The Panchatantra – Kakolukeeyam

[This is the beginning of Part-3 of Panchatantra, also called ‘Kakolukeeyam’ or ‘War, Peace and Diplomacy’.]


“Never trust an enemy, though he pretends to have become a friend, for the home of the owls was burnt down when the crows returned with fire guided by one such pretended friend from the opposite camp,” said Vishnu Sarman to the princes. “How was that?” asked the princes, and Vishnu Sarman told them the story of “The Crows and the Owls”.

In a big forest in the south country, there was a huge banyan tree with innumerable branches and runners. On that tree dwelt Meghavarna(Black as a cloud), a king of crows, with his innumerable retinue of crows. A mile away, in a cave in the side of a mountain, there lived a king of the owls, called Arimardana(Crusher of foes) with his innumerable owls as followers. He had a deadly feud against Meghavarna and his crows, and he and his owls killed the crows at sight whenever they found them, and daily there were many dead crows round the banyan tree. 

Meghavarna, therefore, summoned his ministers and counselors and said : “Gentlemen, you are aware that our enemy is working havoc in our ranks at nights when we sleep and are helpless and cannot see. No doubt, during daytime, the owls cannot see. But they are secure in their mountain cave and we cannot even discover this fortress of theirs, let alone capture it. They say that a disease or an enemy, if allowed to grow, will bring about your death. So, we have to tackle this grave problem firmly if we are to survive. There are six modes of meeting a danger, viz., making peace with the enemy, waging war against the enemy, removing our abode from here, fortifying our abode, allying ourselves with powerful friends, and gaining our end by diplomacy or duplicity. I am going to hold a secret meeting of the cabinet to choose the appropriate step.” Then he held a cabinet meeting with his five ministers, Ujjivi, Sanjivi, Anujivi, Prajjivi and Chiranjivi, and the elder statesman, Sthirajivi(The names mean Live-Again, Live-Well, Live-Along, Live-On, Live-Long, and Live-Strong).

He asked Ujjivi: ” What is your opinion, Sir ?”. Ujjivi replied: ” O King, the enemy is far too powerful for us to think of war. Bow your head before the great till you are strong enough to tackle them. Make your peace with the powerful and wicked men if your life is in danger. So long as life lasts there is hope. War is always a gamble. Never resort to it except in the last resort. I am for peace on the best terms you can get”.

Then the King questioned Sanjivi. Sanjivi said: “Sire, there is no good making peace with this enemy who is cruel, greedy and unprincipled. It is useless to seek accommodation with such a foe. Agreements and treaties do not bind these owls and they use them only to get stronger and hit harder and exterminate us. So I am for war. It often happens that the smaller ones fight the greater by sheer energy, vigour and determination. The lion kills the elephant, though smaller in size. Again, Bhima killed Keechaka by dressing himself as a woman, A king who kneels and sues for peace is born in vain. He has only taken away his mother’s youth without giving anything in return. No king can enjoy glory with- out waging manly wars. To shirk from a fight with an aggressive foe making wanton war on us is not only sheer cowardice but will end in our extermination.” 

Then the king asked Anujivi. Anujivi replied: “The enemy is wicked, strong and treacherous. Therefore, I say neither war nor peace is indicated but only change of our abode. It is dangerous to live in the vicinity of these owls who are as wicked as snakes and do not even hiss. Don’t think that our retreat from this place will be shameful, for we go away only to come bock, like a ram retreating in order to butt stronger.” 

The King next asked Prajjivi, who said ; ” I oppose the suggestion for change of abode. It is only in one’s own ancestral abode that one gets strength. A crocodile can beat an elephant in its native home, the water, but will be beaten by a dog if it gets on to land changing its abode. If, panic-stricken, we flee from this place, we will never be able to return. If we stay on here, fortifying our abode, we can resist the foe. One man m a fort can hold up a hundred attackers from outside. So, let us remain here, resolved to do or die. Let us be united. A group of tender plants can withstand a wind and rise up again. A single strong tree may be uprooted.” 

