THE PRIEST’S PETITION (Told on the Pagoda TALES OF BURMAH, 1895) by Mimosa
IT was the custom for the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Ava to be placed, while young, in a monastery with the priests, to be instructed in a manner suitable to the position that he was destined to occupy. Prince Min Goung, while a boy, was put under the special care of the Phoongyee Shin Ah Tah Thaya—a prudent and learned man, who gave all his time and wisdom to his pupil.
Min Goung was of a proud and wilful nature, and one who would not willingly bend his haughty head to any yoke, however light and silken.
One day his reverend teacher punished him, for persistent bad writing, somewhat severely—an act which he regretted afterwards, thinking, perhaps, that he had been over harsh.
Time passed away. The King died, and the young Prince was crowned. Then the priest began to fear that his former pupil might do him some harm, for he imagined that he had never forgiven him the liberty he had taken in chastising him. So he quitted his retreat, and fled to Prome for safety. Disliking his enforced banishment, he determined to write and crave for pardon; and in the course of his long appeal, written on palm leaves, was the following story:—
“There was a king of Bayanathee, learned and merciful, who had a hundred sons, each of whom, when old enough, was given into the hands of a carefully selected instructor to be taught those subjects for which he had the greatest taste. When each was grown up and had completed his education, he was appointed a governor of a portion of the royal dominions; and so ninety-nine of the Princes had been educated and been presented to the King and received their appointments. Prince Thanwara was the youngest of them, and was taken care of by a distinguished minister, who began and continued his instruction in a way that was very suitable to the quick natural intelligence of the boy; and when the time came for Thanwara to go to his father, his teacher accompanied him.
“When they came before the King—who was seated on a throne of silver and agate, with golden doors behind him—he asked his son if he had learnt and completed the same course of studies as his elder brothers, and the young Prince answered him—
“‘I am sufficiently qualified, sire, to take upon me the same duties and responsibilities as those of my brothers who have gone before.’
“The King was satisfied with the reply; and then, after a while, the Prince and his tutor returned to their home.
“Talking to the tutor before he slept, Thanwara said—
“‘If the King my father offers me the same position as he has bestowed on my brothers, will it be well with me to accept it?’
“The teacher made answer thus—
“‘If a man, O Prince, desires to partake of the Bandaya fruit, which only grows in Nirvana, can he obtain it from its tree from the distance of a hundred yujanas (eight hundred miles), or would he rather not stand under the tree and take the fruit with a hooked bamboo? In the same way, if you wish to sit on the throne it is best for you not to go from here, but to remain in the shadow of the palace.’
“The prince listened, and then, when he had heard to the end, he said—
“‘Then, my teacher, when to-morrow I go before my father, and he asks me my desires, what shall I make reply?’
“‘Ask of him to bestow on you the rents of the bazaars and the produce or the royal gardens within the city gates.’
“‘Of what benefit would such be to me?’
“‘The greatest benefit, my son. For those who have money have power, of which truth I will give you an illustration:—
“‘A timid doe in the forest, when it once sees a leopard, will fly, and hiding carefully, will not venture to stir out again for many days and nights; but on the other hand, retiring as it is by nature, it will, if a person constantly feed it, so far lose its timidity as to approach him and take from his hand. Therefore, my son, if you give presents often to the favourites and the advisers of the King, you will gain their confidence and their liking.’
“On the following day, when the Prince reached the palace, and his father asked him to name the province that he wished to govern, he answered thus:—
“‘My brothers have all gone from you to distant parts of the world to guard over your vast possessions; let me then remain here to be your Majesty’s attendant, and render you that care and assistance in sickness, in health, and in trouble, or any other trial, that affection can alone offer.’
“The old King was pleased, and granted unhesitatingly what he was asked.
“From that day forth Thanwara received the rents and profits of the bazaars and gardens, and took up his residence near the throne, in the white palace of his father.
“Gradually his winning manners, his deference to his elders, his many thoughtful and beautiful gifts, and, lastly, his own piety and learning, gained for him the first place in the hearts of those who were about the Court.
“So the years fled away, and were counted with the past.
“But when the tenth year was young, the King’s health failed him; he felt that the sands of his life were nearly run. So about him he gathered his ministers and advisers. After they had expressed their sympathy and regret at finding him ill, they inquired which of all his sons he would best like to wear his crown when he was gone.
“The dying King raised himself from the low couch on which he was reclining, and, propped by many cushions, answered their question in this wise:
“‘A hermit was one day coming from his lonely Himalayan abode through a forest. Over his head, as a sunshade, he had an enormous flower, called the kakayu mala, which is found, as you are aware, only in the Nāt Country, and its fragrance reached to the distance of one yujana (eight miles). On his way he encountered four fairies, each of whom saw and coveted the blossom. They all in turn asked him for it, but he said, in reply to their request, “I can only give it to the most virtuous and the most excellent of you all.”
