They make an odd couple. Bhimasena is a giant who weaves delicate baskets for a living. His friend the dwarf, who is a wizard with a bow and arrow, is known as the Little Bowman. Together, their antics take us on a roller-coaster ride of humor and adventure, from their rustic village homes all the way to the court of the King of Varanasi. In true Jataka tradition, their tale also teaches us a valuable lesson about pride and over-confidence.
Ramanuja (AD 1017-1137) lived for 120 years, traversing the land from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir. People flocked to him to understand his unusual message, the path to ultimate bliss. High caste or low, wealthy or poor, Ramanuja turned no one away. The great Acharya who wrote scholarly commentaries on sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita was first and foremost a simple-hearted devotee. He inspired the Bhakti movement that spread throughout the country.
A hungry jackal finds food when he overcomes fear. A curious monkey meddles with something that does not concern him and comes to a sticky end. Philosophy, psychology, politics and human relations become simple enough to be understood by a child in Pandit Vishnu Sharma's brilliant work, the Panchatantra. Written and compiled in around 200 BC, every story is as relevant today as it was in ancient times.
Birbal, a real person with the name 'Maheshdas', was one of the 'nine gems' of court advisers of Akbar the Great. He also composed poetry by the pen name 'Brahma'. Birbal's fame had spread far and wide. As Akbar's favorite minister, he had an answer to every question and a solution to every problem. In fair tribute to his shrewdness, even the mighty Shah of Persia addressed Birbal as the "Ocean of Intelligence". Combining tact and common sense with a fair pinch of humor, he won his master's heart.
Pity the thief or hypocrite who crosses Birbal's path. The poor man will be either hopelessly embarrassed or pleased to escape with his life. With an unfailing eye for human weakness, Birbal protects the innocent. People, from every strata of society, flock to him for help with endless lists of woes. Known for his compassion and tact, Birbal never fails them, even if it means pitting his wits against the all-powerful Emperor.
Was Chanakya a demon or a man? His opponents had no answer. They would plot and plan, coax and connive, but the scholar-turned-politician was always a step ahead, confounding both their motives and their ambitions. He led his king, Chandragupta, to greatness and set his kingdom on the road to peace and prosperity. Then, for generations of future rulers, he compiled a useful guide, the famously canny Arthashastra.