THERE was a certain king whose name was Shibi Rana, and his power was so great, and grew so rapidly, that the gods in high heaven began to tremble, lest he should take their kingdoms away from them. Then they thought of a stratagem by which to test his self-control, and humble him by proving his weakness. For in the eyes of the gods only that man is invincible who is perfectly master of himself.
One day, as Shibi Rana sat on his throne in his pillared hall, with the open courtyard and its gardens and fountains stretching far before, there appeared high up in the air, flying straight towards him, a white dove, pursued by an eagle, who was evidently trying to kill it. Fast as the dove flew in its terror, the eagle flew faster. But just as it was on the point of being captured, the smaller bird reached the throne of Shibi Rana; the King opened his robe, and without a moment’s hesitation it fluttered in and nestled, panting and trembling, against his heart.
Then the eagle’s flight came to a stop before the throne, and his whole form seemed so to blaze with anger, that every one trembled except the monarch, and no one felt the slightest surprise at hearing him speak.
“Surrender my prey!” he commanded in a loud voice, facing the King.
“Nay,” said Shibi Rana quietly; “the dove has taken refuge with me, and I shall not betray its trust.”
“This, then, is your vaunted mercy?” sneered the eagle. “The dove that you have sheltered was to have been my food. You show your power by protecting it, and you starve me. Is such your intention?” “Not at all,” said the King; “in fact, I will give you in its place an equal quantity of any other food you choose.”
“Of any other food?” said the eagle mockingly. “But suppose I asked for your own flesh?”
“My own flesh should be given,” said Shibi Rana firmly.
A harsh laugh sounded through the hall, startling those who were standing about the throne; but when they looked again at the face of the bird, his eye was steady and piercing as before. “Then I require,” said he, speaking slowly and deliberately, “that this dove be weighed in the balance against an equal weight of the King's flesh.”
“It shall be done,” said Shibi Rana motioning for the scales.
“Stay!” said the eagle: “The flesh must be cut from the right side of the body only.”
“That is easily granted,” said the King with a smile. “And your wife and son must be present at the sacrifice!”
“Bring the Queen and my son into our prescnce,” said the King to an officer.
So the witnesses took their places, the balance was brought, and the dove was placed on one side, while the executioner prepared to carry out the horrible order. As he proceeded, however, it was found, to the dismay of the whole court, that with each addition of the King's flesh the dove grew heavier, and the weights of the two could not be made equal. Then at last, from the left eye of Shibi Rana there fell a single tear.
“Stop!” thundered the eagle, “I want no unwilling sacrifice. Your tears destroy the value of your gift.”
“Nay, my friend,” said the King gently, turning on the eagle a face radiant with joy” -- nay, my friend, you are mistaken; it is only that the left side weeps, because, on behalf of the weak and unprotected, it is given to the right of the King alone to suffer!” At these words, startling all who heard them, the forms of the eagle and the dove were seen to have vanished, and in their place stood Indra, the Chief of the Gods, and Agni, the God of Fire.
And the voice of Indra was hushed with reverence as he said, “Against greatness like that of Shibi Rana, the gods themselves shall struggle but in vain. Blessed be thou, O King, Protector of the Unprotected, who burnest with the joy of sacrifice! For to such souls must the very gods do homage, yielding to them a place above themselves.”
* The author’s dedication in Cradle Tales of Hinduism.