The strange case of the Āpastamba sprite

This is the second of the two stories that arose from incidents during the visit of Yaśaśravas, Somakhya’s cousin. With the autumnal vacations, Somakhya was having a good time with his visiting cousin, giving him lectures on the theory and the practice of the study of variable stars. During the day, they spent their time with numerical solutions of differential equations that modeled the pulsations of stars. At night, they observed the stars in good view from Somakhya’s terrace with the smog of the fireworks having lifted. Additionally, as instructed by Somakhya’s father, he was also teaching Yashashravas sections of the hautra mantra-pāṭha. The on the second day of his cousin’s visit, the two of them were doing their evening saṃdhyā rituals together when Somakhya was disturbed by a peculiar behavior evinced by his cousin. In the midst of his prāṇāyāma or arghya, Yashashravas suddenly uttered the word Āpastamba-sūtra almost randomly a few times with a peculiar affectation and cadence. Somakhya was taken aback, but remembering his father’s words of never getting disturbed in his performance, he ignored it and continued to the end. Somakhya: “Yashashravas, what is wrong with you — have you gone crazy? Why were you randomly saying “Āpastamba-sūtra” in the course of your saṃdhyāvandana? I know you are of that school, but it makes no sense to pepper your upāsana with utterances of that word, moreover voiced in that strange manner.” Yashashravas felt as if some weight had lifted off his head and told Somakhya a strange tale. Somakhya was shocked by it, but once he had gathered himself, he said they should wait until his friend Lootika visited before taking any further action.

Somakhya’s mother had wished to invite Lootika’s mother and her daughters for the coming festival of Dattātreya that Somakhya’s family observed; she thought it might also be an opportunity for some socializing, given the visiting relatives. Somakhya was keen that his friend be around to deal with the case of his cousin Yashashravas and hear it from his own mouth. Yashashravas had already heard from their other cousin Babhru of his dramatic encounter with the four sisters; hence, he anticipated it with some excitement. However, Somakhya was a bit concerned that Yashashravas might clam up, feeling put off, if Lootika’s sisters were also around — they were only a little less formidable than his friend in terms of the impression they could produce on introduction, as Babhru had experienced first hand. Shortly after they arrived, Yashashravas quickly felt the edge of the sisters when Varoli, who was younger than him, gave them a little talk about Propynylidyne, Helium hydride, and Argon hydride their formation and energetics in interstellar space. However, as Somakhya had hoped, their mothers drew away the three younger sisters to look at jewelry, clothing and watch some video recording with them in another room. This gave Somakhya, Yashashravas and Lootika the solitude and time they wanted.

S: “Yashashravas, Lootika is our confidante and will be of great help in trying to get to the bottom of your predicament. You can reliably share all you need to with us. Let us lose no time and get started. For Lootika’s benefit, could you tell your story right from the beginning going back to your upanayana?”
Y: As you know, Somakhya, for a variety of reasons, my upanayana was performed about 6 years past the earliest recommended age at Kshayadrajanagara. It was a big affair, and a pity you could not be there due to the exams you had to give. However, our cousins and relatives like Babhru, Saumanasa, Mandara, Charuchitra and Varaha, as also our friend Indrasena and his brother, were all in attendance, and we had great fun. I recall one major untoward incident. The giant coconut tree in our grandfather’s house fell crashing the night after the upanayana and destroyed the maṇḍapa. Hence, we could not perform the Skanda-pūjā the next day, which is customary in our families. For three days after the upanayana, a snātaka from Kāśi, who, like me was an adherent of the Āpastamba school, was sent by the purohita who had performed your Atharvan upanayana. He taught me the correct performance of the saṃdhyopāsana along with some scholiastic material of Khaṇdadeva for several hours. On the afternoon of fourth day after the upanayana, Indrasena and I were seated on the parapet of our grandfather’s house yarning away about something when we saw the said snātaka come. I was a bit surprised because he was supposed to come only for 3 days, and it was not yet the time for the saṃdhyā. I thought he had come by error and wanted to tell him so. So, I jumped down from the parapet and ran out of the gate towards him. He just ignored me and kept walking ahead, all the while repeatedly saying “Āpastamba-sūtra” in the same manner you heard me, most unfortunately, utter it during the saṃdhyā.

