Yudhishthir asked, “Tell me, O mongoose, who are you that speaks the human language in a human voice? How did you get this beautiful body with its golden colour?”
Once Yudhishthir decided to perform Ashwamedh Yagnya to which he called all the scholars, warriors, nobles and friends so that they could meet each other and discuss and find ways and means to strengthen peace and thus bring about prosperity.
People came from far and near to watch the yagna and to participate in the proceedings. Yudhishthir performed daan, i.e. giving away cattle, land, gold, clothing, food etc. to the learned Brahmins and to the needy poor.
This continued for several days. This brought about a change in the king. His humility gave way to pride. He felt here was no ruler more noble than him, none so mighty and so generous, so kind and charitable.
One day the emperor, accompanied by his four brothers, scholars, warriors, nobles, and friends, was supervising the huge luncheon at which thousands of people were served choicest dishes to their heart’s content. Everyone was satiated and happy. They were about to break up after a luncheon. The servants were waiting to clear away the left-overs. Once again Yudhishthir felt proud that he was able to feed so many.
Just then entered a mongoose (newla) whose body had the colour of pure gold, but only on one side. The other half was that of an ordinary mongoose. It went straight to the eating place and started rolling in the heaps of the left-overs. It would roll a while, then get up and turn its head to see its body.
Then, as if dismayed, shake its head and roll over again. This it did several times, but to no avail. Everyone watched it with great astonishment and curiosity. They failed to see its purpose. The mongoose was certainly not interested in eating any food.
Finally the mongoose gave up. It came to Yudhishthir and said in human voice, “O noble king of Kuru’s empire! I commend you for this huge yagnya you have organised. But I am disappointed. All your glory and achievements is no match to that of a saint, by whose virtue my body has acquired this beautiful golden hue”.
Yudhishthir was greatly disturbed. He asked, “Tell me, O mongoose, who are you that speaks the human language in a human voice? How did you get this beautiful body with its golden colour? Whose glory are you talking about? But most of all, you are my respected guest, please tell me what may I do to please you! Make any wish and it shall be granted.”
Mongoose said with infinite sorrow, “Listen, O Yudhishthir, I narrate to you the story of the great Saint Mudgal. Then you will know that you have nothing to be proud of your achievement.
Once an unprecedented famine hit this great land of ours. The crops withered away. All the godowns of the king and other wealthy people held nothing. The cattle were dying.
Saint Mudgal and his family had had no food to eat for quite sometime. So he went to a field where rice was grown in earlier days. It had been harvested long back and the owner had now abandoned it. The vast field lay barren.
Mudgal searched and searched in the parched soil for grains. After a long search, he managed to collect a handful of rice. He brought it home which his wife promptly cooked. At last, there was some food to eat. His daughter divided it into four parts, one each for her father, mother, brother and herself.
Just then a man appeared at the door. He had smelt the rice being cooked and with great effort, had managed to come to the hut of Mudgal. He was so emaciated and exhausted from starvation!
There he stood at the door, begging for food. It looked as if he would die if he didn’t get food soon. Mudgal knew what he must do. Here was a guest, who as per his religious understanding and tradition, stands above the God Himself! Gladly Mudgal invited the man inside and offered him his share of food.
The man ate it all hungrily. But he was not satisfied. He wanted more. Seeing this, Mudgal’s wife gave him her share. The guest looked at her with grateful eyes and ate this too. But starved as he was for such a long time, he needed more. Then Mudgal’s daughter offered her share of rice to the man. He ate and asked for more. Mudgal’s son who was the youngest in the family and had waited to see the guest properly fed, offered his share.
The visitor ate that too. Now he was happy. He had received sustenance. With tears and blessings, he declared that he was satiated, that he knew he was going to live. Maybe, the rains would come soon and the famine would be over. He said, “O Mudgal, your act of benevolence and generosity is unmatched in this world.”
O king of kings, waiting as I was, in the corner of the house to have an opportunity to eat some food, I went up to the guest’s plate to lick away whatever I could get. There was none! I rolled on the plate to at least get the smell of rice on my body and low and behold! With the touch of the tiniest specks of the left-overs, my body became pure gold, but alas, only on one side.
Ever since then, I have visited several places where daan was offered by people who gave away liberally and were proud of their generosity. I visited them so that I could bask in their glory and get the golden shine on the other half of my body too. O Yudhishthir, it has not happened. It did not happen here either.
Your nobility belongs to the days of prosperity and plenty. But the true glory and character of a man are seen at its best in times of adversity. What he retains then is his true self. Glory be to Saint Mudgal and his family. My noble Yudhishthir, you cannot give what I seek. I need a person as virtuous and true to the religion of hospitality as Mudgal was.
Yudhishthir and his brothers and all the assembled people stood with bowed heads. They could not believe that such self abnegation was possible. They then learnt the lesson. Giving away everything, selflessly, is the true measure of charity. Sage Mudgal has shown them the way.
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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