Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the kingdom of Kapilavastu. His parents, King Sudhodhana and Queen Maya named him Siddhartha.
Siddhartha was a kind and gentle child, and everyone who met him loved him.
One lovely spring morning, Siddhartha was playing by the river that flowed through the palace gardens. And his cousin Devadatta was also there in the garden.
Siddhartha saw a group of swans floating gracefully on the river. He stopped to watch them. The great white birds swam slowly down the river.
‘Oh, you’re beautiful,’ whispered Siddhartha to the swans. Siddhartha sat down by the riverbank to watch the birds.
Suddenly an arrow came whizzing out of the air and pierced the biggest, most beautiful of the swans. Siddhartha cried out and ran into the river towards the bird. The poor swan was thrashing his wings in fear and pain. It couldn’t swim, it couldn’t fly – the arrow had broken one of its wings.
Siddhartha held his hands out to the injured bird, calling softly to calm it down. He held the bird tenderly in his arms and waded out to the riverbank. He gently pulled the arrow out of its wing. Using a stick for a splint, and a strip is torn from his clothing for a bandage, Siddhartha set and bound the wing of the swan.
Meanwhile, Devadatta came running up in search of his arrow. He too had seen the swans from a distance and had decided to practice his shooting skills on the beautiful birds.
‘That swan belongs to me,’ said Devadatta. ‘I shot it, not you.’
‘No,’ said Siddhartha. ‘It belongs to me. I saved it.’
‘Very well,’ said Devadatta. ‘Let us go to our guru. He will tell you that the swan is mine because it is my arrow that hit it!’
The two children took the injured swan to their guru. The guru heard Devadatta’s tale and turned to Siddhartha.
‘Well, Siddhartha,’ asked the teacher. ‘What do you have to say?’
‘Devadatta hurt the swan,’ said Siddhartha. ‘The swan was doing him no harm! It was swimming in the river, looking so beautiful. Why did Devadatta shoot it? I will not let him have it, he will hurt it again. I have made it well – so now it is mine.’
The teacher smiled when he heard what Siddhartha had to say.
‘The swan belongs to Siddhartha,’ he said. ‘Siddhartha has saved its life, and cared for it, and made it well. Devadatta has hurt it and seek to destroy it. Nobody can own a living being, except the one who loves it. So the swan remains with Siddhartha.’
Devadatta was furious. But Siddhartha only smiled. He had saved the swan. He looked after the bird till its broken wing was amended and then released it back on the river.
Siddhartha grew up to fulfill the prophecy of his birth – he became a great sage, among the greatest of them all. Siddhartha became Gautam Buddha.