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Vetāla 2: The Three Young Brāhmans who restored a Dead Lady to Life

(Pp. 179-181)

Click the link to jump directly to the english translation of the second Vetāla. This page only contains the notes.

As explained by Uhle,{GL_NOTE::} Śivadāsa’s recension varies in its texts both in the present story and also in No. V. According to Lassen{GL_NOTE::} there are four Brāhmans; the first three act as in our version, and the fourth merely goes home. He it is who is judged to be the true husband, as the others had acted respectively as father, brother and servant. In Gildemeister’s text, which is that chiefly used by Uhle, and in all other versions, the Brāhmans are only three in number. As Lassen’s reading in this case was based on a single MS., it cannot stand against the others as the original version. And Uhle points out [on a later page{GL_NOTE::} that it must be regarded merely as a clever improvement on the original, for it cannot be denied that the king’s choice of the fourth Brāhman, who merely goes home, contains a decided touch of humour.

It is, however, interesting to note that in a moralised version forming the Sādhusīla Jātaka, No. 200 (Cambridge edition, vol. ii, pp. 96, 97), the number of suitors is four. They wooed the four daughters of a Brāhman. He was in doubt as how best to dispose of them. One of the suitors was fine and handsome, one was old, the third a man of good family, and the fourth was good.

Accordingly he approached the Master, saying:

“One is good, and one is noble; one has beauty, one has years.
Answer me this question, Brāhman: of the four, which best appears?”

Hearing this, the teacher replied:

“Even though there be beauty and the like qualities, a man is to be despised if he fail in virtue. Therefore the former is not the measure of a man; those that I like are the virtuous.”

And in explanation of this matter he repeated the second couplet:

“Good is beauty: to the aged show respect, for this is right:
Good is noble birth; but virtue—virtue, that is my delight.”

When the Brāhman heard this, he gave all his daughters to the virtuous wooer.

Before referring to variants found in the vernaculars we shall first consider the story as given by Somadeva. The chief motif is that of “Resuscitation.” In this particular case it is brought about by the aid of a stolen book containing a magical charm. Although I am unable to give any exact analogue to this, we find in the Latin version of the Gesta Romanorum{GL_NOTE::} a tale of a magic book of charms stolen from a necromancer by his pupil. The best-known method is by aid of the “Water of Life,” which is one of the oldest and most widespread motifs in the world. We have already had several references to this (see Vol. II, p. 155n4, and Vol. III, p. 253n1), but by far the largest number is to be found in Bolte and Pollvka, op. cit., vol. ii, pp. 394-401—i.e. No. 97, “Das Wasser des Lebens.” Sir Richard Temple is at present engaged on a work dealing with this interesting subject.{GL_NOTE::}

Now in this present story three men claim to have been the direct cause of the resuscitation, the first because he possessed the charm, the second because he had taken her bones to the Ganges and the efficacy of sacred bathing-places was absolute, while the third claims that it was the power of his asceticism which had raised the dead to life. Thus the story is really an unusual form of the well-known “Joint Efforts” motif, as it might be called. The usual form is that found in the Vetāla’s fifth story—all the suitors can do something wonderful: suddenly the bride disappears and the joint application of their gifts is successful in bringing back the lost bride. I shall discuss this further when dealing with the story in question (see p. 273 et seq.). The motif occurs also in the Vetāla’s twenty-second story, where three Brāhmans bring a lion back to life. The present tale is weak because the claims of the first two Brāhmans are so feeble. The third Brāhman had already obtained clear proof of the efficacy of the charm, and needed no help from the others at all. In the “Joint Efforts” motif, however, all the suitors do something which is a sine qua non to the result, but useless by itself; accordingly the question as to who can rightly claim the girl for a bride is a very open one. But of this more anon.

The “Five Sons,” which forms the seventh diversion of the fifth day in Basile’s Pentamerone (Burton, vol. ii, p. 532 et seq.), although really an example of the “Joint Efforts” motif, warrants mention here because one of the sons has discovered a herb which can cause the dead to live again. But it would have been useless until the others had rescued her from the ghul’s power. The end of the tale is unusual. The king is unable to decide who deserves the hand of the princess. Each man (they are brothers) puts forward his claim. Then the father of the boys puts forward his claim.

“I think I have done a great deal in the matter,” he said,

“having made men of these my sons, and having by the strength of first teachings obliged them to learn the craft they know, otherwise they would be senseless fools, where now they have brought forth such pleasant fruits.”

The father marries the princess.

A story from Siddhi-Kür also deserves mention. It forms No. 2 of Jülg, tale 9 of Busk (p. 105 et seq.) and No. 4 of Coxwell (p. 179 et seq.). In this tale six men go to seek their fortunes in different directions. One of them, a rich man’s son, is killed. The others, by their several accomplishments, find his body, and by a wonderful draught one of them restores his life. The rich man’s son tells his adventures, and how his wife must be rescued from the hands of a powerful khan. This is successfully done, and each claims the woman.

