The four wives of a king: A parable revisited

| Opinion | 29 June 2016 | Asia Samachar |

AS-OpinionRupinder Kaur Sidhu & I.J. Singh

What do you think?  Would four wives be a curse or a blessing? Islam teaches that path now, Mormons used to practice polygamy; not anymore. But that is not the idea here today.

Please, please, pause before you take umbrage at the title or are tempted to turn the page or jump to a different site for fear that if your partner, child or co-worker finds you reading this they would wonder about your lifestyle, values or sanity. Our take today has nothing to do with anything remotely prurient, although what we have laid out here is a matter for adult conversation.

About 20 of us, Sikh friends, get together once a month to enjoy dinner and conversation on some aspect of Sikhi. Recently, one of us (RKS) related a likely mythical tale from age-old Indian traditional literature with a powerful moral that was just begging for a wider audience.

So, here it goes:

Once upon a time there was a king who had four wives. Not to worry; in the days of yore kings often did.

The youngest – fourth wife — was the prettiest and the king was absolutely besotted with her. He loved her the most and never refused her anything. He gave her the most expensive gifts and treated her to the most generous and luxurious life that he possibly could. He gave her nothing but the best.

The king also treasured his third wife very much. She was loved as a wife and also valued for her counsel. She was wise about the king, his friends and foes and her advice was always honest, trustworthy and to the point. The king was always proud to showcase her, bragging about her to neighboring kingdoms. However, he feared that one day she might leave him for another — one with more riches or larger territory.

He also loved his second wife. She was his confidant and was always kind, considerate and patient with him. Whenever the king faced a problem, he could confide in her, and she would help him sort through the rough times.

The King’s first wife had been a very loyal partner for most of his life and had made great contributions in building and maintaining his wealth, position and kingdom. As he prospered, the other three wives had been sequentially acquired over the years. However, now this first wife was well past her prime and no longer a ravishing beauty. He no longer loved her as much as he used to. Although she still loved him deeply; he treated her well enough but hardly took much notice of her.

Then the day came that must come to every life.

The King fell mortally ill. His physicians wearied of treating him. They had no more remedies,  potions or elixirs to try. The King knew his time was short. He thought of his luxurious life and wondered, “I now have four wives with me, but when I die, will I be all alone?”

He decided to talk to each of his wife in confidence to understand if and how much each really loved and valued him.

First he called his fourth and youngest queen. He asked her: “I have loved you the most, endowed you with the finest clothing and jewels; I have showered great care on you. Now that I’m dying, will you accompany me on my final journey and keep me company?” Her response was pointed and quick. “No way” she said. Then she walked away without another word. Her answer cut like a dagger right into his heart.

The saddened King then summoned the third wife to his bedside. “I have loved you all my life” he said. “Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “No,” replied the wife. “Life is too good to peremptorily end it! When you die, I would like to remarry!” His heart sank and turned cold as ice.

He then beckoned his second wife to come. The King said: “Over the years I have always turned to you for help and you’ve always been there for me. When I die, will you come with me and keep me company?” “I’m sorry, I can’t help you this time with your problem,” replied the wife, “At the very most, I can only walk with you to your grave.” Her answer struck him like a bolt of lightning; the king was devastated.

Then a voice called out: “I’ll go with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” The King looked up, and there was his first wife. She was beautiful once but now was skinny, bony and old; she had suffered from neglect and age. Greatly grieved, the King said, “I should have taken better care of you when I had the chance!”

In truth, we all have four wives in our lives:

Our fourth wife is our body — the flesh. No matter how much time and effort we lavish on preserving it and making it look good it will leave us when our time comes to depart this world one day. We like to think of it as ever young, beautiful and everlasting. But nothing is.

Our third wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, it will all go to others. We can take none of this with us.

Our second wife is our family and friends. No matter how much they have been there for us, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.

And our first wife is our Soul, our inner self, often neglected in the pursuit of wealth, power, pomp and pleasures of the world. We forget that our sense of self is the only constant – this is our soul. It is the only thing that will be with us wherever we go. Cultivate, strengthen and cherish it now, for it is the only part of us that connects us to the Creator as we become part of eternity, however we understand that term.

In a world, in an existence, where we think that he who collects the most toys, wins, it is important to understand what toys are forever and what toys we must leave behind — and where.

Not to be unnecessarily morbid but what you can carry with you and what never; that’s the question.

What is the soul, particularly if you are a theist or at least neutral on this matter. At its simplest definition it is the life principle or life force,

We don’t really know where this story comes from – Indian, Chinese, Greek or some other people with a rich trove of traditional lore and mythology of humanity but the moral remains universal. And it is just as good today as it ever was.

IJsingh-newI.J. Singh is a New York based writer and speaker on Sikhism in the Diaspora, and a Professor of Anatomy. Email: Rupinder Kaur Sidhu can be reached at


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  1. “EVERYTHING WE DO INTENTIONALLY OR UNINTENTIONALLY THEY ALL ENDS UP AFFECTING THE SOUL. Gurbani has various pages in actual fact almost every page that required us to ponder on this thought process. Adding on to this Veer IJ Singh has given yet another short fable to add to the moral. Well said!

  2. Good parable but there are new situations.
    Having wives is becoming extinct and is being replaced with LIVE IN RELATIONSHIPS.
    Working life styles with importance to material comforts and possessions to which both genders
    are getting addicted requires DAMAGE TO OWN BODIES BY NEGLECT OF PERSONAL HEALTH.
    Economic policies are designed for DESTRUCTION which results in CREATION OF MORE INDUSTRIES and
    PROFESSIONALS and thus MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FRAUD AND CORRUPTION MEANS TO ACCUMULATE MORE WEALTH which all know that will not help in case of poor health.
    It is like construction of more and bigger HOUSE OF PRAYERS but the DEVOTEES ARE DIMINISHING and
    Prayer time is scarified though it is this time when the mind takes a rest and reflect on life and Makers.
    NOW THE US HIGH COURT HAS DECIDED THAT BRIBERY IS LEGAL WHEN THE RICH BRIBE THE ELECTED POLITICIANS. [Report dd 29.6.16 in the US based Nation newspaper – available on the internet]