The Panchatantra – Story 13


A plover (a short billed wading bird) and his wife lived on the shore of a vast ocean. In due time, the plover’s wife became pregnant and was ready to lay her eggs. She said to her husband ; “Please find a safe spot where I may lay my eggs.” “Why?” said he. “Here is the sea-shore, our ancestral home. Lay your eggs here.” “Do not say so,” said she. “The ocean is near at hand and sends his tides high up. One day he may wash away my eggs by means of one of his high tides.”

The plover replied : “Darling, surely the ocean will not dare show such enmity towards me. He knows me and my might. How dare he do such a thing when he allows all the fish, crocodiles, turtles, sharks, tortoises, oysters, shell-fish and a million other forms of life to live undisturbed in his own bosom ?” 

His wife laughed in his face since she knew the capacity of her husband. She said: “Don’t make a laughing stock of yourself with such a foolish boast. Can’t you realize your own strength and weakness.? Of course, it is hard. But, you can at least go by my advice. A stupid tortoise died because he did not follow the advice of his friends not to speak.” “What is that story ? asked the plover and his wife told him the story “Killed by Garrulousness” After finishing the story she said, “Besides, it is good to know the story of the three fishes, the first with forethought the second with ready wit and the third a fatalist. While the first two survived, the third perished miserably.” “What is that story ?”asked the plover, and his wife told him the story of “Forethought, Ready Wit and Fatalist“. After hearing the story, the plover said, “Why do you take me to be a fatalist? I never do a thing without forethought and ready wit. So, be assured that no one can bring humiliation upon you while my strong arms are protecting you,” Reassured by this, his wife laid her eggs on the sea-shore. 

The ocean, who had listened to the boasting of the plover, said to himself : “Hear the fellow’s boasting. I shall teach him a lesson.” So, the next day, when the two plovers had gone in search of food, he sent up a mighty wave and seized the eggs. When the plovers returned and found the eggs gone, the wife said to her husband, “See what has happened to our poor eggs. You are as stupid as the fatalist and have courted this disaster open-eyed. I can’t stand the loss of my children. I shall burn myself to death.” “My dear,” said the plover, “defer your dread decision till I show my power. I shall dry up that ocean for his impudence.” His wife asked him, “How can you fight the ocean any more than a moth can fight a flame?” 

“Don’t say such things,” said her husband. ‘ I shall forthwith begin draining the ocean with my bill and convert his territory into dry land.” “Darling,” said his wife, “You can hold only one drop- of water in your bill. How can you dry up the ocean into which 6000 rivers, including the Ganges and Indus^ with 75,000 tributaries, are constantly falling? Desist from the proposed nonsensical attempt to drain the ocean.” “My dear,” said her husband, “why discourage me ? Is there anything which persistent effort and an iron will cannot achieve ?” 

“At least, then,” said she, “take the aid of all other birds, for numbers may prevail where individuals are weak. A single rope can never hold an elephant, but a hundred ropes, twisted together, will easily hold it. The woodpecker and the sparrow, the frog and the goat attacking together finished off the elephant.” “How was that?” asked her husband and she told him the story of “The Sparrow and His Allies“. After having heard the story, the plover said, “Alright, I will assemble all my friends and we will together drain the ocean.” He called all the birds and told them about the outrage of the ocean against his wife’s eggs. All the birds tried to drain the ocean by taking drops of water in their beaks. 

Finding it useless, they started beating the ocean with their wings. Finding that too useless, they tried to fill the ocean up with clods and dust which they brought in their bills and threw into the ocean. Finding that too useless, a wise bird said : “Look here, it is plain that we by ourselves cannot fight this ocean and make him come to terms with us. There is an old gander who lives under the banyan tree who will give us sound advice. Let us go and consult him, for he once freed a flock of geese by his good advice.” “How was that ?” asked the birds. Then that bird narrated the story of “A Shrewd Old Gander.” After the story had been told, all the birds visited the old gander and narrated to him their grief at the ocean’s taking the plovers’ eggs. The old gander said : “Let us go to our king, Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, and raise up a chorus of lamentation. He is kindhearted and will certainly do the needful.” 

All the birds then went to Garuda and raised a huge lamentation and told him about the ocean’s unjustly seizing the plovers’ eggs, “Why did the plovers leave the eggs alone ?” asked Garuda. “Great King,” replied the gander, “we have to fill our bellies by searching for food far and wide. When the plovers were away in such search, the ocean did this wicked act. You know how food is the cause of most mischief and grief in this world, as the story of the lion and the ram shows.” 

What is that story ?” asked Garuda. The old bird then narrated the story of “The Lion and the Ram“. Just when the old bird had finished the story, Vishnu sent a message to Garuda requiring Garuda’s presence immediately to use him as a vehicle to go on urgent business. Garuda said, “O Lord, I can’t come till I have made the ocean give up the eggs of the plover birds who belong to my tribe, and it is my duty to protect them from insult or injury by strangers. How can I be proud of being a servant of the Blessed One if the ocean can be allowed to run amok like this ? ‘ Vishnu then fitted his arrow to his bow and said to the ocean, “Give up the plover birds’ eggs. Else I shall shoot this arrow at you, make the water evaporate and reduce your territory to dry land.” On hearing this, the ocean trembled with fright, took out the eggs, and restored them to the plover birds. 

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