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Who is the most virtuous of them all?

This time, I am going to narrate an old folk tale from Ancient India.

Long long ago in the ancient city of Varanasi there lived a learned Pandit who ran a Patashala (school) and had many students studying scriptures under him.

This Pandit had a daughter who was as beautiful as she was virtuous. The daughter was of marriageable age.

 In the ancient days, weddings were performed at a very early age and the suitor for the child was generally chosen by the parents. Also, usually the boys got married as soon as they finished their studies in a Patashala.

The Pandit and his wife were anxious that they should find a bridegroom who was as virtuous as their daughter.

“You have got so many disciples who are finishing their studies this year, can we select any one of them for a bridegroom?” asked the wife.

The Pandit said, “If their intelligence was only the criteria for selection, I can do it within seconds” said he. “But, we need a boy who is has good values and virtues, not brain alone…” He paused for a while and said, “Well, I will give them a test by which we can find out who is the most virtuous of them all”.

The next day, he called a few of them who were completing their studies that year. They were going for a short break to their homes. He told them, “Boys, now I have a test for you. You have to obey as I say”.

The puzzled boys were wondering what the test was, when the Pandit said, “ In the coming ten days, when you are at your home, you will have to steal small but valuable trinkets from whomever you can, and come and give it to me. But the condition is that no one should see you stealing. I repeat, NO ONE should see you”.

The boys were baffled at this strange order but they had been taught that they should never disobey their teacher at any cost and so they did not dare to question him and meekly went off to their homes.

Whilst at their homes, they visited their relatives and friends and faithfully stole small trinkets here and there, bundled them up and took it with them when they went back. Back at the Patashala (school), each of them met the Pandit and gave the bundles containing the things stolen by them. The Pandit thought to himself, “I will have to keep them safely with identification, for I will be returning them shortly” But he did not display any emotion on his face.

All the boys except one, gave the things they had stolen to the Pandit. Ramu, the lone boy who did not bring anything for the Pandit was looking visibly disturbed. He was an extremely intelligent boy.

The Pandit called him in the evening and asked, “What happened Ramu? You look very disturbed…”

Ramu was hesitant. “Guruji… er… er…” he stuttered, not able to take the dialogue forward.

The Pandit persisted. “Tell me my boy. What happened?  Why are you so disturbed?  Were you able to do the job I told you to?”

The moment the Pandit talked about the ‘job’ Ramu broke down. “Panditji” he said, almost in tears, “I was not able to steal a single thing from anyone Panditji. I know I have disobeyed you but this is what it is…” He was on the verge of sobbing.

“Why Ramu?” asked the Pandit. “Why could you not get anything? Were there people around always??”

“No Panditji!” said Ramu. “There were occasions when nobody was present… but…”

“But what?” asked the Panditji. “What prevented you from stealing anything when nobody was seeing you?”

“Well” he said “I thought nobody was watching me but whenever I tried to take something, an inner voice seemed to tell me that what I was doing was wrong. It seemed that the inner being was witnessing everything right from my thoughts. Since you had told us that no one should see us while stealing, I could not steal anything as I am being watched by this inner being always. Panditji I am so sorry!”

He seemed to be sorry for not being able to follow what the teacher had said. He stood there looking forlorn.

There was so much of joy in the Pandit’s eyes. “Well done Ramu!” he exclaimed and hugged him. Ramu was at a loss to know why the teacher was so happy.

The Pandit said, “Ramu, I am not in need of any wealth. This was a test intended to find out the most virtuous student amongst you all. And I have found you!”

He then called all the other students and said, “Stealing for any cause, and on anybody’s bidding is absolutely wrong. I am not in need of any wealth as you people would have thought. I was testing your virtues and only Ramu has passed my test. I am not returning all the bundles you gave me with a request to you all to return them to where they belong”

Ramu felt happy in passing the ‘test’ of his teacher and the Panditji felt very happy at having found a suitable bridegroom for his daughter.

From the Panchatantra – The King Elephant and the King of mice

This time, I am narrating a story from the Panchatantra under the section “Mitralabha” which translates to ‘gaining of friends’. In the background guide, I have given some idea about the origin and details of Panchatantra.

This story is about the friendship between the King Elephant and the King of mice.

Long long ago, in the forests of Central India, there lived a herd of elephants. They were a merry lot, and were led by a King Elephant. The forests were lush and green with lots of ponds and waterholes and there was no dearth of food and water and the elephants were living happily.

As we all know, all good things come to an end, and true to the saying, in the next year, there was no rain at all. The green forest withered and all the grass and trees dried up. The sun was blazing hot and the summer was terrible. The worst thing was that the waterholes started drying up quickly.  The elephants could survive eating dry leaves but they needed water to drink and bathe, and this had now become a problem. The King Elephant who was witnessing this was worried.

“This is becoming serious”, he thought to himself. “If we do not find an alternate source of water, we will all perish”.

Just then, a sparrow which was the King Elephant’s friend flew up to him.

“What are you worrying about, my dear friend?” she asked him.

“It is the water situation” said he. “My friends, family and I are finding it very difficult without water. If we do not get water to drink in the next few days, I dread to think what will happen to us”. He was sounding really concerned and anxious.

“Don’t worry friend” said the sparrow. “Go north from here till you reach the mountain and near the mountain there is a river which is full of water.  However, it is far off and will take a whole day for you to reach the place” said the sparrow and flew away.

The King Elephant trumpeted loudly. The members of his herd came running from all directions to find out what had happened.

“We will all march north” announced the King Elephant.

He then told his herd about the river in the north near the mountain. His words brought joy to the members. “We will start now so that we reach by tomorrow!”, said the King.

“Hooray, we will go!” they cried in joy and started walking. They walked and walked for a long time and by the late evening were crossing a clearing where a lot of mice had built their homes by burrowing in the mud.

Some of the young elephants who were leading the herd, walked with great speed over the burrows and a few of the mice were trampled to death. The other elephants were coming behind.

The other mice who were inside the burrows rushed out to see what was happening as the walking of the elephants had shook their homes like an earthquake.

Looking out, they were shocked to see some of their friends dead and could see the elephants going away at a distance. They understood what had happened.

Looking back, they could see a cloud of dust at a distance with sounds of trumpeting and they knew that a larger group of elephants were on their way.

The King of the mice looked around and took a quick decision. “I will go and speak to the leader of the elephants” he said angrily. “They cannot simply trample our houses and kill us like this”.

The other mice warned him “They are elephants and we are little mice. If we go and talk to them, they may be angered and it will be disastrous”

The King of mice was firm.  “I am not changing my decision” he said.  “There is a saying that, if you do not fight for what you want, you should not cry for what you lose”

He marched off in the direction from which the elephants were coming. A few mice joined him.

Luckily for him, the King Elephant was coming in the front and the King of mice went up and stood before him in his way.

Elephants being much stronger, the King Elephant could have just kicked the mice away and moved on, but as he was a noble soul, he stopped and looked at the mice.

“What do you want?” he asked.

The King of mice spoke. “We are all living a short distance away in burrows. Just a while ago some elephants of your herd carelessly trampled our burrows killing some of our friends in the process. I request you therefore to please take your herd in a different path to the river, to which I guess, you are heading”

The King elephant was amused at the fearless attitude of the little mouse. He thought for a while and said, “Alright, I will do as you say. Please tell us the alternate way”

The King of mice was very happy.

“Thank you O King!” he said. “We will never forget your help. I will show you the alternate way. Also please do not hesitate to call me if you need any help anytime”

The King elephant was even more amused now. “A small mouse offering help to us mighty elephants!” he thought to himself. Anyway, he told his herd to go by the alternative way as told by the King of mice.

