Birbal Brings a Princess from Heaven
One day Akbar said to Birbal, ‘You are one of the cleverest men I have ever met; I want you to do something which has never been done before; something which will surprise the whole city.’ After a few moments’ thought, Birbal replied: ‘Yes, Sire, I can do what you desire, but first I need some money, and then a year to carry out the work.’
The king agreed to both requests, but told Birbal that it must be something never heard before. He promised him that he would not be punished, whatever it was. Nothing more was said about the matter, and as the king had much to do he soon forgot about it.
A few days later, word came to the king that Birbal was dying. He was much upset at the news, and went to see Birbal himself. He found him in a sad condition and, at his request, agreed to look after his wife and children when he died. Two days later, the king was told that Birbal had died. His enemies were glad, but Akbar was not. He ordered the court to go into mourning for three days.
Several months passed, and one day an excited guard ran into the palace.
‘What is the matter?’ asked Akbar.
‘Sire, Birbal!’ was all the man could say. Before the king could ask him to explain, Birbal himself walked in.
‘Is it really you, Birbal?’
The king and all the courtiers stood up in surprise.
‘Yes, Sire,’ was Birbal’s answer. ‘I died and went to heaven. I was able there to perform some good actions, and in return was allowed to come back to earth to serve you.’
Akbar was very pleased to hear this and ordered a great welcome.
‘Sire, I have brought you a princess of great beauty,’ said Birbal, ‘and some clothes from Heaven; they are lovely.’
‘Bring them here,’ said the king. ‘Why are you waiting?’
‘Oh, Sire,’ replied Birbal, ‘this is no ordinary princess. She has come from heaven. She will have to be invited to the palace; we must all go and bring her back.’
Akbar wanted to see the princess very much, but he was not sure if Birbal was telling the truth, so he thought he would send his Dewan, or chief minister, and some courtiers with Birbal, to find out.
They all went a little way into the forest, when they came to a palace of great beauty; it was red and gold in color. Birbal stopped at the gate.
‘Look at the window on the seventh floor,’ he said. ‘The princess will appear there when I call.’
He called, and everyone waited, but nothing happened. No princess came to the window.
The Dewan thought this joke had gone far enough.
‘What is this, my friend? Where is the princess?’
‘I forgot to tell you,’ said Birbal. ‘She is a heavenly princess. Only those of really good family, whose wives are faithful, and who are pure and honest themselves, can see her. Now look again.’
They looked, and Birbal’s words had their effect. The Dewan did not want anyone to think he was not honest, or that his wife was not true to him, so he said: ‘Oh yes, there she is! What a creature of beauty!’
The other courtiers thought it necessary to say the same. When they all returned to the king, they told him of the beauty of the palace and of the princess in it. Akbar was very pleased, and ordered a big procession to go into the forest. He went first with Birbal.
When the king arrived at the palace of red and gold, he looked at the window pointed out to him by Birbal.
‘There, Sire, there she is, looking down at you,’ said Birbal. Akbar could see no one.
‘Where?’ he asked.
‘There, Sire,’ said Birbal, and he told the king what he had told the Dewan and the courtiers. Akbar also did not want people to think that he was low-born, that he was not honest, or that the queen was not faithful to him, so he pretended to see the princess.
‘Yes, yes,’ he cried. ‘Now I see her. What a beauty!’ and he started to go inside. Birbal stopped him.
‘One moment, Sire. We must first take off our earthly clothes and put on the heavenly ones I shall give you.’ He gave the king some rich clothes. Then he pretended to give the Dewan and the courtiers some also. Thinking that they would be considered low-born and not honest if they could not see the clothes, first the Dewan and then the other courtiers pretended to put the ‘heavenly’ clothes on. But first they had to take off the clothes that they were wearing. Most of them stood behind the Dewan, wearing nothing at all and feeling rather ashamed.
Birbal went alone into the palace, then came out looking sad.
‘I am sorry to say, Sire, that the princess does not think that this is the right moment to come out.’
Akbar was not very pleased, but did not wish to anger the princess. ‘We will go back, then,’ he said, and led the procession back to the city. Only Akbar and Birbal were dressed. The others had nothing on.
As they came near the city, the news quickly spread. Some thought the courtiers had gone mad, others that they had been robbed, and various things were said.
At last a small boy cried out, ‘The Dewan is naked! The Dewan is naked!’
Soon other children picked up the cry.
At last one of the courtiers could suffer the shame no longer. He went up to the Dewan and said: ‘I may be low-born, not honest, and my wife may not faithful, but this has gone on too long.’
‘Who do you mean?’ asked the Dewan, careful to show nothing in his voice.
