THE NEED FOR PRUDENCE
THE reputation of Dasaratha, prince of the city of Ayodhya, was noised abroad.
He was proud of his skill as Shabdabhedi, as one who shoots by sound in the dark and was pleased with the praise of the people. At dusk he would go out alone in his chariot to lie in wait in the heart of the forest. Now he would hear the tread of a buffalo or an elephant coming to drink at the river, now the light- footed deer or the stealthy approach of a tiger.
One night as he lay among the bushes, listening for the sound of leaves or water, he suddenly heard something moving on the shore of the lake. He could see nothing in the darkness. But was not Dasaratha a Shabdabhedi? The sound was enough for him. It was most certainly an elephant. He shot an arrow. Immediately a cry rang out which made him leap up. “Help! Help! Someone has shot me!”
The bow fell from Dasaratha’s hands. He suddenly felt dizzy with horror. What had he done? Wounded a human being instead of a wild beast? He rushed through the jungle towards the lake. On the bank a young man was lying in his own blood, all dishevelled, holding in his hand a pitcher which he had just been filling.
“Oh Sir,” he groaned, “was it you who shot the fatal arrow? What harm have I done you that you should treat me so? I am a hermit’s son. My aged parents are blind. I look after them and provide for their needs. I came to fetch water for them, and now I shall no longer be able to serve them! Follow this path to their hut and tell them what has happened. But first pull out this shaft from my breast, for it gives me great pain.”
Dasaratha removed the arrow from the wound. The young man breathed a last sigh and died.
Then the prince filled the pitcher with water and followed the path the dying youth had shown him. As he came near, the father called out: “My son, why have you taken so long? Was it to swim in the lake? We feared that some harm had befallen you. But why do you not answer?”
With a trembling voice Dasaratha said:
“I am not your son, Oh holy hermit. I am a Kshatriya, and until now I was proud of my skill with a bow. This night as I lay in wait I thought I heard an elephant drinking at the water’s edge. I shot my arrow. Alas! It was your son I struck. Oh, tell me how to atone for my fault.”
Then the old couple cried out and wept. They bade the prince lead them to the spot where their son lay, their only son. They recited sacred hymns over his body and sprinkled the water of the funeral rites. Then the hermit said:
“Listen, Dasaratha! Through your fault we shed tears over our dear son. One day, you also shall weep over a beloved son. Before that, many years will pass; but the punishment shall surely come.”
They made a pyre to burn the dead body, then threw themselves into the flames, and perished.
Time passed, Dasaratha became King of Ayodhya and married the lady Kaushalya. And his son was glorious Rama.
Rama was loved by all in the city. These two women, Kaikeyi and her maid Manthara, caused the downfall of noble Rama and because of them he was sent into exile for fourteen years.
Then Dasaratha mourned his son, as the aged parents had mourned in the jungle for the young man who had died at midnight by the lakeside.
Dasaratha had once been so proud of his skill that he had lacked prudence and given no thought to the risk of wounding someone in the darkness. It would have been better for him only to draw his bow in full daylight than to trust in his skill as a Shabdabhedi. He meant no harm, but he lacked foresight.
- Who is a Shabdabhedi?
- Why did Dasaratha shoot his arrow at the son of the old hermit?
- Why did he commit this mistake?
- How did he atone for it?
- Why did the hermit and his wife burn themselves to death?
- What was the hermit’s curse on Dasaratha?
- Give an instance of your own prudence or imprudence and narrate the consequences that followed.