King Behram V, Behram-gur – The brave, daring, dashing, adventurous, ace hunter, warrior king (Part 2)
The Shahnameh has several stories about the exploits and adventures of King Behram–gur. We will share these stories over a period of time, starting with today:
1) The generous Christian and the miserly Jew
2) Liquor – boon or bane
3) The power of a good leader
4) Behram-gur marries four sisters
5) King Jamshed’s treasure
6) The ill effects of anger
1) The generous Christian and the miserly Jew
King Behram liked to disguise himself and visit the houses of his subjects. Once, he was informed about two of his subjects with opposite temperaments. One was Lambak, a Christian water-carrier who was poor yet very generous and large hearted. The other was Barahām (perhaps a Persian form of Abraham), a Jew who was very rich and yet stingy and wicked. The poor Christian would use his day’s earnings for his needs and spend the rest to feed the poor and would not save for the future.
King Behram ordered his subjects not to buy water from Lambak and then, disguised as a soldier, went to test the hospitality of the poor water-carrier. When King Behram arrived as a guest at Lambak’s home, the water-carrier had no money to offer hospitality to his guest. So he sold and mortgaged his belongings to give good hospitality not only to the king but also to his horse for three days. They feasted on good food and wine, which the poor Lumbak paid by selling all that he had.
Next day, the king disguised himself as a soldier and went to the house of Barahām, the Jew, who, inspite of his wealth, was reluctant to take the king in his house. When the king insisted, he was allowed to sleep in the verandah, but cautioned that he would not be offered anything to eat. Then the Jew alone ate food and drank wine, without offering a morsel to the king in disguise.
The next morning the Jew asked Behram to clean his horse droppings before he went. Behram requested that he get it cleaned by his servant, to which the Jew said that he had no servants to do that job. Finally Behram cleaned it, filled it in a fine silk sachet which he had and threw it into the dustbin. The greedy Jew on seeing the beautiful silk sachet, picked it with the horse droppings from the dust bin, cleared the droppings and kept the cloth, which greatly amused the king.
The following day, the king summoned Lambak and Barahām to his court. He asked a minister to go to Barahām’s house and take away all his wealth. A thousand camels were required to collect the gold, silver, precious stones and rich cloth from the house. The wealth even seemed to exceed the royal treasury. The king gave one tenth of his wealth to Lambak. The rest he distributed among the poor and told the Jew that he was taking away all his wealth, as he did not know how to use it wisely. He told him to consider his good fortune that his life was not taken away from him. The greedy Jew learnt his lesson.
Once king Behram decided to go for a hunt. He went with a hunting entourage which included hunting dogs and hawks. On the way a lion and lioness attacked him. He lost no time in killing them. On hearing the commotion a man name Meher-bidād appeared and thanked him saying he had been tormented by the lion and lioness since a long time. He organized a feast in the king’s honour.
In the feast, a nobleman by the name Kiruy had a lot of wine. When he went out, he fell unconscious and crows pecked his eyes out. When the king came to know about this, he became so upset that he banned the drinking of liquor in his kingdom. A year passed and none including the king touched liquor.
It so happened that in the kingdom a cobbler had married and was not able to consummate his marriage because he was not virile enough. The cobbler’s mother had hidden a bottle of liquor. She took him to a lonely place and made him drink it. The liquor transformed the young cobbler into an energetic man and he was able to consummate the marriage. He happily went to tell his mother about the good news. On the way he came across a lion who had run away from the palace. On seeing the lion, the cobbler who was still in a drunken state, stopped the lion grappled with it for a while and then sat on it.
The lion meekly carried him, as it was terrified and exhausted. When the lion’s keeper saw this amazing spectacle, he informed the king, who called the cobbler’s mother. He inquired with the mother whether she belonged to a royal family, as the cobbler’s valour had made the king assume that he was from a royal family. The mother denied any royal lineage and confessed to having given liquor to her son. The king was surprised on hearing this. He realized his mistake and revoked the ban on liquor, but advised his people to drink in moderation.
Once when Behram was returning from an unsuccessful hunt. He was quiet tired and upset. On top of it, when he passed a village, its people did not show him respect. Angry, he ordered his minister Rozbeh to destroy the village. The wise minister, instead of outright destroying the village decided to pass an order which would lead the village to self-destruction. He went to the village and announced that from that day, all were equal in that village. On account of this, all men started fighting with each other for superiority and in no time the village became deserted as most people had killed each other for superiority.