‘This Birbal is making fools of us all,’ was the reply. ‘There are no heavenly clothes, there is no princess either.’
The Dewan at last agreed, and all decided to say what they thought to the king. Birbal decided that the time had come to tell the truth. He spoke to the king immediately.
‘Do you remember about eight months ago telling me to do something which would be strange, never heard of?’
‘I remember, but you died since then.’
‘Today I have done something which no one, not even you, Sire, could do: I have made the Dewan and the courtiers walk naked through the city. No one would have thought this possible. If they are angry with me, I cannot help it. I trust that you, Sire, will protect me.’
But Akbar only laughed. The Dewan and the courtiers walking along naked were certainly something to laugh at!
Birbal Cooks Khichadi
One day king Akbar was in the gardens of his palace with Birbal and other courtiers. They were talking of money and the troubles and evil it caused, when Birbal said, ‘A man will do anything, however hard, in order to become rich.’
Akbar did not agree. He put his hand into the water of the lake, and immediately pulled it out, for the water was very cold. It was the middle of winter.
‘No man,’ said Akbar, ‘would spend all night in the water of this lake to become rich. If he tried he would die of cold.’
‘My Lord, such a man can be found,’ said Birbal. ‘The thought of being rich will keep him warm even in the cold water.’
The other courtiers laughed. ‘It is easy to say so,’ said one of them, ‘but such a man is only to be found in Birbal’s mind.’
But Birbal asked the king’s permission to bring such a man to the palace. This was given, and Birbal went out into Delhi to look for the man.
It took him a few days to find a man poor enough for the test, but he succeeded. The man came to the palace.
‘Are you ready,’ asked the king, ‘to spend all night in the lake? You must not warm yourself at any fire or light.’
The man agreed. He was so poor that even dying from cold seemed now worse than his life was. To make sure that the conditions were carried out, Akbar made some of his courtiers stand round the lake.
All night the man stood in the cold water. In the morning he went with his watchers to the king, who was surprised to see him alive.
‘How did you do it?’ asked Akbar.
‘I never came out of the lake, Sire. Your watchers can say if that is true.’
The courtiers who had been watching agreed it was true.
‘Then how --- ?’ began the king.
‘My lord,’ went on the man, ‘far away, on the seventh floor of the palace, I saw a light burning. I kept my eyes on it all night.’
‘My lord,’ said a courtier, ‘he has broken the rules; he kept warm from the light.’
‘You are right,’ said Akbar, and turning to the poor man he added, ‘You have not kept to the conditions; I shall not give you any money.’
The poor man had to go away with nothing. Birbal saw him leaving the palace in tears. He comforted the man.
‘I shall try to help you,’ he said.
Next day Akbar held a full court. All the courtiers were there except Birbal. When the king asked about him, the courtiers looked at one another secretly.
‘What is the matter?’ asked the king. ‘Where is Birbal?’
He is beside the lake, Sire, and acting strangely.’
Do you mean he has gone mad?’
‘Not exactly, Sire, but he has set up three tall sticks on too of which is a cooking-pot. Far below the pot he is making a fire.’
‘Perhaps Birbal has been thinking too much,’ said another courtier. ‘His brain has become soft.’ The courtiers all laughed.
‘We will see what he is doing,’ said Akbar, and led the court down to the lake.
Birbal was there. He had his cooking-pot on some tall sticks a long way above his fire.
‘What are you doing?’ asked the king.
‘My lord, I am cooking some khichadi,’ was Birbal’s reply.
‘I think you have really gone mad,’ said Akbar. ‘Do you think you can cook khichadi like that?’
‘Look, Sire, on top of my sticks is a pot full of rice and dal. Down below is a fire. Why should it not be cooked?’
‘Your pot is too far above the fire.’ said Akbar.
‘The heat will never reach the pot.’
‘Last night,’ replied Birbal, ‘a light on the seventh floor of your palace gave warmth to a poor man in the lake. My fire is nearer to the pot than that light was to the man, so it will be cooked.’
Akbar then understood what Birbal was trying to say.
‘You had better come in,’ said the king.
‘But my khichadi. I want to cook it.’
‘Collect your things, and come in,’ said the king again, smiling. ‘Your khichadi is cooked already. Call that man who spent the night in the lake. He can share it with you.’
Birbal Enters Akbar's Court
Many many year ago, before you and I were alive, there lived in India a great king called Akbar. He ruled over a large country and was famous for being wise. He liked clever men and welcomed them to his court. People came to it from all over the world: poets, musicians and teachers of religion. There were nine of these clever men whom Akbar liked above all others but he liked Birbal the best. This is the story of how Birbal came to King Akbar’s court.
