The Panchatantra – Story 60


There was once a King called Chandra. His sons were fond of playing with monkeys and attracted a number of them to the palace compound by giving them delicious sweetmeats. The monkeys fed sumptuously on these, grew fat, and became attached to the palace grounds. Their leader was an old monkey thoroughly conversant with the writings of the great politicians Usanas, Brihaspati and Chanakya(Celebrated writers on Politics – Usanas or Sakra is the preceptor of the demons. Brihaspati is the preceptor of the gods, and Chanakya was the prime minister of the Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. The Sukraniti. ascribed to Sukra, and the Arthasastra, ascribed to Chanakya, are still extant, and were carefully studied by ancient Indian Kings. The writings of Brihaspati on politics have perished) who in their days actually practised as statesmen what they have written down for the guidance of future generations. He had also read the leading books on medicine and veterinary science. 

In the palace compound there was also a herd of rams used by the small children for riding. One of these rams was a glutton and used to invade the kitchen by day and night whenever he got a chance and eat up everything he found there. The enraged cooks used to beat him with anything that came handy, not bothering whether it was a piece of firewood or an earthen or copper or bell-metal vessel. Seeing this, the head monkey thought ‘Surely, the monkeys will come to grief by this quarrel between this ram and the cooks. This ram is excessively fond of kitchen delicacies, and the cooks are getting into a fury over it and are beating him with anything that they can catch hold of. If they find nothing handy, as may very well happen now and then, they are sure to take a burning faggot and beat him with it. The thick wool on his body will be set on fire thereby, The ram will run to his favourite shed in the corner of the stables and roll on his dry grass bed in order to relieve his burning sensation’. 

‘The dry grass will catch fire and will in its turn set the thatched roof of the stables on fire. When the stables are burnt down, many of the favourite steeds of the King will be burnt to death and many others will doubtless be rescued with severe burns. Salihotra, the famous authority on veterinary science, has said that the best medicine for burns for horses is the fat of newly-killed monkeys. He says that by smearing this thickly over the affected parts speedy relief from pain will be obtained. The palace veterinary doctor is sure to name this medicine when the King, overwhelmed by sorrow at the burns and agonizing cries of his favourite horses, questions him. Then the king will certainly have all the monkeys in the palace compound killed so as to have fat enough to treat all the horses, for he loves his steeds far better than he does us. All these things will surely happen. So it is my duty to take timely steps to save my monkeys from this cruel fate’.

He assembled all the monkeys together in private and explained to them the impending calamity. He concluded, ‘This quarrel between this ram and the cooks will surely end in our ruin as I have explained. No one who desires to live long should remain in a place where people quarrel interminably. Quarrels destroy prosperous kingdoms, evil words destroy long-standing friendship, and evil deeds destroy hard-earned fame. So let us leave this palace and go to our native forest before destruction overtakes us’. The monkeys did not heed his words and said laughing, ‘You are in your dotage, and your intellect has been weakened. Hence this far-fetched apprehension of evils and this ridiculous advice. Well has it been said, “When one becomes old, he enters his second childhood. He is toothless, saliva flows freely out of his mouth, and his intellect never shines”.

We shall never leave these heavenly enjoyments, these nectar-like dainties of infinite variety given to us by the king’s own sons and come to the forest to eat the pungent, bitter, sour, acid, saltish and tasteless fruits of the forest.” Hearing this, the old monkey leader looked at them with eyes full of tears and said, “You fools, you cannot foresee the end of all this pleasure. This enjoyment of cooked dainties will in the end be to you a veritable poison. I cannot bear to see you perish under my eyes. So I shall go to the forest now. It has been said, ‘Blessed are they who never see a friend in misery, their homes invaded by enemies, their country overrun, and their family destroyed”. Saying this, the monkey chief left the rest and went into the forest. 

Some days after his departure, when the ram entered the kitchen as usual and was eating the dainties, even when other dishes were on the fire, the cooks were enraged beyond measure as the things eaten were the special favourites of the king and the royal dinner was not yet over. They found nothing handy to beat him with. So one of them took a burning faggot from the hearth and gave the ram several blows with it on his back.

