A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Tag: river

Knowledge beyond books

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Guru of Swami Vivekananda often used little tales and stories to impart his teachings to his devotees. Earlier I have narrated another tale, ‘Gopal and the cow-herd’ narrated by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa which you can read here.

Another tale of his that I am going to narrate illustrates that mere bookish knowledge is not enough to survive in this world.

Once there was a very learned man (Pandit) in a village. He had learnt a lot of things like grammar, Upanishads, six philosophies of Sanskrit (Shad-Darshana), Astronomy etc. and was very proud of his knowledge. Whenever he got a chance, he never failed to show off his knowledge.

One day he had to cross the river to go to another village. It was monsoon time and the river was huge and very deep. Therefore it was necessary for the Pandit to travel by a boat. He got into a boat with five others and when the boat started to move, he struck a conversation with his neighbour.

“Where are you from, young man?” asked the Pandit.

“From the village across the river, sir” said the man.

“What do you do for a living?” the Pandit asked.

“I am a carpenter, sir. I make things from wood” said the man.

“Up to what level have you studied?”

“To a certain extent, sir” replied the man.

“Have you studied the Upanishads?” asked the Pandit.

“No. I have not even heard of that” said the man.

With a scornful smile the Pandit said “Well, if you have not, a quarter of your life has been wasted. Have you at least heard of Vyakarana (grammar)?”

The man shook his head. “No Panditji. I have never heard of that either”

“What? You do not know Vyakarana? Hmm. Then half of your life is gone” said the Pandit in a sarcastic tone. “Okay, tell me if you at least know that there is something called Shad-Darshana, the six philosophies”.

The man blinked and after few moments shook his head to indicate that he did not know what the Pandit was speaking about.

“Heh heh! You don’t know about this also? Then three fourths of your life is gone. Ha!” said the Pandit laughing mockingly.

Just then, a storm started to blow and the boat was twisting left and right, jumping up and down. All the passengers lost their balance and were struggling to sit on the seats. The boat-man tried to veer the boat to safety but the storm was much stronger and his efforts were in vain.

“All of you please be ready to swim to safety if the boat capsizes” announced the boat-man and all the passengers tied up their dhotis ready to jump into the river as the Pandit was watching in panic.

The carpenter, who the Pandit was mocking at earlier, looked at the Pandit and asked, “Panditji, do you know swimming?”

“N..No…No” said the Pandit in a voice filled with panic.

The carpenter said “Oh! So sad! If you don’t know swimming your whole life is gone!”

It was then that the Pandit realised that bookish knowledge is not everything in life.

Alas! It was too late by then.

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!”

The Lazy Donkey – A folk tale

This is a folk tale but I know not from which part of India.

Once upon a time, in ancient India, there lived a merchant Ramu, who had a donkey named Bhola. Ramu was a very kind fellow who took good care of Bhola. He fed him well with green grass everyday (which many donkey owners did not do), gave enough rest and saw that Bhola’s stable was neat and clean and always had a supply of fresh water. The work was also not much. Bhola had to make just two or three trips to and from the market every day, carrying the goods to market, sometimes bringing something back, but mostly with very light load.

Though Ramu was such a kind master, Bhola was a lazy donkey. Most of the time he would pretend to struggle with the weight, though it was much less than what he could actually carry, and he would pretend so well that Ramu would feel pity for him and feed him with some carrots.

During a particular season, it happened that Ramu was trading in salt and was continuously carrying sacks of salt to the market on Bhola’s back. On the way to the market, there was a rivulet and they had to cross it every day. There was a bridge, however Ramu chose to walk through the rivulet everyday as it saved time for him and the distance was shorter under the bridge. Moreover the water was a little above ankle level and it was not difficult to walk through.

This particular day, as usual, Ramu loaded a sackful of salt on Bhola’s back and was proceeding to the market. Bhola, as usual, with a grumpy face came trudging along pretending that the sack was too heavy.
Just a little while after they entered the rivulet and crossing it, there was a small rock on the river bed that Bhola tripped and “PACHAK” he fell sack and all in the water. It was a rude shock to him and Ramu, and by the time they stabilised themselves and Bhola got up on his four legs, and Ramu retrieved the sack from the water, lot of the salt had dissolved and the sack was lighter. Bhola was pleasantly surprised, but still pretended to be under pressure.

The next day, there was again salt to be carried and today, while crossing the rivulet, Bhola intentionally pretended tripping and fell down. Today also the weight became lesser.

“Aha” thought Bhola, “At last I have learnt to be smart and carry much less load than I can!! Master is foolish, he believes I am really not well and tripping and falling down!!” He smiled to himself in glee. He started doing it again and again for few days in a row.

But Ramu started thinking otherwise. “How can a donkey fall every day in the same place?” He also noticed the eagerness of Bhola to reach the rivulet fast. Finally, he understood that Bhola was doing this on purpose. He also realised that Bhola needed some punishment to get him rid of his attitude.

The next day, as usual, a sack was loaded on Bhola’s back and it was lighter than usual. Bhola was even happier. “As it is, it is light,” he thought. “After I fall down, it will be even lighter”. Chuckling to himself, he eagerly started his journey. When the ‘falling spot’ came, he fell down as usual. The sack did not sink quickly, like other days and sank slowly. Ramu was also not in a hurry to retrieve the sack. This puzzled Bhola.

