from the mountain-rill.' So the man got down from his horse, and, taking his wife's cup[10], went to the rill to fetch water.

"While he was thus occupied, the wife slid down from off her horse also, and, going silently behind him, pushed him over the precipice and killed him. Then she set out to find out who it was sang so melodiously. When she had followed up the sound she found herself in presence, not of a man goodly to behold, but of a wretched, loathsome object, sunk down against the foot of the rock, deformed in person and covered with sores. Notwithstanding that the undeception was so revolting, she yet took him up on her back and carried him with her; but as the man was heavy and the way steep, the fatigue so wearied her that at the end of a little time she died.

"Was this woman to be counted a good woman or a bad?"

When the King had made an end of telling the tale, he looked towards Naran-Dâkinî as challenging her to answer.

But Naran-Dâkinî held her peace and spoke never a word.

Then, when the far-seeing and experienced minister whom Vikramâditja had transformed into the lamp saw that she yet held her peace, he said,—

"How should an unsouled being such as I, the Lamp, find out the right meaning? nevertheless, not to leave the words of the high King without an answer, I will even venture to suggest that to me it seemeth she must be counted a good woman; because though she killed her husband, yet she made atonement for her fault by raising the sick man and carrying him with her—"

But before he could make an end of speaking Naran-Dâkinî cast at him a glance of contempt and scorn, and she exclaimed,—

"How should there be any good in a woman who killed her lawful husband, and that only because her ears were tickled with the artful melody of an harmonious voice? Of a truth she must have been a veritable schimnu, and if she took the sick man with her, was it not only that she might devour him at leisure?"

Then spoke Vikramâditja,—

"Naran-Chatun! being he who hath induced thee to open thy lips to speak these two times to man, give me my guerdon that thou accompany me home to be my wife."

Very willingly coming down from her altar, Tegrijin Naran Dâkinî at these words gave herself to Vikramâditja to accompany him home to be his wife.

Vikramâditja having then given back to Schalû and to his three far-seeing and experienced ministers their natural shapes, and to the five hundred sons of kings who had failed in winning Naran-Dâkinî theirs, with Naran-Dâkinî by his side, and all the rest in a long procession behind him, the King arrived at his capital. Here he called together all his people Tai-tsing[11] to a great assembly, where he promulgated rules of faith and religion. By his good government he made all his people so happy as no other sovereign ever did, sitting upon his throne with his consort Tegrijin Naran as the fate-appointed rulers.

When the Sûta had made an end of this narration of Vikramâditja's deeds, he addressed himself to Ardschi-Bordschi, saying,—

"If thou canst boast of being such a King as Vikramâditja, then come and ascend this throne, but if not, then beware at thy peril that thou approach it not."

Now Ardschi-Bordschi had seventy-one wives; taking by the hand the chief of them therefore, he bid her make obeisance before the throne and ascend it with him. Ere they had set foot on the first step other two of the sculptured figures came forward, forsaking their guardant attitude, and warned him back, the warrior smiting him in the breast, and the Sûta thus addressing him,—

"Halt! O Ardschi-Bordschi, and thou his wife! nor touch so much as with thy prostrate heads the sacred steps. But first know what manner of woman was the chief wife of Vikramâditja.

"The chief wife of Vikramâditja was Tsetsen Budschiktschi[12], and she never had a word, or look, or thought but for her husband. If thy wife be such a princess as she, then draw near to ascend the throne together, but if otherwise, then at your peril draw not near it.

"But," he said furthermore, "hearken, and I will tell you, who have seventy-one wives, the story of what befell seventy-one parrots and the wife of another high King to whom one of them was counsellor."

And all the sculptured figures answered together,—

"Halt! O Ardschi-Bordschi!"





1.^  Concerning such sacrifices, see Köppen, i. 246 and 560, and Trans. of sSanang sSetzen, p. 352.




1.^  The Kalmucks make the 8th, 15th, and 30th of every month fast-days; the Mongolians, the 13th, 14th, and 15th. (Köppen, i. 564–566; ii. 307–316, quoted by Jülg.)

2.^  Dakini. See note 2, Tale XIV., infra.

3.^  Dakini Tegrijin Naran = the Dakini sun of the gods. (Jülg.)

4.^  Aramâlâ, a string of beads used by Buddhists in their devotions.

5.^  Abbé Huc mentions frequently meeting with such wayside shrines, furnished just as here described.

6.^  Chatun. See note 1 to "Vikramâditja's Birth."

7.^  This beautiful story, which does not profess to be original, but a reproduction of one of the sagas of old, is to be found under various versions in many Indian collections of myths.

8.^  Compare note 3, Tale VII.

9.^  This story also holds a certain place among Indian legends, but is not so popular as the last.

10.^  Cup. No one travels or indeed goes about at all in Tibet and Mongolia without a wooden cup stuck in his breast or in his girdle. At every visit the guest holds out his cup and the host fills it with tea. Abbé Huc supplies many details concerning their use. They are so indispensable that they form a staple article of industry; their value varies from a few pence up to as much as 40l.

11.^  Tai-tsing = the all-purest, the name of the Mandschu or Mantschou dynasty (or Mangu, according to the spelling of Lassen, iv. 742), who, from being called in by the last emperor of the Ming dynasty to help in suppressing a rebellion, subsequently seized the throne (1644). This dynasty has reigned in China ever since, while the Mantchou nationality has become actually forced on the Chinese.

Previously, however, the Mantchous were a tribe of Eastern Tartars long formidable to the Chinese. The introduction of a king of the Mantchous, therefore, as identical with Vikramâditja, presents the most remarkable instance that could be met with of what may be called the confusion of heroes, in the migration of myths.

12.^  Tsetsen Budschiktschi = the clever dancer. (Jülg.)