A long time ago, there lived a young man with his old mother in a village. In spite of the Brahman caste they belonged to, they lived in poverty and all they had was a little hut and a piece of land on which they planted vegetables for a living.
The old woman wanted her son to marry a woman, so that she would have a daughter in law who would help her with the house chores. However, the young Brahmin was too poor to afford even the most humble wedding. He was sad because of this.
One day he made a decision. He would go to the city and only return home when he had enough money to marry a woman. He wanted to make his mother happy. "I'll go to the city," said the young man to his mother. "I'll raise some money. When I return, I'll get married and we'll live happily." His mother disagreed because she didn't want her son to be away from her. She tried to hold him back and change his mind, but her son was determined to leave.
Meanwhile, a ghost who lived on an old tree near the hut heard their conversation. He thought, "It's a golden opportunity to live in the hut. As soon as the Brahmin leaves, I'll assume his shape and pretend to be him. I'll live comfortably in the hut and have my meals prepared everyday. I'm tired of living on this cold old tree. I'm tired of being a ghost."
One night, not long after the young man had left for the city, the ghost took the shape of the young Brahmin and went to the hut. While knocking at the door, he said in a loud voice, "Mother, it's me. I'm back."
The old woman was surprised to hear what she thought to be her son's voice and immediately opened the door. She asked, "You said you would be away for quite long. What has happened? Are you sick?"
Pretending to be her son, the ghost answered, "I've changed my mind, Mother. I just can't leave you alone. I will stay and take care of you." The old woman cried. She was happy to have her son back. Then, she prepared a nice dinner for him. Since then, the ghost lived in the hut as the old woman's son. It was much more comfortable than living on the cold old tree.
A year later, the young Brahmin went home. He knocked at the door happily. To his surprise, when the door opened, he saw a young man who looked exactly like him. The young man stood at the door and looked at him with furious eyes. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" he asked rudely.
The young Brahmin was shocked, and asked back, "Hey, who are you? What are you doing here in my house?" He called his mother, "Mother, what has happened? Who is this young man?"
However, his mother didn't seem to recognize him. She said angrily, "What do you mean? He is my son. Who are you?" The young Brahmin tried to convince her that he was her true son. It was all in vain. His mother and the ghost slammed the door and left him outside.
Not knowing what to do, the young Brahmin went to the King and told him about what had happened. The King listened attentively, then ordered both young men to appear before him. The King looked at them carefully, one after the other. He was confused since they looked exactly the same. The King then asked them questions. However, he was still unable to tell which of the two young men was the old woman's true son.
One day, while he was on his way home from the King’s castle trying to convince the King, he met a boy who was playing near a field. The boy asked him, “Why do you look so sad?”
The young Brahmin replied in a desperate voice, “No one can help me. I’m homeless. A stranger has lived in my home and my mother believes that he is me, her true son. There’s no justice in this kingdom.”
“Come and meet our King,” said the boy. “Tell him about your problem. I’m sure he can help you.”
“I have met the King. He can’t help me,” replied the young Brahmin.
“No, not that King. Let me take you to our King,” said the boy.
“Who’s your King? There could be no other king in this kingdom,” said the young Brahmin. However, the boy soon took the Brahmin’s hand and led him to his friends who were gathering in the field. They were sitting in circle, surrounding a boy with a bright face who was sitting on a mound in the middle of the field. The boy bowed before him and said, “Your Majesty, this young man wishes to tell you about his strange problem. He is seeking for justice.”
“We will listen to you. Now tell us about your problem, good young Man,” said the boy who seemed to be their king. The young Brahmin thought it was a joke and started to get angry. However, the little king's words convinced the Brahmin and he was now willing to tell him about his problem.
"I will help you," said the little 'King', "I will solve it tomorrow. However, the King, his ministers, and the whole village must be present here."
The Brahmin had no other choice but to go to the King and ask him to come. Fortunately, instead of becoming offended with the request, the King was curious about how the little "King" would solve the problem.
On the following day, the King, his ministers, his escorts, and the whole village gathered on the field. So did the young Brahmin, his mother, and the ghost, who was still confident that the little "King" would not be able to solve a mystery that the King could not solve.
As the boy bowed before him, the King said in a stern voice, "I'm here because you've promised us to solve this young Brahmin's problem. If you fail, I will give you a severe punishment."
"Alright, Your Majesty," said the boy calmly. Everybody was waiting anxiously. The King who ruled the kingdom only stood there and watched him as he sat down on the mound. Then, the boy showed a bottle with a long and narrow neck, and said, "Whichever of the two young men who is able to enter the bottle is the true son of the old woman. He is also the rightful owner of the hut."
The Brahmin was shocked to hear what seemed to be an unfair judgment. However, before he could say a word of protest, the ghost, who at that time was sure that he would win, suddenly made himself smaller and smaller. He turned into a small insect, and flew into the bottle. As soon as he entered the bottle, the young "King" closed the bottle tightly.
He said to the audience, "He is a ghost who has assumed the young man's shape. He has convinced everyone, even the young man's mother. In fact, this young man is the true son of the old woman." Then he asked the young Brahmin to take the bottle and throw it away into the sea.
The King, who was pleased with the brilliant solution, asked, "How can you be so wise at your age?"
"We are not more than cowherds, Your Majesty. We come here to let our cows graze. One day, we found this mound, which seemed to be a perfect place for us to play on. Then, we built our own little castle here. We believe that he who sits on the mound will gain the wisdom and ability to solve even the most complicated problem. We sit on it in turn, and today it happens to be mine. I don't have such power, Your Majesty. It is all due to this magical mound," the little boy explained.
Filled with curiosity, the King ordered his men to dig the mound. What they found below was a beautiful throne which looked like a stage, decorated with pearls and jewelry and held up by thirty-two sculptures of beautiful goddesses.
The King wanted to sit on the throne. Suddenly, before he could even touch the throne, a voice was heard. "No, don't," it said. "The throne belongs to Raja Wikrama. Before you can sit on it, prove us that you have the same courage and wisdom as Raja Wikrama's. Now listen, we will tell you how wise Raja Wikrama is."
Then, in turn, the thirty-two goddesses told the tales about the courage and wisdom of Raja Wikrama. Soon after the last story was told, the thirty-two goddesses lifted the throne high up in the air, then flew and disappeared.
* * *
The thirty two tales told by the goddesses are popular in India, known as the Simhasana Battisi, 'the thirty two tales of the Throne.'
The Asian Cultural Center for Unesco, Dongeng-Dongeng Asia Untuk Anak-Anak jilid lima. Jakarta, PT. Dunia Pustaka Jaya, 1976.
Retold in English by Mister Guru.
“There's no end to education. It's not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning." Jiddu Krishnamurti