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Sparkling wit - Story of Birbal and of a Sai student who employed Birbal's wit

Updated on November 9, 2014

An Akbar-Birbal story

There are many stories about the sparkling wit of Birbal, one of the 9 gems in the court of Moghul emperor, Akbar. Though Birbal was the grand vizier in Akbar’s court and his duties were mostly administrative and military, he has attained legendary status today as a wise and close friend of the emperor. There are hundreds of tales of his wit and today, it is not possible to separate the true stories from folklore. Many children in India still read the stories of Akbar and Birbal as they grow up.

Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) too has narrated the stories of Akbar and Birbal to His students and devotees on various occasions. Given below is one such story that He narrated on the 19th of March 1998 in a Trayee session to the students and staff members. This is actually a famous story that is told to children to warn them against developing jealousy. It would be in order to quickly recapitulate the story before proceeding further.

Once, for amusement, Akbar asked Birbal,
"How is it Birbal that there is no hair on my palms when there is hair everywhere else on my body?"
Birbal immediately answered,
"Jahapanah! That is because you always have plenty of money which you give away generously. Your palms are being rubbed constantly, and so, the hair there has all been rubbed away."
"But how is it that you do not have hair on your palms either?" Akbar asked.
"That is because I constantly receive money and gifts from you! My palms are being rubbed that way."
"Then, what about the other courtiers? Why do they not have hair on their palms?"
"Oh Jahapanah!That is because they are constantly rubbing their hands together in envy and anticipation of receiving some money. So, they do not have any hair on their palms either."

Swami always advises one to speak tactfully - "You cannot always oblige but you should speak obligingly."
Swami always advises one to speak tactfully - "You cannot always oblige but you should speak obligingly."

A student's 'mis'adventure?

Swami narrated this story in a different light though. He used it as an example to show how one should use tact while giving answers. His conclusion of the story was with what Akbar tells Birbal,
“Birbal, I do not know whether your answers are right or wrong. But, they give me immense joy and satisfaction.”

Whenever I read or hear this story, my thoughts go to the wonderful tact and presence of mind that a senior in college exhibited while speaking in the divine presence. He was speaking in a packed Sai Kulwant hall when Swami had picked him out of the blue to deliver a speech. Thinking on his feet, he began to narrate this same Akbar-Birbal story.

Telling a story at the beginning of a speech is a very good idea on many fronts:

  1. It captures the interest of the audience immediately.
  2. It is very easy for the speaker to narrate a story compared to quoting a poem or reeling out facts.
  3. The story also gives valuable time for the speaker to compose the next part of his extempore speech.

When the student started with this story, I just sat back and smiled to myself. I knew the ending of the story. I just was wondering about the connection the speaker would make - would he take the route of ‘avoiding jealousy’ or that of ‘speaking tactfully’? He took a route that took everyone by surprise. After completing the story, he said,

“It is also the same case at the court of our emperor, Baba.”

All ears perked up now and he continued,
“ When we see Swami’s palms, there is no hair there. And that is because Swami is the master of all riches which He keeps giving and giving.”

That was interesting and innovative. I was enjoying the comparison.
“And why is there no hair on the palms of all the students? Whatever Swami keeps giving and giving, they keep receiving and receiving.”

The smile on my face broadened. This guy was doing it really well I thought.
“The next question comes - why is there no hair on the palms of all the devotees seated here?”

Immediately alarm bells began to ring in my heart. I felt that he had ignorantly stumbled upon a terrible roadblock in his speech. How would he cover up the next part of the story without hurting the devotees assembled that they are envious and jealous? It is one thing when a ‘non-student’ speaks in Swami’s presence saying,
“Swami I envy your students who receive so much from you.”
In fact, a former vice chancellor of the Sathya Sai University, Prof. Sampat, had requested Swami, "If I am born again, I want to be your student!"
But for a student to state that, sounds very pompous and arrogant!

The climax...

What happened next was simply superb. It was as if the spirit of Birbal himself had descended on the senior. He concluded in a most apt manner,
“There is no hair on the palms of the assembled devotees because as Swami keeps giving and giving the students who keep receiving and receiving, the devotees keep CLAPPING and CLAPPING!”

Instantly, there was a thunderous applause and everyone in the hall - Swami, the students, the assembled devotees and the speaker - had smiles on their faces.

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© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      akbar and birbal is my best heroes

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      6 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @ Sudha Ram - Thank you :)

    • profile image

      Deepa Venkitesh 

      6 years ago

      great Swamy of course made him say that

    • profile image

      Sudha Ram 

      6 years ago

      No hair in our palms too coz we keep scrolling down using our palms to read all your reminiscers of Swami and His white army...

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      :), No faith in your brother ,eh? That he will not add a twist to the story that will displease Swami :) lol... just kidding. Good ending... well done by N!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very apt comparison!Surely Swami speaking through him.


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