King Vikramaditya : Jagannath and his hospitality
The cremation ground presented an eerie spectacle on that dark night. The moon was hidden behind the clouds, and it was drizzling intermittently. The pitch darkness was relieved only by occasional flashes of lightning that lit up the somber scene, causing an eerie dance of jerky shadows in the cremation ground.
Occasionally, a jackal’s spine-chilling howl or the bloodcurdling laughter of some invisible evil spirit cut into the silence that hung like a shroud over the area. Altogether, it was a scene that would strike terror into the bravest heart. But nothing could daunt the intrepid King Vikram. Once again, he made his way to the gnarled tree from which the ancient corpse was hanging. Bones crunched under his feet and a screeching ghost rose from the dust in shuddering frenzy as he marched determinedly ahead.
Oblivious to everything but the mission at hand, he brought the hanging corpse down by cutting the rope with his sword. Slinging it astride his shoulder, he had just begun his return journey when the vampire that possessed the corpse said, “O King! You have embarked on a highly difficult and dangerous mission. Doubtless, your well-wishers have warned you against it, but you chose to ignore the warnings. It’s true that you’re extremely intelligent and learned, as well as valiant. But even learned and intelligent people have been known to make errors of judgment. Take for instance the case of Madhav Sharma, a great scholar who acted in a highly whimsical manner. I shall tell you his story.”
The tale the vampire narrated went as follows.
Three young men were students at Vidyadhar’s gurukula, Jagannath, Lokesh and Madhav Sharma. While Jagannath was the scion of an ancient line of aristocrats, Lokesh was the son of a businessman. Madhav Sharma, who hailed from a poor family, was the brightest of the three. When the other two found it difficult to understand the complex teachings of the guru, he would explain these lessons to them in a lucid manner. Thus, with his help they managed to stumble through the course while he, of course, sailed through it effortlessly.
At the end of their stay at the gurukul, the three bowed to Guru Vidyadhar and took leave of him. He blessed Madhav Sharma, saying, “A bright future awaits you. You shall flourish as a poet and scholar under the king’s patronage.”
To Lokesh he said, “You have the makings of a keen businessman. Take up your father’s business and devote yourself to it in earnest. You’ll do well!” He then advised Jagannath, “Your illustrious forebears have made enough money for you to live in comfort. So, live up to your family reputation by practising charity and by extending your hospitality to all.”
Lokesh and Jagannath, both of whom belonged to Rampur village, went home and started living by the guru’s advice. Madhav Sharma followed the guru’s advice and went to meet the king. Impressed by his erudition, the king appointed him a scholar in his court. As instructed by Guru Vidyadhar, Jagannath threw open his doors to visitors. Anyone coming to Rampur was welcome at his house, where he would be assured of the finest hospitality.
Not content with that, Jagannath extended special treatment to officials, noblemen, and other important people visiting Rampur. He would send his carriage to bring them to his home. There, they would be allotted rooms furnished with every comfort and treated to the choicest of delicacies. Small wonder, then, that Jagannath soon became famous for his hospitality. People hailed his generosity by comparing him to Karna of ancient days.
However, Lokesh’s behavior was quite the opposite of Jagannath’s. He was curt and measured in his speech and actions. He concentrated fully on his business, and disposed of his visitors swiftly. No one was ever invited to spend a night under his roof. Even his relatives who called on him would leave after a brief conversation. He never offered anyone even a glass of water.
Many years passed. One day, Madhav Sharma, by now a famous poet-scholar arrived in Rampur at the invitation of the village chief. The chief welcomed him cordially and said, “As an honored guest of the village, you must stay in my house.”
But Madhav Sharma said, “Jagannath, an old schoolmate of mine, belongs to this village. If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay with him. I’m sure if you were to send word to him; he would come and take me home!” “Oh, Jagannath!” exclaimed the chief. “He’s famous for his hospitality. All the prominent people visiting our village usually stay at his place. He gives royal treatment to his guests.”
The chief immediately sent word to Jagannath through a servant. Before long, the servant returned with Jagannath’s reply, asking the chief to send Madhav Sharma across to his house.
