In ancient times there was a town named Ilavardhan in which there lived a businessman named Dhandatta. He had a wife named Ilachi who gave birth to a very lovable and handsome boy. That being the only son, the parents deliberately kept him nameless. As a son of Ilachi, he came to be known as Ilachiputra. He was reared with all the loving care and attention in the midst of luxuries. In due course he grew to be a handsome youth and as such started being called Ilachikumar. His parents were now eager to get him married. Being the only son of a well to do family, many people offered their daughters in marriage. His parents prepared a list of selected names out of them and asked Ilachikumar to choose any one that he liked the most. But Ilachikumar could not make any selection.
One day a party of acrobats came to the town. During those days, there were no stadiums where acrobats could play. They had to show their skills on the open streets. Beating the drums in token of their arrival, those acrobats planted the poles in an open area off the main street and connected them with ropes. Many people assembled there to watch the show. The acrobats ascended the pole one after another and started demonstrating their skill of playing on the rope. They were walking and jumping over the high rope. People were very fascinated by the performance. Ilachikumar also had come there to watch the show. While watching the performance of the acrobats, his attention was drawn to the young girl of the chief of acrobats. She looked very smart and was dancing very gracefully to the tune of the drums with ringing jingle bells on her feet. Ilachikumar got too much enamored by her and could not move his glance from her.
At the end of the show, the acrobats came down the rope and started collecting money from the people who had assembled for the show. People were very pleased with the performance and paid handsomely. Thus collecting good amount, the acrobats left the place and every one went home. Ilachikumar also had to go home. He was however so much fascinated by the girl that he remained absorbed in thoughts about her and could not fix his mind anywhere else. At lunchtime his parents called him to join. There too, he remained silent and finished the lunch without uttering a single word. His parents had never seen him so serious and wondered about his absent-mindedness. His father asked him about the reason for his seriousness, but he kept quiet. After the father left, the mother lovingly asked him to speak out whatever was in his mind. Ilachikumar said that it was no use telling her about that. As she repeatedly asked him, he finally replied that his mind was attracted towards the girl of the acrobats and he wanted to marry her.
His mother was taken aback to hear that. She said that she could get him very beautiful and lovable girls from well to do families and asked him to forget that wretched acrobat girl. He replied that no other girl would attract his mind and he wanted to marry only that girl. Realizing the firmness of his mind, the mother told her husband about their son’s intentions. Dhandatta was shocked to hear this. He tried to dissuade the son from his intention but Ilachikumar remained firm. Dhandatta was a sensible man. He could see that Ilachikumar would not stay peaceful without that girl. He did not want to lose his son for the sake of prestige. He therefore called the chief of acrobats and requested him to give his daughter in marriage to Ilachikumar.
The acrobat however said that he could not do that because he was bound by the convention of his tribe. Dhandatta thought that he might be looking for getting money for the girl. He therefore offered to give as much wealth as the acrobat wanted for agreeing to marry his daughter to his son. The acrobat however declined his offer and replied that he could not break the convention. Dhandatta then asked him about his tribal convention. The acrobat said that he could give his daughter only to the person who could win an award from a royal court by pleasing the king with his acrobatic skill and would give dinner to his community out of the prize money. Dhandatta was disappointed to hear that because it was apparently impossible for his son to fulfill that condition. He explained to his wife what had happened. She called her son and said that the girl would marry only to an expert acrobat and asked him to forget her.
Ilachikumar did not give any reply. He however could not change his mind. He felt that he could not survive without that girl and was willing to make any sacrifice for her. He was even prepared to learn the acrobatic skill for that purpose. His parents were baffled by his silence but thought that he would come to senses in due course. They felt confident that Ilachikumar could never become an expert acrobat. As Ilachikumar continued to remain absent minded, they tried to divert his mind. All their efforts however failed and Ilachikumar stayed bent upon getting that girl somehow. When the acrobat group therefore decided to leave Ilavardhan, Ilachikumar secretly slipped from his home and left town along with them.
