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The Panchatantra – Story 64a

SAVED BY A QUESTION

There was once in a dreadful forest a terrible demon called Chandakarma. On one occasion, when he was wandering in the forest, he came upon a Brahmin. He at once got upon the Brahmin’s shoulders and said, ‘March!’. The Brahmin was terribly afraid and obeyed the command. Seeing the beautiful feet of the demon, as delicate and soft as the inside of a lotus, the Brahmin asked the demon, ‘How is it that your feet are so tender and beautiful ?’ The demon replied, ‘I observe a vow. I will never tread on the earth with wet feet. So this favour has been conferred upon me.’ Hearing this reply, the Brahmin thought of a way of saving himself. Soon they arrived at a lake. 

The demon told the Brahmin. ‘I shall bathe in the tank and worship God and return. Remain here and don’t stir from this place.’ When the demon had got into the lake for bathing, the Brahmin thought to himself, ‘Sure as anything, this demon will eat me up after he returns from his bath and prayers. So I must run away forthwith. As he cannot tread on earth with wet feet by his vow, he will not pursue me if I run away now. and I can make good my escape’. Thinking thus, the Brahmin took to a precipitate flight and escaped, the demon not daring to break his vow and pursue.

The Panchatantra – Story 64

THE THREE BREASTED PRINCESS

Madhusena was the king of Mathura on the banks of the Jumna. A daughter with three breasts was born to him- Hearing of the birth of a girl of this extraordinary type, the King said to his chamberlain, ‘Take this monstrous child away to some distant forest and abandon her there so that I may not cast my eyes on her and come to grief.’ The chamberlain said, ‘Great King, I too have heard that a three-breasted girl will cause untold misfortune to her father. But so that you may be free from the blame of the world and from punishment for sin in the next world it is better to call learned Brahmins and consult them. It has been said, that the intellect of him who always enquires, hears and considers everything in- creases like the beauty of the lotus by the rays of the sun He who is ignorant and helpless should always be questioning and enquiring. Formerly, a Brahmin, though seized by a terrible demon, was saved by a question.’ The King asked, ‘What is that story?’. Then the chamberlain related the story of “Saved By A Question“.

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After he heard this story, the King called the Brahmins and asked, ‘Oh reverend sirs, a three-breasted maiden has been born to me. Tell me what I can do to counteract the certain misfortune she portends,’ They replied, ‘Sire, listen. A daughter wanting in a limb or having a superfluous limb will surely lead an unchaste life and will cause her husband’s death. If a girl with three breasts be seen by her father, he will certainly die forthwith. Therefore, you should never see this girl. Let her grow up in a separate building unseen by you. When she reaches the age of marriage, marry her away to somebody who will have her and order both the bride and bride groom to leave your country at once. By acting thus you will escape blame in this world and punishment in the next.’ 

Hearing this, the King acted on this advice. He also caused a ‘proclamation to be made by beat of tom-tom all through his dominions thus: ‘A three-breasted princess has been born to the King, He who marries her and takes her and himself at once from this country will be given a hundred thousand gold coins’. Years passed, but no one turned up to accept the princess Everyone believed in the superstition, and even the poorest man did not want to court death at the princess’s hand by marrying her. Meanwhile the princess grew up to the flower of her youth and beauty and was securely guarded by the King’s men in the secluded palace assigned to her, and the tom-tom was being daily repeated in the capital city. 

There came into that city from an interior village a blind man who was conducted through the streets for begging by an equally poor hunchback from the same village. One day, as they passed along the main street they heard the tom-tom and the proclamation. The blind man said to the hunchback, ‘Lead me to the persons who do the tom-tomming and let me touch the drum and intimate that I accept the offer. No doubt, I shall get a very bad wife, but I shall also get with her a hundred thousand very good gold coins and can live in great luxury. Even if she kills me eventually, that will not matter. A day’s poverty-stricken existence is equal to any misery on earth. Even death itself will be a welcome relief from their sufferings to a poor man like me. And here I have the additional advantage of living for some time rich and rolling in luxury. 

