Gopal Bhar the Star-Counter

One Day, the Nawab sent word to Maharaja Krishnachandra that he wanted whole earth measured, side to side and end to end, that he would greatly appreciate it if Maharaja would take it upon himself to count the stars in the sky as well. The Maharaja was astounded and said ” I dont want to seem uncooperative, but you have commanded me to do the impossible.”

And the Nawab said, “But do it you will”

So the Maharaja fell into a brown study and brooded over how he might fulfill the demands of the Nawab.

It was not long before Gopal Bhar passed by, and seeing Maharaja in such a state of despair, he tugged gently at the ends of his Mustache and said, “Maharaja, what is this I see? If you have troubles, you need only tell your Gopal, and all will be well.”

The King was not so easily consoled, “No, Gopal. this is a problem even you cannot solve. The Nawab has commanded me to measure the earth, from side to side and end to end. And as if it were not enough, he wants me to count the stars in the sky as well.”

Gopal was not dismayed. He said, “Ha, Maharaja, nothing could be easier. Appoint me your official Earth-Measure and Star-Counter, and set your mind at rest. And when I am through, I shall myself go to Nawab with the results. only one favor: Ask Nawab for one year to finish the job and a million rupees for operating expenses. In one years time, I will bring him the results.”

The Maharaja was greatly pleased and relieved, since if the job were not done, it would be Gopal’s head that would come off and not his own. he did as Gopal had asked.

So Gopal passed a very pleasant year, spending the million rupees on the most delightful women and most delicious food in the kingdoms, as well on the palaces and elephants and jewels and other things of that type. He spent, in fact, such a pleasant year that at its end he went to Maharaja again, jingling the four nickel coins and two coppers that remained of million rupees, assuming a worried frown, said, “Maharaja, the task is more difficult than I had anticipated. I have made an excellent start, and the results are promising. But I will need another years time. And incidentally, another million rupees. Operating expenses.”

The Maharaja reluctantly petitioned Nawab, and the Nawab reluctantly granted the extra year and second million rupees. And Gopal passed his year even more pleasantly than the first, since now he had some experience in those matters.

Exactly one year later by the hour, Gopal came dragging himself up the road to Nawabs palace. With him were fifteen bullock carts, crammed to creaking with the finest thread, tangled and jumbled and matted and flattened down, and five very fat woolly sheep. He led this odd procession through the gates of the palace and into the court of the Nawab, made a deep and graceful bow, and said, “Excellency, it has been done as you ordered. I have measured earth from end to end and from side to side, and I have counted the stars in the sky.”

“Excellent, An now give me the figures. The exact figures.”

“Figures, Majesty? Figures were not in the ¬†agreement. I have done as you have commanded. The earth is as wide as the thread in the first seven bullock carts is long, and it is as long as the thread in the other eight is long. There are, furthermore, just as many stars in the sky as there are hairs on these five sheep. It took me a long time to find the sheep with just the right number of hairs.”

The Nawab could only say, “Impossible! I cannot measure the thread or count those hairs. Still you have lived up to your end of the Bargain, Here’s your reward: a million rupees.”

And Gopal lived in ease for some some little time.


Folktales from India. A. K. Ramanujan. Viking, Penguin books. 1993.