Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Indian Folktales With Moral Lessons (Part V) On the Importance of Common Sense

Shoba Rajamani
Shoba is located in Bangalore and describes herself as creative, adventurous, a movie lover, a novel reader, and a badminton player. She dreams of one day writing her own children's book.
Published: June 6, 2024
Baunsa Rani, or "The Bamboo Queen," is a traditional Indian dance form. In a world with an infinite well of knowledge at our fingertips, it is all the more important to balance it with common sense. (Image: Manir Dhabak via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Continuing our series on Indian folktales, we find important lessons on the value of common sense. This type of practical wisdom provides sound judgment in everyday situations; and, as seen in three traditional anecdotes, it can mean the difference between success and disaster.

A Barber’s Wisdom

Vintage photograph of an Indian barber doing his work (Image: Unknown author via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

There once was a barber who, despite having no formal education, was well-known and favored for his common sense. 

Because of his good reputation, the King of Vijaya Nagar appointed him as his barber, and the monarch and the barber grew close. The king would seek advice from his barber over his formal ministers.

One day, a neighboring king sent a note to the king of Vijaya Nagar, threatening to attack the kingdom if nobody there could correctly answer his difficult riddle.  

The king offered a generous prize to the person who could solve this riddle, and several wise men and academics made hopeful, but unsuccessful attempts. When his simple barber offered to give it a shot, the king agreed out of desperation.

The riddle was: “What can you see but not touch, hear but not catch?” 

The barber thought for a moment and replied, “A shadow and an echo;” saving the kingdom with his practical wisdom.

The Foolish Brahmin 

Man carrying a goat (Image: Case & Draper via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

A Hindu scholar named Mitra Sharma was quite knowledgeable and well-versed in the scriptures; but when it came to practical matters, he was lacking in common sense. 

One day, Mitra Sharma decided to perform a special ritual that required a goat as a sacrifice. He went to the market and bought a healthy goat, planning to carry it home on his shoulders. 

On his way home, three crafty rascals tried to con Mitra Sharma into giving up the goat. 

They came up with a scheme to convince him that the goat was filthy. The first crook approached Mitra Sharma and said, “Oh, learned Brahmin, why are you carrying a dog on your shoulders? It’s inappropriate for a person of your caliber.” Despite being perplexed, Mitra Sharma ignored the remark and continued walking. 

A little further down the road, the second crook came up and said, “Respected Brahmin, it is strange to see you carrying a dead calf on your shoulders. This is highly improper.” Mitra Sharma was now beginning to worry, but he carried on. 

Finally, the third crook came up and said, “Dear Brahmin, why are you carrying a donkey on your shoulders? This is very peculiar and not fitting for a person like you.”

By now, Mitra Sharma was having serious doubts. He thought, “What on earth have I been carrying?” Rather than ascertaining the truth for himself, he let his injured pride govern his actions. Embarrassed, he abandoned the goat and hurried home, while the swindlers happily took the goat for themselves. 

When smart people lack common sense, they may do silly things.

The Four Friends and the Dead Lion

Lion skeleton (Image: Ville de Nantes, Muséum, Patrick JEAN via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Four friends from a small village were traveling to a distant city to seek their fortunes. Three of the friends were accomplished scholars, while the fourth had a modest amount of knowledge paired with a good bit of practical wisdom. As they journeyed through a dense forest, they stumbled upon the bones of a dead lion.

The first friend, an expert in anatomy, said, “With my knowledge, I can assemble these bones into a complete skeleton.” So he set to work, and soon the framework of a lion was in place.

The second friend, who was skilled in the art of restoring flesh and blood, said, “I can add flesh, blood, and muscles to this skeleton.” He then did so, and the lifeless form of a lion took shape.

The third friend, boasting of his profound knowledge of life sciences, said, “I possess the knowledge to give life to this lifeless form.” He prepared to complete the final step in reviving the lion.

Here, the fourth friend tried to sway them with his common sense, saying, “If you bring this lion to life, it will surely kill us. Let us not proceed with this foolish plan.”

The three learned friends mocked him, saying, “We have more knowledge than you. Step aside and let us demonstrate our superior skills.”

Realizing that his friends were determined to proceed, he applied his practical wisdom and climbed to safety in a nearby tree. 

The third friend then chanted his incantations, and the lion sprang to life.

In horror, the fourth man saw his prediction fulfilled. The lion attacked and killed the three learned men who lacked common sense.