By Curtis Peter van Gorder
While visiting my relatives in Hyderbad, India I beheld the wonder of the Golconda Fort and palace ruins. As I roamed through the echoing chambers where sultans once held court and hoarded vast treasures, I felt a strange sensation that it had a great story to tell beyond the mere rubble of stones that lay before me– but what was it?
Throughout its history, this site has seen the rise and fall of empires through war and intrigue, but what was that to me – a 21st century man? I felt the tingle – a story was waiting to be discovered, and I like an archeologist, had but to unearth it. I studied its history but I felt there was more than names and dates. I searched for its soul.
The story came unexpectedly that Sunday, when the entire town turns into a used book store. I picked up a collection of short stories published in 1923. Though printed in England, one of the stories was of this very place.
It told of a mighty sultan named Abbanes who ruled his vast kingdom from this palace. His mines unearthed the fabulous Kohinoor diamond. Wishing to build a suitable edifice to house this treasure, he searched the land for a worthy craftsman that would be up to the task.
A man well-known for his building skill as well as a kind and generous nature named Mahesdas who had retired from his labors was found. After being asked to take on this project, he reluctantly agreed, yet warned the sultan, “I may build something that pleases you not. For I now live only that I may help others.”
Having reassured him, “If you are able to build anything like the palaces I have seen, then I am sure that we will not be disappointed.”
Having agreed to try, Mahesdhas began to plan. Unexpectedly, the sultan was called away to settle a dispute in a far away portion of is kingdom. But before he left, he left instructions with his royal treasurer that Mahesdas could have any money to complete his project.
Soon after the sultan’s departure, war broke out in the region, and it was very difficult to send or receive messages from his palace. He was curious as to how work was progressing on his dream palace that was to outshine any that had ever been built.
After almost two years, the sultan was able to return home. With each passing day on his journey to his palace, his heart soared in expectation. He thought to himself, How wonderful my palace must be now! Even if it is not yet completed, it must be a wonder for all to behold.
But his expectations turned to sadness then soon to anger, when he learned that nothing had been done on his grand building project. Not one stone had been laid upon another, not one beam hewn, yet the treasure which he had left in Mahesdas’ care to be spent in the palace’s construction was gone-all gone! For Mahesdas had given it, down to the last copper coin, to the sick and the poor, the needy, the hungry, and the distressed. One of the many projects he undertook was to dig wells for surrounding villages that had no water to slake their thirst in the days of the great drought.
Many lives had been given a new start in those two years. But that was not how the sultan viewed it.
Mahesdas was bound hand and foot and dragged into the sultan’s judgment hall, and thrown at the feet of the mighty ruler.
“Is this how you carry out my commands, and how you repay my trust?” questioned the sultan.
“Did I not tell you that I might build something that pleased you not?”
“You have built nothing! That is the problem!” the sultan yelled.
“But I have carried out the behests* of my sultan, and even so do I fulfill his trust. Let me explain,” said Mahesdas.
Before he could answer, the sultan called out to his guards, “Throw this villain into the dungeon to await my punishment.”
Now it so happened that at this time, the sultan’s brother named Jamshid fell severly ill that seemed to be unto death, as he fell into a sleep that he could not awaken from.
The sultan grieved, for his brother was most dear to him. He shut himself in Jamshid’s room and would not eat or drink or talk to anyone. He would only wail and talk to his sleeping brother: “Oh, my brother, will we never ride together in the hunt again? Will you never be there to greet me when I return from my journeys?”
On the fourth day, as the sultan sat mourning beside his brother, suddenly Jamshid sat up.
“Jamshid! You are better!” the sultan said joyously as he kissed and embraced him.
“Brother! I am feeling well!” Jamshid answered, still recovering his senses.
“How is it that you have come back from the dead?” the sultan asked.
At first, Jamshid could only say, “I have seen strange things!”
“What strange things? Tell me of them.”
“I will tell you all, but first call Mahesdas to my side. I wish to speak to him.”
