The Panchatantra – Story 42


Mandavisarpa(Slow-glide – The serpent was slowed down by age. In some manuscripts he is named Mandavisarpa or slow-poison) was an old serpent, He whose speed had slowed down. He thought to himself, ‘How can I now get a comfortable livelihood ?’ Thinking out a working plan, he went to the banks of a lake full of frogs and behaved like one in profound misery. He was seen thus by a frog which came to the edge of the waters. It asked him, ‘Uncle, why don’t you wander about for food to-day as usual ?’ He replied, ‘Friend, what desire for food can an unfortunate wretch like me have ? Last night, I went in search of food and saw a frog. I got ready to spring on him and seize him. Urged by the fear of death, he jumped into the middle of some Brahmins who were reciting scriptures near the edge of the water, and I could not see clearly the course of his flight. I searched for him and in my hunger and folly bit the toe of a Brahmin boy standing on the brink of the water, mistaking the toe for the frog. The boy died at once. Then I was cursed by his sorrowing father thus. “Oh, wicked one, you have bitten and killed my innocent son. For this crime, you are condemned for the rest of your life to carry frogs on your back and to live on whatever they are pleased to give you. So I have come to carry you”.

The frog at once went and told all the other frogs. Then all went with joyous hearts to Jalapada, the King of frogs and told him everything. He and his ministers were astonished and delighted at the news and soon came out of the water and took their seats on the snake’s uplifted hood. The remaining frogs got on the back of the snake according to their order of precedence. Those who could not get seats ran behind the snake as he sped along. 

Mandavisarpa, with an eye to his future interests, displayed many and varied modes of progression. Jalapada was pleased with all this and said to him, ‘I have never had such a delightful ride either on an elephant or on a horse or in palanquin carried by men.’ The next day, Mandavisarpa, when ridden by Jalapada and the frog notables, went very slow with a cunning and fraudulent intent. Seeing the slowness of his gait, Jalapada asked him, ‘Friend Mandavisarpa, why is it that you do not run fast today as usual?’ Mandavisarpa said, ‘Sire, owing to lack of food I am unable to bear this heavy burden and run fast.’

Jalapada said, ‘Friend, eat some of the low-caste frogs.’ Mandavisarpa was overjoyed and said, ‘The Brahmin’s curse is also this, that I should eat whatever you, the noble frogs, give me. So I am much pleased at this your order. After this, Mandavisarpa used to eat frogs incessantly and in a few days became very strong. Contented with himself, and with a suppressed smile, he said to himself, ‘These frogs which have been obtained by my fraud appear to be inexhaustible in spite of my incessantly eating them.’ Jalapada, deluded by the hypocritical words of Mandavisarpa, never understood anything.

After some time, another big serpent passed by the spot. Seeing Mandavisarpa carry frogs, he was astonished and said to him; ‘Friend, these frogs are our legitimate food. It it therefore highly improper that you should carry them on your back as if you were their slave. Mandavisarpa replied, ‘I know everything. I bide my time carrying these frogs as the Brahmin bode his time pretending to be blind with ghee. The other snake asked. What is that story ?’ Mandavisarpa then related the story of “The ghee-blinded Brahmin“.

Mandavisarpa said, ‘So, like the Brahmin, I too am biding my time.’ He smiled to himself again and said, ‘How many nice different tastes frogs have! and licked his lips. Jalapada heard the talk between the serpents but could not understand it, being ignorant of the serpent tongue in which it had been carried on. Vaguely distressed in mind, he asked Mandavisarpa, ‘What is it that you were saying?’ Mandavisarpa replied hypocritically, ‘Oh nothing very important; the usual small talk we serpents indulge in on seeing each other.’ The King of the frogs was deceived by these hypocritical words and was unable to understand the wickedness of the speech. In due course, Mandavisarpa ate up all the frogs including Jalapada, and not even a single frog was left in that lake to continue the race. 

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