The Brahman who dies because Poison from a Snake
in the Claws of a Hawk fell into a Dish of Food
given him by a Charitable Woman.
Who is to blame for his death?
Then the King went back under the sissoo tree, put the goblin onhis shoulder, and started as before. And as he walked along, the goblin said to him again: "O King, listen to a very condensed story."
There is a city called Benares. In it lived a Brahman named Devaswami, whom the king honoured. He was very rich, and he had a son named Hariswami. This son had a wonderful wife, and her name was Beautiful. No doubt the Creator put together in her the priceless elements of charm and loveliness after his practice in making the nymphs of heaven.
One night Hariswami was sleeping on a balcony cooled by the rays of the moon. And a fairy prince named Love-speed was flying through the air, and as he passed he saw Beautiful asleep beside her husband. He took her, still asleep, and carried her off through the air.
Presently Hariswami awoke, and not seeing the mistress of his life, he rose in anxiety. And he wondered: "Oh, where has my wife gone? Is she angry with me? Or is she playing hide-and-seek with me, to see how I will take it?" So he roamed anxiously all over the balcony during the rest of the night. But he did not find her, though he searched as far as the garden.
Then he was overcome by his sorrow and sobbed convulsively. "Oh, Beautiful, my darling! Fair as the moon! White as the moonlight! Was the night jealous of your beauty; did she carry you away? Your loveliness shamed the moon who refreshed me with beams cool as sandal; but now that you are gone, the same beams torment me like blazing coals, like poisoned arrows!"
And as Hariswami lamented thus, the night came to an end, but his anguish did not end. The pleasant sun scattered the darkness, but could not scatter the blind darkness of Hariswami's madness. His pitiful lamentations increased a hundredfold, when the nightly cries of the birds ended. His relatives tried to comfort him, but he could not pluck up courage while his loved one was lost. He went here and there, sobbing out: "Here she stood. And here she bathed. And here she adorned herself. And here she played."
His relatives and friends gave him good advice. "She is not dead," they said. "Why should you make way with yourself? You will surely find her. Pluck up courage and hunt for her. Nothing is impossible to the brave and determined man." And when they urged him, Hariswami after some days plucked up heart.
He thought: "I will give all my fortune to the Brahmans, and then wander to holy places. Thus I will wear away my sins, and when my sins are gone, perhaps I shall find my darling in my wanderings." So he arose and bathed.
On the next day he provided food and drink, and made a great feast for the Brahmans, and gave them all he had except his piety. Then he started to wander to holy places, hoping to find his wife.
As he wandered, the summer came on him like a lion, the blazing sun its mouth, and the sunbeams its mane. And the hot wind blew, made hotter yet by the sighs of travellers separated from their wives. And the yellow mud dried and cracked, as if the lakes were broken-hearted at the loss of their lotuses. And the trees, filled with chirping birds, seemed to lament the absence of the spring, and their withering leaves seemed like lips that grow dry in the heat.
At this time Hariswami was distressed by the heat and the loss of his wife, by hunger, thirst, and weariness. And as he sought for food, he came to a village. There he saw many Brahmans eating in the house of a Brahman named Lotus-belly, and he leaned against the doorpost, speechless and motionless.
Then the good wife of that pious Brahman pitied him, and she thought: "Hunger is a heavy burden. It makes anyone light. Look at this hungry man standing with bowed head at the door. He looks like a pious man who has come from a far country, and he is tired. Therefore he is a proper person for me to feed."
So the good woman took in her hands a dish filled with excellent rice, melted butter, and candied sugar, and courteously gave it to him. And she said: "Go to the edge of our pond, and eat it."
He thanked her, took the dish, went a little way, and set it down under a fig-tree on the edge of the pond. Then he washed his hands and feet in the pond, rinsed his mouth, and joyfully drew near to eat the good food.
At that moment a hawk settled on the tree, carrying a black snake in his beak and claws. And the snake died in the grasp of the hawk, and his mouth opened, and a stream of poison came out. This poison fell into the dish of food.
But Hariswami did not see it. He came up hungry, and ate it all. And immediately he felt the terrible effects of the poison. He stammered out: "Oh, when fate goes wrong, everything goes wrong. Even this rice and the milk and the melted butter and the candied sugar is poison to me." And he staggered up to the Brahman's wife and said: "Oh, Brahman's wife, I have been poisoned by the food you gave me. Bring a poison-doctor at once. Otherwise you will be the murderer of a Brahman."
And the good woman was terribly agitated. But while she was running about to find a poison-doctor, Hariswami turned up his eyes and died. Thus, though she was not to blame, though she was really charitable, the poor wife was reproached by the angry Brahman who thought she had murdered her guest. She was falsely accused for a really good action. So she was dejected and went on a pilgrimage.
When he had told this story, the goblin said: "O King, who murdered the Brahman? the snake, or the hawk, or the woman who gave him the food, or her husband? This was discussed in the presence of the god of death, but they could not decide. Therefore, O King, do you say. Who killed the Brahman? Remember the curse, if you know and do not tell the truth."
Then the king broke silence and said: "Who did the murder? The snake cannot be blamed, because he was being eaten by his enemy and could not help himself. The hawk was hungry and saw nothing. He was not to blame. And how can you blame either or both of the charitable people who gave food to a guest who arrived unexpectedly? They were quite virtuous, and cannot be blamed. I should say that the dead man himself was to blame, for he dared to accuse one of the others."
When the goblin heard this, he jumped from the king's shoulder and escaped to the sissoo tree. And the king ran after him again, determined to catch him.