The herd followed the instruction of their king and thereby all the other mice were saved.

After walking for some more distance, the herd could hear the gentle gurgling of the river and there it was!  A lush green spot with lot of trees was at the foot of the mountain by which the river was flowing with crystal clear water.

The joyous cry of the elephants on seeing the water, could be heard from afar as they rushed into the river to quench their thirst. They were so happy as they playfully sprayed water on each other, frolicking happily in the water.

They decided to live there till the monsoons came when the drought in their earlier abode would be over.

Now, near this place, there lived a group of poachers who would catch animals and birds and make a living by selling them or killing them.  One day, they saw this herd of elephants and reported it to their leader.

“Ahaa! What good news you have brought me!” he said. “A herd of elephants means so much money. Note the habits of the elephants for a few days and lay the trap, for we shall capture them and sell them to the King”

The poachers hid in the bushes and trees for a few days and noted when the elephants were going to the river and when they went back. After planning carefully, they brought in enough ropes to capture all the elephants and laid the trap inside the river.

The elephants along with their king, unaware of the trap laid in the river walked in and started to bathe when the poachers climbed down from the trees and pulled the ropes tight so that the elephants were caught. They then tied the ropes to the trees securely.

Suddenly the elephants realized that they had been trapped. They looked at each other in dismay and cried loudly in distress but nobody was there to help them. The elephants could not move from the water.

They could see the men at a distance and the leader was instructing them loudly. “Leave them in the water for a few days. Let them be hungry and tired so that they will not have the strength to resist and we can pull them easily” The other men nodded and they all left the place.

The King elephant was horrified. The very thought of staying tied up in the cold water for days together without food and without able to protect themselves was terrible.

“Who will help us?” thought he, in despair. As he looked around, he suddenly noticed that one of the members of his herd was missing. Confused, he looked around again but could not find the youngest member. Just then, he heard a loud trumpeting and the young elephant was coming from the clearing towards the river. Clearly, he had strayed away when they came to the river and luckily escaped from being trapped.

The King Elephant waved his trunk fast signalling the young one not to come into the water. The young elephant noticed and suddenly realized that the whole of his herd except him had been trapped.

As he neared the river, the members told him how they had been trapped and were not hopeful of being freed. They were all so much in grief and the young elephant felt very sad both because they would be taken away and he would be left alone. He was pondering as to what could be done.

Suddenly he had an idea. “Hey!” he said, “why not seek the help of the King of mice?”

The King Elephant looked up in admiration and gratitude at the young elephant. “What a brilliant idea!” he said. “Go immediately and tell the King of mice that we need his help urgently”

The young elephant ran as fast as he could to the place they had met the mice. The King of mice was there. He heard out the young elephant and was upset at what he heard.

“Do not worry. I will help you with all my subjects. It is the duty of a friend to help another who is in need”

Saying thus, he called his subjects. “Come on, every one. Our friend, the King elephant and his herd are in danger. We have to help them. Come quick”

As all the mice assembled, a tiny voice squeaked, “The river is so far away. When will we get there if we start walking now?”

The King of mice looked up. “Yes, he is right. Will it not be dark by the time we get there? Will we be able to render any help at all?” he asked.

“Do not worry” said the young elephant. “All of you climb on to my back and I will take you there fast”.

All the mice clambered on to the young elephant’s back and he rushed to the river as fast as he could. Meanwhile the elephants in the river were in a state of anxiety as the evening was fast approaching.

The moment the young elephant reached there, the mice climbed down, but how could they enter the river? The King elephant who was in the front, came and thrust his trunk out near the bank and the mice jumped on to that and climbed to his back. Quickly they tried and gnawed away the ropes with all their might and just in a few minutes, The King elephant was free.

With his might, the King elephant kept pulling at the ropes which were being gnawed by the mice with their sharp teeth and one by one all the elephants were freed.

The elephants were joyous. “Thank you dear friend!” said the King Elephant to the King of mice. “You saved us from grave danger. When you told me that you would help us in need, I was wondering how a little creature like you could help me, who I thought was invincible, but now I realise that I should never under estimate the power of any one.”

“It is our pleasure to have helped you, friend” said the King of mice.

“Yes” said the King elephant, “A friend in need is a friend indeed!”

Birbal Outwitted

It’s a long time since I wrote on Akbar and Birbal and so I am giving a short and sweet tale of Birbal’s sharp intelligence.

Once, there was some argument between Akbar and Birbal over some issue and Akbar shouted at Birbal and said, “Don’t ever show your face to me again!”. Poor Birbal did not retort as he walked out with a red face. Of course, Akbar did not mean it when he told Birbal not to show his face again, but Birbal, this time wanted to make the king realise that he could not shout at anyone just because he was wielding power, and so without informing anybody, he went away to live in hiding in a nearby village.

The next day Birbal did not turn up in the court. Akbar did not give much thought to it since he knew Birbal would be angry. “He will come tomorrow!” he said to himself, smiling. But Birbal did not turn up the next day as well, and the next and the next.

Akbar was worried and sent a messenger to Birbal’s home but the messenger brought a message that Birbal had gone away even without informing his family, which was indeed true. His family members were also anxious about his whereabouts but had not dared to ask the king, as Birbal had told them about the argument.

Now Akbar was more worried. He felt bad about having shouted so badly and now he found no way to get his favourite minister back. The courtiers who were jealous of Birbal were very happy. “Good riddance!!” they chuckled to themselves. “Now the king will ask us for suggestions instead of asking that cheeky Birbal” they thought. But Akbar was missing his intelligent friend badly and could not find a way to locate him. Somehow, it occurred to him that Birbal would not have gone away to a very far place.

Ten days passed and now Akbar was desperate to see Birbal’s face and hear his witty anecdotes. He thought for a long time and came up with an idea. After all he had been with Birbal for so many years and had imbibed some of Birbal’s qualities.

Few days later, there was an announcement in the city and the suburbs by the security guards. In those days, there were no newspapers or television or such media and announcements had to be made by persons in a loud voice, and to attract the attention of the people, they would usually come beating drums and stand in a public place and make the announcement.

“Dum dum dum dum”

“Hear O People of this kingdom!” said the man who was making the announcement in a loud voice. “Our Emperor, His Royal Highness Akbar Sultan has announced a competition for all. The winner of the competition will be given a hundred gold mohurs”

Now, ‘mohur’ was the name of the coins issued by various kings from the sixteenth century in India. A gold ‘mohur’ was the coin in gold and used to weigh about 10 to12 grams.

All the people gathered there were curious. “A hundred mohurs??” said one. “Then it must be very difficult task” said another. “What is the occasion for this competition?” asked yet another. At the same time, each one jostled with the other to come nearer the announcer and hear the details. When many had gathered around him, the announcer continued, beating his drum.

“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”

“The Emperor has announced that anyone who can walk one hundred metres in the sun and the shade at the same time will get one hundred mohurs. Whosoever wants to compete may come walking day after tomorrow and meet the emperor”

“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”

The people looked at each other puzzled. “Who can walk in the sun and shade at the same time? What sort of contest is this?” they murmured to themselves, looking disappointed that they could not get the prize announced by Akbar.

The crowd melted away as the announcer went to the next spot to announce the same contest.

On the appointed day Akbar was holding his court in the open courtyard under a makeshift pandal(shamiana), wondering if his idea to locate Birbal would work out. The court was almost over and it was going to be one o clock and Akbar was looking up now and then hoping that someone would take part in the contest and come to him.

Suddenly from afar, he saw a queer sight. A man was walking towards him, carrying a cot made of rope.(It is called ‘charpai’ in Hindi). As Akbar peered at him, the courtiers also turned around to see what had caught the attention of the emperor.

