Category: Stories


This is an episode from the Ramayana, a Hindi epic, as retold for children by Milly Acharya.

Before that though, some background – so far Ram has been exprelled from the kingdom of Ayodhya by a jealous step-mother and has gone to live in the woods with his wife Sita and brother Laxman. In the forest, Ram has an altercation with a demon-god, and cuts off her ears and nose, which she doesn’t take kindly to. She subsequently asks the  demon-king Ravana to take vengeance. Ravana and another demon disguise themselves to lure Sita away from the safety of the forest so that Ravana can kidnap her. Ram, aided by the monkey-god Hanuman and his troop of monkeys, head to (Sri) Lanka where Ravana is holding Sita. The monkeys have thrashed the demons and the most fearsome have been defeated by Ram and his brother.

Chapter 12

When the last of his valiant heroes failed to return, Ravana [the demon-king] knew his own turn to confront Ram and finally come. Dressed in his shimmering armour of solid gold, brilliant gems sparkling upon his chest and crown, Ravana mounted his war-chariot. Glossy black horses strained at the reins, ready to charge. His battle-flag fluttered in the wind.

“Be warned!” he thundered, “for today I shall put an end to you  all. No longer will you menace the soil of Lanka!” The forest-folk [the monkeys] sent showers of rocks and trees at his approach, but these merely rolled off his body. He answered with flaming darts that felled thousands of the monkey-people and drove terror into their hearts.

Laxman rushed to assist his loyal friends. As Ravana saw him he vowed, “You, mortal prince, shall bear the full force of my fury!” An earth-shattering thunderbolt knocked Laxman sensless to the ground. Seeing his dearest brother in a pool of blood and barely alive, Ram lost all heart for battle. The forest-folk gathered round quickly to protect Laxman, while Ravana growled and threatened them. For he was surer now of his conquest than he had been since Lanka was beset with these puny invaders.

The monkeys whispered to Ram, “We know of medicinal herbs which restore life, but these grow only on a mountain-side far away in the snow-capped Himalayas.” Who would go such a great distance and return while there was still breath in Laxman’s body? Hanuman! For he was fast as the wind and swiftly he flew off to the lofty mountains. Before he knew it, he was standing on a rocky slope among the clouds. But he was bewildered by the number of different plants which grew there. “I am no wise healer,” he mused. “If I return with the wrong herbs, I will unable to help Laxman.”

But where Hanuman’s wits failed him, his great strength saved Laxman. Wasting no time, the monkey hero lifted the great mountain upon the palm of his hand and carried it to the plain where Laxman lay lifeless. The wise forest-folk selected the right herbs and ground them into a potion while Hanuman returned the moutain to its original place. And no sooner did Laxman inhale the vapours of the herbs than his wounds began to heal.

Now Ram’s courage returned. He sprang from the ground ready to do final battle, fearless of the monster’s ten heads and countless arms. Both the combatants had powerful weapons which were blessed with magical properties. Each was skillful and valiant. And neither one had ever tasted defeat.

Soon the sky was ablaze once again with heat and flames from the clash of arms. Tremors shook the earth, the ocean churned gigantic waves, the heavens darkened ominously. All living creatures trembled with fear; their howls echoed through the island forests. Ram and Ravana fought with all their might while on both sides the other warriors stood by to watch the awesome combat.

Ravana’s weapons released ferocious animals. The heads of lions, crocodiles, vicious serpents and snarling jackals hurled down through the air. But Ram merely froze these beasts into ice which broke into pieces the monemt they touched the ground. Ravana aimed tridents filled with deadly venoms, but Ram’s poisons were equally potent.The twang of his bow could be heard for miles as he drew the string back to his ear and discharged a storm of arrows straight at his foe.

The  demon’s eyes blazed, he breathed smoke through his nostrils, his mouth twisted in rage. His twenty arms wielded twenty weapons at once! “I am no mortal,” the Demon-King reminded Ram. “The gods in their heavens fear me. Do you dare test my superhuman strength?” Ram cut off Ravana’s head in reply. Another head instantly replaced it, and when he cut this one off as well, a new head appeared in its place. The monster was impossible to defeat! Of all the magical arms that Ram posessed, none had any effect on Ravana.

