The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'O grandsire, O thou of great wisdom, O thou that are conversant with every kind of scripture, tell me what the merit is of one who cherishes a suppliant that craves for protection.'
"Bhishma said, 'Great is the merit, O monarch, in cherishing a suppliant. Thou art worthy, O best of the Bharatas, of asking such a question. Those
high-souled kings of old, viz., Sivi and others, O king, attained to great bliss in heaven by having protected suppliants. It is heard that a pigeon received with respect a suppliant foe according to due rites and even fed him with his own flesh.'
"Yudhishthira said, 'How, indeed, did a pigeon in days of old feed a suppliant foe with his own flesh? What also was the end, O Bharata, that he won by such conduct?'
"Bhishma said, 'Listen, O king, to this excellent story that cleanses the hearer of every sin, the story, viz., that Bhrigu's son (Rama) had recited to king Muchukunda. This very question, O son of Pritha had been put to Bhrigu's son by Muchukunda with due humility. Unto him desirous of listening with humility the son of Bhrigu narrated this story of how a pigeon, O monarch, won success (entitling him to the highest heavenly bliss).'
"The sage said, 'O mighty-armed monarch, listen to me as I narrate to thee this story that is fraught with truths connected with Virtue, Profit, and Pleasure. A wicked and terrible fowler, resembling the Destroyer himself, used in days of old to wander through the great forest. He was black as a raven and his eyes were of a bloody hue. He looked like Yama himself. His legs were long, his feet short, his mouth large, and his cheeks protruding. He had no friend, no relative, no kinsman. He had been cast off by them all for the exceedingly cruel life he led. Indeed, a man of wicked conduct should be renounced from a distance by the wise, for he who injures his own self cannot be expected to do good to others. Those cruel and wicked-souled men that take the lives of other creatures are always like poisonous snakes, a source of trouble to all creatures. Taking his nets with him, and killing birds in the woods, he used to sell the meat of those winged creatures, O king (for livelihood). Following such conduct, the wicked-souled wretch lived for many long years without ever understanding the sinfulness of his life. Accustomed for many long years to sport with his wife in the forest in the pursuit of this profession, and stupefied by destiny, no other profession was liked by him. One day as he was wandering through the forest intent on his business, a great storm arose that shook the trees and seemed about to uproot them. In a moment dense clouds appeared on the sky, with flashes of lightning playing amidst them, presenting the aspect of a sea covered with merchants' boats and vessels. He of a hundred sacrifices having entered the clouds with a large supply of rain, in a moment the earth became flooded with water. While yet the rain fell to torrents, the fowler lost his senses through fear. Trembling with cold and agitated with fear, he roved through the forest. The killer of birds failed to find any high spot (which was not under water). The paths of the forest were all submerged. Inconsequence of the force of the shower, many birds were deprived of life or dropped down on the ground. Lions and bears and other animals, availing themselves of some high spots they had found, lay down to rest. All the denizens of the forest were filled with fear in consequence of that frightful storm and shower. Frightened and hungry they roamed through the woods in packs, small and large. The fowler, however, with limbs stiffened by cold, could neither stop where he was nor move. While
in this state he eyed a she-pigeon lying on the ground, stiffened with cold. The sinful wight, though himself in the same predicament, beholding the bird, picked her up and immured her in a cage. Himself overwhelmed with affliction, he scrupled not to overwhelm a fellow-creature with affliction. Indeed, the wretch, through force of habit alone, committed that sin even at such a time. He then beheld in the midst of that forest a lordly tree, blue as the clouds. It was the resort of myriads of birds desirous of shade and shelter. It seemed to have been placed there by the Creator for the good of all creatures like a good man in the world. Soon the sky cleared and became spangled with myriads of stars, presenting the aspect of a magnificent lake smiling with blooming lilies. Turning his eyes towards the clear firmament rich with stars, the fowler began to advance, still trembling with cold. Beholding the sky cleared of clouds, he cast his eyes on all sides and seeing that night was already upon him, he began to think, 'My home is at great distance from where I am.' He then resolved to pass the night under the shade of that tree. Bowing down to it with joined hands, he addressed that monarch of the forest, saying, 'I am a suppliant for the shelter unto all the deities that have this tree for their resort.' Having said these words, he spread some leaves for a bed, and laid himself down on it, resting his head on a stone. Though overwhelmed with affliction, the man soon fell asleep.'"
Next: Section CXLIV