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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014
The more things change, the more they don’t
Renuka Narayanan
May 18, 2013
First Published: 23:17 IST(18/5/2013)
Last Updated: 23:19 IST(18/5/2013)

With news of alleged unwholesome doings in a major Indian religion, cricket, a Jataka comes to mind that combines stories normally associated with the two epics. The Jataka tells of Prince Well-Spoken and Prince Moon who have a young step-brother, Prince Sun. Prince Sun’s mother, like Kaikeyi, wants her son to be king and pressures her husband about it. Unlike Raja Dasarath, the king sternly says no. But afraid for his elder sons’ safety, he tells them to go live in the forest until he’s dead. Shocked but obedient, the two set forth. Prince Sun, who loves his brothers, finds out and insists on going along.

Wandering north, the three princes reach the Himalayan foothills. They enter a lovely forest and see a lake shimmering through the trees. Prince Sun goes to fetch water for his brothers in lotus-leaf cups.  Thirsty and tired, the prince splashes in without looking around and like in the Mahabharata, the resident yaksha seizes him.  “What is the teaching of the gods?” he asks and the prince answers, “The sun and the moon,” which is the wrong answer, so he is locked away in a cave to be eaten later.

After some time, Prince Moon comes to the lake, splashes in without a look and is taken captive exactly Prince Sun, except that his incorrect answer is “The four directions”.

Worried now, Prince Well-Spoken comes to find them. Being the smart prince, he looks around and sees two sets of footprints going into the lake but none coming out. So he goes around the lake with his sword drawn, looking for clues. The yaksha, figuring he is not easy prey, disguises himself as a villager and accosts him politely with offers of food and drink. “You must be the yaksha of this lake, what have you done with my brothers?” asks the prince. Shocked at being found out so quickly, the yaksha explains that he is allowed to eat anyone who goes into the lake without knowing the right answer to the question, “What is the teaching of the gods?” 

“Good deeds bring glory, bad deeds bring shame,” says the prince. “So choose one brother,” says the wily yaksha. “Prince Sun, because he’s my step-brother and everyone will say we killed him otherwise,” says Prince Well-Spoken. We know the happy ending to that and isn’t it interesting how the rules haven’t changed about not only doing right but also being seen to do right.

— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture


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