Bidpai: Introduction

Below you will read one account of how the wise man Bidpai created a collection of stories to satisfy the tyrannical King Dabshelim. There is another version of this same story which you might enjoy also. In this version, King Dabshelim is not a tyrant; instead, he is just overwhelmed with too much information — long before the Internet gave us TMI — but his vizier Bidpai comes to the rescue. (Story source: The Queer, The Quaint, and the Quizzical by F. Stauffer, 1882).

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Dabshelim, King of India, had so numerous a library that a hundred brahmans were scarcely sufficient to keep it in order, and it required a thousand dromedaries to transport it from one place to another. As he was not able to read all these books, he proposed to the brahmans to make extracts from them of the best and most useful of their contents.

These learned personages went so heartily to work that in less than twenty years they had compiled of all these extracts a little encyclopedia of twelve thousand volumes which thirty camels could carry with ease. They presented them to the king, but what was their amazement to hear him say that it was impossible for him to read thirty camel-loads of books.

They therefore reduced their extracts to fifteen, afterwards to ten, then to four, then to two dromedaries, and at last there remained only enough to load a mule of ordinary size.

Unfortunately, Dabshelim, during this process of melting down his library, grew old and saw no probability of living long enough to exhaust its quintessence to the last volume.

"Illustrious Sultan," said his vizier, "though I have but a very imperfect knowledge of your royal library, yet I will undertake to deliver you a very brief and satisfactory abstract of it. You shall read it through in one minute, and yet you will find matter in it to reflect upon throughout the rest of your life."

Having said this, Bidpai took a palm leaf and wrote upon it with a golden style the four following paragraphs:

1. The greater part of the sciences comprise but one single word: "Perhaps." And the whole history of mankind contains no more than three: they are "born, suffer, die."

2. Love nothing but what is good, and do all that thou lovest to do; think nothing but what is true, and speak not all that thou thinkest.

3. O kings! Tame your passions, govern yourselves, and it will be only child's play to govern the world.

4. O kings! O people! It can never be often enough repeated to you, what the half-witted venture to doubt, that there is no happiness without virtue, and no virtue without God.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Bidpai unit. Story source: The Tortoise and the Geese and Other Fables of Bidpai by Maude Barrows Dutton,  with illustrations by E. Boyd Smith, 1908.


The Fables of Bidpai are an Eastern heritage from the centuries antedating the birth of Christ and, like all the works of early literature, they have come down to us out of obscure origins, enshrouded in traditions. History forbears even to certify that the reputed author of these tales existed, but tradition has inscribed him as a sage of India who lived about the year 300 B.C.

More than this, history records him as the bravest of all the philosophers of his generation, standing silent before King Dabschélim. He was led into the august presence of his Majesty by the sincere desire to bring wisdom to a foolish ruler. The royal personage scanned his face and bade him break his silence. Bidpai fearlessly performed his task, reaping as his reward a prison cell and fettered hands.

Here he lay forgotten until one day the King, tormented by some unusual problem, bethought himself of the sage. Summoning him from his dungeon, he once again bade him share his wisdom with him. The reward this time was an elevation as high as his degradation had been low. He was given the kingdom to rule.

An era of great prosperity now set in for Dabschélim, darkened only by the thought of the briefness of mortal life. Wonted to look to Bidpai for the solution of all difficulties, he turned to him now, beseeching him to write down his words of wisdom and leave them as a lasting monument to him, Dabschélim.

Thus it was that the sage, providing himself with food and parchment ample for a year, retired with one disciple into a closed room in the far part of the palace. At the end of twelve months the philosopher and his scribe issued, pale-faced, from their retreat; a great assemblage of the savants of the Empire was called and, standing in their midst facing Dabschélim, Bidpai read his fables, in which he had ingeniously inculcated all his moral wisdom.

The King's delight was boundless. He told Bidpai to ask what he wished and it should be granted him.

Arabic Kalila-wa-Dimna)

(400 words)

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