Goblins: The Four Brothers

This story is part of the Twenty-Two Goblins unit. Story source: Twenty-Two Goblins, translated by Arthur W. Ryder, with illustrations by Perham W. Nahl (1917).

The Four Brothers who brought a Dead Lion to Life.
Which is to blame when he kills them all?

Then the king went back to the sissoo tree, took the goblin, put him on his shoulder, and started for the place he wished to reach. And as he walked along the road, the goblin began to talk again: "Bravo, King! You are a remarkable character. So I will tell you another story, and a strange one. Listen."

~ ~ ~

There is a city called Flower-city. There lived a king named Earth-boar. In his kingdom was a farm where a Brahman lived whose name was Vishnuswami. His wife was named Swaha. And four sons were born to them.

After a time the father died, and the relatives took all the money. So the four brothers consulted together: "There is nothing for us to do here. Suppose we go somewhere." And after a long journey they came to the house of their maternal grandfather in a village called Sacrifice. The grandfather was dead, but their uncles sheltered them, and they continued their studies. But they did not amount to much, so in time their uncles became scornful in such matters as food and clothing. And they were troubled.

Then the eldest took the others aside and said: "Brothers, no man can do anything anywhere on earth. Now I was wandering about discouraged, and I came to a wood. There I saw today a dead man whose limbs lay relaxed on the ground. And I wished for the same fate, and I thought: He is happy. He is free from the burden of woe.' So I made up my mind to die, and hanged myself with a rope from a tree. I lost consciousness, but before the breath of life was gone, the cord was cut and I fell to the ground. And when I came to myself, I saw a compassionate man who had happened by at that moment, and he was fanning me with his garment. And he said to me: My friend, you are an educated man. Tell me why you are so despondent. The righteous man finds happiness, the unrighteous man finds unhappiness because of his unrighteousness, and for no other reason. If you made up your mind to this because of unhappiness, practice righteousness instead. Why seek the pains of hell by suicide?' Thus the man comforted me and went away. And I gave up the idea of suicide and came here. You see I could not even die when fate was unwilling. Now I shall burn my body at some holy place, that I may not again feel the woes of poverty."

Then the younger brothers said to him: "Sir, why is an intelligent man sad for lack of money? Do you not know that money is uncertain as an autumn cloud? No matter how carefully won and guarded, three things are fickle and bring sorrow at the last: evil friendships, a flirt, and money. The resolute and sensible man should by all means acquire that virtue which brings him Happiness a captive in bonds."

So the eldest brother straightway plucked up heart and said: "What virtue is it which we should acquire?"

Then they all reflected, and took counsel together: "We will wander over the earth, and each of us will learn some one science." So they appointed a place for meeting, and the four brothers started in four different directions.

After a time they all gathered at the meeting-place, and asked one another what they had learned. The first said: "I have learned a science by which I can take the skeleton of any animal whatever and put the proper kind of flesh on it."

The second said: "I have learned a science by which I can put on the flesh-covered skeleton the proper hair and skin."

The third said: "My science is this. When the skin and the flesh and the hair are there, I can put in the eyes and the other organs of sense."

The fourth said: "When the organs are there, I can give the creature the breath of life."

So all four went into the forest to find a skeleton and test their various sciences. As fate would have it, they found the skeleton of a lion there. And they took that, not knowing the difference.

The first fitted out the skeleton with appropriate flesh. The second added the skin and hair. The third provided all the organs. The fourth gave life to the thing, and it was a lion. The lion arose with terrible massive mane, dreadful teeth in his mouth, and curving claws in his paws. He arose and killed his four creators, and then ran into the forest.

Thus the Brahman youths all perished because they did wrong to make a lion. Who could expect a good result from creating a bad-tempered creature? Thus, if fate opposed, even a virtue that has been painfully acquired does not profit, but rather injures. But the tree of manhood, with the water of intelligence poured into its watering-trench of conduct about the vigorous root of fate, generally bears good fruit.

~ ~ ~

When the goblin had told this story, he asked the king who was walking through the night: "O King, remember the curse I mentioned, and tell me which of them was most to blame for creating the lion?"

And the king reflected in silence: "He wants to escape again. Very well. I will catch him again."

So he said: "The one who gave life to the lion is the sinner. The others did not know what kind of an animal it was and just showed their skill in creating flesh and skin and hair and organs. They were not to blame because they were ignorant. But the one who saw that it was a lion and gave it life just to exhibit his skill, he was guilty of the murder of Brahmans."

Then the goblin went home. And the king followed him again, and came to the sissoo tree.

(1000 words)