Tales of the Punjab: Folklore of India UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

King Who Was Fried, The

ONCE upon a time, a very long time ago indeed, there lived a King who had made a vow never to eat bread or break his fast until he had given away a hundredweight of gold in charity.

                So, every day, before King Karan--for that was his name--had his breakfast, the palace servants would come out with baskets and baskets of gold pieces to scatter amongst the crowds of poor folk, who, you may be sure, never forgot to be there to receive the alms.

                How they used to hustle and bustle and struggle and scramble!  Then, when the last golden piece had been fought for, King Karan would sit down to his breakfast, and enjoy it as a man who has kept his word should do.

                Now, when people saw the King lavishing his gold in this fashion, they naturally thought that sooner or later the royal treasuries must give out, the gold come to an end, and the King--who was evidently a man of his word--die of starvation.  But, though months and years passed by, every day, just a quarter of an hour before breakfast-time, the servants came out of the palace with baskets and baskets of gold; and as the crowds dispersed they could see the King sitting down to his breakfast in the royal banqueting hall, as jolly, and fat, and hungry, as could be.

                Now, of course, there was some secret in all this, and this secret I shall now tell you.  King Karan had made a compact with a holy and very hungry old _faqîr_ who lived at the top of the hill; and the compact was this:  on condition of King Karan allowing himself to be fried and eaten for breakfast every day, the _faqîr_ gave him a hundredweight of pure gold.

                Of course, had the _faqîr_ been an ordinary sort of person, the compact would not have lasted long, for once King Karan had been fried and eaten, there would have been an end of the matter.  But the _faqîr_ was a very remarkable _faqîr_ indeed, and when he had eaten the King, and picked the bones quite quite clean, he just put them together, said a charm or two, and, hey presto! there was King Karan as fat and jolly as ever, ready for the next morning's breakfast.  In fact, the _faqîr_ made _no bones at all_ over the affair, which, it must be confessed, was very convenient both for the breakfast and the breakfast eater.  Nevertheless, it was of course not pleasant to be popped alive every morning into a great frying-pan of boiling oil; and for my part I think King Karan earned his hundredweight of gold handsomely.  But after a time he got accustomed to the process, and would go up quite cheerfully to the holy and hungry one's house, where the biggest frying-pan was spitting and sputtering over the sacred fire.  Then he would just pass the time of day to the _faqîr_ to make sure he was punctual, and step gracefully into his hot oil bath.  My goodness! how he sizzled and fizzled!  When he was crisp and brown, the _faqîr_ ate him, picked the bones, set them together, sang a charm, and finished the business by bringing out his dirty, old ragged coat, which he shook and shook, while the bright golden pieces came tumbling out of the pockets on to the floor.

                So that was the way King Karan got his gold, and if you think it very extraordinary, so do I!

                Now, in the great Mansarobar Lake, where, as of course you know, all the wild swans live when they leave us, and feed upon seed pearls, there was a great famine.  Pearls were so scarce that one pair of swans determined to go out into the world and seek for food.  So they flew into King Bikramâjît's garden, at Ujjayin.  Now, when the gardener saw the beautiful birds, he was delighted, and, hoping to induce them to stay, he threw them grain to eat.  But they would not touch it, nor any other food he offered them; so he went to his master, and told him there were a pair of swans in the garden who refused to eat anything.

                Then King Bikramâjît went out, and asked them in birds' language (for, as every one knows, Bikramâjît understood both beasts and birds) why it was that they ate nothing.

                'We don't eat grain!' said they, 'nor fruit, nor anything but fresh unpierced pearls!'

                Whereupon King Bikramâjît, being very kind-hearted, sent for a basket of pearls; and every day, when he came into the garden, he fed the swans with his own hand.

                But one day, when he was feeding them as usual, one of the pearls happened to be pierced.  The dainty swans found it out at once, and coming to the conclusion that King Bikramâjît's supply of pearls was running short, they made up their minds to go farther afield.  So, despite his entreaties, they spread their broad white wings, and flew up into the blue sky, their outstretched necks pointing straight towards home on the great Mansarobar Lake.  Yet they were not ungrateful, for as they flew they sang the praises of Bikramâjît.

                Now, King Karan was watching his servants bring out the baskets of gold, when the wild swans came flying over his head; and when he heard them singing, 'Glory to Bikramâjît!  Glory to Bikramâjît!' he said to himself, 'Who is this whom even the birds praise?  I let myself be fried and eaten every day in order that I may be able to give away a hundredweight of gold in charity, yet no swan sings _my_ song!'

                So, being jealous, he sent for a bird-catcher, who snared the poor swans with lime, and put them in a cage.