“‘Whereupon each protested, all contending for the honour.
“‘But the hermit, who was discreet and prudent, said, “How can I, who have no means to judge, decide? To me you all seem worthy of it, equally charming, and deserving in all respects, therefore had I four flowers I would divide them gladly between you; but as there is but one, and that one incapable of division, we will refer the matter to the King of the Nāt Country, who has the all-discerning eye.”
“‘So they went.
“‘They had not to travel far before they came to his green and gracious kingdom.
“‘They made straight for the beautiful ivory palace where the King dwelt, and were ushered into where he sat on his throne, composed entirely of the very flowers.
“‘He inquired what brought them before him.
“‘They told him. Then he thought for a little time, while they waited at a distance. When he called them to him and said—
“‘”There is a rahan residing in the Kisokok Mountains to whom I will present a golden pineapple; then the four of you shall go and seek him and ask him for it. The person whom he shall give the golden apple to, that person shall be the most worthy in every way to be the recipient of the flower.”
“‘They thanked him, withdrew, and started for the Kisokok Mountains.
“‘When they arrived there the rahan requested each fairy to take up her position according to the four directions of the earth—north, south, east and west—which they did, while each clamoured for the prize.
“‘Then the rahan asked them their names, to which the eldest replied, “Thada” (“Charity”); the second, “Thati” (“Peace”); the third, “Hiri” (“Modesty”); the fourth, “Ootoppa” (“Virtue”).
“‘When the rahan heard he gave the golden apple into the hands of Ootoppa, saying, as her name represented, she was the most deserving. Then she went to the hermit, who presented her with the beautiful flower, and from that moment she was esteemed the most virtuous and most excellent of all women in the Nāt Country.
“‘Therefore,’ continued the old King, addressing the ministers around him, ‘you must be the hermit in this case.’
“Before that day was over he was dead, and was interred with great honours and many lamentations.
“Then the advisers, with no delay and no hesitation, elected Prince Thanwara to succeed his father; but when the news reached the other sons in their distant territories they were filled with wrath. The second sent to his elder brother a letter, in which he said that the ministers of their late father were weak and corrupt, and very wanting in foresight in allowing themselves to be persuaded into placing the youngest of all on the throne, thereby disregarding the principle of the ancient rule of succession; for (continued he) in the Ahrottaya Country there was a King who had three children, two sons and a daughter, born of the chief Queen. When the eldest son was sixteen years of age the Queen died. The second Queen thereupon became chief, by whom the King had a son, and when that son reached eight years of age the King was bitten by a snake, a fact which frightened him greatly. The Queen, however, who was quick to think and very brave, sucked the poison from the bite. The King, being filled with gratitude, asked her to make any request that she liked, which he would grant, whereupon she immediately begged that her son might be selected as the heir to the throne, and to her inexpressible satisfaction the King gave his consent.
“A while later his Majesty sent for Narada, a soothsayer, who was asked to calculate his term of life. Narada told him that he would live twelve more years. The King then sent for his three children by the dead queen and acquainted them with the soothsayer’s prophecy, telling them at the same time that they must quit the Court and find a home elsewhere for twelve years.
“Sorrowing greatly, they obeyed. After nine years the King died of grief for the absence of the children that he had sent from him.
“The Queen lost no time in scheming to put the crown upon her son’s head. But the chief minister opposed her, saying that the eldest boy still lived and could not be put aside.
“Then he took the crown and all the insignia of royalty, and with many attendants and great state travelled to where the eldest son resided, and offered the throne to him.
“The Prince met him with the argument that the King’s commands extended to twelve years, and that, as only nine had elapsed, his step-brother must reign for three years. Then he gave the minister a pair of slippers, worked with wheat, to give to his half-brother, with the direction that they were to be placed on the judgment-seat, declaring, as he did so, that if any decision is illegal or contrary to the right, the slippers would of themselves rise and touch each other as a protest.
“‘Wherefore,’ continued the brother’s epistle, ‘as the ministers have not paid you the respect of deferring to you in the matter, we should prepare to go to war with Thanwara.’ The elder brother, on receiving the above, addressed a letter to his youngest brother, in which he requested him to surrender the crown or to prepare for hostilities.
“Prince Thanwara sought the advice of his chief minister in his perplexity, and he told him that, according to religion, he must not oppose his elder brother.
“‘Then,’ asked Thanwara, ‘what am I to do?’
“The chief minister answered: ‘Divide all the property in the kingdom into one hundred shares, and give each equally.’
“And it was accordingly done, upon which the eldest brother, being quite content, left the youngest in the possession of the throne, saying that a hundred kings could not reign in one country, and that, if they tried, it would be for the woe of the people.
“So all the brothers went back to their own in peace and amity.”
When the King of Ava read the priest’s letter, he was so well pleased with the narrative that he sent a messenger to him, and appointed him head of the ecclesiastical body, with a residence near the palace.
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