“I have locked that thief in the lowest dungeon. He will never see anyone again except on his execution day. He promised to build me a palace, but instead he has given my riches away to the poor!”
“Please, brother, don’t hurt him. He is a friend of God, and the angels of God serve him.”
“What foolishness is this? What has he told you? You are still recovering from your sickness. You need rest.”
“No, I tell you! Please, brother, if you love me, release him. I am glad I awoke from my death sleep to plead for his life. For truly black would have been your sin if you had lifted your hand against him.”
“And why are you so interested in this man? Has he enchanted you?”
“You may not believe it, but when I had died, angels came to me and took me to Paradise. There they showed me a palace more wonderful than any ever seen by mortal eyes. I approached it by a wide, crystal road bordered with gracious date palms. In its center stretched a sparkling waterway wherein floated lotus blossoms of many colors, and great white birds. Beside this pool wandered happy souls, singing heavenly songs, arrayed in delicate garments of the deep hues of flowers.
“Next we climbed steps in a gentle gradual ascent to the palace. Its towering walls arose like rosy mist from a terrace flagged with precious tiles. Those walls were more dazzling than alabaster, yea, more pure than the snow of the mountaintops illumined by the first flush of dawn. And there were scores of windows-some were vast and open to the indescribable light of Heaven, and some windows were screened with climbing vines of flowers of every kind. The walls were crowned with domes glistening as bubbles that form upon the sea’s edge, and minarets lifted themselves into the air, light and slender like darts. Within the floors was inlaid silver, reflecting all things as in a mirror. The walls were gold, wrought by artisans skilled beyond men of the earth. Everywhere gems burned with luster unspeakable, radiant yet subdued, and fountains flowed cool and sweet as music delighted the ear.
“But enough of its beauty. What you must know, my brother, is even this … that the angels who showed me these wonders, said: ‘This is the palace built by Mahesdas for your brother, the sultan. He is not worthy to inhabit it, so it shall be taken from him and given to another more worthy.’ Then it was that I awoke to find you embracing me.”
“I will release him,” the sultan said with determination in his voice.
“Let us go together, and free him then,” Jamshid said joyfully.
Having spoken, the sultan and Jamshid walked quickly to the prison, released Mahesdas and Abbanes, and clad them in precious vestments.
The sultan then said meekly, “Mahesdas, I ask your forgiveness.”
“I give it freely, my sultan.”
“But tell me, why did you give my money away to the poor?”
“My Lord came to me and told me not to lay up treasures on Earth, where thieves will break through and steal, but to lay up treasures in Heaven by helping others. For He told me that as I have done it to the most needy, I have done it to the Lord. But may I also ask of you a question?”
“Why did you change your mind and free me?”
Jamshid told Mahesdas of his dream. Mahesdas replied, “In Heaven there are many mansions such as the one you have seen. Jesus has said that in His Father’s house there are many mansions, He is even now preparing a place for us. They that have faith and show love to others are helping to build it. These are the true riches, O Sultan, that shall never fade away.”
The sultan humbly answered: “I will be found worthy to inhabit that mansion, you will see. But, Mahesdas, could you help me to build another such mansion in Heaven for my brother next door to mine?”
Mahesdas smiled as he bowed. “As a servant, I can only do the bidding of my king.”
The sultan was true to his word, for with Mahesdas and Jamshid’s help he cared for his people like a father cares for his children. So beloved by his people was he that he became known as a sultan of kindness, benevolence, and one who would help anyone in need.
As for the Kohinoor diamond, through war that ravaged the land, the priceless treasure was stolen and the palace laid to waste. It was cut in two and one piece rests in the crown jewels of England.
What does this story mean for the 21st century man, perhaps it would be that the treasures of this world pass away but kind deeds done in love to help others endure. Though the diamond was lost to this land, the wells that were dug by Mahesdas those many years ago, are still being drawn from and giving life to a thirsty land.