The King then asked Chiranjivi. He said: “Sire, I am not for any of the four courses suggested by my brothers, I am for alliance with strong friends. Let us not be ashamed of seeking for an ally. Even the all- powerful fire does not disdain the alliance of the wind to fan the flames. But, unless we remain at home, nobody will agree to ally with us. It is only when we show strength that we will get allies. The strong forest fire gets the alliance of the wind and becomes stronger. But the same wind will blow out a feeble candle. Alliance enhances one’s might and glory. The rain drop allying itself with the lotus leaf shines like a pearl, whereas by itself it will disappear in mud.” 

After listening to the opinion of his cabinet ministers, Meghavarna turned to the elder statesman, Sthirajivi, and asked him: “Sir, as the eldest and most farsighted counsellor of our race, I want your considered opinion. It is purposely that I questioned the other five ministers in your presence so that you may hear their opinions and give me your considered advice.” 

Sthirajivi said : ” My son, the five opinions given so far have been culled from well-known text- books on politics and may be sound in other circumstances. But the present circumstances call for diplomacy or duplicity, as the foes are powerful and wicked.

Diplomacy or duplicity will, no doubt, not lead to heaven, but will be extremely useful in this world. It will bring about success which none of the five other devices will be able to do in our present condition. If only we can spy out the abode of the foe and set a man to sacrifice himself for the good cause, we can destroy the enemy. Daily he is coming at night and killing scores of our crows. Open war is useless as we are not strong enough. Peace is even more useless as he is unreliable and treats treaties like scraps of paper. Change of abode cannot be thought of as we will lose our ancestral abode and will not get any other comfortable or secure place. Fortification will be of little use, for how can we crows fortify this banyan tree, which is not like a mountain cave of the owls capable of being fortified ? Alliances are useless, as who will ally with us crows in our present predicament of helplessness and victimization. So, the only thing to do is to resort to diplomacy or duplicity and overcome the foe.” 

“Father,” said Meghavarna, ” What is the origin of this deadly feud between the crows and the owls ?” Sthirajivi replied: “Listen, I hall tell you the story.’ Then he narrated the story of “The Owls Coronation Prevented” After listening to the story, Meghavarna said : ” Oh, it is a terrible hereditary blood feud. Do you think diplomacy or duplicity will succeed with these owls who are very clever?” 

“Why not?” asked Sthirajivi, “Have you not heard how some rascals by their duplicity robbed a clever and intelligent man of his goat?” “What is that story ?” asked Meghavarna. Then Sthirajivi narrated the story of “The Brahmin and the Goat“.

After finishing the story, Sthirajivi said: “Is there any man who cannot be deceived by the diligence of a newly engaged servant, the praises of guests at dinners, the tears of a young woman and the eloquence of a rogue? But the owls are making a mistake. One should never quarrel with a huge population like the crows, though the individuals may be weak. Beware of the enraged populace. A giant snake quarreled with a crore of ants and got eaten for its pains.” 

“How was that?” asked Meghavarna. Sthirajivi then told him the story of “The Snake and the Ants“. After narrating the story, Sthirajivi took Meghavarna aside and told him : “This is only for your ears. Listen to all that I say carefully and act accordingly. We are in danger and will be exterminated unless we take prompt and resolute steps. The usual four expedients, fair words, gifts, intrigue and fighting, are useless in our present circumstances. So, I suggest the following device. You abuse me in open council in the worst possible way and then smear me profusely with blood, in order to deceive the enemy spies, and throw me out at the foot of the banyan tree and depart from here with all other retainers to the Deer Mountain two miles away. You must stay there with your retinue till by ray duplicity I win the trust of the enemy, discover their fortifications and kill them, for they are blind during daytime.” 

Then, when they returned to the Cabinet meetings Sthirajivi told the King: ” What else can crows expect when you are king, you without courage, capacity or grace?” Seeing Sthirajivi thus insulting the King, the cabinet ministers called the generals in and all the other crows begin to prepare to attack Sthirajivi and kill him, Meghavarna said, ” Sirs, make way, I can tackle this scoundrel myself.” With that he pounced on the old counsellor, Sthirajivi, pecked at him as if furiously but really gently, smeared him with blood, struck him off the roll of counselors and threw him down at the foot of the banyan tree and left with all his ministers and followers to the Deer Mountain, as Sthirajivi had recommended. Arimardana’s queen, the ace spy of the owls, had been present at this behavior of Sthirajivi and his disgrace and went and told Arimardana in detail the whole story. 

