Hideous Poverty

Very early one morning, King Bhoja went for a walk along the quiet streets of his capital, Dhara, towards the temple of Lord Shiva. He saw two Brahmans sleeping on the pial of the temple. One was quite a youth, while the other was somewhat advanced.

Even as the king was looking at them, the aged man woke up, saw the youth and woke him up, saying, “Who are you, son? Are you asleep or awake?”

“My respects to you, sir,” said the youth sitting up. “I arrived here very late last night and saw you sleeping. Glad of the company, I, too, lay down and went to sleep. I was sleeping when you woke me up.”

“What is your name, son? Where do you come from?” the aged man asked the youth.

“They call me Bhaskar,” replied the youth. “I come from the banks of the river Prabhavati in the West. I heard that King Bhoja was a very generous person. I am a stranger here.”

“Don’t worry, son,” the elder said. “I, too, came to see King Bhoja. My name is Sakalya, and I am a poet from the South. You appear to have suffered greatly.”

“Suffering indeed,” said Bhasker and he recited the following verse:

क्षुतू क्षामा शिशवः शवा इव भूशं मन्दाशया बान्धवाः लिप्ता जर्जर, घर्घरी जतुलनमां तथा बाधते, गेहिन्या त्रुटितांशुकम् घटयितुं कृत्वा सका कुस्मितम् कुप्यन्ती प्रतिवेश्मलोक गृहिणी सूचीं यथायाचिता ।

(The children are like corpses tortured by hunger. The relatives have no pity. All the utensils are broken. But all this does not pain me so much as the contemptuous anger of my neighbour’s wife when my own woman approached her with a shameful smile begging for the loan of a needle to patch her torn clothes.)

King Bhoja, who was listening to this from behind a pillar, was horrified and pained. Removing all the ornaments on his body, he offered them to the youth, saying, “My dear young man, take these and return to your home at once. Do something to your wife and children, for heaven’s sake.”

The generosity of King Bhoja so touched poet Sakalya that he recited the following verse in praise of him on the spot.

अभ्युष्टता वधुमती, दलितोरि वर्ग: कोडीकृता बलवता बलिराज लक्ष्मीः एकत्र जन्मनि कृतं यदनेन यूना जन्मत्रयेत दकरोत् पुरुषः पुराणः ।

(God had to incarnate himself three different times to rescue the Earth (as Varaha), to root out his enemies (as Parasuram) and to snatch the wealth of the rich (as Vaman). But King Bhoja did all three things in one incarnation, and that too while he was still a youth.)

King Bhoja, often called an incarnation, was quite flattered by the compliment and gave a gift of three lakhs to poet Sakalya.

Chandamama November 1955 | R S Sarma

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