Goblins: The Old Hermit

This story is part of the Twenty-Two Goblins unit. Story source: Twenty-Two Goblins, translated by Arthur W. Ryder, with illustrations by Perham W. Nahl (1917).

The Old Hermit who exchanged his Body for that of the Dead Boy.
Why did he weep and dance?

Then the king went back to the sissoo tree, put the goblin on his shoulder in spite of all its writhings, and set out in silence. And the goblin on his shoulder said: "O king of kings, you are terribly obstinate about this impossible task. So to amuse the weary journey I will tell a story. Listen."

~ ~ ~

In the Kalinga country was a city called Beautiful where people lived as happily as in heaven. There ruled a famous king named Pradyumna. And in a part of this city was a region set apart by the king where many Brahmans lived. Among them was a learned, wealthy, pious, hospitable Brahman named Sacrifice.

In his old age, a single son was born to him and his worthy wife. The boy grew under the fostering care of his father and showed signs of excellence. He was called Devasoma by his father, and his parents were entirely devoted to him.

In his sixteenth year, the boy attracted everyone by his learning and modesty. Then he suddenly fell ill of a fever and died. When his father and mother saw that he was really dead, they embraced the body and wept aloud. But their love for him would not permit them to burn the body.

So the old relatives gathered and said to the father: "Brahman, life is imaginary like a city in the sky. Do you not know this, you who know things above and things below? The kings who enjoyed themselves like gods upon the earth, they have gone one by one to cemeteries filled with processions of weeping ghosts. Their bodies were burned by the flesh-devouring fire and eaten by jackals. No one could prevent it in their case. How much less in the case of others? Therefore, as you are a wise man, tell us what you mean by embracing this dead body."

So at last the relatives persuaded him to let his son go, and they put the body in a litter and brought it to the cemetery with weeping and wailing.

At that time a hermit was fulfilling a hard vow and was living in a hut in the cemetery. He was very thin because of his age and his hard life. His veins stuck out like cords to bind him, as if afraid that he would break in pieces. His hair was tawny like the lightning.

This hermit heard the wailing of the people, and turned to his pupil who begged food for him. Now this pupil was proud and arrogant. And the hermit said: "My boy, what is this wailing we hear? Go outside and find out, and then return and tell me why this unheard-of commotion is taking place."

But the pupil said: "I will not go. Go yourself. My hour for begging is passing by."

Then the teacher said: "Fool! Glutton! What do you mean by your hour for begging? Only one half of the first watch of the day is gone."

Then the bad pupil became angry and said: "Decrepit old man! I am not your pupil. And you are not my teacher. I am going away. Do your begging yourself." And he angrily threw down his staff and bowl before the old man, and got up, and went away.

Then the hermit laughed. He left his hut and went to the place where the dead Brahman boy had been brought to be burned. He saw how the people mourned over such youthful freshness dead, and felt his own age and weakness. So he made up his mind to exchange his body for the other by magic.

He went aside and wept at the top of his voice. Then he danced with all the proper gestures.

After that, full of the longing to enjoy the happiness of youth, he left his own withered body by magic and entered the body of the Brahman youth. So the Brahman youth came to life on the funeral pyre and stood up. And a cry of joy arose from all the relatives: "See! The boy is alive! He is alive!"

Then the magician in the body of the Brahman boy said to the relatives: "I went to the other world, and Shiva gave me life and directed me to perform a great vow. So now I am going off to perform the vow. If I do not, my life will not last. Do you then go home, and I will come later."

So he spoke to those gathered there, having made up his mind what to do, and sent them home full of joy and grief. He went himself and threw his old body into a pit, and then went off, a young man.

~ ~ ~

When the goblin had told this story, he said to King Triple-victory, who was walking through the night: "O King, when the magician entered another person's body, why did he weep before doing it, or why did he dance? I have a great curiosity about this point."

And the king was afraid of the curse, so he broke silence and said: "Listen, goblin. He thought: I am leaving to-day this body with which I won magic powers, the body which my parents petted when I was a child.' So first he wept from grief and from love of his body which he found it hard to leave. Then he thought: With a new body I can learn more magic.' So he danced from joy at getting youth."

When the goblin heard this answer, he returned quickly to the sissoo tree. And the king pursued him, undismayed.

(900 words)