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Chapter 101: A Pound Of Flour

WHEN Yudhishthira was crowned and installed as king after the Kurukshetra battle, he performed an aswamedha yajna.

As was the custom on occasions of this great horse sacrifice, all the princes of the land gathered on invitation and the yajna was completed in great splendor. The brahmanas and the poor and the destitute people, who had come in great numbers from all parts of the country, received bounteous gifts. Everything was done in magnificent style and in conformity With the injunctions relating to the sacrifice.

From somewhere unseen, a weasel suddenly appeared right in the middle of the assembled guests and priests in the great pavilion and, after rolling on the ground laughed a loud human laugh as if in derision. The priests were alarmed at this strange and unnatural occurrence and wondered whether it was some evil spirit that had come to pollute and disturb the sacred rites.

The weasel's body was on one side all shining gold. This remarkable creature turned round and took a good view of the assembly of princes and learned brahmanas that had come from various countries and gathered in that great pavilion and began to speak:

"Princes assembled and priests, listen to me. You no doubt believe that you have completed your yajna in splendid style.

Once upon a time, a poor brahmana who lived in Kurukshetra made a gift of a pound of maize flour. Your great horse sacrifice and all the gifts made in that connection are less than that small gift of the Kurukshetra brahmana. You seem to think too much of your yajna. Pray, be not so vain about it."

The gathering was amazed at this strange and impertinent speech of the golden weasel. The brahmana priests, who had performed the sacrificial rites, went up to the weasel and spoke to it:

"Wherefrom and why have you come to this yajna, performed by good and worthy men? Who are you? Why do you utter words of scorn about our sacrifice? This aswamedha has been duly completed in every detail in accordance with sastraic injunctions. It is not proper that you should speak derisively of our great sacrifice. Everyone that has come to this yajna has been duly attended to and has been accorded suitable honors and gifts.

Everyone is pleased with the gifts and returns happy and contented. The mantras have been chanted perfectly and the oblations duly offered. The four castes are pleased. Why do you speak as you do? Do explain yourself."

The weasel laughed again and said: "O brahmanas, what I said is true. I do not grudge the good fortune of king Yudhishthira or the good fortune of any of you. It is not envy that makes me say this.

The yajna, which you have just completed so showily, is not in truth as great an act as that gift of the poor brahmana, which I have seen. And in reward for his gift, he and his wife, son and daughter-in-law were immediately taken to swarga. Listen to my story which is a true narrative of what I saw myself. Long before you waged your battle there, a brahmana, lived in Kurukshetra, who obtained his daily food by gleaning in the fields. He and his wife, son and daughter-in-law, all four lived in this manner. Everyday in the afternoon they would sit down and have their only meal for the day. On days when they failed to find enough grain, they would fast until the next afternoon. They would not keep over any thing for the next day if they got more than they required for the day. This was the strict unchhavritti discipline they had pledged themselves to observe. They passed their days thus for many years, when a great drought came and there was famine all over the land. All cultivation ceased and there was neither sowing nor harvesting nor any grain scattered in the fields to be gleaned. For many days the brahmana and his family starved. One day, after wandering in hunger and heat, with great difficulty they came home with a small quantity of maize, which they had gathered. They ground it and after saying their prayers they divided the flour into four equal parts and, offering thanks to God, sat down eagerly to eat. Just then, a brahmana entered and he was exceedingly hungry.

