Gateway to the Classics: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock
Eastern Stories and Legends by  Marie L. Shedlock

The Banyan Deer

L ONG ago the Bodisat came to life as a deer. When he was born he was of a golden color; his eyes were like round jewels; his horns were white as silver; his mouth was red as a cluster of kamala flowers; his hoofs were as bright and hard as lacquer-work; his tail as fine as the tail of a Thibetan ox; and his body as large in size as a foal's.

He lived in the forest with an attendant herd of five hundred deer, under the name of the King of the Banyan Deer; and not far from him there dwelt another deer, golden as he, under the name of the Monkey Deer, with a like attendant herd.

The King of that country was devoted to hunting, never ate without meat, and used to summon all the townspeople to go hunting every day to the destruction of their ordinary work. The people thought, "This King puts an end to all our work. Suppose we make a park, provide food and drink for the deer. Then we will drive them into the park, close the entrance and deliver them to the King."

This they did, surrounding the very place where the Banyan Deer and the Monkey Deer were living. When the King heard this, he went to the park, and seeing there the two golden-colored deer, he granted them their lives. But henceforth he would go himself to shoot the deer and bring it home. Sometimes his cook would go and shoot one. The deer, as soon as they saw the bow, would quake with fear of Death, and run away; but when they had been hit once or twice, they became weary or wounded and were killed. And the herd told their King, who sent for the Monkey Deer and said: "Friend, almost all the Deer are being destroyed. Now, though they certainly must die, yet henceforth let them not be wounded with arrows. Let the deer take it by turns to go to the place of execution. One day let the lot fall on my herd, and the next day on yours."

He agreed, and thenceforth the deer whose turn it was used to go down and lie down after placing his neck on the block of execution. And the cook used to come and carry off the one he found lying there.

But one day the lot fell upon a roe in the Monkey Deer who was with young. She went to the Monkey Deer and said: "Lord! I am with young. When I have brought forth my son, we will both take our turn. Order the bows to pass me by."

"I cannot make your lot," said he, "fall upon the others. You know well enough it has fallen upon you. Go away!" Receiving no help from him, she went to the Bodisat and told him the matter. He listened to her quietly and said: "Be it so! Do you go back. I will relieve you of your turn." And he went himself and laid his head on the block of execution.

The cook, seeing him, exclaimed: "The King of the Deer whose life was promised to him is lying in the place of execution. What does it mean?" And he went hastily, and told the King.

The King no sooner heard it than he mounted his chariot and proceeded with a great retinue to the place, and beholding the Bodisat, said: "My friend, the King of the Deer! Did I not grant you your life? Why are you lying here?"

"O great King! A roe with young came and told me that the lot had fallen upon her. Now I could not ask another to take her place, so I, giving my life for her, have lain down. Harbor no further suspicion, O great King!"

"My Lord, the golden-colored King of the Deer! I never yet saw, even among men, one so full of forbearance, kindness and compassion. I am pleased with thee in this matter! Rise up. I grant your lives, both to you and to her!"

"But though we be safe, what shall the rest do, O King of men?"

"Then I grant their lives to the rest, my Lord."

"Thus, then, great King, the deer in the park will have gained security, but what will the others do?"

"They also shall not be molested."

"Great King! even though the deer dwell secure, what shall the rest of the four-footed creatures do?"

"They shall also be free from fear."

"Great King, even though the quadrupeds are in safety, what shall the flock of birds do?"

"Well, I'll grant the same boon to them."

"Great King! the birds then will obtain peace; but what of the fish who dwell in the water?"

"They shall have peace as well."

Then the Great Being having interceded with the King for all creatures, said:

"Walk in righteousness, O great King! Doing justice to fathers and mothers, to townsmen and landsmen, you shall enter, when your body is dissolved, the happy world of Heaven."

* * * * *

The roe gave birth to a son as beautiful as buds of flowers; and he went to playing about with the Monkey Deer's herd. But when its mother saw that, she said, "My son, henceforth go not in his company. You may keep to the Banyan Deer's herd."

Now after that, the deer, secure of their lives, began to eat men's crops. And the men dared not strike them or drive them away, recollecting how it had been granted to them that they should dwell secure. So they met together in front of the King's palace, and told the matter to the King.

"When I was well pleased, I granted to the leader of the Banyan herd a boon," said he. "I may give up my kingdom but not my oaths! Begone with you! Not a man in my kingdom shall be allowed to hurt the deer."

When the Banyan King heard that, he assembled his herd, and said:

"Henceforth you are not allowed to eat other people's crops." And so forbidding them, he sent a message to the men: "Henceforth let the husbandmen put up no fence to guard their crops: but let them tie leaves round the edge of the field as a sign."

From that time, they say, the sign of the tying of the leaves was seen in the fields, and from that time not a single deer trespassed beyond it: for such was the instruction they received from (their King) the Bodisat.

And the Bodisat continued thus his life long to instruct the deer, and passed away with his herd, according to his deeds.

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