Folk tales are old stories that originated from the imagination of people of different cultures all over the world. They have been passed on through generations , and with every retelling, as they are changed and enriched, they become more interesting and entertaining. Here are some folktales for you to read and relish. These folktales were originally published in once immensely popular, (and now defunct) children's magazine 'Chandamama'.
Please do not reproduce any of these stories without permission of the author.
Please do not reproduce any of these stories without permission of the author.
THE WONDROUS COCONUT PALM
The coconut palm is one of Nature’s marvels. In Sanskrit, it is known as ‘kalpavriksha’, meaning ‘tree that gives all that is necessary for living’. A saying from the South Sea islands says of this tree, ‘ he who plants a coconut tree plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a heat source, habitation for himself, and a heritage for his children’. This is probably why this amazing tree is called ‘nature’s supermarket!’ It’s not surprising therefore, that people from all the lands where the coconut palm grows have woven myths and legends around it from times immemorial.
According to Hindu mythology, this marvelous tree owes its existence to a mighty Suryavanshi king called Trishanku. Thrishanku was a just and generous ruler. One year, when a terrible famine struck his kingdom, the king looked after the family of sage Vishwamitra who was away. When the sage returned, he thanked the king for saving his family from starvation, and told him that he would grant him anything he wished. Now, there was only one thing that Trishanku really desired – it was to enter heaven, not after his death, but in his earthly body.
Vishwamitra promised to send the king to heaven, and organized a unique yagna. As the yagna progressed, and Vishwamitra chanted very powerful prayers, Trishanku slowly rose up in the air, till finally, he reached the doors of heaven itself. When the devas saw a mortal man standing at their gates, they were shocked, and rushed to complain to Indra, the king of heaven. When Indra saw Trishanku, he was enraged at the audacity of a mortal king in trying to enter heaven. He angrily gave Trishanku a hard push, and the king tumbled down towards Earth. But as he fell, he called out desperately to Vishwamitra to help him. The sage immediately cast a spell so that Trishanku did not fall back to Earth, and remained suspended in mid-air. But the sage realized that when the spell wore off, Trshanku would come crashing to the ground. So, he placed a long pole beneath him, and as time went on, this pole became the trunk of the coconut tree and Trishanku’s head became the coconut fruit. Trishanku however got his wish to ascend to heaven, as coconuts are offered to the gods in heaven every day!
The English word ‘coconut’ comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word ‘coco’, which means ‘monkey face’. Portuguese explorers who sailed to the islands of the Indian Ocean in the 15th century found a resemblance to a grinning monkey’s face in the three, round, indented markings found at the base of all coconuts, and this name stuck! The people of Kerala however, have an interesting myth that explains how the coconut tree came to be, and how the coconut got its face. There was once a young fisherman who was unable to catch a single fish. He tried every way he knew, but none of them succeeded. The young man not only became poorer and hungrier, but also became the laughing stock of the village. This filled him with despair, and he decided to learn some magic that would help him to catch fish. So, he went to a famous magician who taught him how to remove his head from his body. Soon the young man started going to the beach late in the evenings when all the other fishermen had returned to their homes with their daily catch. Then he would hide behind some rocks, take his head off from his body, and dive into the water. The fish, amazed at the sight of a headless man floating in the sea, would swarm around him curiously. Some of them would enter the man’s body through his neck. The man would then swim ashore, take the fish out, and replace his head. Then he would proudly go back to his village and show the villagers all the fish that he had caught.
After a few days, the villagers began to wonder how the young man was able to catch so many fish everyday without using fishing nets or rods. One day, a curious little boy followed him to the beach and watched as he pulled off his head and dived into the water. The little boy quickly ran forward, picked up the man’s head, and threw it into a bush. When the man came out of the water, he could not find his head. He searched for it frantically, but could not find it. Then, because his magic was running out, he threw himself back into the sea, and became a fish. The curious little boy brought all the villagers to the beach show them the man’s amazing head. But when they got to the bush where he had thrown the man’s head, they found that it had already grown into a tall and slender palm with nuts on it. Each nut had the man’s face on it. And, that is how the coconut tree was created.