The thick and dry wool on his back caught fire, and the ram, bleating piteously, ran to his accustomed bed of grass in the stables and rolled on it in order to give relief to the horrible burning sensation in his body. The grass caught fire and in its turn set fire to the whole stables. Some of the horses were burnt to death and others lost their eyes. The rest were rescued with difficulty by the palace servants. Even these sustained severe burns on their bodies and ran about the palace grounds neighing in a heart-rending fashion, and causing confusion in the assembled crowd. 

The king, who loved his horses dearly, came to the spot and was very much grieved lo see their plight. He called the palace veterinary doctor and asked him, ‘What is the best medicine for allaying the burning pain of these poor animals?’ The doctor looked up his books and said, ‘Sire, the great Salihotra himself, the fountain source of all veterinary science, says, ‘By applying the fat of newly-killed monkeys the pain to horses caused by burns is relieved as speedily as darkness is dispelled by the rising sun. So, let this medicine be applied at once.’ On this, the king ordered the instant slaughter of all the monkeys in the palace compound. All of them were assembled by the king’s servants under the pretense of giving them the customary dainties and were then seized and killed at once with sticks, stones, swords, knives and various other weapons and their fat extracted and applied to the burns of the horses. 

The old monkey chief heard of the wholesale destruction of his tribe from a wandering crow and was prostrate with grief. Among the monkeys destroyed so foully were his children, grandchildren, sisters’ childrens’ children and a host of more distant relatives. ‘They would not listen to my words that day and have coma to this horrible end,’ he bewailed. He thought to himself, ‘ How con I take revenge on this wretched king and his servants for their cruel act? It has been said, “He who either from fear of from selfish motives calmly puts up with the insult done by another to his family is the lowest of men “So I must certainly avenge this wholesale massacre of my family.’ 

In order to think out a suitable plan, the old monkey wandered about the forest. For many hours no feasible plan occurred to him. The day was hot and he felt very thirsty. Searching for water, he came to a lake adorned with numerous lotuses. The stillness of the place was fearful, and it seemed to him that there was some hidden danger there. Looking carefully, he found the there were many footsteps leading to the lake and none returning therefrom. He said to himself, ‘Surely, in this lake there are dreadful crocodiles which eat up the unfortunate persons who step into the water to drink. So I should not step into the water, but should suck the water through a lotus reed.’ So saying, he got a stick, stood on’ the last step above the water, raised up a lotus stalk with the stick, severed the stalk from its root, and sucked the water through the reed-like hollow lotus stalk. When he was doing this, a demon raised his head from under the water. His neck was adorned with a magnificent diamond necklace. He said to the monkey, ‘Whoever steps into this lake becomes my food. You seem to be the least wicked of the fellows I have met as you have carefully abstained from stepping into the water and polluting it. Besides, you must be awfully clever to have thought of this funny and novel way of drinking water. I am highly pleased with you. Beg of me any boon you like, and I shall grant it’. 

A bright idea suggested itself to the monkey. He asked, ‘What is the limit of your eating power? How many can you eat at a time ?’ The demon laughed and said, ‘I can eat up a hundred million and more at a time if they would only enter the water. Outside the water I am no match even for a miserable jackal.’ The monkey said, ‘I am now on terms of the bitterest enmity with King Chandra and his men. If you give me that diamond necklace, I shall by suitable words stimulate the avarice of the king and countless men of his, bring them all here, and make then> enter the lake through greed for such necklaces. You can then do what you like with them.’ The demon was highly pleased at the prospect of such a glorious dinner and at once gave the necklace and said, ‘ Friend, proceed in such a way as to bring them all speedily here. Never have I had such a dinner as you describe. Make it a reality, and seal our eternal friendship’.

