One day Indra, the king of heavenly gods, praised the bravery and mercifulness of King Megharath on Earth during an assembly of demigods. He mentioned that king Megharath would not hesitate to give up his own life to protect those who came to him for shelter. Two demigods doubted Indra’s statement. So Indra asked them to go to Earth and see for themselves. Since they could not appear on Earth in their heavenly forms; one of them decided to take the form of a pigeon, and the other took the form of a hawk.
Down on Earth, King Megharath was sitting in his court surrounded by his courtiers. Suddenly a pigeon flew in through an open window and started circling the hall. To the king’s surprise, it landed on his lap. It was shaking uncontrollably. The king realized that the pigeon was shaking with fear and had flown into the palace to seek refuge.
At that very instant, a hawk flew into the king’s court. He said to the king, “This pigeon is my food. Let me have him.” The king was dumbfounded to hear a bird talk! However, he replied, “It is true that this pigeon is your food, but now it is under my shelter. I will not give you this pigeon, but I can give you
some other food.”
He ordered his servants to bring a basket of fruits and vegetables. However, the hawk said, “I am not a human being, and I am not a vegetarian. I need meat (flesh) for my food.”
The king said, “Let me give you my own flesh instead of this pigeon’s flesh.” Upon hearing this, one of the courtiers said, “Your Majesty, why should you give your own flesh? Let’s get the meat from a butcher.”
The king replied, “No, because the butcher will have to kill another animal in order to supply us the meat. This pigeon has sought refuge and it is my duty to protect it. At the same time, it is also my duty to see that no one else is harmed in the process. Therefore, I will give my own flesh to the hawk.”
With these words, he took out his knife and cut off a piece of flesh from his thigh and offered that to the hawk. The whole court was stunned. However, the hawk said to the king, “Oh king, I want the same amount of flesh as the pigeon.”
Therefore, a weighing scale was brought to the court. The king put the pigeon on one side and a piece of his own flesh on the other. The king kept adding more and more of his flesh on the scale, but it was not enough. Finally, the king got ready to put his whole body on the scale. The court was stunned that the king was giving up his own life for an insignificant bird. Nevertheless, the king considered his duty to protect the bird to be above everything else. He sat in the scale on the side opposite the pigeon, closed his eyes, and began meditating.
As soon as the king began meditating, the pigeon and the hawk assumed their original divine forms. Both demigods bowed to the king and said, “Oh great king! You are blessed. You deserve all the praise given by Lord Indra. We are convinced that you are a brave and merciful king.”
With these words, they praised and saluted the king again and left. The whole court resounded with cheers of joy, “Long live King Megharath”. Later on, the soul of King Megharath became the sixteenth Tirthankar, Lord Shäntinäth.