Once upon a time, there was a kingdom by name Vachanasthira (steady word). Every citizen belonging to this kingdom was known to have a gift – they were honest in their word – giving the kingdom its name. Everybody told what they did or could do and lived hard to make it happen. This nature of the people meant that there was great amount of trust in the kingdom, everyone strived towards an honest living and there was prosperity and happiness. Where there were occasions when someone could not keep their word, they humbly accepted the shortcoming and worked towards the commitment. The rulers of Vachanasthira led by example and went to great lengths to stick to their word. They ensured that there was good governance throughout the kingdom at every level to ensure safety and security of the people and helped them stay honest. It was believed that this power of staying true to one’s nature in the kingdom came from the ancient speaking tree that was in the forest encircling Vachanasthira. The Kings of Vachanasthira visited the tree often and solicited advice. No one outside the kingdom who was not true to their nature could speak with the tree, for it would be fatal to give a dishonest reply to the tree.
The kingdom was powerful and unconquerable from outside. There was a legend that the speaking tree first appeared to the first King of Vachanasthira several generations ago and granted him this gift for it saw a deep sense of honesty and selflessness in him. And he built the kingdom on this principle. “Are we the mightiest kingdom?”, the first King would ask his counsel. “No sire!”, they replied honestly. “Do we know what would it take to get powerful?”, asked the King. “Yes we do! But it will take several years of work and training – skilled warriors, educating our people, building a great administration…”, they replied with a list of things to do. “As long as we stay honest, we have the power to achieve what we want, let’s get to work”, encouraged the King. And so it was, it took 3 generations after the first king of Vachanasthira for the kingdom to become truly powerful. And the power of the speaking tree got the results that the people of the kingdom wanted, as long as they put in the effort and stayed true to their word. The tree put only one condition to this gift – “Oh King! my power will protect you and your people as long as you follow this principle under oath – you will be truthful and will not desire nor snatch what doesn’t belong to you. My power will be useless if your growth and that of your people will breach this principle and if it so happens, only a worthy man may rekindle it!”
This was a subtle sign to the Kings of Vachanasthira not to scheme and plan for conquering other kingdoms or plundering resources needlessly with the power of the tree. This also meant that they would rule in a just and balanced manner without fear or favor. However, knowing the greatness of Vachanasthira many adjacent kingdoms willingly merged with Vachanasthira and became part of the saga of honesty. The “oath of the word” given to the tree, passed on from generation to generation and the Kings of Vachanasthira carefully guarded their sacred duty. Even when there were calamities and the weather did not cooperate, the people got together to work hard and uphold the virtue of their kingdom. There were several attempts made by other powerful kingdoms to conquer Vachanasthira and gain its bounties, but the power of the tree was too strong and no one succeeded. “Vachanasthira can only be conquered by introducing dishonesty sire!”, said the wicked minister of Dhanadaha, another mighty kingdom whose King was known to be a great but cruel ruler. “Let us send our most intelligent men to infiltrate Vachanasthira and lure the residents to fall”, the minister advised. “But there is only one way to enter the kingdom from the north and one has to face the legendary tree before entering Vachanasthira?”, the King of Dhanadaha asked. “Yes! I trust our men, let us let them loose”, the minister replied. Two of the most cunning and fierce men of Dhanadaha were sent to Vachanasthira.
“What is your business with Vachanasthira stranger?”, the tree asked the cunning infiltrator. His friend was watching from a distance to prepare himself in case the first one failed. “Oh tree! My name is Manav and I have lost everything I had in my earlier kingdom and I am here to find a living and become part of Vachanasthira”, he said. “So be it!”, the tree replied and in a flash everything that Manav (which was his assumed name) vanished and he became a true citizen of Vachanasthira, his memory completely erased. Seeing this the other one prepared to encounter the tree. “Oh tree! my name is Ketu, and I am here to infiltrate Vachanasthira. To lure the citizens into dishonest means. If you are so sure of your power, you will let me in and try my means”, he boldly replied. “Indeed! I serve the truth. I will let you pass, but if you cannot accomplish your mission in a day, you will join your friend forever in Vachanasthira and serve the kingdom”. And in a day, Ketu also permanently became part of Vachanasthira. Such was the fate of many kingdoms that tried to send in infiltrators to conquer the kingdom.
Several years passed and as fate would have it, the current King of Vachanasthira faced a problem – he had no children to succeed the throne. In dismay, the King went to the speaking tree for counsel expecting that the tree would do some magic and bless him with children. “Identify the most noble and valorous of your countrymen and pass on the throne! The throne does not signify power to the ruler, but the ability to take responsibility of the ‘oath’ and that of the people of this land. It was never yours nor your ancestors’, it was given to you and now it is time to pass it on”, the tree spoke kindly but firmly. A moment of pain and fear of loss passed through the King, but he understood the impact of not listening to the word of the tree. “Oh tree! do you know of such worthy person in my Kingdom?”, asked the King. “Yes! Satyasahu, your charioteer’s son, who is in your army is an able person. He deserves to be proclaimed the King after you”, the tree replied.
