The swans were graceful and elegant birds. Besides, they had one special and defining quality. They had golden feathers.
One day, while the swans were returning home after a long day, they saw a beautiful lake below. It was the royal lake of King Vijayadeva. The clear water of the lake reflected the golden hues of the evening sun. Summer was approaching and almost all the water bodies in the forest were shrinking or had completely dried. The swans were delighted to see such a body of water close by . They descended on the lake and were swimming and frolicking merrily.
When the attendants in the palace saw the birds in the royal lake. They were angry. They were worried that the birds may dirty the clear waters of the lake.
On some days, in the evening, King Vijayadeva would sail about the lake in the royal barge with the queen. He would be angry if he found anything in the lake amiss. So, the servants began to chase the flock of swans away.
The swans pleaded with them to permit them to stay there. They promised to keep the water clean. The servants reported the matter to the king. The generous king consented. The swans were thankful.
Every week, as a token of thanks, one of the swans would pluck a feather from his back and give it to the attendants who deposited it in the royal treasury.
The swans were very happy with the lake. The bathed and frolicked in it. They swam around to their hearts’ content.
Days turned into months and life went on. The swans had grown accustomed to the palace and the lake.
One day, a crane flew into the forest of Vindhyadesh. The crane was sick and injured. It had once been part of a vast flock of cranes. The cranes migrated over long distances every year. However, tragedy had struck a month back. One day, when it was fishing in a river as usual, a fox had attacked it. The crane had fought back and managed to drive the fox away. However, the fox had managed to bite the poor bird.
For a few days, it could not fly. In the meanwhile, the rest of the flock continued with their journey. The poor crane was alone and afraid. He could not fly long distances in search of food. He happened to fly across the palace and spotted the royal lake. “Surely, I can spend sometime here”, he said to himself.
He landed in the lake and stood in a corner. When the golden swans saw him, they were angry. They thought of themselves as superior to all other birds on account of their golden plumage. “How dare you, an ordinary bird, stay in the royal lake as we”, they angrily demanded. The poor crane pleaded with them. He described his dire situation. “I will leave once I am strong enough to fly”, he begged them.
But the arrogant swans would have none of it. Pride and hubris got the better of them. “Do you know”, they said, “we have leased the lake from the king himself. We pay him a handsome amount for our use”.
It so happened that the king was passing through a corridor near the lake at that very moment. He overheard the conceited and proud speech of the swans. He felt deeply insulted to hear the swans say that he had leased a portion of his royal palace.
He had allowed the to use the lake for free. He had accepted the gift of the golden feather only as a token of goodwill. He regretted accepting the golden feather from such insolent birds. “How audacious of them”, he thought to himself.
He summoned his servants and ordered that the swans should be driven out from the palace grounds at once. The servants did as they were commanded and the swans were soon gone. As for the poor crane, the king felt compassion on him. He let the crane stay there and asked his servants to feed him. The crane stayed there for a few months. In due course, he grew sufficiently strong. When the flock of cranes arrived the next season, he flew away with them. The king and everyone in the palace were happy to see him go.
Children, this story teaches us to be humble and gracious no matter what our circumstances. In life, we may gain high positions and status. But we must always be simple and respectful to others and conduct ourselves with dignity.