It was then that Ram remembered the one weapon he had never tested. The time had come to use it – the most deadly weapon, the missle which was the gift of the Lord Brhma himself. No being on earth could endure its destructive might. It could tear open the skies or dry up the oceans.

Ram repeated the chant that would summon it, and there in his hand it gleamed in the waning sunlight, invisible to all but Ram alone. He blessed it silently, then hurled it with full force at his enermy. With a thundering roar, Brahma-astram exploded into the depths of the earth, crushing the mighty Ravana on its way. The spot was deeply gouged, like a great wound upon the ground, and poisonous fumes rose thick and fast from its dark crater. Neither tree nor grass nor weed would grow here, and for many years the land remained stubbornly barren.

Their leader was dead! With panic in their hearts and fear in their bones, the defeated demons turned and fled, easily routed by the exbuerant monkey-army. Very soon the field of battle lay empty and silent. The skies cleared, the sun shone cheerfully, gentle breezes cooled the air, the earth ceased to shudder, and the waves were calm once more.

Ram and his friends were safe; Lanka was quiet and serene. Ravana’s brother Vibhisana, who had helped Ram achieve his victory, was now crowned the new ruler of Lanka.

(From The Ramayana for young readers, retold and illustrated by Milly Acharaya)

While I am not generally one for sacrificing oneself to hungry wild animals, this is an interesting story from the Buddhist tradition, taken from The Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish (foolish, from an atheist point of view, being the optimum word in this one, but anyway, to the tale).

‘A long time ago, there was a king in this world with the name of Great Vehicle. He ruled over nearly five thousand vassals and had three sons, the eldest of whom was called Great Sound, the middle, Great Deity and the youngest, Great Sentient Being. From childhood the youngest son was of a loving and compassionate nature. To everyone he was like a beloved son. One time, the king went outside for a walk together with his ministers, his queen and his sons. Then, while they rested a little while, the three sons strolled in the woods. They saw a tigress who had given birth to cubs and was so exhausted by days of hunger and thirst that she was on the verge of eating her young. The youngest prince said to his two elder brothers, “This weak and meager tigress is at the edge of death, and suffering so that she would even desire to eat her own offspring.” When the younger brother asked his two elder brothers: “What does the tigress eat?” the two elder brothers replied, “She eats freshly killed meat and drinks blood.” Then he said: “Who has such strength that they would not to fail to save her life by giving her these things?” The two brothers replied: “Nobody as it is extremely difficult.”

‘The younger brother thought: “For a long time I have been wandering in samsara wasting innumerable bodies and lives. I have given up my body sometimes to desire, sometimes to anger and sometimes to ignorance. What is the use of this body which for the sake of Dharma has not even once engaged in merit?” Once he had made up his mind in this way, the three had not walked very long together on their way back, when he said to his two elder brothers, “You two brothers go on ahead. I have something to do and shall come later.” Returning back along the path, he swiftly returned to the lair of the tigress and lay down in front of her, but the tigress could not bite and eat. Thereupon, the prince took a sharp branch and made blood flow from his body and let the tigress lick it. She then opened her mouth and completely devoured the flesh of his body.’

In doing this, the Prince reached Nirvana, and so, once his grieving family had been reassured by a godly manifestation that his gory death was not, in fact, a tragedy, they buried his bones with jewels in a casket in the ground. Above they erected a stupa, now the location where the 9th Thrangu Rinpoche, Karma Lodro Riglug Mawai Singye, built the Namo Buddha monastery (which is where we went from Dhulikhel).

The End.

Friday 1st June, 2001. The Narayanhity Royal Palace, Kathmandu, Nepal. Circa 2100hrs.

During a party to which almost all the royal family had been invited, Prince Dipendra, who had been taken to his room early for “misbehaving”, burst into the dining hall and shot and killed everyone there, with the exception of Prince Paras and 4 other people, who hid behind the sofa. He subsequently found his mother and brother outside of the Palace, where he killed them, taking his own life moments later.

