A long time ago, there ruled a mighty emperor in central India. He had everything that any man could wish for – kingship, wealth, power, a vast kingdom, beautiful queens and respectful subjects. Alas, he did not have the one thing he longed for – an heir to the throne.
“I have no children. Who will rule this land after I am gone?” he often asked himself, ministers and astrologers. But the many solutions they offered did not please him.
Years went by and the king, though now old and frail, had still not found an heir to the throne. As if by providence, a sage came visiting the royal palace.
“I see that you are troubled, my son. Tell me what sits heavy on your mind and I will give you a solution,” said the sage as the king touched his feet.
On hearing the woes of the ruler, the sage bid him to search for a successor from among the children of his people. “I know that there is one young boy in your kingdom, who will make an emperor worthier than you!” he said with a kind smile. “How you find him will be a challenge to you and your ministers.”
The king pondered on the holy man’s words for a long time. At last, he came up with a brilliant idea.
The king sent his drummers to every nook and corner of his vast kingdom. The message he sent with the drummers was simple – all boys between the ages of ten and fifteen were to assemble at the king’s court on the next full-moon day for the king was going to choose one from among them to be his heir.
It was but natural that there was great excitement and hope among those who had sons of that age. Who would not wish for their son to become a king? Hence, on the appointed day, the boys dressed in their best clothes, washed and groomed well and assembled at the king’s court. When the king appeared before them, they bowed low and looked expectantly and fearlessly at him. The king spoke to them in a thundering voice.
“Good children, I am happy to see you all here. I am sure that any one of you would make a good king. It is not for me choose the next king but the Almighty! Hence, I shall give each one of you a small rose plant in a pot. He, whose plant grows and blooms in the next two months, shall be the next king. It is the will of God that only the plant of the next king shall grow bigger and bloom more than those of the others. Go back home and take good care of your plants and come back to me with the plants after two months. I will then know who will be my heir.”
The children left for home, each hugging his pot. Two months past and the children came back with their rose plants. It was amazing to see that the plants in each pot had grown well and bloomed. The king went around examining every plant until he came upon a boy holding a pot with a dried and wilted plant in it. The king’s eyes lit up and he gave a smile and clapped in joy.
“I have found the next king!” he exclaimed, pulling the astonished boy by his hand and taking him up to his throne. He turned to all the children watching him with disappointment and said, “You must be wondering why I chose the boy with the wilted plant. It is because I found that he is both honest and brave. I have given a plant without roots to each one of you. None of those could have bloomed and flowered the way yours have. They would have all wilted and died but you brought new healthy plant with roses, hoping to be the next king. Only this boy brought back the plant I gave him. Being honest was more important to him than being a king.”
With these words, the king placed the crown on the boy’s head for he was certainly worthy of it.
Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. October 5, 2013