The Fairy Prince Cloud-chariot and the Serpent Shell-crest.
Which is the more self-sacrificing?
So the king walked along with the goblin. And the goblin said: "O king, listen to a story the like of which was never heard."
There is a mountain called Himalaya where all gems are found. It is the king of mountains. Its proud loftiness is everywhere the theme of song. The sun himself has not seen its top.
On its summit is a city called Golden City, brilliant like a heap of sunbeams left in trust by the sun. There lived a glorious fairy-king named Cloud-banner. In the garden of his palace was a wishing-tree which had come down to him from his ancestors.
King Cloud-banner had worshipped the tree which was really a god, and by its grace had obtained a son named Cloud-chariot. This son remembered his former lives. He was destined to be a Buddha in a future life. He was generous, noble, merciful to all creatures, and obedient to his parents.
When he grew up, the king anointed him crown prince, persuaded thereto by his counsellors as well as by the remarkable virtues of the youth. While Cloud-chariot was crown prince, his father's counsellors came to him one day and kindly said: "Crown prince, you must always honour this wishing-tree in your garden; for it yields all desires, and cannot be taken away by anybody. As long as it is favourably disposed to us, the king of the gods could not conquer us, and of course nobody else could."
Then Cloud-chariot thought: "Alas! The men of old had this heavenly tree, yet they did not pluck from it any worthy fruit. They were mean-spirited. They simply begged it for some kind of wealth. And so they degraded themselves and the great tree too. But I will get from it the wish which is in my heart."
With this thought the noble creature went to his father. He showed such complete deference as to delight his father, then when his father was comfortably seated, he whispered: "Father, you know yourself that in this sea of life all possessions, including our own bodies, are uncertain as a rippling wave. Especially is money fleeting, uncertain, fickle as the twilight lightning. The only thing in life which does not perish is service. This gives birth to virtue and glory, twin witnesses through all the ages to come. Father! Why do we keep such a wishing-tree for the sake of transient blessings? Our ancestors clung to it, saying: It is mine, it is mine.' And where are they now? What is it to them, or they to it? Then, if you bid me, I will beg this generous wishing-tree for the one fruit that counts, the fruit of service to others."
His father graciously assented, and Cloud-chariot went to the wishing-tree, and said: "O god, you have fulfilled the wishes of our fathers. Fulfil now my one single wish. Remove poverty from the world. A blessing be with you. Go. I give you to the needy world." And as Cloud-chariot bowed reverently, there came a voice from the tree: "I go, since you give me up." And the wishing-tree immediately flew from heaven and rained so much money on the earth that nobody was poor. And Cloud-chariot's reputation for universal benevolence was spread about.
But all the relatives were jealous and envious. They thought that they could easily conquer Cloud-chariot and his father without the wishing-tree, and they prepared to fight to take away his kingdom. But Cloud-chariot said to his father: "Father, how can you take your weapons and fight? What high-minded man would want a kingdom after killing his relatives just for the sake of this wretched, perishable body? Let us abandon the kingdom, and go away somewhere to devote ourselves entirely to virtue. Then we shall be blessed in both worlds. And let these wretched relatives enjoy the kingdom which they hanker after."
And Cloud-banner said: "My son, I only want the kingdom for you, and if you give it up from benevolent motives, what good is it to me? I am an old man."
So Cloud-chariot left the kingdom and went with his father and mother to the Malabar hills. There he built a hermit's retreat, and waited on his parents.
One day, as he wandered about, he met Friend-wealth, the son of All-wealth, who lived there as king of the Siddhas. And Cloud-chariot spoke to him and made friends with him.
Then one day Cloud-chariot saw a shrine to the goddess Gauri in the grove, and entered there. And he saw a slender, lovely maiden surrounded by her girl friends and playing on a lute, in honour of Gauri. The deer listened to her music and her song, motionless as if ashamed because her eyes were lovelier than their own. When Cloud-chariot saw the slender maiden, his heart was ravished.
And he seemed to her to make the garden beautiful like the spring-time. A strange longing came over her. She became so helpless that her friends were alarmed.
Then Cloud-chariot asked one of her friends: "My good girl, what is your friend's sweet name? What family does she adorn?"
And the friend said: "This is Sandal, sister of Friend-wealth, and daughter of the king of the Siddhas." Then she earnestly asked for the name and family of Cloud-Chariot from a hermit's son who had come with him. And then she spoke to Sandal with words punctuated by smiles: "My dear, why do you not show hospitality to the fairy prince? He is a guest whom all the world would be glad to honour."
But the bashful princess remained silent with downcast eyes. Then the friend said: "She is bashful. Accept a hospitable greeting from me." And she gave him a garland.
