The Panchatantra – Story 64


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.

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