Many people at Emperor Akbar's court were superstitious about all kinds of silly things. One popular superstition was that people's faces could be auspicious or inauspicious. If the first person you was in the morning had an auspicious face, it was believed, you would have a happy day. But if you saw someone who had an inauspicious face, things would go wrong all through the day. Emperor Akbar heard of this belief. He wasn't sure whether he believed it or not, but somehow, it stuck in his memory. One morning, he awoke very early and looked out of his window. He saw a poor washerman scrubbing clothes in the river Yamuna. "Hmm", Emperor Akbar mused. "I wonder if it is a good omen or a bad one to see a washerman at the start of the day." The washerman happened to glance up at the fort just then. He caught a glimpse of the emperor's face at the window and at once he went down on his knees in joyous respect. The emperor smiled and turned away. Later that morning, as the emperor went up the steps of the Diwan-i-Khas, he tripped and bumped his shin. The royal hakims hurried to apply soothing oils and ointments, but the Emperor's leg was badly bruised and hurt him when he walked. He decided he would not go out riding that day and went for a stroll in the garden instead. He stopped to admire a particularly fine rose and as he bent towards the flower, a bee flew out and stung him on the hand. His attendants rushed around in distress, trying to help him, urging him to go inside, begging him to sit down. "What an ill-omened day, that our Shahanshah should be stung in his own garden", one of them lamented.
Akbar heard him and his face grew thoughtful. "Ill-omened?" He said slowly. "The first person I saw today was the washerman by the river. Perhaps it is he who blighted my day? Perhaps he had an inauspicious face?"
"Oh yes, Jahanpanah" , some silly courtier cried. "It must be so indeed. The inauspicious face of the washerman has brought pain to your royal person."
"May he suffer for his evil presence!" cried another.
"May no unfortunate being ever look upon his ill-starred face", cried a third.
"He doesn't deserve to live!" cried yet another. "One who brings so much misery should certainly die!"
"Put him to death!" rose a babble of voices. "He caused our Shahanshah pain and he should die for it. It was all his fault. Put him to death!"
Birbal arrived as more and more courtiers were raising their voices against the washerman, imploring the emperor to send for him at once in order to sentence him to death. Tansen, the celebrated musician, was standing on the edge of the agitated crowd. He smiled in relief when he saw Birbal arrive. Drawing him aside, he told him all that had happened. Birbal shook his head in amazement. Then he pushed his way to the emperor's side. "Jahanpanah!" he cried in his ringing voice. "I am extremely sad to hear of your injuries." Akbar nodded. "Tell us, Birbal", he said. "Shall we behead this ill-omened washerman?" "Ill-omened, Huzoor?" Birbal asked.
"You saw his face and you have a bruised shin and a bee-sting. Jahanpanah, the washerman saw your face early this morning and is now about to lose his head!
Which do you think was the more inauspicious of the two?"
Emperor Akbar stared at Birbal for a moment. Then he began to smile. "You are right, Raja Birbal!" he said. "It is really a very foolish belief."
"Jahanpanah", Tansen called. "I have a special song that I would like to present to you to celebrate the victory of sense over nonsense."
"Let us have music, then", Emperor Akbar commanded. "And let us all think as we listen."

Posted 2 years, 10 months ago by Rakesh Bharadwaj

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