The Thirty-two Tales of Vikramaditya fly to mind with the Mahakumbh, especially the story that the second statuette on the steps of Vikramaditya's throne challenges Raja Bhoj with when he wants to sit on that fabled judgment seat.
The statuette tells Raja Bhoj that when Vikramaditya was king of Ujjaini, he once asked his spies to travel to the four corners to discover and report any unusual occurrence. One spy returned from Mount Chitrakut and told the king of a stream of water atop the hill to which pilgrims came for purificatory baths. If however a criminal bathed there, the water that flowed off his limbs would change colour.
A brahmin had made offerings there for uncounted years but though the ashes from his havankund were heaped high daily, he had achieved no results and never spoke a word to anyone.
Hearing this, the king and a companion fared forth to investigate. He recognised a powerful presence or concentrated energy of the Earth Mother at that place and felt elated. He performed an ablution not in water but in air, an 'air-bath' so to speak, and prostrated at the shrine of the goddess. Going next to the brahmin, he asked how many years he had spent in daily sacrifice. Breaking his silence for the king, the man disclosed that he had begun his sacrifice when the Sapta Rishi (Great Bear) constellation was in the lunar house of Revati and since it was now in Ashvini, a hundred years had passed without the goddess being propitiated.
Moved by pity, the king decided to sacrifice himself to the goddess and with a prayer, put his sword to his own throat. But the goddess halted his arm and said, "I am pleased, O king, choose a wish." The king asked her why she refused to respond to the brahmin's pleas but had answered him at once.
The Earth Mother said, "O king, he has indeed been sacrificing for a long time, but his heart lacks soundness. Offerings made merely by the fingers have no value for me. Divine grace is not found in a stick of wood, in a stone or a piece of baked clay. It is found in the heart."
Commending Vikramaditya for sacrificing himself for the sake of others, she granted the priest his wish and vanished.
"O king," said the second statuette to Raja Bhoj, "if you are as sincere and big-hearted as Vikramaditya, ascend this throne."
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture