Sri Sathya Sai narrates a Story of Akbar and Birbal

Sri Sathya Sai Addresses Students in Trayee Brindavan

Earlier, Emperor Akbar was ruling over the country. There was a great minister who was very wise, his name was Birbal. Birbal could answer any question properly. All questions were asked by Akbar to Birbal. Seeing the intimate relation between Akbar and Birbal, the prime minister and other ministers were jealous. There was one military officer who was very jealous of Birbal’s intimacy with Akbar. He was the commander in chief of the army.

On a day when Birbal did not come to court, the commander-in-chief told Akbar, “O King! All of us are present here. We also have very good experience. You can get your doubts or questions answered by us. All the time you depend upon Birbal only. Give us one chance at least.” Akbar came to the court. He looked at the whole court. Birbal was not there. “Where is Birbal?” he asked. Then the commander-in-chief got up and said, “Your majesty, you ask me the question. I shall answer. Ask me the question you would like to ask.” Then all the scholars and ministers got up and said, “Your majesty, we are also here, give us a chance.” Akbar got up. He addressed them and told them, “I will ask you a question. But you should satisfy me with your answer.” The first question he asked, “In this world which is the best flower?” The commander-in-chief said, “Rose is the best flower”. Prime minister said, “Jasmine is the best flower”. Another said that Champak is the best. They went on discussing the qualities of different flowers. Akbar asked all of them to sit down.

Emperor Akbar (1542-1605)
The second question he asked, “Which milk is the best milk”? One person said cow’s milk is the best milk. Another said goat’s milk is the best milk. Each person went on saying some other milk is the best milk. “Sit down”, Akbar said. “What is the sweetest thing in the world?” Akbar asked. Lot of them said jaggery. Some said honey. Some others said milk. Each person answered in his own way. Akbar was not satisfied. He asked them to sit down. Then he asked, “Which is the best leaf?” Somebody said coconut leaf is the best. Somebody said plantain leaf is the best. Each person named one leaf. “Sit down”, Akbar commanded.

Then Birbal entered the court. He said, “Lord! I am here”. “Did you hear my questions?”, Akbar asked. Birbal said, “No”. Then Akbar said, “Now I will ask you the questions, give me the answers. Which is the best flower in the world?” Without thinking, Birbal said, “Cotton flower is the best flower”. “Why is it the best?” “Because cotton flowers give cotton? With cotton we make clothes, which protect us. Cotton flower is the most useful. You can smell other flowers once and then you have to throw them away. But the benefit of this cotton flower is permanent.” Akbar was satisfied with the answer. “What is the second question?” “Which milk is the best milk?” For this Birbal said, “Mother’s milk is the best milk. Because of mother’s milk the child lives. Mother’s milk nourishes the child. So mother’s milk is the best milk.”

Minister Birbal (1528-1586)
Third question, “What is the sweetest thing in the world?” For this Birbal said, “Your majesty, sweet talk is the sweetest thing in the world. Not other things. Not milk, not honey and jaggery. A sweet word is the most valuable thing. With sweet words we can win a person. We can give great joy. You can attain higher status. When the crows caw we throw stones at them, whereas when the cuckoos sing we respect them. Neither is the cuckoo going to give us a crown nor is the crow going to punish us. When the tongue is good you can get a good name. Word is the sweetest thing in the world.” Then the fourth question. “Which leaf is the best leaf?” Then Birbal said, “Betel leaf is the best leaf”. He said, “Even before marriage, they exchange this leaf. On all auspicious occasions they give this Tambula (betel leaf). So betel leaf is the best leaf. Plantain leaf and coconut leaf are thrown away after use. Hence betel leaf is the most important leaf.” The other people there were amazed at these answers.

Then the Emperor Akbar said, “The answers of the commander-in-chief, prime minister, etc. did not satisfy me. But Birbal’s answers have satisfied me.” Then Birbal saluted Akbar. All were seated. The court was completely silent. Emperor Akbar asked another question, “Birbal, there is no hair on my palm. Why is it like that?” Birbal gave the right answer, “Lord, all the time you are giving charity to many people. Your nature is to keep giving and giving. You keep on giving. The hand is used so much therefore no hair can grow there.” Then Akbar asked, “All the people in the court are also not having hair on their palms?” Then Birbal said, “All the time they keep receiving things from you. You keep giving and they keep taking. Therefore no hair can grow on their palms also.” Then Akbar asked, “There are many people who do not receive anything from me. They also do not have hair on their palms?” The Emperor wanted to give a good blow to his commander in chief and the prime minister. “The foolish people who cannot get things from you, the unfortunate people, they are jealous of people who get things from you. All the time they keep rubbing their palms out of jealousy and therefore hair is not growing in their palms also.” All the people in the assembly were amazed. Then Akbar said, “Birbal, I do not know whether you are correct or not; but you have given me a satisfying answer. Your answers give joy and satisfaction to anyone who listens to your answer.”

We need to talk in a manner which would satisfy others, which would give contentment to others, and which would give joy to others. Vedas, Shastras, Itihasas and Puranas are meant to give joy and satisfaction to others and not just for chanting alone.

Source: Pathways to the Lord, Discourse 2, My Dear Students Volume 3; Divine Discourse to students and staff at Trayee Brindavan, Bangalore on March 19, 1998

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