To my surprise, he just vanished at the end of the road on which our grandfather’s house stands. It turned to shock when Indrasena said that he suddenly disappeared from his sight too when I reached him. It got worse when Indrasena’s brother, Pinakasena, who was beside the gate making a tail for a kite, said that he thought we were playing some stupid prank when he saw me speaking to the air — i.e., he did not see the snātaka at all. It was all strange and funny for them, but for me, it was just the beginning of a horror story! That evening as we sat for saṃdhyā, I began jabbering “Āpastamba-sūtra” randomly in the course of the ritual. Indrasena admonished me to be serious with the ritual and did not believe it when I said that it was just involuntarily coming to me without any effort on my part. To my horror, the same thing happened when I was doing it with my father, and he blasted me for being frivolous with the ritual. I felt too embarrassed to tell him what was happening as I feared he might think I have gone mad. With great self-effort, I acquired the ability to control it to a degree and skipped sāyam-saṃdhyā if I could, for it came upon me only in the evenings. I also got some relief, albeit incomplete, when, after vedārambha, I started studying the rakṣohā mantra-s to Viṣṇu from the Taittirīya-śruti. It returned with a frenzy on the upākarmā day and completely ruined it. I told this to Babhru, who, as you know, is quite frivolous, and he responded it was a good reason to stop saṃdhyā altogether. But thereafter, he told me the unbelievable tale of when you had visited him with Lootika and her sisters and added: “maybe you should ask them to come over to your place too”. That is why I felt some relief when you mentioned that this is something you would like to handle with Lootika around.”

S: “So, Lootika, what do you think of this?”
L: “Most remarkable and ghastly. It should be quite a problem for a V1 male not to be able to perform his saṃdhyā properly. But I’m puzzled by this utterance of “Āpastamba-sūtra”. Is that something peculiar to the Āpastamba school? As you know, my family follows the Bodhāyana-sūtra, though, as far as I know, the Āpastamba-s are not very divergent, except that they have lost the proper recitation of the Śrīsūkta and the Skandayāga in its entirety.”
Somakhya smiled saying:“I know you Bodhāyana-s are pretty proud of your Śrīsūkta and Skandayāga”, even as Yashashravas intently turned his gaze from one to the other. Suddenly, Lootika excitedly remarked: “Ah! Somakhya, I remember you telling me of this particularly malevolent sprite known as the Āpastamba-graha. My gut tells me that your cousin has been seized by that.”
S: “Yes, Gautamī! This is indeed the first time I am encountering that sprite in person. Never thought we would do so in this life.”
L: “I remember you telling me that he can be particularly nasty if we try to bind him directly. So, how do we proceed against him?”
S: “We should first hear him out. We will get some clue about how to proceed from that.”
L: “Sounds exciting. Can we get him to speak with a Ḍāmara-mantra?”
S: “We can do so, but we have to take extra precautions and prepare Yashashravas for it. I also suggest that you recall the short Vīrabhadrāstra and keep it ready in your mind.”
Somakhya went to the sacristy and brought out a special svayaṃbhu-liṅga that he and Lootika had installed, some flowers, incense, a copper plate, and a long abhicārika nail. He asked Yashashravas to perform a Śivārchana of the liṇga with the following incantations:
oṃ rudrāya namaḥ । oṃ uḍḍīśāya namaḥ । oṃ sudurlabhāya namaḥ । oṃ kapardine namaḥ । oṃ virūpākṣāya namaḥ । oṃ sarva-graha-bhayāpahāya namaḥ ॥
Somakhya: “Lootika, why don’t you go out to the veranda and ready yourself to deploy the Ḍāmara-prayoga; I’ll prep Yashashravas for it in the meantime. Yashashravas, we diagnose you as being seized by a sprite known as the Āpastambagraha. The sprite had its origin in the distant past in the Marahaṭṭa country and has been spreading like a slow virus by capturing Āpastamba V1s throughout the southern half of Bhārata and beyond. Now, recall the great Mṛtyulāṅgala incantation. It is a powerful but also an extremely dangerous incantation. It is important that you periodically keep repeating it, if not daily. The biggest danger from the sprite lies in interfering with the performance and recall of this mantra — this can prove fatal to the victim. While I have never encountered an Āpastambagraha before, I have heard of such a fatality in the case of a V1 from the Andhra country. Now perform its nyāsa:
Mṛtyulāṅgalasya Vasiṣtha ṛṣiḥ । anuṣṭubh chandaḥ । Kālāgnirudro devatā ॥
Having done that do japa of it as per the form deployed by the vipraugha with the bīja-saṃpuṭi-karaṇa that I’ll specify and not the aiśa form heard in the śruti:
ṛtaṃ satyam param-brahma-puruṣaṃ kṛṣṇa-piṅgalam ।
ūrdhvaretaṃ virūpākṣaṃ viśvarūpaṃ namāmy aham ॥
oṃ krāṃ krīṃ huṃ phaṇ namaḥ ॥

