The Panchatantra – Story 55


Alpalobhin, Mithalobhin, Athilobhin and Athyanthalobhin(The names mean respectively ‘A little greedy’, ‘the moderately greedy’, ‘the very greedy,’ and ‘the excessively greedy) were four very poor Brahmin youths who were fast friends of one another. They were feeling the pang of poverty bitterly. One day, when they were all assembled together, Athyanthalobhin said ‘Friends, most shameful is it to be poor ! Better far to live in a forest overrun with thorns and haunted by tigers, elephants and other wild beasts, and to wear garments made of the barks of trees, and to sleep on the grass, than to live in poverty in the midst of one’s relatives. Poor men are scorned by the very masters whom they serve faithfully, and even their otherwise virtuous relatives cut them unhesitatingly. Their virtues do not shine, their sons leave them at the earliest opportunity, and even their noble and virtuous wives do not serve them assiduously, their whole time being engaged in household work and supplemental occupations intended to eke out a few coppers. 

Friends resort not to them as they get at their houses no delicious things to eat or drink. In this world, even if a man is naturally brave, handsome, cheerful, and eloquent and has an inborn aptitude for the use of weapons and the study of the sciences, he does not obtain fame or respect without the possession of at least some wealth. It is wonderful what difference wealth makes to such a man. With wealth, he is able to develop the above qualities and become famous and respected all over the world; without it, the faculties are not developed and die by attrition. So, let us go far and wide in search of wealth.’ All the others agreed. Soon all of them left their native city and relatives and friends and started on the quest for wealth. Well has it been said, ‘When a man is desperately poor and is filled with anxiety for the day’s meal, he will forsake truth, abandon relations and friends, and go to a foreign country leaving his own mother and mother-land.’ 

The four reached after a few days the country of Avanti(The modern Malwa with its capital at Ujjain). Bathing in the sacred Sipri river(The modern Betwa), they worshipped in the famous temple. of Mahakala(Siva, God as the Eternity of Time) on its ‘banks. When going out of the temple, they met a famous ascetic and magician called Bhairavananda(The name means ‘A devotee of Siva’), They saluted him and followed him into his monastery close by. He asked them, ‘Who are you? Where have you come from ? Where are you going now? What is your errand ?’. They replied, ‘We are wandering in quest of wealth and are resolved either to get wealth or die in the attempt. They say that by magic a man may easily find bidden treasures and suddenly become wealthy(Hidden treasures are numerous in India, and the belief that they can be discovered by magic wicks supplied by ascetics and magicians is even now prevalent among the masses just as in certain western countries the masses in places believe in the so-called science of water divination). 

Our attempt is, if possible, to get hold of such magicians. Many seemingly unattainable things and coveted objects are obtained by adventurous persons who dare everything and are equal to any emergency. One man falls down from the sky into the gutters, another clambers out of hell and becomes the master of the wide ocean. It is not Fate which is responsible for these rises and falls but only manly exertion or its absence. All desired objects are got only by hard exertion and not by mere fate. What is called luck is nothing but human exertion with the super-imposition of accident. Adventurers have no fear of men in power. Nor do they care a straw for their own lives. The generous recklessness of these is indeed sublime. Without hard and tiresome labour no happiness can be obtained in this world. 

Even the lord Narayana could embrace Lakshmi(Lakshmi is the consort of Vishnu and was one of the by-products when the gods and demons churned the ocean for the nectar of immortality. Vishnu, who was directing the churning, embraced her with his arms tired with churning) only after tiresome churning of the ocean with his hands. The moment a man ceases to work, his wealth begins to decrease. If a King has no valour, he cannot conquer his enemy’s kingdom or even preserve his. The sun conquers lots of clouds and shines bright because no obstacles are regarded as insuperable by him. So too, a man will conquer all difficulties and shine if he determines not to be outdone by anybody. Now, kindly tell us some ‘way of obtaining wealth quickly. It does not matter whether the wealth is in some underground chamber guarded by deadly cobras, or is to be got by propitiating demonesses, or by going to the burning grounds and selling the meat of human corpses to demons anxious to eat them, or by securing the magic wicks which get extinguished and fall wherever there is treasure to be had. We will dare anything, and we can see that you are certainly possessed of superhuman powers. So you alone can help us, and you must help us. It has been said that the great alone can accomplish great objects. Who but the sea can bear the terrible submarine fire(A most deadly mythological fire supposed to exist in the mid ocean)?’. 