The Chinese name for the coconut ‘Yue-wang-t’ou’, means the ‘head of the Prince of Yue’. According to a Chinese legend, Prince Lin-Yi was fighting with the prince of Yue. The Prince of Yue was killed, and his head which was hung on a tree, eventually turned into a coconut! The people of Malaysia have their own folk tale to explain the origin of the coconut tree.
Long ago, there lives a wise sage who was thousands of years old. One day, a young man came to ask him for a boon. ‘He wished to be useful to the people,’ he declared, ‘and wanted to serve them all his life!’ The sage gave the man a magic box, and told him that if he did not open it till he reached home, then his wish would be granted. But alas! The young man could not contain his curiosity! ‘Surely no harm will come if I take one little peep into the box,’ he thought. So, he very slowly peeped into the box on the way home. At once he was turned into a tall tree – the coconut tree - for disobeying the sage, but he was granted his wish for the coconut tree is always very useful to people.
The Yoruba people, an ethnic people in West Africa have an interesting ‘pataki’ or holy legend that tells the story of Obi, the coconut. According to this legend, Obi was loved and respected by Olofi (God), because he had a pure heart. To reward Obi’s deeds, Olofi made him white and shiny, and gave him a lofty place at the top of the highest palm tree, where everyone could see him. But when Obi realised that he had a much higher place than anyone else, he became vain and conceited. One day, Obi asked Eleggua, one of his closest friends to invite all his friends to a grand party that he was giving. Eleggua who had noticed how his friend’s nature had changed, invited all the poorest and shabbiest homeless people he could find to come to Obi’s party. On the day of the party, Obi was shocked and enraged to see dirty, unwashed guests streaming into his home, dressed in rags. He screamed at them and at Eleggua, and chased them all out of his home.
A few days later, Olofi asked Eleggua, to take a message to Obi, but Eleggua refused. When Olofi asked Eleggua the reason for this, Eleggua told him the story of Obi’s party. Olofi was sorrowful to hear this. Then he disguised himself as a beggar, and knocked at Obi’s door. When Obi opened the door and saw a beggar standing there, he lost his temper, shouted at the beggar, and slammed the door in his face. Olofi walked away, but after he had gone ahead a little, he called out to Obi loudly, saying, “Obi, look carefully and see who I really am!”
When Obi realised that the beggar was Olofi himself, he trembled in fear and begged Olofi for forgiveness. Olofi forgave him, but said that as a reminder of his arrogance, he was condemned forever. He would always be white and sweet inside, symbolizing his previous goodness, but he would always have a hard black cover, to remind him of how he had sinned and become arrogant. Over this cover, he would have another green cover to signify the hope that he could learn from his mistake and become pure and honourable again one day. But he would always fall from the palm tree, and roll in dirt until someone picked him up. Olofi told Obi that this was to always remind him of the poor people that he had so despised – he would be like one of them till he learnt his lesson. And according to the Yoruba legend, poor Obi the coconut is still learning his lesson and waiting hopefully for Olofi to make him white and shiny on the outside again!
THE CLEVER COMB SELLER
A very long time ago, in a faraway province of China, a wealthy merchant owned a shop that sold combs. He had fine combs made of boxwood, cherry wood, bamboo, and even sandalwood. But though the merchant had a wonderful stock of excellent combs, his sales were not as brisk as he wished. So, he decided that he would hire a good salesman – he wanted to hire a clever man who would bring in lots of new customers. The merchant spread the word round town, and soon, dozens of eager young men queued up outside his shop, hoping to get the job. The merchant immediately rejected some of the applicants as being unsuitable for his requirements, but even after this, there were still many hopefuls left who were eager to get the job. After some thought, the merchant said, “Since there are so many of you here who seem ideal for the job I’m offering, and I can’t decide whom to hire, I think it’s only fair that we have a competition. Whoever wins the competition will get the job…”
“What are the rules of the competition?” one of the applicants asked eagerly.
“It’s quite simple! I will give each of you a box of fine boxwood combs. You have to sell them – but only to Buddhist monks. The one who sells the maximum number of combs will be the winner, and will get the job.” After the merchant finished speaking, there was an astounded silence.
Then one man asked angrily, “Have you brought us here to make fun of us? Everyone knows that monks have no hair! So how can we be expected to sell combs to them?”
