A Collection of Wisdom: Folktales

Indian Folktales

Indian Proverbs - Buddhist Folktales and Parables

The Scholar’s Challenge

A scholar heard about Birbal's witty reputation, and went to Emperor Akbar’s Court to challenge him. Birbal accepted the scholar’s challenge.

Then the scholar asked Birbal, “OK—do you want to answer fifty easy questions, or one difficult question.”

“One difficult question,” Birbal answered.

“OK.” The scholar replied. “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”

Without any hesitation, Birbal confidently responded, “The chicken.”

“How do you know?” asked the scholar.

“We agreed on only one question,” Birbal replied, “so no second question please!”

And Akbar and Birbal left the Palace Court without saying another word to the scholar.

The Theft Investigation

A wealthy man came to Emperor Akbar’s Court one day and said to the court attendant and Royal Advisor Birbal, “I have been robbed of my valuable gold necklace.”

“Do you have any idea who stole it?” Birbal asked.

“I am fairly certain it was one of six servants,” the man replied, “but I have no idea which one is the thief.”

“OK,” said Birbal, “I will come to your house tomorrow in the afternoon to investigate. Make sure all your servants are there.”

So the next day, Birbal came to the man’s mansion, and was accompanied by a magician.

Birbal announced to the wealthy man and the servants, “I am investigating a theft, and this magician will help me determine who the thief is.”

The magician said some mystic chants that caught everyone’s attention, and then took six sticks out of a bag and handed them to Birbal.

Birbal gave each of the servants a stick, and remarked, “These sticks are all the same length, but by the spell of this powerful magician, any thief who touches one will cause it to grow three centimeters. Tomorrow, we will inspect the sticks and be able to determine who the thief is.”

So the next day, Birbal came back and asked the servants to hand the wealthy man the sticks. As he examined them, the wealthy man exclaimed, “This is strange. None of these sticks grew, but the butler’s actually shrunk tree centimeters!

“Then he is the thief,” Birbal remarked. “After all, only a man’s guiltiness would cause him to fear the stick would grow, and thus would impel him to cut the stick so that he wouldn’t be caught.”

Water and Well Dispute

A tricky man sold his well to a farmer. The next day, the farmer went to draw water from the well, but the tricky man stopped him and said, “I sold you the well, not the water. You cannot draw my water from the well. I still own the water.”

The farmer was upset, so he went to Emperor Akbar’s court and described the situation to the Royal Advisor Birbal. Birbal called over the tricky man to the Palace and asked him, “Why don’t you let this farmer use the well’s water? After all, you sold him the well.”

The tricky man quickly replied, “I only sold the well to the farmer, not the water. He has no right to draw my water from the well!”

Birbal thought for a moment, and then said, “OK, fine. But listen—since you sold the well to this farmer and you claim that the water is still yours, then you have no right to keep your water in his well. You must either pay rent to the farmer to keep your water in his well, or pay him to use his well so you can remove your water from it!”

Indian Folktale - Bring Me Four People

The Test

Several men went to the Royal Palace and requested to become Emperor Akbar’s Royal Advisor. Akbar told them, “Only the person who passes my special test will get the job.”

He then took off his coat and put in on the floor. “Cover me from head to toe with this coat,” Akbar commanded.

All the men tried, but one by one they failed. When they covered his lower body, his upper body remained uncovered, and when they covered his lower body, his upper body remained uncovered.

Then Birbal entered the court, and Akbar asked him if he could complete the task. Birbal paused for a moment, and then politely asked Akbar, “Could you pull up your knees for a second?” Akbar did, and Birbal easily covered him from head to toe with the coat.

The Emperor’s Mustache

Emperor Akbar enjoyed asking his court attendants many bizarre hypothetical questions. One day he asked them, “How should we punish someone who pulls on my mustache?”

One man replied, “He should be beheaded.”

Another said, “He should surely be hanged.”

And another said, “He should be fed to the tigers.”

The Emperor heard these responses and then turned to his advisor Birbal and asked, “What do you think?”

Birbal though for a moment and replied, “He should be given fruit.”

“What?” the Emperor incredulously replied. “Have you gone insane? Do you have any idea what you are saying?”

Birbal calmly replied, “I have not gone insane, Sir. I know what I am saying.”

The Emperor angrily retorted, “Then how can say something like that?”

Birbal politely responded, “Because the only person who would dare do such a thing is your grandson!”

The King’s Dream

One day, the King was in his palace and began describing to Tenali Rama and the other court attendants about a dream he had last night.

The King said, “Tenali Rama, you were in my dream. We were walking on a path, and were crossing a narrow section with a pit of honey on one side, and a pit of shit on the other. As we passed, I slipped and fell into the honey, and you slipped and fell into the shit.”

Upon hearing this, everyone laughed fervently, and enjoyed themselves at Tenali Rama’s expense.

The King continued his story saying, “Then I began eating the honey, and got up, and went back on the path. But when you got up, you slipped and fell right back into the shit. And then I woke up from my dream.”

Once again, the court attendants roared enthusiastically with laughter.

