King Shibi (Sanskrit: शिबि), the dove, the hunter, and the sacrificial king

In the Hindu Mahabharata, a king called Ushinara was famous for his righteous reign. The Hindu Gods tested the reputation of his son the next king.

(Tirtha-Yatra Parva from Chapter 130 Line 22 – to Canto 131 Line 33)

“And being desirous of testing the merit of that great king, Indra and Agni came to his celestial like ritual court. Being inquisitive to know Ushinara and being willing to bestow boons on him, those two celestials, Indra and Agni, came to his sacrificial ground, – Indra becoming a hawk and Agni a pigeon. The pigeon from the fear of the hawk fell upon the king’s thighs for protection; and it became almost dead, stricken with great fear.

King holding small pigeon in the palm of his hand, Mogao Cave 254 Art, Northern Wei Period

The Hawk said:

All the kings of earth call you virtuous. Therefore why do you perform an act which is not in accordance with Dharma (cosmic law governing right conduct)? O king, I am oppressed by hunger; do not withhold from me my ordained food on the belief that you are thus gaining virtue, whereas you are not.

The King said:

O great bird, this one is afflicted with the fear of you, and desirous of escaping from you it has come in a fury to me for protection. O hawk, this pigeon is seen to tremble with fear; it is agitated; it has come to me for protection of its life. It is not proper for me to forsake it. He who kills a Brahmana Priest and the mother of men (the cow), and he who forsakes one who seeks his protection, – both commit equal sin.

The Hawk said:

O ruler of earth, all creatures exist on food. The animals are nourished and sustained by food. A man can live many days even after forsaking his dear ones, but he cannot live long after abstaining from food. O king, my life will depart today if deprived of food. Leaving my body it would fearlessly go away to other ways. O virtuous-minded one, at my death my wife and children will perish. By protecting the pigeon you do not at all protect many lives. The virtue, that stands in the way of another virtue, is really unrighteousness. O truthful king, that virtue is true virtue which is not conflicting. O ruler of earth, after comparing the opposing virtues and weighing their comparative merits, one ought to espouse that which is not opposing. Where there is no confliction, one should adopt that virtue which preponderates.

The King said:

O excellent bird, as you speak words fraught with good, may I ask are you the king of birds, Garuda? I have not the least doubt that you are learned in all the precepts of virtue. As you speak many and various words of virtue, I do not see there is anything in respect with it which you do not know. O bird, why do you consider it virtuous to forsake one who seeks one’s protection? Your attempt is only to search for food. You can appease your hunger with some other food which would be more plentiful. I am perfectly willing to procure for you any sort of food that would be palatable to you, – whether it be an ox or a boar, or a deer.

The Hawk said:

O great king, I am not desirous of eating a boar, or an ox, or any other kind of beasts. What have I to do with any other food? O ruler of earth, O best of Kshatriyas warriors, give me therefore this pigeon which is the food ordained to me by the celestials. O king, that the hawks eat the pigeons, is an eternal law. Do not get on a plantain tree not knowing its want of strength to support you.

The King said:

O ranger of skies, I am willing to give you this kingdom of my dynasty and all wealth and also all that you desire to have, O excellent bird, with the exception of giving up this pigeon which has come to me for protection. Tell me what I shall have to do for the deliverance of this bird. I shall not give you the pigeon.

The Kings negotiation with Indra disguised as a hawk

The Hawk said:

O son of Ushinara, O ruler of men, if you have so much affection for the pigeon, then cut a portion of your flesh and weight it against this pigeon. O excellent king, when your flesh would be equal in weight with this pigeon, give it then to me and I shall be then satisfied.

The King said:

O hawk, I consider your request as a favor. I shall give you my own flesh weighing it against the pigeon.

Lomasha (the narrator) said:

O lord, cutting off his own flesh, that virtuous king weighed it against the pigeon. But when he found that the pigeon was more heavy than his flesh thus cut and placed in the scale, the king again cut some more flesh from his body and placed it in the scale. When portion after portion of his flesh had been added to weigh against the pigeon, and no more flesh was left on his body, he then himself mounted on the scale.

The Hawk said:

O virtuous king, I am Indra. The pigeon is the carrier of the sacrificial offering Agni. In order to test your virtuous merit, we came to your sacrificial grounds, O king, as you have cut off your flesh from your body, your glory will be resplendent. O king, as long as men will speak of you on earth, so long will your glory endure, and the eternal region will be reserved for you.

