The Panchatantra – Story 20

WISE FOE BETTER THAN FOOLISH FRIEND

In the kingdom of Kausambi(A famous ancient city on the Ganges about 30 miles above Allahabad. It was the capital of the Vatsas – The Kingdom too was Sometimes referred to by the name of the capital) there was once a prince who passed his time always with the Brahmin minister’s son and the Vaisya lord treasurer’s son who were his inseparable friends. Every day they used to enjoy their recreations, sports, walks and chats together. The prince became by this intimacy indifferent to archery, swordsman” ship, riding horses and elephants, mounting palanquins and other usual special arts taught to princes. One day, the King, his father, said to him contemptuously, ‘You are quite indifferent to the kingly arts. How will you ever make a good king?’ The prince was greatly grieved by this taunt and told his friends about it. They said ‘ Our fathers too are uttering similar nonsense to us every- day, saying that we are averse to our ancestral occupations and would be no good at them. We did not feel the grief of these taunts so long owing to the more than compensating joy we used to get in your company which drowned this grief altogether. Now that we see you also grieving on account of such a taunt all of us are stricken with grief.’ 

The prince said, ‘None who is insulted at a place should stop there any longer. We are all grieving for the same reason, namely that we are unjustly taunted by our parents. Let us all go somewhere and by our actions prove the injustice of the taunts. It has been said, “The rigid vow of the man of honour, the learning of the learned, the virtue of the virtuous, and the strength of the strong are all to be tested by the results of their leaving their motherland and sojourning in foreign countries.”  The other two agreed. Then the question was where to go. The three thought about it for some time. ‘The Lord Treasurer’s son said. ‘Without wealth we cannot realize any of our ambitions. So let us go to Mount Rohana(The name of a mountain in Ceylon renowned in ancient times for precious stones. The modern Adam’s Peak) where valuable sapphires may be picked up by us if we are lucky. If we get them, all our ambitions can be realized.’ The others agreed. 

Taking plenty of money for the journey, the three started for Mount Rohana. Owing to their good luck, each was able to pick up one priceless sapphire after assiduous search.

Then they said to one another, ‘How are we to return safe with these invaluable sapphires through this dangerous and unsafe forest route?’ The minister’s son said, ‘I am a minister’s son and therefore good at solving such problems. I have already thought out a way. Let each man swallow his sapphire embedding it in a morsel of food. Then the sapphires will be secure in our stomachs where no thief or robber will dream of searching. We shall reach the town of Ratnapura(An ancient city famous for sapphire merchants and some forty miles from Mount Rohana) the day after tomorrow and can recover the sapphires by taking castor oil’ The others also considered this an excellent plan. All the three swallowed the gems accordingly along with their food. 

A man called Subuddhi(The name means ‘Wise man’) was in an adjoining depression invisible to three. He heard the minister’s son expound his plan and saw all the three take and swallow the priceless sapphires. He said to himself, ‘Alas, I too came to this mountain in search of sapphires and wandered over the place for days together but owing to my ill luck did not get anything at all These three have, by their luck, each got an invaluable sapphire. So I shall join them and travel with them. At night they will go to sleep tired by their wanderings I shall then kill them and recover these sapphires by ripping open their stomachs.’

Resolving thus, he went some half a mile further down the path and rested there awaiting the arrival of his intended victims. The three came along unsuspectingly. Subuddhi said to them, ‘Friends, I feel somewhat afraid to cross this dreadful forest alone and go to Ratnapura which is my home. So, please allow me to go with you.’ The three friends were only too willing to have the company and aid of a fourth and gladly agreed. 

So Subuddhi began to travel with them. There was a robber village close to the road in the middle of that great forest. The head of the robbers had his house abutting the road. He had several birds in his house, and one old bird had an uncanny skill of finding out facts about strangers passing along the way. As the four travelers walked past, the old bird began to cry vociferously. The robber chieftain, who knew the bird languages well, called his servants and said joyously ‘This bird is saying, “Those travelers have invaluable sapphires with them. So catch hold of them.” Go, therefore, bind those four, and bring them before me.’ His servants did as ordered. The chieftain himself searched their bodies carefully but found nothing. So he let them go after taking a single upper cloth which pleased him. As they were going away, the old bird again repeated its cry. The chieftain had the four brought to him again and searched them once more very minutely but  with no better results. He let them go again. 

The bird repeated its cry in a far louder tone. So he again had them brought before him. He asked them, ‘This bird has till now spoken only the truth and has never uttered a single falsehood. It says that you have with you invaluable sapphires. Where are they ?’ They replied, ‘If we had such gems with us? how could they have escaped your notice during your two minute searches ?’ The chieftain said, ‘As the bird is again and again repeating its statement, there is no doubt that it must be true. Those sapphires are not on you. So you must have swallowed them. It is getting dark now. Early tomorrow morning I shall rip your stomachs open and see if those gems are there.’ Saying this, he had them locked up in a cell.

