The Lost Camel and Other Tales

First Part

There was a city called Alakapuri, famous for all the riches that sea and land can yield, and inhabited by people speaking different languages. In that city reigned a king named Alakesa, who was a storehouse of all excellent qualities. He was so just a king that during his reign the cow and the tiger amicably quenched their thirst side by side in the same pond, the cats and the rats sported in one and the same spot, and the kite and the parrot laid their eggs in the same nest, as though they were “birds of a feather.”The women never deviated from the path of virtue, and regarded their husbands as gods. Timely rain refreshed the soil, and all Alakesa’s subjects lived in plenty and happiness. In short, Alakesa was the body, and his subjects the soul of that body, for he was upright in all things.

Now there was in Alakapuri a rich merchant who lost a camel one day. He searched for it without success in all directions, and at last reached a road which he was informed led to another city, called Mathurapuri, the king of which was named Mathuresa. He had under him four excellent ministers, whose names were Bodhaditya, Bodhachandra, Bodhavyapaka, and Bodhavibhishana. These four ministers, being, for some reason, displeased with the king, quitted his dominions, and set out for another country. As they journeyed along they observed the track of a camel, and each made a remark on the peculiar condition of the animal, judging from the footsteps and other indications on the road.

Presently they met the merchant who was searching for his camel, and, entering into conversation with him, one of the travellers inquired if the animal was not lame in one of its legs; another asked if it was not blind of the right eye; the third asked if its tail was not unusually short; and the fourth inquired if it was not suffering from colic. They were all answered in the affirmative by the merchant, who was convinced that they must have seen the animal, and eagerly demanded where they had seen it. They replied that they had seen traces of the camel, but not the camel itself, which being inconsistent with the minute description they had given of it, the merchant accused them of having stolen the beast, and immediately applied to king Alakesa for redress.

On hearing the merchant’s story, the king was equally impressed with the belief that the travellers must know what had become of the camel, and sending for them threatened them with his displeasure if they did not confess the truth. How could they know, he demanded, that the camel was lame or blind, or whether the tail was long or short, or that it was suffering from any malady, unless they had it in their possession? In reply, they each explained the reasons which had induced them to express their belief in these particulars. The first traveller said:—

“I noticed in the footmarks of the animal that one was deficient, and I concluded accordingly that it was lame of one of its legs.”

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The second said:—“I noticed that the leaves of the trees on the left side of the road had been snapped or torn off, whilst those on the right side were untouched, whence I concluded that the animal was blind of his right eye.”

The third said:—“I saw some drops of blood on the road, which I conjectured had flowed from the bites of gnats or flies, and I thence concluded that the camel’s tail was shorter than usual, in consequence of which he could not brush the insects away.”

The fourth said:—“I observed that while the forefeet of the animal were planted firmly on the ground the hind ones appeared to have scarcely touched it, whence I guessed that they were contracted by pain in the belly of the animal.”

When the king heard their explanation he was much struck by the sagacity of the travellers, and giving 500 pagodas to the merchant who had lost the camel; he made the four young men his principal ministers, and bestowed on each of them several villages as free gifts.

1. The Three Calamities

From that time these four young men became the confidential advisers of king Alakesa in all important affairs of state, and, as night is the house of sins, they in turn kept a regular watch in the city of Alakapuri, each patrolling the streets during three hours of the night. Thus they continued to faithfully serve king Alakesa, till one night, the First Minister, when his watch was over, proceeded as usual, to see whether the royal bedchamber was properly guarded; after which he went to the temple of the goddess Kâlî, where he heard what seemed to him the voice of a woman, lamenting and sobbing in great distress. Concealing himself behind the vad-tree of the temple, he called out:—

“Who are you, poor woman? and why do you thus weep?”

At once the cries ceased, and a voice from the temple inquired:—

“Who art thou that thus questionest me?”

Then the minister knew that it was Kâlî herself who wept; so he threw himself on the ground, and, rising up, exclaimed:—

“O, my mother!—Kâlî!—Sambhavi!—Mahamayi! Why should you thus weep?” quoth Kâlî.

“What is the use of my revealing it to thee? Canst thou render any assistance?”

The minister said that, if he had but her favour, there was nothing he could not do. Then the goddess told him that a calamity was about to come upon the king, and fearing that such a good monarch was soon to disappear from the world, she wept.

The thought of such a misfortune caused the minister to tremble; he fell down before the goddess, and with tears streaming from his eyes besought her to save him. Kâlî was much gratified to observe his devotion to his master, and thus addressed him:—

“Know, then, that your king will be in danger of three calamities to-morrow, any one of which will be sufficient to cause his death. First of all, early in the morning, there will come to the palace several carts containing newly-reaped paddy grains. The king will be delighted at this, and immediately order a measure of the paddy to be shelled and cooked for his morning meal. Now, the field in which that paddy grew is the abode of serpents, two of which were fighting together one day, when they emitted poison, which has permeated those grains. Therefore, the morning meal of your king will contain poison, but only in the first handful will it take effect and he will die. Should he escape, another calamity is in store for him at noon. The king of Vijayanagara will send to-morrow some baskets of sweetmeats; in the first basket he has concealed arrows. King Alakesa, suspecting no treachery, will order the first basket to be opened in his presence, and will meet his death by that device. And even should he escape this second calamity, a third will put an end to his life to-morrow night. A deadly serpent will descend into his bed room, by means of the chain of his hanging bed, and bite him. But, should he be saved from this last misfortune, Alakesa will live long and prosperously, till he attains the age of a hundred and twenty years.”