Cloud-chariot, far gone in love, took the garland and put it around Sandal's neck. And the loving, sidelong glance which she gave him seemed like another garland of blue lotuses. So they pledged themselves without speaking a word.
Then a serving-maid came and said to the princess: "Princess, your mother remembers you. Come at once." And she went slowly, after drawing from her lover's face a passionate glance, for which Love's arrow had wedged a path. And Cloud-chariot went to the hermitage, thinking of her; while she, sick with the separation from the lord of her life, saw her mother, then tottered to her bed and fell upon it. Her eyes were blinded as if by smoke from the fire of love within her, her limbs tossed in fever, she shed tears. And though her friends anointed her with sandal and fanned her with lotus-leaves, she found no rest on her bed or in the lap of a friend or on the ground.
Then when the day fled away with the passionate red twilight, and the moon drew near to kiss the face of the laughing East, she despaired of life, and her modesty would not let her send a message in spite of all her love. But somehow she lived through the night. And Cloud-chariot too was in anguish at the separation. Even in his bed he was fallen into the hand of Love. Though his passion was so recent, he had already grown pale. Though shame kept him silent, his looks told of the pangs of love. And so he passed the night.
In the morning he arose and went to the shrine of Gauri. And his friend, the hermit's son, followed him and tried to comfort him. At that moment the lovelorn Sandal came out of her house alone, for she could not endure the separation, and crept to that lonely spot to end her life there.
She did not see her lover behind a tree, and with eyes brimming with tears she prayed to the goddess Gauri: "O goddess, since I could not in this life have Cloud-chariot as my husband, grant that in another life at last he may be my husband."
Then she tied her garment to the limb of an ashoka tree before the goddess and cried: "Alas, my lord! Alas, Cloud-chariot! They say your benevolence is universal. Why did you not save me?"
But as she fastened the garment about her neck, a voice from the sky was heard in the air: "My daughter, do nothing rash. Cloud-chariot, the future king of the fairies, shall be your husband."
And Cloud-chariot heard the heavenly voice, and with his friend approached his rejoicing sweetheart. The friend said to the girl: "Here is the gift which the goddess grants you." And Cloud-chariot spoke more than one tender word and loosed the garment from her neck with his own hand.
Then a girl friend who had been gathering flowers there and had seen what was happening, came up joyfully and said, while Sandal's modest eyes seemed to be tracing a figure on the ground: "My dear, I congratulate you. Your wish is granted. This very day Prince Friend-wealth said in my presence to King All-wealth, your father: Father, the fairy prince, who deserves honour from all the world, who gave away the wishing-tree, is here, and we should treat him as an honoured guest. We could not find another bridegroom like him. So let us welcome him with the gift of Sandal who is a pearl of a girl.' And the king agreed, and your brother Friend-wealth has this moment gone to the hermitage of the noble prince. I think your marriage will soon take place. So go to your chamber, and let the noble prince go to his hermitage."
So she went slowly and happily and lovingly. And Cloud-chariot hastened to the hermitage. There he greeted Friend-wealth and heard his message, and told him about his own birth and former life. Then Friend-wealth was delighted and told Cloud-chariot's parents who were also delighted. Then he went home and made his own parents happy with the news.
That very day he invited Cloud-chariot to his home. And they made a great feast as was proper, and married the fairy prince and Sandal on the spot. Then Cloud-chariot was completely happy and spent some time there with his bride Sandal.
One day he took a walk for pleasure about the hills with Friend-wealth, and came to the seashore. There he saw great heaps of bones, and he asked Friend-wealth: "What creatures did these heaps of bones belong to?" His brother-in-law Friend-wealth said to the merciful prince: "Listen, my friend. I will tell you the story briefly."
Long ago Kadru, the mother of the serpents, made a wager with her rival Vinata, the mother of the great bird Garuda. She won the wager and enslaved her rival. Now Garuda's anger continued even after he had freed his mother from slavery. He kept going into the underworld where Kadru's offspring, the serpents, live, to eat them. Some he killed, others he crushed.
Then Vasuki, king of the serpents, feared that in time all would be lost if the serpents were all to be slain thus. So he made an agreement with Garuda. He said: "O king of birds, I will send one serpent every day to the shore of the southern sea for you to eat. But you are never to enter the underworld again. What advantage would it be to you if all the serpents were slain at once?" And Garuda agreed, with an eye to his own advantage.
Since that time Garuda every day eats the snake sent by Vasuki here on the seashore. And these heaps of bones from the serpents that have been eaten, have in time formed a regular mountain.
