The Panchatantra – Story 10

TOO MUCH SPONGING LEADS TO DEATH

There was once a King who had an excellent bed-room with an incomparable bed which was the acme of comfort. Concealed in the folds of the mattress and protected from observation by the wonderfully white sheets, there lived a cunning female louse called Mandavisarpana. She was so cunning that she used to cling to the mattress and escape observation when the bed was done every day. As soon as the King took his bed and went to sleep, she used to invade his head and live upon his blood. She was always given to gentle bites and never disturbed the sleep of the monarch. She became sturdy and buxom by this steady feeding on royal ‘blood and was passing her days comfortably. 

One day, a bug called Dunduka reached this bed in the course of his wandering. Seeing this divinely soft and sweet-smelling bed with its spotless bed sheets made of the finest cloth and the two pillows of the most dazzling colours he was very much delighted. Wandering over it in his ecstasy he came upon Mandavisarpana. She said, ‘Why did you come to his royal bed ? Get away from here quickly.’ The bug replied, ‘O lady, do not speak to me thus. This is not the way to behave towards one who has come to your house as a guest. Those well versed in the scriptures say that even when a humble person goes to the house of the good he should be told, “Come in, rest a while, take a seat, why are your visits so rare? What is the news? Why are you so weak? Are you quite well ? I am delighted to see you.”

This mode of reception easily secures heaven. Again, it has been said, “The Brahmins have to honour the god of fire, all castes have to honour Brahmins, women have to honour their husbands, and all men have to honour their guests.” I am your guest. I have tasted the blood of many kinds of men, but, owing to the defect in their diet, the blood was always either bitter or pungent ot astringent or sour. I have not yet tasted sweet blood free from these undesirable tastes. The King is eating various kinds of delicious dishes, and all kinds of lusciousr fruits besides the meat of all the choicest animals of land, water and air. He is also constantly advised by competent doctors whose wonderful preparations are sure to have rendered his blood pure and free from every disease. 

With your permission, I desire to taste his nectar-like blood and enjoy supreme comfort. It has been said, “Good eating appeals to King and beggar alike. All people like to eat of the best. If there were no delicious things in the world for which the palate craves, nobody will become another’s servant or submit to another’s control. It is all for the sake of the belly that a man utters lies, serves unworthy persons, and goes to foreign countries.” So please allow me, a hungry guest come to your house, to taste the blood of the King.’ 

The louse replied, ‘It is out of question to permit you to do this. You have got a very sharp proboscis and bite very painfully. You are also fond of biting very often. You will wake up the King by your devilish bites and cause ruin to both of us, So go away from this tied It has been said, “That fool who does not consider time and place, the thing to be done, others concerned, and himself, before doing a thing invariably fails in his object”.’ The bug then fell at the feet of the louse and prayed for permission to remain. 

The louse was moved by this pathetic falling at her feet. She remembered the occasion when the King had the story of Muladeva, the father of the science and art of thieving, read over to him while reclining on this very bed. Muladeva had said in that story to his beloved Devadatta in reply to her query, ‘He who forgives those who fall at his feet and abadons his anger puts even Brahma, Vishnu and Siva to shame as those great gods have not always acted on this excellent principle’. 

Desirous of acting on this noble advice, the louse said, ‘All right. Remain. But, you should, however, not bite at an improper time or in an improper place.’ The bug asked, ‘What is the proper place or time? As I am a stranger, I do not know these. So please instruct me.‘ The louse replied, ‘You are not to bite only his feet.’ The bug swore by all his gods that he would act according to these instructions. The King came in the night and lay down on the bed. Before he had gone to sleep, the bug, moved by excessive greed to taste his blood, forgot his promise to the louse and bit the King on his hips with all his might. 

It has been said, ‘Innate nature cannot be changed by the advice of others. Water, though well heated, becomes cold again. Even if fire becomes by nature cool and the moon’s rays become by the nature burning hot, man’s innate nature will still be incapable of being changed.’ The King felt the bug’s bite like a sharp pricking with a needle. He rose up at once and calling his bedroom attendants said, ‘I have been bitten by some horrible bug or louse. Seek it out and kill it.’ The attendants came and began to search in the bed. The cunning bug crept into a crevice in the cot and escaped notice. The louse, hiding in the mattress, was found out and crushed to death.

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