The Banyan Deer
In a forest, on the outskirts of Benaras, there lived a beautiful golden deer. He was called King Banyan Deer and was the leader of a herd of five hundred deer. Not very far off, in the same forest was King Branch Deer who was also the leader amongst another five hundred deer. He was also extremely beautiful with a coat of a shiny golden hue and sparkling eyes.
Outside this beautiful forest, in the real world, there reigned a King who loved to eat meat at every single meal. He was King Brahmadatta of Benaras. Not only was he fond of hunting, but he also enforced the same on his subjects. He forced them to leave their own businesses and join him regularly on his hunting spree each and every morning.
After awhile the villagers got sick of this regular routine as they had much better things to do with their lives. Besides, their work and means of livelihood had also begun to suffer. They realised that they must find a solution. Together they came up with a plan.
They decided to grow plants, sow crops and dig water holes in the royal park itself. Then they would drive a number of deer into the confines of the park and shut the gates. In this way the King could hunt at leisure and would not require any further help from his obedient subjects.
So at first they went about preparing the royal park for the deer. Then they went into the forest armed with weapons and sticks in order to drive the deer into the royal park. They surrounded the territories of both the herds, those of King Banyan Deer as well as King Branch Deer, and drove them into the royal park, with shouts of glee as they beat their sticks on the ground and waved them in the air. As soon as both the herds were in, the gates were shut and the deer entrapped.
They then went to their King and told him that as they could not accompany him any more on his hunts they had successfully managed to entrap a number of deer in the royal park for his royal pleasure. The King was absolutely thrilled when he set eyes on the great number of deer in the royal park.
While gazing at them his eyes fell on the two beautiful golden deer and he at once decided to spare their lives. He issued an order that they were not to be shot at any cost. Each day after that, either the King or one of his hunters would shoot arrows at the deer. The deer would scatter wildly in every direction and get hurt in the ensuing stampede. So one day King Banyan Deer and King Branch Deer put their heads together and came up with a plan. They realised that each day their herds were getting wounded in great numbers and some were getting killed. Even though death was inevitable they could at least try to save the living ones from unnecessary pain and torture.
So they decided to send a deer to the royal palace to be slaughtered and served to the king each and every day. The pact was to alternate between the two herds. In this way at least the rest of the deer would be spared unnecessary torture. This system continued for some time. Each day a deer was sent to the royal palace to be slaughtered by the royal cook. And the rest of the deer were allowed to live in peace until it was their turn.
One day it was the turn of a young female deer with a newborn baby. She belonged to the herd of King Branch Deer. She was worried that after she was killed there would be no one to take care of her child who was still too young to look after itself. So she approached her king with the plea that he send another deer instead of her that day and she would willingly go to the slaughter after her fawn was old enough to look after himself.
But King Branch Deer would not listen to her plea and told her to accept this as her fate as he could not ask another deer to replace her on the execution block. The mother doe looked at her baby and just could not take a step towards the palace. So she approached King Banyan Deer with her plea. King Banyan Deer looked at her with great compassion and told her to go look after her baby, as he would send another in her place.
Then King Banyan Deer himself walked to the palace and placed his head on the execution block. The royal cook was shocked to see him and remembering the King’s orders, went running to the King to ask him what was to be done. The King came down to see what was happening. On seeing King Banyan Deer he went up to him and gently asked why he was here. King Banyan Deer related the story of the fawn and the mother doe and told him that as he could not order another to take her place, he had decided to do it himself. The King was highly impressed with this supreme sacrifice and the great love and compassion that this King of deer possessed. So he decided to not only spare his life but that of the mother doe as well.
But King Banyan Deer was not satisfied. He asked that the lives of the other deer be spared as well. So the king granted him his wish. Then he asked about all the other four-footed animals in the forest and then about the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea. And King Brahmadutta agreed to spare the lives of all.
King Banyan Deer thanked him from the bottom of his heart and returned joyfully to the park. The gates were opened wide and both the herds were set free. Needless to say they lived peacefully and happily ever after.