Author: As Retold by Manoj Das

As Retold by Manoj Das

The Boon of Boons
Katha

The Boon of Boons

It was a dark rainy night.  The King was riding through a narrow lane.  He was in disguise.  He was in the habit of dressing as a common man and seeing how his subjects lived.  He got thoroughly drenched by the rain.  But he did not mind it.  He was healthy enough to withstand the cold. He did not object to the darkness either. He was not afraid of facing danger. So he rode on leisurely but nevertheless cautiously. Coming stealthily behind were some bandits. They had seen that the King was riding a very fine horse and they intended to steal it. All of a sudden, the bandits surrounded the King.  The King was taken by surprise, but he did not panic. Just as he was making his escape, however, his horse’s hoof got stuck in a crack in the road. The bandits, who were more than a dozen in number, were just about to pounce upon him when six young men arrived on the scene and came to his rescue. They attacked the bandits from the rear.  The bandits, forced to face this surprise assault, were unable to harm the King. Whenever the King traveled incognito, some of his ablest bodyguards followed at a distance. They bodyguards now arrived on the spot. The bandits were soon cornered. They tried to escape but failed.  They were all captured by the royal guards. The King was naturally much pleased with the young men who had come forward to save him, though they had no idea that they were doing a great service to their King. After thanking them, the King insisted that they accompany him to his palace.  The young men had come from distant villages. They had become friends because they were staying at the same inn. By morning, the news of the incident had already spread.  Everyone was delighted that the bandits had failed to harm their noble King.  The members of the royal family, the ministers and courtiers and the public all praised the young men’s courage. When the King appeared in the durbar, the six young men were brought before him.  The King got down from his throne and embraced them. He expressed his desire to reward them for the help they had given him. “Let each one ask me for the thing that would please him most.  I promise to grant it instantly, unless it is beyond my power or capacity to grant it,” the King announced. The oldest of the six friends was asked to state his desire first. He thought for a moment and then said, “O great King, I’ve only a hut for a house. For a long time I have wished to live in a comfortable house. Will you please fulfil my wish?” The King immediately summoned the court architect and engineer and instructed them to build a grand mansion for the young man. The next young man wanted to be promoted to the rank of a nobleman. The King bestowed some titles upon him and made him one of his peers. The third young man said, “My Lord, the poor people from my village come to the town every week to sell vegetables. Because there is no good road between my village and the town, the villagers suffer, particularly during the rainy season. My prayer is, let a good road link my village with the town.”  The King made a gesture of approval and the minister in charge of roads and bridges made a hurried note of it. When the fourth young man was asked to state his wish, he blushed and replied, “O great King, you are like my father; find me a beautiful bride, if you please!’ The King’s jester had a beautiful daughter. The King asked the jester to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the young man. The jester happily agreed.  The fifth young man expressed a desire for money. A bag full of gold mohurs was handed to him immediately. At last came the turn of the sixth young man. He said, “My King, I want you to be my guest once a year until one of us dies.” Everyone was surprised at this strange prayer of the young man.  Many thought him a fool. Even to the King, the request appeared rather odd. But he had promised to fulfil any request unless it was beyond his capacity. So he agreed to spend a day and a night every year at the young man’s house. Now it was left to the various departments of the King’s government to make adequate arrangements for the King’s yearly visits to the young man’s house. First of all, it was necessary to build a good road – a royal road – to his village, so that the King’s chariot could run there smoothly.  Then the question was raised: How could the King live and sleep in the young man’s home which was hardly better than a cowshed? In no time a luxurious castle, worthy of hosting the King, was built for him. But how would he, with his meager income, maintain the castle and play host to the King and his entourage? To solve this problem, arrangements were made for him to draw a handsome monthly allowance from the royal treasury. According to a long established convention, the King could only be a nobleman’s guest. So, the young man was promoted to the rank of a nobleman with very special titles of honor bestowed upon him. He was now as dignified as any prince of royal blood.  There was yet one more factor to be considered. The lady who would be the King’s hostess should be familiar with the King’s habits and delicate tastes. To whom could they be more familiar than the King’s daughter? Soon, arrangements were afoot to wed the princess to the young man, for the young man was now rich, lordly and master of a castle. Thus, asking but one boon, the young man got all that his five companions had obtained, and in fact much more, just as praying to avail of the Divine directly one gets the other wealths like devotion and purity all in its wake. One need not wait for these virtues to flourish first to make him eligible for hosting the Divine!  Our deep gratitude to Manoj Das
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Maya
Katha

