Chapter 77 — Karkati Travels to the Land of the Kiratas, Sees a King & His Minister, Debates Food

Vasishta resumed:—

A deep dark night, black as ink and as thick as tangible pitch, covered the homes of the Kiratas. The sky was moonless and overcast by a veil of dark clouds. The woodlands were hidden by tamara trees and thick masses of black clouds flew about in the air. Thick shrubs and bushes covered the hilly villages, obstructing passage by their impervious darkness. The flitting light of fireflies gave the homesteads an appearance of a bridal night. The thick darkness spread over the compounds of houses shut out the passage of the light of lamps, which made their way through chinks in the houses where they were burning.

Karkati saw a band of female pisacha ghosts dancing about her as her companions. She became motionless as a block of wood on seeing giddy vetala ghosts moving about with human skeletons in their hands. She saw antelope sleeping by her and the ground matted over by thick snow fall. The breeze gently shook drizzling drops of dew and frost from the leaves of trees. She heard frogs croaking in the bogs and night ravens cawing from the hollows of trees. The mingled noise of happy men and women came from the inside of the houses. She saw phosphorescent light burning in swamps with the luster of portentous meteors. She found banks and streams thick with thorns and thistles growing by their sides and washed by the waters gliding below them. She looked above and saw groups of stars shining in the firmament. She saw the forest about her, the breeze shaking their fruit and flowers. 10 She heard the alternate and constant cries of owls and crows in the hollows of trees. She listened also to the shouts of robbers in the outskirts and the wailings of villagers at a distance. 11 Foresters were silent in their native woods and citizens were fast asleep in the cities. Winds were howling in the forests and birds were at rest in their woodland nests. 12 Furious lions lay in their dens and deer were lying in their caves. The sky was full of frozen dew and the woodlands were all still and quiet. 13 Lightning flashing from dark inky clouds resembled the reflections of rays from the bosom of a crystal mountain. The clouds were as thick as solid clay and the darkness was as stiff as if it needed a sword to cut it. 14 Blown by the storm, dark clouds fled in the air like the dark Anjana Mountain, then deluged a flood of pitchy rain like a waterfall from the bosom of a mountain. 15 The night was as dark as the pit of a coal-mine, and as jet black as the wing of the black bee. The whole landscape, lulled to sleep, appeared like the world lying submerged under ignorance.

16 In this dreadful dead of night in the area inhabited by Kiratas, she saw a king and his minister wandering together in the forest. 17 The king was named Vikrama and he was as brave and valorous as his name and conduct implied him to be. He came out undaunted from within the city, after the citizens had fallen fast-asleep. 18 Karkati saw them wandering in the forest with the weapons of their valor and fortitude, looking for the vetala ghosts that infested the neighborhood.

19 Seeing them, she was glad to think that at last she had found a proper food. But she wanted to know beforehand whether they were ignorant folks or had any knowledge of their souls, or whether their weariness under the burden of their bodies had exposed them to the dangers of the dark night.

20 “The lives of the unlearned,” she thought to herself, “truly are damned in this world and the next. Therefore it is better to put an end to these rather than leave them to live to their peril in both worlds. 21 Without spiritual knowledge, the life of the ignorant is death. Physical death is preferable because it saves the dying soul from further accumulation of sin. 22 It is the primeval law ordained by our prime father, the lotus-born Brahma, that ignorant souls and those without knowledge of their selves should become the food of the heinous. 23 Therefore there is no harm in my feeding upon these two persons, who have offered themselves for my food. It is silliness to allow an easy prize or a proffered gift slip from the hand.”

24 “But if they prove to be men of good and great souls, then in that case I cannot feel disposed of my own nature to put an end to their valuable lives. 25 Therefore I must test them to see if they possess such intelligence. If so, I will decline to make them my food because I feel averse to molesting the intelligent. 26 For those who expect to have true glory and real happiness throughout their lives on earth must always honor the learned with gifts adequate to their parts and desires. 27 I should rather suffer my body to perish with hunger than destroy the intelligent for its support. The soul derives more satisfaction from the counsels of the wise than bare life without knowledge can possibly afford. 28 The learned are to be supported even at the expense of one’s own life because the society of the wise is a tonic for the soul, though death should deprive us of our bodies.”

29 “If I, a man-eating rakshasi, am so favorably disposed to the preservation of the wise, then what reasonable man is there who must not make a breast-plate of the wise for himself? 30 Of all embodied beings that move about on the surface of the earth, it is only the man of profound understanding who sheds his benign influence like cooling moonbeams all around him. 31 To be despised by the wise is death, and to be honored by the learned is true life. Only the company of the wise makes life bring forth its fruits of heavenly bliss and final beatitude.”

32 “I will now ask a few questions to test them, like copper by a chemical process, and know whether they are men of character or gilded on the surface with wise looks. 33 Upon examination and ascertainment of the qualifications, if they prove to be wiser than the examiner, then one should avail of their instruction. Otherwise there is no harm to make an end of them as they best deserve.”