Then, Ramu retrieved the sack and with great difficulty put it on Bhola’s back. The sack was not containing salt, but had been stuffed with cotton and cotton had absorbed lot of water.

To his horror, Bhola found the sack ten times heavier. Further, Ramu’s face was red with anger, something Bhola had never witnessed before. And to add to his woes, Ramu took out a stick which he had hidden on his back inside the shirt.

“Come on you donkey” he shouted as he gave a sharp beating with the stick. Bhola brayed in pain. Ramu had always addressed him by name and never had he wielded a stick. “Hmm.. move fast and if you still want to pretend, here is what you will get!” Saying so, he gave another blow with the stick.

Bhola was aghast at this rapid change but he learnt his lesson that laziness does not pay and one cannot deceive others for long…..

I need not say how Bhola behaved from the next day. Yes, he was one of the best donkeys.

Birbal Cooks Khichdi!

Once Emperor Akbar had gone on a hunting expedition. It was the peak winter season and late in the evening, Akbar wanted to have a wash, after a tiring day. He went to the nearby river and when he tried to take the water, it was ice cold. Akbar was very surprised that the water should be so chill that he could not bear it even for the few seconds when he put his hand in. He made a casual remark, saying, “I bet nobody would have a dip in this cold water even if I give them one thousand gold coins!!” Birbal, who was present there immediately retorted, “No Jahanpanah, I can bring you a person who will even stay chest deep in this cold water through the night for getting thousand gold coins. Money is very powerful!” Akbar looked at him amused, and asked him to bring the person, the next day to court.

Birbal, obeyed the order and the very next day, brought a young , but poor man, to the court and the Emperor asked him whether he would stand in the river bare bodied in chest deep water through the night, if he was given a thousand gold coins. The man nodded his head vigorously and said that he will do it the same night. Akbar ordered the man to be taken to the river along with two bodyguards and told the guards to keep a watch over him while he stood through the night bare bodied in chest deep water. The man was taken accordingly and he stood in the river shivering through the night but did not give up. As the sun came up in the morning, the man went home.

Later, in the day, eager to claim his award, the man came to the court to meet the Emperor. “Hmmm…. So.. you stayed in the cold water throughout the night huh?” thundered Akbar. “Yes, Jahanpanah” replied the man meekly, “I stood throughout the night in the water.”

“Did you not feel cold at all?”

“I did… Jahanpanah.”

“How did you spend the night without sleeping?”

“Jahanpanah, there was a street light two hundred metres away and I kept staring at it to keep myself awake…”

“Well, you have earned your reward” said Akbar and called his minister to get the bag of gold coins as promised.

Just then, a voice was heard, “Salaam Jahanpanah! ” The voice belonged to one of the courtiers who was always jealous of people who got rewards from the king. “Excuse me” he continued. “Your Highness is an epitome of justice and your judgement is always impeccable, but now….”

Akbar looked at him questioningly. The man continued “ This man has already admitted that he was staring at the street light throughout the night and is it not possible that he grasped the warmth of the light ? Then how could he claim that he spent the entire night freezing in the cold water?”

Akbar considered this view point and shrugged his shoulders. “ It seems what my courtier says may be true. I don’t think I can give this reward to you.” The poor man face fell as he heard the words of the Emperor . He stood sadly for a moment and left the palace, without a word, his face really downcast. Birbal, was watching the entire proceedings and was shocked by this behaviour of Akbar and he also knew about the attitude of the courtier. He mentally made up his mind to see that justice was done to the poor man, but left the court silently.

A few days later, Birbal was absent in the court. He had assiduously sent word to the King that he would come to the court after he finished cooking Khichdi which he had started that morning. The next two days also, he was absent and word came that the “Khichdi was not cooked yet.” Akbar was curious and knew that this was not an ordinary matter.

So, the next day, accompanied by the courtiers, he paid a surprise visit to Birbal’s house. He was told that Birbal was cooking Khichdi in the garden behind the house. “Strange” thought Akbar as he walked to the garden. The sight he saw there was even more strange. Birbal has planted two long poles which were connected with a rope and in the middle of the rope hung a pot and Birbal was stirring its contents standing on a high stool, with a look of impatience on his face. There was a small oil lamp on the ground beneath the pot and the distance between the lamp and the pot was approximately two metres.

Akbar and his courtiers were genuinely amused, and Akbar asked “ Birbal, What is this I hear? I was told you were cooking Khichdi and…” Before the King could complete, pat came the reply, “Yes Jahanpanah, I am cooking Khichdi for the past four days and this stupid thing is not getting cooked yet!” Akbar asked, “But Birbal, how can the food get cooked at such a height with such a small flame?” “It is not that much of a distance Jahanpanah”, said Birbal, “When a man can get warmth from a lamp two hundred metres away, there should be no problem for the heat to reach this small pot from a small distance of two metres.”

Akbar immediately saw Birbal’s point and said “Well done Birbal, I see your logic and I shall summon the poor man today itself and give him the reward he earned.”

The poor man was very thankful to Birbal and once again, Birbal proved himself to be witty as well as just.

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