A Family of Pandits
In Amaravati, there was a low-income family consisting of a Brahman, his wife, their son and their daughter-in-law. All four were pandits and poets. So people used to call them the pandit family.
The pangs of poverty are hard to bear. Having heard that King Bhoja was inclined to help pandits and poets, the pandit family undertook a journey to Dhara (now known as Ujjain). As they came to their destination, they met an old Brahman with a heavy bundle on his shoulder coming towards them from the city.
“Where are you all going to?” the old Brahman asked the elder pandit, the head of the family. “We are going to see King Bhoja, who is well-versed in all the Vedas and the Puranas,” replied the elder pandit.
“You say the king is well versed. But I doubt if he knows how to read at all. If he could read the curse of poverty that fate has inscribed on my forehead, would he have given me so much wealth?”
Having thus complimented the great charity of King Bhoja, the older man departed. The pandit family was glad to see this proof of the king’s philanthropy. He did not look down on the poor.
Before any outsiders entered the city, they had to obtain permission from the Court. So the pandit family made their camp under a spreading banyan tree outside the city walls and sent word to the king.
After some time, a messenger came to see them. He carried a tumbler filled to the brim with milk and offered it to the elder Brahman as a gift from the king to the pandit family.
Through this gift, the king meant to convey to the newcomers that the city was already full of pandits and there was no room for any more. The elder Brahman understood this. He added sugar to the milk and told the messenger, “Take it back to the king.” The Brahman wanted to convey to the king that the newcomers would mix with the pandits of the city as sugar mixed with milk. Also, they could add new sweetness. The king understood the Brahman and was very glad.
The king desired to test the pandit family some more. He dressed like an ordinary citizen and reached the banyan tree at sunset. He saw only the ladies there. He went to the river expecting the males to be there for their evening prayers. However, he saw only the Brahman’s son at the river. The king looked at him questioningly and, taking some water in his hands, drank it. In doing so, the king asked the young Brahman, “Are you not the same caste as the great Brahman Agastya, who drank down all the oceans in one gulp?”
The young Brahman understood this silent question and asked another by throwing a stone into the water in return. His question was, “Are you not a Kshatriya like Sree Rama, who bridged the ocean by throwing stones in it?”
King Bhoja was very much pleased with this and went home. He was still anxious to learn.
The poetic gifts the family passed. So he dressed as a wood-cutter, took a bundle of firewood upon his head and came out of the city gates as they were about to be closed.
He approached the pandit- family resting under the banyan tree and said to the elder Brahman, “Sir, I tarried too long in the forest. Now the city gates are closed. Let me spend the night here. I shall go away in the morning.”
The elder Brahman agreed. Saying. “You are welcome. This place is nobody’s property.”
All of them could not go to sleep for fear of thieves. So the family decided to stay awake by turns while the rest slept. The first one to keep watch was the older Brahman. During his eye, the king spoke out where he lay:
“In this unhappy world, three things are deemed pleasant.”
And the elder Brahman replied:
“Life in Kasi, serving the good and taking the name of God.“
After a time, the elder Brahman woke up his wife and slept. During her watch, the king said where he lay:
“In this unhappy world, two things are deemed pleasant.”
The Brahman’s wife replied:
“The sweet meal made of sugar And the holy feet of God.“
Presently the son took over the watch from his mother, and the king said where he lay:
“In this unhappy world, Pleasant is the wife’s birthplace.“
The young Brahman replied:
“Shiva lies on Snow Hill. Vishnu on the Ocean of Milk.“
(Lord Shiva’s wife was the daughter of the king of Himalaya, and Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, was born out of the Milky Ocean. Both Shiva and Vishnu have made their wife’s birthplaces their residence.)
During the last watch, the dawn, when the daughter-in-law was awake, the king where he lay:
“In this unhappy world, Woman is the only pleasure.“
The young girl shrewdly guessed that the wood-cutter was none other than King Bhoja and replied:
“She who gave birth to one Like you, O King Bhoja.“
The king at once got up and went home in the dark.
Early the following day, the family received an invitation from the king. He honoured each of them in his best manner and gave them all permanent employment in his Court.
Chandamama July 1955 | P. Saradadevi