THERE WAS ONCE a king or rajah named Vicram Maharajah, and he had a vizier or prime minister named Butti. Both Vicram Maharajah and Butti were left orphans when very young, and ever since their parents' deaths they had lived together, were educated together and loved each other tenderly - like brothers.
Both were good and kind - no poor man coming to the rajah was ever known to have been sent away disappointed, for it was his delight to give food and clothes to those in need. Indeed, Vicram Maharajah was the spur of every noble work. Still, there were times when the king was too apt to let his imagination run away with his reason, and at those times the vizier, by offering careful judgment and discretion, provided the curb to every rash or impractical impulse. Under their united rule, the kingdom greatly prospered.
In a country far away from Vicram Maharajah's there lived a little Queen called Anar Ranee (the Pomegranate Queen). Her parents reigned over the Pomegranate country, and for her they had made a beautiful garden. In the middle of the garden was a lovely pomegranate tree that bore three large pomegranates. Each one opened in the center and inside was a little bed. In one of them Anar Ranee used to sleep, and in the pomegranates on either side, slept two of her maids.
Early each morning the pomegranate tree would gently bend its branches to the ground, the fruit would open, and Anar Ranee and her attendants would creep out to play under the shadow of the cool tree until evening. And each night the tree again bent down to allow them to climb into their tiny, snug bedrooms.
Many princes wished to marry Anar Ranee for she was said to be the fairest lady on earth - her hair was as black as a raven's wing, her eyes like the eyes of a gazelle, her teeth two rows of exquisite pearls, and her cheeks the color of the rosy pomegranate. But her father and mother had caused her garden to be hedged around with seven hedges made of bayonets so that none could go in or out, and they had published a decree that none could marry her but he who could enter the garden and gain entry to the three pomegranates, in which she and her two maids slept. To do this, kings, princes, and nobles innumerable had striven, but striven in vain.
Some never got past the first sharp hedge of bayonets; others, more fortunate, surmounted the second hedge, the third, or the fourth, or fifth, or even the sixth, but there they perished miserably, being unable to climb the seventh. None had ever succeeded in entering the garden.
Now in the palace of Vicram Maharajah there lived an old wizard, as powerful as he was wise, who much loved the king and his vizier. One day he said to Vicram Maharajah, "Sire, I have given you much wisdom in our years together. Now as a parting gift, since I can tell my days are coming to an end, ask of me what you will and it shall be yours - riches, power, beauty, long life, health, happiness - choose what you will have."
Now it happened that near the palace there lived the son of a carpenter who was very cunning. For a long time he had been coming to where the wizard taught the Maharajah and hid close behind so he could overhear all their conversations and become very wise himself. No sooner, therefore, did he hear the wizard's offer to Vicram Maharajah, than he determined to return again when the king did, and find out the secret of the promised gift, whatever it may be.
When Vicram Maharajah returned to the palace, he consulted his vizier and friend Butti as to what he should ask for. "I have more than enough riches," he said, "and as king, I have enough power. For the rest of it I'd just as soon take my chances with other men, which makes me at a loss to know what to choose."
Butti said, "Is there any supernatural power you desire at all? If so, ask for that."
"As a matter of fact," replied the Maharajah, "it has always been a great desire of mine to have the power to leave my body and translate my soul and sense into some other body, either of man or animal. I would rather be able to do that than anything else."
"Then," said the vizier, "ask the wizard to give you the power."
Next morning Vicram Maharajah went to have his final interview with the wizard. And the carpenter's son went, too, in order to overhear it.
The wizard said to the rajah, "Vicram, what gift do you choose?"
"Oh wizard," answered the king, "Already I have plenty of wealth and power from being rajah. And of long life, health, and happiness, I would rather take my chances with other men. But there is a power which I desire above all else."
"Name it, oh good son of a good father," said the wizard.
"Most wise wizard," replied Vicram Maharajah, "give me the power to leave my own body when I want, and translate my soul and sense and thinking powers into any other body that I choose, either of man, bird, or beast - whether for a day, or a year, or for twelve years, or as long as I like; grant also that however long the term of my absence, my body may not decay, but that when I please to return to it again, I may find it still as fresh as when I left it."