It has been said, ‘He who has enough and more to fill his pot-like belly with the food he wants is regarded in the world as modest, affectionate, music-loving, talented goodhearted, spirited, learned, joyous, sportive, religious, scientific, pure and blameless.’ The hunchback Mantharaka took the blind man to the officers making tom-tom and made him touch the tom-tom in token of acceptance. The blind man said to the officers, ‘I am willing to marry this princess provided the King bestows her on me’. They took the blind man to the King and reported about his willingness to marry the princess. ‘Sire’ they said, ‘The blind man has touched the drum in token of acceptance of your offer. Please do what you think fit.’ The King, said, ‘I do not care what kind of man accepts my offer. Let him be blind or afflicted with leprosy, or born in the lowest of outcastes, if he will only accept this maiden, and quit the country with her forthwith, he can have her and a hundred thousand gold coins.’ 

Then the King’s officers, acting under his orders, took the blind man to the river, bathed him, dressed him in fine robes, married him to the princess according to the sacred rites, and, giving him a hundred thousand gold coins, sent him, his newly-married bride and the hunchback down the Jamuna in a boat with instructions the boatman to leave them outside the King’s territory and return. The three were accordingly left in a big town outside the King’s territory by the boatman who returned later to their own country. They took a big house and lived there in great luxury. The blind man used to merely remain in the house eating and sleeping. Mantharaka used to look after all the household affairs. 

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As days passed, the hunchback and the three-breasted princess became intimate. Truly has it been said, ‘Fire may be cool and the moon burning hot, and the sea full of sweet water, but a naturally wicked woman will never be chaste,’ One day the princess said to the hunchback ‘Darling, if somehow you dispose of this blind man, we both can live in joy without his horrid figure standing between us. So, seek out and bring some deadly poison. I shall administer it to him in his food and become supremely happy.’ The hunchback searched for some suitable poison and came across a dead King Cobra. Pleased with his find, he returned home and told the princess, ‘Love, I found this dead cobra. Cut it to pieces and cook it with a lot of spices and condiments in order to hide its natural taste and to make it look like fish curry. Then give it to the blind fool saying that it is fish curry. He loves fish curry dearly and will glut himself with this meat with speedy death.’ He then went out on some business. 

The princess made a roaring fire and put the pieces of the cobra well cut, washed and mixed with spices and condiments and rose water over the fire. Then she went to the blind man with a ladle and said, ‘Beloved, I have got some fine fish cooking that you love it dearly. It is now over the fire and I have to attend to some other work. Take this ladle and be looking after the cooking of this fish while I go and fetch water. See that it is well stirred every now and then so that it may not get spoiled.’ The blind man was delighted, and, licking the corners of his mouth with his tongue in anticipation of the approaching delicacy, he took the ladle, went to the fire and stirred the dish vigorously from time to time. The poison-laden fumes from the dish dissolved the cataract-like films of both his eyes so that the blind man’s eyesight was rapidly restored. To his astonishment he found that the dish which he was stirring consisted of pieces of a deadly cobra and not of delicious fish. He thought to himself, ‘What is this? Why did she tell me that this was a fish curry cooking while really it is a deadly brew of cobra’s meat? I know now everything. This three-breasted woman, fated from her birth to kill her husband and to be unchaste, has thought out this plan to kill me and enjoy with this hunchback or some other person. I must find out the truth of this and catch the wicked woman in the act.’ 

So thinking, he again behaved as if he was completely blind and continued to stir the dish. The hunchback came home shortly afterwards and so too the princess. They kissed and embraced each other fearlessly relying on the blindness of the blind man. The blind man saw all this with rage and, not finding a knife or other weapon handy, groped as usual as if he was still blind. The others did not pay heed to him as they did not know that his eyes had been restored. They continued to consort together. The blind man caught the hunchback in his arms and whirled him about on his head and dashed him on the chest oi the princess in order to kill both. But all that happened by this blow was that the third breast of the princess was driven in and disappeared, and the hunch of the hunchback too became straightened. So, Fate being favourable, the blind man, the hunchback, and the three-breasted maiden all got cured of their defects by acts intended to bring about their deaths. Verily, Fate is powerful.

