The Panchatantra – Story 29a

THE LAKE OF THE MOON

In a certain forest, there was a mighty King of elephants called Chaturdanta (Literally, four tusked) who had many elephants as his followers. He protected his subjects very well. In course of time, there was a twelve years’ drought. The lakes, tarns, ponds, and tanks all dried up. Then all the elephants went and told the King, ‘ Sire, owing to terrible thirst, some young elephants have died in the prime of their youth, and some more are about to die. So please find out some water supply to alleviate our thirst.’ Chaturdanta sent elephants noted for speed in all the eight directions to search for water. 

Those sent towards the east saw a lake called Chandrasaras or the Lake of the Moon which was full of water, being fed by a perennial spring. It was on the way to the place where many hermits were practicing penances. Swans,, pigeons, geese and cranes abounded there* On the banks were all kinds of huge trees and flowering creepers which bent over the water with loads of heavily scented flowers. There were clusters of bees swarming over the flowers and creating a humming sound. Huge waves were rolling on the crystal waters and generating white foam. A pleasant breeze was always about as if it resided in the waters. There were thousands of red and white lotuses sparkling like gems on the sapphire of the waters. The thick vegetation on the banks excluded the sun’s heat more effectively than a thousand umbrellas. The elephants returned and told Chaturdanta about this lake.

Then Chaturdanta and all his followers went to Chandrasaras and rushed into it from all directions. After satisfying their thirst and reveling in the waters to their hearts’ content, they returned to their forest. Thousands of rabbits were living in warrens on the banks of the lake. Hundreds of them lost their lives, and many more lost some limb or other by the trampling of the elephants in their mad rush to the life-giving waters and the return march to their home forest. When all the elephants had returned, those of the rabbits which were left alive assembled together, many with bleeding limb.s, and discussed among themselves, ‘What is to be done now ? Alas we are lost. The elephants will surely come daily to this lake along the same road, for there is no water in the vicinity and this lake is full of water. If these elephants come daily, we shall all be exterminated. It has been said, “An elephant kills by the veriest touch of the foot, a snake by mere kiss, a king by even a laugh, and a wicked man by even friendly visits.” So we must think out some plan for making the elephants desist from visiting this lake hereafter if we are not to be exterminated.’

Then one rabbit called Vijaya, moved by pity on seeing the rabbits whose bodies were badly mangled and whose wives and children had all been killed in the trampling, said, ‘ Don’t grieve hereafter, brothers. I shall manage this with the aid of the divine Moon whose face we adorn (The Hindus consider the figure in the moon to resemble rabbit)’. 

Hearing this, Silimukha, the King of the rabbits, said to him, ‘ Well said, Vijaya. You are sure to succeed because you know the laws of justice, you can act according to time, place and circumstance, and are sure to attain your end wherever sent. It has been said, ” That man who speaks pleasing words, uses polished expressions, avoids verbosity and weighs his words before speaking will succeed in every mission.” With your intelligence, I shall be able to gauge the real attitude of the elephants and their strength though they are far away. It has been said, ” An unseen King’s wisdom or folly can be known by seeing his letter or emissary. A spy is sent either to create divisions among the enemy or to assassinate the enemy leader. A good spy will be able to accomplish both.” Your going is like my going. You will speak grammatically and only such words as would be approved by the wise and as would be uttered by myself. All that I want to say is, ” Speak according to the context and in such a way as to accomplish our object.” The rest is left to you. After all, there is a limit to such instructions. So, friend, go and let me be your second guiding divinity.’

Vijaya set out the next evening on his difficult mission. On the way, he saw Chaturdanta coming to the lake followed by thousands of elephants. The backs of the elephants were black like rain-bearing clouds with streaks of greenish yellow pollen resembling forks of lightning. The elephants’ roars resembled thunder. Their trunks were coiling and waving like hooded cobras- Their tusks were polished with the honey fallen from the flowers of the forest. Seeing them, Vijaya thought ‘It will certainly be folly for me to go into the midst of these giants. A mere accidental brush is enough to reduce me to pulp. So I shall accost them from a safe spot.’ Getting upon a high and inaccessible rock, he said to Chaturdanta, ‘ Oh, King of elephants, are you quite well?’ Chaturdanta had to strain his eyes a great deal before he could locate such a small object as Vijaya. Finally, seeing him he asked, ‘Who are you?’. Vijaya said, ‘I am an ambassador.’ The elephant asked, ‘Who has sent you?’ The hare replied, ‘ The Moon god’. The elephant asked, ‘Why has he sent you?’ 

The hare replied, ‘ You know why…’ Here he broke off and said, ‘An ambassador who speaks the truth is not to be ill- treated as he represents his King. Of course, your Majesty ‘knows that. It has been said, ” Even if the sword is automatically uplifted in anger, and even if one’s relations have been killed and even if the ambassador speaks insolently he is not to be killed by Kings.” All that I say is by the command of my lord, the moon god, and I am therefore not to be touched. He is unworthy to be called a man who, without considering his and another’s strength, does an injury to that other. Such a deluded fool will soon come to grief. The Moon god sends you the following message. “You have unjustly come and violated the sanctity of Chandrasaras which is known all over the world as mine. Further, you have by your trampling killed on its banks several hares knowing full well that the hare is cherished and protected by me as is evidenced even by my having its photo in my disc and my being therefore called Sasanka(He who has the ensign of the hare). Why waste words? If you do not cease to interfere with my lake and my rabbits, you will be overtaken by a terrible calamity. 

If, on the other hand, you cease to interfere with them great good fortune will be your lot. Owing to my goodness, you and your followers are able to freely sport in my forest in the brilliant moonlight emitted by me. If you again interfere, I shall withhold my rays, and you will all suffer from excessive heat and boils and die miserably”.’ Hearing this message, Chaturdanta was greatly frightened and with a terribly agitated heart thought to himself thus, ‘If I disobey, all of us will come to a certain and miserable end. If I obey, the god will be favorable to us and we can somehow find another lake if we go far enough,. A wise man prefers a course causing temporary inconvenience to one leading to certain ruin.’ 

Then he said to Vijaya, ‘Friend, you are right. I have done a great wrong to the moon god. I do not want to become his enemy. Please show me at once the path to him so that I may go to him in person forthwith and beg his forgiveness.’ The hare said, ‘ Sire, come alone with me. I shall show him to you.’ Saying so, Vijaya led Chaturdanta to Chandrasaras. It was brilliant moonlight by the time they reached there. Vijaya showed the reflection of the moon surrounded by the star Tara, the Great Bear and other big constellations in the deep waters of the lake. Chaturdanta said, ‘ I shall bathe and bow to the God, ‘and poured water over himself by taking it in his twelve feet trunk. Owing to the perturbation of the waters the moon’s reflection shook violently and looked like a thousand moons in the disturbed waters. 

Vijaya was at first frightened lest the elephant should discover the fraud played upon him. Quickly recovering himself, he told the elephant King, ‘ Sire, alas. You have enraged the moon god two-fold.’ Chaturdanta asked, ‘Why is the moon god angry with me afresh?’ Vijaya said, ‘ Because you have touched his waters. Don’t you see how angry and agitated he is?’ Hearing these words Chaturdanta withdrew his trunk at once from the water and prostrating humbly before the fast-steadying reflection of the moon begged the god’s forgiveness. After this, he told Vijaya, ‘Friend, speak in such a way to the moon god that he may be pleased with me. I shall never more come here.’ Then the elephant left the place never to return again. 

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