The power of hope and symbolism: Insight from tales of Akbar and Birbal


Once upon a time when King Akbar was out for hunting, he felt tired and sat down on a rock next to a flowing steam to freshen up. He put his feet in the water, but almost immediately pulled them out. The water was freezing cold. Seeing his reaction, few of his soldiers couldn’t control their laughter. Akbar to prove what he did was right, asked his soldiers to come one by one to put their feet in the water. Not even one soldier was able to put the feet in water for more than few minutes. Akbar being the King, wasn’t satisfied with the exercise he made his soldiers go through, he wanted to test a larger audience. After he was back from hunting, he asked Birbal to make an announcement, whoever spends one full night waist-deep in that flowing stream can expect a big reward from the King.

Although this announcement sounded very exciting, especially to the ones who were in need of money, but it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Several people made an attempt keeping in mind the reward, but no one was able to withstand the cold stream in the cold night beyond few minutes.

At that time there was a poor old man who decided to make an attempt. He was able to stand in the water for the entire night. On the following day this old man went to the King’s court to claim his reward. While the King was happy to give him a big award, at the same time he was curious to know the secret of old man’s success.

The old man stated that while he was standing in water and was contemplating giving up, he noticed an oil lamp lit in a hut, far off, in one of the villages. That lamp was lit for the whole night and he kept focusing on that lamp instead of thinking of giving up. This diverted his attention from the pain he was enduring in the chilling water and gave him the hope to continue instead of giving up. He was also in the need of the reward badly for betterment of his family.

Listening to this, a few courtiers said that he did not deserve the reward as he was drawing heat from the lamp, due to which the water was not as cold for him as it was for others. He has cheated in the task.

The King too was convinced, and instead of giving him the reward, he decided to punish him for cheating the King. This disturbed Birbal as he was fully aware of the injustice which was being done to the poor old man.

To make his King understand, Birbal invited his King for lunch at his place. Intending to serve Khichari (combination of rice and lentils) for lunch, he kept the cooking pot very high, far from the fire. When the lunch was delayed infinitely, the King came to kitchen to check the reason himself. Seeing the arrangement, the king laughed and asked Birbal, how the khichari would be cooked with the pot being kept so high, away from the fire. Birbal reasoned that if an old man standing in freezing cold water can draw heat from a lamp far away in a hut, why can’t the khichari be cooked in this arrangement. Kind got the moral of the story and corrected his mistake.

If we analyse, that lamp was a symbol of resilience, a symbol of hope and a symbol of encouragement to keep moving ahead without giving up. Few days ago, as per the announcement made by Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi, many people across India participated in lighting lamps, torch, candle or a mobile flash light, communicating or showcasing this act as symbol of hope which should make us positive that we shall overcome, yes together we will overcome by defeating this common enemy of humanity. A hope is what keeps the world going. The day we lose hope, we cease to exist. Let’s hope for a better tomorrow and continue to live our lives in the right spirit.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Mr. Sanjay Agarwal joined Schindler India almost 4 years ago, since then Sanjay worked as New Installations Controller, Finance. Recently Sanjay has taken over a new role as Account Manager, New Installations.

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