Although the King agreed to the counsel, he was devastated within. “Is there no one else in my royal family that could follow the throne? What about my wife’s brother, who is an able warrior and a noble soul? Why not the son of my prime minister, he is related to the royal family too? Surely, anyone but the son of the charioteer! Why would the tree choose someone like that? Perhaps this is just to test me? Should I listen to a tree for such a big decision that impacts my Kingdom? Why didn’t it help me in any other way? We are a mighty kingdom and nothing could go wrong anyway…and what does the tree mean by ‘it doesn’t belong to me’…”, he went through a great internal struggle as he analyzed the situation. “Every person in my Kingdom is honest and I have no reason to believe that one is better than the other…”, so thinking, he decided to announce the son of his prime minister (who was related to his family) to be crown prince, thus breaching the ‘oath’ given to the speaking tree.
Although no one felt it, the power of the speaking tree lifted from the Kingdom very subtly. The King announced Dhirasena, son of his prime minister to be the crown prince. With the thinking in the royal chambers evidently changed, partiality and favoritism crept into the royal affairs and slowly into the kingdom. The ‘power of the word’ slowly started diminishing and it was ‘OK’ for people to lie with each other or not be serious about their promises. Weakness crept into the work ethic and the quality & commitments started to get diluted. And with the power of the tree not guarding the kingdom anymore, a flood of infiltrators drove through Vachanasthira further weaking the people of the kingdom. The King now getting old and realizing his mistake called upon Dhirasena to explain the mistake and revert his decision. Alas! it was too late and Dhirasena was not interested in losing the opportunity. He threatened the King with his life if he entertained this idea and assured the king that he had all the might to take the situation under control.
The King was heart-broken and feeling extremely remorseful went to the speaking tree for advice, but the tree wouldn’t appear. With a heavy heart and failing health, the King laid in his chambers with nothing left to do but wait out his death. He recollected his faithful charioteer Sanjaya who had been a loyal servant, as were his predecessors before him. He called Sanjaya to his chambers for conveying his apology, “Dear Sanjaya! I have done great injustice to you and your son”, said the King and narrated the directive of the speaking tree which he neglected to obey. “O King! I am glad you acknowledge my service and that of all my ancestors before me. We humbly served the kings of this great kingdom not just as charioteers but as a shield to the lives of the kings. I will not hesitate to do so one more time to save my king and my kingdom, tell me what I can do to help you”, Sanjaya replied with kindness and honesty. “Yet again you showed the same humility and selflessness as did your first ancestor, it runs in your blood Sanjaya, I have been blind not to see the judgement of the tree!”, the king cried in dismay. “O King! I do not understand, pray tell me what you mean”, Sanjaya said. “When the first King of Vachanasthira had the vision of the speaking tree, it said that the rulers of this kingdom will be tested for their honesty & sincerity to the ‘oath’ and when called upon, they should not hesitate to attempt any sacrifice necessary to keep up the promise. Your great ancestor after setting up the Kingdom was asked by the tree to give away the throne to his charioteer an equally valorous warrior and close friend of the King with the promise that several generations later the throne will be given back. This kingdom was laid on the foundations of ultimate sacrifice and standing by the ‘oath’. I am the descendant of the charioteer and you are the descendant of the first King who did not rule”, cried the king in utter sorrow and remorse. Sanjaya consoled the King, “my duty as far as I have known and that of my ancestors was to be the charioteers of the throne. I have no desire for the Kingdom O King! Nor does my son. If my ancestor felt it wise not to pass on this truth, then so will I. I will not tell my son of this truth and may his honesty be with him as he embraces his fate”.
Overhearing this conversation, Dhirasena’s spy passed on the truth behind the throne and the real legend of the speaking tree & the first king of Vachanasthira to him. Immediately Dhirasena imprisoned the king and the charioteer and ordered Satyasahu to be banished. As Satyasahu prepared to leave the kingdom, he was permitted to speak to his father one last time. “Dear son! I only have the same words for you that I have raised you with all along – seek not what doesn’t belong to you, do not harm others and be truthful”, said the charioteer. “Go north into the forests of Vachanasthira”, he advised. Satyasahu left the Kingdom and as advised by his father traveled north, deep into the forests of Vachanasthira.
As he approached the dominion of the speaking tree, a voice boomed from a huge trunk “Who passes there?”, the tree demanded. “I am called Satyasahu, and I am a soldier of Vachanasthira”, he replied. “Even after you are banished from the Kingdom? interesting…”, the tree said. “I will give you a weapon to conquer the kingdom, what will you do?”, the tree asked Satyasahu. “I will get my father and the old king released, I do not want anything else”, Satyasahu replied. “What are your possessions?”, asked the tree. “The teachings of my father, the skills I have acquired from my teachers and my adherence to truth”, said Satyasahu. “Prove it! are you prepared to lose your life to uphold truth? What if I were to tell you that you are the true descendant of the first King of Vachanasthira and you would have been the next king now? Are you not interested to be King?”, so saying the tree narrated the legend of Vachanasthira and the decision of the old king. “I am a charioteer’s son by birth and a warrior by my interest. All I truly want is freedom of my father and my king and the ability to uphold truth all my life”, Satyasahu was firm.
“Bravo! the noble one returns. Go to the adjacent kingdom, you will find followers. Gather strength and attack Vachanasthira. You will be victorious. Rule the kingdom knowing that it was never yours and prepare to let go at any time. I will be watching!” said the speaking tree.