Somakhya then drew a circle and asked his cousin to sit inside it and start a japa of the said mantra. He warned him that once Lootika deployed the Ḍāmara-prayoga he could go into a trance and asked him not to resist it. Lootika then came in having fortified herself for the Ḍāmara-prayoga. She was a bit nervous from the fact she was dealing with an Āpastambagraha with a nasty reputation. Somakhya told her to calm down: “Lootika, the Āpastambagraha only possesses men, but as a male graha with affiliations to the brahmarakṣas class, it does have a tendency to grab V1 females without possessing them. I suspect he would not have interest in possessing me as Āpastamba is not my primary school but he could still lash out. That’s why I think you should deploy the Ḍāmara-prayoga solo so that I can perform a shielding prayoga for you. Yet, be warned it might break through; therefore, be ready with the Vīrabhadrāstra if it tries to attack you.” Lootika then placed a neem stave on Yaśaśravas’s head and right away deployed the Grahavādini-mantra:
oṃ namo bhagavate mahākālarudrāya tripuravināśanakāraṇāya virūpākṣāya sarvabhūta-graha-vetālādhipataye rudrasyājñayā vada vada vada vada huṃ phaṭ svāhā ॥

About 3 minutes into the prayoga, they noticed that Yashashravas was slipping into a trance. A minute later, he started prattling like Aitaśa of yore, uttering the single word — “Āpastamba-sūtra” in spurts with a strange cadence. Lootika was taken aback by the first encounter with the graha, but regaining her composure, she continued with the prayoga and sprinkled some bhūti on him. He then signaled for writing material and launched into few minutes of frenzied writing. At the end of it, he just fell flat as though exhausted from heavy exercise. Somakhya sprinkled some water on him from his kamaṇḍalu, and he returned to his senses handing over the sheets of paper to his companions. “I cannot believe I wrote all that stuff down while feeling like being in an almost catatonic state.” S: “It looks like you have covered the first page with many repeats of “Āpastamba-sūtra”. Not surprising. There are parts where you seem to have doodled away in some South Indian script with its typical twisting curves that we cannot read. Yet, there seem to be coherent, understandable blocks. Could you kindly read those parts out?”

Y: “I used to be Gaṇḍalepa and was born in the Marahaṭṭa country. As a kid, I seemed to remember elements of my past janman as a great śāstrin of the Veda and was reciting the Aṣṭādhyāyi with svara-s by the time I was an year old. I started learning the Taittirīya-śruti at age 3, even before my upanayana. By age 12, I had mastered it and moved on to study the kalpasūtra of Āpastamba, the school to which my family adhered. By 15, I had earned the reputation that if paṇḍita Haradatta Miśra were alive, he would be the one studying at my feet. When I turned 18, I realized that my scholarship would not support me, and I had a wife too. I was desperate to get employment that paid better than the paltry stipend I got from the Chatrapati’s fund. By the grace of god Viṣṇu, I found sardār Khaṭāvkar, and he appointed me as his nyāyādhīśa, a job for which I was imminently suited given my authoritative knowledge of the dharmaśāstra-s. I also helped Khaṭāvkar with the commentary he was writing on some Pāñcarātrika texts. Khaṭāvkar, in turn, trained me in arms, and I became a reasonably proficient fighter.

However, Khaṭāvkar had an evil side to him, and it is perhaps partly due to the association with his unprincipled acts that this fate has come upon me. He was a partisan of the late Padishaw Awrangzeb and a good friend of Nawab Sahib Daud Pathan. One day, Nawab Sahib hatched a plan for a raid on Khargaon and asked Khaṭāvkar to help; I joined the raiding band too. During the raid, the Nawab Sahib, to his credit, instructed the men not to attack the temple of Aṣṭhabhairava in the town. However, some Afridis and Bohras in his band disobeyed his command and burnt the temple anyway. After the arson and looting, Khaṭāvkar observed that there were gold and silver utensils of the temple and decided to loot them. He was kind enough to ask me to join him and take a share of the plunder. Losing my sense of propriety, I did so. Soon after that, Khaṭāvkar met his end with the action the new Chatrapati took against him. The gods may take multiple janman-s to punish you. Indeed, Khaṭāvkar has taken at least four and is probably still experiencing the fruits of his deeds piecemeal. I was spared and, under the patronage of the courtiers, had an opportunity to perform śrauta rituals.

