jtaka tales

“The Measure of Rice” is a Jataka Tale. The version I read was retold by Ellen C. Babbitt in 1912 that I found on SurLaLunefairytales.com. I have never read a Jataka Tale before, but they are Hindu in origin. Apparently the Jatakas, or Birth-stories, form one of the sacred books of the Buddhists and relate to the adventures of the Buddha in his former existences, the best character in any story being identified with the Master. These legends were continually introduced into the religious discourses of the Buddhist teachers to illustrate the doctrines of their faith or to magnify the glory and sanctity of the Buddha. Quaint humor and gentle earnestness distinguish these legends and they teach many wholesome lessons, among them the duty of kindness to animals.

In the “Measure of Rice,” a dishonest king has a Valuer in his court. I assume the honest, good Valuer is the character associated with Buddha. The Valuer set the price that should be paid for horses, elephants, gold, jewelry, etc. The Valuer was honest and just and set proper prices – which the king was not pleased about. The king replaced the honest man with a stupid, money-grubbing peasant. The new Valuer didn’t have any idea what the true worth of the animals and gold was, so he set the prices arbitrarily but the people still had to sell their goods for the price he set.

One day a horse-dealer brought 500 horses to the king’s court. The Valuer said they were worth only a measure of rice, so the king ordered that the horse-dealer be given a measure of rice and had the horses put in the palace stable. The horse-dealer went to the honest man who had been the Valuer and asked him what he should do. The man told him to give the Valuer a fine present and ask him if he would be willing to go before the king and state the value of a measure of rice. He did and the Valuer agreed.

The horse-dealer, Valuer and honest man went before the king and his ministers. The horse-dealer asked the king that, knowing his 500 horses were worth a measure of rice, if the king would ask the Valuer what a measure of rice was worth. The king did so and the foolish man said a measure of rice was worth the whole city. The ministers all laughed, realizing how ridiculous that was. The king was ashamed and drove the Valuer out of the palace.

On his way out, the Valuer complained that he had just set the low price on the horses to please the king.

Cute story, huh? Shows the importance of true estimations of value and the danger of surrounding yourself with people who only want to please you, regardless of morals or their responsibilities.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.