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Thus spake Kâlî, in tones of sorrow, for she feared that the king would lose his life by one of these three calamities. The Minister prostrated himself on the ground, and said that if the goddess would grant him her favour he was confident he could contrive to avert all the threatened evils from the king. Kâlî smiled and disappeared; and the Minister, taking her kind smile as a token of her favour, returned home and slept soundly.

As soon as morning dawned, the First Minister arose, and having made the customary ablutions, proceeded to the palace. He took care to reveal to no one the important secret communicated to him by the goddess—not even to his three colleagues. The sun was not yet two ghaṭikâs(an Indian hour = 24 min.) above the horizon when several carts containing the finest paddy grains, specially selected for the king’s use, came into the courtyard of the palace. Alakesa was present, and ordered a measure of it to be at once shelled and cooked. The coming in of the carts and the king’s order so exactly coincided with Kâlî’s words that the Minister began to fear that he was quite unequal to the task of averting the fatality; yet the recollection of the smile of the goddess inspired him with fresh resolution, and he at once went to the palace-kitchen and requested the servants to inform him when the king was about to go to dinner. After issuing orders for the storing of the grain, king Alakesa retired to perform his morning ablutions and other religious duties.

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Meanwhile a carriage containing the jars of sweetmeats sent by the king of Vijayanagara drove up to the palace, and the emissary who accompanied the present, told the royal servants that his master had commanded him to deliver it to king Alakesa in person. The First Minister well understood the meaning of this, and, promising to bring the king, went into the palace, caused one of the servants to be dressed like Alakesa, and conducted him to the carriage. The officer of the Vijayanagara king placed the first jar before the supposed Alakesa, who at once opened it, when lo! there darted forth several arrows, one of which pierced his heart, and he fell dead on the spot. In an instant the emissary was seized and bound, and the officers began to lament the death of their good king. But the fatal occurrence spread rapidly through the palace, and soon the real Alakesa made his appearance on the scene. The officers now beheld one Alakesa dead and fallen to the ground, pierced by the arrow, and another standing there alive and well. The First Minister then related how, suspecting treachery, he brought out a servant of the palace dressed like the king, and how he had been slain in place of his royal master. Alakesa thanked the Minister for having so ingeniously saved his life, and went into the palace. Thus was one of the three calamities to the king averted by the faithful Bodhaditya.

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When it was the hour for dinner, the king and his courtiers all sat down, with the exception of the First Minister, who remained standing, without having taken a leaf for his own use. The king, observing this, with a smile pointed out a leaf to him, but Bodhaditya would not sit; he wished to be near the king and to abstain from eating on that occasion. So the king allowed him to have his own way. The food having been served on the leaves, the hands of all, including the king, were mingling the rice, ghî, and dhâl for the first course. Near the king stood his faithful Minister Bodhaditya, and, when the king raised the first handful to his mouth, “Stop, my master,” cried he, “I have long hoped for this handful as a present to me from your royal hands. I pray you give it to me, and feast upon the rest of the rice on your leaf.”

This was uttered more in a tone of command than of request, and the king was highly incensed at what he naturally considered as insolence on the part of the Minister. For such a request, especially when made to a king, is deemed nothing less than an insult, while to refuse it is equally offensive. So, whatever thoughts may have passed through Alakesa’s mind, recollecting how the Minister had that morning saved his life, he gave him the handful of rice, which Bodhaditya received with delight, feeling grateful for the favour of the goddess in being the means of averting this second calamity.

Far different, however, were the sentiments of the king and the assembled company. One and all declared Bodhaditya to be an insolent, proud fellow; but the king, while secretly blaming himself for having allowed him to use so much familiarity, suppressed his anger, in consideration of the important service the Minister had rendered him.

On the approach of night the heart of the First Minister throbbed violently, for the third calamity predicted by the goddess was yet to be encountered. His watch being ended, before retiring to rest, he went to examine the royal bedroom, where he saw the light burning brightly, and the king and queen asleep side by side in the ornamented swing cot, which was suspended from the roof by four chains. Presently, he perceived, with horror, a fierce black snake, the smell of which is enough to kill a man, slowly gliding down the chain near the head of the queen. The Minister noiselessly went forward, and with a single stroke of his sharp sword, cut the venomous brute in two. Bodhaditya, to avoid disturbing any person at such an hour of the night, threw the pieces over the canopy of the bed, rejoicing at having thus averted the third and last calamity. But a fresh horror then met his eyes; a drop of the snake’s poison had fallen on the bosom of the queen, which was exposed in the carelessness of slumber.

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“Alas, sacred goddess,” he muttered, “why do you thus raise up new obstacles in my efforts to avert the evil which you predicted? I have done what I could to save the king, and in this last attempt I have killed his beloved queen. What shall I do?”