The man walked and came and stood in front of the pandal , in the sun but he was still holding the cot aloft with both his hands over his head. He seemed to be a very poor man as it was seen from his tattered clothing and bare feet.

To the puzzled emperor, he said in a weak voice, “Huzoor! I heard of the contest you had announced. I am very much in need of money and therefore I have participated in this”. The emperor and the onlookers were still puzzled when he continued, “Huzoor, look at me. I am in the sun and shade at the same time! Will you give me the promised prize??”

It was only then that all noticed that the sun was shining on him through the rope cot and therefore the shade of the rope was also falling on him.

Akbar was truly amused at this idea. But he knew that none other than Birbal could have thought of this and so he asked him, “Is it your idea or did any one else give you this idea? Tell the truth”.

The man replied “Huzoor, an elderly traveller has come two weeks back and is staying in my neighbour’s house in my village and when I was telling my friend about this contest, it was he who gave the idea, but anyway told me to take the prize money if I won, as he is well placed already it seems”

Akbar smiled to himself and said to the man “Well, you are the only contestant and I will give you the money for the smart idea, but I want to see the fellow who gave you this idea. So, go with my guard on horseback and bring that person here”

The man could not disobey and went with the guard and Akbar was waiting without even taking his food as he was eager to know if his idea was going to bring back Birbal to him. True to his expectation, in about half an hour the person returned with his ‘elderly traveller’ and the man was none other than Birbal!

The emperor was so happy to see Birbal again and gave him a warm hug much to the ire of the jealous courtiers. Birbal was also very happy to be back. Even though he had been upset when Akbar shouted at him, in his heart of hearts he was longing to come back.

“Now you have outwitted me Huzoor!” said Birbal beaming with happiness and the two were united once again.

Kadubu or Dubukku??


My dear readers, I am glad to inform you that my blog has completed four years and a hundred stories. My heartfelt thanks to all of you. Now, here is a folktale for you from Karnataka.

In olden days in a village in Karnataka there lived a lad by name Bhimanna. As his name suggested, he had taken after the legendary Pandava prince Bhima in eating food. He loved tasty food and would be ready to do anything to eat tasty food.

One day there was an invitation from his aunt in the neighbouring village asking him to join them in the feast to be held in their house on account of his uncle’s birthday. Bhimanna was overjoyed and begged his mother to let him go. The neighbouring village was three to four miles away and Bhimanna’s father had to go to some other place in his bullock cart on that particular day. Bhimanna was not willing to let go of the free offer though.

“I will walk and go mother” said he. “Aunt will feel bad if none of us go and so I will go on behalf our family. Please mother, pleeease…. Let me go”

“Bhimu, you have to cross the river Cauvery…”

“Don’t you worry mother. There is not much water now. I will wade through”

Bhimanna’s mother agreed reluctantly.

On the special day, Bhimanna got ready well on time and started walking. The thought of the tasty food in the feast made him walk very fast and he reached in no time. His aunt and uncle and all the family members welcomed him and he was made to sit down along with all the others to eat the feast. In olden days dining tables were not there. People squatted on the floor sitting in ‘sukhasan’ (cross legged) posture and huge banana leaves were placed in front of them and a variety of food items were served on the banana leaves. People had enough time to cook well and eat well too. Of course all the labour was manual and they had no machines for anything right from tilling the land to grinding flour to sweeping and mopping their houses. Therefore they had good exercise and their food digested in no time and they were very healthy in spite of eating a heavy meal every day, unlike in the present.

The food in the feast was very lavish and tasty but Bhimanna liked one particular dish which he had never tasted till then. It was a white dumpling like thing which was soft and when he bit a big chunk of it, the filling was so sweet and juicy, it was filled with jaggery and coconut. He gulped one and asked for one more. The second seemed to be even tastier. He ate four more to his heart’s content and made a mental note to tell his mother to make this. This was simply heavenly and he had not eaten it in his life!!

“Oh!” he thought to himself. “I did not ask the name of this” So he went to his aunt and asked her what the sweet was called.

“Kadubu” she said. “It’s called Kadubu”

“Kadubu, kadubu, kadubu, kadubu………” Bhimanna was memorising the name. He could not afford to forget the name as he had literally fallen in love with this wonderful sweet that he had planned to ask his mother to make it for him every day.

The time came for him to take leave of his aunt’s family and he wanted to ask her to give him some Kadubu to take home, but unfortunately, there was not even one left over for him to take home.

Disappointed, Bhimanna started for home. “Kadubu, kadubu, kadubu, kadubu, kadubu….” he was saying it like a mantra so that he did not forget. When he came to the river and was wading through it he failed to notice a small rock and tripped on it and “pachaaaaak” fell into the water. He was so shocked by his fall, and in that shock he had stopped chanting the ‘kadubu mantra’ and when he got up… Alas! He completely forgot the name of the dish.

He kept on thinking on what the name was but could not recollect the correct name. “Was it Kubudu? Or Dakubu? Or Baduku? Or Bakudu? Or…. Or….” He kept on wondering and suddenly seemed to remember, “Yes! It was Dubukku” he started chanting “Dubukku, dubukku, dubukku …..” till he reached home.

He ran to his mother and started “Amma, the feast was superb especially the Dubukku. Make some Dubukku for me please…”

“Dubukku? What Dubukku? I have not heard of anything in my life by name Dubukku” said the mother. Unfortunately she also did not relate the name to Kadubu.

“Amma, amma, what is this amma? You don’t know Dubukku? It was so very tasty, mmm… yummy, please make it for me amma”

“Chup” said the mother. “You have just eaten a full feast and you are asking for some weird dish which I do not know. Go and feed the cow, go!”

Bhimanna could not just forget the ‘Dubukku’. Every day he pestered his mother day in and day out asking her to make ‘dubukku’. His mother was getting more and more irritated hearing this ‘make dubukku’ mantra and Bhimanna never seemed tired of nagging his mother.

One particular day, Bhimanna’s mother was in a very bad mood from the morning since a cat had come into the kitchen in the night and upset the pot of curds and drank it all and in the morning, the iron bucket in the pulley (used to draw water from the well) had fallen into the well and the cow was refusing to be milked kicking anyone who went to milk it. “Such a bad day it has been oof…” she was murmuring when Bhimanna’s ‘dubukku pestering’ started.

He went on and on and on that she got so angry and gave him a hard slap on his cheek. “Now, don’t you irritate me with your dubukku any more hmph…” she scolded him. Poor Bhimanna was taken by surprise. His mother was generally never so angry and it had happened only one time before when he had got a sharp slap from her. The cheek pained and had turned red and Bhimanna was on the verge of crying.

Bhimanna’s mother had not meant to slap him and she realised in a moment that all this pent up anger was due to the various happenings in the morning. She felt sorry for the lad and turned around to see his cheek red and swollen and tears were rolling down his cheeks.

She felt sorry and called him, ‘Bhima, I am really sorry son, but…” She stared at his cheek and said “Oh God! Your cheek has swollen like a Kadubu!”

The mention of the word “kadubu” changed it all. Bhimanna sprang up, his eyes sparkling. As the mother was looking surprised, he shouted “Yes, Kadubu, kadubu, kadubu, that’s what I have been wanting. Amma, amma, please make sweet kadubu amma, please….”

The mother was so amused at how the word “kadubu” had worked like magic and at how her son was so fascinated with the humble Kadubu, and went about to prepare Kadubu for him.

“Now I will never forget the name of this sweet. Kadubu it is!” said Bhimanna triumphantly as he bit into his umpteenth Kadubu, and gobbling it down.

Will you ever forget the name ‘Kadubu’? You will not, will you???

