The Last String

Ancient tales of the rishis (Vedic sages) retold with illustration by U. Mahesh Prabhu

Once a rishi appeared before a king and said, “If you give me some money, I will return the sum to you in due course; indeed, I will give you ten times more than what you give me now.”

The king at once ordered his treasurer to give the amount the rishi needed. The king’s minister did not approve of it. He whispered to the king, “How to know that the man is not a cheat?” The king, however, did not pay any heed to the minister’s warning.

As days went by, the king almost forgot about it. The minister, however, never forgot the rishi or the money he had borrowed. He was certain that the innocent king had been swindled by the fake rishi.

A year passed. The rishi appeared before the king again and said “O King, give me some more time and more money. I am on the way to achieving success.”

“Your majesty! Instead of more time and money, this fellow deserves a term inside our jail,” the minister whispered to the king.

But the king instructed his treasurer to give the amount the rishi had asked for and told the minister, “I feel that this rishi is no cheat. I can afford to take this risk.”

Yet another year passed, and the rishi showed up in the royal court again. “My work is about to be complete. But I need a little more money.”

“How dare you take advantage of our king’s generosity?” blurted out the minister. “What have you done with all the money you have received so far?”

But the king did not lose patience. He smilingly requested the minister to calm down and gave the rishi the money he desired.

The rishi met the king six months later.

“Do you need more time and money?” asked the minister harshly.

The rishi did not reply to the question. He looked at the king and said, “O king, my work is over. Be pleased to give me your company. You will come back feeling rewarded.”

The king prepared to accompany the rishi.

“My king! It is not wise to go out alone with a stranger. Take a few bodyguards with you,” advised the minister.

“That might mar the work,” cautioned the rishi. “However, if the minister himself so desires, he may join us.”

The rishi led the king and the minister towards the seashore. A small boat awaited them there, with two boatmen ready to ply it. The rishi asked the king and the minister to board it and himself did the same.

The minister was throwing his nervous looks in all directions. He put his hand on his sword again and again. The rishi took no notice of him or his uneasy conduct.

The boat reached a tiny island. The rishi got off the boat and his two passengers followed suit.

“This seems like an enchanted island. May be, the rishi wishes to perform some witchcraft by our help.” The minister whispered to the king.

The tiny island was covered with ash. At its center was an opening shut with a wooden plank.

“O King! Go down into the underground chamber and see what is there,” the rishi said, lifting up the plank.

The king did as advised. But the suspicious minister unsheathed his sword and holding the rishi by his arm, said, “This sword will pierce through you if any harm befalls my king.”

The rishi  showed no sign of fear. In a few minutes the king climbed out, looking surprised and delighted. He asked the minister to go down and see for himself what was there in the chamber.

The minister too returned equally delighted and surprised.

“What is all this? Wherefrom came such a heap of pearls?” asked the king.

“My king! I was a trader. Often, I undertook voyages to various ports, during which I came across this tiny island. I observed that cranes galore gathered here. During the time of ebb, they collected oysters from the mud around the island. Those were not ordinary oysters, but pearl-oysters. The cranes ate their meat and left the remains on the island. The remains included pearls.

“I had planned to collect those pearls. But suddenly, I developed aversion for worldly life and desired to be a sanyasi. The wisdom required that I give up all material possessions – thoughts and things. Pearls of this island haunted me long after I donated all my wealth. I realized that unless I take some step to put them to good use, I will have no peace of mind.

“I found out that you were wise and just king. With the money I received from you I bought a boat, hired two boatmen, and brought here loads of sacks full of ash. I spread the ash on the island. As soon as the cranes dropped their oysters on the ground, they were covered with ash. The cranes, unable to find them, brought more and more of them onto the island.

“I also dug the underground chamber and stored the pearls there. Now it is for you to decided how to make best use of it. With the last task completed my last string to this world is snapped. I can now truly seek the path of true renunciation – Vairagya.”

The king and the minister expressed their gratitude to the rishi who soon left to nowhere – with nothing.

December 19, 2017

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