Having thus briefly reflected, he wiped off the poison from the queen’s bosom with the tip of his little finger, and, lest the contact of the venom with his finger should endanger his own life, he cut the tip of it off and threw it on the canopy. Just then the queen awoke, and perceiving a man hastily leaving the room, she cried: “Who are you?”

The Minister respectfully answered: “Most venerable mother! I am your son, Bodhaditya,” and at once retired.

Upon this the queen thought within herself: “Alas! is there such a thing as a good man in the world? Hitherto I have regarded this Bodhaditya as my son; but now he has basely taken the opportunity of thus disgracing me when my lord and I were sound asleep. I shall inform the king of this, and have that wretch’s head struck off before the morning.”

Accordingly she gently awakened the king, and with tears trickling down her beauteous face, she told him what had occurred, and concluded with these words:—“Till now, my lord, I considered that I was wife to you alone; but this night your First Minister has made me doubt it, since to my question, ‘Who are you?’ he answered, without any shame, ‘I am Bodhaditya,’ and went away.”

On hearing of this violation of the sanctity of his bedchamber, Alakesa was greatly enraged, and determined to put to death such an unprincipled servant, but first to communicate the affair to his three other Ministers.

Second Part

When the Second Minister’s watch was over, he went to inspect the guard at the royal bedchamber, and Alakesa hearing his footsteps inquired who was there.

“Your servant, Bodhachandra, most royal lord,” was the reply.

“Enter, Bodhachandra,” said the king; “I have somewhat to communicate to you.”

Then Alakesa, almost choking with rage, told him of the gross offence of which his colleague the First Minister had been guilty, and demanded to know whether any punishment could be too severe. Bodhachandra humbled himself before the king, and thus replied—

“My lord, such a crime merits a heavy requital. Can one tie up fire in one’s cloth and think that as it is but a small spark it will do us no harm? How, then, can we excuse even slight deviations from the rules of propriety? Therefore, if Bodhaditya be really guilty, he must be signally punished. But permit me to represent to your Majesty the advisability of carefully inquiring into this matter before proceeding to judgment. We ought to ascertain what reasons he had for such a breach of the harem rules; for should we, carried away by anger, act rashly in this affair, we may repent when repentance is of no avail. As an example, I shall, with your Majesty’s permission relate a story.” The king having at once given his consent, the Second Minister began to relate the Story of the Honest but Rash Hunter and His Faithful Dog.

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2. The Honest but Rash Hunter and His Faithful Dog

There dwelt in a certain forest a hunter named Ugravira, who was lord of the woods, and as such, had to pay a fixed sum of money to the king of the country. It happened once that the king unexpectedly demanded of him one thousand five hundred pons. The hunter sold all his property and realised only a thousand pons, and was perplexed how to procure the rest of the required amount. At length he bethought him of his dog, which was of the best kind, and was beloved by him more than anything else in the whole world. He took his dog to an adjacent city, where he pledged him to a merchant named Kubera for five hundred pons, at the same time giving the merchant his bond for the loan. Before going away, the hunter with tears in his eyes, thus addressed the intelligent animal:—

“Mrigasimha, [i.e., lion among beasts] O my faithful friend, do not leave thy new master until I have paid him back the money I have borrowed of him. Obey and serve him, even as thou hast ever obeyed and served me.”

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Some time after this, the merchant Kubera had to leave home and proceed with his merchandise to foreign countries: so he called the hunter’s dog to his side, and bade him watch at his doors and prevent the intrusion of robbers and other evil-disposed persons. The dog indicated, both by his eyes and his tail, that he perfectly understood his instructions. Then the merchant, having enjoined his wife to feed the dog three times every day with rice and milk, set out on his travels. The dog kept his watch outside the house, and for a few days the merchant’s wife fed him regularly three times a day. But this kind treatment was not to continue. She had for her paramour a wicked youth of the Setti caste, who, soon after the departure of Kubera, became a constant visitor at the merchant’s house. The faithful dog instinctively surmised that his new master would not approve of such conduct; so one night, when the youth was leaving the house, Mrigasimha sprang upon him like an enraged lion, and seizing him by the throat, sent the evildoer to the other world. The merchant’s wife hearing the scuffle, ran to the spot to save her lover, but found him dead.

Though extremely grieved at the loss of her paramour, she had the presence of mind to immediately carry the body to the garden at the back of the house, where she concealed it in a great pit, and covered it with earth and leaves, vainly thinking that she had thus concealed her own shame. All this was not done, however, without being observed by the watchful dog; and, henceforward, the merchant’s wife hated him with a deadly hatred. She no longer gave him food, and the poor creature was fain to eat such grains of rice as he found adhering to the leaves thrown out of the house after meals, still keeping guard at the door.

