Tibetian Folk Tale - The Clever Prince

 The Clever Prince

Hundreds of years ago, there lived an emperor in China. He was famous for his wisdom and valor. He had no son, but only one daughter. From her father she inherited wisdom and from her mother, beauty. When her parents celebrated her sixteenth birthday, they decided to arrange for her marriage. The news reached far and near. Kings and princes of many lands had already heard of the charming princess. So, a large number of them sent their envoys to ask for her hand. The wise emperor sent them back saying that he would let them know his decision soon. As there were many suitors for his daughter, the emperor decided to hold a contest and choose the winner for his son-in-law. He wrote to all the kings and princes who had sent their envoys. His message read: "We hereby inform you that a contest will be held for the selection of a bridegroom for the princess. The participants have to undergo three severe tests. Those who fail in all the three shall be beheaded. If there is more than one winner, they must undergo still difficult tests, till one becomes the winner. The winner will not only marry the princess but also will become the heir apparent to the emperor. Moreover, the emperor will also fulfill the winner's wish, whatever it may be under the sun."

The kings and princes who read the emperor's letter knew that the offer was enticing. But what frightened them was the thought of losing their heads. Most of them decided that their heads were more precious than the princess and so they did not come. But seven young and brave princes from various lands who cared hay for their lives resolved to compete for the hand of the beautiful princess. Among them was the clever prince of Tibet. He was not only handsome but also he had a wit sharper than the edge of a sword. A couple of days before the contest the seven bold princes rode to the capital of China. They were treated as royal guests. On the appointed day, the seven princes accompanied the emperor to a vast open field. He ordered his servants to bring in five hundred foals and five hundred mares. When they were brought, he made his attendants tie up the mares and loosen the foals in the middle of the field. Then the emperor spoke to the seven princes. "Young men! This is the first of the three tests. Here in this open field, you will find five hundred mares with their foals of the same number. Whoever succeeds in matching each mare with her foal will be the winner. Go, try your fortune!" The prince of Tibet did not immediately jump into action. He knew, "Before action comes thought." As he stood thinking, the other six princes tried their hands one after the other. When they led the foals to their mares, the mares neighed in disgust or kicked so that the frightened foals took to their heels. The six princes failed to match even one mare with her foal.

Now the Prince of Tibet was ready to meet the challenge. He requested the king to order fine and fresh grass to be served to the mares. Cartloads of grass were spread before the mares. They ate their fill. They then threw up their heads and cried out for the foals. The foals jumped playfully and each one swiftly ran to its mother to suck her milk. And thus, the clever Prince of Tibet paired off the five hundred mares and their foals without much effort on his part. The emperor was delighted. He congratulated the prince and declared that he had won the first test. Asking the failed competitors to sharpen their talents, he bade them all come back the next day for the second test. In the morning of the next day, all the seven princes gathered in the emperor's court. The emperor had in his hand an intricately carved piece of green jade. He showed it to the princes and said, "Look at this green jade, gentlemen. It appears to have hundreds of holes but in fact, it has only one. And even that is a tiny hole that twists and turns through this green jade. Well, here is a string of thread. All you have to do is to pass this thread through that hole in the green jade." The six princes one after another tried to find out the hole and slip the thread into it. The hole was so tiny that it was difficult to make it out from the false ones. They failed in their attempts, though all took more than the time given. Came the turn of the Prince of Tibet. He requested the royal attendants for a few drops of honey. He caught an ant and tied the thread to its body. He then put the ant on one side of the jade, while he rubbed the honey on the other side.

The ant smelt the honey and quickly crawled through the hole and came out of the other side, dragging with it the thread. The Prince of Tibet knotted the thread and gave the jade back to the emperor. The emperor joyfully proclaimed that he has won the second test. He then told all, "Come tomorrow for the third test, the most difficult of all. And that will determine your fates. Remember our caution: Those who fail in all three tests shall be beheaded. Those afraid of participating in the third test can very well go home and save their heads." The next day the emperor ordered his carpenters to work on a great tree trunk to bring each end of it to the same size. It was equally smoothened and polished at both ends. When the emperor called for the competitors, he was surprised to find all the seven present. No one had tried to evade the danger. "I appreciate your fearlessness. All of you deserve to be rulers," observed the emperor. He then showed them the tree trunk and asked, "Tell me which is the upper end and which the lower. You must give reasons for your opinion. Think well before you come out with your answers! Remember your heads!" While the Prince of Tibet looked on, the other six princes examined the trunk. But the carpenters had shaped the trunk in such a way that none of them was able to distinguish the top from the bottom. They lost hope. Their hearts galloping pit-a-pat, they looked at the Prince of Tibet. The Prince of Tibet asked the servants to lower the trunk into the moat. As the water in the moat flowed slowly, the trunk too floated very slowly on the water until by degrees the lighter end slanted upward. 

The prince immediately said, "The upward end is the top and the downward the bottom." "How?" asked the Emperor. "Your Majesty! A trunk is always heavier at the base. And that is why the heavier base slanted down while the upper end showed up," replied the prince. Overjoyed, the Emperor of China embraced the Prince of Tibet and said, "O brave and wise prince, you will marry my daughter and become heir to my throne. Tomorrow we celebrate the marriage in a grand fashion. And you are also entitled to ask whatever you want. Come on with it. It will be granted." The Prince of Tibet thought for a while and said, "Your Majesty! Since tomorrow will be the day of my marriage, it will also be a day of joy. Everyone in the vast empire will make merry while the six princes, sad at heart, await the axe to fall on their necks. I request you to spare their lives and allow them to take part in the ceremony before they depart for their homes." The emperor smiled and said, "It is not my desire to behead any prince, my son. I had given the false warning just to lessen the number of participants. Further, I wished to find out how many of the kings and princes were ready for adventure and prepared to lose their lives for the sake of it. Now I understand that there are only seven fearless princes, and you are the best of the lot." The marriage took place in a grand fashion with all the princes relieved.  

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