Bhairavananda was pleased with their words and made for them four very powerful magic wicks. He said to them, ‘Go to the Himalayan regions. After reaching there, wherever a wick burns itself out and falls to the ground there if you dig you will find a hidden treasure without the least doubt. Do not transgress the laws of God, and return home when you have had enough to stave off your poverty.’ The four thanked the ascetic and proceeded to the Himalayan regions. When they had crossed the foothills, the wick of Alpalobhin was burnt out and fell to the ground. He dug there and discovered a hoard of copper coins(All coins including copper ones, were infinitely more valuable in ancient days than now). He was delighted and said, ‘Let us take as many as we can carry and return home.’ The others said, ‘Oh, fool, what can be accomplished with this worthless copper? It will not mitigate our poverty much. So, get up and let us push on.’ Alpalobhin said, ‘You may all go. I shall not come any further and am quite content with this copper.’ He took three thousand of these copper coins and returned home. 

The rest pushed on, The next day Mithalobhin’s wick burned out and fell to the ground. He dug there and discovered a hoard of silver coins. He was overjoyed and shouted out, ‘Here, let us take as many of these as we can carry and return home. There is no need to go any further.’ The other two said, ‘First we got copper coins, and now silver ones ; surely, the place were the next wick falls will contain a hoard of gold coins. We will never stave off our poverty permanently with these silver coins. So, let us push on still further.’ Mithalobhin said, ‘I am quite content with this silver and shall not come any further,’ He then took five thousand silver coins and returned home, joyously groaning under the weight. 

The other two pushed on. A day later, Athilobhin’s wick burned out and fell to the ground. He dug there and discovered a hoard of gold coins. Delighted beyond measure, he cried out to his companion, ‘Let us take as many of these as we can carry and return home. There no need to go any further, for there is nothing greater than gold ‘ Athyanthalobhin replied, ‘You fool, your ignorance is amazing. First copper, then silver, then gold. Surely, the next hoard will be of diamonds, rubies and other precious stones. A single one of them is enough to ward off poverty for a lifetime. With a heavy load of them we shall be able to buy up kingdoms and shall be richer than all others in the world. Your heavy load of gold will not be worth a single one of those diamonds and rubies we shall discover presently. Why commit the folly of taking this worthless gold and returning? So, get up and let us push on’.

Athilobhin said ‘Friend, I am quite content with this gold. We started our expedition in order to stave off our poverty permanently and not to buy up kingdoms or to become richer than all others in the world. You call this gold, which we never so much as handled before, worthless. To me it is valuable enough. It will make me a rich man for life, and keep poverty from my doors for ever. I do not desire anything more. Too much greed is no good.’ ‘Pooh !’ said his friend, ‘the greater the greed, the greater the earnings, I shall prove that to you. So, leave this trash and come along.’ ‘No I do not want to come any further and am quite content with this gold. However, I shall wait for you here, and both of us can return together,’ said Athilobhin.

So Athyanthalobhin alone pushed on. The hills became more rugged and gloomy. For three days he walked without the wick showing the least sign of burning itself out or falling. Then ha entered a secluded valley which had no sign of water anywhere. It was the middle of the hot season, and the rays of the sun literally burnt into him. His thirst became intolerable, and he saw no signs of water anywhere. Not a living thing, neither bird nor beast nor man, was seen by him. But he walked on undismayed, impaled by his greed for diamonds. The regular path gave way to a confused maze of footpaths swarming with brambles and thorns. Still, impelled by his greed, he wandered on and on without a thought of returning to Athilobhin and helping himself to the gold.

The more the difficulties, he assured himself, the greater, rarer, and more precious would the diamonds and other stones be. After much wandering, he saw a man in a trough in the valley shut in by hills on all sides. The man had a quickly-revolving wheel on his head and it was churning his blood and covering his whole face and body and the adjoining space with blood. Going to him, Athyanthalobhin asked, ‘Who are you, sir ? Why are you standing here turning this wheel on your head ? Is it some sacrifice to some demon that you are offering in order to get hidden hoards of precious stones ? Is there any water any where here ?’ As soon as he had uttered these words, the wheel sprang from the head of that man and planted itself on the head of Athyanthalobhin. The latter asked in astonished bewilderment, ‘Friend, what is this? Oh, what a diabolical pain it inflicts !’ The other replied, ‘That wretched wheel sprang on my head also as it did on yours just now, and I was suffering all this time this diabolical pain.’ Athyanthalobhin asked, ‘Then, tell me when it will coma down. It is causing me untold pain by its incessant revolutions and the resultant churning and scattering of the blood of my head.’ The man replied, ‘When some man like you comes with a magic wick prepared by a famous magician and talks with you, the wheel will leave you and settle on his head.’ Athyanthalobhin asked, ‘How long have you stood here with this wheel on your head?’. 

