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Vasishta And The Four Queens

from Deccan Nursery Tales





Once upon a time there was a town called Atpat. In it there ruled
a king who had four wives. They were always quarrelling over the
housework; so, in order to get some peace at home, the king himself
divided the work between them. To the first queen he gave all the
dairy work, to the second queen he gave all the cooking, to the
third he gave the nursery, and he ordered the fourth to look after
the royal wardrobe. At first all went well. But in a little while
the first queen said to the third queen, "Why should you have charge
of the nursery? Why should you not work in the dairy?" The second
queen said to the fourth queen, "Why should I have to do all the
cooking?" The third queen asked, "Why should I have always to look
after the children?" And the fourth queen stamped her foot and said, "I
won't look after the king's clothes." And all day long they quarrelled
and screamed at each other, and the poor king was more uncomfortable
than ever. His face grew sad and careworn, and, from the time he got
up to the time he went to bed, he could think of nothing but the way
that his four queens were squabbling with each other.

One day the rishi, or sage, Vasishta [15] paid the king a visit. The
king prostrated himself before the great sage and gave him a throne
to sit upon. Vasishta looked at the king's face and saw how sad and
careworn it was. He asked the cause, and the king told him. Then
the rishi rose, and the king went with him to the palace of the
four queens. When they reached it, they called to the queens to come
out. The rishi then asked them why they quarrelled. The first queen
cried out, "Why should I have to do the dairy work?" And the second
queen cried out, "Why should I be only a cook-woman?" And the third
cried out, "Why should I have all the children to look after?" And the
fourth cried out, "Why should I have all the bother of sorting out all
the king's clothes?" The king said, "You must do these things because
I ordered you to." But the queens did not mind a word that he said,
and they all screamed together so loud that the king and the rishi
had to put their fingers in their ears to save themselves from being
deafened. For a while the rishi became absorbed in thought, and then
he turned to the first queen and said, "You have been placed in charge
of the dairy, have you not?" The first queen assented. "Then listen
to me," said Vasishta. "In a former life you were a cow, and near the
spot in the jungle where you used to graze was an altar to Shiva. And
every day at noon you used to come and stand near it and let milk
drop upon it. And, because in this way you honoured the god Shiva, you
have in this life become one of the queens of the king of Atpat. But
you did not in your former life attain to full merit. So the god
Shiva directed the king to place you in charge of his dairy, and the
king conveyed the god's directions to you. You should therefore obey
them, and you should honour the king as if he were Shiva himself. In
this way you will attain to full merit and ascend to Shiva's heaven,
Kailas." Vasishta then blessed the first queen. She prostrated herself
before him, and, giving up all thought of quarrelling, went away and
busied herself with her dairy work.

Then Vasishta turned to the second queen and asked, "What are
you quarrelling about?" She replied, "Why should I be just a
cook-woman?" The rishi thought for a while and said, "Lady, in a
former life you were the wife of a poor Brahman, and you used to beg
your food from door to door. But every Monday you used to fast, and
whatever grain you begged that day you used to cook and offer to the
god Shiva. And he was pleased with your devotion. Therefore in this
life he made you one of the queens of Atpat. And because you cooked
for the god Shiva, he directed the king to put you in charge of his
kitchen. Therefore, obey the god's directions and give a great feast
to all in Atpat. In this way you will gain the favour of Shiva, and he
will take you with him to Kailas." Then he blessed the second queen,
and she prostrated herself and went off quite cheerfully to cook the
king's dinner.

The sage next turned to the third queen and asked, "What are you
quarrelling about?" The queen answered, "Why should I do nothing but
fiddle about the nursery?" Vasishta thought for a while and said,
"In a former life, O Queen, you were a maid of a jungle tribe. Every
Monday you used to fast yourself and offer the choicest fruits that
you picked to the god Shiva. In return for them he has made you a
queen, and he has entrusted the king's children to you. Therefore
look after them and be kind to them, and in the end he will take you
to live with him in Kailas." The rishi then blessed the third queen,
and she prostrated herself before him. Then she ran off, her face
all smiles, to play with the king's children.

Vasishta last of all turned to the fourth queen and said, "What are
you quarrelling about?" She answered, "Why should I do nothing but
look after the king's clothes?" The rishi said, "In a former life,
O Queen, you were a kite that flew high up in the heavens. Beneath
where you used to fly was an altar to Shiva, and every day at noon
you would spread your wings over it and shade it from the sun's
heat. So the god was pleased with you and in this life made you one
of the queens of Atpat. As you spread your wings over Shiva's altar,
so now a canopy hangs over your bed. And just as you served Shiva,
now do service to the king, your husband. And you will thereby gain
full merit and in the end reach Kailas." Then the rishi blessed her,
and she went off quite gaily to attend to the king's clothes.

And the four queens never quarrelled any more, but lived happily ever
afterwards with the king. And all little girls who hear this story
should try to be as good as the queens were after Vasishta had cured
them of their squabbling.





Next: The Lamps And The King's Daughter-in-law

Previous: Soma The Washerwoman



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