The Mad Man from the Hills: a folk tale

It is from the first weeks of the seasons turn that I begin my descent from the far icy valley of the distant north. I follow in the trail of the Bhutia Shepherds as they take their flock down towards safer climes – safe from the winter and safe from the wolf. But I keep out of sight from those hateful men. I have had enough of their shouting curses on me, setting their dogs upon me and their flinging dung. They think I am a tantrik who will curse their sheep or their children, even worse. Who but a tantrik they say will live alone in such a place as my valley of fire and ice? But what do they know the fools!

Ah my valley! What should I say of it that you will believe me, Sir, the educated man that you are. Will you believe if I tell you that the gates between the realms of the gods and man open in the valley every spring? Will you believe if I tell you of the enchantment of the gandharas in the first days of spring? Of Indra’s revelry and the streams of holy soma that flow down the mountains like waterfalls and break on the rocks not in rainbow colours but in golden haze of light? Or of the tremors in the mountains when the great lord of the cosmic dance makes union with the goddess of the flowers? The flowers, the flowers, what should I say of them. Their beauty I will not describe for there are no words for me to try. Of their fragrance what should I say but that one deep breath is enough for the mind to expand beyond the confines of maya’s pall.

I found the valley, Sir. I found it in a dream. It was only a legend before that the hill folk said and knew. From there, it was said, that the souls of the dead emerge after purgatory for their earthly karma has cleansed them and made them divine to return to the homes of their children to watch over them. For good and for bad.

It was a goddess – maybe the same as she of the flowers but I cannot tell for sure – who revealed to me the path which would safely meander around the maze of icy cliffs and falls and bridge the fiery rivers of lava that flow between them. I was brave enough, or fool enough, you can judge, to trust in the dream and leave this world to seek the valley. I sought and I found. The valley and peace. Lived, though you might not believe, for a hundred years. Yes, I am a hundred and fifty years old. But I am not a tantrik I am only a man who has found peace.

Why, if the valley is as I have told, must I descend to the karma-bhoomi of earthly existence in these winter months? Live in the world and age in the world? Suffer in the world and be shamed in the world? I must tell you. It is for my soul, Sir. It is for my soul. In the winter months, when the earth turns around, so does turn around the cosmic balance on which it is strung. The gates of the gods are frozen shut by walls of ice and trickle by trickle a stream of liquid fire lays open another gate, a viler door, to the dark stars of the Asuras. And then where flowers once bloomed from the earth thrust forth shards of steel. No wafts of flowery scent anymore but the most poisonous fumes only a breath of which will shrivel a man into a decayed corpse. No devas jovial prance but then tread the earth the most dreadful demons fit enough for the nightmares of the gods. And what of him who is cursed enough to find himself there when the valley is turned into a burning hell? He will lose his soul. Not his life. That will remain. But his soul. And forever he will walk the earth. A man without a soul.

How you might ask should I know of this if I have never found myself caught within this season’s turn? I have seen the man. The walking ghost. For every winter as I descend he makes a journey too. While I for the world, he for the hell. No I have not seen him. Have I? No. But I have heard his howls in the night as he sheds his earthly skin. I have smelt the acrid burning of his flesh as he turns into his true demon form.

I shudder to think that he lives in this world too during the summer suns and walks with man as other men do. Have you seen him, Sir? You might have but how would you know? You would not. Not by action or by word does the demon reveal himself. But in thought and in the evil works that does he do? He hides his trail, I am certain. He covers his wickedness under some garb. But now that you know you must remain aware. You must look hard at the things that are done in this world and be wary of the demon’s deed.

The night is cold, is it not? Let me not keep you any longer. I must thank you for roof and meal you have provided me today. Tomorrow I will be gone by dawn. Where to? Ah, that I cannot say, Sir. I seek. For some sign of him. And if I find I will remain in this world and never return to the valley. I will chase the demon in this world. In this world I will the demon slay.

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Focus : History, Philosophy, Storytelling