"Vicram," answered the wizard, "your wish is fulfilled," and he instructed the king by what means he should translate his soul into another body, and also gave him something which, being placed within his own body when he left it, would preserve it from decay until his return.
The carpenter's son, who had been all this time listening outside, heard and learned the spell whereby the wizard gave Vicram Maharajah the power to enter into any other body; but he could not see or find out what was given to the king to place within his own body when he left it, to preserve it; so he was only master of half the secret.
Vicram Maharajah returned home and told Butti that he now knew the much-desired secret. "My first journey," he said to Butti, "will be to fly to Pomegranate country and bring back for you Anar Ranee, for I know that from the time the two of you chanced to meet years ago, you have desired one another."
His friend was surprised and delighted. "I'd nearly given up on our love," he said, "knowing how impossible her parents made it to reach her and even if I survived the attempt, that they would never approve a match for their daughter with a lowly vizier. How can you do what you suggest?"
"I will transport myself into the body of a parrot and fly over the seven hedges or bayonets that surround her garden. I'll go to the tree in the center of it, bite off the stalks of the pomegranates and bring them home in my beak."
"That's wonderful," said the vizier. He picked up a parrot on the ground which had recently died. Vicram Maharajah, after placing within his own body the life-preserving charm, transported his soul into the parrot and flew off.
On and on he went over the hills and far away until he came to the garden. Then he flew over the seven hedges of bayonets, and with his beak broke off the three pomegranates (in which were Anar Ranee and her two ladies). Holding them by the stalks, he brought them safely home to his palace. Then he immediately left the parrot's body and re-entered his own body.
When Butti saw how well he had accomplished the feat, he said, "Thank you! Already you have done well with your gift!" All who saw Anar Ranee were pleased with her beauty, for she was as fair as a lotus flower, and the vizier and Anar Ranee were very happy indeed.
But in a little while Vicram Maharajah said to Butti, "Again, I have a great desire to see the world."
"What?" said the vizier, "so soon again to leave your home?"
"I love you and my people dearly," answered the king, "but I cannot but feel a longing to use this supernatural power of taking any form I please to see the world."
"Where will you go? How long will you be?" asked Butti.
"I'll leave the day after tomorrow," answered Vicram Maharajah. "I noticed in the garden another beautiful parrot just died - a handsome bird, with a tuft of bright feathers on its head and ring about its neck. I shall take its form, and see as much of the world as possible."
So Vicram Maharajah arranged for the kingdom to be left in the vizier's sole charge. He cut a small incision in his arm and rubbed into it some of the magic preservative given him by the wizard to keep his body from decaying, transported his soul into the parrot's body, and flew away.
No sooner did the carpenter's son hear that the king was dead, than, knowing the power that both he and Vicram Maharajah owned, he felt certain that the king had made use of it, and decided likewise to turn it to his advantage. Therefore, as soon as Vicram Maharajah entered the parrot's body, the carpenter's son entered the king's body, and the world at large imagined that the king had only swooned and recovered.
But the vizier was wiser than they. Immediately he thought, "Someone beside Vicram Maharajah must have become acquainted with this spell and is now making use of it, thinking it would be very amusing to play the part of king for a while. Soon I'll discover if this is the case or not."
He confided his doubts that night to his wife Anar Ranee when they were alone.
"Yet what can we do?" said she.
"We cannot cast him into prison, since he inhabits the body of our Vicram Maharajah," said Butti, "but neither of us, nor any of the Maharajah's relations, must have any friendship with, or so much as speak to him; and if he speaks to any of us, let whoever it be, immediately begin to quarrel with him, whereby he will find the life of a rajah not so agreeable as he anticipated, and may be induced to return to his proper form."
