The Banyan Deer

The Banyan Deer Image

The Banyan Deer

A Stories Aloud original story based on the Jataka Tale

Once upon a time, on the outskirts of the great city Benaras was a large, sprawling forest. This forest was home to no less than one thousand deer.

Five hundred of them belonged to the Banyan Herd. Their leader, King Banyan Deer was tall and elegant, his coat shimmered in the sunset and his antlers were smooth and sleek.

The other five hundred belonged to the Branch Herd. Their leader, King Branch Deer, was strong and sturdy. His coat was golden brown and his eyes sparkled.

The two herds lived happily alongside one another in the depths of the beautiful forest. None of them had any idea of the plans being made in the Palace of Benaras.

King Brahmadatta of Benaras was extremely fond of hunting. He liked to hunt deer. This was considered a sport and the meat from the deer was quite delicious. King Brahmadatta knew very well of the herds living in the forest, and every single day, he would take his bow and arrow and head for the trees. He didn’t go alone, of course. How was he meant to get his hunt back from the forest? Everyone who lived in Benaras was expected to cancel their morning plans and go hunting with the king.

At first the villagers thought it was wonderful, spending the morning in the forest, instead of serving customers in their shops. It was like a little holiday. But very soon the villagers realised, that while they were in the forest, they weren’t making money to look after their families. They needed to spend their mornings working. So they started hatching a plan.

They decided to turn the Royal Park that surrounded the palace into a forest and to fill it with deer. That way, the king could hunt inside his own back garden and wouldn’t need help to carry his hunt. The villagers got to work. They planted trees and they sowed crops. Then they dug large holes in the ground, filled them with water and made them into lakes. When they had finished, they all went into the forest banging long sticks on the ground to scare the deer.

The Banyan herd and the Branch herd were terrified; they were all rounded up and then driven out of the forest and into the Royal Park. Hundred by hundred, the deer were herded in through the gates. And when the last deer was inside the park, the gates were locked.

There is a lot more to this story of the Banyan Deer.

Now that the deer are locked in the garden, the king stands on his terrace each morning to to shoot one with his arrow. The only deer he will not shoot are the most magnificent ones; the leaders of the two herds.

The panic caused amongst the deer each morning when the king aims his arrows causes fear and injuries to multiple deer. So the leaders of the herds make an agreement that each day one deer would sacrifice themselves to the king’s arrows so as to save the other deer from fear and injury.

This works for a long while. Until one day a young mother deer asks her leader if she could be spared just while she weans her newborn. He refuses to send any other deer in her place. So she goes to the leader of the Banyan herd. He agrees and goes himself. But the king recognises him as one of the two deer he promised never to harm. When the king learns why the Banyan leader is offering himself, he feels compassion. Not just for the deer, or his herd, or even for all deer, but for all animals everywhere.

This is a lovely story of compassion, sacrifice, and kindness.