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After an absence of two months the merchant returned, and the dog, the moment he saw him, ran up to him and rolled himself on the ground at his feet; then seizing the merchant’s cloth he dragged him to the very spot in the garden where the youth’s body was hidden, and began to scratch the ground, at the same time looking into the merchant’s face and howling dismally, from which Kubera concluded that the dog wished him to examine the place. Accordingly he dug up the spot and discovered the body of the youth, whom, indeed, he had suspected of being his wife’s paramour. In a great fury he rushed into the house and commanded his wife, on pain of instant death, to relate the particulars of this affair without concealing anything. The wretched woman, seeing that her sin was discovered, confessed all, upon which her husband exclaimed!—

“Disgrace of womankind! you have not a fraction of the virtue possessed by this faithful brute, which you have, out of revenge, allowed to starve. But why should I waste words on thee? Happy am I in having no children by thee! Depart, and let me see thy face no more.” So saying, he thrust her out of the house. Then the merchant fed the dog with milk, rice and sugar, after which he said to that lion of beasts (Mrigasimha, as he was called)—

“Thou trusty friend, language fails to express my gratitude to thee. The five hundred pons which I lent thy old master the hunter are as nothing compared with thy services to me, by which I consider the debt as more than paid. What must be the feelings of the hunter without thy companionship? I now give thee leave to return to him.”

The merchant took the hunter’s bond, and tearing it slightly at the top as a token that it was cancelled, he placed it in the dog’s mouth and sent him back to his former master, and he at once set off towards the forest.

Now by this time the hunter had contrived to save up the five hundred pons, and with the money and the interest due thereon, he was going to the merchant to redeem his bond and reclaim his dog. To his great surprise he met Mrigasimha on the way, and as soon as the dog perceived him he ran up to him to receive his caresses. But the hunter immediately concluded that the poor brute, in his eagerness to rejoin him, had run away from the merchant, and determined to put him to death. Accordingly he plucked a creeper, and fastening it round the dog’s neck tied him to a branch of a tree, and the faithful creature, who was expecting nothing but kindness from his old master, was by him most cruelly strangled. The hunter then continued his journey, and, on reaching the merchant’s house, he laid down the money before him.

“My dear friend,” said Kubera, “the important service your dog rendered me in killing my wife’s paramour, has amply repaid your debt, so I gave him permission to return to you, with your bond in his mouth. Did you not meet him on your way? But why do you look so horrified? What have you done to the dog?”

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The hunter, to whom everything was now only too clear, threw himself on the ground, like a huge tree cut at the root, and, after telling Kubera how he had inconsiderately slain the faithful dog, stabbed himself with his dagger. The merchant grieved at the death both of the dog and the hunter, which would not have occurred had he waited until Ugravira came to redeem his bond, snatched the weapon out of the hunter’s breast and also stabbed himself. The news of this tragedy soon reached the forest, and the wife of the hunter, not wishing to survive her lord, threw herself into a well and was drowned. Lastly, even the wife of the merchant, finding that so many fatalities were due to her own misconduct, and that she was despised by the very children in the streets, put an end to her wretched life.

“Thus,” added the Second Minister, “five lives were lost in consequence of the hunter’s rashness. Wherefore I would respectfully beseech your Majesty to investigate the case of Bodhaditya, and to refrain from acting merely under the influence of anger.”

Having thus spoken, Bodhachandra obtained leave to retire to his own house.

Third Part

At the end of the third watch of the night, Bodhavyapaka, the Third Minister of king Alakesa, went to see whether the royal bedchamber was properly guarded, and the king, summoning him to his presence, told him of the First Minister’s crime, upon which Bodhavyapaka, after making due obeisance, thus spake:—

“Most noble king, such a grave crime should be severely punished, but it behoves us not to act before having ascertained that he is guilty beyond doubt, for evil are the consequences of precipitation, in proof of which I know a story which I will relate, with your Majesty’s leave.”

3. The Brâhmaṇ’s Wife and the Mungoose

On the banks of the Ganges, which also flows by the most holy city of Banaras, there is a town named Mithila, where dwelt a very poor Brâhmaṇ called Vidyadhara. He had no children, and to compensate for this want, he and his wife tenderly nourished in their house a mungoose—a species of weasel. It was their all in all—their younger son, their elder daughter—their elder son, their younger daughter, so fondly did they regard that little creature. The god Visvesvara and his spouse Visalakshi observed this, and had pity for the unhappy pair; so by their divine power they blessed them with a son. This most welcome addition to their family did not alienate the affections of the Brâhmaṇ and his wife from the mungoose; on the contrary, their attachment increased, for they believed that it was because of their having adopted the pet that a son had been born to them. So the child and the mungoose were brought up together, as twin brothers, in the same cradle.

It happened one day when the Brâhmaṇ had gone out to beg alms of the pious and charitable, that his wife went into the garden to cull some pot-herbs, leaving the child asleep in his cradle, and by his side the mungoose kept guard. An old serpent, which was living in the well in the garden, crept into the house and under the cradle, and was beginning to climb into it to bite the child when the mungoose fiercely attacked it and tore it into several pieces, thus saving the life of the Brâhmaṇ’s little son, and the venomous snake, that came to slay, itself lay dead beneath the cradle.

