King Vikramaditya: Solution from a Casket
The night sky was overcast with clouds. An eerie silence prevailed. Once in a while the silence was broken either by the howl of jackals or by thunderclaps. In the intermittent lightning, sometimes horrible faces were revealed. They seemed amazed at the king’s valor.
However, they did not come too close to him. But King Vikram advanced towards the lone banyan tree in the cremation ground with determined steps. He climbed it and brought the corpse down.
As soon as he began walking with the corpse on his shoulder, the vampire that possessed the corpse said, “I wonder if you have undertaken this queer job at the request of some hermit. Hermits are quite whimsical, you know. Take the case of the hermit Somadev. His behavior towards two kings was rather strange. Let me tell you the story. That might bring you some relief.”
The vampire went on: Somadev, a great hermit, lived in a forest that spread along the borders of two kingdoms. Dhanadutta and Dhiradutta were the kings of the two neighboring lands. Although the two kings competed with each other on many things, their reverence for Somadev was equal. Whenever they faced any problem, they met the hermit, who never failed to give them the right solution.
Generally, the kings met the hermit individually. There was never an occasion for both the kings to go to him together. The hermit had equal affection for both. In fact, it was because of the hermit that the two kings were on friendly terms.
One day, the two kings met in the forest while hunting. Leaving their entourage behind, both went to meet the hermit to pay him their obeisance. The hermit was pleased to see them. He said, “It is very good that you came. I am about to go into a trance, and for five long years I shall remain in that state. You will not have the benefit of my advice. However, here are two small caskets. Each of you can take one home. If you face a crisis which proves too strong for you, then open the casket. The solution will come out of it. But make sure that before opening the casket you have tried all other means of solving the crisis. If you misuse the casket, I will take it back from you when I come out of my trance.”
The kings received the caskets with gratitude and returned to their palaces. Soon a severe drought befell both the kingdoms. Crops failed. The people grew panicky.
King Dhanadutta opened the casket given to him. A million gold coins spilled out of it. The king spent the wealth in buying foodstuff from distant lands for his subjects. Thus the drought, which could have resulted in a devastating famine, did not cause much hardship to his people.
But Dhiradutta, instead of opening the casket, mobilised all his resources, dug wells and canals, and encouraged the people to grow new crops. He did not allow a morsel of food to go out of his kingdom. The people had to experience hardship, but the crisis passed when the next monsoon came, and all were happy.
Dhanadutta now desired to launch new projects in his land so that his people would grow more prosperous than Dhiradutta’s subjects. He wished to know how to proceed in the matter, and so he opened his casket again. This time there was a line of writing inside the casket. It read: “Wait and see.”
Next day, a stranger met Dhanadutta and said, “I have invented a device by which I can tell if there are precious minerals in your kingdom hidden under the earth. I can help you locate them on one condition: I shall own half of whatever is discovered.” Dhanadutta found in it an easy way to prosperity. He utilised the services of the stranger and found large deposits of minerals.
A few days later, the stranger met Dhiradutta and put forth the same proposal. But Dhiradutta was not willing to accept his condition.
Five years passed. The hermit woke up from his trance and paid a visit to the two kingdoms. He saw the subjects of Dhanadutta prosperous and happy. But Dhiradutta’s subjects, though not unhappy, were working hard for their prosperity.
The hermit asked both the kings to meet him with the caskets. He let them tell what they had done with the caskets. Dhiradutta said he had not used the casket at all. Dhanadutta narrated how he had used it twice and stated, “The result is obvious. My subjects are happy”. But to Dhanadutta’s surprise, the hermit asked him to return the casket while he allowed Dhiradutta to keep his.
The vampire paused and demanded King Vikram, “Tell me, O King, why did the hermit take back the casket from one who had made proper use of it? If you know the answer and choose to keep mum, your head will roll off your shoulder”.
King Vikram replied: “Dhanadutta did not make proper use of the casket. He made no other effort to get over the crisis before opening the casket. He provided food for his subjects, but that he did at the cost of their own zeal to try solving the problem. Thereby he made them lazy. Without any thought he allowed the stranger to own half of the minerals of his land. Thereby he deprived the future generations of the land’s wealth. Dhiradutta, on the other hand, was confident that the casket will go to his rescue if his own efforts failed. He made best use of the casket by not using it! That is to say, the confidence he got from the mere possession of the casket was his strength. He did not sell away any part of his land’s minerals for immediate benefit. Hence, he deserved to keep the casket.”
No sooner had King Vikram finished his reply than the vampire, along with the corpse, gave him the slip.