The Perjurer

There was once a Brahman who was not well-versed in the Vedas. But he knew enough to conduct occasional worship of the gods. Yet, he was such a mean person that no one called him in, even for such small affairs. So, failing to make a living in his village, he started into the world to make his fortune.

On the outskirts of a village, he saw a neglected temple of Shiva. No worship was being carried on there. So, Brahman took the job of the pujari of the temple. He went into the village. He met the village elders and told them that Lord Shiva had appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to restore worship in the temple and that he had travelled fifty miles to do so.

These efforts bore some fruit. Some of the villagers began to visit the temple every day and leave their offerings to Shiva with the pujari. But the Brahman was disappointed to see no money coming forth. He could stay in the temple all his life and make no money worth mentioning.

The Brahman thought he had had enough of this Shiva. So one night, he got up, kicked the god with his foot, and went away to seek his fortune elsewhere.

By dawn, he met an older man who was also going nowhere. They made a pact to travel together and share each other’s luck or ill luck.

At noon they sought the shade of a tree and prepared to eat whatever food they had. The pujari had brought with him all the offerings of the previous evening at the temple. The older man had a bundle of rice flakes. They started with the rice flakes. But before they could finish them, their appetite was satisfied. After the meal, the older man lay down to have a nap. The pujari then stole the bundle of the older man and ate the rest of the rice flakes.

When the older man woke up, he searched for his rice flakes and, not finding them, asked the pujari if he had taken them.

“No,” said the pujari, “I don’t know about them.”

“Never mind!” said the old man.

Soon they reached a city. They heard that the king’s daughter was dangerously ill. The king had announced that he would give as much gold as could be carried by the person who could cure his daughter.

“We can easily cure this king’s daughter,” the old man told the pujari. “Let us save her life, poor child!”

“And the king will pay us gold,” said the pujari greedily.

“As much as we can carry !” They went to the palace. The princess was at death’s door.

“O King,” said the old man, “in case you have given up all hope of her recovery, put her in our charge. We shall carry out a secret treatment on her.”

The king did not believe him. But he had no hope of his daughter recovering at all. So he agreed to put the princess in the older man’s charge. The older man rented a suitable house for the treatment. In the middle of it, he dug a giant pit and kindled a fire in it. He brought a big cistern filled with milk. He went into this house with the sick princess and the pujari.

The pujari observed very carefully everything the older man did. The older man first threw the princess into the fire pit. Soon she was burnt to ashes.

“That’s fine!” said the old man. “Let us now bring her back to life.”

He picked up a few charred bones of the princess and put them in the milk cistern. At once, the princess stood alive in the milk cistern, glowing with health and beauty, rid of all disease.

The king was so glad to have his daughter restored to total health that he treated the two guests with the utmost respect. He ordered his men to bring all the gold coins he had.

“I cannot repay you,” he told them. “This is only a token of my gratitude to you. Oblige me by taking as much gold as you can carry.”

The old man took only a couple of coins between his thumb and finger, saying, “I can’t carry much.” But the pujari took a large heap of gold-as much as he could carry.

The servants of the king’s household who saw this thought that the younger man was the actual physician and the old one his assistant. One of them approached the pujari and whispered in his ear, “Sir, some forty miles from here, there is another king with a sick daughter. For you who cured our princess, that will be a straightforward affair. For that princess is not in a serious condition. She is suffering from a chronic illness that no one can diagnose. You will do well to go there.”

The pujari thought he could obtain another load of gold. He had seen the treatment method and could apply it to the other princess. There was no need to tell the older man about it. So, he started for the other place, and the older man followed him.

What the pujari had heard was true. A princess was suffering from a chronic illness. Several quacks had offered to treat her and had made her condition worse. So the king had laid down a situation. Whoever failed to cure the princess after undertaking to treat her had to go to the gallows and hang for it.

This penalty did not frighten the pujari. He asked the older man to wait in a choultry and went to the king. He offered to cure the princess and agreed to the penalty in case of failure. He was sure of success. He told the king how he had brought back to life a princess who was dead. He also showed him the gold he got for it.

The pujari took a house, prepared a giant fire pit and got a cistern of milk ready. He took the ailing princess inside the house, bolted the doors and threw the girl into the fire. The princess uttered a blood-curdling shriek before she was turned to ashes in the fire. Undaunted, the pujari took a few of her charred bones and threw them into the milk, and they floated on the milk. He grabbed some more bones with trembling hands and threw them into the milk. They, too, floated on the milk.

Now the pujari was sweating with fear and terror. Meanwhile, the men outside the house had heard the princess’s shriek and banged on the door. The pujari was standing paralysed when they broke the doors open and went in.

The king was furious when he learnt that the wretched physician had burnt his daughter alive. He ordered him to be hanged at once.

The pujari, at last, found his tongue and begged the king, “Your Highness, my assistant is in the choultry. Let me meet him but once. I’m certain your daughter can be brought to life.”

“You want to escape, do you? Take this devil at once and put the noose round his neck,” said the king.

The older man turned up there as the pujari was being led up the steps to the gallows.

“You are going to die,” said the old man. “You can tell me now. Who has taken my rice flakes?”

“I don’t know, really,” said the pujari. He was led up one of the steps.

“Please tell me who stole my rice flakes,” the old man implored the pujari.

“I swear that I don’t know! The pujari replied. And he was taken one more step up.

The older man repeated his question, and the perjure denied it—all knowledge of the rice flakes.

The pujari now stood at the top. The noose was arranged around his neck. The king arrived there to see the execution.

“Please stop a moment,” said the old man to the king. “Why are you hanging him?”

“This scoundrel not only failed to cure my daughter, but he burnt her alive,” the king said.

“In that case,” said the old man, “you needn’t hang him. I shall bring your daughter back to life.”

‘Are you trying to be funny?” demanded the king in a rage.

“No, no!” said the old man. “You can send your guards with me. If I fail, I shall hang along with him.”

The king agreed, and the older man restored the princess to life by putting a few of her bones in the milk. She was now free from the disease she had suffered for a long time.

The king was exceedingly happy. He set the pujari free. He sent a box filled with gold coins to the older man at the choultry.

“We have been friends for a long time,” said the pujari to the old man. “We have shared each other’s joys and sorrows. It will be proper that we share this gold.”

The older man agreed to it. He began to arrange all the gold into three equal heaps.

“We are only two!” said the pujari to the old man. “Why do you divide the gold into three parts?”

“That’s quite an in order,” replied the old man. “The third portion is for the one who stole my rice flakes.”

“Oh, then, that share is mine. I stole your rice- flakes,” said the pujari beside himself with joy.

The old man raised his head, glared at the pujari, and said: “You miserable skunk! You polluted me by becoming my pujari!” Then he disappeared in a flash.

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