The next day, they were all in palace again, and this time Tenali Rama announced that he had a dream.

He said, “King, last night I had a dream that continued from the end of yours. After you got out the pit of honey and I got out of the pit of shit, we both got back on the path, and realized that we should clean ourselves off. So then I licked the honey off your body, and then you licked off whatever was on me!”

Fox Helps Turtle

A turtle and a fox were good friends. One day, a leopard appeared before them.

The fox quickly darted away, but turtle was easily caught, and hid under his shell.

The leopard began trying to eat turtle, but struggled with the shell.

The fox saw this, and from a distance he said to leopard, “If you want to crack through that shell, just throw it in the water. The water will soak his shell and make it much easier to open.”

The leopard followed the fox’s instructions, and the turtle quickly swam away and out of danger.

Man Markets Woman

A man caught a rat in a box, and when he took it home and opened it, it turned into a sexy woman.

The man thought to himself, “I will find the greatest man in the world and have him marry this woman, and I will make lots of money.”

So he went the King and said, “My adopted daughter is incredibly beautiful, and I want you, the greatest man in the world, to marry her.”

The King replied, “I am great, but nevertheless, Water is greater than me—I cannot overcome its current. Go see Water.”

So the man went to see Water and offered the woman for marriage, but Water replied, “I am great, but Wind is even greater than me—it can blow me into waves.”

So the man went to see Wind, and Wind said, “I am indeed great, but Mountain is even greater than me. I cannot even make it budge a little.”

And the man then went to see Mountain, who said, “I am incredibly great, and even Wind cannot move me. However, I have no defense against a rat. It can go through me easily.”

Greatly confused, the man went home to check up on the sexy woman, and was shocked to see that she had turned back into a rat. He let the rat go.

King of the Jungle

One day, Tiger attacked Fox, and Fox yelled, “How dare you attack me—I am King of the Jungle!”

Tiger, extremely surprised to hear this, snapped back, “That’s preposterous! You know damn well you aren’t king!”

“Yes I am,” replied Fox. “All the animals are terrified of me. They run from me whenever I get near them. If you want proof, just follow me and I’ll show you.”

So Fox went into the forest and Tiger followed him. They came to a herd of zebras. When the zebras saw Tiger standing behind Fox, they quickly darted away in fear of Tiger.

Then Tiger and Fox traveled further, and came to a group of deer. The deer spotted Tiger behind Fox, and they, too, quickly fled in fear of Tiger.

Fox turned to Tiger and said, “You saw it for yourself, didn’t you. That should be enough proof for you. The animals flee at the very sight of me. I am the King of the Jungle!”

Tiger responded, “Yes—at first I thought you were lying, but indeed I have seen it with my own eyes. Please forgive me for attacking you, Great King.” And Tiger quickly dashed away.

Appeal to Vanity

A hungry fox noticed a crow standing on a tree branch, about to eat a __ it was holding in its mouth.

“Oh crow,” the fox called out. “I was just thinking about your lovely voice. Would you mind singing a song for me?”

The crow,

enjoyed hearing the compliments, and eagerly began singing. But once she opened her mouth, her bhajiya fell to the ground. The sly fox picked it up and ran away with it.

An Elephant is…

There once was a gated garden that contained a large elephant. As it made a loud trumpeting “praaaaah,” three blind men that were walking nearby heard the noise.

“What in the world was that?” the first man asked.

“Oh—that is an elephant,” the second man replied.

“What is an elephant?” the third man inquired.

“To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what it is,” said the second man.

“Well, let’s find out,” said the first man.

So the first man stretched out his arm and hand and walked forward until his hand touched the elephant’s ear. He ran his hand along the ear and proudly concluded, “An elephant is flat and wide like a big fan!”

The second man then began his own investigation. He stretched out his arm and hand, soon making contact with the elephant’s tail; and after running his hand up and down it, he announced, “You’re wrong. An elephant is nothing like a fan. In fact, it is thin and narrow like a rope.”

The third man then set out to resolve the dispute. He stretched out his arm and hand as he walked forward, until his hand touched the elephant’s leg; and seconds later he said, “You both have it all wrong. An elephant isn’t like a rope or a rug. It is actually solid and thick, like a wall.”

Shortly thereafter the three men began arguing, and each of them left the argument convinced his own view was right.

The Guru’s Next Life

A guru was peacefully sitting outside when he had a flash vision and foresaw his next life.

He then called over his main disciple asked him for a favor.

“I have just found out that I am going to die soon, and be reborn as a piglet in the litter of that sow in our yard. I will be easy to tell apart from the others, due to a large mark on my forehead. When I am reborn as that piglet, kill it in order to release me form a pig’s life.

The discipline agreed, and days later, the guru died.

Minutes later, the sow gave birth to a litter of pigs, one of which had a a mark on its forehead.

When the disciple saw this, he pulled out a knife and prepared to kill it. However, he was stopped by none other than the pig, who yelled out, “Stop! Don’t do it! When I asked you to kill me, I didn’t know what a pig’s life would be like—but now that I have experienced it, I like it, and want to live on. Please let me go.”