Finding out the mother tongue- A Tenali Rama Story

In earlier stories of Tenali Ramakrishna we have seen how quick-witted Tenali Ramakrishna was and how he brought pride to the Emperor Krishnadevaraya time and again.

Every time Tenali Rama solved an issue/puzzle, his knowledge and fame spread far and wide. After all he had taken a boon from Goddess Kali to get both money and knowledge in equal measures!!

Once a person came visiting from one of the neighbouring kingdoms. He was a middle aged person and by his facial features, no one could make out which state he belonged to. As was the protocol, the man attended the Durbar of the Emperor with the gifts given by his king as a mark of respect.

The Emperor welcomed the visitor in chaste Telugu and enquired about his native.

The man smiled and replied in equally chaste Telugu, and said “My native and mother tongue is what the people of your court have to find out. I have mastered many languages but you will have to find out what is my mother tongue”.

The Emperor did not think it was a difficult job and called the courtiers who had different mother tongues to come and talk to the man. There was a question in Bengali, one in Tamil, one in Malayalam, one in Urdu, one in Odisha and one in even Kashmiri but the man answered all the questions in different languages with great ease. All the people who asked the questions and Tenali Rama who was watching were stumped. The accent and the intonation of all the languages spoken by the man were perfect.

“Well,” said the man addressing Emperor Krishnadevaraya, “I shall give your men a day’s time and challenge them to find out my mother tongue!”

The Emperor could not refuse the challenge.

Though he had agreed, the emperor was worried whether anyone could do this difficult task.

Tenali could sense the worry of the emperor. After the court has dispersed, Tenali met the Emperor.

“If you permit me your highness,” he said with great humility, “I shall try my best and try to find out the language of this man”

The emperor looked at him with gratitude and wished him luck.

Tenali Rama made enquiries as to where the man was staying.

That night, the man was tired after the long journey he had undertaken and after partaking the wonderful dinner he was provided at the place of his stay, he was so sleepy and went off to bed.

It was about two early in the morning. It was the new moon day and it was pitch dark outside. In those days, there was no electric lamps and lights with oil wicks were lit in houses. A small lamp was glowing in the room where the man was sleeping.

Suddenly, the light was blown off as if blown by a person. Then… a creature tiptoed near the man. The creature looked so devilish with a long black gown and its face was covered by a mask. The creature’s nails were long and it was moving near to the man who was sleeping.

Slowly the man felt something creeping under his feet.

“Hmph…” he said and withdrew his legs into his blanket and he turned to one side.

After a while, the man felt something tickling his ear. The man waved his hand near his ear and mumbled something.

He turned and lay flat his face facing upwards.

Then the creature slowly moved and kept its hand on the man’s throat and made a terrifying sound. The next moment the man opened his eyes, saw the creature. He shouted something, jumped off from the bed and scurried under the cot trembling. The creature was seen jumping out of the window of the room and the soon the guards who were outside jumped in through the windows and immediately a lamp was lit.

They called for the man and slowly he came trembling from under the cot. The creature had vanished and the man believed he had a nightmarish dream and requested the lamp to be lit and a guard to sleep in his room.

The next day, he came to the court without showing any sign of having had a nightmare that night. He was still eager to find out whether anyone had found his mother tongue. The hall was full and the Emperor looked at Tenali. Tenali came up, bowed to the emperor and the audience, looked at the man and said with confidence, “This man’s mother tongue is Tamil”. The man’s shock was apparent on his face. The emperor then asked the man, “Is Tenali saying the truth?”

The man nodded in affirmative and asked Tenali how he had found out the mother tongue.

Tenali looked at him and said “Sir, please share with this audience what happened yesterday night!” The man was even more shocked, but narrated the whole episode to the crowd.

“Well,” said Tenali Rama. “Do you remember what you shouted when the creature kept its hand on your throat?”

The man hung his head in shame that he had been outwitted.

Tenali Rama continued looking at the crowd. “Dear people,” he said, “I was the one who went like a devilish creature to frighten him. The moment he saw my gory face in the dark night, he yelled, ‘Amma amma, pei… pe…i. Kappaathunga… Kappaathunga…’ (Means mother… mother… ghost…ghost…save me  …save me…) and scurried under his bed. A person learns his mother tongue first before learning other languages. So when he or she is in distress, it is the mother tongue they use and not the languages learnt later and that is how I found out what this person’s  mother tongue is “

The emperor, the people and the man were equally surprised at this revelation. They were surprised at the sharp mind of Tenali Rama.

The emperor as usual gifted him with lot of gifts and was very happy that the challenge was overcome all went home happy.

How Rama became Maryada Rama

In ancient Andhra Pradesh, there lived a young boy Rama. This boy was extremely smart, intelligent and shrewd and could analyse any situation and judge people accurately.

In those days, whenever there was any matter in dispute judgement was given by the judge in the court of the King or by the King himself. In the kingdom where Rama lived, there was no judge in the king’s court and so the King used to deliver justice.

One day while Rama was sitting at the mandap near the temple pond, and chatting, he saw an old lady pass by sobbing and she looked as if she was in great grief.

Rama called her and asked her, “Amma, what is the matter? Why are you crying?”

The lady started crying profusely and said, “Beta, where will I go and tell this injustice? The King has ordered me to give a potful of gold coins as a punishment. Where will I go for the gold coins?”

Rama was puzzled and asked her to tell him her story.

“I am an old woman living here and I am earning a living by selling milk. One day four young men came to my house and gave me a pot for safekeeping. The pot was sealed and they told me that I should give it back to them only when all the four asked for it together”

“Then what happened?” asked Rama.

“Well, one day I was milking my cow in the backyard when one of the men came and asked me for the pot. I told him that I would give him the pot only when all of them asked for it, for which he showed me the gate of my house and told me to ask the other three who were there. I shouted from the backdoor which is very far away to the three men out there and asked them what they wanted. “Pot” they shouted back. “Give it to him.”  So, I gave the sealed pot to him and he went away. After some time the other three came to the backyard searching for their friend and asked for ‘a’ pot.

I got worried and told them that I had already given the sealed pot to their friend. I had committed a blunder. They were asking for a pot to buy buttermilk and drink whereas the fourth fellow tricked me into giving the sealed pot to him and ran away with it. The other three men got very angry that their money had gone due to my mistake. They complained to the king who has now ordered me to pay them a pot full of gold coins. In fact I did not even see the coins as the pot was sealed. What will I do now? My fate is sealed”.

Saying this, the lady started sobbing loudly.

“What sort of a judgement is this? I cannot understand!” exclaimed Rama. “If I were the judge, I would have delivered real justice.   Hmm. I do not know what the poor old woman will do…”

So saying, he left the place.

Unknown to Rama, one of the senior ministers of the king had observed the whole episode hearing every word Rama uttered. He went back to the king and told him what he had seen.

The king was angered that a common man should comment upon the judgement he had made.

The next day, Rama was sent for by the King. Not knowing why he was called for a puzzled Rama went to the King’s court.

He was surprised to find the old lady and three young men in two separate enclosures facing each other. The King looked at Rama and said in a stern voice, “Oh, you are Rama, are you? Under whom did you study law Sir? I heard that you were criticising my judgement in the case of this lady and the three men there”, he said, pointing to the lady and the three men.

Rama was not frightened. Keeping a cool face, he replied, “Who am I to criticise your judgement Your Highness? I just said that I could not understand your judgement.”

“Then, in that case,” said the King, “you can give your judgement in this case right now, here!”

“I am ready your Highness” said Rama, “but for the sake of understanding of the people here, I would like to recapitulate the case”. He went on to repeat the story he had heard from the woman about how four men had given her a pot and told her that she should give it back only when all of them demanded it together, how she was duped by one of them even though she thought all of them were asking for the same pot.