                Then Karan hung the cage in the palace, and ordered his servants to bring every kind of birds' food; but the proud swans only curved their white necks in scorn, saying, 'Glory to Bikramâjît!--he gave us pearls to eat!'

                Then King Karan, determined not to be outdone, sent for pearls; but still the scornful swans would not touch anything.

                'Why will ye not eat?' quoth King Karan wrathfully; 'am I not as generous as Bikramâjît?'

                Then the swan's wife answered, and said, 'Kings do not imprison the innocent.  Kings do not war against women.  If Bikramâjît were here, he would at any rate let me go!'

                So Karan, not to be outdone in generosity, let the swan's wife go, and she spread her broad white wings and flew southwards to Bikramâjît, and told him how her husband lay a prisoner at the court of King Karan.

                Of course Bikramâjît, who was, as every one knows, the most generous of kings, determined to* release the poor captive; and bidding the swan fly back and rejoin her mate, he put on the garb of a servant, and taking the name of Bikrû, journeyed northwards till he came to King Karan's kingdom.  Then he took service with the King, and helped every day to carry out the baskets of golden pieces.  He soon saw there was some secret in King Karan's endless wealth, and never rested until he had found it out.  So, one day, hidden close by, he saw King Karan enter the _faqîr's_ house and pop into the boiling oil.  He saw him frizzle and sizzle, he saw him come out crisp and brown, he saw the hungry and holy _faqîr_ pick the bones, and, finally, he saw King Karan, fat and jolly as ever, go down the mountain side with his hundredweight of gold!

                Then Bikrû knew what to do!  So the very next day he rose very early, and taking a carving-knife, he slashed himself all over.  Next he took some pepper and salt, spices, pounded pomegranate seeds, and pea-flour; these he mixed together into a beautiful curry-stuff, and rubbed himself all over with it--right into the cuts in spite of the smarting.  When he thought he was quite ready for cooking, he just went up the hill to the _faqîr_'s house, and popped into the frying-pan.  The _faqîr_ was still asleep, but he soon awoke with the sizzling and the fizzling, and said to himself, 'Dear me! how uncommonly nice the King smells this morning!'

                Indeed, so appetising was the smell, that he could hardly wait until the King was crisp and brown, but then----oh, my goodness! how he gobbled him up!

                You see, he had been eating plain fried so long that a devilled king was quite a change.  He picked the bones ever so clean, and it is my belief would have eaten them too, if he had not been afraid of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

                Then, when it was all over, he put the King together again, and said, with tears in his eyes, 'What a breakfast that was, to be sure!  Tell me how you managed to taste so nice, and I'll give you anything you ask.'

                Whereupon Bikrû told him the way it was done, and promised to devil himself every morning, if he might have the old coat in return. 'For,' said he, 'it is not pleasant to be fried! and I don't see why I should in addition have the trouble of carrying a hundredweight of gold to the palace every day.  Now, if _I_ keep the coat, I can shake it down there.'

                To this the _faqîr_ agreed, and off went Bikrû with the coat.

                Meanwhile, King Karan came toiling up the hill, and was surprised, when he entered the _faqîr_'s house, to find the fire out, the frying-pan put away, and the _faqîr_ himself as holy as ever, but not in the least hungry.

                'Why, what is the matter?' faltered the King.

                'Who are you?' asked the _faqîr_, who, to begin with, was somewhat short-sighted, and in addition felt drowsy after his heavy meal.

                'Who!  Why, I'm King Karan, come to be fried!  Don't you want your breakfast?'

                'I've had my breakfast!' sighed the _faqîr_ regretfully.  'You tasted very nice when you were devilled, I can assure you!'

                'I never was devilled in my life!' shouted the King; 'you must have eaten somebody else!'

                'That's just what I was saying to myself!' returned the _faqîr_ sleepily; 'I thought--it couldn't--be only--the spices--that-- '--Snore, snore, snore!

                'Look here!' cried King Karan, in a rage, shaking the _faqîr_,'you must eat me too!'

                'Couldn't!' nodded the holy but satisfied _faqîr_, 'really--not another morsel--no, thanks!'

                'Then give me my gold!' shrieked King Karan; 'you're bound to do that, for I'm ready to fulfil my part of the contract!'

                'Sorry I can't oblige, but the devil--I mean the other person--went off with the coat!' nodded the _faqîr_.

                Hearing this, King Karan returned home in despair and ordered the royal treasurer to send him gold; so that day he ate his breakfast in peace.

                And the next day also, by ransacking all the private treasuries, a hundredweight of gold was forthcoming; so King Karan ate his breakfast as usual, though his heart was gloomy.

                But the third day, the royal treasurer arrived with empty hands, and, casting himself on the ground, exclaimed, 'May it please your majesty! there is not any more gold in your majesty's domains!'

