Haridatta was a Brahmin living in a hamlet. He was a farmer but the piece of land he cultivated gave him very little to survive. One day, unable to stand the heat of the summer sun, he went to a big tree in his land to rest for a while. Before he could spread himself on the ground he saw in the nearby anthill a huge cobra swaying with his hood open.
He thought, “This cobra must really be the Goddess of this land. I have never worshipped her, which is why I am not able to get anything from the land. From today, I will worship her.”
At once he went back to his village and returned with a glass full of milk.
He poured it in a bowl and turning to the anthill said, “O ruler of the land, I did not know you were living in this anthill. That is why I have not paid my tribute to you. Please excuse me and accept this humble offering.”
He then placed the bowl of milk at the anthill and left the place.
Next day when the Brahmin came to his land before the Sun was up, he saw a gold coin in the bowl he had left at the anthill. Henceforth, he came alone every dawn, collected the coin, offered the milk in the bowl and left. One day the Brahmin, leaving for another village on business, asked his son to go to the anthill and offer milk. When the son went the next day, he found a gold coin in the bowl.
He collected the coin and thought, “This anthill must be full of gold. If I kill the cobra, I can collect all the gold in one go instead of coming here every day.”
He then struck the cobra with a big stick. But the cobra deftly dodged the blow but stung the son to death with his poisonous fangs. Returning to his village the next day, Haridatta heard the story of his son’s death and at once realised that greed was behind it.
The Brahmin went to the anthill the day after his son’s cremation and offered milk to the cobra. Without coming out of his hole, the cobra told Haridatta,
“You have come here for gold forgetting that you had lost a son and that you were in mourning. The reason is greed, pure greed. From today, there is no meaning in our relationship. Blinded by his youth, your son has struck me and I bit him back. How can I forget that blow? How can you suffer the grief of your son’s death? Finally, I am giving you this diamond, don’t come back again.”
Ending the story of the Brahmin and the cobra, Raktaksha told Arimardana, “The lesson is that love once betrayed cannot be regained. If you kill this minister (Sthirajeevi) you will have no problems left.”
After listening to Raktaksha patiently, the king of owls turned to his second minister Kruraksha and asked him for his opinion.
The second minister said, “O my lord, I don’t agree with the advice Raktaksha gave you. It is very unkind. We should never kill a person seeking asylum. There is a fine story about how, knowing that a hunter who sought shelter had in fact come to kill him, a dove offered himself as food to the hunter.”
On the king asking him to relate that story, Kruraksha told him the following tale.
Once upon a time there lived a merciless hunter in the heart of a forest, terrorizing birds and animals. Because of his cruel nature he had no friends or relatives. The elders have said,
The hunter went out into the forest every morning with a stick and net. One day, he threw his net and trapped a female dove in it. Soon, thick and black clouds appeared in the sky and it began raining cats and dogs. Scared and shivering, the hunter looked for shelter and found it under a huge banyan tree. The rain and wind stopped suddenly. The skies became clear with stars shining. The hunter said loudly,
“If there is anyone on the tree, I seek shelter and food from him. I am hungry and may faint any moment. Please save me.”
At the same time, a dove that had his nest on the same tree was worried that his wife who had gone out had not come back. He prayed to Gods that his wife should not come to any harm in this wind and rain. He began telling himself,
The wife trapped in the hunter’s net heard her husband’s sorrowful words and, happy that her husband loved her so much, thought,
Later, addressing her husband, the female dove said, “Listen to me, my dear. Even at the cost of your life, you must come to the rescue of someone seeking shelter. This hunter is suffering from cold and hunger and has sought shelter under our tree. You must serve him with devotion. Don’t hate him because he has trapped your beloved wife. In reality, the strings of destiny have bound me. Give up all thoughts of revenge and serve the hunter with care.”
In accordance with his wife’s desire, the dove suppressed grief and told the hunter, “Sir, you are welcome to our modest home. Please let me know what I can do for you. Treat this as own home and feel free to command me.”
The hunter told the dove that he was suffering from cold and needed relief. The dove flew out, brought fire from somewhere and a lit a small fire with dry twigs and asked the hunter to warm himself.
The dove told the hunter, “Because of my past deeds, I am born poor and unfortunate and do not have enough to feed myself. What is the point in a host living if he cannot entertain a guest? It is better he renounce this world.”
Yet he thought that it was better to die than say no to a host. Determined to die, the dove told the hunter to wait for a while and that soon he will have food. Then circling over the fire, the dove jumped into the fire he lit for the benefit of the hunter.
Moved by this sacrifice, the hunter told himself, “I am responsible for this tragedy. I will no doubt go to hell. This dove is a great soul, he has shown me the right path. Hereafter, I will give up all wants and desires and slowly destroy this body. Nothing, neither cold nor sun nor wind, matters to me. I will fast and see my slow end.”
The hunter then threw his net and stick and released the female dove from the net.
The wife then saw how her husband had jumped into the fire to provide food for the hunter. She thought that life without her husband was worse than death and at once jumped into the same fire that consumed her husband. After her death, she saw her husband in the heaven wearing royal regalia.
On seeing her, the husband said, “O my darling, you have done well to follow me into the fire. Women like you live happily with their husbands for 35 million years.”
The dove couple lived happily ever after. The hunter, shunning worldly pleasures, went to a forest for realising God. As penance had cleansed him of all desires, the hunter burnt himself in a forest fire and attained nirvana.
After Kruraksha ended telling the king the hunter’s story, Arimardana asked a third minister, Deeptaksha for his advice on dealing with Sthirajeevi.
The minister told the king, “My lord, Sthirajeevi does not deserve to be killed. He will be of use to us in revealing the secrets of the enemy. There is this story of how even a thief could help an old man.”
On the king commanding him, Deeptaksha began telling him the story of the old man, his young wife and the thief.