Maya

“O lord, I feel like laughing when sages and philosophers speak of Maya with some awe. There must be some truth in their fear, but Maya surely cannot put everybody under its spell!” One day Narada observed while walking with Vishnu on one of their occasional visits to Earth. Needless to say, they looked like ordinary mortals. “I’m too thirsty to answer,” was Vishnu’s brief comment. He sat down under a tree as if terribly tired and looked wistfully at the river flowing beyond a stretch of bushy meadow. “Wait a moment and I’ll fetch water for you,” said Narada. He walked briskly towards the river. Plucking a few leaves and thorns, he improvised a cup, entered the river and stood knee-deep in the water. It was indeed refreshingly cool. He leaned forward to fill the cup. “O weary traveler!” the voice, extremely inviting, surprised Narada. He straightened up and looked at the shore. There stood a beautiful maiden, with a water-filled jar under her arm. “The water there is rather muddy, unfit for drinking. If you care to follow me to my house yonder, I will serve you with clean water,” said the maiden, smiling bashfully. She turned and started to walk. Narada followed her. “You can throw away the leaf-cup. We have our tumblers!” the maiden said softly, looking over her shoulder and displaying yet another flash of bewitching smile. Her parents received Narada with sincere affection and served him a sumptuous lunch and offered a cozy bed for his rest. Narada lay down for a siesta, but soon passed into a slumber. It was evening by the time he woke up. “My son, you still look tired, even though you are relaxed. Besides, it is not safe to travel after dusk. Better pass your night here,” proposed the maiden’s father. Behind him stood the maiden, reinforcing her father’s proposal with a meaningful smile. Narada was only too happy to agree. At night it was the maiden who served him his dinner and who prepared his bed. Narada was overwhelmed. “My boy,” in the morning the maiden’s father told him, “I’ve only one child— my daughter. Providence has given me enough. Would you mind marrying my daughter and inheriting my property?” Narada blushed and made no protest. The proposed marriage was duly performed and slowly Narada took over the entire responsibility of his father-in-law’s property and establishments. His parents-in-law died in due course. Narada was blessed with children. They grew up, got married and promoted Narada to the position of a grandfather. His days passed through pleasures, sorrows and hopes as normal in the life of everybody else. Once in a while, however, he was beset with melancholy. He felt as if he had forgotten something vital. But before he had the time to concentrate and find out what that was, his attention was diverted to some mundane problem.  One day it began to rain incessantly. At midnight Narada woke up with a jolt. The river was in spate and the embankment had broken, flooding the whole village. In no time parts of his house began to collapse. “Where are you, my husband!” cried out his wife. As Narada plodded through the water and mud in the direction of the voice, his grandchildren’s cries were heard: “We are being swept away by the tide, Grand-pa.” He could also hear the shouts of his sons and daughters. The bewildered Narada groped in the darkness, his heart breaking at his inability to come to anybody’s rescue. In the flashes of lighting he had flitting glimpses of his dear ones being carried away by the currents. “O God!” cried out Narada. That woke him up.  In fact, he had dozed off for a second while bending to fill the leaf-cup with water. He returned to Lord Vishnu with the water, but blushing almost to death. “Narada! Did you by any chance take a little more time than a moment?” Vishnu asked while receiving the water. “I understand, my Lord, Maya is that which keeps the souls away from you.…” “While I wait!” added Vishnu. Maya is popularly understood as a synonym of illusion. But the term has far greater significance at the spiritual plane. It is the creative power and its role in our life changes as our consciousness grows. “All manifestation proceeds by the two terms, Vidya and Avidya, the consciousness of unity and the consciousness of multiplicity. They are the two aspects of Maya, the formative self-conception of the eternal,” says Sri Aurobindo. The story illustrates the spell of Maya operative in nature – a concept between the two aforesaid definitions of Maya. Even though man remains immersed in ignorance, the Lord never gives him up.   With deep gratitude to Manoj Das
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