A tale from India

Shakra, king of the gods, arose from his golden throne and peered down towards the earth. There were shining seas and pearl-like clouds, snow-capped mountains and continents of many colors. It was beautiful, yet Shakra felt uneasy.

His luminous senses expanded through the heavens. He felt the heat of war. He heard the bawling of calves, the yelping of dogs, the cawing of crows. He heard children crying. He heard voices shouting in anger. He heard the weeping of the hungry, the lonely, the poor. Tears fell from his eyes, showering the earth like meteors.

“Something must be done!” said Shakra. And he changed him­self into a forester with a great horn bow. By his side stood a black hound. The hound’s fur was tangled. Its eyes glowed with crimson fire. Its teeth were like fangs. Its mouth and lolling tongue were blood red.

Shakra and his hound leaped, plummeting down down down from among the shining stars. At last they alighted on the earth beside a splendid city.

“Who are you, stranger?” called out an astonished soldier from atop the city’s walls.

“I am a forester, and this,” said Shakra, with a gesture toward the animal at his side, “is my hound.”

The black hound opened its jaws. The soldier on the walls grew dizzy with terror. It was as if he was peering down into a great cauldron of fire and blood. Smoke curled from the hound’s throat. Its jaws opened wide, wider still …

“Bar the gates!” shouted the soldier. “Bar them now!”

But Shakra and his hound vaulted over the barred gates. The people of the city fled in every direction, like waves flowing along a beach. The hound bounded after them, herding the people like sheep. Men, women, and children screamed in terror.

“Hold!” called Shakra. “Do not move!” The people stood still. “My hound is hungry. My hound shall feed.”

The king of the city, quaking with fear, cried. “Quick! Bring food for the hound! Bring it at once!”

Wagons soon rolled into the market loaded with meat, bread, corn, fruit, and grain. The hound gobbled it all down in a single gulp.

“My hound must have more!” cried Shakra.

Again the wagons rolled. Again the hound gobbled the food down with one gulp. Then it howled a cry of anguish, like a howl from the belly of hell.

The people fell to the ground and covered their ears in fright. Shakra, the forester, plucked his great bow’s string. Its sound was like crashing thunder on a stormy night.

“He is still hungry!” cried Shakra. “Feed my hound!”

The king wrung his hands and wept. “He has eaten all we have. There is nothing more!”

“Then.” said Shakra, “my hound shall feed on grasses and mountains, on birds and beasts. He shall devour the rocks and gnaw the sun and moon. My hound shall feed on you!”

“No!” cried the people. “Have mercy! We beg you to spare us! Spare our world!”

“Cease war.” said Shakra. “Feed the poor. Care for the sick, the homeless, the orphaned, the old. Teach your children kindness and courage. Respect the earth and all its creatures. Only then shall I leash my hound.”

Then Shakra grew huge, and he blazed with light. He and his black hound leaped up, curling like smoke as together they rose through the air, higher and higher.

Down below, in the streets of the city, men and women looked up into the skies with dismay. They reached out their hands to one another and vowed to change their lives, vowed to do as the mighty forester had ordered.

From up above, Shakra looked down from his golden throne and smiled. He wiped his brow with a radiant arm. The countless stars blazed with light and the darkness between them slumbered like a dog by the fire.

M. R. M.

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