I became the adhvaryu for the great yajamāna Lakṣmaṇa Śāstrin and performed several rites for him. However, in the course of that, I committed acts that I should not have done. I kept out the Mādhyaṃdina-s censuring them as false V1s, and I also kept out the Ṛgvedin-s from being elected as Hotṛ-s because my Taittirīyaka associates and I could take up their role with our hautra-pariśiṣṭa-s. An enraged Ṛgvedin put a case in the court against me and my associates. We realized that we were likely to lose it. I had exorcised a graha from an associate of mine and kept it bound by my mantra-s. I decided to dispatch that graha against the Ṛgvedin so that he would stumble in his testimony at court. I did not realize that it was an Āpastambagraha. But the Ṛgvedin, Gore by name, had some mastery of the Atharvan lore or the Kashmirian pariśiṣṭa; thus he deployed a pratīchīna-prayoga. The moment he started reciting “yāṃ kalpayanti…” the Āpastambagraha came hurtling back and seized me. It interfered with my ability to remember the Mṛtyulāṅgala incantation, and I expired six months later. As is typical of these Āpastambagraha-s, they spawn a new one each time they slay a victim, and I soon became one in search of a host.

In the meantime, Nawab Sahib had been murdered by another Nawab and had come back as a liquor-seller. I hung out at his liquor-stall, making occasional conversation with him as a friendly graha. One day, a V1 named Kuṇṭe arrived there and helped himself to a few swigs. I was thus able to seize him right away and make him jabber just like you. However, before I could finish him off, he was taken by his people to the Piśācamocana-kṣetra at Kāśi, and a gaṇa of Rudra forced me to leave him. There I hung out in a tree for centuries before I could seize the snātaka who taught you, while he was at Kāśī. He had intoned the Mṛtyulāṅgala mantra while on a commode, thus, becoming easy prey for me. He died earlier that day when I seized you spawning another Āpastambagraha. Since your family had failed to protect you with the Skanda ritual, I knew I had a new host and duly took hold of you. I have not yet been able to entirely break your defenses either because you have firmly maintained your brahmacarya. But it will not be long before I’m able to bring your chapter to a close. I also intend taking this pretty girl who had the temerity to make me speak along as a slave maid for my ghostly wanderings.”

Terrified, Yashashravas handed the script back to Somakhya: “I seem to have scrawled another page full of Āpastamba-sūtra at the end … but is there a way out of this? I don’t want to go the way of the snātaka.” Just then, Lootika’s mother called her: “Lootika, we need to be going, hurry up!” L: “Mom, we are in the midst of something important; I’ll get back by myself later.” L.M: “Remember, you don’t have your bike with you, so you have to come.” Thankfully for her, Somakhya’s mother intervened: “They seem to be engrossed in their fun — so, let them be. My husband will drop her back in the evening when he takes the offerings to the Rudra-caitya.” After some wrangling, Lootika’s mother let her stay. Just as that was settled, they all felt the ground rattle as if there was an earthquake. Lootika felt her hairband snap and someone pulling her locks: “Ouch, I fear the distraction caused by my mother to my japa has resulted in him getting me.” Suddenly Lootika saw her bag creeping on the floor towards the door: “He’s going for my siddhakāṣṭha.” However, she managed to grab her bag and retrieve her siddhakāṣṭha and deploy the mantra:
huṃ drutam muñca muñca māṃ bhadrakālī-vīrabhadrau ājñapayataḥ phaṭ ॥
With that, she managed to shake off the Āpastamba-graha. S: “That is our chance. Yashashravas return to your japa.” Somakhya got out the nail and, going over to the liṅga performed a kamaṇḍalu prayoga with the mantra:
huṃ namaḥ ṣaṇmukhāya huṃ phaṭ duṣṭaṃ graham astreṇa vitudāmi pāśena kīle badhnāmi ॥

The nail leapt out of his hand and dropped on the plate with a prolonged jingle before coming to a rest. L: “That was a close brush but I believe we have him.” S: “Indeed, did you notice how he tried to dissimulate his name thinking we may use it in place of an amum in the prayoga?” L: “Hmm… I was puzzled by that and unsure if it was written in some strange script, and didn’t know what to make of it. That’s why I made sure not to use it in any prayoga.” They sprinkled some water on Yashashravas and asked him to conclude his japa with an arghya using the Mṛtyulāṅgala mantra. S: “Yashashravas, I believe you should have a smooth saṃdhyā this evening.” L: “The tale of the late snātaka indeed reminds me of the V1 who is mentioned to have been originally seized by a piśāca-graha in the tale of the Piśācamocana-tīrtha.” Later that evening, Somakhya’s father drove them to the caitya, where, after the initial darśana-s, they went to the sub-shrine of the Ātreya to deliver the offerings. Since Lootika and Somakhya had a fear of dogs, they let Yashashravas feed some curs while uttering vedo .asi ।. As he was doing so, Somakhya and Lootika ran up to the giant, ghostly aśvattha tree on the temple grounds and drove the nail into the ground at its base.

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