Different Strokes|Sep 26, 2003 5:33 AM| by:

Two Similar Events and an Interval of a Millennia

The report appearing in the Hindustan Times (Kolkata edition) in its issue of 20th August was both amazing and amusing.  Two vehicles came face to face on a narrow bridge in a village in Kupwara district. They were not occupied by medieval village tyrants.  One vehicle carried our Army Jawans and the other some policemen of the Border Security Forces. Needless to say, both had their officers leading the groups.

There was no way out but for any one of the two vehicles to back out. It was a matter of two minutes. But none would give way to the other. The impasse reached a stage when a B.S.F. officer pointed his AK 47 at the other party. The Army managed to overpower him on time. We are not told which was the party to cross the bridge first. Probably the Army vehicle, for the B.S.F. officer was taken away by it and handed over to its authorities. The B.S.F. filed a complaint at the local Police Station accusing the Army of having kidnapped its officer.

I remembered having read the account of a similar encounter that had taken place some day, somewhere – similar yet with a difference and that is why it had left an impact on my memory. Before long I recollected its source, the Buddha Jatakas. Naturally the incident goes back to many centuries, may be to three thousand years. I explored the volumes and located it – the Rajabhavadajataka.  My readers surely know that the Jatakas are the tales of the earlier incarnations of the spirit that ultimately, in his incarnation as the prince of Kapilavastu, achieved Enlightenment and became the Buddha. The manifestation of the would-be Buddha’s spirit in these earlier lives is known as the Bodhisattva.

Thus runs the aforesaid story, in brief:

In one of his incarnations the Bodhisattva was Brahmaduttakumar, the king of Varanasi. He was a noble and just ruler and his example inspired all the officials of the kingdom to be just and honest, so much so that the judges received no cases for trial and happily enjoyed their leisure. The only people to feel aggrieved were the touts and liars who thrived on litigations.

All the subjects sang the glory of their young king. But the Bodhisattva wondered if he could be so faultless that nobody had any cause to criticize him. From the courtiers he did not expect a totally objective assessment of his own character. Hence, incognito, he rode a chariot and drove through towns and villages, listening to discussions and gossips among groups and crowds of several kinds in order to snatch a remark or two against himself. But he succeeded not.

It so happened that his chariot crossed the boundary of his domain and proceeded along a very narrow lane, a sort of no man’s land between the kingdom of Varanasi and that of Koshala. Suddenly his charioteer had to stop as another chariot from the opposite direction blocked its way.

Said the charioteer of the Bodhisattva, “Move backward, my friend, for one who rides this vehicle is none other than Brahmaduttakumar, the illustrious King of Varanasi.”

“Blessed be your king. But there is no reason why you should not pull back, for the one to sit on my chariot is none other than Mallik, the illustrious King of Koshala.”

“Blessed be your king. Indeed, he too is as illustrious as my lord. But who is senior in age? The junior should give way to the senior. Do you agree?” asked the Bodhisattva’s charioteer.

“You’re right,” agreed the Koshala charioteer. But it was seen that both the kings were of the same age. Then they considered the hoariness of their antiquities, the size of their domains, the strength of their armies, the number of gifted scholars in their courts, so on and so forth. It was found that the kings equalled each other in all these respects.

The conscientious charioteers then decided that the one who had a nobler character should enjoy the priority of passage. “My king,” proudly announced the Koshala charioteer, “is harsh towards the harsh and tender towards the tender; he treats the pious with piety and punishes the rogue with equal vehemence. What more can be expected of an ideal monarch?”

“Is that all?” observed the Bodhisattva’s charioteer. “My king transforms the wicked with his compassion, the dishonest with his immaculate honesty and the liar with his uncompromising truthfulness. Who do you think is nobler?”

At once the King Mallik and his charioteer got down and bowed to King Brahmaduttakaumar. The two kings became friends and the former sought guidance from the Bodhisattva in his aspiration for leading an ideal way of life.

I do not know what was the result of the 18th August confrontation. I hope the group leaders shook hands and promised to be more accommodative towards each other in the future. But it is a fit situation for us to wonder how far we have moved from the time of King Brahnmaduttakumar – and whether moved forward or backward.

Manoj Das

(Manoj Das is an internationally known creative writer. He is the recipient of India’s national recognition, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the nation’s most prestigious literary award, the Saraswati Samman. As a social commentator, his columns in India’s national dailies like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Statesman, revealing the deeper truth and the untraced aspects behind current issues, have been highly appreciated.)

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