“We might as well try to sell water to fish!” another man shouted, sounding extremely offended. A few of the men shook their fists at the merchant and got up and left. Some others grumbled that it was a competition with impossible conditions, and they too melted away. Finally, only three young men remained who were willing to take part in the competition. The merchant beamed at them, and handed each one a box full of wooden combs.
“Each one of you must come back here after a fortnight and tell me how many of these combs you have managed to sell to monks,” he said.
After two weeks, the three men returned to the merchant’s shop at the appointed time.
“Well? How did you fare?” the merchant asked the first young man interestedly. “How many combs did you sell?” The young man had a rather dejected look on his face. “As I thought, it was impossible to sell combs to the bald headed monks. Some of them scolded me when I approached them as they thought that I was ridiculing them. Most of them just ignored me though. I was just about ready to give up when I noticed one monk scratching his head furiously. He had an itchy scalp. I told him that my wooden comb would be great to scratch his head with. He thought it was a good idea, and he bought a comb!” the young man said triumphantly. “Perhaps if I had more time, I might even have been able to sell a few more combs...”
“You have sold only one comb?” the second young man scoffed. “How pathetic! I sold ten combs!” he said proudly. The merchant was surprised to hear this. “You sold ten combs to monks? Don’t tell me you found ten monks with itchy scalps?”
“My sales had nothing to do with itchy scalps,” the second young man replied scornfully. “I went to a Buddhist temple set high up on a mountaintop. There are many pilgrims who visit this temple, and I noticed that as they climb up the mountain, the wind tousles their hair. They reach the shrine with their hair in complete disarray. I told one of the monks that it was disrespectful for the pilgrims to come and bow before the deity looking so dishevelled. I suggested that all the pilgrims should comb their hair before entering the shrine. The monk agreed, and then he bought ten combs from me. These combs are going to be lent to those pilgrims who have forgotten to carry a comb with them. Each one will be cleaned after it is used, and readied for the next user..”
The merchant clapped his hands in delight. “What a splendid idea,” he cried delightedly. “I would never have thought of it myself! I think that you are just the kind of enterprising person I’m looking for. You seem to be the perfect candidate to be my new salesman.” As the second young man bowed and nodded happily, the third man stepped forward.
“Hey! Not so fast,” he said crossly. “You haven’t heard from me yet…”
“Have you sold more than ten combs to monks?” the merchant asked impatiently.
“Yes!” the third man replied. “In fact, I’ve sold a thousand combs!”
“A thousand combs? He’s a big liar,” shrieked the first young man. “How can he sell a thousand combs when there are only two hundred combs in the box you gave us?”
“He’s right,” replied the merchant.
“Please hear me out before you call me names,” the third man said quietly. “I went to one of the best known temples in this city with my box of combs. It was full of pilgrims, and I spoke to the head of the monks and told him that I felt blessed, and was deeply thankful to be there. The venerable monk told me graciously that he too was thankful to all the pilgrims like me for their faith and devotion. Then he remarked that he wished that the monks had a way to show the pilgrims their appreciation. At this, I took out one of the combs from my box. Earlier, I had engraved one of Lord Buddha’s saying on it, and I told the venerable monk that perhaps they could think of giving each of the pilgrims who visited the temple a similar comb as a blessing. I explained that since a comb was something people used daily, it could serve as a constant reminder for them to do good deeds. He declared it was exactly what he was looking for, so he bought all the two hundred combs I had with me. When I went back to the temple two days later, the venerable monk sought me out again, and told me that my combs had been a grand success with the pilgrims. They had all liked them so much that they had given lavish donations to the temple to show their happiness. But since the temple’s original stock of combs was running out, the chief monk wanted to order eight hundred more from me.”
A TALE FROM BRAZIL
HOW NIGHT CAME TO EARTH
In the beginning, when the world had just been created, there was no night. There was only daylight all the time. The sun shone brightly through all the hours, and never set. So, there was no sunrise and dawn, and no dusk and sunset when shadows began to grow larger on the ground. And of course, since the inky blackness of the night did not cover the earth daily, there were no night birds or bats that flew around in the darkness, no night animals with glowing eyes that hunted at night, and no night flowers that bloomed only under cover of darkness. The moon was not seen glowing in a dark sky with the stars waiting on him, and there were no night sounds made by crickets and other insects.