When Cloud-chariot heard this story from the lips of Friend-wealth, he was deeply grieved and said: "My friend, wretched indeed is that king Vasuki who deliberately sacrifices his own subjects to their enemy. He is a coward. He has a thousand heads, yet could not find a single mouth to say: O Garuda, eat me first.' How could he be so mean as to beg Garuda to destroy his own race? Or how can Garuda, the heavenly bird, do such a crime? Oh, insolent madness!"
So the noble Cloud-chariot made up his mind that he would use his poor body that day to save the life of one serpent at least. At that moment a door-keeper, sent by Friend-wealth's father, came to summon them home. And Cloud-Chariot said: "Do you go first. I will follow." So he dismissed Friend-wealth, and remained there himself.
As he walked about waiting for the thing he hoped for, he heard a pitiful sound of weeping at a distance. He went a little way and saw near a lofty rock a sorrowful, handsome youth. He was at that moment abandoned by a creature that seemed to be a policeman, and was gently persuading his old, weeping mother to return. And Cloud-chariot wished to know who it might be. So he hid himself and listened, his heart melting with pity.
The old mother was bowed down by anguish, and started to lament over the youth. "Oh, Shell-crest! Oh, my virtuous son, whom I fondled, not counting the labour and the pain! Oh, my son, my only son! Where shall I see you again? Oh, my darling! When your bright face is gone, your old father will fall into black despair. How can he live then? Your tender form is hurt by the rays of the sun. How can it bear the pangs of being eaten by Garuda? Oh, my unhappy fate! Why did the Creator and the serpent-king choose my only son from the broad serpent-world, and seize upon him?"
And as she lamented, the youth, her son, said: "Mother, I am unhappy enough. Why torture me yet more? Return home. For the last time I bow before you. It is time for Garuda to come."
And the mother cried: "Alas, alas for me! Who will save my son?" And she gazed about wildly and wept aloud.
All this Cloud-chariot, the future Buddha, saw and heard. And with deep pity he thought: "Alas! This is a serpent named Shell-crest, sent here by Vasuki for Garuda to eat. And this is his mother, following him out of her great love. He is her only son, and she is mourning in pain and bitter anguish. I should forever curse my useless life if I did not save one in such agony at the cost of a body which must perish anyway some day."
So Cloud-chariot joyfully approached and said to the old mother: "Serpent-mother, I will save your son. Do not weep."
But the old mother thought that this was Garuda, and she screamed: "O Garuda, eat me! Eat me!"
Then Shell-crest said: "Mother, this is not Garuda. Do not be alarmed. What a difference between one who soothes our feelings like the moon, and the fearful Garuda."
And Cloud-chariot said: "Mother, I am a fairy, come to save your son. I will put on his garment and offer my own body to the hungry bird. Do you take your son and go home."
But the old mother said: "No, no. You are more than a son to me. To think that such as you should feel pity for such as we!"
And Cloud-chariot answered: "Mother, I beg you not to disappoint me." But when he insisted, Shell-crest said: "Noble being, you have certainly shown compassion, but I do not wish to save my body at the expense of yours. Who would save a common stone at the cost of a pearl? The world is full of creatures like me, who are merciful only to themselves. But creatures like you, who are merciful to all the world, are very rare. Oh, pious being, I could not stain the pure family of Shell-guard, as the dark spot stains the disk on the moon."
Then Shell-crest said to his mother: "Mother, return from this desolate place. Do you not see the rock of sacrifice wet with the blood of serpents, the terrible plaything of Death? I will go for a moment to the shore and worship the god Shiva there. And I will return quickly before Garuda comes."
So Shell-crest took leave of his mother and went to worship Shiva. And Cloud-chariot thought: "If Garuda should come in this interval, I should be happy."
Then he saw the trees stiffening themselves against the wind made by the sweeping wings of the king of birds. "Garuda is coming," he thought, and climbed the rock of sacrifice, eager to give his life for another.
And Garuda straightway pounced upon the noble creature and lifted him from the rock in his beak. While Cloud-chariot's blood flowed in streams and the gem fell from his forehead, Garuda carried him off and began to eat him on the summit of the Malabar hills. And while he was being eaten, Cloud-chariot thought: "In every future life of mine may my body do some good to somebody. I would not attain heaven and salvation without doing some good first." Then a shower of flowers fell from heaven on the fairy prince.
At that moment the blood-stained gem from his forehead fell in front of his wife Sandal. She was in anguish at the sight, and as her parents-in-law were near, she tearfully showed it to them. And they were alarmed at the sight of their son's gem and wondered what it meant. Then King Cloud-banner discovered the truth by his magic arts, and he and his queen started to run with Cloud-chariot's wife Sandal.