She had left the moment Sthirajivi’s disgrace was complete and he had been thrown at the bottom of the banyan tree and she did not witness the departure of Meghavarna and’ his other followers to Deer Mountain, but had only heard about their resolve to do so and seen them packing. At dusk, Arimardana went with all his followers to the banyan tree for a crow-hunt, telling them, ” Now that there is quarrel between the king and his elder statesman and the enemy is packing to go to a new abode, we will meet with little organised resistance.” With a terrific battle cry the owls swooped on the banyan tree, but they did not find a single crow on that tree. They found only Sthirajivi lying wounded and covered with blood at the foot of the tree and speaking feebly. The owls were about to kill him when Sthirajivi said : ” Don’t kill me, take me to your king. I have very many things to tell him.” So, the owls went and told Arimardana, who flew to Sthirajivi and asked him, ” How is it. Sir, that you, an- elder statesman of the crows, have been so badly wounded and disgraced?” 

Sthirajivi said : ” Listen, O King, Yesterday, that villain Meghavarna, seeing that you had killed many of his crows, started in a rage to attack your cave. I told him ‘Don’t make war with the strong, you will die like a moth attacking the flame. Seek peace with him. Pay him tribute and save the crow race. He became furious and, incited by his rascally ministers, he accused me of being a traitor, plucked my feathers, pecked at me, inflicting several bleeding injuries, and said : ‘ Be here with your friends, the owls. I shall go away with my faithful followers to a secure abode in Deer Mountain’.”

” Fool, he does not know that I know the new abode thoroughly and that I am determined to bring about destruction on himself and his crows in revenge for his mean treatment of you,” said Ariraardana. ” O King, you are my sole refuge,” said Sthirajivi. “I abjure my allegiance to that villain and swear .allegiance to you. I shall lead you to his new abode and aid you in destroying him and his crows.” Arimardana held a cabinet meeting of his ministers, -Raktaksha, Kruraksha, Deeptaksha, Vakranasa and Prakarakarna(The names mean Bloodred-Eye, Cruel-Eye, Flame-Eye, Hook-Nose and Wall-Ear) – in order to decide what to do with Sthirajivi and what steps, if any, to take about his offer. 

He first questioned Raktaksha as to what he thought about the matter. Raktaksha replied: “Sire, kill the buggar without the least hesitation. He is wounded and weak now and can be easily killed. If he is allowed to recover from his wounds, he might fly away and be a problem to us. Whatever you may think, love for his race will prevail finally with this fellow and so, like the serpent which killed the Brahmin’s son, and refused the Brahmin’s renewed offer of friendship knowing full well that it was motivated by material considerations, you should also reject this man’s offer of friendship and help.” ” What is that story ?” asked Arimardana. Then Raktaksha narrated the story of “The Brahmin and the Snake“. After narrating the story, Raktaksha said: “Let us kill the fellow and annex this banyan tree kingdom and live here without fear”.

Arimardana then questioned Kruraksha. Kruraksha said : “I do not agree with the advice of Raktaksha. I am not for killing this helpless crow which has sought asylum with us. Have you not heard the stories of King Sivi and of the self-sacrificing dove?”. “What are those stories?” asked Arimardana. Then Kruraksha narrated the story of “King Sivi” and “The self-sacrificing Dove“.

Arimardana then questioned Deeptaksha. Deeptaksha replied : “I am for taking advantage of the proffered help of this converted enemy. The story of “The Old-Man and his Young wife” shows that even a thief can reform and become a benefactor. Then why not this former enemy?”. “What is that story ?” asked Arimardana. Then Deeptaksha narrated the story. 

Arimardana then questioned Vakranasa”. He should not be killed, O King,” said Vakranasa, “You can accept help even from enemies who have become discontented with their leader, just as in the story of “The Brahmin, the Thief and the Ogre“. ” What is that story ?” asked Arimardana, and Vakranasa narrated the story.

Then Arimardana asked Prakarakarna about his views. Prakarakarna said : ” Sire, this crow should not be killed. If you spare him he may become an intimate friend and trusted counsellor. In all these things, there must be give and take. Treat your friend as if he will one day become your foe. and treat your foe as if he will one day become your friend. That is the hallmark of statesmen as you can gather from the story of “The Serpent in the Prince’s Belly“. “What is that story?” asked Arimardana, and Prakarakarna narrated the story. 

