Shibi, The Compassionate King
Once upon a time there lived a great king called Shibi. He was very kind, charitable and famous. His fame spread all over the earth and into the heavens too.
The God of heaven, Indra, wanted to test and see if king Shibi was really as great as his fame proclaimed him to be.
So, Indra and god Agni came up with a plan. Agni assumed the form of a dove and Indra, of a fierce hawk. Agni flew down first, fluttering its wings as though terrified and Indra followed at a distance as if in hot pursuit. They flew straight to the palace of the king.
Shibi was in the palace garden distributing charities to the poor. The frightened dove went and perched upon the wrist of Shibi looking at him with tearful eyes full of fear. Shibi immediately took her in his hands. Stroking her back kindly he said, “Fear not, O dove. I will save you from all harms.”
Just as he was saying this, the hawk flew down angrily and haughtily and tried to snatch the dove away from the king’s hands. But the king raised his hand in a flash and obstructed the hawk. The hawk looked at the king angrily and said, speaking like a human being, “This dove is my bird of prey. I had been pursuing it since the morning. Why do you obstruct me from having my food, O King?”
Surprised at hearing the hawk speak like a man, Shibi replied, “I do not know who you are, O hawk, who can thus speak like a man. This poor frightened dove has sought my shelter. It is my duty to protect her from all harm. I won’t allow you to snatch her away from me and make her your prey.”
The hawk then said, “Rajan, you are renowned as a kind one. Perhaps it is your duty to protect those in distress. But is your kindness limited only to the dove? What about me? Am I not equally entitled to claim your pity? I am a bird who can live only by preying on small birds. By depriving me of my food are you not condemning me to die? Is this your dharma?”
King Shibi was non-pulsed. The hawk could not only speak like a human being but also argue like one! Evidently, the King’s duty was towards both the dove and the hawk. He was very thoughtful. At last he said, “Hawk, what you say is true. I won’t deprive you of your food. But at the same time I cannot give up this poor frightened dove. Will you accept if I give you some other flesh as a substitute?”
The hawk replied, “Very well king. I have no objection as long as my hunger is satisfied. But you must give me flesh exactly equal to that of the dove. I won’t accept less.” And he further mockingly added, “But how will you get substitute flesh? Will you kill another life to save the life of this dove?”
Shibi hastily replied, “No, no, I won’t think of harming another life, be sure. I will give you my own flesh in the place of the dove.” He turned to his attendant and asked him to bring the balance. The attendant brought the balance and set it before the king.
Shibi placed the dove on one side of the balance. He took out his sword. He started cutting and placing small portions of his flesh on the other side of the balance. But something strange happened! The dove which looked so small and frail in the pan would not balance it! King Shibi went on cutting portion after portion from his body and placing it in the balance until no more flesh remained to cut. Wondering at the heaviness of the dove, Shibi then threw away the sword and sat on the balance. Lo! now the balance was equal. Rejoicing that he was at last able to give the hawk its due, Shibi turned to the hawk and said, “O hawk, my weight is equal to the weight of the dove. Please eat me and leave the dove.”
As soon as he said these words, there were cheers from the gods who gathered in the sky to witness the test. They beat the heavenly drums and showered flowers on the king. The hawk and the dove shed their assumed forms and stood before him in their shining glorious forms. Shibi looked at them in amazement.
Indra said, “O king, I and Agni came down from heaven to test you. You have indeed proved yourself to be greater than your fame. You will be blessed with long life and vast riches. Your name will remain in the world as long as the sun and the moon remain.”
So saying, Indra touched Shibi with his hand. Lo! All the cuts and wounds vanished from Shibi’s body and he stood there as strong as ever. He bowed to the gods with great devotion, who blessed him and returned to their abodes.