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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

Shri Badat: The Cannibal King



Nestled in the heart of the mountains in Gilgit, there thrived a mysterious race whose origins were shrouded in uncertainty. Whispers of their existence floated between reality and myth, for it was unclear whether they had sprung from the very earth itself or arrived from distant realms. They were known as the Gayupi, a people whose past was veiled in the mists of time.

Ruling over them was a monarch named Shri Badat, said to be descended from the malevolent Yatsh (giant) spirits that once cast terror upon the world. His abode was a castle that stood proudly, guarded by a sprawling field where the resounding echoes of a daring sport, Polo, filled the air. You see, being the descendant of a mighty giant with strange powers made him nearly invulnerable to ordinary weapons.


Shri Badat’s nature was as capricious as the shifting winds. The people of this land bore his rule with heavy hearts, for what resistance could mere mortals muster against a ruler who commanded even the forces of magic? Yet, despite his tyranny, the land flourished under his rule, adorned with lush gardens that bloomed around the capital. But the heavens, guided by benevolent Peris, grew weary of his malevolence.

It was rumoured that he had descended into the depths of depravity, indulging in a ghastly craving for cannibalism. This gruesome desire had been sparked by a peculiar incident. One fateful day, his cook presented a bowl of mutton broth unlike any other he had savoured before. Curiosity piqued, the monarch delved into the origins of this exceptional flavour.


His investigation led him to an elderly woman, the previous owner of the sheep. She revealed a chilling tale – her child and the sheep had entered the world on the same day, and in her grief over losing her own offspring, she had turned to nurturing the lamb. This revelation ignited a sinister spark in Shri Badat, mind. He had unearthed the macabre secret behind the broth's taste and vowed to sustain this delicacy with an unending supply of young flesh.

A horrifying decree was issued – the kitchens were to be regularly supplied with tender, innocent children, their flesh destined to recreate the exquisite taste he had once relished. The realm shuddered beneath the weight of this cruelty. In desperation, the people sought to ease their torment by offering sacrifices, beginning with orphans and children from neighbouring tribes. Yet, the insatiable appetite of the tyrant grew, and soon families within Gilgit itself were forced to relinquish their beloved children to the jaws of this monstrous demand.

But hope shimmered on the horizon. High atop the majestic Mount Ko, a day's journey from the village of Doyur, the picturesque realm of Gilgit spread below like a tapestry. Three figures emerged on the mountaintop – resembling men, yet possessing an otherworldly strength and allure. Clad in the arms of archers, they gazed upon the village of Doyur and the lush prairie stretching toward the river's edge.

These figures were no ordinary men; they were fairies, bearers of a sacred purpose. Their arrival marked a turning point, for two of these siblings, Khusrau and Shamsher, harboured a shared goal – to liberate Gilgit from the clutches of the malevolent ruler. The youngest, Prince Azur Jamshed, initially wasn't too keen on the idea of taking Shri Badat's throne, and ruling Gilgit, however, his brothers, had other plans.

In the prairie, a beautiful brown calf pranced playfully beside its mother. Seizing the moment, with a spark of merriment in his eyes, the eldest brother called out, "Let us test our marksmanship, my kin!" Drawing his bow, he sent an arrow flying towards the calf, yet it missed its mark, a fleeting shadow against the open sky. The second brother followed suit, his arrow also finding a path astray. Laughter mingled with determination echoed in the air. Then it was Azur's turn, the youngest, his spirit alight with the thrill of the challenge. He notched his arrow with care, feeling the tension in the bowstring as he took aim. The arrow soared, a swift messenger of fate, and with a resolute strike, it pierced the air and found its mark.


After their successful hunt, the brothers skillfully roasted the tender organs they had taken from the calf. They beckoned Azur to be the first to taste these delectable morsels. With utmost respect, he declined their offer, citing his youthful nature. Yet, the brothers insisted, claiming it was a reward for his exceptional shot.

As Azur took a bite of the roasted meat, a remarkable transformation unfolded. In an instant, the brothers stood and vanished into thin air, leaving behind a message. Their voices carried on the breeze, revealing their intent – Azur had unknowingly consumed impure food, forbidden to the fairies, a ruse they had employed to bestow upon him the destiny of a human ruler. He was to stay in Doyur, and his destiny would be interweaved with that of the human world, forever.


Grief welled up within Azur at the sudden separation, his heart heavy with longing. He questioned their words, wondering why he should stay in Doyur. The brothers' response held a promise – they assured him that his fate was grander than he could imagine. He was destined to become the king of the land, freeing it from the grip of a merciless oppressor.