Arimardana having heard the advice of all his ministers, agreed with the majority view of the four ministers. Raktaksha, on seeing his advice discarded, said with a sneer, “Alas, Alas, the King has been practically condemned to death by your advice, my brothers, and made a fool like the gullible carpenter in the story, “A Fool’s Rejoicing“. “What is that story?” asked Arimardana and the other ministers. Raktaksha then narrated the story. After narrating it he said: “Friends, do not be deceived by this crow, as the carpenter was by his cunning wife. Shrewd men like you should see that this crow is no friend of ours but still a foe”.

But the others discarded his advice and persisted in their decision and took up Sthirajivi and proceeded to carry him in an ambulance to their cave fortress in the mountain, Sthirajivi said: “O King, why are you so kind to me? I am ashamed of having been ever your foe. Please bring a fire so that I may commit suicide by entering it and put an end to this life which has been lived in vain.” The king and his four ministers were impressed. They asked him, “Why do you want to enter fire and die. Sir.” “So that,” said Sthirajivi, “I may be re-born as an owl and leave for ever the existence of a crow.” Raktaksha was however unimpressed. He said; “Even if re-born as an owl, you will only be attached to the crows, like the Mouse-maiden who remained attached only to the Mouse race and was made a mouse again.” “What is that story?” asked Sthirajivi, and Raktaksha narrated the story of “Mouse Made Mouse Again“.

The King and the four ministers were so impressed with Sthirajivi that they paid no heed to Raktaksha’s advice not to take Sthirajivi into their fortress home to the destruction of their race, and took Sthirajivi to the cave. On the way Sthirajivi said to himself : “Only that fellow, Raktaksha, is right. He has pierced through my camouflage. These fools discard his advice being driven by destiny to their fate.” When they reached the mountain-cave, Arimardana said, “Give Sthirajivi whatever quarters in the fort he chooses, for he wishes us well.” 

Sthirajivi, though pleased at hearing this, said to himself: “I am trying to plan their destruction. It will be- impossible for me to work out my plans successfully if I live in the midst of the fortress, open to every person’s observation and in full view of Raktaksha and his followers, who are sure to keep a lynx eye on me. Only by remaining near the gate of the fort, where people in their hurry to go in and go out will not observe me closely, can I accomplish my plans. “He said to Arimardana: “O King, you are very generous. I shall be content with a humble place inside the gate of your fort. I shall daily come and pay obeisance to you as is my bounden duty”. Arimardana agreed cheerfully and was impressed by his humility. He ordered that special diet be given to Sthirajivi so that he might recover his strength soon. By taking that special diet, Sthirajivi became as strong as a peacock in no time. Raktaksha, seeing his counsel rejected and Sthirajivi pampered thus, said to the King and the other ministers : ” Sirs, you are acting foolishly like the king and his ministers who set free the bird with dung of gold”.

” What is that story?” they asked. Then Raktaksha narrated the story of the bird with dung of gold.’ Even after hearing it, the King and the other ministers persisted in their opinion and pampered Sthirajivi more and more. Then Raktaksha called his followers and said to them secretly: “This kingdom is rushing towards its ruin. The end is near. It is impossible to save this king and his fortress. The best counsel given falls fiat on the king and the other ministers. Let us depart from this doomed fort while there is time. Whoever heard of an enemy becoming a true friend? It reminds me of the story of “The cave that talked“. “What is that story ?” they asked, Then Raktaksha narrated that story. After narrating the story, Raktaksha and his followers departed for another mountain cave which they fortified and made secure. 

Seeing Raktaksha depart, Sthirajivi was overjoyed. He said to himself : “His flight from here was a blessing to me. He was a farsighted minister while the others are duds. He might have interfered with my plans, but not these fools. I am now confident of destroying this fort with its king and ministers. The downfall of a king is sure when he allows his faithful and farsighted ministers to go away in chagrin and listens to fools and favourites”. After Raktaksha departed, Sthirajivi gathered faggots from the forest and put them in his own nest inside the fort with the ultimate object of setting the whole cave ablaze and destroying all the owls in it. Nor did the foolish king or his ministers or followers see the storing up of fuel to destroy them. They were so confident of Sthirajivi’s firm friendship. 

