This is a tale from the chapter Loss of friends (Mitra Bheda) of Panchatantra.
In a city in the north of India, there lived two young men, Dharmabuddhi and Papabuddhi who were friends. Both were doing business. Dharmabuddhi had good business skills. Papabuddhi decided to take advantage of that and make quick money.
One day, in a very friendly manner he spoke to Dharmabuddhi. “Dharma” he said. “You are very wise and have good business skills. Should we not go to far-off places and earn well while we are young? Once we are old, we need to have enough wealth to sustain ourselves as we may not be able to work so hard then”
Dharmabuddhi thought that it was a very sensible advice coming from his friend Papabuddhi and immediately agreed to it. “What you say is very true Papa” he said. “We will both go to far-off places and trade in the goods we deal in, earn enough money and come back in some months. Make arrangements for the travel.”
And so, off they went carrying their wares in a huge bullock cart. They visited places far and wide and made good money mainly due to Dharmabuddhi’s efforts. Papabuddhi’s contribution was lesser both in terms of stock and enterprise. But Dharmabuddhi, as his name suggests, was very magnanimous and so on the way back, thanked Papabuddhi for his excellent idea due to which they had earned a good amount of money. He further told him, “We will share whatever we have earned equally.”
Papabuddhi’s crooked mind was at work already. He pretended to agree with Dharmabuddhi. Then, he said, “Dharma, if the people in the city come to know that we have earned a lot of money, there may be people who will trouble us for loans. So, I suggest that we find a spot in the woods, before we reach our village and bury the major portion of the money there and we will come later and take it”
Dharmabuddhi agreed with the idea and accordingly, and when they were nearing the village found a spot in the dense woods and dug a deep pit, counted and put the coins earned in two bags distributing them equally, keeping very less money with them.
Days passed and one day, Papabuddhi cunningly went to the woods and dug the place and took both the money bags to his house. In the evening, he went to Dharmabuddhi’s house on a usual friendly visit and invited him to come with him to the woods the next day as he needed some money.
The next day when both of them went to the spot and dug the pit there was nothing to be found as Papabuddhi had already taken away all the money.
Papabuddhi started yelling at Dharmabuddhi. “How dare you steal my bag of money huh? Do you not have any shame? Or one bit of gratitude that it was because of me that you were able to earn so much money? Where have you hidden my money? Give it to me right now!”
Dharmabuddhi was shell-shocked, not able to correlate anything that Papabuddhi was speaking. “Calm down, calm down my friend Papa. I am not able to understand how the bags disappeared” said he.
“Don’t pretend not to know anything Dharma!” said Papabuddhi. “You have gone before me and stolen my money too. Since only you and I know this matter and also the place where we buried the money, no one else could have stolen the money. Come on, tell me where the money is else we may have to call for a Panchayat” he said angrily. (Panchayat was the body consisting of the elders of the village and whenever there was a dispute it was presented before the Panchayat and their judgement and punishment was accepted by all parties concerned).
Dharmabuddhi was really in a state of utter disbelief. All the money gone? And stolen by him? What had happened? He was not able to figure out anything.
Papabuddhi would not let him think and went on ranting. “You are a thief. I believed you and spent my money and effort and this is what I get in return! Give me back my money bag or let’s go to the Panchayat”.
Dharmabuddhi did not know what to do but Papabuddhi insisted that he wanted this to be taken to the Panchayat and Dharmabuddhi was forced to agree.
Accordingly the Panchayat assembled under the huge Peepul tree in the village as was the usual custom and both Papabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi were asked to narrate their side of the dispute. Papabuddhi repeatedly accused Dharmabuddhi of stealing the money and Dharmabuddhi repeatedly pleaded ignorance.
The elders in the Panchayat were in a fix. They asked Papabuddhi, “Was there any evidence when the money was buried?” Papabuddhi immediately said, “Yes the there was a big tree with a hollow very near to the pit we dug and the Tree God would surely know the truth. So let’s go to the woods tomorrow and ask the Tree God” said he. The elders had to agree as this seemed the only way to find the truth.
The same day, Papabuddhi told his father of what had happened. He said, “If you want your son not to be punished, you will have to sit inside the hollow and reply when the elders ask questions. I shall take you early in the morning and help hide you in the hollow of the tree”.
The father, instead of condemning the wrong done by his son Papabuddhi, wilfully agreed to sit inside the hollow and pretend to be the Tree God. So, off they went early next morning before sunrise, so that no one would see them and Papabuddhi helped his father hide inside the hollow of the tree near the pit.
As the day dawned all the elders of the Panchayat and Dharmabuddhi assembled near the tree where the pit was said to have been dug and money hid and stolen. True. The tree had a very broad trunk and also had a huge hollow.
Papabuddhi explained to the elders about where they dug the pit and buried the money which had disappeared for which Dharmabuddhi was the suspect. He pointed to the tree and told the elders to ask the Tree God. The elders went nearer to the tree and the oldest member folded his hands and addressed the Tree God. “Oh Tree God!” said he. “Please tell us who came and took the money from this pit in front of you. Please O’ Tree God! Please guide us.”
There was silence for a while and then, an elderly voice sounded from the tree.
“It was Dharmabuddhi” said the voice. “He came and took all the money and I am the witness to that!”
The members of the Panchayat were shocked as every one of them had a high opinion about Dharmabuddhi and what the Tree God said was in stark contrast. They were all expressing their shock and talking vociferously to each other. They were so busy that they did not notice what Dharmabuddhi was doing.
Dharmabuddhi had collected lot of dry twigs and leaves and arranged it around the trunk of the tree and before anyone could notice, he set fire to it.
Just as the fire began to burn brightly, it caught the attention of the elders and they all looked with horror as the “Tree God” started yelling. And as they looked on, a figure jumped out of the hollow. “Ouch!” he cried as he stepped on a burning twig and went around hopping on one leg. His dhoti caught fire and then he was recognized by the people there and he collapsed.
“Hey that is Papabuddhi’s father!” exclaimed one.
“Yes, it is him. How come?” asked another.
They all guessed what could have happened and one of them rushed and caught hold of Papabuddhi and raised his hand to slap him.
“I am sorry, I am sorry! Please do not beat me!” cried Papabuddhi. “It was I who stole the money. It was I who told my father to hide in the hollow!”
All the others surrounded Papabuddhi as he confessed to his crime. The elders decided the harshest punishment for Papabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi’s money was rightfully restored to him.