When Behram passed near that village after a year, he too was shocked at what he saw. He felt sorry and he asked his minister Rozbeh to go back to the village and give them the necessary help to return the village to its former glory.
The minister went to an old man in the village, appointed him the head-man and promised him all help. The old men started making the village prosperous again and people who had fled returned back. After three years when the king passed the way and saw the prosperous village, he was very happy.
The king summoned his minister and asked him minister the secret behind the desolate and prosperous village. The minister said, “Wherever there is more than one leader, the place becomes desolate, and where there is just one good leader the place becomes prosperous. This village is a living example of that.” The king was impressed by the minister’s wit and rewarded him.
Once when the king was passing a village while returning from a hunt, he heard melodious songs and saw a bon-fire, so he went there. Four girls were singing songs in praise of the king. On inquiry it was revealed that the four girls – Mushkanāb, Mashkanak, Nāztāb and Susanak – were the four daughters of a flour mill owner and were waiting for their father to return.
When the father returned, the king asked him why he did not have his daughters married. The old man replied that he did not have the gifts and gold that are necessary to be given away as marriage gifts. The king offered to marry all four daughters without gifts, to which the mill owner agreed and so Behram took all four of them as his queens. The next day the neighbor told the mill owner that the young hunter was none other than the king and he would soon be the father-in-law of the king. The mill owner and his wife were very happy.
Once a farmer came across a huge underground brick vault in which there was unimaginable treasure. He reported it to the king. After inquiries, it was revealed that the treasure belonged to the Peshdadian King Jamshed. Behram did not take any part of the treasure. He gave a tenth of it to the farmer who found it and the rest he distributed to the needy and deserving people. The people were surprised by the generosity and fairness of their king.
One fine spring day, king Behram prepared for a hunt. After consulting his court, he decided to go to a forest near Turan. They went with several soldiers, hunting dogs and birds and hunted gur “onager”, wild sheep and deer.
On the fourth day of the hunt, the king spotted an Azdāh, a ferocious dragon like creature with the head of a snake. The king shot arrows at the gigantic creature and killed it. When the Azdāh fell, Behram pierced its chest with a dagger. He was surprised to see a young man, lying dead in its innards. The poisonous fumes and blood coming from the Azdāh’s body made Behram dizzy and he went away from there. Some distance away he saw a young lady and sought refuge in her house. Though she welcomed him, she did not recognise him.
The husband of the lady was very lazy, and did not get up to welcome the king. The poor lady cleaned the house and cooked food all by herself. The king rested for some time but was still not feeling well. He called the lady and asked her whether she was happy with the ruler of the land. The lady said that she was happy but some of the officers were very cruel. Hearing this, the king became angry, decided to investigate the matter and if necessary take the offending officers to task.
When the lady went to milk the cow, she was surprised to notice that her udders had dried up. The shrewd lady immediately gathered that her guest was the king. She requested him not to be angry, as she attributed the drying of her cow’s udders to his anger. The king realised his mistake and decided to be kind to the officers. When the lady went out again to milk the cows, her udders were filled with milk. The lady prepared dessert from the cow’s milk and served the king, who gratefully thanked the couple, gifted them a village and returned back to his palace.
A few days later, the king set out for a hunt with his soldiers, hunting dogs and hunting birds. While following a hunting bird named Tugrol, the king came across a huge palace surrounded by a garden, in which was seated Barzin, the nobleman who owned the palace. Along with him were his three young daughters Māh-Āfrid, Frānak and Sham-balid. When the king asked the nobleman about his lost bird, he replied that he had seen it landing on a walnut tree in the garden. On searching, the king got back his prized bird. When he saw the three beautiful daughters, he took a liking for them. After some food and drinks, Barzin asked his daughters to entertain the king. Each of them excelled in the three different arts of singing, music and dancing. All the three girls together displayed their skills. The king was highly impressed by them and asked for their hands in marriage, to which Barzin readily agreed.
The three sisters were taken to the palace in golden carriages with Roman maids in attendance. The king spent a week with them.
(End of Part 2)
(All drawings are by Mrs. Katy Bagli)