Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

065 – The Little Bowman

Bhimasena Jataka, Ajanta

The Little Bowman

Bhimasena behind the dwarf

O Once there lived a dwarf who had mastered the Vedas and eighteen other branches of Studies under the guidance of the greatest teacher of the time in Taxila. As he was also a great archer he was called “The Little Bowman”.

The Little Bowman had the ambition to become the royal archer but because of his short stature nowhere was he found “suitable”. Yet, without being discouraged he thought, “Why not I find out a person big in size to enter into the royal service, behind whom I shall actually act as a bow man !”
Very soon, he found a well-built weaver, who he approached and proposed, “What is your name friend?”

“Bhimasena”, the weaver replied.

“Weave no more, O friend! I shall soon make you very rich. No country has an archer like me. Yet, no king employs me because I am a dwarf. But you have a look that attracts every king to employ you. So I take you to the king where you would pretend that you are a great archer. I would discharge the duty of the archer by hiding behind you. The king will surely employ you and pay you handsome salary. Thus, we shall both prosper.”

The weaver agreed and they both went to the king. Bhimasena was employed as a royal archer and the little man became his page.

One day, the local people came to the king and complained the menace of a local man-eater tiger. The king called Bhimasena and entrusted him with the responsibility to kill the tiger. As Bhimasena had no experience of hunting he was very disturbed by the royal command. Little Bowman then advised him,

“Go to the place where the tiger lives but don’t approach the tiger alone. You rather muster up the local folks with bows and arrows and proceed to the spot. After reaching there you stay behind some thicket and let the people advance and kill the tiger. When the tiger be killed you then make a sudden appearance and nag them for having killed the tiger, which you wanted to catch alive to follow the royal order. You then ask the people to bring the culprit, who had defied the royal order. The people would then keep their lips tight and no one would come forward to tell who had killed the tiger. Thus, the king would presume that you are the one, who had killed the tiger.”

Likewise, Little Bowman kept on helping Bhimasena. But the latter in course of time became ungrateful, haughty and insulting to Little Bowman. This made the dwarf think of teaching a lesson to the spurious archer at an appropriate time.

A few months later, when a hostile neighbouring king launched a vigorous campaign and attacked, the patron king ordered the Bhimasena to go and shoot the enemy troops. Obeying the command of the king, he marched to the battle-field on an elephant’s back. And behind him sat the little page. But when he looked at the advancing enemy troops he was terrified and fell down on the heaps of the elephant’s dung.

Little Bowman, who was sitting behind him, then availed the opportunity of taking the command. He first shouted at Bhimasena, “O Bhimasena! You boast too much. You swear that you can kill the enemy king but when the time comes you can’t even stay on the elephant’s back. Now, you go and wash yourself clean. I will save you and this kingdom.”

He raised the battle cry and dashed into the fight. Soon, he broke the enemy camp and captured the enemy king alive and brought him before his king. This made the king very pleased. He honoured him and appointed him as the chief of the royal army in recognition of his gallantry. Little Bowman then sent back the weaver to his native place and offered him some allowances.