The Panchatantra – Story 63

THE DEMON OUT-WITTED

There was a king called Bhadrasena in a certain city. He had a lovely daughter called Ratnavati. A demon fell in love with that princess, and every day, at dusk, went and harassed her and tried to carry her off. But the princess had no affection for this demon lover and drew a magic circle round her which the demon could not enter. But every day the demon kept on repeating his attempt to abduct her. One day, when he appeared as usual at dusk, the princess remarked to her lady-in-waiting, “The dusk demon is persistent. I am wondering how I can escape from him. I can escape from any other.” The demon, who heard this, thought to himself: “So there is another demon called “Dusk Demon” trying to abduct her. What wonder ? Seeing her beauty I am not the only demon who will be stricken by it, and will try to abduct her. Her remarks show that there is a more formidable demon from whom she despairs of escaping. I shall lie in wait in the stable taking the form of a horse and see what this Dusk Demon is like and tackle him. He must be soon coming as it is dusk.” So he took the form of a horse and remained in the stable along with the other horses. 

Presently a thief came to steal a horse from the stables. He pitched upon this demon horse as the strongest and most attractive horse of the lot. He took it out of the stable and put the bit in its mouth and rode off. The demon galloped away thinking, “Ah, this is that Dusk Demon come to kill me. How to escape from the fellow ? The princess’ problem has become mine.” The thief was wonder-struck at the terrific speed of the horse and tried to lessen it by applying the bit. But the demon horse only galloped faster. The thief said to himself; “This cannot be a real horse. I have never seen a horse in my life which will gallop faster after applying the bit firmly. It must be a demon who has taken the shape of a horse. How to escape from it ?” When they came to a banyan tree the thief jumped up and got between the branches, leaving the demon horse. He was glad at having escaped from the demon. The demon was also glad at having escaped from him. 

But a monkey, who was on a higher branch overhanging the branch where the thief was, was a friend of the demon and said to it: ‘Why, you are a demon and the eater of men. This is a man and your natural food. Why did you allow him to ride you instead of eating him up?”. The demon assumed its demoniacal form and was preparing itself to eat the thief. The thief, however, was enraged by the monkey’s remark and caught the monkey’s tail which was hanging down and pulled it hard, making the monkey squeeze in a fork of the tree and bit the tail and began to chew it. The monkey closed its eyes, and its face was writhed with pain. The demon saw the monkey’s face and fled without a second thought, crying out, “Judging by the expression of your face, O monkey, this Dusk Demon is a terrible fellow, who can give the utmost pain if he chooses. Let me run away and escape before he catches me and chews me up. 

The Panchatantra – Story 62

CASTLES IN THE AIR

In a certain town, there was a Brahmin called Swabhavakripana (The name means a stingy man). One day, he was invited for a ceremony and given an excellent meal and a mud pot full of rice flour. He returned after meals at midday and rested on the way under a shady banyan tree. He tied the pot to a low lying branch and lay down underneath, eyeing the pot eagerly. There was a cool breeze blowing, and the Brahmin began in his drowsy stage to build castles in the air. He said to himself, ‘If a famine were to come, as is by no means improbable, I can get a hundred silver pieces by selling this pot of flour. With the money got thus, I can buy two she-goats. Every six months they will bring forth young. Soon there will be a flock of goats. By selling some of these I shall buy some cows. The cows will bring forth young every year. I shall sell some cows and calves and buy some buffaloes. The buffaloes will increase in number, I shall sell some and buy mates. The mares will bring forth young and I shall soon have a herd of horses. By selling the horses I shall get enough gold to build a fine mansion with rooms on all sides and a spacious courtyard in the middle. 