A dark day for all Nepali royalists, other than the barbers, who made a killing in haircuts as shaving one’s head is a demonstration of grief.

As with so many events of this or a similar nature, numerous conspiracy theories have grown-up around it. One of the dominant ones is that Gyanendra, the now dead Kings brother, who before the massacre was 2nd in line to the thrown after the King’s son, orchestrated the whole event. With the apparent suicide of the Prince, Gyanendra took power (only to be later toppled by the Maoist “revolution”). At the time of the massacre, he was out of town (in Pokhara) and his wife and son were 2 of the 5 people who survived. Until he died, the Prime Minister maintained that the massacre had been a “grand design”…

While details are not clear, it is suspected that Prince Dipendra never in fact fired a single shot. Tests from the dining room suggest that shots were fired by what seems like more than one person, from several different guns. A story which is supposed to be based on the eye-witness account of a maid who survived claims that there were two masked men posing as one Prince. There are suggestions that, while Prince Dipendra was left-handed, the shot that ended his life could have only been fired from his right hand, or by that of another. On top of all this, there were no post-mortems, as the entire family was rushed off to Pashupatinath to be burned.

Duh-duh-duuuuuuuuh. Conflicting stories, but nevertheless entertaining. Oh, and of course tragic.

While we were in Nepal we read/heard quite a few nice stories which we would like to document and share.

A Taxi, a Fence and a Bowl of Ice-Cream
or
How to Empty Your Bank Account in Under 12 Hours

One evening, Ben, a young volunteer, was returning home after an “exerting” night out. So far, the day had gone well, but things were about to change.

Deciding that the distance home was too far for his weary legs, he flagged down a taxi for the 100Rs journey. However, the taxi driver did not think it was a 100Rs journey and insisted on 300. Considering the other option was walking, Ben agreed to this inflated price and off they went.

It was after 45 minutes of what should have been a 10 minute journey that Ben asked the driver if he knew where he was. In a similar fashion to how many Nepalis answer questions, the man waggled his head from side to side.

“Yes yes. No problem.”

Unconvinced, Ben started looking for landmarks and by the time he recognises one he asked to alight here. By this point, Ben’s taxi had gained an extra passenger who seemed to be a friend of the driver.

“500Rs,” demanded the driver.

“Look, its not my fault if you got lost, we agreed 300.”

The man in the back of the taxi, who up to this point had remained silent, leaned forward.

“You pay 1000Rs.”

Feeling like this might be an opportunity for him not to get mugged, Ben reluctantly paid, and walked the rest of the way. First unpleasantry of the night.

Unfortunately, when Ben returned, all the doors and windows, some of which he had deliberately left open, were now locked. This he only discovered after scaling the fence and the building and in the process ripping his trousers. Unpleasantry number 2.

Number 3: having recently moved houses, Ben returned to the empty old one, which he had previously had great success in “breaking” into. But, to Ben’s dismay, the doors had been replaced and the windows had all been locked. He had nowhere to go.

It was now 1am. He collected his thoughts and returned to town in the hope of finding a room. To no avail. All of the reasonably priced places were either full or closed, so Ben turned his sights to more luxurious destinations.

After checking various Ritz-like hotels, Ben was forced towards the 2nd most expensive hotel in the whole of Nepal.

“The only room we have available is the Ambassador’s Suite.”

“How much is that?”

“800 dollars.”

Ben proceeded to give the man a made-up sob story involving girl friends, abandonment and volunteering, and the man at the desk agreed to give him the Suite for just under 200 dollars. Unpleasantry number 4.

Slumping into his 200 dollar bed, Ben had that feeling that we have all had at some point after a night out. He was hungry. So hungry in fact that there was no way he was going to get to sleep without eating. This, he thought, called for room service. A bowl of ice-cream was delivered, which Ben later told us was “remarkably reasonably priced”.

An expensive night…