Birbal lived a long way from Delhi, where Akbar ruled, but when he heard of the court and the people there, and of the king, Birbal decided to go and see for himself. After many days on the journey, he came to Delhi. He was tired, but glad that his long journey had come to an end. As Birbal was going to enter the gates of the city, a guard stopped him.
‘Where are you going?’ asked the guard, ‘ You cannot enter so easily.’
Birbal explained that he had come a long way; he was tired; he wanted to see the king. But it was of no use. The guard first wanted a large sum of money as a present.
‘What can you give me?’ he asked.
Birbal had no money, nor anything else to give. But being clever he thought quickly, and then said: ‘If the king is pleased with me, I promise to give you half of what I receive from him.’
The guard accepted this arrangement, and let Birbal go in. Birbal entered King Akbar’s court and soon became well liked by the king, for he could tell many stories and jokes. One day the king was so pleased with him that he said: ‘I am very happy today. I have not laughed so much in all my life. What do you desire from me? I will give you anything you ask.’
‘Sire’, replied Birbal, ‘if you are really pleased with me, then order this guard to give me a hundred strokes of the whip.’
The king and the people there were much surprised, for who ever thought of choosing beating as a prize? Akbar asked Birbal again if that was what he really wanted.
‘Yes, Sire,’ answered Birbal. ‘ I think I am the first person who has asked for such a thing, but if you wish to take back your offer, my lord, it does not matter.’
Akbar at first would not agree, for the whip was used to punish bad men.
‘Ha, ha,!’ laughed the courtiers. ‘Perhaps he thinks the whip will improve his mind and make him wiser.’
Birbal turned to the courtier, ‘You are right,’ he said. ‘Some people will learn only through a beating.’
Akbar now had no choice in the matter, for he saw that Birbal was determined, and thinking that Birbal was really a fool he gave the order for the whipping. When fifty strokes had been given, Birbal shouted, ‘Stop!’
‘Ah, have you changed your mind?’ said the king with a smile.
‘No, my lord, but I have promised to give a friend half of what I received from you. May I have your permission to bring him here?’
This permission was given, so Birbal went in search of the guard at the gate. he found him and brought him in. The king was surprised to see his own guard there, and he asked Birbal to explain. ‘Sire,’ said Birbal, ‘before this man would let me through the gate of the city, he made me promise to give him half of what I received from you, for I had no money to give him.’
‘He wanted money from you?’ said the king.
‘He told me that it was the custom here,’ Birbal continued, ‘for strangers to give some payment to him.’
Then a number of courtiers told stories of the same kind. They had experienced the same things when they arrived, and most of them had given the guard money. Akbar was very angry that his own guard should take payments like this. ‘Let him have half the prize,’ said the king, ‘and see that the strokes of the whip are hard ones.’
The guard did not understand so Birbal turned to him and said, ‘You asked for half of what the king gave me. I was given a hundred strokes of the whip. I have already taken fifty; now it is your turn to take the other fifty.’ Then turning to the courtier who had laughed at him, Birbal said, ‘If you do not believe that a man becomes wiser through beating, take a lesson from this. The guard will realize how wrong it is to take payments.’
The guard received the fifty strokes which he deserved.
As for Birbal, the king and all the court were very pleased with him. The king gave him money and land, and asked him to stay at the court.
Birbal Makes a Journey to Heaven
As time passed, Birbal became more and more liked by the king, but many of the courtiers did not like him. They thought his position was too high, and that he was becoming too famous, especially as he was now nearly always with the king. At first they only laughed at him, but after a while they tried to cause his death.
After discussing the matter with his friends, one of the courtiers thought of a plan to catch Birbal and put an end to him forever. The plan needed the help of the king’s barber.
As everyone knows, a barber’s tongue is no quieter than his scissors. Indeed, the two seem to work together. Every morning when he shaved the king, he told Akbar stories about the court and the town. The barber himself used to say that he put ideas into the king’s head.
One day the courtier who had thought of the plan to catch Birbal went to the barber and told him all about it. At first the barber refused to take part, but he was offered a large sum of money. Next day, he spoke to the king as he was shaving him.
“Sire, I used to attend your father also. What beautiful hair he had! It was like silk.”
“Really?” said Akbar, without much interest.
“And my father acted as barber to his father, your grandfather. His hair was smooth as silk also.”
“Perhaps,” was the reply.
“May I have permission to ask a question, Sire?”
“Of course, what is it?”
“You, Sire, are enjoying great wealth and power on earth, but what do you think your father and ancestors are doing in Heaven?”