Anar Ranee instructed all the servants and court officials as her husband had advised, and the carpenter's son began to think the life of a rajah not at all as pleasant as he had fancied, and would, if he could, have gladly returned to his own body again. But, having no power to preserve it, his spirit had no sooner left it than it began to decay and at the end of three days it was quite destroyed, so that the unhappy man had no alternative but to remain where he was.
Meantime the real Vicram Maharajah had flown, in the form of a parrot, very far away until he reached a large banyan tree where there were a thousand other pretty pollies, whom he joined, making their number a thousand and one. Every day the parrots flew away to get food, and every night they returned to roost in the great banyan tree.
Now it chanced that a hunter had often gone through that part of the jungle, and noticed the banyan tree and all the parrots. He said to himself, "If I could only catch the thousand and one parrots that nightly roost in that tree, I would have plenty of curry for a long, long time." But he could not do it, though he often tried, for the trunks of the tree were tall, straight and very slippery, so that he no sooner climbed up a little way, than he slid down again. However, he did not stop looking and longing for them.
One day, a heavy shower of rain drove all the parrots back earlier than usual to their tree. When they got there, they found a thousand crows who had stopped at their tree on their homeward flight to shelter themselves there till the storm was over.
Vicram Maharajah's parrot said to the other parrots, "Look! These crows have all sorts of seeds and fruits in their beaks which they are carrying home to their little ones. We must quickly drive them away before some of these fall down under our tree and then spring up strong plants that will twine around the trunks, and enable our enemy the hunter to climb up with ease and kill us all."
But the other parrots said, "That is a very far-fetched idea! We musn't drive the poor birds away from shelter in this pouring rain." So the crows were not driven away. It turned out, however, just as Vicram Maharajah had foretold; some of the fruits and seeds in their beaks fell under the tree and the seeds took root and sprang up, strong creeping plants, which twined all round the straight trunks of the banyan tree, and made it very easy to climb.
The next time the hunter came by, he noticed this. "Ah, my fine friends," he said, "I've got you at last." With the help of the creepers, he climbed the tree and set one thousand and one snares of fine thread among the branches. Having done this, he went away.
That night, when the parrots flew down on the branches as usual, they found themselves all caught by the feet.
"Crick! crick! crick!" cried they, "crick! crick! Oh dear! Oh dear! What shall we do? What can we do? Oh, Vicram Maharajah, you were right and we were wrong. Oh dear! Oh dear! Crick! crick!"
Then Vicram said, "Did I not tell you how it would be? But do as I bid you now and we may yet be saved. So as soon as the hunter comes to take us away, let everyone hang his head down on one side, as if he were dead. Thinking us dead, he will not trouble himself to wring our necks, or stick the heads of those he wishes to keep alive through his belt, as he otherwise would, but will merely release us and throw us on the ground. Let each one remain perfectly still until the whole thousand and one are set free and the hunter begins to descend the tree. Then we will all fly up over his head and far out of sight."
The parrots agreed to do as Vicram Maharajah Parrot proposed. When the hunter came next morning to take them away, every one had his eyes shut and his head hanging down on one side as if he were dead. The hunter said, "All dead, indeed! This will be easier than I thought!" So saying, he cut the noose that held the first parrot and threw him down. It fell like a stone to the ground, so did the second, the third, the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and so on - up to the thousandth parrot.
Now the thousandth and first chanced to be none other than Vicram; all were released but he. Just as the hunter was going to cut the noose round his feet, he let his knife fall, and had to go down and pick it up again. When the thousand parrots who were on the ground heard him coming down, they thought, "The thousand and one must all be released now, and here comes the hunter. We must now fly away to safety." And in one moment they flew up into the air together and far out of sight, leaving poor Vicram Maharajah still a prisoner.
The hunter, seeing what had happened, was very angry. Seizing Vicram, he said, "You wretched bird, it's you that worked all this mischief. I know it must be, for you are a stranger here and different from the other parrots. I'll strangle you in any event - that I will!"
But to his surprise the parrot answered, "Do not kill me! What good will that do? Rather sell me in the next town. I am very handsome. And a parrot that talks as well as I do will fetch a thousand gold mohurs (several thousand dollars)."