“Now,” said he, “Our King has told this woman to give the three men the pot of gold as she did not follow their instruction and in the process, the pot has been taken away by one of the men”. He continued, “There is nothing wrong with the King’s judgement, but….”

“But what?” thundered the King.

“I am just going to slightly modify your judgement your majesty” said Rama with a smile. “The lady has to give back the pot to them…”

As he paused, the three men who were in the enclosure were surprised and puzzled and the old woman was worried. The King was also wondering what different judgement was this going to be, when Rama continued, “Provided all the four of them come together and ask for the pot. That was the agreement wasn’t it?”

There was a thunderous applause from the audience and the King was pleased at the sharp mind and prudent judgement delivered by Rama. The old woman had tears of joy in her eyes and the three men looked disappointed that their joy was short-lived.

“I am very happy at your judgement Rama” said the King, “I need a person like you to assist me in my judgements. You shall be known as Maryada Rama henceforth and all cases shall come to you first for judgement”.

Rama was extremely happy that he had saved the old lady from trouble as he knew that the fourth person who took the pot and ran away would never come back to join this gang again.

Maryada Rama was famous for all the judgements he gave. There is also the story of the lost diamond where Rama, with his shrewdness delivered an excellent judgement.

When Providence Smiles At You – A folktale from Ancient India

In a village, in ancient India, lived a lad by name Boppanna.

Boppanna was very good at heart and wanted to be smart and good at studies like his classmates, but somehow, studies eluded him. He simply did not have the capacity to grasp even something that his classmates found damn easy.

His father was always worried about this. He tried all methods to make him study, but as I already said, studies simply eluded him. His father used to get very angry and shout at him. “Mandooka Mandooka”, he would yell at him.  “If you don’t study you will remain a like a Mandooka in the well” he would always say.

Mandooka means frog in Sanskrit and somehow the word has become synonymous with stupidity. Being like a Mandooka meant being like a frog in a well, not aware of anything happening in the outside world, and the stupid stare of Boppanna reminded his father of a frog’s eyes. So, Boppanna was more often called Mandooka, than by his own name.

Boppanna grew up and became a young man. He did odd jobs here and there as he did not get any good job for he did not possess good qualification. He could read and write though and that was all that he had acquired in all the years of his studies.

In due course of time, Boppanna’s parents got him married to a naïve girl from another village nearby. Now, that he was married, his income was not enough to support them.

One day, his wife had an idea. “Listen, my husband”, she said, “I hear that the King rewards people who write good poems. Why don’t you go and meet the King and write a poem for him? “

Boppanna was in a dilemma. He did not want to spoil his wife’s image of him, but he barely knew to write, leave alone write poems!!

Not able to refuse his wife’s idea, he set out with a palm leaf and quill to the palace. He had to pass a wooded area on the way and he wanted to rest for a while. As he sat down by the shade of a banyan tree, he saw a big boar near a tree on the other side of the pathway. The boar was rubbing its body against the rough bark of the tree to relieve itself of its itching. Boppanna was wondering what would happen if the tree got uprooted due to the force and fell on the boar.

He looked at the boar, and said pitifully, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger…”

Unable to think of anything else to write as sunset was fast approaching, he took out the palm leaf and scribbled the words he had told the boar, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger…”

Boppanna reached the city late in the night. Early in the morning, Boppanna went to the palace and met the security guard outside. “Here is an important document for the King. Please give it to him immediately” said he.

The guard immediately took the leaf and went into the chamber where the King was sleeping. The King was just then waking up. The King’s barber was already present in the chamber making preparations for the King to shave. The guard handed over the palm leaf to the King. “It seems this is an important document for Your Highness!!” he said and left.

The King read the message, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger” over and over again but could not make any sense out of it. Wondering what it meant, the King said aloud, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger”. The very next moment, the barber dropped his knife and the stone on which he was rubbing it and fell at the King’s feet.

“Forgive me Your Highness!” he cried, “I have been driven by greed and lust for money, as otherwise, I would have never dreamt of doing this heinous crime. Forgive me… please…” He was sobbing uncontrollably.

On enquiry, it came to be known that the barber had colluded with a minister to kill the King with the sharp knife used for shaving, that day. The palm leaf had saved the life of the King !!. The King got his security men to find out Boppanna and rewarded him with lot of gold and silver and gave him a house to live and made him his official astrologer !. The minister and barber were punished severely and banished from the kingdom.

Life was going on when one day, the diamond necklace of the queen got stolen. The queen was very upset since it was gifted by the King for their wedding and it was her favourite necklace. She could not rest in peace till it was found and she was looking so gloomy and sad all the time.

The King sent word for Boppanna. “Boppanna, please use your skills and find out who has stolen the necklace, for I cannot bear to see my dear queen grieving for her necklace.” Boppanna was at his wits end. How on earth was he going to find out who stole the necklace?

Anyway, he pretended to be calm and cool and told in a very calm voice, “Your Highness, please do not worry. I shall surely find the culprit but I need a secluded room and I will need a few days’ time too. There should be no guards or anyone in the room. I will have to do some meditation to pin point the culprit”

“Done!” said the King. He granted Boppanna a  room in a secluded part of the palace.

Boppanna went in and shut the door. He was lamenting at his fate. He decided that his wife was to blame for all that was happening. “Oh woman!” he cried out aloud, “See the fruit of your action. You will become a widow shortly. Already your husband has escaped once but now there is no chance to escape. I can see death coming. Alas!”

Suddenly he heard the door banging. Alarmed, he went to the door and opened it with great hesitation. The next moment, a lady barged in and fell at his feet and caught hold of his feet. She was a maid in the queen’s palace.

To a shocked Boppanna she said, “Sir, I heard that you had been asked to find out the thief and so I was following you and was hiding near the window. Sir, how did you know that it was me and my husband who have robbed the necklace and how on earth did you know that earlier we had robbed a gold ring which went unnoticed?”  She continued sobbing and said, “Sir, we will give the necklace and ring back, please tell the King to forgive us.” She was crying loudly.

Boppanna was amazed at the turn of events. He could not believe his luck.Here he was blaming his wife for his ill luck and the words had exactly matched the thief’s action!

Regaining his composure, he said, “Hush, hush woman.. Do not cry. I will try to speak to the King. He then went to the King and said, “I have found out the culprit, but I request you not to award them death sentence. You may punish them otherwise”.  The King agreed and the necklace and ring were returned and a heavy fine was imposed on the lady and her husband.

Boppanna was given a bigger bungalow and more gold coins and his fame spread far and wide.

One day, a messenger from the neighbouring Emperor’s Kingdom came to the palace. The King welcomed him with the usual protocol as his Kingdom was under the domain of the Emperor. On enquiry about his visit, the messenger said, “Our Highness, the Emperor has heard of your new astrologer and so has given me a task. I have brought this locked box with something inside. Will your astrologer be able to find out what is in it?”

“Why not?” said the King. “I will ask him to come to the court just now. He will surely predict precisely what is in this locked box!”

So, word was sent to Boppanna who was alarmed to the core. With his heart beating at top speed he came to the palace where in the Durbar there was a seat for him and on the opposite side the man with the locked box was sitting.

The King explained to Boppanna what was expected of him and Boppanna closed his eyes in fear. On the one side, he dreaded the punishment which he would receive if he did not predict correctly and on the other, he remembered images of his childhood and his father’s figure yelling “Mandooka” at him.

