The Panchtantra Fables

An introduction

Once upon a time there was a kingdom in southern India named Mahilaropya. It was ruled by a mighty king named Amara Sakti. He had three young sons, Vasu Sakti, Ugra Sakti and Ananta Sakti. They were healthy and handsome but the king was not happy. In fact, he was greatly worried about them because they were ignorant, lazy, idle, dim-witted and had no power of judgment. He realized that something must be done about them and soon, before they got totally out of hand and spoilt their lives.

King Amara Shakti sent for his ministers and asked them how he could get his sons educated. They discussed the various aspects of education at length only to realize that there were no short-cuts. Total education was bound to take several years. And it was doubtful if the princes would agree to go through it after the easy, lazy life they were used to. Finally one of the ministers suggested his taking the help of Visnu Sarma, a renowned scholar of the kingdom. And also one of the wisest. He would be able to teach the princes if it was humanly possible.

So Visnu Sarma was sent for. When he arrived King Amara Sakti bowed humbly before him and begged him to take charge of his three sons. "They are ignorant, stubborn and uneducated. Please teach them practical wisdom and I shall give you anything that you ask for. "I do not sell wisdom, your majesty" replied Visnu Sarma, "Besides, I am an old man and have no earthly needs any more." The king begged him to do it for his sake and finally the old scholar agreed and promised to make them wise in just six months' time.

When the young princes arrived Visnu Sarma asked them if they enjoyed listening to stories. "Oh yes, we do" they answered, looking at their teacher curiously.  "I shall tell you some interesting ones" said Visnu Sarma, "Listen to me carefully".

Visnu Sarma composed five books of stories called The Estrangement of Friends, The Winning of Friends, Of Crows and Owls, Loss of Gains and Rash Deeds. Together, these five books came to be known as The Panchatantra. Needless to say, by the time the princes had listened to all these stories they understood the varied aspects of life, the basic principles of good and evil and how one should face every situation. They were now wise young men, just as their teacher had promised.


The Blue Jackal

Once upon a time there was a forest by a city. The forest was the home of many animals. Among them was a jackal. There were many other jackals who belonged to the same pack but the others moved around together and seldom left the forest.

Now this particular jackal was more adventurous and often strayed into the village in search of food. He had already tasted the wonderful things the human beings were fond of cooking and went to look for some whenever he could. It was not a particularly easy thing to do. He knew that the human beings would give him a sound beating if he were caught. Besides, the city was full of dogs and the jackal was afraid of them. They were sure to kill him or hurt him badly if they ever managed to catch him. But the lure of food proved too strong for him and the jackal went to the city again and again.

One day just as he was about to enter a big house he heard the sound of loud barking. To his horror he saw a group of dogs running towards the house. They looked fierce and the jackal was soon trembling in fear. He ran willy-nilly and tumbled right inside a tub of blue dye. The dogs missed him and ran the other way. By the time the jackal climbed out of the tub he was dyed blue from head to foot. He looked really strange and totally unlike any other animal. The jackal was very happy. "No one will be able to recognize me now" he told himself, "I can easily fool everyone in the forest."

The jackal was quite right. When he entered the forest once again everyone was surprised to see such a strange animal. There had never seen any animal of that color before.

"Who are you?" the smaller animals asked him.
"Where have you come from?" asked the mighty lion with a frown.
"Did anyone send you?" asked the fierce tiger giving him a keen look.
"Lord Indra, king of heaven, has sent me to look after you" said the blue jackal in a grand voice, "I'll be your king from now on."
"But I have always been the king of the forest" protested the mighty lion.
"All that must change now as I am the king" said the blue jackal enjoying himself, "all of you must serve me and do exactly as I tell you."
"What if we don't?" asked the tiger.
"Then Lord Indra will destroy the entire forest and all of you with it" said the blue jackal.

The animals did not dare to say anything more.

"What would you like us to do?" they asked the blue jackal.
"Bring me lots of food, to start with" said the blue jackal promptly, "I am hungry and can't take care of you unless I am properly looked after."

The animals rushed off in different directions. Before long they were back with lots of food. They took care to bring whatever they could find and offered the best of everything to the blue jackal. The jackal was happy and had his fill. Needless to say, there was far more food than he could eat. "Now all of you can eat up the rest of the food" he said, "But mind you, you must bring me fresh food every day."

The animals promised to serve him faithfully. He assigned special duties to all the animals but banished the pack of jackals from the forest because he was afraid they might recognize him some day.

The blue jackal had a wonderful time after that. He did not need to step out of the forest or risk confronting the dogs. He now got the best of everything without doing anything at all. He laughed by himself whenever he remembered how cleverly he had tricked the lot – including the tiger, the mighty elephant and the lion who considered themselves too grand for words. But one day something unexpected happened. The banished pack of jackals was roaming just outside the forest and howled together loudly. The blue jackal forgot himself and joined in the howling just as he used to do before.

The other animals were present when it happened and stared at him incredulously. Here was their mighty blue king howling just like a jackal! So he was a jackal after all and not a strange creature sent from heaven! He had merely colored himself somehow and had been fooling them all these days! Fooling the lion king, the fierce tiger and mighty elephant!