When he reached the house, Jagannath received him warmly, saying, “Welcome, welcome! You should have come straight here. All distinguished visitors to Rampur stay at my place. I send my chariot to receive them at the village boundary and bring them here. I arrange for the food of their choice, and see to it that they have a pleasant stay. I organize sightseeing tours for them. I knew you were coming, but thought you would come here by yourself, that’s why I didn’t send the chariot. Anyway, you’ve come. I’ve made all the arrangements for your comfort. The best room in the house has been allotted to you, and there are servants at your beck and call for anything you might need.”
Madhav Sharma was wonderstruck to see the lavish arrangements Jagannath had made for his special guests. He could now see why his friend was acclaimed for his hospitality. As the friends talked, Madhav Sharma casually asked about Lokesh.
With a wry face, Jagannath remarked, “Oh, Lokesh! He is completely immersed in his business to the exclusion of everything else. He is away right now on some business tour, and will be back after a couple of days. Anyway, you can’t stay at his house. It doesn’t have all the facilities like I’ve here. I’ll send for him after he returns, and you can meet him.”
Madhav Sharma spent the night at Jagannath’s place. There was no doubt that his friend was an excellent host, as he had anticipated every need of his guest and catered to it. The only thing that saddened him was that Jagannath had hardly any time to chat with him.
Madhav Sharma looked forward to meeting Lokesh after two days. But the very next morning, Lokesh came running to Jagannath’s house and burst exuberantly into Madhav’s room. He hugged him and panted, “I was away when I heard that you’ve come to our village. I cut short my tour and rushed back home to meet you. Come; come home with me at once!”
He literally pulled Madhav by the hand. Jagannath, who had come in and was watching all this, said in an aside to Madhav, “Remember what I told you about his house. Just pay a brief visit and come back here!” Madhav Sharma found Lokesh’s house vastly different from that of Jagannath. There were no luxuries to be had. There was no hot water for his bath; nor was the room comfortable or the bed soft. There were no servants to attend on him. The food, too, was plain. However, the warmth of Lokesh’s reception made up for everything.
In the evening, Jagannath’s servant arrived at Lokesh’s house to escort Madhav back to his master’s house. However, Madhav Sharma sent word that he was staying on at Lokesh’s house for the duration of his visit.
Concluding the story at this point, the vampire demanded, “O King! Madhav Sharma was a learned man; moreover, he was used to the luxuries of life at the king’s court. Why, then, did he spurn the opulent hospitality of the aristocratic host Jagannath and instead opt for the spartan lifestyle of the obviously less well-off Lokesh? Wasn’t his behavior an insult to Jagannath, who had taken such pains to make his guest comfortable? Why did Madhav Sharma behave in such a whimsical manner? If you know the answer, speak out “otherwise, your head shall shatter into a thousand splinters!”
Without hesitation, King Vikram answered: “Madhav Sharma was an excellent judge of people. He quickly understood the true nature of Jagannath’s hospitality. He was merely putting on an act of caring for him; his heart was not really in it. By his own admission, he would send his chariot to bring distinguished guests to his house. Why then didn’t he do the same for his childhood friend? Evidently because he did not consider him important enough for such privileged treatment!
He did not care for his other schoolmate, Lokesh, either, as was evident from his disdainful comments to Madhav about him. Thus, his hospitality was a mask that covered his selfish nature. On the other hand, Lokesh was genuinely warm and loving to his old friend. He might not have been as rich as Jagannath, but did the best he could do for his guest, treating him as one of his family. Being a wise man, Madhav saw both his friends in their true colors, and took the right decision by deciding to stay with Lokesh. There’s nothing whimsical about his choice.”
On hearing this, the vampire nodded in approval, before going off into peal after peal of thunderous laughter. The next moment he, along with the corpse, moved off the king’s shoulder with a jerk and flew back to the tree. King Vikram gave a little sigh as he gazed upon the scene. He then squared his shoulders and retraced his steps towards the ancient tree.