Repenting for not remaining in his village and for coming to the King in the first place at the insistence of his wife, Boppanna, in a quivering voice, hitting himself on his forehead said, “Oh! Mandooka… You should have remained in the well… Why at all did you come here? Ho…Ho…” He was crying aloud, when suddenly his opponent got up and hugged Boppanna with a great look of surprise. He immediately opened the box and PLOP! , there jumped out a frog. The box was containing a frog and the people thought Boppanna was crying at the fate of the frog and so there was rejoicing over his accurate ‘prediction’.

There was loud cheering from the crowds and Boppanna could not comprehend what was going on!!

“Boppanna, Boppanna… Long live Boppanna….” the crowds shouted. The King came up to the platform where the two were seated and handed Boppanna a big bag of coins.

Taking the coins Boppanna did the most sensible thing then. He bowed to the King and said, “Your Highness, when I was born, it was predicted that I would become a famous astrologer but would give only three correct predictions. Now that I have delivered all the three, kindly, allow me to proceed to my village where I will pursue the occupation of agriculture. I do not want to continue here as I will not be able to give correct predictions anymore!”

The King was shocked but nevertheless happy that Boppanna had told him the ‘truth’ and was not greedy to enjoy a royal life. So the King also let Boppanna go but not before he loaded his cart with gold coins and jewellery!!!

Boppanna thanked the Goddess of luck and returned home, a happy, rich and wiser man!!

He had realised that Providence may not keep smiling at him forever.

 

Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam

Tenali Ramalingam, or Tenali Rama as he was known was the extremely intelligent court jester of the emperor Krishnadevaraya who ruled the Vijayanagara Empire. Not only was he the court jester, but also, he played advisor to the king on many occasions and helped Krishnadevaraya come out of difficult situations and saved the reputation of the kingdom.

This story is about one such incident. Vijayanagara Empire was known for the intelligent and extremely knowledgeable scholars. Once a scholar from Kashi visited Vijayanagara Empire. The emperor as was usual, welcomed the learned man and enquired about the purpose of his visit to his palace. The scholar, who had a look of arrogance said, “Well, your Majesty, I have heard that you have many learned scholars in your kingdom. I would like to have a debate with them on any literary work they choose. It does not matter to me, you see, as to what work is chosen, for, I have read all the literary works that are available, ha.. And, if your men defeat me, I shall surrender all my titles, whereas, if I defeat them, they should become my slaves. Can any of your scholars debate with me?”

The Emperor was confident of his learned men and agreed to the condition and ordered, “Let the debate take place tomorrow”.

However, the arrogance and pomp of the scholar dampened the confidence of the learned men of the court and they feared that they would be easily defeated. They met the emperor and with great apprehension, told him about their reluctance to participate in the debate.

Krishnadevaraya was furious. “Is there nobody to take on this scholar?” he roared in anger. “Is my empire starved of learned men? Is it not a shame to the empire that we do not have even one single person to debate with this scholar?” he seethed with anger.

Tenali Rama who was present watching what had happened, stepped forward. “Your Majesty,” he said humbly. “I will debate with that scholar tomorrow. Do not worry”

The emperor was angrier than before. “Rama, this is not the time to joke about. I am seriously talking about the stake of the kingdom and here you are joking eh?”

Raman said hurriedly, in a firm voice, “I mean what I say your majesty. The only requirement of mine is that these scholars here should come dressed up as my disciples and I shall take care of the rest”. Krishnadevaraya could do nothing and he agreed half-heartedly.

The next day, as the court gathered with the scholar from Kashi present, Raman walked in majestically, his ‘disciples’ in front of him, hailing his praises and ‘titles’. He was wearing a grand silk dhoti and a dazzling turban studded with Gems and had big rings on his fingers and a heavy gold chain around his neck. He carried a bundle wrapped in red silk and held it close to his chest. Even the Emperor was stunned at this show but was not still sure of Raman’s capability.

Raman sat with his disciples on the dais where already the scholar from Kashi was seated. Raman placed the silk bundle in front of him and looked at the emperor for his consent to start the debate. The emperor signalled that the debate could be started.

Raman cleared his throat. “Hmm.. Hmm.. Respected Sir,” he said addressing the scholar from Kashi. “Since you have told that we could debate on a literary work of my choice, I have chosen to debate about “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam.. Will you start the debate or should I?” He stopped to observe the scholar. The scholar had a shock of his life. He had read almost all the literary works of his time but had never even in his dreams heard of this work “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam”. He realised his mistake of having allowed Tenali Rama to choose the work of his choice. His face was filled with panic and he hurriedly looked at the emperor and said very humbly, “Your Majesty, I have read this work about thirty years ago and I seek a day’s time to recall the contents of the work. If you permit, can we debate on this tomorrow?

The emperor was surprised at the scholar’s action. However, he had also not even remotely heard of “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam” and was sort of confused as to how Tenali Rama had mastered this ‘rare’ literary work. Anyhow, the scholar was a guest and the emperor could not be rude to him and so he said, “Well, Sir, if you wish the debate to take place tomorrow, so be it. The darbar is adjourned now.”

The scholar hurriedly got up with his disciples and rushed to the guest house where he was staying. The next day he was not seen at the darbar and when the emperor sent word to the guest house, they found he had left the kingdom with bag and baggage.

The emperor, with a bemused expression looked at Rama and asked him, “Rama, even I have not read this literary work ‘Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam’. What is it about?”

Rama with a sparkle in his eyes, opened the silk bundle he was holding and to the utter shock of every one present, the bundle contained a dried twig of a sesame plant and a rope which is used to tie a buffalo.

To the confused onlookers, Raman explained, “This sesame is called ’tila’ in sanskrit.’Kashta’ in Sanskrit, means stick and so the twig of a sesame plant is ’tilakashta’.’Mahisha’ is buffalo in Sanskrit and ‘Bandhanam’ means tying in Sanskrit. This rope therefore is ‘Mahisha Bandhanam’ as it is used for that purpose. Now you know what “Tilakashta Mahisha Bandhanam” is all about!”

The courtiers and the emperor were guffawing uncontrollably at the wit of Rama and the emperor as usual gave Rama loads of gifts for saving the name and fame of Vijayanagara Kingdom.

The Magic Grove


In ancient India, there lived in a village, a girl by name Prabha. She lived with her father as she had lost her mother at a young age. Her father had married again. The step mother Rambadevi,  did not like Prabha . She had also a daughter a little younger than Prabha. Even though she did not like Prabha, she could do nothing about it as her husband loved Prabha  more than his life and would not tolerate any nonsense towards his loving daughter.

Prabha was a very kind girl and used to tend to the cattle of her house very dutifully. She used to take them out for grazing and stay out for most of the day and thereby escaped Rambadevi’s  anger and hatred.

One day, Prabha had taken out the cattle as usual for grazing and had settled down under a shady banyan tree . She used to amuse herself by playing a  game with some shells. Just as she had sat down and taken the shells out, to her horror, she saw a snake crawling towards her very fast. Aghast and afraid, as she hurried to get up and run, the snake spoke.

“Young Girl, please protect me!” it said in a human voice, much to her surprise. It continued, “A man is coming to kill me. Please sit down and hide me under your leg. Pleeeease… please save my life”

The snake sounded so pitiful that Prabha gave up her fear and said, “OK dear snake, I will hide you, but please do not harm me”

“Never will I harm you” said the snake, “but please sit down so that I may hide under your legs”. The snake sounded really pathetic.

Prabha obeyed the snake and took her place again under the tree where she was sitting originally. She was wearing a flowing skirt and the snake immediately slid under her legs.

The next moment, a man came running with a fat stick . He stopped for a moment on seeing the little girl.

“Hey Girl”, he called out, “did you see a snake go by?”

Prabha kept a cool expression and nodded her head in the negative.

The man did not suspect Prabha and ran away further down.