The other asked, ‘Who is the King now ?’. ‘Veena Vatsaraja (Udayana the King of the Vatsas, celebrated for his skill in playing the veena and his romantic marriages)’ said Athyanthalobhin. Then the other said, I cannot say exactly how long I had this wheel on my head. But it was when Rama(Rama ruled the country hundreds of thousands of years before Veena Vatsaraja according to Hindu mythology) was king that I, unable to bear the pangs of poverty, came here with a magic wick like yours. I too was far more avaricious then I should have been and pushed on in front of my comrades not satisfied with what could have kept me in the greatest luxury all my life. I saw a man here with this wheel on his head revolving furiously and churning and sprinkling his blood in all directions. I asked him why he was standing here in this horrid fashion and whether there was any water in the vicinity. At once, the wheel left his head and settled on mine. So I remained with this terrible pain for ages untold, for few living things ever come to this place. Now, by God’s grace, you have come hare with your magic wick and, by talking to me, relieved me of this.’ 

Athyanthalobhin asked, ‘Friend, how can one get food and drink if he were to stand like this perpetually ? Will he not die in a few days and be rid of this misery?’ ‘Not so’ said the other. ‘To prevent the plunder of his most precious treasures, the god of wealth has devised this horror in order to strike terror into the hearts of all magicians and their greedy disciples. Few therefore dare to come this way. If anybody comes here with wick in hand to discover treasures, he will see the man with the wheel and cannot help talking to him. He would never have seen such a horrible sight before, and would be impelled by curiosity to find out why he is doing this. 

Sheer joy at meeting a fellow human being after so long will also induce him to speak to him. If these two motives are not enough, there is always the selfish one of ascertaining whether there is any water in the vicinity to allay the parching thirst. The moment he talks to him, he takes on the wheel and bears it on his head till another comes with wick in hand and talks to him. While the wheel is on his head churning the blood, he feels not hunger nor thirst, nor does he grow old or die. But he will suffer all the while this excruciating pain. Now, give me leave to go. Let me go home.’ ‘What home have you after these hundreds of thousands of years? The race of your wife and children must have perished ages ago. Whither will you ago?’ asked Athyanthalobhin. ‘Ah, I never thought of that,’ said the other. ‘Still, the world is wide, and life is sweet. What matter if ages change and one’s people are all dead? One can always begin anew. So, good-bye’ and he went. 

Athilobhin waited for Athyanthalobhin near his hoard of gold for a long time. Not seeing any signs of his return, he took five thousand gold coins and set out in search of him and at last found him in the desolate valley with the fast-moving wheel on his head churning blood and himself uttering pitiable moans of the most bloodcurdling type. Tears streamed down his face at seeing the fate of his friend, and he asked, ‘Friend, what is this ?’ Athyanthalobhin replied, ‘This is Fate’s decree’. ‘How did this happen?’ asked Athilobhin. Then his friend related the whole story. 

After hearing everything, Athilobhin said ‘Friend, all this came from your excessive greed and from your not listening to my advice just as weaver Mantharaka came to grief by not listening to the barbers sound advice. “What is that story?” asked Athyanthalobhin, and Athilobhin narrated the story of “The Weaver Mandaraka“. Athilobhin continued, “Gold was not enough for you, and you hankered after rubies, diamonds and what not. Now you have got this wheel churning your blood and spraying in the air drops brighter than the brightest ruby while from your eyes come tears more dazzling than the diamonds you desired. My friend, it is not enough in this world to be learned and to know that diamonds are more valuable and desirable than gold. There must be also the saving commonsense which can visualize the difficulties and foresee the consequences. Else, even a learned man of noble family will come to grief. Commonsense is better than learning. Persons devoid of commonsense perish as did the learned men who resuscitated the lion’. ‘What is that story ?’ asked Athyanthalobhin. Then Athilobhin related the story of “The Lion made Alive Again“.

