Once there was a poor Brahmin who lived in a southern state of India. Though he possessed much knowledge of the scriptures, he had to struggle to make a decent living. Because of his pathetic condition, nobody was willing to marry their daughter to him. Then one day, he heard that learned men could earn good money in the holy city of Kashi. Immediately, he made up his mind to go there, thinking that he would gain another benefit, that of going on a pilgrimage.
He packed a frugal meal and set off. After he had walked a long distance, he came upon a pleasant spot with a shady tree and a pond close by. Being hungry and tired by now, he decided to stop and eat his lunch. But when he went to wash his hands in the pond, someone called out, ‘Ohhh! Don’t! Please don’t!’
The Brahmin looked around, but there was no one to be seen. Puzzled, he sat down under the tree and opened his lunch of cold rice. But the moment he put the first morsel into his mouth, someone cried again, ‘Don’t, please don’t.’ However, when he looked around once more, he still could not find anyone. The Brahmin finished his meal hurriedly and was about to leave, when the voice called out again. ‘Please! Don’t go,’ it said.
The Brahmin was quite mystified. The person sounded as if he were in great pain. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘Where are you calling from, and why do you keep saying this?’
‘Right here, above you,’ said the voice again. The Brahmin looked up and discovered that there was a brahmarakshasa, a Brahmin demon, sitting on the tree.
‘Good sir, can you see that temple nearby?’ it said. ‘There’s a piper playing there, completely out of tune. I just can’t bear it. It’s sheer torture for me. You see, I was a great musician in my previous life. Unfortunately, I kept my knowledge to myself and never shared it with anyone. For this reason, I was condemned to become a demon in this birth. And now I have to suffer terrible agonies every time I hear that fellow playing so abominably. Please be kind enough to do me a favour. I cannot move myself from this tree since I was placed here after I died. But if you could carry me away from this awful spot, I’ll be eternally grateful. You’ll earn much merit by helping someone so miserable.’
The Brahmin felt sorry for the demon. At the same time, he knew such demons had special powers. It struck him that he could earn a reward for this good turn. So he said, ‘I’ll do what you want. But I’m miserably poor. Can you help me improve my condition?’
‘Certainly,’ said the demon. ‘I have many powers, and if I move, I’ll gain more. I’ll definitely help you if you do this for me.’
The Brahmin hoisted the fiend on his back, carried him to a faraway place and set him down on a tree there. After thanking him profusely, the demon said, ‘Now listen to me. If you do as I say, you’ll never be poor again. I’ll go and take possession of the princess of Mysore. Dozens of exorcists will come and try to cast me out, but I won’t budge. Then you must come and try to get rid of me. I’ll leave the princess at once. Overjoyed, the king will reward you so handsomely that it’ll last you a lifetime. But there’s one condition. If I decide to possess anyone else, you are not to try and exorcise me. I’ll kill you if you do.’
‘All right,’ said the Brahmin, ‘but you must stick to your part of the deal too.’
The Brahmin left the demon on the tree and went on to Kashi. There he bathed in the holy river Ganges and, after a long, difficult journey, reached the city of Mysore. He found an inn to stay in and found that the people were all agog with the news of a terrible demon that had taken possession of the princess.
‘The king is ready to pay any price to the person who can rid her of it,’ said the innkeeper.
The Brahmin smiled. The demon had kept his word. He spruced himself up as best he could, then went and presented himself at the palace. ‘Your Majesty,’ he told the king, ‘with due respect, I would like to make an attempt to rid the princess of the terrible fiend who has taken hold of her.’
Looking at the shabby, travel-worn Brahmin, the courtiers laughed. ‘All kinds of powerful sorcerers have tried their best. Do you think you can do better?’ they mocked.
But the king was quite desperate by now, so he told the Brahmin to try his hand.
‘Kindly leave me alone with the princess,’ said the Brahmin. ‘I can only work in private.’
After everyone had left, as is the way of such fiends, the demon spoke in the princess’s voice, ‘You certainly took a long time to come,’ it said. ‘Now remember what I tell you. I’ll leave her because I promised you, but don’t you try this again. If you do, I’ll finish you off. I’m going now.’
The demon tore out of the princess’s body with a loud bang. Hearing the sound, the king and queen and their attendants rushed in. When they found that the princess was back to normal again, they were overjoyed. The grateful king rewarded the Brahmin with a large sum of money along with grants of land.
Now that he was rich, the Brahmin received many proposals and got married very easily. He settled down to a comfortable life in Mysore and had several children. The Brahmin was enjoying a happy existence, when he found himself in demand again.
This brahmarakshasa liked to possess beautiful young princesses. He landed up in the neighbouring state of Kerala and took hold of the princess of Travancore. Her father, the king, tried his utmost to get rid of the fiend. However, nothing worked. Then a courtier told him about a great exorcist, the Brahmin who had cast out the demon that had afflicted the princess of Mysore. Immediately, the king of Kerala dispatched a messenger to his friend, the king of Mysore, who in turn sent for the Brahmin.
The Brahmin was in a pretty pickle. He did not dare to go and face the demon again, remembering his warning. But he could hardly disobey the king. He racked his brains for a way out but could find none. After receiving repeated messages from the king, he realized that he had no choice. With a heavy heart, he took leave of his wife and children and set off for Travancore.
When the Brahmin got there, he feigned illness to buy time. But he could not put off the matter forever. Finally, he had to go to the palace and face the fiend. He prayed long and hard before leaving and arrived at the palace full of fear and foreboding. As soon as he reached, he was escorted to the princess’s room. The moment the Brahmin entered, the demon screamed in the princess’s voice. ‘You fool, I told you not to come here! You didn’t heed my warning! Now I’ll tear you apart!’
Picking up an iron pestle, he lunged at the Brahmin. The poor Brahmin thought he was done for. But just as the pestle was about to descend on his head, an idea flashed through his mind.
‘If you don’t listen to me, you evil creature,’ he cried, ‘I’ll bring the out-of-tune piper here. You’ll really enjoy yourself when he plays to you night and day. Now, will you leave the princess, or shall I send for him?’
The demon screamed in agony. ‘No, please, I beg of you!’ it wailed. ‘I’ll go, I’ll go right away! Don’t bring that fellow. Please don’t!’
The demon charged out of the princess with a loud bang and vanished, never to be seen again.
The Brahmin was rewarded with more wealth than he could spend in his lifetime, and he returned joyfully to his wife and family at Mysore.
(Excerpted with permission from the book Sacked! Folk Tales You Can Carry Around by Deepa Agarwal, published by HarperCollins India)