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Mythic Passages - the magazine of imagination

The King and the Half-Gold Ferret

A Hindu Myth
Retold by Jerry Wennstrom

Hindu KingThere was a great king who had all of the riches he could possibly need. He was a generous king so he decided to share his abundance with the people of his kingdom. He ordered a large festival to take place in his village during the Hindu holy days and invited everyone far and wide. He had his chefs prepare the finest foods available to be given free to all who came. He had scales set up and gave every person their weight in gold. His generosity knew no bounds! He was quite pleased with himself as the hoards of people filed by and offered up their blessings to him.

It was late in the day when, out of the corner of his eye, the king saw something strange. It was the flash of a ferret scurrying about with half-gold fur! The ferret appeared to be rolling about in the dirt under the food tables. Whenever crumbs fell to the ground the ferret would quickly run over and roll in them.

The king thought, "How strange—he must be hungry!" The king yelled, "Hey, little ferret — come over here!" When the ferret came to him the king asked, "What are you doing scurrying about under the tables like that? You must be hungry. Here, have some sweets... and why is your fur half gold?"

The ferret paused and said, "Well... it is a long story that you may not want to hear."

"Yes, I do -- tell me!" said the king.

hutWhere upon the little ferret began his long tale.

"I once had a burrow in a field near a dilapidated little shack on the edge of the forest. I lived there at the time of our famine when great numbers of people were dying from starvation. In the shack lived a feeble, old, married couple. They too were starving and eating only what they could forage in the wilds surrounding their humble home. They held in reserve one small bowl of flour, which they vowed to eat only when they were on the very edge of starvation. From my burrow, I watched them go out each day into the field and eat the grasses that grew there.

"One day a beggar who was on a holy pilgrimage came along and rested in the field. Seeing the shack, he went over, knocked on the door and asked the old couple for a scrap of food. The hungry beggar was so weak and thin that his words came out in a whisper, 'Please, food for a pilgrim.' The old couple graciously invited the beggar into their home and offered him their last bowl of flour and the pot of water they had carried with great difficulty up from the stream that morning.

"When the food was offered, the beggar hesitated and looked around the shack for a moment and said, 'I can see that you have been eating only grasses yourselves. You are old and feeble. I cannot take your last bowl of flour.'

The old couple spoke in unison, 'Oh, but you must! Do not worry about us. We have plenty. Please sit down, eat and regain your strength so that you might complete your pilgrimage and honor the gods.'

"At that, the man sat and slowly ate the bowl of flour. When he was through he thanked the old couple, bowed to each of them, and headed for the door. Once outside the beggar looked up into the sky, mumbled something and moved his arms as if he were performing a ritual. As he did so, he rhythmically brushed the remaining crumbs of flour from his hands onto the earth to offer a sacrifice.

"The moment he did this, a golden chariot driven by the great Hindu goddess Lakshmi appeared in the sky. The chariot swooped down to earth, touching the spot where the crumbs fell, and Lakshmi carried the old couple away to heaven."

The ferret then said, "I was so completely awed by the miracle that I ran over and rolled around in the flour crumbs hoping that I, too, might receive a blessing from the crumbs of this great sacrifice. However, rolling in them turned only half of my fur gold!

"That was twenty years ago, and I have attended every great religious festival in the land, hoping to experience an act of generosity that might turn the rest of my fur gold. I am sorry to have to tell you this mister king - but all that you have given here today does not equal that one, small bowl of flour."

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