The monkey went to the palace compound with the necklace round his neck and flaunted about conspicuously from tree to tree in the full view of the courtiers and palace servants. They all asked him, ‘ O monkey chief, where were you all this time, and where did you get this necklace of diamonds whose rays surpass even those of the sun ?’ The monkey said, ‘There is in a hidden spot in a forest, not far from here, a beautiful lotus lake created by the god of wealth to deposit his choicest treasures. Whoever goes and dips in it on Sunday mornings, when the sun is just half above the horizon, will be given by the god of wealth, whose guest he will be, a necklace like this to wear round his neck when he emerges out of the waters’. 

The news was carried to King Chandra who at once sent for the monkey and asked him, ‘O, monkey chief, is all this true ? Is there really a lake by bathing in which everybody can get a magnificent necklace?’ The monkey said, ‘Sire, the necklace on my neck is proof of it. If you want such diamond necklaces, send with me some persons and I shall show the lake to them.’ Hearing this, the king, whose cupidity was roused by the sight and feel of the magnificent diamond necklace round the monkey’s neck, said, ‘In that case, I shall myself come with all ray relatives and courtiers this very Sunday, that is tomorrow. Will that be too early for the god of wealth to receive us and give us proper necklaces?’ The monkey replied, ‘It will not matter in the least to the god of wealth how early you go. Necklaces like these are heaped there like sand on the beach.’ ‘Then, we may take it as settled’ said the king and went hastily to tell the joyous news to the queens. 

On Sunday, long before dawn, the king, the queens, the palace officials including the veterinary doctor, the courtiers and palace servants, and a whole mob of citizens started for the lotus lake. The old monkey was seated by the king on his own lap and taken in his palanquin. Well has it been said, ‘O, goddess of greed, I salute thee. Moved by thee, even rich persons are led to do ridiculously improper acts and to wander about impossible deserts, A man having a hundred gold coins wishes for a thousand, he having a thousand wishes for a hundred thousand, he who has a hundred thousand wishes for a kingdom, he who has a kingdom wishes for the sovereignty of the world, and he who has that wishes to enjoy the pleasures of heaven. When a man grows old, his hair becomes grey, his teeth fall off, and his eyes and ears lose their power, but his greed alone grows apace with an immortal youth.’ 

After reaching the lake, the monkey said to the King, ‘Let ail get ready to dip into the lake when the sun’s orb is just half above the horizon as that is the auspicious time. Let all get in at the same time. You and I alone will go after they return and the crowd is cleared. I shall take you to a hidden vault where necklaces of special distinction are stored and shall make the god of wealth give you as many of them as you like.’ The king gladly agreed. 

As soon as the sun’s orb was half above the horizon, all except the king and the monkey dipped In the lake in one enthusiastic rush and were all eaten up by the demon. Seeing that they did not return for a long time the king asked the monkey, ‘Why is it that my people are delaying so long ?’ The monkey speedily got up a banyan tree and said to the king, ‘ O, wicked king, all your people have teen eaten up by a demon lurking under these waters. You sacrificed my tribe heartlessly to relieve the burning sensation of the horses. I have in return as heartlessly sacrificed your tribe to relieve my heart-ache and the burning sensation in the stomach of this demon who has never enough to eat. I have taken ample revenge for the murder of ray beloved ones, I have spared you as you are my king, as I have been treated very kindly by you to-day, and as I want you to live and grieve for your beloved ones as I do. One wrong should be answered by another, one murder avenged by a similar one, and one wicked deed by a like wicked deed. That has always been our monkey rule of life. We imitate whatever you do. Good we return with good, and evil with evil. I -see no sin in that. You exterminated my family, and I have exterminated yours/ Hearing this, the king was filled with grief and walked back alone along the way by which he had come in such pomp. 

When he had gone, the demon rose from the water and said to the monkey in glee, ‘Well done, ‘O, monkey in the banyan tree, you have killed your enemies, made a friend, gained a necklace, and allayed both your physical thirst and the thirst for revenge.’ The monkey then took leave of the demon and wandered merrily in the forest. 

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