A Strange City

In Mithila, there was once a Kshatriya youth called Yasha-Vardhan. He was brave and daring. He was also quick-tempered. Fearful of none, he led a reckless and adventurous life and committed many atrocities. If anyone dared question him, he killed him without hesitation.

After a time, his sinful career came to an abrupt end. He had the misfortune to fall foul of the King’s brother-in-law. Both of them drew swords. But, before the other could lift his sword, Yasha-Vardhan pierced him through the heart and killed him. The news reached the King’s ears, and an order was issued that Yasha-Vardhan should be killed at sight.

Yasha-Vardhan had to flee from the country if he wanted to avoid death. So he got upon his horse and rode away. He raced his horse so fast that it fell dead after some hours. By then, Yasha-Vardhan had come a long way but did not know whether he was out of the kingdom. He was afraid that the King’s men might follow him and overtake him. So he ran in the dark across mountain paths and forests till, by dawn, he reached a mountain peak.

Here he rested awhile and looked back. Nobody appeared to be following him. Then he looked into the valley on the other side of the hill and saw a charming city.

The sight of the city put new life into Yasha-Vardhan, for there was no such city in the kingdom from which he was fleeing, so far as his knowledge went. This must belong to another domain, and he would live here safe and happy.

Having made this decision, Yasha-Vardhan descended into the valley. On the way, he met a shepherd and asked him, “What is the name of that town below?”

“Dharma-nagar!” the shepherd replied. Yasha-Vardhan had never heard of it.

Yasha-Vardhan found something strange and unusual about this city. He began to walk along the broad streets between tall buildings. He saw a lot of men and women going about and others standing in small groups and talking.

“This must be a place devoid of sin,” Yasha-Vardhan told himself. Nobody seems to be unhappy.” At that very moment, he saw something which took his breath away.

He had come near to a shop. He saw the shopkeeper in conversation with a customer. A young man, who had observed that the shopkeeper was preoccupied, snatched something out of the shop, looked around to see that he was not followed, and began to walk away calmly. But he had taken hardly four paces along the road when there was a terrible sound, the ground opened under the young man’s feet, and the young man went down.

Then the ground closed again, leaving no indication of the mishap.

Yasha-Vardhan, who saw all this, stood petrified. He observed that others had seen this happening but did not appear surprised. This was a common thing for them. They stood for a moment and then passed on.

Soon Yasha-Vardhan learned that the citizens of this place met their end only in this fashion. He saw the ground open up in many parts of the city and swallow many more persons. But nowhere did he see a man or a woman die accidentally. Only such people as did acts of crime against other human beings were swallowed up by the earth in this manner.

For instance, in a particular place, he saw one man try to stab another man in the back, and before he could accomplish his crime, the ground opened under him, and he was swallowed up. In another place, four men were running after a woman, intending to catch her by force, when they were all swallowed up, and the ground closed over them again.

Yasha-Vardhan tried to understand these strange and sudden deaths. “Why do these people commit crimes knowing full well that Mother Earth will not spare them?” he said to himself.

“Where do you come from, son?” Yasha-Vardhan was startled by the question. He saw a sage standing near him.

“I come from Mithila, father!” he replied.

“Do men die with foreknowledge of death in your Mithila?” the sage asked Yasha-Vardhan. “Are they repenting and stopping acts of sin for that reason?”

Yasha-Vardhan suddenly seemed to see the light. He began to recollect all his sinful deeds.

“Father, I, too, was a sinner,” he said to the sage. “I came to this city to escape death. Now I have realised that what I should escape was not death but sin! Kindly teach me how to lead a virtuous life!”

The sage took Yasha-Vardhan with him and taught him the path of virtue and righteousness.

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