Prabha lifted her leg and said, “Come out, snake. The man has gone”. But to her utter surprise, there was no snake there and the next moment she saw a divine figure suddenly appear and come beside her. Shocked and tongue tied, all that the girl could do was to stare at him in awe.

“Do not be afraid dear girl, I am a Naga from Sarpaloka” said the man. “You have saved my life and I want to reward you. What do you want? Tell me!”

The surprised Prabha fumbled for words for a few minutes, but then told the Naga that her wish was that fodder and shade should be available for her cattle always.

It was the turn of the Naga to get surprised. He was so happy with her selfless attitude and said, “Well, little girl, you are so selfless. I grant you the wish that there will be a grove around wherever you are . The grove will move with you when you move and stop when you stop. And, whenever you need my help, just call out to me and I will come and help you”  So saying the Naga vanished. Immediately lot of trees appeared around Prabha and the place became very cool. Prabha was very excited and extremely happy.

She wanted to tell her father at once and  got up and headed for her home. The trees followed her. It was indeed a Magic Grove. When she reached home and told her father what had happened, he was extremely happy while Rambadevi, was extremely jealous. However, there was nothing she could do.

Years passed and Prabha was a beautiful young maiden now. But her inner personality had not changed a bit. She was the same loving and kind girl.

One day, she was sitting under a tree as usual playing with shells, when the king of the country came on a hunting expedition. Seeing the nice trees, the king’s retinue thought that it was a part of the jungle ahead and expected wild animals there. To frighten the wild animals, they started to beat drums aloud. Prabha’s cows were startled and started running here and there. Prabha , not aware of why the cows were running ran after them and lo and behold, the trees also started moving much to the horror of the King who was suddenly left in the hot sun!! He was so shocked and kept staring at Prabha , with wonder.

After some time, he regained his composure and after some enquiries with the villagers, he found his way to Prabha’s house. Her father was so happy that the king had come and welcomed him to the best of his ability. After the customary welcome, the king came to know the story behind the magic grove. He was so impressed by the girl’s kindness and she was equally beautiful too that he wanted to make her his queen. Prabha’s father was overjoyed and immediately gave his consent and the wedding took place with great pomp and show.

Now Prabha had to shift to the palace and the trees went with her. The king did not mind it though. Rambadevi  was fuming at the good luck of Prabha. She was waiting for an opportunity to harm her.

A few years later, the king sent a messenger with loads of gifts to Prabha’ s house to convey the good news that they were expecting their first child. Prabha’s father wanted to see his daughter and sent word through the messenger that he would come soon. Rambadevi , surprisingly supported this wish of his and urged him to go soon and see Prabha.

“Whatever royal food she may have, she will miss home food at this time and you should carry a big laddoo for her”, she told her husband. Still surprised, he thought that her attitude had changed at the thought of her going to become a grandmother.

Rambadevi  then proceeded to make a big laddoo but mixed some deadly poison in it. She then packed it and gave it to the husband asking him to give it to Prabha. The old man took it and went on his way . It was a hot day and it was noon. He sat down under a big banyan tree and was soon  dozing off under the cool shade.

Now, this tree happened to be the home of a Yaksha ( celestial being) and this yaksha had supernatural powers and could sense that the man was carrying something bad. The yaksha got down and with his magical power took the laddoo being carried by Prabha’s father and replaced it with a laddoo he created with his powers. After a short while, Prabha’s father, got up, unaware of what had happened, continued his journey and went to the palace and saw Prabha and gave the laddoo. He stayed with her for a few days and came back to the village.

Rambadevi  was surprised  to see him come home happily for she thought he would come bringing the news of her ‘sudden death’.  She could not figure out what had happened as Prabha’s father said that Prabha enjoyed the laddoo.

After a few months, news came from the palace that a handsome baby prince was born to Prabha. Rambadevi  was burning with jealousy. However, she did not show her feelings and told her husband,  “We may be not so rich , but is it not our duty to bring our daughter home with her child? After all, she must be also yearning for parental support now. Go and bring her home. Tell the king that we shall send her back after three months. Hurry up, Go now! And, do not return immediately. The king may feel insulted. Stay there for a few days and then bring her!”

The father was really impressed at what he felt was a ‘sea change ‘ in her attitude. He happily agreed and  went to the palace to place this request before the king.

Rambadevi, in the meanwhile called  some expert well diggers secretly and asked them to dig the deepest well in the middle of their garden. “The mouth of the well should not be too wide” she told them, “but see that the well is as deep as all the wells put together in this village. If the job is done well, you shall have a bag of gold coins!”

The well was dug in a matter of days by the experts and she called her trusted servant and told him to cover the mouth of the well with some coconut palm leaves and then carefully made some floral pattern with grass and some rare flowers on top of that. Nobody could suspect that it was the opening of a deep well.

After a few days, Prabha came home with her baby and her father in a royal palanquin with lots of gifts and gold.  The Grove also accompanied her and once more her house was surrounded by the cool shade of the grove. Her  stepmother welcomed her with fake affection and cuddled the baby with great love. She treated Prabha to lots of goodies and spent time nicely with her.

After few days Prabha herself started believing that her step mother’s attitude had changed. One day, when the father had gone out, the stepmother called out endearingly, “Prabha… O Prabha dear, come out in the garden. You should get some fresh air.” Prabha went out leaving the baby in the care of her step sister. As expected, the new patch in the garden caught Prabha’s attention and she asked her step mother about it.

“Well Prabha, those are very special flowers. I got them specially for you.  They are as soft as silk and the scent of them will linger for months together in your hands. Go, see and touch them” said Rambadevi.

Prabha who was still a naive girl unwittingly stepped on the pattern when the grass beneath gave way and she fell in. “Aaaah……. I am falling!!  Save me….” she cried, and then remembering the Naga, she called out aloud, “O Naga! Save me… please…”

The next moment  the Naga appeared beneath her in the well and she landed in his arms.  Prabha was so relieved and told the Naga to take her back. “My child is alone there” she said. “Take me back to my house and I will go back to my husband”.

“Wait” said the Naga. “I will see that your step mother gets what she deserves and so do not hurry. You can stay in my palace in the nether world. Close your eyes”

Unable to disobey the Naga, Prabha closed her eyes and the next moment on the Naga’s command, she opened her eyes to see that she was in a beautiful palace with many attendants to take care of her needs.

In the meanwhile, Prabha’s father had returned and asked about his daughter for which his wife feigned ignorance. She said she found Prabha ‘missing’ and was herself in a state of shock. “I am afraid what the King will say!” she said and started sobbing. Then later on, she told her husband that she would manage when the King came. As expected the King came in a few days.  The step mother presented her own daughter with the child to the king.

Puzzled, the king asked, “Where is Prabha?”

“This is Prabha, your Highness!” said the stepmother. “Soon after she came here, she contracted a rare disease that has left her features changed. Please take her to the palace and get her treated by your doctors”

“But where is the grove?” asked the king who was not convinced by her answer.

The question was unexpected and the step mother said hurriedly “Hmmm… That  grove.. Hmm.. It has gone to water itself… It will come back..”

The king was even more puzzled as never had this grove gone to ‘water’ itself, but he could not find the grove or Prabha’s trace anywhere in the house. Reluctant as he was, he could not believe the version of Prabha’s step mother , but he could not do anything about it either. So half heartedly he took Prabha’s sister with his child back.  He was still suspicious about the whole affair and therefore  appointed an elderly nurse to be with the baby all the time. He had also shared with the nurse his suspicion about Prabha’s ‘disease’ and changed features  and asked her to be extra vigilant and tell him if she noticed anything strange.