In the night Subuddhi thought to himself, ‘The moment this robber chieftain’ tears open the stomachs of the rest tomorrow morning and recovers those price-less sapphires he will surely be convinced that I too have such a gem in my belly and so will rip open my belly also from his desire to get one more sapphire. My death is therefore certain. So what shall I do ? It has been said, “When great men know that their death is certain, they do some good to others and attain immortality.” So the noblest course for me to adopt will be to offer myself for the first operation tomorrow and by my death save the rest. When the wicked chieftain rips open my belly and after careful examination finds no sapphire in it he will lose faith in the bird’s cry, cease to believe that there are sapphires in the stomachs of the  rest and out of revulsion and mercy, allow the other three to go their way unhurt. Owing to my thus making them a gift of life and wealth, my fame will spread in this world and the next, and I shall be purged of all my sins. Now that death is certain in any case, this will be a wise man’s way of meeting it.’ 

He then told the others the truth and explained to them his plan. They fell on his neck in gratitude and thanked him over and over again. As soon as the morning broke, the chieftain had the four brought before him for having their stomachs ripped open and examined. Subuddhi folded his arms in supplication and said to him, ‘I cannot bear to see the stomachs of these, my brothers, ripped open before my eyes. So have pity on me and have my stomach ripped open first.’ The chieftain, out of pity, readily acceded to this request. When his stomach was torn open and carefully examined, no sapphire was found in it. Then the chieftain was filled with grief and said, ‘Alas, I have done a most cruel act relying on the words of a bird and moved by avarice. The bellies of the rest also are sure to be devoid of sapphires’. Saying this, he liberated the other three at once and allowed them to go their way unhurt. 


They soon crossed the forest and reached Ratnapura in safety. As soon as they reached the town, they went to a wayside choultry(An Indian wedding hall). There they took castor oil and recovered the sapphires. The treasurer’s son sold them to some sapphire merchants for fabulous sums and gave them all to the prince. The prince resolved upon conquering the Kingdom of Ratnapura which was then being ruled by a cruel tyrant who had usurped it from the legitimate royal line which he had exterminated. He made the minister’s son his minister, and the treasurers- son his treasurer. The three went to a neighboring Kingdom and recruited there a large number of the finest cavalry, infantry, elephants and chariots by paying for them on a very lavish scale. With these they marched on Ratnapura and conquered the kingdom. The prince was crowned as king amid great rejoicings. He married a beautiful princess from a neighboring kingdom with great pomp. 

Then, entrusting the affairs of state to his two friends for a while, he plunged into his honeymoon with her and enjoyed every kind of happiness. There was an ape brought up in the palace. The- king was amused with him and made him his aide-de-camp. The ape used to carry his sword in such a dignified fashion as to excite the laughter of all. He flourished exceedingly on the various excellent dishes the King gave him. He was also loved by all the courtiers. The King loved and trusted him exceedingly and finally made him carry his own sword. Adjoining the palace was a beautiful garden with all kinds of flowers and fruit trees.

One moonlit night in autumn, the King and Queen retired into that garden to- have a little lovers’ walk amidst the clusters of flowers of all kinds rendered doubly enchanting by the moon. All the attendants were left at the gate. Only the ape was taken in. After wandering in the infinite mazes of that garden and admiring its endless beauties, the King; and Queen entered a bower and had a love prattle. Feeling a desire to have a little nap, the King said to the ape ‘I want to have a little nap. You are to see that no harm comes to me while I am asleep.’ Saying this, he went to sleep. Soon the queen also followed suit. The ape mounted guard, sword in hand. A bee from a neighboring flower was attracted by the marvelous odour of the rare scents on the King’s head and sat on it. The ape was filled with anger and said to himself, ‘What ! This wretched insect presumes to sit on his head and molest him while I am looking on 1’ He drove the bee away with his left hand. Again it came and settled on the King’s head. The ape drove it away again and again, but the insect was ever returning and settling on the King’s head.

Driven to a frenzy of rage, the ape said, ‘Now, I shall teach you a lesson,’ and struck a tremendous blow at the bee with the heavy royal sword he had with him The blow cut the King’s head in two and killed him on the spot. Hearing the agonizing death cry of her consort, the queen woke up. Seeing her lord dead, she cried aloud and asked the ape ‘Wretch, why have you behaved thus towards the King who trusted you so well ?’ The ape then related the whole incident. The King’s attendants, who had rushed in and heard the story, drove the ape away and wept profusely. The minister’s son came to the spot, heard the whole story, wept and said ‘A wise foe is far better than a foolish friend. The King escaped from his would-be murderer whose wisdom made him sacrifice his life for our sake, and was killed by this foolish friend of an ape.’ 

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