He discarded his fancy clothes and donning the course clothes of the acrobats, he started learning their skill. He was smart by nature and used all his diligence to learn the acrobatics. The girl too got enamored of him and helped him in all possible ways to learn the skill. With her help, he could easily master the skill and soon became an expert acrobat. In due course, when the group reached the city of Benatat, he requested the father of the girl to organize a show at the royal court there. Thereafter, the chief went to the king and requested him to watch the performance of the young acrobat and to award a suitable prize, if it was thought fit.
The king agreed and accordingly the acrobats fixed the poles in the compound of the royal palace, where the officers of the state and elite of the city were invited to watch the performance. At the right time, the king occupied his seat in the balcony of the palace. Bowing to him, Ilachikumar went over the pole and then jumping over the rope, he started displaying his acrobatic skill. He was tightly walking over the high rope intercepted with risky jumps and summersaults. It was a superb performance. No one had ever watched such acrobatic feats. Every one was highly fascinated by his skill. Ilachikumar was feeling gratified by the appreciation of the people. He thought that it should have been enough for pleasing the king too. He therefore came down and bowing to him again, he requested for an appropriate award.
The king was however more fascinated by the young girl than by the performance. He thought that he could easily gain her, if he somehow got rid of the acrobat. He therefore pretended that his mind was too much occupied with the problems of the state and could not give attention to the performance. He therefore requested Ilachikumar to show his skill again. Accordingly, Ilachikumar got over the rope again and displayed his skill. At the end of that show when he came down, the king pretended to be drowsy and asked him to show the performance again. Ilachikumar could not believe that. He suspected that there was something wrong somewhere. Since he was however keen to gain his long cherished goal of getting married to the girl, he decided to try again.
He again started the ropewalk, which to him was as easy as walking on the plain surface. He triumphantly looked around. From that height, he noticed, at a little distance, that a beautiful woman was offering sweet food to a monk. She was in the prime of her youth and was very attractive and highly graceful. Ilachikumar was however surprised to observe that the monk was not even looking at her. He was amazed to see that while he himself was hankering for the acrobat girl, the monk remained totally unaffected in the presence of that lovely woman. He was struck by the detachment of the monk. He compared the girl of his choice with that woman. The acrobat girl was no doubt attractive but the woman there was far more attractive. What could have been the force that kept the monk aloof in presence of that woman? And while remaining aloof, happiness was evident on his face! This detachment of the monk raised a quick train of thoughts in the mind of Ilachikumar.
"How come, I do not get detached, even though I have been repeatedly asked by the king to show the performance!" He recalled the excuses of the king for making him perform on the rope again and again. He could suspect that the king was in all probability attracted by the girl and was waiting for his fall from the rope. "In that case I would never secure the girl for whom I have abandoned my home and the parents.” The happiness that he was looking for, was an illusion. At home, he had been a little exposed to the religious principles. He had learned about the soul within the body and its immense capabilities. He realized that his achievements as an acrobat must have been due to that inner capability. That monk could remain unaffected, because he remained tuned to his soul and stayed vigilant about the pitfalls. "As an acrobat, I also have to remain constantly vigilant, because the slightest unawareness on my part can result in fall from the height and consequent death. Why then, should I not use the same vigilance for the sake of the spiritual uplift?"
He had treaded a long path of spiritual pursuit in earlier life. The impact of that achievement was lying subdued within, waiting for an opportunity to manifest itself. The sight of the monk provided the needed opportunity. He became fully awakened realizing that he was the soul and all the other situations were simply illusory. While on the rope, he dwelt deep into his Self and attained omniscience. Then he quietly climbed down and bid farewell to every one, as he left the place.
The focus of this is on the principle of detachment. Attachment can be to materialistic things or to people/feelings. Often times, attachment causes us to behave in ways that may be hurtful to others and/or inconsistent with the principles of Jainism. We should strive to minimize our attachments (i.e. detach ourselves) and focus on our souls. Our souls don’t require any type of attachment to materialistic things or people in order to attain omniscience. A soul is completely detached and leaves everything behind when it moves to the next life.