The Panchatantra – Story 61

ASS AS SINGER

There was once an ass called Uddhata. He used to carry the heavy burdens of his washer-man master during the day and wander about freely during the night, While wandering about the fields thus, he struck a friendship with a jackal. They two used to break open the fence of a cucumber garden at night time, eat as many cucumbers as they liked and leave for their usual abodes at dawn. One night, standing in the middle of the cucumber garden and intoxicated with eating an enormous quantity of cucumbers, the ass told the jackal, ‘O, nephew, see what a brilliant moonlight night it is. So I am going to sing. Tell me which tune you want me to sing in.’ 

The jackal said, ‘Uncle, what is the use of discussing such absurd things ? We are engaged in committing theft. Thieves and paramours are to do their work stealthily. It has been said, “They who are afflicted with cough and they who are too much addicted to sleep should not take to theft if they want to live. So, too, a sick man should curb his palate if he wants to avoid premature death. “Besides, your music will not be of the sweetest and will be heard from afar like the blowing of a conch. Hearing the noise, the watchers of this field will wake up and bind or even kill you. So, abandon this mad project and eat as many cucumbers as you like without making any noise.’ Hearing this, the ass, said ‘You are a creature of the wilds and do not know the charm of music. This is clear from your speaking thus. It has been said, “Blessed are they who are in the company of their beloved and have the sweet sounds of music delighting their ears when the darkness is expelled far by the bright rays of the autumn moon”. 

The jackal said, ‘Uncle, you may be right. But then you do not know how to sing and can only bray in the most horrible fashion. So why do this unwise act so contrary to our interests ?’ The ass replied, ‘Fie! you fool. Who said that I do not know music ? Hear this. There are seven notes, three octaves, twenty-one scales and forty-nine quavers. The pauses are sometimes three and sometimes six, the sentiments are nine, the ragas are thirty-six and the bhavas forty. There are 185 chapters in the classical treatise on Music written by Bharata in days of old, and music is given by him the next place after the Vedas. Nothing is liked even by the gods more than music. Ravana delighted Siva by the music produced from his dried tendons.

So, nephew, why do you say that I am ignorant of music and try to dissuade me from singing?’ The jackal said, ‘Uncle, if you are bent upon singing, I shall first go to the gap in the fence and watch whether the watcher of the field comes. Afterwards, you can sing as much as you like’. The jackal did as he said. The ass then began to sing. Hearing his hideous braying, the owner of the field ran to the spot gnashing his teeth in anger.

Seeing the ass, he beat him almost to death with’ a stout cudgel. The ass fell down exhausted on the ground, unable to bear the blows. Tying a huge mortar with a hole round his neck, the owner of the field lay down in the field, itself, in order to catch other animals which might come ‘to thieve the cucumbers, and fell asleep. The ass got over the pain of the beating in a short time by the genius of his race. It has been said, ‘A dog, a horse, and especially an ass, got over the pain of the severest beating in forty-eight minutes.’ The ass ran with the mortar slung round his neck and cleared the gap in the fence. The jackal saw him from a distance and said, ‘Well sung, ‘ O, Uncle, you did not stop singing though advised by me to do so. Very rare and unique is the jewel tied round your neck, as a reward for your proficiency in music(It is the custom in India to award necklaces and gold ornaments to competent musicians for being worn round the neck. Here, the jackal is referring to the mortar as a rare jewel).’ 

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