The Panchatantra – Story 29


Once, the swans, cranes, cuckoos, peacocks, chatakas(Birds supposed to live only on rain drops), owls, pigeons, turtledoves, partridges, fowls, blue jays, vultures, skylarks, and other birds of the forest met together and said to one another, ‘ The divine eagle Garuda(The divine bird carrying Narayana) is our King. But he is ever absorbed in serving Narayana and does not waste even a thought on us. What is the good of this useless king?

He does not protect us from being entrapped or killed and other such miseries to which we are subject. It has been no doubt said, ‘A King should be served even though he grows weaker every day, for he may, by God’s pleasure, get stronger by such support even as the moon gets its light from the sun.” But the case of our King is different. He is not growing weaker. He cares not at all for us and is but a King in name. It has been said, “That King who does not protect his subjects who are terror-stricken and are always tormented by others is veritably death itself in the shape of a King. Subjects without a King would be destroyed like a ship without a pilot. A preceptor who does not continue his studies, a King who does not protect his subjects, a wife who speaks inimically; a cowherd fond of loitering in the village itself, and a barber overfond of money(Because he may cut one’s throat when shaving, for a bribe offered by an enemy), these six should be unhesitatingly abandoned by men like a vessel which has sprung an irreparable leak.” So let us choose another King for the birds.’ 

Very much impressed with the dignified figure of the owl, ail the birds said, ‘Let the owl be our King. Let all things necessary for his coronation be brought.’ Then the waters of the various sacred rivers were brought(For pouring over the heads of the newly-crowned King and Queen, an essential ceremony), the hundred and eight medicinal roots necessary for curing at once the wound left by the branding of the disc(All Vaishnavite Kings have this branding done) on the forearm of the owl’s wife, who would be unable to bear it, were got ready, the figure of the globe with its seven islands, seven oceans, seven mountains and seven rivers, was prepared(To show that the coronation was that of a world emperor. The geographical details are those of ancient Hindu Mythology), the lion en-signed throne was placed in position and tiger skins(These are emblems of power) spread on it, the five golden jars were filled with the sacred waters for the ceremonial bath, the five sacred flowers(The lotus, lily, mango jasmine and flame of the forest) and the five sacred leaf buds(The leaf buds of the mango, the coconut, the arecanut, the bilwa and the sacred basil) were got ready, the money for the gifts to Brahmins was piled up, the birds began to sing songs of praise, the Brahmins began to recite the four Vedas, young women began to dance and sing, the white mustard, fried rice, sacred yellow rice, Gorochana(A bright yellow scent got from the urine of cow), the garlands and the conchs were got ready, the ceremonial lighted camphor was waved round, the drums were blaring, and the auspicious music was in full swing.

The owl and his first wife Krikalika were just seated side by side on the throne for the ceremonial coronation bath when above the bustle was heard the harsh, unmusical cawing of a crow which had just reached the spot. The crow thought to himself, ‘why are all the birds assembled here as for a big festival ?’ Seeing the crow, the birds said to one another, ‘Among the birds the crow is said to be the most intelligent. It is said. “The barber is the most cunning among men, the crow among birds, the jackal among quadrupeds, and the Swetambara(A Jain monk wearing white robes) among monks,” So we must ascertain his opinion also about our selection of the King. It has been said, “Nothing planned in consultation with many people and after careful examination by learned men fails”, The crow went to the birds and asked, ‘Why have all the birds assembled in solemn conclave as for a big festival?’ They replied, ‘Listen, The birds have no King now. So, all the birds have elected the owl as King and fixed his coronation for today. Please tell us what you think about our choice. You have come at the proper time.” 

The crow smiled and said, ‘It is most improper that when there are such wise and lordly birds as the swan, the peacock, the cuckoo, the chakora(Moonbeam-feeding partridge), the parrot, the royal goose, the crane and the pigeon, this ferocious- looking bird which is also blind during the day should have been pitched upon as the King. Your choice does not meet with my approval. This day-blind creature has a crooked nose, squint eyes and a ferocious and repulsive appearance even when he is not angry. What will he look like when he gets angry? What success or prosperity can we hope for after making this ferocious- looking, wicked, ugly owl our King ? Even if this owl is considered to be full of merits, what need is there for us for a King when we have already got the divine Garuda as our King? 

Never should another King be chosen when there is one already. When there is only one King, the kingdom prospers ; many kings lead to destruction like the many suns at the end of a creation cycle(A terrible flood and a huge tempest will come to kill all the inhabitants, and twelve suns will shine, killing off any survivors. This is because all people would have become too great sinners to be reformed and so will be wiped out and virtuous ones created afresh). Again, at the very mention of Garuda’s name your enemies will flee. It has been said, “The mere mention of a great name as that of one’s master will instantly make the wicked tremble and give relief to the person naming. By merely invoking the names of great ones, success is obtained – By calling the moon their lord, the hares were able to continue in their abodes in happiness”,’ The birds asked, ‘What is the story?’ The crow then related the story of ‘The Lake Of The Moon‘. 

‘So it is,’ continued the crow, ‘ that I said that by merely invoking the names of great ones success is obtained. Besides, this owl is a mean and wicked creature ever intent on sin. He is unable even to rule his subjects. How much more unfit he will be to protect us! By making him a King, we shall only be unnecessarily put in terrible fright hereafter. Once, before my very eyes, a hare and partridge going to seek justice from a mean creature like this owl were both destroyed.’ The birds said, ‘Tell us about it’. The crow then related the story of ‘Justice Cat‘. 

The crow continued, ‘To similar destruction will you go, all of you, who cannot see during the night, making this day-blind owl your King, for he will be able to see well during the night and you will go the way of the hare and the partridge. Thinking over this full well, decide as to what is proper.’ Hearing these words all the birds said, ‘What the crow says is quite true. We shall meet again some time and discuss about who is to be our King’ and flew away to their several abodes. Only the day-blind owl was seated on the throne with his wife Krikalika awaiting the coronation bath. The owl cried out after some time ‘ Who is there? Why is not the coronation over yet ?’ Hearing this Krikalika said, ‘Dearest, your coronation has already been prevented by the crow. All the birds have gone away in different directions. Only the crow remains here for some reason or other. So rise up at once. I shall lead you to your own abode.’ 

On this, the owl said to the crow in grief ‘Oh, wicked wretch, what evil did I do to you that you should prevent my coronation ? From today, therefore, let there be everlasting enmity between your race and mine. It has been said, ” A forest devastated by arrows and cut down by an axe grows again; but a wound caused by abusive and obscene words is never healed”.’ With these words, the owl rose up and went to his abode with Krikalika. Then the crow thought, ‘Alas, I have unnecessarily made an enemy because I spoke thus to-day. It has been said, ” Those unnecessary words which are uttered with- out consideration of time, place and circumstance, which, are unpleasant and whose very utterance proves one to- be mean, are not mere words but so much concentrated poison. Even a wise man, though strong, should not voluntarily make an enemy of another, for no wise man will swallow poison simply because he has an antidote against it. Even a learned man should not do anything in an assembly to cause dishonour to others. He alone is a wise man and a constant favorite of wealth and fame who does an act only after thinking it out well himself and along with his friends, relatives and well-wishers.” Thinking thus, the crow went from thereto his own abode in a meditative mood. 

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