All of us have been raised on stories from the Panchatantra. We know them as children’s stories where talking monkeys and wise jackals preach human values. Imagine my surprise then, when a few years ago, I happened to read the entire translated collection. I was surprised to find these stories, far from being children’s stories, actually deal with complex and nuanced human emotions and the dilemmas arising from them. These stories show …. well, let me stop here. In ‘Stories that Teach – I’, read this story from the Panchatantra that teaches any value that the reader may want to learn. In ‘Stories that Teach – II’. we will see why this is such a great teaching story.
THE WEAVER WHO LOVED A PRINCESS
In the Molasses belt of Middle India there is a city called Madhurnagar. In it lived two friends; Mehnata, a skilled weaver and Anokha, a skilled carpenter. They were masters in their own respective crafts and had earned money and a good reputation in the city. They worked nine hours a day. At the end of each day, they dressed up in their expensive, soft, and brightly colored garments; adorned themselves diffused odors of camphor, aloes and musk. Dressed and adorned, they met others from the village for recreation in places like the public squares or temples.
One day there was a great festival in the city. It was an occasion for the entire population to wear their finest ornaments and move around the temples of gods and the other public places. Mehnata and Anokha were there as well, dressed in their finest. They wandered in the festive streets of the village with joy and abandon enjoying every moment. Just then, while walking the brightly decorated streets, Mehnata caught a glimpse of a princess seated at the window of the palace. She was more beautiful than words could describe or the mind could imagine.
The weaver was enthralled by her beauty and could not stop thinking about her. He walked back home in a wondrous stagger. He could not sleep a wink that night. His friend Anokha came over the next morning and found Mehnata lying there with tears in his eyes. Anokha was skilled in detecting problems of the heart. He checked his friend and concluded that his condition was not the result of fever, but that of a man who is in love. He persuaded Mehnata to confide in him who his lady love was. When Mehnata finally told his friend who his love was, Anokha was shocked and sad at the same time. No King would give his daughter to a lowly weaver. Anokha warned Mehnata that his attempt to woo the Princess would only entail the king’s wrath.
Mehnata insisted that he loved the princess and that love did not bear the logic of the mind. Anokha could not bear to see the plight of his friend and decided to help him out. He decided to build something for Mehnata which would enable him to visit his love without losing out on time. Mehnata’s hopes risen, he now resumed his daily work.
After a few days, Anokha came with a huge mechanical bird made of wood. It was painted with beautiful colors and he called it ‘Garuda’, the bird of Vishnu. This bird had plugs placed in an intelligent fashion. Anokha informed Mehnata that with the insertion of one plug the bird would take him wherever he wanted. The removal of this plug would stop the flight of this mechanical vehicle. He asked Mehnata to mount the bird, dress in Lord Vishnu’s garbs and meet his lovely princess.
Soon, Mehnata was all set to meet his princess. He put on garlands, and garments rich in fragrance. He wore exquisite jewelry and when night came he followed the instructions of the carpenter. The princess saw Mehnata and thought he was Lord Vishnu. She, honored by the Lord’s visit asked him what she could do for him. Mehnata said to her that he had descended from the heavens to take her as his wife. She was his actual bride who had accidentally fallen to earth because of a curse. He told her that he would now marry her by the ceremony used in heaven.
So they were married and with each day their love only grew stronger. Mehnata and the princess continued to meet every day, but on one such day he was seen by the palace guards. The palace guards approached the king with this piece of information. The king shocked by what he had heard went and shared his hurt and shame with the queen:
You are worried when you hear that she is born;
Picking husbands makes you anxious and forlorn;
When she marries, will her husband be a churl?
It is tough to be the father of a girl.
The queen went up to the princess’s room and questioned her about her paramour. The princess confessed the entire story to her mother. That evening the Queen and the King hid in the balcony to see if it was really Lord Vishnu who came to meet the princess every night. The sight of Mehnata on the huge bird pleased them and they were now sure of their great fortune. The King felt blessed and told the Queen that he was fortunate to have Vishnu as is son-in-law.
The King’s feeling of gratitude slowly turned to greed. He was the father-in-law of the great Lord Vishnu. What could he possibly not achieve with such great power on his side? Soon he started dreaming of conquering the neigbouring and the foreign lands. He challenged them all to a fierce battle and almost immediately challenged the great monarch of the South to a battle. The King called on his daughter and asked her to speak to her husband, his son-in-law, the great Lord Vishnu to slain his opponents.
That day when the princess spoke to Mehnata he was crushed. He felt sick at the thought of losing his lady love and his life too. His reputation was at stake. Feeing defeated at the card life had handed him, he spent one more sleepless night full of suffering. Once again Anokha, always quick to detect his friend’s problem, came to his aid. He advised his one and only dear friend to face the consequence of his lie like a man of honour. Mehnata decided that he would proceed for battle and lay down his life.
Let resolution guide the great, However desperate his state,
However grim his hostile fate: By resolution lifted high,
With shrewd decision as ally, He grimly sees grim trouble fly.
Now it so happened that far away and up above, deep in the heavens, the real Garuda was watching all this and decided to consult the real Lord Vishnu. He expressed to Lord Vishnu that if this weaver failed to save the city and was executed in the battle, it would only reflect badly onto the Lord, as people considered the weaver to be the real Lord Vishnu. People would stop performing ceremonies with the Lord’s name and the gifts and offerings would cease to come as well. Lord Vishnu felt that Garuda was right about his observation and decided to help the weaver. He decided that on the morning of the battle his spirit would enter the weaver and the spirit of Garuda would enter that of the mechanical bird and he would slay the army. On the morning of the battle he blew the conch and the sight of the Lord on the mighty bird scared the army and the men ran for their life. Lord Vishnu used his discuss to slay the Southern monarch’s head and the army bowed down to him for:
An army leaderless, is slain
All the enemies of the King kneeled down in front of the Lord and he asked them to give control of their land, chariots, men and elephants to the King of Madhurnagar city. At this point, Mehnata came forward and revealed that he was really a simple weaver who had fallen in love with his daughter. The great Lord Vishnu warned the King of unfettered greed and praised Mehnata for not ducking the challenge. The King was glad and accepted the weaver as his son-in-law and his secret stayed safe with the real Lord Vishnu. Hence:
The Gods befriend a man who climbs
(Adapted from the translation made from original Sanskrit by Arthur Ryder).