The Tale of Two Snakes
Once upon a time there was a king named Devasakti. He had a son who was very weak and growing weaker by the day. It was found that he had a snake in his stomach. Experts, physicians and surgeons tried to nurse him back to health without success. Dejected, the son left his palace one night and took shelter in a lonely and dilapidated temple in another town ruled by a monarch called Bali. Every day, the son would go out to beg and return to the temple in the night.
King Bali had two daughters who came of age. Following a tradition, the two daughters would get up every dawn and touch the feet of their father in reverence.
One day, after paying respects to the king one of his daughters said, “Victory to the king. We are happy in every way.”
The second daughter said, “O king, reap the harvest of your actions.”
The king, very angry at the words of the second daughter, called his ministers and told them, “Take this foul-mouthed woman away and marry her off to some stranger. Let her reap the consequences of her actions.”
In compliance with the orders of the king, the ministers took her away and married her without pomp or ceremony to Devasakti’s son living in the old temple. The daughter considered the king’s son as God’s gift and after persuading him, left for another country.
The princess and the son of Devasakti reached a city where they camped close to a lake. She asked her husband to take care of the camp and went into the city with her maids to buy daily needs like rice, salt, butter oil and vegetables. After shopping, she returned to the lake where she saw a surprising spectacle.
The prince was sleeping, resting his head on an anthill. The serpent in his stomach came out to breath fresh air. Then another serpent emerged from the anthill for the same reason. Both of them glared at each other.
The anthill inmate said, “You wicked creature, why do you torment such a handsome prince.”
The other serpent retorted, “Why are you polluting the two golden urns in your hole.”
Thus in their row, they revealed the secrets of each other.
The serpent in the anthill told the other serpent, “Don’t be arrogant. Who does not know the secret of your death? If the prince drinks a concoction made of gruel and mustard you will die unsung”.
“Oh, is that so? You will also perish if someone pours hot oil or hot water in your anthill. Don’t be too proud,” said the serpent in the prince’s stomach.
The princess, who heard all that passed between the two serpents, poured hot oil into the anthill and took the two golden urns and gave the mustard concoction to her husband and killed the serpent inside his stomach. Both Divyasakti’s son and his daughter-in-law returned to his kingdom and lived happily ever after.
After listening to this story, owl king Arimardana accepted his advice that Sthirajeevi’s life should be spared.
Raktaksha, the first minister, was sad and told the ministers, "You have misled the king by giving wrong advice and paved the way for his destruction. The learned have said that where wicked men are honoured and wise men are insulted, there will be fear, famine and death.”
Disregarding the warning of Raktaksha, the king’s men set out to take Sthirajeevi to their fortress.
On the way, Sthirajeevi said, “My lord, in my condition, I cannot be of any help to you. Why do you unnecessarily carry me to the fortress? I will jump into a fire and perish. Please permit me to do that.”
Sensing his internal thoughts, Raktaksha asked him why he would want to end up in fire.
Sthirajeevi said, “It is for your cause I met this fate in the hands of Meghavarna.”
Raktaksha said, “You are a cheat, good at spinning words. You were really born as a crow and even if you are born as an owl in your next birth, you will still be a crow in nature. Haven’t you heard the story of the mouse, which even when she was born as a girl in another birth, chose to marry not a human being but another male mouse?”
The ministers and other king’s men pressed Raktaksha to tell them that story.
There was a hermitage belonging to the sage Salankayana. He went one morning to river Ganga to bathe. As he was reciting stanzas in praise of the Sun, he saw a kite carrying a mouse in its claws. At once, the sage aimed a stone at the kite. Hit by the stone, the kite released its prey and the mouse at once ran to the sage asking him for protection.
The kite addressed Salankayana and said, “O sage, you have hit me with a stone, which is not proper. Are you not afraid of God? Surrender that mouse to me or you will go to hell.”
The sage said, “You wretched bird, my duty is to save God’s creations, to punish the wicked, to respect the good, to honour the teacher and worship the Gods. Why do you preach all those irrelevant rules of conduct to me?”
The kite delivered a big lecture to the sage on the right path. “You have no idea of what is good and what is bad. God created all of us and at the time of creation also prescribed what should be our food. God has marked mice, other rodents and insects to be food for us. Why do you blame me for seeking what God has meant for me? There is nothing wrong for anyone to eat the food marked for him. The danger comes when one eats what is not food for him. What is meat for someone is poison for someone else.”
“It is not proper for sages to be violent. They are not presumed to notice what is happening around them. They are detached from this world. Nothing that happens in the material world should interest them. They should not discriminate between vice and virtue. They are above everything. But by your deed today you have lost all the gains of your penance. Learn from this story of three brothers how to attain that state of detachment.”
Salankayana asked the kite to relate that story to him. The kite told him the following story.