Then one day, the lovely daughter of the great sea serpent who lived deep down in the depths of the seas, married a son of a race that lived on Earth. He was called Man, and the sea serpent’s daughter left her watery home under the sea, and came to live with her husband on the land above the sea. But alas! Though the beautiful maiden’s husband was kind and loving, she soon became very unhappy because she could not bear the incessant and fierce daylight on Earth. She wilted under the warm, bright light, and her fresh, radiant beauty faded. Her eyes became red and tired.
“If only night would come here, I would get a little relief,” the girl moaned sadly. “How I long to rest my eyes in the coolness of the night.”
“What is night?” the maiden’s husband asked her curiously. “If you tell me what it is, I will try and get it for you.”
The sea serpent’s daughter replied, “Night is the name that we give to the heavy shadows that darken my father’s kingdom in the depths of the ocean, and shut out the light. Though I love the bright sunlight of your Earth, I cannot rest in its glare. I want to close my eyes and sleep in the shadows that I am used to.”
The girl’s husband immediately called three of his trusted slaves, and said, “I‘m going to send you on a most important mission. You have to go to the kingdom of the great sea serpent, who lives on the sea bed. Ask him to give you some of the darkness of the night that his daughter so longs for. Hurry back here with night, so that my dear wife can rest in the darkness she so longs for, and not die in our blazing sunlight.”
The three slaves immediately set out towards the great sea serpent’s kingdom. After swimming a very long time, they finally reached the sea serpent’s kingdom. When the slaves explained to the sea serpent what they had come for, the great serpent immediately gave them a large bag filled with the dark shadows of the night.
“The bag is securely fastened,” the sea serpent warned. “Do not open it until you reach my daughter. Hand it over to her – she will know what to do with it.” The slaves agreed to this, and set off on the journey back to their home, carrying the large bag that held night. But as the slaves were going along, they heard strange sounds coming from inside the bag. The sounds were made by the animals, birds, and insects of the night, who hooted, screeched, chirped, flapped their wings, and scurried about furiously. The three slaves, who had never heard such weird and mysterious sounds before, were petrified.
“Let’s drop this bag and run away,” said the first slave, quaking in fear.
“How’s that going to help us?” asked the second slave with a moan. “I’m sure that we are going to die anyway! We should never have agreed to carry this bag…”
But the third slave was very curious, and he said boldly, “I want to know what exactly there is inside this bag, and who’s making the terrible sounds that we can hear!” So, the slaves placed the bag on the ground, and opened its seal. Immediately all the night birds and animals and insects in the bag tumbled out, followed by a great, velvety black cloud that was night. As night immediately began to spread over everything in its path, the slaves, more petrified than ever, ran away and escaped into the jungle.
In the meanwhile, the sea serpent’s daughter was waiting anxiously for her husband’s slaves to return with the bag full of night. She blinked her eyes tiredly, and kept looking at the palace gateway, hoping to see the slaves burst in at any moment. She was standing under a palm tree at the time when the three slaves unsealed the bag and allowed night to escape. As soon as night escaped, it spread a great, thick cloud of darkness all around, and the as the sea serpent’s daughter saw the great cloud descending upon her kingdom, she clapped and rejoiced. Then she took a deep breath, breathed in the cool night air, closed her eyes, and happily went to sleep.
When she woke up, the sea serpent’s daughter felt very refreshed. Her eyes were bright and sparkling once more, and she no longer minded the brightness of day. She looked up at a bright star shining in the sky, and said, “In future, you will be called the morning star, and you will herald the approach of day.”
Then the sea serpent’s daughter called all the birds to come around her, and told them to sing their sweetest song to celebrate the arrival of day after night had come to Earth. The cock sang the loudest of all the birds, and the maiden was very pleased with his song. She appointed him watchman of the night, and told him that every day, his loud crowing would inform the world that the ‘madruga’ (dawn) had arrived.
Later in the day, the three disobedient slaves came back home with their empty bag.
Their master shouted at them, “Oh, faithless ones! Why did you not obey the sea serpent’s command, and open the bag only in the presence of his daughter? To punish you for your disobedience, I’m going to change you into monkeys, and you will always live among the trees. And your lips will always bear the mark of the sealing wax with sealed the bag that contained night.