The fairies faded into the mist, leaving Azur to grapple with his newfound purpose. Alone, he pondered the weight of the mission entrusted to him. Fate intervened when a kind villager crossed his path, recognizing the young man's unique aura. Generously, he offered Azur a place to rest.


As dawn painted the sky with hues of possibility, Azur climbed to the rooftop. Excitement bubbled within him as he pointed toward the towering Ko mountain. "Look!" he exclaimed, "a wild goat rests upon its heights!" The villager's doubt flickered, unsure if he had taken in a wandering madman or worse.


Azur's conviction remained unshaken. With precision, he let an arrow fly, signalling the beginning of an unexpected journey. The villager, though wary, followed Azur's lead, gathering friends to accompany them, ready for whatever awaited. Together, they ventured toward the distant mountain, their steps fueled by curiosity. And there it lay, just as Azur had claimed – the wild goat, resting miles away, struck by Azur's arrow.


The astonished villagers welcomed Azur as their unexpected leader, their hearts lifted with newfound hope. With a solemn promise of secrecy, Azur shared his true purpose – he had come to liberate them from the tyrannical rule of Shri Badat, the ruthless monster who had cast a shadow over their lives. His identity remained veiled, a cloak of anonymity, until the time was ripe for his plans to unfold.


Before departing from the kind-hearted people of Doyur, Azur bid them farewell and set his sights upon Gilgit. The journey was short, a mere four miles that separated the two places. In the heart of the royal realm, Azur found himself captivated by the gardens that surrounded the imposing palace.

Among the blossoms and tranquil pathways, fate led him to an encounter that would forever alter his destiny. He crossed paths with a young maiden, Shadroy, a companion of Shri Badat's daughter. Her presence was as refreshing as a breeze, and Azur's eyes met hers, igniting a spark of curiosity.


Hastening back to the princess, the companion shared the tale of the handsome stranger who had graced their gardens. Eager to see this mysterious figure for herself, Nur Bakht positioned herself atop the ramparts of the castle, her gaze fixed on the horizon. Shadroy returned to Azur, extending an invitation that would set the wheels of destiny in motion. She led him to the grand Polo ground, known as the "Shavaran," a place where destiny danced upon the grass before the castle's mighty walls.

As Azur stepped onto the field, his eyes met Nur's, and in that instant, their fates entwined. The princess, struck by his remarkable beauty, felt her heart quicken, and a tender affection blossomed within her. With a message sent through the wind, she beckoned Azur into her presence.

Their meeting was a delicate dance of secrets and revelations. Azur, for a time, held onto the guise of a common labourer, weaving a web of mystery around himself. Yet, in the embrace of the princess's gaze, his defences began to crumble. At last, he confessed the truth – he was a child of the fairies, a being of enchantment.


As his confession graced her ears, her heart swelled with joy. She extended a gift beyond measure, her heart and hand, a testament to the depths of her affection. Azur, the fairy's child turned leader, and Nur Bakht, the princess of Gilgit, stood on the cusp of a love that would shape the course of their land's destiny


Shri Badat was no ordinary despot; he possessed a remarkable horse that defied the boundaries of possibility. This magnificent steed, with every bound, covered a mile, crossing the distance effortlessly. The horse and its master shared a unique bond, one that allowed them to leap both into and out of the mighty fortress that guarded the realm. Each jump was precise, landing them a mile away from the fortress, always at the same spot.


Upon the very day that Nur Bakht welcomed Azur into the fortress, Shri Badat was away, engrossed in his beloved hunting expeditions that could span weeks. Back within the fortress walls. Nur Bakht confessed her feelings for him. At first, Prince Azur gave no response, however, she pushed him for an answer. He too confessed, but on the condition that they get married, and are now man and wife in the eyes of God.


After that, Azur confessed to her his mission. Whilst she turned down his request to murder the King herself, she agreed to aid his efforts in every way she could. Following his advice, Nur Bakht went on a self-imposed hunger strike. Concerned for his daughter's well-being, Shri Badat inquired about her unusual behaviour. Her response was a gentle request, one that held hidden significance. She asked him to reveal the whereabouts of his soul, to reassure her of his safety should there be a crisis.


In the face of this unexpected request, Shri Badat was momentarily taken aback, his arrogance momentarily fractured. He ultimately denied her appeal, dismissing it as preposterous. Unfazed, Nur Bakht continued her fast until her father relented, revealing a secret that sent ripples through her heart. He divulged that his soul was like butter, and lived in the "snow of snows" - only fire's embrace could threaten him.


