The legacy Lake

Mahabharata 20 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, Nov. 06, 2011


So we make monuments so that the world will remember us when we are gone. We do great things, heroic deeds, so that the world will remember us when we are gone. We yearn to outwit mortality through legacy. Here is a little story from the Mahabharata about legacy, and how much of it is beyond our control.

Once upon a time there was a king was called Indradyumna and after a long reign he passed away and went to heaven, where he spent centuries, enjoying the rewards of his good deeds on earth. Then, one day, he was told by the gods to leave heaven. “Why?” asked a perplexed Indradyumna.

“Because,” said the gods, “No one on earth remembers your good deeds. If you can find at least one creature who remembers you for your good deeds then you can come back to heaven. Otherwise you will have to leave. That is the rule.”

Time flows differently on earth than in heaven. When Indradyumna reached earth, he realized that centuries had passed since his reign. The trees were different, the people were different, even his kingdom looked different. Who will remember me, he wondered. The buildings he built were all gone. The temples he built were no where to be seen. The people who were beneficiaries of his largesse were all dead. No one he met remembered any king called Indradyumna.

Disheartened, Indradyumna went in search of the oldest man on earth. He found Rishi Markandeya. But the Rishi did not remember him. “There is an owl who is older than me,” said the sage, “Go to him.” Indradyumna did as advised. He found the owl and asked him, “Do you remember King Indradyumna?” and the owl said, “No, I do not remember such a king but ask the stork who is older than me.” Even the stork did not remember. “But I know someone who is much older than me, who may know of King Indradyumna,” said the stork, “He is an old tortoise who lives in a lake.”

Indradyumna went to the tortoise and to Indradyumna’s great relief, he did remember a king called Indradyumna. “He built this lake,” said the tortoise.

“But I never built this lake,” said Indradyumna, rather bewildered by this piece of information. “This lake did not even exist when I was king.”

The tortoise explained, “My grandfather never lied. He told me that this king spent his entire life giving cows in charity, hundreds of thousands of cows” Indradyumna recollected that he had. He had been told that gifting cows assures one a place in heaven. Yes, it had, but only temporarily. Now, where were his cows? Where were the people who he gave the cows to? The tortoise continued, “As these cows left Indradyumna’s city, they kicked up so much dust it created a depression in the ground; when the rains came water collected in this depression and turned it into a lake. Now that lake provides sustenance to innumerable plants and animals and worms and weeds and fishes and turtles and birds. So we remember the great King Indradyumna, whose act of charity resulted in a lake which for generations has been our home.”

Indradyumna was pleased to hear what the tortoise had to say. So were the gods who welcomed him back. As Indradyumna rose to heaven, the irony did not escape him: he was remembered on earth for a lake that was unconsciously created, and not for the cows that were consciously given. He benefited not from things he did, but from the impact of things he did.

  • Giriraj Bhatia

    Absolutely Great!!

    Reminds one of the basic tenet of Gita “TO do thy duty unmindful of the results”

  • Such a simple yet beautiful story. The said part today, is that we have gotten even more WIFM-Centric. Which is probably why we even donate because we get tax cuts.

    WIFM = What’s In It For Me?

    • Sudip

      Vijay if you look at the scenario closely, the largesse that was meted out by Indradyumna was essentially to secure a position in Heaven for himself.
      So there you have your WIFM!
      But interestingly the WIFM syndrome is viewed only in the short term whereas it has medium and long term affects. In this case, going to heaven is short, being moved out of heaven is medium, the indirect outcomes which in this case allowing residency in heaven again is the long term.

  • heard this before… miss ur explanation of connection in a work environment

  • Debasish Mohapatra

    Karma yoga in Gita…. one must do dutifully his/her duties {in this Newtonian world every action has its reaction or consequence} without any anticipation of fruits it will yield….

    • Gaurav Ahuja

      Permanent happiness…..freedom from what is good or bad…fullfilment…you want all of these, do nishkaam karmayoga…otherwise suffer

  • Hi Devdutt,

    Is this the explanation that Mayawati will give after she had built all those huge statues of herself…She will keep on reminding to the people of UP what “good” she did for them by erecting all those statues?

    I would like to contradict to you on this topic..Its not that people will forget your deeds…its the ideas which dont die…and people dont forget ideas…

  • Ghanshyam

    Although I always like your stories but I disagree here because it gives a negative thought of not doing any good thing consciously. If unconscious deeds are measure of attaining good things in life then it is impossible to know that when I’m doing good things in life. 100% illusion only.

    • Sanjeev

      I think we mis-understood the point.

      Here, Devduttji wanted to point out that not only the consiously done good deeds but also the deeds carried out uncousiously also opens the gates of heaven.

      Hence, this story encourages the people to do good deeds.


    As very well said in Bhagwat Geeta Kama kar phal ki chinta mat kar .its is true yet we all do good work some times for appreciation,personal interest,for gathering good deed for future or may be feel good factor .
    itb always go hand in hand but depend upon time .

  • shirish

    heaven here doesn requiredly meant by heaven, but the fruits of deeds which produces results.. we should not view stuffs as deeds or evils.. But only as a karma in the context. Bad karma could also lead to flowering results and good intensioned karma could also lead to bad results.. What i conclude is that this story is saying, all we could do is what is in our control – karma.. Fruits are something which cud b bitter or sweet, let the nature take care of it..

  • Sanket

    Loved the End ” He benefited not from things he did, but from the impact of things he did. ”

    Wish people remember us

  • Hi Devdutt,

    Good story. People are rewarded for the work which they have done consciously not which happened unconsciously. In good systems planned growth is appreciated than unplanned success.

    Lessons for me are
    1. We should know our work and do that work. (If you can do that with submission to lord that is much better otherwise fine)
    2. Take care of the side effects of the main work so that it does not create some bad effects indirectly if it happens you are not directly responsible but indirectly.
    3. Similarly if some good side effects happens then you are not directly responsible but indirectly.

    Hari Thapliyal.

  • Ashish

    You gave a great message in this article. The article is not about the deeds accomplished consciously or unconsciously or its fruits, its about the impact that is remembered by the people. Many times we would have heard that instead of donating money to poor, try to get them a job as the impact of the job will last long and it is this impact that will be remembered. Guess how many remember the first innovation of Steve jobs, but think how many are aware of the impact of touch-pads that revolutionized gadget world, I think everyone is aware of it.

    I feel everyone understand this concept but it requires the right words to frame the thoughts that can be understood and stored in our minds and you are simply brilliant at it.

    • CHR

      I tried to offer job to lots of begger but they are happy begging thery earn more by begging without any work to do

  • Ashish

    The same article is a great business idea. Develop products that can have a positive impact on the people and the business will be an instant hit instead of manufacturing things that is worthless.
    iPhone had great impact on people and changed the way they used mobiles until then and that became an instant hit.
    Were you in Apple before Future group :)

  • Very true and inspiring story indeed…..there is so much to learn from such short stories!!!

  • Amar Goyal

    i want all articles in hindi plz send me in hindi

    • Deep Biswas

      Hire yourself a translator, nobody owes you anything.

  • Brilliant thought.I also agree with DiptiRanjan and agree with the idea that an idea never dies……..http://rproy1.blogspot.in/2010/04/l.html