At that moment Shell-crest returned from his worship of Shiva. He saw the rock stained with blood, and cried: "Alas for me, poor sinner! Surely that noble, merciful creature has given his body to Garuda in place of mine. I must find him. Where has the great being been carried by my enemy? If I find him alive, then I shall not sink into the slough of infamy." So he followed weeping the broad trail of blood.
Now Garuda noticed that Cloud-chariot was happy while being eaten, and he thought: "This must be some strange, great being, for he is happy while I am eating him. He does not die, and what remains of him is thrilled with delight. And he turns a gracious, benevolent look upon me. Surely, he is no serpent, but some great spirit. I will stop eating him and ask him."
But while he reflected, Cloud-chariot said: "O king of birds, why do you stop? There is still some flesh and blood on me, and I see that you are not satisfied. Pray continue to eat."
When the king of birds heard these remarkable words, he said: "You are no serpent. Tell me who you are."
But Cloud-chariot continued to urge him: "Certainly I am a serpent. What does the question mean? Continue your meal. What fool would begin a thing and then stop?"
At that moment Shell-crest shouted from afar: "O Garuda, do not commit a great and reckless crime. What madness is this? He is not a serpent. I am the serpent."
And he ran between them and spoke again to the agitated bird: "O Garuda, what madness is this? Do you not see that I have the hood and the forked tongue? Do you not see how gentle his appearance is?"
While he was speaking, Cloud-chariot's wife Sandal and his parents hurried up. And when his parents saw how he was lacerated, they wept aloud and lamented: "Alas, my son! Alas, Cloud-chariot! Alas for my merciful darling, who gave his life for others!"
But when they cried: "Alas, Garuda! How could you do this thoughtless thing?" then Garuda was filled with remorse and thought: "Alas! How could I be mad enough to eat a future Buddha? This must be Cloud-chariot, who gives his life for others, whose fame is trumpeted abroad through all the world. If he is dead, I am a sinner, and ought to burn myself alive. Why does the fruit of the poison-tree of sin taste sweet?"
While Garuda was thus deep in anxious thought, Cloud-chariot saw his relatives gathered, fell down, and died from the pain of his wounds. Then, while his grief-stricken parents were loudly lamenting, while Shell-crest was accusing himself, Sandal looked up to heaven and, in a voice stammering with tears, reproached the goddess Gauri who had graciously given her this husband: "Oh, Mother! You told me that the fairy prince should be my husband, but it is my fate that you spoke falsely."
Then Gauri appeared in a visible form, and said: "Daughter, my words are not false." And she sprinkled Cloud-chariot with nectar from a jar. And straightway he stood up alive, unhurt and more beautiful than before.
As they all bent low in worship, and Cloud-chariot rose only to bend again, the goddess said: "My son, I am pleased with your gift of your own body. With my own hand I anoint you king of the fairies." And she anointed Cloud-chariot with liquor from the jar, and then disappeared, followed by the worship of the company. And showers of heavenly blossoms fell from the sky, and the drums of the gods were joyfully beaten in heaven.
Then Garuda reverently said to Cloud-chariot: "O King, I am pleased with your more than human character. For you have done a strange thing of unparalleled nobility, to be marvelled at throughout the universe, to be written upon the walls of heaven. Therefore I am at your service. Choose from me what boon you will."
The noble creature said to Garuda: "O Garuda, you must repent and eat no more serpents. And you must restore to life those that you ate before, who now are nothing but bones."
And Garuda said: "So be it. I will eat no serpents hereafter. And those that I have eaten shall come to life."
Then all the serpents who had been eaten down to the bones, suddenly stood up. And through the grace of Gauri all the leading fairies learned immediately the wonderful deed of Cloud-chariot. So they all came and bowed at his feet and took him, freshly anointed by the very hand of Gauri, with his rejoicing relatives and friends to the Himalaya mountain. There Cloud-chariot lived happily with his father and his mother and his wife Sandal and Friend-wealth and the generous Shell-crest. And he ruled the fairy world radiant with gems.
When the goblin had told this long, strange story, he said to the king: "O King, tell me. Which was the more self-sacrificing, Cloud-chariot or Shell-crest? If you know and do not tell, then the curse I mentioned before will be fulfilled."
And the king said: "There was nothing remarkable in what Cloud-chariot did. He was prepared for it by the experiences of many past lives. But Shell-crest deserves praise. He was saved from death. His enemy had another victim, and was far away. Yet he ran after and offered his body to Garuda."
When the goblin heard this, he went back to the sissoo tree. And the king returned to catch him again.