The Panchatantra – Story 51


In a forest, there was a Jackal called Mahachaturaka (The name means ‘very clever’). Once, when wandering in the forest, he came across the corpse of an elephant which had died by itself. He went round it in delight to find a rant in the skin through which the flesh could be got at, but found no such opening. The thick skin was everywhere intact, and it was beyond his power to tear it open and get at the flesh within. While he was thinking of some way of getting over this difficulty, he found to his consternation a lion arriving at the spot. The jackal prostrated low before the lion and said, ‘Sire, I am your humble servant and am watching this elephant for you. So, kindly condescend to eat it.’ 

The lion replied, ‘I never eat animals killed by others. So I am pleased to gift this elephant to you.’ Hearing this, the jackal was delighted and said, ‘So should real lords treat their servants. Well has it been said, “The really great do not lose their inborn good qualities even in the direst calamity. A conch put in burning fire becomes only whiter”.

When the lion had gone its way, highly pleased with these sentiments, a tiger came along. Seeing him, the jackal thought, ‘One wicked wretch I have already disposed of by prostrating before him. How am I to get rid of this tiger? Certainly he is very strong and courageous though not so much as a lion. Hence, the only way to deal with him is to set him and the more powerful lion by the ears. It has been said, “The remedy of sowing discord should be employed and will succeed in the case of one who is not likely to be won over either by peaceful words or by a little gift. A man may be keenly desirous of salvation, very upright in his conduct extremely amiable, well-behaved, pleasant, free from anger, and full of every virtue, but he will still be tied down to this word if a little discord exists in him and he is unaware of the unity of his individual soul with the universal soul or God. So too, though a pearl is dazzlingly bright, smooth, round and beautiful and appears unapproachable, it is tied in garlands when it is divided against itself by being bored through”.

Thinking thus, he said to the tiger in great haste and in a whisper, taking his face close to his, ‘Uncle how is it that you have walked into the jaws of death ? This elephant has been killed by the lion. Leaving me to watch him, he has gone to take his bath. When going, he told me, ‘If any tiger comes here, you are to come to me at once and tell me confidentially about it. This forest of mine should be rid of tigers. Once, a tiger had the impudence to eat part of an elephant killed by me and to leave the polluted remains for me. J am therefore furious with tigers”.’ Hearing this, the tiger was terribly afraid and said to the jackal, ‘Oh, nephew, save my life. Pray do hot go and tell the lion about my coming. Further, even if the lion, comes here very late, kindly never tell him anything about my coming here or even about my living in this jungle.’ Saying this, the tiger took to a precipitate flight.

Hardly had the tiger gone when a leopard hove in sight. Seeing him, the jackal thought, ‘This leopard has got powerful teeth* I shall make him tear open the elephant’s skin for’. With this intent, he said to the leopard, ‘Hullo, nephew, how is it that I have not seen you for a long time ? Why do you appear so hungry? Come, be my guest and have a good feed. He who comes at meal time is a guest. This elephant has been killed by the lion, I have been asked to watch the carcass. But there are no signs of the lion’s return yet. So before he comes, have your fill of this elephant’s flesh and run away”. 

The Leopard said, ‘Uncle, I am, no doubt, hungry But I have no use for this flesh. If I touch it, the lion will kill me. What is the use of a meal however pleasant, if the taking of it means certain death? Well has it been said that one should eat only that which can be eaten and that which if eaten will be digested and that the after consequences of the eating should be as pleasant as the eating itself. If one continues to live, he may get hundreds of such delightful things as this elephant’s flesh whereas the taking of this single meal means the end of life itself. So I am off.’ The jackal said, ‘Fie, you coward. Eat without fear. I shall watch for the lion’s coming and warn you as soon as he is sighted from afar.’ The leopard, thus reassured, proceeded to tear the skin of the elephant in order to eat the flesh. As soon as the skin had been torn open by the leopard, the jackal cried, ‘Oh, nephew, run away, run away the lion is coming.’ At this, the leopard took to headlong flight. 

Just when the jackal had begun to eat the elephant’s flesh through the opening made by the leopard, another jackal came rushing at in fury in order to share the flesh. Seeing it, the jackal in possession said to himself. ‘One should gain over the best by prostrating oneself before him, a brave enemy by setting up another against him, a mean person by a small gift, and an equal by one’s own valour.’ So thinking, he rushed at the intruding jackal, defeated him, tore him to pieces and killed him. Then he peacefully ate the elephant’s flesh for a long time. 

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