“How can anyone here on earth know what is happening in heaven?”
“Ah, Sire, even that can be known. Some people can find out what others cannot.”
Akbar asked the barber to explain, and the latter went on: “Sire, I know a clever person who can send messages to Heaven. If you desire he will send a messenger up there. This messenger can bring news of your ancestors.”
“Is that so? I should like to hear news from Heaven,” said Akbar. “Please arrange it.”
A few days later, the barber told the king that the clever man was ready to use his secret and send a messenger to Heaven, but he could not decide whom to send. Akbar thought for a while, and then said the messenger should be a courtier whom he trusted.
“I think, Sire, that Birbal is the man to send. Where else will you find a person so wise and whom you can trust?”
“You are right,” said the king. “Birbal shall go.”
The barber then explained how simple the whole matter was. Birbal had to go at the head of a huge procession to the burning ground, and sit on a special chair for burning. The Brahmins would sing some holy songs, and then the chair would be burnt as if Birbal had died. By the time the fire was out, Birbal would have reached Heaven. Then he would do his work and come back by himself.
Akbar thought this was simple, and sent for Birbal. He told him what the barber had said.
“But, Sire, this is not possible,” was Birbal’s immediate answer.
“It has been done,” said Akbar. “My barber knows a clever man who can send a messenger. I have told you about it.”
“Have you heard of anyone returning from Heaven?” asked Birbal. “This man is a mere barber; how should he know?”
“The truth, Sire,” said the barber, “is that your courtier is afraid, perhaps.” He laughed.
“Why don’t you go yourself?” asked Birbal, turning to the barber, but, before the latter could answer, the king said: “It would not be right to send a barber as messenger. My ancestors are proud; they would not like it. No, Birbal, I think you should go.”
Birbal knew that this was a plan to send him away for ever, for once he was burned alive, he would never come back to earth again, whether he reached Heaven or not. But he agreed to go, first asking for two things. One was that a sum of money should be given to his family in case he should be away for long, the other was for a delay of two months in which to prepare for the long journey. The king agreed. It was decided that Birbal should set out two months later.
During these two months Birbal got some workmen to make an underground passage from his house to the place in the burning ground where his chair was already put up. At each end of the passage was built a small door. All this was done secretly. No one except the workmen and Birbal’s family knew anything about the underground passage.
The appointed day came and Birbal was led to the burning ground at the head of a huge procession. The day was made a public holiday, so everyone in the town was there. Even Akbar and all his court were there to see the burning. Birbal sat in the chair, wood was put all around him, Brahmins sang holy songs, then the wood was set on fire. But Birbal, as soon as he was covered with wood, slipped away into the secret passage and went to his home. There he put on some old clothes, and, pretending to be a poor workman, hurried out to join the crowd at the burning ground. By listening to the talk going on around him, he discovered the name of the courtier who had made the plan to kill him by burning.
When the fire had burnt down, the people thought that Birbal had gone to Heaven; the courtiers who hated him thought he would never be seen again, and they were glad. But Birbal was at home, where he waited for three weeks to let the hair grow on his head and face. Then he put on new clothes, and went back to court, wearing a beard.
At first king Akbar did not know him. Then he said: “Ah! So you have come back, Birbal? How are my ancestors? Do they remember me?”
“Yes, Sire. They are all in good health, and very proud that you have become famous. They have food, clothing, everything except –“ and Birbal stopped.
“Oh, nothing, Sire. It is not important.”
“But what is it? Tell me, and I can say if it is important or not. I must know what they are in need of,” said Akbar.
“Ah, Sire, there is no barber in Heaven, that is all.”
“Isn’t there a barber who had died, and gone to Heaven?”
“No, Sire, answered Birbal. “Not one has been good enough to go to Heaven. It makes things difficult for your ancestors, some of whom have very long beards. Indeed, once or twice they have stepped on their own beards, and fallen flat. One or two even tried to shave themselves, but as they had not done so on earth they did not succeed in Heaven: they only cut themselves.”
“We must send them a barber immediately,” said Akbar.
This was the moment which Birbal had been waiting for. He advised the king to send his own barber. “It is only right,” he said, “ and as the way is not easy, we ought to send a clever courtier with him,” and he added the name of the man who had thought of the plan against him. “He is a good man to go with the barber.”
The king agreed and sent for the courtier. He told them that at the end of the month he and the barber would both be sent to Heaven to see Akbar’s ancestors. They had tried to catch Birbal, but in the end he caught them.
The Ten Foolish Men
One day Akbar and Birbal were talking together.
