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Book 3. Crows and Owls

The Snake in the Prince's Belly

In a certain city dwelt a king whose name was Godlike. He had a son who wasted daily in every limb because of a snake that used his belly as a home instead of an ant-hill. So the prince became dejected and went to another country. In a city of that country he begged alms, spending his time in a great temple.

Now in that city was a king named Gift, who had two daughters in early womanhood. One of these bowed daily at her father's feet with the greeting: "Victory, O King," while the other said: "Your deserts, O King."

At this the king grew angry, and said: "See, counsellors. This young lady speaks malevolently. Give her to some foreigner. Let her have her own deserts."

To this the counsellors agreed, and gave [347} the princess, with very few maid-servants, to the prince who made his home in the temple.

And she was delighted, accepted her husband like a god, and went with him to a far country. There by the edge of a tank in a distant city she left the prince to look after the house while she went with her maids to buy butter, oil, salt, rice, and other supplies. When her shopping was done, she returned and found the prince with his head resting on an anthill. And from his mouth issued the head of a hooded snake, taking the air. Likewise another snake crawled from the ant-hill, also to take the air.

When these two saw each other, their eyes grew red with anger, and the ant-hill snake said: "You villain! How can you torment in this way a prince who is so perfectly handsome?" And the snake in the prince's mouth said: "Villain yourself! How can you bemire those two pots full of gold?" In this fashion each laid bare the other's weakness. Then the ant-hill snake continued: "You villain! Doesn't anybody know the simple remedy of drinking black mustard and so destroying you?" And the belly-snake retorted: "And doesn't anybody know the simple way to destroy you, by pouring in hot water?"

Now the princess, hiding behind a branch, overheard their conversation, and did just as they suggested. So she made her husband sound and well, and acquired vast wealth. When she returned to her own [348} country, she was highly honoured by father, mother, and relatives, and lived happily. For she had her deserts.

"And that is why I say:

Be quick with mutual defence, . . .

and the rest of it."

Now Foe-Crusher, having heard their advice, agreed. But Red-Eye, perceiving that the matter was decided, continued his remarks with a quiet sneer: "Alas! Alas! Our lord the king has been wickedly done to death by you gentlemen. For the proverb says:

Where honour is withheld or paid

Mistakenly, it's clear

Three things have unrestricted course:

Famine, and death, and fear.

And again:

It argues utter want of sense

To pardon obvious offense:

The carpenter upon his head

Took wife and him who fouled his bed."

"How was that?" asked the counsellors, and Red-Eye told the story of

The Gullible Carpenter

There was once a carpenter in a certain village. His wife was a whore, and reputed to be such. So he, [349} desiring to test her, thought: "How can I put her to the test? For the proverb says:

Fire chills, rogues bless, and moonlight burns

Before a wife to virtue turns.

"Now I know from popular gossip that she is unfaithful. For the saying goes:

All things that are not seen or heard

In science or the Sacred Word,

All things in interstellar space

Are known among the populace."

After these reflections, he said to his wife: "Tomorrow morning, my dear, I am going to another village, where I shall be detained several days. Please put me up a nice lunch."

And her heart quivered when she heard this; she eagerly dropped everything to make delicious dishes, almost pure butter and sugar. In fact, the old saw was justified:

When lowering clouds

Shut in the day,

When streets are mired

With sticky clay,

When husband lingers

Far away,

The flirt becomes

Supremely gay.

Now at dawn the carpenter rose and left his house. When she had made sure that he was gone, with laughing countenance she spent the dragging day in trying on all her best things. Then she called on an old lover and said: "My husband has gone to [350} another village - the rascal! Please come to our house when the people are asleep." And he did so.

Now the carpenter spent the day in the forest, stole into his own house at twilight by a side entrance, and hid under the bed. At this juncture the other fellow arrived and got into bed. And when the carpenter saw him, his heart was stabbed by wrath, and he thought: "Shall I rise and smite him? Or shall I wait until they are asleep and kill them both without effort? Or again, shall I wait to see how she behaves, listen to what she says to him?"

At this moment she softly locked the door and went to bed. But as she did so, she stubbed her toe on the carpenter's body. And she thought: "It must be that carpenter - the rascal! - who is testing me. Well, I will give him a taste of woman's tricks."

While she was thinking, the fellow became insistent. But she clasped her hands and said: "Dear and honoured sir, you must not touch me."

And he said: "Well, well! For what purpose did you invite me?"

"Listen," said she. "I went this morning to Gauri's shrine to see the goddess. There all at once I heard a voice in the sky, saying: 'What am I to do, my daughter? You are devoted to me, yet in six months' time, by the decree of fate, you will be a widow.'

Then I said: 'O blessèd goddess, since you are aware of the calamity, you also know the remedy. Is there any means of making my husband live a [351} hundred years?' And the goddess replied: 'Indeed there is - a remedy depending on you alone.'

Of course I said: 'If it cost my life, pray tell me, and I will do it." Then the goddess said: 'If you go to bed with another man, and embrace him, then the untimely death that threatens your husband will pass to him. And your husband will live another hundred years."

For this purpose I invited you. Now do what you had in mind. The words of a goddess must not be falsified - so much is certain."'

Then his face blossomed with noiseless laughter, and he did as she said.

Now the carpenter, fool that he was, felt his body thrill with joy on hearing her words, and he issued from under the bed, saying: "Bravo, faithful wife! Bravo, delight of the family! Because my heart was troubled by the gossip of evil creatures, I pretended a trip to another village in order to test you, and lay hidden under the bed. Come now, embrace me!"