‘Well, one story will not prove a truth any more than a single lotus will make a lotus lake’ said his friend alter hearing it. ‘There are many more such stories’ said Athilobhin and related the story of “The Learned Fools“. ‘Well’ said Athyanthalobhin after hearing that story, ‘There seems to be some point in what you say. But, if you ask my opinion neither learning nor commonsense determines whether a man prospers or comes to grief. The utterly helpless and the unprotected are often protected by God and survive, while the powerful and the well-protected are often struck down by Providence without a warning. Even one abandoned in a forest and left to die survives if God is pleased with him while one taken the greatest care of dies even in his home if such is God’s will. Thus, in the story of “Thousand-wit, Hundred-wit and Single-Wit“, the far less able Single-Wit survived while the other two mightier intellects perished. What do you say to that? Does it not prove my point, that God and Fate alone determine man’s lot here below and that neither greed nor lack of commonsense has anything to do with it ?’ ‘ Not so,’ said Athilobhin after hearing the story, ‘Single-Wit was saved because he had the saving grace of commonsense which the other two had not Besides, the story of “The Monkey’s Revenge” will show the evils of greed,’ and he related that story. After he had heard it, Athyanthalobhin said, ‘ I agree with you. All men in the grip of this demon of greed either come to grief thereby or become ridiculous. The pity is that they never realize this till too late.’ ‘Friend, I warned you in time’ said Athilobhin, ‘and yet you were obstinate like the Ass which sang,’ and he related the story of “Ass As Singer“. 

‘True, too true’ said Athyanthalobhin’. I realize it my-self now. He who has no sense himself should at least have sense enough to act on the advice of a friend. Else he comes to grief. Alas, too often he lacks this sense also like me and solely occupies himself with the speculative, the impossible, and that which has not yet fructuated, abandoning that which is at hand. This too much calculation and greed can be seen in the story of “The Castles In the Air“. ‘That Brahmin too counted on the unhatched and the uncertain and lost what little he had’ said Athilobhin after hearing the story, ‘Yes’ replied his friend. ‘But, whereas he lost only rice flour and a mud pot and was strewn only with harmless rice flour I have lost heaps of gold and am strewn with drops of blood. The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that Fate regulates man’s fortunes here below more than his virtues or vices. “Friend, I am panic-stricken at seeing this terrible wheel churning your head which is constantly dripping blood, and causing the horrible agony on your face, and want to flee from here even as the demon wanted to do on seeing the face of the monkey, twisted with pain in the story of “The Demon Outwitted“. “What is that story ? asked Athyanthalobhin, and Athilobhin narrated it. Then he continued. Fate being favourable, a blind man, a hunchback, and a three breasted princess all got cured of their defects by acts intended to bring about their deaths’ said Athyanthalobhin. 

Athilobhin wanted to hear that story and Athyanthalobhin related the story of “The Three-Breasted Princess“. After hearing that, Athilobhin said, ‘It is true that Fate sometimes brings about happiness even where it is not deserved. But man should not choose the path of greed lest he should invite an unkindly Fate to descend on his devoted head and to bring him to grief like you, I am heartily sorry for you, but I must be returning to my home now. So please give me leave to return.’ ‘Friend’ said Athyanthalobhin, ‘Friends and wealth are said to stand one in good stead in adversity. Then how is it that you say that you will leave me in this miserable plight ? It is said, “That cruel man who deserts his friend on seeing him in misery is an ungrateful wretch and undoubtedly goes to hell for this sin”.’ ‘That is true only in cases where the friend’s misery is capable of alleviation by him’ said Athilobhin. ‘Here, your misery cannot be ended by mortal man. Neither I nor any other man has got the power to liberate you. So, my staying by your side will be of no use whatever and will only give me intense pain by seeing your agony. Besides, the more I see your face showing signs of agony caused by the turning of the wheel, the more I am inclined to flee from here quickly lest some calamity should befall me also. Kindly therefore give me leave to go.’ ‘All right, go home and live in peace. Tell my people also about my hard fate’ said Athyanthalobhin. Athilobhin returned home safely with his gold. ‘Too Much Greed Leads To The Wheel’ whispered he to himself as he cleared the mountain regions and reached the habitations of man. 

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