The Altar

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King Vikramaditya once again reached the peepal tree. Confined in a corpse Betal was hanging there in an inverted position, as usual. Vikramaditya pulled Betal upon his shoulder and started walking towards his capital city.

On the way, Betal said to King Vikramaditya, “You are really praiseworthy. You have a lot of courage and stamina. Listen to what I tell you now and answer my questions. If you fail to do so, I will smash your head into pieces.’’ Then Betal narrated as follows:

‘‘Long, long ago, there was a king named Roopsen. The name of his kingdom was Vardhaman. King Roopsen was a brave, merciful and generous person. His own subjects and those of the neighbouring kingdom were very happy with him.

One day, a man from a neighbouring kingdom came to see King Roopsen. He said he was King’s distant cousin. He was thoroughly interrogated by the palace guards and only then let inside to present himself in the King’s audience.

The man entered the royal court where King Roopsen was sitting and said, “Hail, Your Majesty! Long live the King.”

“What is your name, brother? And what brings your here?” asked King Roopsen.
“My name is Veerbal,” replied the man. “I have come in search of a job. I am a wonderful man, as you will find out later.”

King Roopsen smiled and said, “Is that so? But at present, I have no job for you.”

“How can this be possible,” said the visitor in a surprised tone. “Your’s is a mighty kingdom. Besides, I am a hard working man, and I shall  prove it one day, if I am given a chance.”

“All right!” said Roopsen looking intently at the visitor. “And what wages do you expect from us?”
“Your Majesty, one hundred gold coins per day,” said the visitor.

“But it is too much,” said Roopsen. “I cannot pay so much. Look for the job in some other kingdom.”

The courtiers were also surprised to come to know of such an unreasonable demand for wages.

“How many members are there in your family?” Asked King Roopsen.

“We are four, Your Majesty,” said Veerbal. “Besides me, there are my wife, my son and my daughter.”

King Roopsen seemed to have reconsidered the man’s request and said, “Well, join your duties from tomorrow. You will be my personal security guard. Collect your remuneration of one hundred gold coins at every end of the day, after you have finished your duty; but remember, for you—‘end of the day’—would mean the break of dawn as you will be performing night hour duties.’’

Veerbal bowed before the King and left the court.

The next day, when Veerbal reported for duty, he was posted outside King’s bedroom to keep a watch around during the night. Now every morning Veerbal used to return home with one hundred gold coins in his pocket.

One day, the King ordered his spies to follow Veerbal and find out what exactly he does with those one hundred gold coins everyday. After a week the spies reported the matter to the king :
“Your Majesty, this man Veerbal, out of every one hundred gold coins that he draws from the royal treasury as his wages daily, gives twenty-five gold coins to the poor people, another twenty five coins he offers at the temples and yet another twenty five he gives in charity to the Brahmins.

Now out of the remaining twenty five gold coins, he gives ten to lepers and another ten to orphans. Veerbal keeps just five coins for himself and his family members.”
King Roopsen could hardly believe what he came to know about Veerbal. But he was very pleased with the information.

One mid-night, King Roopsen, heard a woman wailing outside his palace. He ordered Veerbal to go and see the woman and find the reason of her grief.

Veerbal went out and met the wailing woman. She was standing near a crematory. Veerbal asked her, “Who are you? And what is the reason of your grief?”

“I am Lakshmi. I have been dislodged from my place by Saturn. Now he is set to destroy our King. This makes me much distressed and this is the reason why I am wailing and crying.”
Veerbal was shocked to know this. He asked the lady, “Is there any way, the King could be saved from this disaster?”

“Yes, listen!” said goddess Lakshmi, “If someone makes a sacrifice of his son at the temple of Mahakali to appease Saturn, the life of Roopsen could be saved.” Saying so, she disappeared.
Now Veerbal, highly distressed himself to know all about Roopsen’s fate rushed straight home. He little realised that King had already followed him and had listened to the entire conver-sation that had taken place between him and goddess Lakshmi. Veerbal was still not aware that the King was watching him.

After reaching home, Veerbal talked with his wife and son and narrated to them what had just happened. His son readily agreed to be sacrified at the altar of Mahakali. So, Veerbal’s family proceeded towards the temple of Mahakali to make the sacrifice for the sake of their King’s safety.

On reaching the temple of Mahakali, Veerbal’s wife said, “Loyalty demands that the servant must sacrifice himself in the way of his master. Lay the boy on the altar.”

Veerbal's son readily offered himself for the purpose and was beheaded by Veerbal himself.
Veerbal’s daughter could not bear the loss of her brother and she also sacrificed herself at the same time.

Now Veerbal's wife found herself all alone in this world without her children. She picked up the sword and cut off her own neck.

“Oh! my whole family has been sacrificed before Mahakali. Now what will I do in this world living all alone?” muttered Veerbal and ended his life too with the same bloodstained sword.

King Roopsen who was hiding behind a pillar in the temple, witnessed all this and almost swooned with horror and disbelief. But he soon regained his posture and out of a feeling of deep remorse beheaded himself too then and there.”

Betal finished his story and asked King Vikramaditya, “Now tell me, Vikram! whose sacrifice was supreme? Veerbal’s son’s, his daughter’s, his wife’s or his own? Or was it the sacrifice of King Roopsen? If you, knowingly avoid giving a correct answer to my question, I will smash your head into pieces.”

King Vikramaditya laughed and said, “King Roopsen's sacrifice was indeed supreme, because it was selfless and no motives could be attributed to it, whereas Veerbal and his family members sacrificed their lives for some purpose or out of sheer dejection. But there was no such need for Roopsen to die for his servant and his family. However, he  finally sacrificed himself.”

“Bravo!” said Betal. “You are really a wise King. But as you have not maintained silence despite my earlier warnings, I am leaving you. Saying so, Betal flew away from the shoulder of King Vikramaditya, and Vikramaditya ran after him till he again reached the peepal tree, the abode of Betal.

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