In Brazil, night still leaps out quickly upon Earth, in the same way that it did when it leapt out of the bag in which it was sealed. All the night birds and insects and animals still make a noisy sunset chorus in the jungles, and one can still see the mark upon the monkeys’ lips, where they bit off the wax that sealed the bag that imprisoned night.
Rice is the staple food of millions on people on our planet. Yet few of us realize that this commonly used grain, considered sacred in many cultures, has generated more economic activity, and nourished more people over thousands of years, than any other crop. Rice farmers of different lands have customs and rituals which serve as threads to bind them together. They also have fascinating myths that explain the origin of this amazing, life - sustaining grain.
An old tale from India explains that aeons when the Earth was young, she did not have so many wrinkles on her body, Mother Nature’s gifts were different too. The trees were taller and stronger, and their fruits were juicier and much sweeter. Flowers were more colourful and fragrant, and even the sky was bluer. Rice was the main food of the people, but it was quite different from the rice we know now. In those glorious days, each grain of rice was very large – in fact, one single grain was enough to fill a man’s belly! The people of those days were such
meritorious people that God decided that they should not have to toil for their food. So, when their rice grains ripened, the fell from their stalks, and rolled straight into the granaries where they were stored.
One year, when the rice crop was plentiful, a farmer decided that the granaries in their village were too small. “Let’s pull them down and build bigger ones,” he said. So, the old granaries were demolished, and the villagers started building new ones. But alas! As the villagers hurried with the construction, the rice came rolling in from the fields. The farmer was angry because there was nowhere to store the rice.
“Couldn’t you wait in the fields till we were ready for you?” he shouted at a grain of rice. “You should not be so impatient and bother us when we are hard at work!”
The grain of rice was filled with sorrow when it heard these harsh words. It immediately broke into thousands of pieces. Then it said, "From now on, we will not come to you, but wait in the fields until we are wanted." From that day onward, rice has been made up of small grains, and the ungrateful people on Earth have to work hard to gather it from their fields and store it in their granaries!
The Indonesian people of Bali, believe that rice was a gift from the gods. Their myths say that Lord Vishnu made the Earth give birth to rice, and that God Indra taught the people how to raise it. A legend from ancient China however, tells of rice being a gift from animals.
Long ago, China was struck by very severe floods. As the waters covered their homes, the frightened people ran high up into the hills to take refuge. When the floods were over, they came down and found to their sorrow, that all their plants had died. There were no animals left to hunt either, and they faced starvation. One day, some people saw a strange dog running across a field. Around its neck were bundles of stalks with yellow seeds. The people took these seeds from the dog and planted them. They called the plants “rice”, and this grain flourished in their land and grew in plenty. With enough of rice to eat, the people were never hungry ever again. The Chinese people revere the rice grain, and consider it more precious than jewels!
Rice is such an integral part of life in Vietnam that many Vietnamese people say that their country looks like two rice baskets placed at two ends of a pole! These hard working people have a humorous myth that narrated how rice appeared on Earth. According to the legend, the gods were pleased with Mankind and decreed that humans should not have to work hard to cultivate rice - it was supposed to grow freely and abundantly with little effort. The gods then sent a heavenly spirit as a messenger to Earth, carrying two magic pouches. The first one was full of seeds that would grow as soon as they fell into the soil –they needed no care, and would provide a rich harvest. The second pouch contained seeds that required some effort to cultivate, but when they grew, they would beautify Mother Earth and make her glow. The gods intended for the seeds in the first pouch to become rice and for those in the second pouch to grow into grass. The rice would nourish the people on Earth, while the grass would cover the land, making it green and beautiful. But alas! The messenger who carried these two precious pouches got muddled up when he was delivering them, and he got the instructions confused too. Rice became very hard to grow, and required much hard labour and attention, while grass sprouted freely. The gods were angry that their carefully thought out plans had been spoilt by their foolish messenger. They kicked the confused heavenly spirit out of heaven, and sent him to Earth in the form of a beetle who would have to creep around forever in the grass and avoid being stamped on by human beings. Then the gods, eager to try and help the people, ordered the rice grains to make themselves into round balls and roll towards the people so that they could be collected easily for cooking. The rice balls obediently rolled into a house in the first village. The lady of the house was so frightened however, when she saw the rice balls rolling into her kitchen that she screamed and hurried to fetch her broom. She struck the rice balls with it, and the grains of rice flew in all directions. The rice grains were so angry at being treated thus, that they went back to the fields, swearing that they would never come to humans by themselves. And that’s why, according to the Vietnamese, men and women have to go into the rice fields to this day to cultivate rice. They have to work hard to grow it too, but in the end, it nourishes them and fills their belly.