Nur Bakht was quick to inform her husband. And so, Azur returned to Doyur and the neighbouring villages, summoning his loyal peasants to gather. With purpose in his heart, he instructed them to collect twigs of the fir tree, intertwining them into torches known as "talen" in Gilgiti and "Lome" in Astori. These torches were to illuminate their path as they formed a steadfast circle around Shri Badat's fortress.


But Azur's strategy went beyond mere light. He embarked on a daring venture, carving a deep pit as profound as a well at the very spot where Shri Badat's horse had once landed. This pit, a snare for treachery, was concealed beneath a canopy of green boughs, a cunning trap waiting to be sprung.


With determination as their guide, the villagers kindled their torches, ready to march as one towards the imposing castle. Azur's plan unfurled with precision, the pieces falling into place like stars in the night sky.


The next day dawned and a new chapter of destiny was written in the sunrise's hues. Azur received word that the torches were prepared, and he wasted no time in commanding the villagers to approach the fortress, just as he had orchestrated.


Meanwhile, within the walls of the castle, Shri Badat sat ensnared in his web of tyranny, his daughter by his side. Whilst what she had done was treachery, it was for a noble cause. As the torches' glow drew nearer, he felt a gnawing unease claw at his heart. A plea for information escaped his lips, and his daughter ventured forth, observing the advancing light. She dismissed the spectacle and reassured him.


But the torches advanced, their glow casting shadows that danced upon the walls. Shri Badat's restlessness grew, and a mounting sickness overcame him. Desperate for answers, he implored his daughter once more. Her response remained unchanged, a false assurance.


As the villagers closed in, their circle of light tightening like a noose, Shri Badat's foreboding intensified. A premonition of doom gripped his soul, and he burst from his chamber, a frantic urgency propelling him forward. "I am dying," he cried, a lament that echoed through the fortress's corridors.


In haste, he raced to the stables, a final gambit for escape. His favourite steed awaited, and with a single crack of the whip, the horse leaped, just as it had countless times before. Yet this time, fate had shifted. The noble creature's descent was met not with solid ground, but with the treacherous jaws of Azur's pit.

Before Shri Badat could free himself from the tangled embrace, the villagers swarmed, their torches blazing. Azur's command resonated through the night air, a declaration of justice. Flames danced upon Shri Badat, the embodiment of his malevolence consumed by the inferno.


The tyrant's reign ended in a blaze of reckoning, his legacy consumed by the very fire of his cruelty. Azur, the valiant hero, emerged from the shadows, his rightful place as king solidified by his triumph. In a union forged by destiny, Azur and the once-traitorous princess found love's redemption. Their nuptials were celebrated with the joyous echoes of a realm reborn.


As a testament to his benevolent rule, Azur transformed the land's grim tribute. No longer would the cries of innocent children pierce the air. Instead, a single sheep, a symbol of unity and compassion, became the annual offering from the hearts of the grateful villagers.


Unfortunately, Nur Bakht was imprisoned by her father after he discovered her little tryst with Azur. The people of Gilgit, led by Azur Jamshed and his brothers, joined forces to free their land from Shri Badat's grip. They gathered twigs and set them ablaze, marching towards the tyrant's fortress. With a deep ditch filled with wood and fire, they stood strong against the ruthless ruler. The flames danced and crackled, and as the fire roared, Shri Badat's power melted away, and he was defeated.


There are different versions of how the story ends. Some say that Azur, with his skilled archery, brought down Shri Badat with an arrow and married Nur Bakht, becoming the new ruler. Others believe that Shri Badat fled to a distant land called Ishkoman, hiding under a glacier. The people were so afraid of his return that they lit big fires in November and December to keep him away.


The legacy of Shri Badat lives on, and even today, the people of Gilgit remember his downfall with the 'Tumshilling' festival. It's a reminder that bravery, unity, and the power of good can triumph over even the mightiest of tyrants. So whenever you see fire crackling and dancing in the winter months, remember the legend of Shri Badat, the cannibal king, who was defeated by the flames of justice and the courage of the people.


 

Notes:

At the Tumshilling festival, people celebrate by dancing, drumming, and singing to honour their victory over the cruel king. They would throw fire towards Ishkoman, symbolizing their determination to keep Shri Badat's tyranny at bay.

Shri Badat was also known as Agortham, his real name was Chandra Sri Deva Jikramaditya, and he is the last known Patola Shahi King of Gilgit. 749 AD.

The Jataka, a collection of Buddhist stories, features a king who unknowingly develops a taste for human flesh and becomes a tyrant, paralleling Shri Badat's actions. A similar good-triumphs-over-evil theme follows.

The epic of Gesar or Kisar features a heroic prince triumphing over a demon with the assistance of the demon's daughter, echoing Shri Badat's daughter's role.


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