The Washerman Minister

The King of Kalinga had a washerman who used to wash his cloths exceedingly well. One day, the king was exceedingly pleased with the scrupulously clean manner in which the clothes were brought to him and promised the washerman to grant any one prayer he might make. The washerman looked at the king and said that he was most anxious to become the king’s minister, and requested the king to bestow the post on him. The king did so, dispensing with the services of his old minister, who had served him for a very long time.

It came to pass that, not long afterwards, a certain other king having heard of the weakness of the washerman minister, raised a huge army and gave battle. His master having heard of what had come to pass, called upon the new minister to muster his forces, to which he replied that as he had already made the necessary preparations, there was no cause to fear the enemy. The king fully believed in this statement, but was sorely disappointed, for not long afterwards the city was bombarded by the hostile armies. The king sent at once to the minister, told him of what had happened and enquired of him as to the arrangements he had made.

The minister responded,”There is nothing to fear in what has come to pass. But I find that the task of ruling a kingdom is a big affair, and while I was thinking of how best to rid ourselves of this difficulty, the enemy chanced to enter and blockade the city. Let them, therefore, undergo the perils of governing the kingdom. As for me, I used to wash the cloths of about a hundred families in this city but since my elevation to the ministership I have had to give up my calling. I will now resume it, and give you one-half the work and reserve the other half for myself; the calling being no trouble to me. On these considerations I have made no preperations for war.” The king was very much grieved when he heard this, but thought the result to be the natural punishment of linking himself to a fool.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows the painting of a washerman in Delhi (c. 19th century CE). It is part of the Wellcome Library collection in the United Kingdom.


  • Folk-lore of the Telugus by GR Subramiah Pantulu (1919)