The tale ends curiously:

“They strove thus each for himself, and could not come to an agreement. ‘Now,’ said they, ‘if there is this difficulty, let us all take her’; and crying out ‘Strike! strike!’ they cut her to pieces with their knives.”

In fact, all the story-tellers have experienced much difficulty in settling the question that this story leads up to. In Somadeva’s tale the question is naturally put to Trivikramasena, and he, being a pious and exemplary king, gets out of the difficulty by saying that he who stayed in the cemetery and practised asceticism acted so out of deep affection and so must be considered her husband. The other two act the parts of father and son respectively. This resembles the end of a story in the Kalmuck Arji-Borji (see Busk, op. cit., p. 298 et seq.).

Four young shepherds combine in making a life-like wooden carving. The first did the actual sculpturing, the second painted it, the third infused into it wit and understanding, the fourth breathed life into it, and behold! it was woman! They all claimed her for themselves. The question was who had the best claim.

After several futile answers had been given the wise Naran-Dākini replied:

“... The youth who first fashioned the figure of a block of wood, did not he stand in the place of a 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 he not 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?”

In the Hindi version the girl dies of a snake-bite, and various sorcerers, etc., are brought to charm away the poison. Having seen the girl, however, they are of the unanimous opinion that the case is hopeless. Then follows a curious passage about snake-poison:

The first said:

“A person does not live who has been bitten by a snake on the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and fourteenth day of the lunar month.”

The second said:

“One who has been bitten on a Saturday or Tuesday does not survive.”

The third said:

“Poison infused during the Rohiṇī, Maghā, Asleṣā, Viṣākhā, Mūlā, and Kṛttikā mansions of the moon, cannot be got under.”

The fourth said:

“One who has been bitten in any organ of sense—the lower lip, the cheek, the neck, abdomen, and navel—cannot escape death.”

The fifth said:

“In this case Brahma even could not restore life—of what account, then, are we? Do you perform the funeral rites—we will depart.”

The rest is almost similar to Somadeva’s version.

In the Tamil Vedala Cadai, and also in the Turkish Ṭūṭī-nāmah,{GL_NOTE::} the girl dies through anxiety of mind, while the others are disputing as to whom she should rightly marry. The curious feature in the latter is that the girl is brought back to life by being beaten. The first suitor opens the grave, the second advises the use of the cudgel, and the third brings it into operation. The suitors fight, but the girl refuses them all.

Restoring life by beating is certainly uncommon in stories. It is found, however, in a Persian tale included by J. Uri in his Epistolæ Turcicæ ac Narrationes Persicæ editæ et Latine conversæ,{GL_NOTE::} Oxonii, 1771, pp. 26, 27. Flagellation during marriage ceremonies is quite common in India, and is also found in other countries.{GL_NOTE::} The fundamental idea is quite possibly the same as in the case of raising the dead by flogging—namely, to expel the evil spirit which has caused the catastrophe, or in the case of a marriage, which might cause the catastrophe (of barrenness).

To conclude, I would quote a Burmese version of our story found in a collection known under the title of The Precedents of Princess Thoodama Tsari (or Sudhammachārī). The translation is by R. F. St A. St John, Folk-Lore Journal, vol. vii, 1889, p. 309 et seq.{GL_NOTE::}

Once there were, in the country of Kamboja, four vaiśyas who were great friends; three of them had a son and the other had a very beautiful daughter.

Each of the three young men sent a message to the parents of the girl. The first said:

“If your daughter should die before she reaches the age of fifteen, I will give her a grand funeral.”

The second said:

“If she die before the age of fifteen, I will collect her bones after the body is cremated and bear them to the burial-ground.”

The third said:

“If your daughter die before she reaches the age of fifteen, I will watch in the burial-ground.”

To these proposals the parents of the girl gave their consent.

Now it came to pass that the girl died before she was fifteen, and her parents called upon the young men to fulfil their promises, and they did so. Whilst the third was walking in the burial-ground a Yogi came that way, on his road to Himavanta, and, seeing him, asked if he would like the girl to be made alive again; and on his saying that he would, he restored her to him alive and with all her former beauty. The other two young men on hearing of this said that, as they had performed their promises, they had also a right to have her in marriage.

After arguing the matter between themselves, they agreed to go to Princess Sudhammachārī and abide by her decision:

“One of you performed the funeral ceremonies and went his way; the other carried the bones to the burial-ground and departed; but the third remained watching in the burial-ground. The man who constituted himself a guardian of the burial-ground is debased for seven generations, and, inasmuch as the girl came to life when he still remained with her though dead, he has an undoubted right to her now that she has come to life again.”

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