An Original Verse

Serving a king is like walking the razor’s edge. King Bhoja, who was so very fond of Kalidas, the great poet, once fell out with him; consequently, Kalidas left his court.

After Kalidas left, the academy of pandits and poets assembled in Bhoja’s court deteriorated. Among these scholars, three queer fellows acted as a team. One of them could repeat Anything after hearing it only once. Another could repeat it after hearing it twice, and the third could repeat it thrice.

Bhoja habitually gave a lakh of rupees to anyone who recited an original verse. But these three put an end to this practice.

When a new poet came to the court and recited an original verse, the one who could repeat, Anything on hearing it once claimed that he already knew the poem. As proof thereof, he recited the verse which he had just heard. Then the second fellow, who had heard it twice by now, claimed that he knew w it already. Next, the third fellow repeated it. The King was convinced that the verse was not original, and the poet had to go away unrewarded.

Thus, several poets were put to shame at the famous court of King Bhoja and went back in great sorrow. One Brahman who had been disgraced came across Kalidasa in a distant place.

It pained Kalidas greatly to hear of the deterioration in King Bhoja’s court after he left it. Had he been there, he would have taught the three rascals a proper lesson. Even now, Kalidas thought, it was not too late. He could still teach Bhoja and his scholars a good lesson.

Kalidas once composed a verse and told the Brahman, “Sir, take this verse and read it in Bhoja’s court. You are sure to be rewarded.” The Brahman returned to Bhoja’s court and asked the King’s permission to read an original verse. He got a license and read the following:

“स्वस्ति श्री भोजराज ! त्रिभुवन विदितो धार्मिकस्ते पिता भू पित्राते वे गृहीता नवनवतिमिता रत्नकोव्यो मदीयाः तामेदेहीति राजन् : सकल बुध जनैर्जायते सत्यमेत नोवा आनन्तिते तन्ममकृति मथवा देहि लक्षंततो मे । “

(Hail, King Bhoja! Your father, whose fame as a philanthropist has spread over the three worlds, borrowed 90 crores of gems from me. All the scholars are witnesses to this. So kindly pay back my debt. If the scholars are unaware of this, let me have a lakh for this verse of mine.)

The three rogues were caught in a snare. If they claimed they were already familiar with this verse, they were aware of the debt mentioned in it. As an honest man, King Bhoja would have no choice except to pay back the 90 crores of gems his father had owed this Brahman. If they acknowledged that the verse was original, the Brahman would get only a lakh.

So, none of the scholars dared to claim that they knew the verse before, and King Bhoja paid the Brahman the usual lakh. And then he asked the Brahman.

“Sir, what prompted you to write a verse like this?”

The Brahman told the King how he had come once to this court and recited an original verse, how he was put to shame by people who claimed that they had known it before, how a kind man met him in a distant place and wrote him this verse out of pity for him.

King Bhoja now realized that the three scoundrels had been playing pranks. He was shocked that many more poets must have suffered disgrace at his court.

The King was sure that the good man who took pity on the Brahman could be none other than Kalidas. He once sent for him and installed him in his court as before.

Chandamama December 1955 | K Mahadeva Sastri

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