Self Sacrifice

VIKRAM, undaunted, went back to the tree and got the corpse down. As he started walking towards the burial ground with the corpse on his shoulder, Bethal laughed loudly and said, “O King, you remind me of Jeemooth-Vahan. Let me tell you his tale.” Then he narrated the following:

In the Himalayan ranges, there was once a city called Kanchan. King Jeemooth-Ketu ruled it. In his backyard, there was the all-giving Kalpa tree. Several generations of his ancestors had obtained all that they wanted from it.

Jeemooth-vahan was the son of Jeemooth-ketu. As soon as the boy came of age, his father crowned him as the future KKing On that occasion, the ministers of state told the crown prince, “O Prince, the Kalpa tree has been the greatest blessing to your family. For a long time, it has protected your ancestors from their enemies besides granting all their requests. You, too, can have your desires fulfilled by seeking its help.”

Jeemooth-Vahan was not glad to hear these words. On the contrary, he was depressed.

“What a pity,” he said,” that my ancestors had this all-giving Kalpa tree, and yet they kept it to themselves only instead of doing good to others. In this world, the only thing that lives eternally is an act of charity. What has happened to those who called this tree their own? They are gone! I shall not use this tree for my selfish ends.”

He then went to the tree and prayed to it, “O great Kalpa! Over several generations, we have taken all that we wanted from you. Now, I have one request to make to you. The world is full of the needy and the poor. Kindly go away and satisfy their needs and wishes.”

The tree disappeared forthwith. There were good rains all over the earth. The earth yielded bumper crops, and not a single person starved.

But the nearest of king came to know that the Kalpa tree was no longer with Jeemooth-Ketu and his son. They collected their armies and marched upon the city of Kanchan, hoping to conquer it easily. The old King works to prepare for war, but the young Prince tells his father, “Why should we fight, father? Are we going to kill our kin for the sake of this kingdom? No! Let them rule for some time if they want to! We shall go away and find our happiness somewhere else!”

“As you wish, son!” the old King said. “If you are not anxious about your throne, I will not worry.”

Jeemooth-Vahan handed over his kingdom to his kin and went south with his father and mother. They settled on Malaya hill, where people of the Siddha race dwelt. There Mitra-Vasu, the Siddha Prince, became a close friend of Jeemooth-Vahan.

One day Jeemooth-Vahan went for a walk on the hill. As he approached the Gowri’s temple, he heard someone playing upon a veena and singing prayers to Gowri. He went inside and saw an extremely graceful girl there. Her girlfriend introduced her to him as Malaya-Vati, the sister of Mitra-vasu.

Malaya-Vati was somewhat confused. She did not know how to greet him. So she took one of the flower garlands she had brought for worship and put it around his neck. But, immediately, Jeemooth-Vahan removed it from his neck and placed it around hers. Mitra-vasu laughed heartily when he learnt about this incident. He discovered the young man and Malayavati were in love and married them.

One day, sometime later, Jeemooth-Vahan and Mitra-Vasu were walking down the hill towards the sea. Jeemooth-Vahan saw several heaps of bones as they went along and asked his friend about them.

“You know about the undying feud between Garud and the Nagas,” Mitra-Vasu replied. “In his blind hatred for them, Garud began to destroy the Nagas to such an extent that Vasuki, the King of the Nagas, had to enter into an agreement with Garud by which one Naga was sent every day for Garud to eat. According to the agreement, these heaps of bones belong to the unfortunate Nagas eaten by Garud daily.”

Jeemooth-Vahan’s heart filled with pity for the Nagas as he heard this. “What a calamity for the poor race!” he thought. “This Vasuki must be a coward, or he would not let his enemy eat his people day after day. He should have let Garud eat him before he made such a beastly compact! Is not Garud himself a heartless wretch to eat one Naga every day and bring misery to one Naga family?”

“Shall we go back now?” Mitra-Vasu said at last. “It is long since we left home.”

“You go first,” said Jeemooth-Vahan. “I shall follow you soon. I want to see this place more in detail.”

Jeemooth-Vahan did not intend to go back. He decided to become Garud’s food for the day and thus save at least one unhappy Naga. After sending away his brother-in-law, he walked towards the stone on which Garud ate the Nagas.

Soon he heard lamentations and saw an old Naga woman and her son coming towards the stone. “Ah, my son, Sankha! What will happen to me after you are gone?” the old woman cried.

“Don’t cry, mother,” the young Naga advised her. “It does no good at all! Return home now. My time is up, and if you tarry here, you will have to see me killed and eaten.”

“Good mother,” Jeemooth-Vahan said to the old woman, stepping forward, “don’t weep for your son. Today I shall substitute your son as food for Garud. Go back home with him.”

“How sweet you are, my son!” the old one replied. “Are you not as dear to me as my child after what you have said? Is not your death as painful to me as that of my child? No, I cannot let you sacrifice yourself.”

Sankha had very little time left. He sent his mother back and ran to the temple of Gokarna for final worship. Before the boy returned, Jeemooth-Vahan noticed Garud flying towards the spot. He promptly went up to the stone and stood there.

Garud took him to be a Naga. He laid Jeemooth-Vahan on the stone and began to tear at his body with his beak. He was somewhat puzzled that this particular Naga showed no signs of fear of death. On the contrary, he appeared to be quite pleased with himself.

Soon Sankha returned, running and shouting, “Stop, Garud, stop! He is not a Naga whom you are eating! I am the one! Don’t eat him; eat me!”

Garud turned to Jeemooth-Vahan in surprise and asked him, “If you are not a Naga, why do you let me eat you?”

“Because you are entirely heartless,” Jeemooth-Vahan replied, “you eat a Naga every day without the least compunction. But I know how dear life is. So I wanted to give the gift of life to at least one Naga.”

“O Great One!” said Garud in remorse. “Pardon me for my sin, which I committed in ignorance.”

“One who knowingly commits the same sin day in and day out cannot be pardoned,” Jeemooth-Vahan retorted.

“I will never touch Nagas again,” said Garud. “Only you must pardon me!”

Sankha’s life was saved. Jeemooth-Vahan, too, returned home.

Having narrated this story, Bethal said, “O King, which of them was the nobler, Jeemooth-Vahan who was prepared to give up his life for Sankha or Sankha who saved his saviour from death? Your head shall be split if you know the answer and still do not speak.”

“Jeemooth-Vahan was kind-hearted,” Vikram replied. “He considered it his duty to sacrifice his own life to save the life of another. If not for Sankha, he would have willingly laid down his life for another person. But Sankha’s case was entirely different. In the first place, he had to die of his own volition; he was chosen as Garud’s food for the day. If he could escape death that day, he would be free for life from an unnatural death. Knowing this full well, Sankha did try to save Jeemooth-Vahan. Hence he was the nobler of the two.

Since the King’s silence was broken, Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.

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