This story was told first by sage Lomasa and again by Markandeya to Yudhishthira. Lomasa was explaining the significance of each place he visited in the company of the Pandavas. It was when they reached the river Vitasta near Yamuna that Lomasa told the story of the two birds.
There was a king by name Sibi. His father’s name was Useenara and hence, Sibi was also called Ouseenara. He had performed a large number of Yajnas. His fame spread far and wide and reached even heaven.
One day Sibi was seated in his assembly hall attending to the affairs of state when a pigeon flew in and dropped down into his lap crying out for help. There was a hawk right behind, apparently chasing the pigeon. The hawk spoke. “Your Highness! This bird is my prey. Please leave it for me”. The king replied. “No, it came asking for help. It is my duty to save it at all costs”.
The hawk said. “But, it is nature’s way that birds like me live by eating pigeons. If you do not let me have my prey, I shall starve and die. The sin will haunt you for ever”.
Sibi said. “Leave this bird to me. I shall give you anything else that you choose to eat. I can give you any number of animals like oxen to last for the rest of your life”.
But, the bird would not budge. It said. “I do not eat such meat. If you do not let me have this pigeon, I shall die”.
The king was in a fix. He asked the hawk. “What can I give you to spare the life of this little bird?”
The hawk replied. “If you are so keen to save it, then give me flesh from your body in equal weight o this pigeon”.
Royal flesh in exchange
Sibi was willing for such a sacrifice. The little pigeon was placed on a balance. The king cut a piece of flesh from his thigh and placed it on the other. But, the little bird weighed heavier. Sibi cut another large piece and added that to balance against the pigeon. But, mysteriously, the pigeon weighed more even then. The king continued cutting more and more pieces from his body, but, the little pigeon weighed heavier than all those pieces together. Then, with a final resolve the king placed himself on the balance.
Sibi was ready to die for the little bird that came for help and was waiting for the hawk to start eating his body when he heard its voice. “King, open your eyes. I am not a hawk, but, Indra who came to test your spirit of charity. This pigeon is Agni, the god of fire. You have passed our test on you in flying colours. I offer you a place in heaven now itself. Your fame will last for all generations to come”. So, saying Indra disappeared with Agni from the scene.
This story is being told as the best example for sacrifice (Daanam).