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Pleased at having performed such an exploit, the mungoose ran into the garden to show the Brâhmaṇ’s wife its blood-smeared mouth, but she rashly mistook the deliverer of her child for his destroyer, and with one stroke of the knife in her hand with which she was cutting herbs she killed the faithful creature, and then hastened into the house to see her dead son. But there she found the child in his cradle alive and well, only crying at the absence of his little companion, the mungoose, and under the cradle lay the great serpent cut to pieces. The real state of affairs was now evident, and the Brâhmaṇ presently returning home, his wife told him of her rash act and then put an end to her life. The Brâhmaṇ, in his turn, disconsolate at the death of the mungoose and his wife, first slew his child and then killed himself.

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“And thus,” added the Third Minister, “by one rash act four creatures perished, so true is it that precipitation results in a series of calamities. Do not, then, condemn Bodhaditya before his guilt is clearly proved.” Alakesa, having given Bodhachandra the signal to retire, he quitted the presence and went home.

When the watch of the Fourth Minister, Bodhavibhishana, was terminated, he visited the private apartments of the king (who had been meanwhile pondering over the stories he had heard), and was called into the sleeping chamber by Alakesa, and informed of his colleague’s unpardonable offence. The Minister, after due prostration, thus addressed his royal master:—

“Great king, I can scarcely bring myself to believe that Bodhaditya could ever be guilty of such a crime, and I would respectfully remind your Majesty that it would not be consistent with your world-wide reputation for wisdom and justice were you to pronounce judgment in this case without having inquired into all the circumstances. Evil and injustice result from hasty decisions and actions, of which a striking illustration is furnished in the Story of the Faithless Wife and the Ungrateful Blind Man.

4. The Faithless Wife and the Ungrateful Blind Man

In the town of Mithila there lived a young Brâhmaṇ who, having had a quarrel with his father-in-law, set out on a pilgrimage to Banaras. Going through a forest he met a blind man, whose wife was leading him by means of a stick, one end of which she held in her hand, and her husband holding the other end was following her. She was young and fair of face, and the pilgrim made signs to her that she should go with him and leave her blind husband behind. The proposal thus signified pleased this wanton woman, so she bade her husband sit under a tree for a few minutes while she went and plucked him a ripe mango. The blind man sat down accordingly, and his wife went away with the Brâhmaṇ. After waiting a long time in expectation of his wife’s return, and no person coming near him, (for it was an unfrequented place), her infidelity became painfully apparent to him, and he bitterly cursed both her and the villain who had enticed her away from him. For six days he remained at the foot of the tree, in woeful condition, without a morsel of rice or a drop of water, and he was well nigh dead, when at length he heard the sound of footsteps near him, and cried faintly for help. A man of the Setti caste and his wife came up to him, and inquired how he happened to be in such a plight. The blind man told them how his wife had deserted him, and gone away with a young Brâhmaṇ whom they had met, leaving him there alone and helpless. His story excited the compassion of the Setti and his wife. They gave him to eat of the small quantity of rice they had with them, and, having supplied him with water to quench his thirst, the Setti bade his wife lead him with his stick. The woman, though somewhat reluctant to walk thus in company with a man who was not her husband, yet, reflecting that charitable actions ought never to be left undone, complied with her lord’s request, and began to lead the blind man. After travelling in this manner for a day, the three reached a town, and took up their abode for the night in the house of a friend of the Setti, where the latter and his wife gave the blind man a share of their rice before tasting a morsel themselves. At daybreak the next morning they advised him to try to provide for himself in some way in that town, and prepared to resume their journey. But the blind man, forgetting all the kindness they had shown him, began to raise an alarm, crying out:—

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“Is there no king in this city to protect me and give me my rights? Here is a Setti rascal taking away my wife with him! As I am blind, she denies that I am her husband, and follows that rogue! But will not the king give me justice?”

The people in the street at once reported these words to the king, who caused inquiry to be made into the matter. The fact of the Setti’s wife having led the blind man, seemed to indicate that the latter, and not the Setti, was the woman’s husband, and foolishly concluded that both the Setti and his wife were the real criminals. Accordingly he sentenced the Setti to the gallows, because he attempted to entice away a married woman, and his wife to be burnt in the kiln, as she wished to forsake her husband, and he a blind man. When these sentences were pronounced the blind man was thunder-struck. The thought that by a deliberate lie he had caused the death of two innocent persons now stung him to the heart. By this lie he expected that the Setti only should be punished, and that his wife would be made over to him as his own wife, but now he found she also was condemned to death.

“Vile wretch that I am!” said he; “I do not know what sins I committed in my former life to be thus blind now. My real wife, too, deserted me; and I, heaping sins upon sins, have now by a false report sent to death an innocent man and his wife, who rescued me from a horrible fate and tended to all my wants last night. O, Mahêśvara! what punishment you have in reserve for me I know not.”

This soliloquy, being overheard by some by-standers, was communicated to the king, who bitterly reproaching himself for having acted so rashly, at once released the good Setti and his wife, and caused the ungrateful blind man to be burnt in the kiln.

“Thus, you see, my lord,” added the fourth Minister, “how nearly that king had plunged himself into a gulf of crime by his rashness. Therefore, my most noble king, I would respectfully and humbly request you to consider well the case of Bodhaditya, and punish him severely if he be found really guilty.”