In the meanwhile, Prabha could not bear the separation from her baby. She pleaded with the Naga to let her go and see the child.

“OK “ said the Naga. “You may go if you wish. But I will take you there every night and you have to come back to me by midnight after seeing your child. I am telling this for your good only and you will realise soon. If you do not return as promised, I will never hereafter answer to your calls” he said.

Prabha was very excited and happy and every day, she went after the palace had slept. She sneaked in through the balcony , saw her child , cuddled and fed him and put him to sleep in his cradle while her sister was happily sleeping in her bed. Prabha also saw to it that she always returned before midnight to the Naga.

Now, one day, in the morning, the nurse noticed stains of milk flowing from the lips of the baby and was surprised for it was she who cleaned his face before he went to sleep every day. This happened  successively in the next few days and the nurse reported the matter to the king who told her to be awake and find out. The following night, the nurse was in for a shock when she saw Prabha coming like a fairy and feeding her child. She pretended to be asleep and reported the matter to the king the next morning.

The surprised king also hid in the darkness near the balcony that night and as Prabha was slipping away caught her in an iron grip. “Leave me”, she shouted. “I have to go back to the Naga! Please leave me….” The next moment there were guards with lights and the bright lights shone on the face of Prabha and the king and the king sternly asked her what the matter was and why she was hiding. Prabha, told the king what happened, sobbing in grief. Her stained cheeks showed how much sorrow she was in.

The king immediately called Prabha’s sister and asked her . She was also afraid and confessed that she was also a part of the conspiracy. The enraged king immediately ordered capital punishment for mother and daughter but Prabha intervened. “Your Highness”, she said, “Please do not be so harsh on them. After all,  my step mother brought me up as my mother was not there and I should always be grateful for that. Please forgive them”.

“I appreciate your kindness Prabha “ said the king, “but the wrong doers must be punished. And so I am banishing them from this kingdom forever. You father can come and stay with us in the palace” .

The king’s orders were carried out and the grove had appeared and Prabha lived a peaceful and happy life with no need to call the Naga any more.

This is a story I have read in my childhood in Amar Chitra Katha. I have read it so many times and also narrated it to my children many many times that even today as I write,  the pictures of the story are vivid and evergreen in my memory. Of course there are tiny figments of my own imagination added here and there.

Seven Jars Of Gold

Once upon a time, there lived a barber in a city in central India. He was working at the king’s palace. He was a happy go lucky fellow and so even though he did not earn much he was always happy and cheerful. The king liked him for his cheerful attitude as he liked to see cheerful faces in the morning.

The barber’s house was quite far away in a village and he had to pass through a forest every day while going for work and coming home. He used to pass by a huge banyan tree in the jungle every day.

One day, when he was passing by the tree, he heard a booming voice. “Halt”, said the voice. The barber, though not frightened, was startled a bit by the voice.”Who are you?” he asked, looking around, as he could find no human being nearby.

“I am a Yaksha living in this tree”, the voice said. “I see you going past this tree everyday and I think you work in the city. Where do you work and how much do you earn?”

“I work in the palace and I earn just enough to make ends meet”, said the barber. “Why do you ask?”

“Well”, said the voice, “I am the guardian of seven jars of gold in the hollow of this tree. I like you and I want to gift them to you. You can take them to your house and if ever you do not need them, you can bring them back to me.”

The barber could not believe his luck. “I shall take them”, said he and eagerly peeped into the hollow of the tree trunk. To his utter surprise, he found that there were indeed seven closed jars. Without opening them, he took them back home and told his wife about his luck. The wife was indeed happy and eagerly opened the jars. To their surprise the barber and his wife found six jars full of shining gold coins, but the seventh jar however was only half full. They were disappointed at this discovery.

“I shall ask the Yaksha tomorrow. Maybe the balance of gold coins is in the hollow of the trunk itself!” said the barber to his wife. Already his mind was full of curiosity as to why the seventh jar was only half full. He could not stop thinking about the jars and his luck and could not sleep at all.

Early in the morning he left to meet the Yaksha. As he neared the tree he heard the Yaksha call out,”Hello friend, what is it that brings you here so early? It is not your usual time yet” “Er…well,l want to ask you something… One jar out of the seven is only half full. Why is that?”

The Yaksha replied,”It is like that only. You can fill up the jar with your earnings. And if ever you do not need the jars bring them back as they are, okay?” The barber nodded his head though he was puzzled and went home.he told his wife what the Yaksha told him.The husband and wife picked up a few coins from the seventh jar and the level reduced and they hurriedly put back the coins in the jar. The wife said,” Do not worry my dear! From now on we shall save whatever we earn and put it in this jar and fill it up fast.”

The barber went for work with a confused mind. He didn’t talk much, to the surprise of the king.He was also not smiling as usual. The king had never seen him this way but anyhow thought that he must be having some domestic problem and therefore did not ask him anything. The barber took his day’s wages and went home. His wage was a gold coin.

As soon as he went home, he dropped the coin in the half full jar. He told his wife,”For the next few days, we shall eat with whatever provisions are available, for, I want to fill the seventh jar.” “Okay”, said the wife. “The provisions at home will last for three days. But there are no vegetables for tomorrow.” “Never mind”, said the barber. Pluck the greens from the garden and cook them.” The wife agreed as she also wanted to see the seventh jar full.

Over the next two weeks the barber’s earnings went straight into the jar. The jar however seemed to be absorbing all that was put into it. The level of gold coins for not rise by even a millimeter. The barber and his wife were puzzled and worried. Why the jar was not getting full was the only topic they discussed amongst themselves late in the nights. The barber decided to do extra work and went to the market in the evenings to help another barber and thereby earned extra money. The wife took up a job as domestic help and earned some money.

However they spent a miniscule portion of what they earned towards their needs and put the major portion in the seventh jar. The coins in the jar however remained at the same level as it was on the first day. Due to their extra occupation, the couple hardly talked to each other these days. The barber had lost his cheer and wore a very worried look. He hardly joked or laughed when he heard anything funny.

The king was noticing the behavior of the barber. Initially he had ignored it but as days went by it was difficult for him to ignore the barber as the barber’s sullen face was affecting the king too. He did not feel good to see a constantly worried face with lot of mental burden every day in the morning.

One day the king decided that enough was enough. He asked the barber what the master was. Though initially reluctant, the barber blurted out the cause of his worry. The king was quiet for some time. He was a wise man and could empathize with others and so felt sorry for the barber. “Do you want to be happy once again?”, he asked the barber. “Yes. Your majesty”, said the barber, his eyes filled with tears. “Will you do as I say?”said the king. “Yes Sire” said the barber willing to do anything for getting relieved from this mental torture. “Well then”said the king.”Go and. give back the jars of gold from wherever you got them from”

The barber knew that that was the right solution and he had also contemplated this. He had realized that the jars were the primary reason for his change in attitude and lifestyles and lack of cheer from his life.Almost instantly, he agreed to do what the king said and went home straight. “Bring the jars”, he told his wife, “let us give them back to the Yaksha.” The wife also had realized their folly and willingly brought the jars out.

The barber took the jars and hurried to the banyan tree. He placed them in the hollow and addressed the Yaksha in a cold voice, “Here! Take your gold coins back! I was a fool to have accepted them. They have robbed me of my happiness and have given me only sorrow”

The Yaksha replied, “You were a fool to have added all your earnings in the jar! And you cannot have them now as I already told you that I want the jars as I gave them to you.” The barber angrily turned to go back when he heard the Yaksha’s booming voice again.

“But you have to thank me , friend, for now you are wise to know that it is always better to enjoy what you have rather than going after what you do not have”. The barber went back, finally relieved and wiser and remained so for the rest of his life.

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