The people of Thailand, worship many goddesses of fertility and good harvests, but Mae Posop, the goddess of grain is probably the most important. There is an interesting story connected to this goddess, and the origin of rice. In the beginning, the story goes; rice grew readily without any help from anyone. Each grain of rice was as big as a human fist, was silver coloured, and had a delicate fragrance. One day, when an ill tempered woman was husking the rice, she hit the seeds very roughly with a piece of wood. The seed broke into tiny bits, and was scattered over many places. One of these was the place where Mae Posop lived. The goddess was furious when she found out how she had been disrespected, and she prevented rice from growing on Earth for a thousand long years. After this time, the other gods persuaded Mae Posop to allow rice to return to Earth. The goddess agreed, but stipulated that the rice seed would be tiny from then on, and mankind would have to work hard, not only to harvest, but also to cultivate it. She also decreed that respect should be shown not only to the rice grains, but also to Mae Posop herself. Thai farmers observe this ritual to this very day, and offer flowers and other tokens of respect to this beneficent deity.
So, the next time you dip into a plate of steaming hot rice, perhaps you will pause a moment to reflect on the fact the grain you are eating goes back centuries in time, and has a glorious history and many interesting stories built around it.
A FOLKTALE FROM IRAQ
THE CLEVER CADI
Haroun al-Raschid the Caliph (ruler) of an empire in the Far East, was an honourable king who wanted to rule his subjects justly. So, he sometimes slipped out of his palace dressed as a common merchant in order to mingle with his people, and see how things were. One day, disguised thus, he set out mounted on a fine horse. He rode on till he reached the gates of the city of Basara. As he was entering the city, a poor, lame beggar sitting on the roadside called out to him for alms. The Caliph tossed a few coins to the beggar, and was about to ride on, when out of pity, he asked the beggar impulsively, “do you want to enter the city of Basara?” The beggar nodded eagerly.
The Caliph then dismounted, helped the lame man onto his horse, climbed back into the saddle and sat in front of the beggar. After they entered Basara, the Caliph stopped his horse, and said to the beggar,
“We’re in Basara. So, now you can get off my horse.”
“Your horse? What do you mean? This horse is mine! Get off yourself!” the beggar retorted.
The Caliph could not believe his ears. “Your horse?” he cried in outrage. “Why you miserable fellow! I took pity on you when I saw you sitting lame on the roadside, and that’s why I gave you a ride on my horse.”
“That may be true,” the audacious beggar replied smugly. “But here in Basara, no one knows that – we are both strangers to the city. And you can never prove your claim! So, this horse now belongs to me,” he finished impudently. The Caliph was speechless with rage. He contemplated tossing the ungrateful beggar into a gutter and riding away, but he knew that a mob would soon gather and chase him for assaulting a poor, weak beggar. Then the Caliph contemplated walking away after surrendering the horse to the wily beggar. But he dismissed this idea, as he knew that this would encourage the beggar to cheat others in the same way.
“Let’s go to the cadi (judge) of Basara and let him decide this matter,” the Caliph said finally to the beggar. “I’ll abide by his decision.” The Caliph thought that even if he lost his fine horse, it was an opportunity for him to see how the cadi of Basara dispensed justice. The beggar agreed to this, and they made their way to the town hall where the cadi held court.
There were already two men standing before the cadi – an oil merchant, and a porter. The porter was holding up a gleaming gold coin.
“This coin is mine,” he proclaimed loudly. “But this lying oil merchant claims that it’s his!”
“Your Honour,” said the oil merchant, “That coin is mine. I inherited it, and carried it in my pocket for years, till I lost it today.”
“ Do you have any witnesses?” asked the cadi.
“No, your honour,” replied the oil merchant.