Fourth Part

The night was now over: darkness, the harbourer of vice, fled away; the day dawned. King Alakesa left his bedchamber, bathed and made his religious ablutions, and, after breakfasting, summoned a council of all his father’s old ministers and advisers. Alakesa took his seat in the midst of the assembly; anger was clearly visible in his countenance; his eyes had lost their natural expression and had turned very red; his breath was as hot as that of a furnace. He thus addressed them:—

“Know ye all, the ministers of my father and of myself, that last night, during the first watch, my First Minister, Bodhaditya, while I and my queen were asleep in our chamber, came and touched with his finger the bosom of my queen. Consider well the gravity of this crime, and express your opinions as to what punishment he merits.”

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Thus spake king Alakesa, but all the ministers, not knowing what answer to return, hung down their heads in silence. Among those present was an aged minister named Manuniti, who called Bodhaditya to his side and privately learned the whole story. He then humbly bowed before the king, and thus spake:—

“Most noble king, men are not always all-wise, and, before replying to your Majesty’s question, I beg permission to relate in your presence the story of a king in whose reign a certain benevolent action was repaid with disgrace and ignominy:—

5. The Wonderful Mango Fruit

On the banks of the Kâvêrî there was a city called Tiruvidaimarudur, where ruled a king named Chakraditya. In that city there lived a poor Brâhmaṇ and his wife, who, having no children, brought up in their house a young parrot as tenderly as if it had been their own offspring. One day the parrot was sitting on the roof of the house, basking itself in the morning sun, when a large flock of parrots flew past, talking to each other about certain mango fruits. The Brâhmaṇ’s parrot asked them what were the peculiar properties of those fruits, and was informed that beyond the seven oceans there was a great mango tree, the fruit of which gave perpetual youth to the person who ate of it, however old and infirm he might be. On hearing of this wonder the Brâhmaṇ’s parrot requested permission to accompany them, which being granted, they all continued their flight. When at length they arrived at the mango tree, all ate of its fruit; but the Brâhmaṇ’s parrot reflected:—

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“It would not be right for me to eat this fruit; I am young, while my adopted parents, the poor Brâhmaṇ and his wife are very old. So I shall give them this fruit, and they will become young and blooming by eating it.”

And that same evening the good parrot brought the fruit to the Brâhmaṇ, and explained to him its extraordinary properties. But the Brâhmaṇ thought within himself:—

“I am a beggar. What matters it if I become young and live for ever, or else die this very moment? Our king is very good and charitable. If such a great man should eat of this fruit and renew his youth, he would confer the greatest benefit on mankind. Therefore I will give this mango to our good king.”

In pursuance of this self-denying resolution, the poor Brâhmaṇ proceeded to the palace and presented the fruit to the king, at the same time relating how he had obtained it and its qualities. The king richly rewarded the Brâhmaṇ for his gift, and sent him away. Then he began to reflect thus:—

“Here is a fruit which can bestow perpetual youth on the person who eats it. I should gain this great boon for myself alone, and what happiness could I expect under such circumstances unless shared by my friends and subjects? I shall therefore not eat this mango-fruit, but plant it carefully in my garden, and it will in time become a tree, which will bear much fruit having the same wonderful virtue, and my subjects shall, every one, eat of the fruit, and, with myself, be endowed with everlasting youth.”

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So, calling his gardener, the king gave him the fruit, and he planted it in the royal presence. In due course of time the fruit grew into a fine tree, and during the spring season it began to bud and blossom and bear fruit. The king, having fixed upon an auspicious day for cutting one of the mango-fruits, gave it to his domestic chaplain, who was ninety years old, in order that his youth should be renewed. But no sooner had the priest tasted it than he fell down dead. At this unexpected calamity the king was both astonished and deeply grieved. When the old priest’s wife heard of her husband’s sudden death she came and prayed the king to allow her to perform sati with him on the same funeral pyre, which increased the king’s sorrow; but he gave her the desired permission, and himself superintended all the ceremonies of the cremation. King Chakraditya then sent for the poor Brâhmaṇ, and demanded of him how he had dared to present a poisonous fruit to his king. The Brâhmaṇ replied:—

“My lord, I brought up a young parrot in my house, in order to console me for having no son. That parrot brought me the fruit one day, and told me of its wonderful properties. Believing that the parrot spoke the truth, I presented it to your Majesty, never for a moment suspecting it to be poisonous.”

The king listened to the poor Brâhmaṇ’s words, but thought that the poor priest’s death should be avenged. So he consulted his ministers who recommended, as a slight punishment, that the Brâhmaṇ should be deprived of his left eye. This was done accordingly, and, on his return home, when his wife saw his condition, she asked the reason of such mutilation.

“My dear,” said she, “the parrot we have fostered so tenderly is the cause of this.”

And they resolved to break the neck of the treacherous bird. But the parrot, having overheard their conversation, thus addressed them:—

“My kind foster parents, everyone must be rewarded for the good actions or punished for the evil deeds of his previous life. I brought you the fruit with a good intention, but my sins in my former life have given it a different effect. Therefore I pray you to kill me and bury me with a little milk in a pit. And, after my funeral ceremony is over, I request you to undertake a pilgrimage to Banaras to expiate your own sins.”

