The Panchatantra – Story 46a

THE JACKAL NURSED BY THE LIONESS

In a certain forest, there lived a lion and lioness. The lioness had just delivered two cubs. The lion used to kill some animals every day and take them to the lioness for food. One day, he wandered about all through, the forest without finding anything till sunset. When he was returning to his den, he found a baby jackal lying on his path. As it was a baby, the lion had pity it and so did not kill it but took it alive between his teeth to the lioness, The lioness asked, ‘ Oh, beloved, have you brought anything for me to eat?’. The lion replied ‘Darling, I could get nothing to-day except this baby jackal. Even this is a clawed carnivorous animal like us and is also a baby. Thinking of this, I have not killed it. It has been said, Even when life is ebbing for want of food, one should never kill a woman or a person(A saivite sanyasi or Lingayat) wearing the sacred linga or a Brahmin or a child and especially those who have confided in one’. 

But you are now in a delicate state of health and have to take food for medical reasons. So, you may kill and eat it. Tomorrow morning, I shall bring some better animals for you, The lioness replied, ‘Beloved, when even you did not kill it, thinking that it was a baby how can I, a woman and a mother, kill it for filling my own belly? it has been said, “Even when life is in imminent danger, one should never do a forbidden act or leave undone a prescribed act, such is the ancient law of Dharma(Rules of virtuous conduct prescribed for attaining salvation),'”So, this baby jackal will be treated by me as a third son.’ So saying, she forthwith fed the baby jackal on her own breast milk. 

The baby jackal, fed on such powerful milk, grew exceedingly stout and big The two lion cubs and the jackal, not knowing of the difference in caste between- them, grew up like three brothers, playing and going out together. One day, when the three were wandering in the forest, a wild elephant crossed their path. Seeing him the two lion cubs sprang at him in fury, eager to kill him.. Then the jackal said to them, ‘ Oh, don’t go near him, for he is the enemy of your race,’ and precipitately fled in the direction of the lion’s den. The lion’s cubs also became dispirited at the fright of their eldest brother and desisted from the pursuit of the elephant. It has been said by the wise, “One bold and energetic leader is enough to inspire courage and enthusiasm in a whole army; but, when he breaks down or takes to flight, the whole army breaks down, loses its courage and is put to rout. It is for this reason the kings want soldiers who are strong, brave, bold and energetic, and avoid those who are cowardly.

The two lion cubs went home and laughingly told their parents about the cowardly conduct of their elder brother, ending ‘Seeing the elephant from afar, he took to a precipitate flight and covered much distance in the twinkle of an eye.’ The jackal got very angry. With quivering lips, blood-red eyes, a dreadful frown, and a most ferocious countenance, he reviled his brothers in very harsh and threatening language. The lioness saw the growing anger of her cubs and, anxious to save the jackal she had suckled, took him aside and remonstrated with him thus. ‘Child, never talk like this to them. They are your little brothers’. He got a hundred times more angry by these soft words and replied, ‘How am I inferior to these in courage or learning or beauty that they should ridicule me thus ? I must therefore kill them both and retrieve my honour.’

Hearing this, the lioness, who was anxious to save his life, said with a suppressed smile, ‘You may be brave, learned in all sciences and handsome, oh child, but no son born in your family will kill an elephant. So listen to me carefully. Child, you are a jackal by birth and were, out of pity, fed by me on my own milk. My children, owing to their tender age, have not yet found out that you are only a jackal. So, go at once and join the other jackals. If not, these cub of mine will kill you, and you will come to a miserable end.’ Hearing this, the jackal, trembling with fear for his life, fled at once to the other jackals and mingled with them. 

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