Well, they were not going to be fooled any longer. They fell upon the blue jackal and killed him before he could explain or protest. And that was the end of the blue jackal's reign as king!


A Friend In Need ...

Do friends always need to be equal in size? Or in strength? What do you think?

Well, as it happens, sometimes people – and creatures - that are widely different can be true friends. That is what this story is all about.

Once upon a time there lived a group of mice in a forest. They lived happily and peacefully until something happened to destroy their peace. A group of wild elephants also came to live in the same forest. Now, as a rule all forests have creatures that are both big and small. Although they confront one another and sometimes kill each other, nevertheless all kinds of animals manage to coexist in the same forest. The same might have happened to the mice and the elephants. But unfortunately there was a drought that year. Most of the pools and ditches from which the animals drank dried up. There was only this stream which had a little water.

As all the elephants rushed to the stream whenever they were thirsty they did not bother to look which way they were going. In their mad rush most of the mice got crushed under their feet and their homes were destroyed. The leader of the mice was really worried. He was sure that if things continued the same way very soon there would be no mice left at all! Something had to be done to stop the elephants and soon. But what could they do? The little mice were no match for the huge elephants. So how could they possibly make the elephants listen to them?

At last the leader of the mice had an idea. It was rather daring but it was the only thing to do. The leader went to see the chief of the elephants and said that he had an urgent request.

“You?” cried the elephant chief in surprise looking at the mouse, “what can you possibly have to say to me?”
“Sir, couldn’t you please ask the elephants to take the direct route to the river instead of rushing there anyhow? As they rush by among the trees they tramp on the mice and kill them. Those of us who are lucky enough to escape are rendered homeless. I am sure they don’t intend to kill us. Probably they are not even aware of the damage they cause. That is why I thought of requesting you to speak to them.”
The chief of the elephants gave him a searching look. “I am sure you are right. The elephants are not likely to gain anything by killing mice or destroying their homes. You are far too tiny to be of any use! It is possible that they are not even aware of it.”
“That is what I thought, sir” said the leader of the mouse.
“I shall speak to them and ask them to go by the direct route to the river” said the chief of the elephant, “I think it was brave of you to have come to me, little mouse.”
“Thank you and if there is anything we can ever do to help, we shall do it” said the mouse.

The elephant burst out laughing! The mouse who looked so serious was really too funny for words!

“Thanks for the offer” said the elephant looking amused, “though I can’t imagine how a tiny creature like you can possibly help someone as huge as an elephant! But it was nice of you to have said it.”

The elephant chief kept his promise. He told the elephants to be careful and go to the river by another route without hurting the mice. The mice soon breathed in peace and went back to their carefree life. Before long things took an unexpected turn. This time it was the elephants who were in trouble. A band of elephant trappers sneaked into the forest and trapped the elephant in their huge nets. Even the elephant chief was caught unawares. He was really upset and blamed himself bitterly for not being careful enough and for not having warned the others. Darkness had set in and the trappers had gone off to rest for the night. They planned to take away the elephants the next morning.

“Isn’t there anyone who can come to our rescue?” asked the trapped elephants.
“I can’t think of anyone” said the chief shaking his head in despair, “if only there was someone we could turn to!”

Luckily for him the leader of the mice was passing by just then. He was amazed to find all the elephants trapped.

“How did this happen, sir?” he asked the elephant chief.
“We were careless” said the elephant gloomily, “and now we are all caught with no hope of being rescued.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll have you free in a trice” said the leader of the mice as he cut the net with his sharp teeth.
“That would be wonderful” said the elephant chief, “Can you really do it?”
“Of course” said the mouse with confidence, “Wait a while. I’ll go and call the others.”

The leader soon returned with his entire troop of mice and they attacked the nets with vigor. They worked all night and by the time it was morning they had freed all the elephants from the traps.

“I thank you with all my heart” said the leader of the elephants gratefully,
“I did not think that someone so small could help us out of such a dire situation. But now I know that mere size does not matter.  A friend in need is a friend indeed!”

And everyone returned home happy.



It Pays to be Clever

Long, long ago there lived a family of crows atop a massive tree. They lived there happily and peacefully. The father crow and the mother crow went in search of food to feed the young ones in the nest until they were old enough to fend for themselves. Before long there were new eggs for the mother crow to hatch. When they were out the parents went out together once again to fetch eatables for the new lot. And so it went on until….a huge snake also discovered the same tree and found a cozy little hollow at the bottom where it could live.

The snake looked around to see what it could find and soon discovered the crow’s nest which was now chockfull of eggs. The snake’s mouth watered when it saw the eggs as all snakes love to eat birds’ eggs. But it also realized that the crows might attack it if it tried to grab them while they were around. So the snake lay low and waited for the crows to leave the nest. When they did, it merrily slithered up the tree and gobbled up all the eggs. The crows were shocked to find their nest empty when they returned and had no idea who had taken them. But when they had a full nest once again the mother crow remained watching and saw the snake climb up in quest of the eggs. She tried to stop the snake but it was too strong and she could do nothing. When the father crow returned to the nest that evening he heard all about the snake and was as sorry as the poor mother crow.