After he had gathered enough faggots to set the whole fortress ablaze, Sthirajivi flew away, one morning, when the owls were asleep, to Meghavarna, and told him, “My Lord, I have kept everything ready for burning down the enemy’s fortress. Come with your retainers each bringing a lighted faggot and throw them on my nest full of dry twigs. Then all your foes will be burnt alive caught in a crap and suffering tortures of hell.” Meghavarna was delighted at hearing this and said : “Father, tell me the whole story of your adventures. It is long since we met”.

“No, my son,” said Sthirajivi, “not now. This is the time for action, not for words. Soon the enemy spies might discover my journey here and foil my plans and make the owls escape. There is a time for doing things. You allow that to slip away and the opportunity never occurs. When your enemies are slain and you have returned home in triumph, I shall narrate the whole story at leisure.” 

Meghavarna and his followers then took a lighted faggot apiece in their bills and flew to the cave of the owls and threw their faggots upon Sthirajivi’s nest heaped up with dry twigs. There was a roaring blaze and all the owls sleeping in confidence were burnt alive, suffering tortures of hell. Meghavarna then mounted the throne in triumph and asked Sthirajivi, ” Father, now tell me the story of your adventures.” Sthirajivi narrated that. ” It is amazing how you were able to bow down before the owl king every day,” said Meghavarna. 

” Sir,” said Sthirajivi, ” If you want to achieve your purpose, you have to do many such things. The great Arjuna wore a woman’s bracelet. Bhima became a cook. Yudhishtara became a poor and dependent brahmin. Nakula and Sahadeva became shepherds tending cows, and Draupadi became a maid servant in Virata’s court in order to achieve their objects.” ” You must have been living on a razor’s edge,” said Meghavarna. 

” What doubt is there?” said Sthirajivi” ” But I must say that after the departure of Raktaksha, there was a visible relief. The others were sheer fools who could be duped easily. It is easy to deceive conceited fools like these. Flatter a fool, give food to a glutton, gifts to the avaricious, loans to the bankrupt, deposits to the banker, books to the scholar and obeisance to the king, and you can easily achieve your object. Of course, you will have to humiliate yourself for a while and fawn on those worthless fools, if you are to achieve your object, just as the serpent Mandavisha carried the frogs on his back as if he were their slave in order to win their confidence and eat them all by and by.” 

” What is that story?” asked Meghavarna, and Sthirajivi narrated the story of “Frogs Ride A Serpent” After narrating the story, Sthirajivi said: “Thus, O King, just as Mandavisha, the serpent, destroyed the frogs through the power of his intelligence, so did I destroy these owls.” “It is not without reason that wise men say that a great man sees his undertaking through, whatever the obstacle,” said Meghavarna. “It is amazing that diplomacy can achieve far more than force.” 

“That is undoubted,” said Sthirajivi. “Force destroys only the body. Diplomacy destroys not only the body of the enemy but also his fame and name by false propaganda. Now, king, you may enjoy your kingdom in peace. But remember, you must always be active in the cause of your subjects. No tree is felled without effort and nothing achieved without effort. Be resolute. The timid achieve nothing. Be prompt and never put off to- tomorrow what you can do today. Never say, I shall do that some other day,” when the thing is urgent. Never regard anything as petty which affects your kingdom. Do not neglect any foe or any danger however small. Nobody can sleep in peace in a house where snakes abound and pop in and out. Either they must be destroyed or at least caught and put in baskets securely. 

Please your people and bring them prosperity, lest your rule will be as useless and worthless as the teeth on the neck of the goat. Nor forget that life is short and time is ever running and fate all-powerful. Remember Rama, who had to wander about in forests, Nala who lost his kingdom, Maha Bali who was sent down to Hades, Krishna who was shot down by a hunter, Ravana whose heads were all cut off, Dasaratha who died in grief. Sagara whose funeral ceremonies had to wait, and be humble. Mandhadri and Nahusha, where are they now ? Truly, O King, time reveals things, time drowns things. The king and his duties and counselors, his golden throne, his grand durbars, fade away in the sea of time. Therefore, do your duty by your subjects while you live. Remember that time is short and that good things have to be done while you yet have life and power.” Meghavarna promised to do so and reigned thereafter undisturbed by external invasion or internal revolt. 

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