Seeing my house, horses and cattle, some rich Brahmin will come to my house and offer his handsome daughter in marriage. My wife will in ten months deliver a son and I shall name him Somasarma. When the child is crawling on his knees, I shall take a book and be reading it, sitting behind the stables of the horses. Seeing me, Somasarma will get down from his mother’s lap and approach near the horses’ hoofs in his attempt to crawl on his knees to me. I shall then call my wife angrily. “Take the child away, take the child away.” She, being engaged in house-hold work, will not hear my words. Then I shall rise and beat her with a stick thus.’ Saying this, the Brahmin dealt a lusty blow with his stick straight in front of him. The blow fell on the pot of rice flour and broke it into several pieces, scattering the flour in all directions and throwing a good lot on the Brahmin’s head and shoulders. 

The Panchatantra – Story 61

ASS AS SINGER

There was once an ass called Uddhata. He used to carry the heavy burdens of his washer-man master during the day and wander about freely during the night, While wandering about the fields thus, he struck a friendship with a jackal. They two used to break open the fence of a cucumber garden at night time, eat as many cucumbers as they liked and leave for their usual abodes at dawn. One night, standing in the middle of the cucumber garden and intoxicated with eating an enormous quantity of cucumbers, the ass told the jackal, ‘O, nephew, see what a brilliant moonlight night it is. So I am going to sing. Tell me which tune you want me to sing in.’ 

The jackal said, ‘Uncle, what is the use of discussing such absurd things ? We are engaged in committing theft. Thieves and paramours are to do their work stealthily. It has been said, “They who are afflicted with cough and they who are too much addicted to sleep should not take to theft if they want to live. So, too, a sick man should curb his palate if he wants to avoid premature death. “Besides, your music will not be of the sweetest and will be heard from afar like the blowing of a conch. Hearing the noise, the watchers of this field will wake up and bind or even kill you. So, abandon this mad project and eat as many cucumbers as you like without making any noise.’ Hearing this, the ass, said ‘You are a creature of the wilds and do not know the charm of music. This is clear from your speaking thus. It has been said, “Blessed are they who are in the company of their beloved and have the sweet sounds of music delighting their ears when the darkness is expelled far by the bright rays of the autumn moon”. 

The jackal said, ‘Uncle, you may be right. But then you do not know how to sing and can only bray in the most horrible fashion. So why do this unwise act so contrary to our interests ?’ The ass replied, ‘Fie! you fool. Who said that I do not know music ? Hear this. There are seven notes, three octaves, twenty-one scales and forty-nine quavers. The pauses are sometimes three and sometimes six, the sentiments are nine, the ragas are thirty-six and the bhavas forty. There are 185 chapters in the classical treatise on Music written by Bharata in days of old, and music is given by him the next place after the Vedas. Nothing is liked even by the gods more than music. Ravana delighted Siva by the music produced from his dried tendons.

So, nephew, why do you say that I am ignorant of music and try to dissuade me from singing?’ The jackal said, ‘Uncle, if you are bent upon singing, I shall first go to the gap in the fence and watch whether the watcher of the field comes. Afterwards, you can sing as much as you like’. The jackal did as he said. The ass then began to sing. Hearing his hideous braying, the owner of the field ran to the spot gnashing his teeth in anger.

Seeing the ass, he beat him almost to death with’ a stout cudgel. The ass fell down exhausted on the ground, unable to bear the blows. Tying a huge mortar with a hole round his neck, the owner of the field lay down in the field, itself, in order to catch other animals which might come ‘to thieve the cucumbers, and fell asleep. The ass got over the pain of the beating in a short time by the genius of his race. It has been said, ‘A dog, a horse, and especially an ass, got over the pain of the severest beating in forty-eight minutes.’ The ass ran with the mortar slung round his neck and cleared the gap in the fence. The jackal saw him from a distance and said, ‘Well sung, ‘ O, Uncle, you did not stop singing though advised by me to do so. Very rare and unique is the jewel tied round your neck, as a reward for your proficiency in music(It is the custom in India to award necklaces and gold ornaments to competent musicians for being worn round the neck. Here, the jackal is referring to the mortar as a rare jewel).’