“We must do something” said the father crow.
“Yes, but what?” asked the mother crow, “The snake is too big and far too strong for us.”
“Perhaps we should make our nest elsewhere” suggested the father crow.
“Oh no, don’t say that” cried the mother crow, “we have been so happy here and it is a beautiful tree.”
“But if we stay here the awful snake will keep on eating up our eggs” said the father crow, “Surely you don’t want that?”
“No” said the mother crow, “But I don’t want to run away. I want to punish the snake.”
“Very well, let’s ask the others if they have any idea” said the father crow.

They met the other crows and told them everything. They were sorry but could think of no way of punishing the snake.

“Perhaps the wise old fox will have some idea” said the mother crow at last, “he is very clever.”
“Let us go and ask him” said the father crow at once, “I know he will help us if possible. If not, we simply must leave the place and build our nest elsewhere whether you like it or not.”

Luckily the wise fox was at home. He listened to their story and closed his eyes, deep in thought. Then he thought of an idea and whispered it to them. The crows were delighted.

The next morning the father and mother crow flew to a tree by the river where the queen came for their daily bath with her maids. The crows waited patiently until they arrived. The queen took off her jewelry and gave them to her chief maid to hold safely while she took a dip in the river. The other maids oiled her hair and kept her royal robes ready while she wore a simple sari and stepped into the river. Some of her maids got in with her while the rest stood on the shore guarding her things. As they got busy chatting the mother crow swooped down and snatched the queen’s necklace and flew to her nest while the father crow cawed loudly.

Instantly there was confusion among the maids.

“That crow has taken the necklace, let’s follow it” cried some of the maids.
“Let’s call the royal guards too” said one of them, “we won’t be able to climb up the tree where the nest must be.”
“Good idea. They’ll get it down in a jiffy” said the others.

So they called the guards and followed the crows. The mother crow hovered near her nest and just when she saw the guards arriving she dropped the necklace in the hollow of the tree where the snake lived. Everyone saw where the crow had dropped the necklace so they made a dash for the hollow. The snake heard the noise and came out to see what was happening. The guards saw the snake at once and killed it with a stick. Then they found the necklace and took it to the queen. The father crow and mother crow rejoiced and thanked the wise old fox for his clever plan. Now there was no one to disturb their peace and they lived happily in their nest.


If you have a One-Track Mind

People who have a one-track mind either make fools of themselves or else get into trouble. When Vishnu Sharma wanted to illustrate this, he told the following stories to his young scholars. The first story is about a fox who thought of nothing but food and saw everything as a possible source of feasting. The second is about a two-necked bird whose two necks did not want to share anything, no matter what happened.

The fox who thought of nothing but food was resting in the forest one day when he heard the sound of a drum. Since he had never heard a drum before he had no idea what it was and followed the sound. It led him to a field where the king’s drummer was practicing. After a while he left the drum and went off to rest. The fox went there and looked at the drum curiously. Since it made a sound the fox was quite sure that it was a live creature. His mouth watered as he looked at its round shape and imagined all the goodies that must be stuffed inside.

“How big and soft it looks” he said to himself, “I am sure it must taste lovely! If only I could eat it!” but the fox was afraid of being attacked and did not dare to touch it at first. But when the drum remained still and did not move at all the fox decided to attack it.

The fox jumped on the drum and tried to bite it. The drum did not protest. But it was very tough and the fox could make no headway at first. He bit harder and harder and did not stop even when some of his teeth broke in the attempt. Finally he managed to break through the tough hide and made a hole.

“Wow! It must be full of tasty, soft meat which will last me for days!” he cried forgetting his bleeding mouth, “how lucky I am to find this creature, whatever it is!”

But when he finally put his mouth inside he found nothing but a piece of wood and a scrap of leather, both quite unfit for eating! And he had lost all his front teeth into the bargain!

“If only I did not mistake it for food!” he told himself sadly. But it was too late!

The second story is about a bird that had two necks but one common stomach. Although the bird was one, the two necks were mighty jealous of each other and did not want to share anything. One day one of the necks found a jar of honey.

“How lovely!” it cried as it gobbled up the honey.
“What’s that?” cried the other neck, “Let me have some too!”
“No fears” cried the first neck swallowing up all the honey, “I’m not going to share anything with you.”
“But we both belong to the same body” said the second neck.
“So what? I’m not going to give you anything” shouted the first neck, “you can just find your own food.”
“I will and I won’t share with you either.”

The second neck caught sight of another jar. This time it grabbed it and put it to its mouth. But this was a jar of poison.

“What have you got there?” asked the first neck curiously, “Let me have a lick.”
“Of course not” cried the second neck, “Like you, I’d rather die than share anything with you.”

But as fate would have it, the words turned out to be a prediction. The bird died because the second neck had drunk up all the poison from the jar. And all because the necks were determined not to share!


More by :  Swapna Dutta

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