Seeing an unexpected guest arrive, they got up and made due obeisance and asked him to join them. The pure-souled brahmana and his wife and son and daughter-in-law were exceedingly delighted to have the good fortune of receiving guest at that juncture. 'Oh best of brahmanas, I am a poor man. This flour of maize was obtained in accordance with dharma. Pray accept this. May blessings attend on you,' said the brahmana of Kurukshetra and gave his share of the flour to the guest. The guest ate it with avidity but he was still hungry when he had finished. Seeing his hungry and unsatisfied look, the brahmana was grieved and did not know what to do, when his wife said: 'Lord, give my share also to him. I shall be glad if the guest's hunger he satisfied.' Saying this, she handed her share of the flour to her husband to be given to the guest. 'Faithful one,' said the brahmana, 'the beasts and the birds and all the animals tend the females of their species with care. May man do worse? I cannot accept your suggestion. What shall I gain in this or in the other world if I leave you to starve and suffer hunger, you who help me and serve me to do the sacred duties of a householder's life? Beloved one, you are now skin and bone and famished and exceedingly hungry. How can I leave you to suffer in that condition and hope to attain any good by feeding the guest? No, I cannot accept your offer.' 'You are versed in the sastras, best of brahmanas', replied the wife. 'Is it not true that dharma, artha and all the objects of human activity are to the common and equal benefit of both of us who have been joined together? Do look on me with compassion and take my share of the flour and satisfy the requirements of this our guest. You are hungry as I am and you should not make any distinction between us. I entreat you not to deny my request.' The brahmana yielded and took the wife's share and gave it to the guest who took it greedily and ate it. But he was still hungry! Great was the distress of the poor brahmana of Kurukshetra. His son, who saw this, came forward. 'Father, here is my share,' said he. 'Give it to this guest who seems to be still hungry. I shall be indeed happy if we shall thus be able to fulfil our duty.' The father's distress increased. 'Child!' he exclaimed, 'old men can stand starvation.

Youth's hunger is severe. I am not able to find it in my heart to accept what you say.' The son insisted: 'it is the duty of the son to look after his father in his declining years. The son is not different from the father. Is it not said that the father is born afresh in his son? My share of the flour is yours in truth. I beg of you to accept what I give and feed this hungry guest.' 'Dear boy, your nobility and your mastery over the senses fill me with pride. Blessing on you. I shall accept your share!' said the father, and he took the son's flour and gave it to the guest to eat. The guest ate the third part of the flour also but he was still hungry! The brahmana, who lived on scattered grain, was confused. While he was in distress, not knowing that to do, his daughter-in-law addressed him thus: 'Lord, I shall give my share too and gladly complete our efforts to feed this guest. I beg of you to accept it and bless me, your child, for, by that, I shall have eternal good as my reward.' The father-in-law was sad beyond measure. 'O girl of spotless character, pale and emaciated as you are from starvation, you propose to give your part of the food also to me, so that I may earn merit by giving it to this guest. If I accept your offer, I shall indeed be guilty of cruelty. How could I possibly look on when you wither in hunger?' The girl would not listen. 'Father, you are lord of my lord and master, preceptor of my preceptor, god of my god. I implore you to accept my flour. Is not this body of mine dedicated wholly to serve my lord? You should help me to attain the good. Do take this flour, I entreat you.' Thus implored by his daughter-in-law, the brahmana accepted her share of the flour and blessed her saying: 'Loyal girl, may every good be yours!' The guest received this last portion avidly and ate it and was satisfied. 'Blessed is your hospitality, given with the purest intent and to the uttermost of your capacity. Your gift has leased me. Lo there, the gods are showering flowers in admiration of your extraordinary sacrifice. See the gods and the Gandharvas have come down in their bright chariots with their attendants to take you with your family to the happy regions above. Your gift has achieved swarga for you, as well as for your ancestors. Hunger destroys the understanding of men. It makes them go aside from the path of rectitude. It leads them to evil thoughts. The pious, when suffering the pangs of hunger, lose their steadfastness. But you have, even when hungry, bravely set aside your attachment to wife and son and placed dharma above all else. Rajasuya sacrifices and horse sacrifices completed in splendor, would pale into insignificance before the great sacrifice you have done through this single act of hospitality. The chariot is waiting for you. Enter and go to swarga, you and your family.' Saying this the mysterious guest disappeared."

Having related this story of the Kurukshetra brahmana who lived by gleaning scattered ears of corn in the field, the weasel continued:

"I was nearby and caught the fragrance wafted from that flour of the brahmana. It made my head all gold. I then went and rolled in joy on the ground where some of the flour had been scattered. It made one side of me into bright gold. I turned on the other side but there was no more flour left and that part of me is still as it was.

Desirous of getting my body made all gold, I have been trying every place where men perform great yajnas and penances. I heard that Yudhishthira of world fame was performing a yajna and came here, believing that this sacrifice might come up to the standard. But I found it did not. So, I said that your great aswamedha was not so great as the loft of flour which that brahmana made to his guest." The weasel then disappeared.