A saukar (rich man) was very vain. Riches go to rich people’s heads. He even thought that he was equal to Lord Siva. So he had the town crier announce through the village that he should be worshiped in all the temples instead of Siva and that special songs of praise should be sung about him. His servants beat up anyone who disobeyed his orders. He was a terror. The terrified townsmen stopped worshiping Siva. They gave up wearing holy ash on their brows. They repeated the saukar‘s name as if it were Siva’s and told prayer beads.
Siva, of course, came to know about this scandal. He decided to teach the rich man a lesson and came to the town one morning in the guise of a holy man. He roamed the streets loudly reciting praises of Siva. This was strictly against the saukar‘s orders. So his servants beat up this holy man and softened him up. They didn’t listen to his cries and arguments. The saukar shouted, “ Badmash! You talk of Siva? What has he done? I’m the one who pays the workers in this town, I give them grain. Think of me, not Siva.”
The holy man went back to the temple yard where he slept, his body bruised and blackened.
Then the saukar had to go out. He called his wife and said, “I have to inspect work in the fields. I may be late, don’t wait up for me. Let everyone eat.”
Hardly had he left his house and turned the corner when Siva took on his appearance and arrived there. As an exact look-alike, he had the saukar‘s face, manner, and voice. He went into the house and called the servants.
“Look here, Rama, Bhima,” he warned them. “I’ve just heard that some wily magicians have come into town. They may come here in my shape and deceive you. These robbers are planning to deceive us and take our property. So, be careful. Throw out anyone who looks like me. If they make trouble, let me know.”
The servants sat at the door, ready with cudgels. He went in and said to his wife, “I’ve a bad headache. So I came home.” Then he bathed for a long time and ate dinner and talked to her.
By this time it was noon. The real saukar, tired after a morning’s supervision and work in the fields, came home. His servants, Rama and Bhima, sat at his gate with cudgels. They didn’t even get up. When they laid eyes on him, they were startled. But they didn’t give him a chance. They caught him, cudgeled him, and mocked him: “Ah, you think you’ll hoodwink us by dressing like our master. You scoundrel, take this, and this, and this!”
The saukar was nonplussed. He began scolding them as usual: “Bastards, you’ve begun to get drunk even at noon. Don’t you recognize me?”
They didn’t. They only boxed his ears. Then he thought it might be better to return by evening when they might have sobered up. He was hungry and sore. When he came back in the evening, he received the same treatment. He got angry at first, then pleaded, then begged. It was all in vain.
Just then he heard Siva’s voice from inside, sounding exactly like his own. The servants responded, “Master, someone is here, pretending to be you!”
Orders came from within the house. “What are you waiting for? Beat him and send him about his business!”
So they did. He was sore and tender in every limb, he had bruises all over, and blood flowed from his head as his own servants ran him out of town. “God, what did I do? Why are they doing this to me? Some pretender must have taken my place,” he thought. “I will take the case to the elders tomorrow,” he decided, as he slept on the hard unpaved stones of the temple yard.
Next morning, he went to the village elder’s house even before the old man was fully awake. He presented his case, pleaded with the elder, asked the village council to save him. The elder recognized him, listened to his story, and then sent a messenger to the saukar‘s house. But he and his fellow-elders were baffled by the news that there was another saukar there who looked exactly like this one. The elder decided to get to the bottom of this mystery and called the townspeople to the temple. When summoned, Siva came to see them, looking and acting exactly like the saukar. The unhappy saukar was already there. The people looked at both of them: this one was like that one, that one was like this one. Doubles, twins. No one could tell who was the real saukar. Baffled, they were at their wits’ end when an experienced old man suggested a test. “The real master of the house would know all the details of the house. Let’s ask them,” he suggested. So they asked, “How many cows are there in the shed? How many sheep? How much money is in the money box?”
When the elder asked these questions, both the saukars gave him the same answers. Eighteen cows, thirty sheep. Finally he asked, “How much cash do you have in the money box?”
The real saukar said, “About five thousand.”
Siva said, “Five thousand five hundred fifty-five rupees, two annas.”
Here at last was a difference. So they sent messengers and had the money box brought to the temple. The elder counted the money in everyone’s presence and it was exactly five thousand five hundred fifty-five rupees and two annas, not a rupee more, not an anna less, exactly as Siva had said.
So they thought that the real saukar was the false one and gave him a hundred lashes till he felt ripe and tender all over. Chased out of town by little boys, he staggered to the Siva temple outside the ramparts. He thought of God then.
“O Siva, save me,” he cried. “Why is this happening to me?”
When you’re down, you think of God, don’t you?The Lord, sitting at home, heard him crying. “At last, he thought of me,” he said, and came into the temple at once, in the guise of the holy man. He asked innocently, “Why are you crying?”
“ Swami, what shall I do? I know now what I did wrong. Two days ago, you came to my door and I asked my servants to beat you. Today someone who looks like me has taken my place. I’ve no place to go. I took the case to court and that other fellow won it. What shall I do?”
“Go home now. It’s all God’s sport. You were a rich man because God gave you riches. If He doesn’t give, where will you be? Worship Him. Go home now and you’ll find everything as it was before,” said Siva, and healed all his bruises.
When he came home, they looked after him and served him and, to his surprise, asked no questions. They only wondered why he looked strangely subdued. He became a devotee of Siva.
Ramanujan, A. K. A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India. Berkeley London: University of California Press, c1997 1997. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft067n99wt/