"A thousand gold mohurs!" answered the hunter, much astonished. "You silly bird, who'd be so foolish as to give a thousand gold mohurs for a parrot?"
"Never mind," said Vicram, "only take me and try."
So the hunter took him into town and though most people laughed at the price, one merchant took a fancy to the talking bird, paid the thousand gold mohurs, and taking Vicram Maharajah home, hung him up in his shop.
The Parrot took on the duties of shopkeeper and talked so much, and so wisely, that everyone in town soon heard of the merchant's wonderful bird. Nobody cared to go to any other shop - all came to his shop, only to hear the Parrot talk. The merchant sold them whatever they wanted, and they did not care how much he charged for what he sold, but gave him whatever he asked; insomuch, that in one week, the merchant had made a thousand gold mohurs over and above his usual weekly profits. In the shop, Vicrema Maharajah Parrot lived for a long time, made much of by everybody, and was happy.
It was now two years since the Vicram Maharajah had left his kingdom. About six months before, Butti, in despair of his ever returning, said goodbye to his wife and set out to seek him. Up and down through many countries had he gone, searching for his master, but without success. As good fortune would have it, however, he chanced to enter the village where the merchant lived and overhead the villagers extolling the virtues of the famed parrot that lived in the merchant's shop. No sooner did he enter the shop and see the Parrot, than he recognized Vicram. The king also saw his friend and instantly flew onto his shoulder. The vizier caught him, put him in a cage where he would be safe, and took him home. The merchant was sorry to see him go but could not complain, for he had succeeded so handsomely with the parrot.
Now was a puzzling problem to be solved. Vicram Maharajah's soul was in the parrot's body and the carpenter's son's soul in the king's body. How could the carpenter's son's soul be expelled to make way for the king to return to his own body? The carpenter's son could not return to his own body, for that had perished long before.
It happened that the pretend Maharajah and Butti each had a fighting ram. One day the vizier suggested to the pretend Maharajah, "Let us set our rams to fight today, and try the strength of yours against mine."
"Agreed," answered the pretend king, who was glad to at be addressed in a pleasant manner, and the two of them set their rams to fight. But there was much difference in the two rams; for when Butti's ram was but a lamb, and his horns were growing, Butti had tied him to a lime tree and his horns had got very strong indeed by constantly rubbing against its tender stem, and butting against it. But the carpenter's son had tied his ram, when a lamb, to a young teak tree - the trunk of which was so stout and strong that the little creature, butting against it, could make no impression on it but only damaged and loosened his own horns.
The pretend Maharajah soon saw, to his vexation, that his favorite's horns being less strong than its opponent's he was getting tired, was beginning to lose courage, and would surely be worsted in the fight. So quick as thought, he left his own body and transported his soul into the ram's body in order to give it an increase of courage and resolution and enable it to win.
No sooner did Vicram Maharajah, who was hanging up in a cage, see what had taken place, than he left the parrot's body and re-entered his own body, which had already fallen to the ground. In the meantime, Butti's ram suddenly pushed the other down on its knees, and soon put an end to it, ending in one instant the life of the carpenter's son along, unfortunately, with that of the ram.
Great was the joy of the vizier and his wife, and the entire royal household, at recovering their beloved Vicram Maharajah after his long absence. The vizier prevailed upon the king to fly away no more as a parrot, and he pledged to remain in the kingdom.
From that day, Vicram Maharajah stayed in his own kingdom, ruling it wisely and well, and beloved by all. He and the vizier lived to a good old age, and their affection for each other lasted as long as they lived. So that it became a proverb in that country that instead of saying, "So-and-so love each other like brothers" (when speaking of two who were much attached), the people would say, "So-and-so love each other like the rajah and the vizier."
Source of story:
Retold by Elaine L. Lindy, ©2006. Based on the story "The Wanderings of Vicam Maharajah" from Old Deccan Days by Mary Frere, 1868. All rights reserved.
©Copyright 2006 Elaine Lindy -- All rights reserved.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 600344 / Newtonville, MA 02460-0004