Thereafter, when that exceptionally cruel planet Saturn entered the constellation Virgo, the twelfth house of Vikramaditya’s horoscope (as counted from his Moon), a well-educated astrologer came to visit that heroic monarch. He said, “Great King! The particularly severe planet known as Saturn has now entered the twelfth house from your Moon, and your seven-and-a-half-year period of Saturnian dolor has begun. You have spoken about this planet in ordinary terms, but he is acclaimed as Mahakrura (‘Megacruel’) in all the three worlds. Now is the time to perform worship, to give alms, and to have mantras recited for you, that you may appease Satum and escape from his tortures.
“Select a learned and devout Brahmana and have him recite Saturn’s mantra for you 23,000 times. After the mantra recitation is finished, have 5,750 offerings made into the sacred fire.. Donate black gram, black cloth, iron, and oil to a Brahmana, and feed Brahmanas. Wear a pure blue sapphire on your body. If you have mantras recited for you and you feed some Brahmanas, and if you revere and worship those Brahmanas who perform these rituals for you as if they were Saturn himself, Saturn will become peaceable. When he has become satisfied by these means, Saturn will protect you during your Seven- and-a-Halfin the same way that he would protect his own son.”
King Vikramaditya answered, “I will certainly attempt to propitiate Saturn by offering abundant alms and by arranging for all due worship to be performed, but I am not at all confident that he will become pleased with me. If as soon as he was born he harassed his mother and father, then what good things will he do for anyone else? Whatever is written in one’s fate happens with certainty, and there is no escaping from it. Please return to your home.” Saying this the king bade farewell to the pundit.
One day shortly thereafter Saturn took the form of a rich merchant and arrived in Ujjayini to sell horses. 0 listeners! The storyteller says, pay attention! Many rich men came to that merchant to purchase horses, and when King Vikrama heard of this he ordered his master of horse to go buy some excellent ones. Obedient to his king’s order, the master of horse visited the merchant’s stable and selected a horse with a good pedigree. When he heard its price, he was so stunned that he ran to tell the king, and King Vikrama was so stunned that he came to see those horses for himself Saturn, in the merchant’s disguise, showed the king horse after horse, and the king examined them all, one by one. When the king asked the merchant the horses’ price, Saturn replied, “Your majesty! After you have ridden a horse and decided that you like him, only then will I tell you his price.”
The king liked a horse named Sarang, so he mounted a rider with a whip on Sarang’s back and took him to the nearby parkland for a trial. The rider rode him well, and the king was pleased. By this time the merchant had brought forward another horse named Akhlakh, and he said to the king, “This horse’s price is one hundred thousand silver rupees. I know that such a price has never yet been asked for a horse, but if you will but mount him personally and ride him a bit, you will know precisely what is his gait and quality. Then you will be able (o judge his value for yourself.” The king then mounted the horse and rook him to the parkland. After cantering him a bit, he said, to no one in particular, “This horse is indeed high-spirited and swift.”
As soon as these words left the king’s mouth Akhlakh gave a tremendous leap and sailed into the sky at breakneck speed. The more he leapt the further they flew, as the king held on for dear life. Finally, they penetrated a dense jungle in a faraway land and landed on the bank of a river. The king collected himself sufficiently to jump off the horse, who immediately disappeared from view, as did the river. Seeing neither the horse nor the river, and surrounded by impenetrable forest, King Vikrama was overwhelmed with boundless grief. He sadly asked himself, “Where shall I go now, and what shall I do?”
The Sun promptly set, and darkness spread in all directions with such dispatch that it soon became impossible for the king to see any path through the dismal woods. He had no choice but to pass the night beneath a tree until, by the light of the next morning’s dawn, he emerged with great difficulty from the forest, assailed grievously by hunger” and thirst. At that moment a cowherd came along, who gave the king some water and showed him the direct road to the nearest town, which happened to be the city of Tamalinda, about twenty miles away. Sighing gravely and filled with a full measure of the trepidation of presentiment. King Vikrama wearily set out upon the road, advancing slowly toward his fate.
Back in Ujjayini the populace had waited patiently, but when, by nightfall, the king had not descended from the sky, they descended into hopelessness. The whole city was drowned in immense sorrow over the sudden disappearance of their beloved lord, and expressions of bone-deep anguish spread among the people like an ache spreads in an affected limb.
The morning after the king’s disappearance, the horse merchant waylaid the prime minister and said, “Now please pay me for my horse.” The prime minister responded, “When the king returns he will pay you.” He then sent men in all directions to search for the sovereign, but since they could get no hint of where he had gone, the prime minister finally had to pay the merchant one hundred thousand silver rupees, which was the price he had mentioned to the king. Pocketing the money, Saturn became invisible.
King Vikrama had meanwhile slowly made his way to the city of Tamalinda, and on entering it he encountered its shopping bazaar. He sat to rest for some time in front of a trader’s shop. It so happened that the trader’s sales during that period of time were double his usual take. Noting this the shopkeeper thought to himself, “Here must certainly be a very lucky man,” and he greeted King Vikrama with great respect. Seating the king in his shop, the trader said to him, “Please clean your mouth, hands and feet, and then bathe, and then come to my home for your meal. What caste do you belong to, where is your home, and what is your name?”