So the old Brâhmaṇ and his wife killed their pet parrot and buried it as directed, after which, overcome with grief, they set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy City.

Meanwhile the king commanded his gardener to set guards over the poison-tree, and to allow no one to eat of its fruit; and all the inhabitants soon came to know that the king had a mango tree in his garden, the fruit of which was deadly poison. Now, there was in the city an old washerwoman, who had frequent quarrels with her daughter-in-law, and one day, being weary of life, she left the house, threatening to eat of the poison tree and die.

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The young parrot who was killed for having brought the poisonous mango-fruit was re-born as a green parrot, and was waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate the harmless nature of the tree; and when he saw the old woman approach with a determination to put an end to her life by eating of its fruit, he plucked one with his beak and dropped it down before her. The old woman rejoiced that fate sanctioned her death, and greedily ate the fruit, when lo! instead of dying she became young and blooming again. Those who had seen her leave the house a woman over sixty years of age were astonished on seeing her return as a handsome girl of sixteen and learning that the wonderful transformation was caused by the supposed poisonous mango-tree.

The strange news soon reached the king, who, in order to test the tree still further, ordered another fruit of it to be brought and gave it to a goldsmith of more than ninety years of age, who had embezzled some gold which had been entrusted to him to make into ornaments for the ladies of the palace, and was on that account undergoing imprisonment. When he had eaten the fruit, he, in his turn, became a young man of sixteen. The king was now convinced that the fruit of the mango-tree, so far from being poisonous, had the power of converting decrepit age into lusty and perennial youth. But how had the old priest died by eating of it?

It was by a mere accident. One day a huge serpent was sleeping on a branch of the mango-tree, and its head hung over one of the fruit; poison dropped from its mouth and fell on the rind of that fruit; the gardener, who had no knowledge of this, when asked to bring a fruit for the priest, happened to bring the one on which the poison had fallen, and the priest having eaten it, died.

And now the king caused proclamation to be made throughout his kingdom that all who pleased might come and partake of the mango-fruit, and everyone ate of it and became young. But king Chakaraditya’s heart burnt within him at the remembrance of his ill-treatment of the poor Brâhmaṇ, who had returned with his wife from Banaras. So he sent for him, explained his mistake, and gave him a fruit to eat, which, having tasted, the aged Brâhmaṇ became young and his eye was also restored to him. But the greatest loss of all, that of the parrot who brought the fruit from beyond the seven oceans, remained irreparable.

Fifth Part

When Manuniti had concluded his story of the wonderful mango-fruit, king Alakesa ordered his four ministers to approach the throne, and then, with an angry countenance he thus addressed Bodhaditya:—

“What excuse have you for entering my bedchamber without permission, thus violating the rules of the harem?”

Bodhaditya humbly begged leave to relate to his majesty a story of how a Brâhmaṇ fed a hungry traveller and had afterwards to endure the infamy of having caused that traveller’s death, and on king Alakesa signifying his consent, he thus began:—

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6. The Poisoned Food

There was a city called Vijayanagara, to the north of which flowed a small river with mango topes(clumps of trees) on both banks. One day a young Brâhmiṇ pilgrim came and sat down to rest by the side of the stream, and, finding the place very cool and shady, he resolved to bathe, perform his religious ablutions, and make his dinner off the rice which he carried tied up in a bundle.

Three days before there had come to the same spot an old Brâhmiṇ whose years numbered more than three score and ten; he had quarrelled with his family, and had fled from his house to die. Since he had reached that place he had tasted no food, and the young pilgrim found him lying in a pitiable state, and placed near him a portion of his rice. The old man arose, and proceeded to the rivulet in order to wash his feet and hands, and pronounce a holy incantation or two before tasting the food.

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While thus engaged a kite, carrying in its beak a huge serpent, alighted upon the tree at the foot of which was the rice given by the pilgrim to the old man, and while the bird was feasting on the serpent some of its poison dropped on the rice, and the old Brâhmiṇ, in his hunger, did not observe it on his return; he greedily devoured some of the rice, and instantly fell down dead.

The young pilgrim, seeing him prostrate on the ground, ran to help him, but found that life was gone; and concluding that the old man’s hasty eating after his three days’ fast must have caused his death, and being unwilling to leave his corpse to be devoured by kites and jackals, he determined to cremate it before resuming his journey. With this object he ran to the neighbouring village, and, reporting to the people what had occurred on the tope, requested their assistance in cremating the old man’s body.

The villagers, however, suspected that the young pilgrim had killed and robbed the old Brâhmiṇ; so they laid hold of him, and, after giving him a severe flogging, imprisoned him in the village temple of Kâlî. Alas! what a reward was this for his kind hospitality! and how was he repaid for his beneficence!

