The Story of Sudama and the King

In eastern culture there is the symbolism of two types of humans that inhabit the earth. There are the people who are symbolized with a palm facing upwards. These are the people who are always asking for something from the world. They may be rich or poor. If they are beggars, they beg on the streets with palms up. If they are not beggars they keep asking anyway from all and sundry they can ask from, like relatives, friends, employers etc. 

Then there are the people, albeit smaller in number, symbolized with with palms turned downwards. These are people who will rarely ask for money or anything else. They satisfy themselves with what comes from fair labor, fate or circumstance and without asking. However, if they get an opportunity they may give to others. They too may be rich or poor. In case they happen to be very poor they become hermits and will give their blessings to all and sundry, palms facing downwards, including those who give them alms unasked. Rich or poor, such persons are Monarchs in soul. It goes without saying that the palm down people are more peaceful and happier as compared to the palm up people who lead stressful lives until the moment they are buried safely in their graves with their palms facing upwards. In ancient Indian history, there is a story about it.

The Story of Sudama

The story is about two dear childhood friends, one of whom went on to become a rich and famous king and the other became an extremely poor cowherd living in the forest. His name was Sudama. Both friends were the palms down types since there is no truck or friendship between the palms up and palm down groups aside from a relationship of giving, taking and snatching.

However, it seems that the wife of Sudama was a palm up type. She goaded her husband that since they were often starving and he had such a rich friend who was always giving alms to the poor, why does he not visit him and get some too. However being the palm down type, he resisted for long. Eventually however he gave in to the nagging of his wife. Being the quintessential giver, before leaving his home for a journey to his friend’s kingdom, Sudama looked around his hut for a gift that he could take to his childhood friend. He could not visit a much loved friend empty handed after so many years. There was nothing there except a few broken utensils for simple cooking and a few torn clothes. But then he found a few roasted grains in a pot that his wife had stored for the evening meal.  He took a fistful, tied it in a corner of the shoulder cloth and left for the visit.

At the gates of the palace he was not allowed in because of his destitute condition but he insisted that he was a friend of the King and word be sent that the King’s friend Sudama had come for a visit. Since Sudama refused to leave, the harassed guards eventually sent a message to the king. The king was in the bath at the time but on hearing that Sudama had come for a visit, the godly King became so excited he jumped out of the bath and ran to the gates of the palace in bare feet.

Listen, listen, do you hear
Guards at the front and the rear
Much news is there today to cheer
At long last, friend Sudama is here 

In the meantime, being jeered by the guards, Sudama began moving away from the palace to the outskirts of the city. On not seeing Sudama at the gates, the king ran after him and found him in the fields,  the King hugged him and led him into the palace for a feast and welcoming. However being the quintessential palms down person, Sudama could not bring himself to ask anything from the King and the King too wishing not to embarrass his friend offered nothing. After a stay of three nights at the Kingdom, Sudama begged to take leave of his friend since his cows needed him and his wife would be waiting anxiously. While at the palace, Sudama had been bathed by maids and servants and dressed in fine royal clothes but on the morning of his departure he took these off and put on his original garments again. These were a piece of cloth tied around the waist and another thrown around the shoulders. He convinced the King that he would be safer from any possible wayside robbers that way.

The King walked up to the gates to bid Sudama goodbye while requesting him to visit again soon. At the gates however, he noticed that something was tied up in Sudama’s shoulder cloth. It was the original roasted grains that Sudama had brought as a gift for his friend but was too shy to offer. The King immediately realized what it was and snatched the cloth away gleefully untying the roasted grains. He munched on the grains with joy.

On the way back, Sudama was worried that his wife would be angry because neither had he asked for anything from the King nor had the King offered anything to take except a packed meal for the journey and a bag of water to drink on the way. Sudama walked back to the forest and his hut all by himself.

As Sudama reached the clearing that housed his hut, he was surprised by a wonderous sight. In place of his hut there now stood a grand home surrounded by lovely gardens and horse drawn chariots. As he watched awestruck, his wife now dressed in fine silks, came out to say that while he was away, the King as gift for an old friend had used his army to transport the home, chariots and much else besides. 

NOTE: A modern rendition of an ancient  mythological story from South Asia. Jai Krishna, Jai Sudama

Historical Note : In the classical public domain depiction included with this story, the King is depicted as a dark person and the population as fair. Based on a study of ancient history and geological records an explanation for why it is so is contained in another blog of the author here:

Castle image courtesy of:
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Romania license.


Beautiful heart warming story.Wishing wealth and prosperity all Sudamas of this world !
Allan Ramsay said…
Sweet & happy story. Being thankful and honoring a friendship, like so many things we can choose to do, returns with many favors. Nice!
Ashok said…
Thanks Ramu. Appreciate your words.
Ashok said…
Thanks a lot Allan. Appreciate your words and encouragement.

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