“Leave the coin with me, and return tomorrow,” ordered the cadi.
“This cadi metes out justice in a strange way,” the puzzled Caliph murmured.
The next case was called, and two more men came before the cadi.
“What is your profession?” the cadi asked the first man.
“I am a writer,” the man replied. “This morning while I was out, someone stole my precious Book of Learning. This tailor,” he said pointing to the other man, “has it, and now falsely claims that it is his.”
“It’s my book,” the tailor retorted hotly.
“Are there any witnesses?” the Cadi asked.
“None, your honour,” replied the writer.
"Leave the book with me and return tomorrow," the cadi ordered.
Next the cadi called the Caliph and the beggar.
"Your honour," replied the Caliph, "I’m a traveler from afar. A few miles from your city gates, I saw this lame beggar lying by the roadside. I felt sympathy for him, so lifted him onto my horse's back, and brought him to this city. But instead of being grateful for my kindness, he now claims that my horse is his.”
The cadi then turned to the beggar. “What have you to say for yourself?” he asked.
“The horse is mine,” answered the beggar. “I raised him from a colt, and we love each other so dearly that I cannot bear to be parted from him! If my horse is taken from me, I will be helpless because I am lame, and need my faithful horse to carry me.” The cunning old beggar burst into tears, and wept loudly before the cadi, as the flabbergasted Caliph looked on.
‘How will the cadi rule in my favour,’ the dismayed Caliph thought worriedly, ‘when this old humbug of a beggar acts so convincingly?’
“Do you have any witnesses?” the cadi asked calmly.
“No, your honour,” replied the Caliph and the beggar.
“Then leave the horse with one of my soldiers for the night, and return to this courtroom tomorrow morning,” the cadi ruled.
The next morning, the Caliph arrived at the courtroom early, because he wanted to hear how the cadi would decide all the cases.
When the cadi entered the room, he called the oil merchant and the porter before him. He gave the gold coin to the oil merchant, he said, “Take your gold piece and depart.”
Then he turned to the porter. “You lied and stole what was not yours,” he said sternly. “So, you will get twenty strokes on your bare feet as punishment!” The writer and the tailor approached the cadi’s desk next. “I find that this Book of Learning belongs to the writer,” the cadi declared. “So, I’m returning it to him. The tailor who utters falsehoods will get thirty lashes with a whip on his palms!”
Finally, the Caliph and the beggar were called before the cadi. The cadi addressed the beggar first, “You ungrateful man! You have repaid an act of kindness to you by lying, and attempting to steal! Since you are lame, I’ll not have you beaten, but you must go to jail till you repent and mend your ways.” Then the Cadi turned to the Caliph and said, “Take your horse, my good man, and go on your way. May your kindness be better rewarded in the future.”
The Caliph thanked the judge and went to the back of the room. But he waited there till everyone but the cadi had left the courtroom. Then he approached him and said, "Honored judge, I greatly admire your wisdom. Without doubt, you must have had divine inspiration! How else could you give such righteous judgments?"
The cadi laughed. “There’s no divine inspiration - just commonsense,” he replied “Didn’t you hear the oil merchant say that he had carried that piece of gold for many years? Last night, I put the coin into a bowl of fresh water. When I saw drops of oil floating on the oil this morning, I knew that the merchant had spoken the truth, and the coin really belonged to him.”
“Wonderful!” said the Caliph. “But do tell me how you know to whom the Book of Learning belonged?”
“When I looked into the book,” the cadi explained. “I found that the pages that were frayed and most used were those in which the duties of writers and scholars were written. So I knew that the book surely belonged to the writer.”
“Your judgment is most excellent!” exclaimed the Caliph. “But how could you tell to whom my horse belonged?”
“Last night, your horse was tied in a stable that you and the beggar would have to pass on your way to court today. This morning I went to the stable. When the beggar passed, the horse never looked up. But when you passed the open door, he stretched out his head and neighed as horses do only when a loved master approaches. So you see, my friend, the matter was very simple after all.”
“You are a genius, honorable cadi,” cried the Caliph in excitement. “And your wisdom is beyond compare! And now, you can rejoice, because I am the Caliph Haroun Al-Raschid. In appreciation of your wisdom, I appoint you grand cadi of my capital!”