The Panchatantra – Story 14

THE HUMBUG’S FATE

In the great city of Ayodhya(a famous town in the United Provinces and the capital of Rama. It has given its name to modern Oudh. The name means ‘Impossible to fight with’) in the Kosala(Modern Oudh) country there lived a mighty King called Suratha(The name means ‘One with numerous chariots.’ In ancient Indian warfare the four sections of the army were elephants, chariots, cavalry, and infantry’) with hundreds of powerful feudatories subordinate to him.

Once, the governor of his forest tracts went hurriedly to the capital and said to the King, ‘Sire, all the forest tribes are up in revolt and are led by an arch rebel called Vindhyaka(The name means ‘A man from the forests of The Vindhya’). ‘It is for your majesty to crush this revolt as it is too powerful for me to deal with.’ On this, the King sent his wise minister Balabhadra to the forest country to crush the revolt and punish the rebels. 

After Balabhadra had gone on his mission, there came into Ayodhya, at the end of the hot season, a naked ascetic. In a few days, he won over the whole populace to his side by his wonderful skill in answering any questions regarding the future, or touching on grammar, the signs of the zodiac, the significance of omens, the fixing of auspicious hours, the astrological meaning of the falling of lizards on men, the casting of horoscopes with nine cowries, twelve cowries and thirty cowries, the calculation of time by measuring the shades, the names of things hidden in closed fists, the finding out of the sex of babies to be born, palmistry, thought-reading and other branches of astrology.

Hearing about the fame of this ascetic, the King, out of curiosity, invited him to his own palace, and, after giving him a seat of honour, asked him, ‘Venerable sir, is it true that you can read the thoughts of men ?’ The ascetic replied, ‘You can judge for yourself after hearing about the things I have done in different places.’ Then he related marvelous stories of his alleged past achievements and made the King wonder at his prowess.

 The King was so impressed that he gave him a small and isolated monastery in the palace grounds for his stay, and began to send for him every day. Then, •one day, when the King was fully prepared for it, the ascetic went in the evening to the palace and said to him, “O King, I have some very good news for you. This morning I left my mortal body in the monastery, and, taking a divine shape fit for heaven, went to heaven, being unable to decline the pressing invitations of all the celestials, and came back and resumed my mortal body only just now. All the celestials said to me ‘Ask the King on our behalf whether he is keeping good health.’ Hearing this, the King was struck with immense wonder, curiosity, and joy. 

He asked the ascetic, ‘Oh, venerable one, how did you go to heaven ?’ He replied, ‘Great King, it is child’s play for me. I am visiting heaven daily.’ The King fully believed this owing to his credulity and the great hold the ascetic had obtained over him by his real skill and learning and a thousand stories of miraculous achievements. He neglected all the affairs of the state> did not even care for his queen, and was always engaged’ in attending on the ascetic and hearing detailed accounts of his daily visits to heaven and the occurrences there. The country’s affairs and the King’s own private affairs- were in confusion owing to this utter neglect. Meanwhile, Balabhadra returned to Ayodhya after crashing the revolt of the forest tribes. As soon as he arrived at the capital, he heard of the strange hold of the ascetic on his King and of the King’s having ceased to attend the council hall and to his ministers . Entering the palace, he found the council hall deserted and ministers’ room empty. He found the King and the naked ascetic sitting alone in a room. The ascetic was whispering something, and the King was listening with a radiant face as if something marvelous was being related. 

The minister gauged the real situation at a glance. Prostrating before the King, he said ‘Victory to His Gracious Majesty, Beloved of the Gods.’ King asked about the health of the minister and immediately} without even asking for the details of his expedition, said, ‘Do you know this venerable preceptor Balabhadra replied, ‘How is it possible that I should not know this celebrated preceptor who, like Brahma, has himself produced many preceptors from among his pupils ? I even hear that this venerable preceptor is in the habit of visiting heaven. Is this true?’ ‘Absolutely’ said the King. Elated by the glowing terms in which the minister had spoken of him and desirous of impressing this great minister still more, the ascetic said, if the minister is curious about this, let him also see and be convinced.’ Saying this, he went out, entered the small detached monastery allotted to him, and bolted the door.

After some minutes, the minister asked the King, ‘When will he return from heaven ?’ The King replied, ‘Why are you so impatient ? He has left his mortal body inside the monastery and has gone to heaven, assuming a celestial body.’ ‘If this is true,’ said the minister, ‘let firewood and fire be brought, for I am going to burn this monastery to the ground,’ ‘Why ?’ asked the King surprised. ‘Because,’ replied the minister, ‘Sire, this worthless mortal body being burnt, he will be always coming to you in his celestial body, thus increasing your prestige all over the world Hear the story of the Serpent Son and be convinced.’ 

‘So too,’ said Balabhadra, concluding the story, ‘If we burn the monastery and with it the mortal body of this venerable preceptor, he will be forced always to be in his resplendent celestial shape, and people will respect Him and his friend, your Majesty, far more than they have ever done before.’ The King was convinced by this argument. Balabhadra then burnt the monastery to the ground. The wretched ascetic, who had falsely pretended that he had gone to heaven but was really sitting behind bolted doors, died a horrible death by being burnt alive. The King recovered from his foolish delusions and once more governed his country wisely with the able advice of Balabhadra. 

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