Lomasha said:

Having said this to the king, Indra again went to heaven. And the virtuous son of Ushinara also, after filling heaven and earth with the merit of his pious deeds, went to heaven in an effulgent form. O king, yonder is the residence of the illustrious king. Behold it which is holy and capable of cleansing sins.”

The scales on the left and the king seated on the right

This story teaches the importance of justice, compassion, and sacrifice. A just ruler must always protect the weak and innocent, and that true leadership requires a willingness to put oneself in harm’s way for the sake of others. The king’s response to the hawk’s demand and his subsequent actions embodies the moral values and qualities associated with wise and just rulers in Hindu writings.

The hawk’s assertion that in nature the strong prey on the weak reflects the natural order where survival often depends on the principle of “might is right.” However, King Shibi, being a just and compassionate ruler, recognizes the importance of transcending the natural order when it comes to human society.

While nature may operate on a survival-of-the-fittest principle, societies are built on principles of fairness, justice, and protection of the weak. King Shibi, as a ruler, upholds these principles and values, choosing to intervene to protect the innocent dove instead of simply adhering to the law of nature.

This highlights the distinction between the laws of nature and the principles that govern human societies. It underscores the importance of compassion, fairness, and the responsibility of leaders to protect those who are vulnerable, even if it goes against the natural order.

King offering his flesh

The Sacrifice of King Shibi for the prosperity of his kingdom reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of the sins of humanity. Both are known for their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. King Shibi offers his own life to save the dove, while Jesus Christ sacrifices himself on the cross for the redemption of humanity. Both figures exhibit a strong sense of compassion, to protect the vulnerable and the weak.

(John 1:32) “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.” The dove appears in both stories as a symbol of peace, innocence, and divine intervention.

The use of weighing scales in “The Dove and the Hunter” and the concept of justice in finding an equitable solution are reminiscent of the weighing of souls in religious traditions. Similarly, the idea of divine judgment and accountability is present in Christianity.

And finally the hawk is present in the military standards or flags of the Romans. The reference to the Roman eagle may allude to the crucifixion of Jesus, as the Romans often used the eagle as a symbol of their power and authority. The crucifixion involved Jesus sacrificing his flesh being nailed to the cross, similar to how King Shibi offered his flesh as sacrifice.

Roman military insignia
Quentin-Matsys-1530-Christ-Carrying-the-Cross-Rijksmuseum-Amsterdam (Roman eagle flag above)

Gods or divine beings test humans in different ways during their lives.

King Shibi is presented with a test or challenge when the hawk demands the dove as its prey. The king’s response to this situation becomes a test of his character, compassion, and commitment to justice. It is through this test that King Shibi demonstrates his selflessness and willingness to sacrifice himself to protect the innocent.

The life of Jesus is often seen as a series of tests or trials. He faced various challenges, such as temptation in the desert, opposition from religious authorities, and ultimately, the crucifixion. These trials were seen as tests of his faith, obedience, and commitment to his divine mission. Through his actions and responses to these tests, Jesus exemplified qualities like love, forgiveness, and selflessness.

In both cases, the tests serve as opportunities for the individuals to demonstrate their character, values, and faith. These tests are often believed to be part of a larger divine plan or purpose and are seen as opportunities for growth, spiritual development, and demonstrating one’s devotion to higher principles.

(James 1:2-4,12)

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials/temptations;

Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience/steadfastness.

But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”

The stories of King Shibi from Hindu mythology and the life of Jesus Christ from Christianity share remarkable similarities in their themes of sacrifice, compassion, and the testing of one’s character. Both narratives emphasize the importance of protecting the weak, showing selflessness, and making significant sacrifices for the greater good. They exemplify the profound moral values associated with wise and just leaders. They both respond to challenges and tests in ways that reflect their commitment to higher principles, whether it be in the context of Hindu dharma or Christian faith.

In a world where virtues like justice, compassion, and selflessness are universally admired, these stories serve as timeless reminders of the qualities that define noble and righteous leaders. Regardless of one’s religious or cultural background, the tales of King Shibi and Jesus Christ offer valuable lessons on the enduring significance of moral integrity and the willingness to make personal sacrifices for the welfare of others.

As we reflect on these narratives, we’re reminded that the concepts of virtue, sacrifice, and compassion are not bound by the boundaries of faith or tradition but resonate as universal values that continue to inspire and guide us in our own journeys through life.