                Then King Karan went solemnly to bed, without any breakfast, and the crowd, after waiting for hours expecting to see the palace doors open and the servants come out with the baskets of gold, melted away, saying it was a great shame to deceive poor folk in that way!

                By dinner-time poor King Karan was visibly thinner; but he was a man of his word, and though the wily Bikrû came and tried to persuade him to eat, by saying he could not possibly be blamed, he shook his head, and turned his face to the wall.

                Then Bikrû, or Bikramâjît, took the _faqîr's_ old coat, and shaking it before the King, said, 'Take the money, my friend; and what is more, if you will set the wild swans you have in that cage at liberty, I will give you the coat into the bargain!'

                So King Karan set the wild swans at liberty, and as the pair of them flew away to the great Mansarobar Lake, they sang as they went, 'Glory to Bikramâjît! the generous Bikramâjît!'

                Then King Karan hung his head, and said to himself, 'The swans' song is true!--Bikramâjît is more generous than I; for if I was fried for the sake of a hundredweight of gold and my breakfast, he was devilled in order to set a bird at liberty!'



_The king who was fried_.--The story is told of the hill temple (_marhî_) on the top of Pindî Point at the Murree (_Marhî_) Hill Sanitarium.  Full details of the surroundings are given in the _Calcutta Review_, No. cl. p. 270 ff.

_King Karan,_.--This is for Karna, the half-brother of Pându, and a great hero in the _Mahâbhârata_ legends.  Usually he appears in the very different character of a typical tyrant, like Herod among Christians, and for the same reason, _viz_. the slaughter of innocents.

_Hundredweight_.--A man and a quarter in the original, or about 100 lbs.

_Mânsarobar Lake_.--The Mânasasarovara Lake (=Tsho-Mâphan) in the Kailâsa Range of the Himâlayas, for ages a centre of Indian fable. For descriptions see Cunningham's _Ladâk_, pp. 128-136.

_Swan_.--_Hansa_ in the original:  a fabulous bird that lives on pearls only.  Swan translates it better than any other word.


_King Bikramâjît_.--The great Vikramâditya of Ujjayinî, popularly the founder of the present Sarhvat era in B.C. 57.  Bikrû is a legitimately-formed diminutive of the name.  Vikrâmaditya figures constantly in folklore as Bikram, Vikram, and Vichram, and also by a false analogy as Bik Râm and Vich Râm.  He also goes by the name of Bîr Bikramâjît or Vîr Vikram, i.e.  Vikramâditya, the warrior.  In some tales, probably by the error of the translator, he then becomes two brothers, Vir and Vikram.  See Postans' _Cutch_, p. 18 ff.


Number in collection, 40. Reference to pages, 267 to 274. Specific name, The King who was fried. Dramatis personæ: Râjâ Karan, faqîr, swans, Râjâ Bikramâjît. Thread of story, king gives away a hundredweight of gold every day in charity before his breakfast, procures this supply by allowing himself to be fried and eaten by a faqîr daily and restored to life, 1 some swans go to the hero's garden,2 he feeds them on pearls, when the pearls fail swans fly home again singing his praises, king hears them and imprisons them, 3 female swan escapes back to hero, 4 tells him what has happened, hero comes to king as his servant, finds out the secret, 5 and gets himself fried, eaten, and restored, and gets hold of the gold-producing garment, 6 king goes to faqîr, but it is of no use, as faqîr will not eat him, having had his meal, king's supply of gold fails, and so he commences to starve himself to death, but hero eventually gives him gold and saves him. 7 Incidental circumstances: (1) as a reward for this the faqîr shakes the gold required daily out of his ragged old coat, the restoration to life is by merely collecting the bones and repeating charms over them; (2) the swans live at Mansarobar Lake and feed only on unpierced pearls, a famine of pearls drives them away for food; (3) for singing another man's praises; (4) she refuses to eat even pearls, because the king has done so wicked a thing as to imprison a female, so he lets her go; (5) by dogging the king's footsteps and seeing what he does; (6) he rubs himself all over with spices and the faqîr is so pleased with the meal that he hands him over the gold-producing coat to keep, he supplants the king by going before the appointed time to be cooked; (7) by giving up the coat on condition that the swans are released. Where published, Calcutta Review, No. cl. p. 270 ff. Nature of collection: (1) Original or translation, original, collected by R. C. Temple; (2) Narrator's name, not given; a Brâhman who performed at the shrine commemorating the events narrated in the tale; (3) Other particulars, told as having occurred at the hill temple on the top of Pindî Point at Murree.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: King Who Was Fried, The
Tale Author/Editor: Steel, Flora Annie Webster
Book Title: Tales of the Punjab: Folklore of India UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Steel, Flora Annie Webster
Publisher: Macmillan and Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1917
Country of Origin: India

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