The king replied, “I am by birth a Kshatriya, and my homeland is far from here. Wandering, wandering I reached this city, and seeing your shop, I stopped here for a moment to rest.”
The merchant responded, “You have spoken very well. However it is that you have come, please come with me now to my home,” and so saying he escorted the king to a well-appointed mansion not far distant. After King Vikrama had bathed and performed his daily worship, the merchant seated him with great pomp and had served to him a delicious meal of varied delicacies containing the full complement of all six tastes. After eating until their bellies were full, the two men washed their hands and faces, and began to chew betel nuts and leaves.
It so happened that the merchant’s daughter, by name Alolika (‘Unagitated’), was searching for a man of her liking to marry. Her father had also searched diligently hut had as yet found no appropriate man until today, when fate had unexpectedly shipped to his shop this fortunate man, who seemed a most appropriate match for his girl. The merchant therefore called for his daughter, and told her, “Alolika! I have today located a suitable man for you. Garland him (to signify that she had selected him for a husband), and marry him.”
The girl replied, “All right, father, but I will marry him only after I have tested him. I must know the extent of his wisdom, cleverness, and depth before I will wed him. After evening falls, send that guest that of yours to sleep in my art room. I will test him there, and if he passes my test I will marry him.”
The merchant consequently sent King Vikrama to his daughter’s art room. When the king stepped inside the room he was struck first by the walls, which were covered with a variety of pictures of elephants, horses, and birds. In the middle of the room, a canopied bed was laid out on which was spread a velvet mattress covered with a white coverlet with embroidered pillows on both sides. In the center of the ceiling was a pearl chandelier from which canopies of pearls extended in all directions. Lamps threw a brightness like that of moonlight over the whole scene, and garlands of roses distributed their fragrance throughout the room when struck by the breeze. Near the bed was an ivory table on which were arranged flagons of rose water and a variety of perfume essences.
Seeing the room’s unparalleled ornamentation, King Vikrama thought, “0 ho! What country is this, and what beauty is this? The gait of karma is very perplexing; no one is able to know it. All this seems to me to be one of Lord Saturn’s illusions, something that he has arranged in order to deceive me; no, there is no doubt about this at all. Even the merchant’s daughter must be part of Lord Saturn’s illusion. Now I will see what happens next.” He then got into bed, covered his head, and pretended to sleep.
He pretended to sleep because he couldn’t sleep. How could he sleep? With Saturn’s harsh gaze on him and the seven and a half years of Saturn’s influence clinging to him, the king lay in bed with the covers pulled over his head, smothered with thoughts of impending calamities.
While he was in this state the merchant’s daughter, bedecked with the sixteen varieties of adornment, entered the chamber. A precious pearl and diamond necklace embellished her delicate neck, about which fell her hair which was crowded with pearls. In her nose sat a diamond stud. The divine beauty other body shone through her rich raiment like a flash of lightning illumines the golden clouds of evening. With great hopes she entered that room, which resounded happily with the jinglings of her anklets, but when, perfumes oozing from her pores, she approached the bed she saw that the king was asleep, his head covered with the sheet.
Now Alolika was well-versed in testing prospective suitors, and she was cunning in the art of joining herself with prospective bridegrooms. She tried to rouse the king from sleep by sprinkling him lightly with saffron water, but since the king’s sleep was but a pretence how could he be roused? A sleeping man may be made to speak, but a wakeful man will keep quiet.
The merchant’s daughter tried for three full hours, to no avail, to awaken her intended. Finally she hung her pearl necklace over a handy peg and, heaving a earnest sigh, she lay both her throbbing heart and her quivering body down at the king’s side. Shortly thereafter she was overcome with sleep.
Thereupon the king pulled the covers off his face, and thought, “People call me courageous and heroic and say that my mind is ever intent on assisting others. Day and night I dread sinning. Here is this young maiden whom I will not marry; how can I explain my situation to her? If the wise regard it to be a sin even to speak with an unwed girl in private, how much more of a sin would it be to actually touch her?”
While thinking in this fashion King Vikrama witnessed a wonder: A painted swan in one of the pictures on the wall came to life. It then dropped from its wall to the floor, waddled over to the peg where Alolikas necklace was dangling, and started to eat it. The king marvelled greatly at this mischance and thought, “This event is going to be a great source of misery for me; it is going to cost me a lot. If I take the necklace away from the swan I will lose my reputation for never refusing someone what they ask for, since refusal causes misery; but if I let the swan eat it unobstructedly, a charge of thievery will be laid against me. Well, let me be charged with theft, but I will not destroy my reputation for generosity by taking the necklace away from the swan.” Thinking thus, the king finally fell asleep.
In the morning the maiden arose and said to herself, “This man that my father procured for me is an impotent fool who is sleeping even now.”