The unhappy pilgrim gave vent to his sorrows in the form of verses in praise of the goddess in whose temple he was a prisoner; for he was a great Paṇḍit, versed in the four Vêdas, and the six Śâstras, and the sixty-four varieties of knowledge. On hearing the pilgrim’s verses, the rage of the goddess descended upon the villagers, who had so rashly accused and punished him for a crime of which he was innocent. Suddenly the whole village was destroyed by fire, and the people lost all their property, and were houseless. In their extremity they went to the temple of Kâlî, and humbly requested the goddess to inform them of the cause of the calamity which had thus unexpectedly come upon them. The goddess infused herself into the person of one of the villagers, and thus responded:—

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“Know ye, unkind villagers, that ye have most unjustly scourged and imprisoned in our presence an innocent, charitable, and pious Brâhmiṇ. The old man died from the effects of the poison, which dropped from a serpent’s mouth on some rice at the foot of a tree when it was being devoured by a kite. Ye did not know of this; nevertheless ye have maltreated a good man without first making due inquiry as to his guilt or innocence. For this reason we visited your village with this calamity. Beware, and henceforward avoid such sins.”

So saying, Kâlî departed from the person through whom she had manifested herself. Then the villagers perceived the grievous error into which they had fallen. They released the good pilgrim and implored his forgiveness, which he readily granted. And thus was an innocent man charged with murder in return for his benevolent actions.

“Even so,” continued Bodhaditya, “my most noble sovereign, I have this day had to endure the infamy of having violated the harem for saving your valuable life.”

He then sent for a thief who was undergoing imprisonment, and gave him the handful of rice which he had the preceding day snatched from the king at dinner, and the thief having eaten it, instantly died. He next caused a servant to go to the royal bed-chamber, and fetch from the canopy of the couch the pieces of the serpent and his little finger-tip, which he laid before the wonder-struck king and the counsellors, and then addressed his majesty as follows:—

“My most noble king, and ye wise counsellors, it is known to you all that we four ministers keep watch over the town during the four quarters of the night, and mine is the first watch. Well, while I was on duty the day before yesterday, I heard a weeping voice in the direction of the temple. I proceeded to the spot, and discovered the goddess sobbing bitterly. She related to me how three calamities awaited the king on the morrow. The first of them was the arrows despatched by the king of Vijayanagara as sweetmeats to our Sovereign; the second was the poisoned rice, and the third the serpent. In trying to avert these calamities, I have committed the offence of entering the harem.”

And he thereupon explained the whole affair from first to last.

King Alakesa and the whole assembly were highly delighted at the fidelity and devotion of Bodhaditya; for it was now very evident that he had done nothing amiss, but had saved the life of the king on three occasions, and indeed also the life of the queen by wiping off the serpent’s poison which had fallen on her bosom. Then Alakesa related the following story in explanation of the proverb:—

7. Eating up the Protector

In the country of Uttara there lived a Brâhmiṇ named Kusalanatha, who had a wife and six sons. All lived in a state of prosperity for some time, but the entrance of Saturn into the Brâhmiṇ’s horoscope turned everything upside down. The once prosperous Brâhmiṇ became poor, and was reduced to go to the neighbouring woods to gather bamboo rice with which to feed his hungry family.

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One day while plucking the bamboo ears, he saw a bush close by in flames, in the midst of which was a serpent struggling for its life. The Brâhmiṇ at once ran to its rescue, and stretching towards it a long green stick the reptile crept on to it and escaped from the flames, and then spread its hood and with a hissing sound approached to sting its rescuer. The Brâhmiṇ began to weep and bewail his folly in having saved the ungrateful creature, at which the serpent asked him:—

“O Brâhmiṇ, why do you weep?”

Said the old man: “You now purpose to kill me; is this the reward for my having saved your life?”

“True, you have rescued me from a terrible death, but how am I to appease my hunger?” replied the serpent.

And quoth the Brâhmiṇ, “You speak of your hunger, but who is to feed my old wife and six hungry children at my house?”

The serpent, seeing the anxiety of the Brâhmiṇ, emitted a precious gem from its hood, and bade him take it home and give it to his wife for household expenses, after which to return to the wood to be devoured. The old man agreed, and, solemnly promising to return without fail, went home. Having given the gem to his family, and told them of his pact with the serpent, the Brâhmiṇ went back to the wood. The serpent had meanwhile reflected upon its own base ingratitude.

“Is it right,” said it to itself, “to kill him who saved me from the flames? No! I shall rather perish of hunger, if I cannot find a prey to-day, than slay my protector.”

So when the old Brâhmiṇ appeared, true to his word, the serpent presented him with another valuable gem, and after expressing a wish that he should live long and happily with his wife and children, went its own way, while the Brâhmiṇ returned joyously to his home.

“Even as the serpent purposed acting towards its benefactor,” continued the king, “so did I, in my rage, intend putting to death my faithful minister and the protector of my life, Bodhaditya; and to free myself from this grievous sin there is no penance I should not undergo.”

Then king Alakesa ordered a thousand Brâhmiṇs to be fed every day during his life, and many rich gifts to be distributed in temples as atonement for his great error. And from that day Bodhaditya and his three colleagues enjoyed still more of the royal favour. With those four faithful ministers king Alakesa lived a most happy life and had a most prosperous reign.

May there be prosperity to all!

The Lost Camel and Other Tales – Folklore of Southern India

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