' I was thinking,' said the king, 'that I have met many wise and clever men, but very few foolish ones. One can judge if a man is wise by his words and acts, but how can one judge a foolish one?'
' There is no difference, Sire,' answered Birbal. ' A foolish man is also judged by his words and acts.'
'Perhaps you are right, Birbal. Can you find the ten most foolish men in the city, and bring them to me?'
So Birbal went out into the city. He had met all kinds of men, rich and poor, strong and weak, but he could not think of any who were really foolish.
One day he saw a man riding a horse and holding some hay on his own head.
'Why do you carry the hay on your head?' he asked.
'I need my hands to guide the horse,' was the man's reply. 'I can't put the hay on the horse; he is so weak he would fall down and die if I did.'
Birbal took the man's name and address.
A little farther on he heard a man calling 'Help!' He went nearer and saw a man lying in the mud. The man was flat on his back, his hands held above his head. Between his hands was a space of about three feet. Seeing that the man could easily get up if he wanted, Birbal did not help him.
'Why don't you get up?' asked Birbal.
'I can't,' was the reply.
'Well, take my hand, and I will pull you up.'
'No, I can't. Don't touch my hands. Pull me up by the hair.'
'Are your hands diseased, then?'
'No, there is nothing the matter with them. Pull me up by the hair, and I will explain.'
So Birbal pulled the man up by his hair. He still held his hands above his head with a space of about three feet between them. Seeing the strange way the man behaved, Birbal asked him again what the matter was.
'This is the story,' replied the man. 'I wanted a box made to fit a space in my house. The box-maker asked me how big the space was, so I went home to see; it was as broad as this.' The man looked at his hands. 'then, as I was coming back I slipped on the mud, and I could not use my hands to save myself, for I should have lost the measurement.'
Birbal took the man's name and address and left him.
Next morning Birbal was out for a walk, when a man ran against him and both fell over.
'Can't you look where you are going?' asked Birbal angrily. 'What's the hurry?'
'I beg your pardon,' said the man. 'It was my mistake. I was saying my prayers in the mosque down the road, and I wanted to see how far my voice had reached. I was running after it, and would have caught it if you had not got in my way.'
Once more, Birbal took the man's name and address.
Not far along the road, he found two men quarreling loudly. They were beginning to fight, when Birbal stepped between them to separate them. He asked why they were quarreling.
'What has my buffalo done that he wishes to set his tiger loose on her?' asked one man. 'I see no buffalo nor tiger,' said Birbal. 'Explain.'
'We were walking along,' said the first man, 'when this man asked me what I would choose if God appeared and gave us a wish. I said I would wish for a buffalo, as was always having trouble about milk. Then I asked him what he would wish for, and what you think he said? "I would wish for a tiger to eat up your buffalo," he said.'
'And so I would,' said the second man, and the two nearly started fighting. As Birbal was stopping them, a man carrying a jar of ghee came up.
'You are a fool to talk to these two fools,' he said, and dropped his jar of ghee on the ground. The jar broke, and the ghee ran out.
'May my bones break like this jar,' he said, 'and my blood run like the ghee, if they are not fools.'
Birbal took the names and addresses of all three men.
It was some days later before he found the next foolish man. Birbal was coming back to the palace in the dark. He saw a man searching for something under a street lamp, and stopped to help him.
'What have you lost?' asked Birbal.
'A ring from my finger.'
As they could find nothing, Birbal naturally asked: 'Are you sure you dropped it here?'
'No,' was the answer. 'I dropped it over there, but it's dark there and light here. I am searching where I can see.' Birbal thought the man was a fool and took his name and address.
The next affair also concerned a ring. Birbal found a man looking for one in a heap of sand beside the road. Not wishing to waste his time as before, he asked the man if he knew that the ring was in the sand.
'Yes,' was the answer. 'I made a hole and put it in myself to keep it safe.'
'Didn't you mark the exact place?' asked Birbal.
'Yes. Do you think I would bury a ring of great value without a sign? Right above the place where I buried the ring was a cloud shaped exactly like a camel. Now the cloud has gone, and my ring seems to have gone also.'
Birbal took the man's name and address, and went to the palace. He asked Akbar to send for the eight men whose names and addresses he had. They all came and Birbal told the stories of them all.
'But there are only eight men here,' said the king. 'I told you to bring ten.'
'All ten are here, Sire. Eight I brought you; the ninth is myself. I wasted eight good days in getting these eight fools, so I am a fool also.'
'But the tenth?' asked Akbar.
'You, Sire, for instead of looking after the government of the country, you ordered me to find ten fools.'
'You mean both of us are fools?'
'Yes, Sire. You for giving such an order, and I for carrying it out.'