Once upon a time there lived a great king called Shibi. He was very kind and charitable and became very famous. His fame spread all over the earth and spread in he heavens too.
The lord of heaven Indra wanted to test and see if king Shibi was really as great as his fame proclaimed him to be.
So Indra and god Agni started from heaven. Agni assumed the form of a dove and Indra, of a fierce hawk. Agni flew in the front fluttering the wings as though terrified and Indra followed at a distances as if in hot pursuit. They straight flew to the palace of the king.
Shibi was in the garden distributing charities to the poor. The little fluttering frightened dove came and perched upon the wrist of Shibi looking at his with tearful eyes full of fear. Shibi immediately took her in his hands. Stroking her back kindly he said, "Fear not, O dove, I will save you from all harms."
Just as he was saying this, the hawk came angry and haughty and tried to snatch the dove away from the king's hands. But the king raised his hand in a flash and obstructed the hawk. The hawk looked at the king angrily and said, speaking like a human being, "This dove is my bird of prey. I had been pursuing it from the morning. Why do you obstruct me in having my food, O king?"
Surprised at hearing the hawk speak like a man, Shibi replied, "I do not know who you are, O hawk, who can thus speak like a man. This poor frightened dove has sought my shelter. It is my duty to protect her from all harm. I won't allow you to snatch her away from me and make her your prey."
The hawk then said, "Rajan, you are renowned as a kind one. Perhaps it is your duty to protect those in distress. But is your kindness limited only to the dove? What about me? Am I not equally entitled to claim your pity? I am a bird who can live only be eating the meat of small birds. By depriving me of my food are you not condemning me to die? Is this your dharma?"
King Shibi was nonplussed. The hawk could not only speak life a human being but also argue like one! Evidently his duty was towards both the dove and the hawk. He was very thoughtful. At last he said, "Hawk, what you say is true. I won't deprive you of your food. But at the same time I can't give up this poor frightened dove. Will you accept if I give you some other flesh as a substitute?"
The hawk replied, "Very well king. I have no objection as long as my hunger is satisfied. But you must give me flesh exactly equal to that of the dove. I won't accept less." And he further mockingly added, "But where do you get substitute flesh from? Will you kill another life to save the life of this dove?"
Shibi hastily replied, "No, no, I won't think of harming another life, be sure. I will give you my own flesh in the place of the dove." He then turned to his attendant ordered them to bring a balance. The attendants accordingly brought the balance and erected it before the king. Shibi placed the dove on one side of the balance.
He took out his sword and cutting small portions of his flesh placed it on the other side. But strange! The dove which looked so small and frail in the pan could not outbalance it! King Shibi went on cutting portion after portion from his body and placing it in the balance.. Yet to no purpose... till at last no more flesh remained in his to cut. Wondering at the heaviness of the dove, Shibi then threw away the sword and himself mounted the balance. Lo, now the balance was quite equal. Rejoicing that he was at last able to give the hawk its due, Shibi turned to the hawk and said, "O hawk, my weight is equal to the weight of the dove. Please eat me and leave the dove."
As he said these words there was a cheering applause from the gods who gathered in the sky to witness the test. They beat the heavenly drums and showered flowers on the king. The hawk and the dove shed their assumed forms and stood before him in their shining glorious forms. Shibi looked at them in blank amazement.
Indra said, "O kindly king, know that we are Indra and Agni come down from heaven to test you. You have indeed proved yourself to be greater than your fame. You will be blessed with long life and vast riches. Your name will remain in the world as long as the sun and the moon remain."
So saying, Indra touched Shibi with his hand. Lo! All the cuts and wounds vanished from Shibi's body and he stood there as strong as ever. He bowed to the gods with great devotion, who blessed him and returned to their abodes.