With these words he embraced her and lifted her to his shoulder, then said to the fellow: "My dear and honoured sir, you have come here because my good deeds earned this happiness. Through your favour I have won a full hundred years of life. You, too, must mount my shoulder."

So he forced the fellow, much against his will, to mount his shoulder, and then went dancing about to the doors of the houses of all his relatives. [352}

"And that is why I say:

It argues utter want of sense

To pardon obvious offense, . . . .

and the rest of it.

"We are certainly uprooted and undone. For the

proverb is right in saying:

Shrewd men unmask a foe

Who seems a friend,

Whose speech is kind, whose acts

To hatred tend.

And again:

Before fools' counsel flees

Prosperity, though won;

Its place and time are lost,

Like dark before the sun."

But they all disregarded his advice, picked Live-Strong up, and started to carry him to their fortress. And on the journey Live-Strong said: "O King, I have done nothing yet, and I am in a sad state. Why are you so kind to me? Nay, I desire to enter the blazing fire. Pray put me under obligations by providing fire."

Now Red-Eye pierced his purpose and said: "Why do you wish to enter fire?"

And Live-Strong replied: "For your sake I have been plunged into this calamity by Cloudy. Therefore I wish to be reborn as an owl in order to requite their enmity."

Now Red-Eye, being a master of diplomacy, rejoined: "My dear sir, you are wily and plausible. Even if [353} reborn as an owl, you would highly esteem your corvine provenience. There is a story that illustrates the point:

Though mountain, sun, and cloud, and wind

Were suitors at her feet,

The mouse-maid turned a mouse again -

Nature is hard to beat."

"How was that?" asked Live-Strong. And Red-Eye told the story of

Mouse-Maid Made Mouse

The billows of the Ganges were dotted with pearly foam born of the leaping of fishes frightened at hearing the roar of the waters that broke on the rugged, rocky shore. On the bank was a hermitage crowded with holy men devoting their time to the performance of sacred rites - chanting, self-denial, self-torture, study, fasting, and sacrifice. They would take purified water only, and that in measured sips. Their bodies wasted under a diet of bulbs, roots, fruits, and moss. A loin-cloth made of bark formed their scanty raiment.

The father of the hermitage was named Yajnavalkya. After he had bathed in the sacred stream and had begun to rinse his mouth, a little female mouse dropped from a hawk's beak and fell into his hand. When he saw what she was, he laid her on a banyan leaf, repeated his bath and mouth-rinsing, and performed a ceremony of purification. Then through the [3S4} magic power of his holiness, he changed her into a girl, and took her with him to his hermitage.

As his wife was childless, he said to her: "Take her, my dear wife. She has come into life as your daughter, and you must rear her carefully." So the wife reared her and spoiled her with petting. As soon as the girl reached the age of twelve, the mother saw that she was ready for marriage, and said to her husband: "My dear husband, how can you fail to see that the time is passing when your daughter should marry?"

And he replied: "You are quite right, my dear. The saying goes:

Before a man is gratified,

These gods must treat her as a bride -

The fire, the moon, the choir of heaven;

In this way, no offense is given.

Holiness is the gift of fire;

A sweet voice, of the heavenly choir;

The moon gives purity within:

So is a woman free from sin.

Before nubility, it's said

That she is white; but after, red;

Before her womanhood is plain,

She is, though naked, free from stain.

The moon, in mystic fashion, weds

A maiden when her beauty spreads;

The heavenly choir, when bosoms grow;

The fire, upon the monthly flow. [355}

To wed a maid is therefore good

Before developed womanhood;

Nor need the loving parents wait

Beyond the early age of eight.

The early signs one kinsman slay;

The bosom takes the next away;

Friends die for passion gratified;

The father, if she never be bride.

For if she bides a maiden still,

She gives herself to whom she will;

Then marry her in tender age:

So warns the heaven-begotten sage.

If she, unwed, unpurified,

Too long within the home abide,

She may no longer married be:

A miserable spinster, she.

A father then, avoiding sin,

Weds her, the appointed time within

(Wherever a husband may be had)

To good, indifferent, or bad.

Now I will try to give her to one of her own station. You know the saying:

Where wealth is very much the same,

And similar the family fame,

Marriage (or friendship) is secure;

But not between the rich and poor.

And finally:

Aim at seven things in marriage;

All the rest you may disparage: [356}


Get money, good looks,

And knowledge of books,

Good family, youth,

Position, and truth.

"So, if she is willing, I will summon the blessèd sun, and give her to him."

"I see no harm in that," said his wife. "Let it be done."

The holy man therefore summoned the sun, who appeared without delay, and said: "Holy sir, why am I summoned?" The father said: "Here is a daughter of mine. Be kind enough to marry her." Then, turning to his daughter, he said: "Little girl, how do you like him, this blessèd lamp of the three worlds?"

"No, father," said the girl. "He is too burning hot. I could not like him. Please summon another one, more excellent than he is."

Upon hearing this, the holy man said to the sun: "Blessed one, is there any superior to you?" And the sun replied: "Yes, the cloud is superior even to me. When he covers me, I disappear."

So the holy man summoned the cloud next, and said to the maiden: "Little girl, I will give you to him."

"No," said she. "This one is black and frigid. Give me to someone finer than he."

Then the holy man asked: "O cloud, is there anyone superior to you?"

And the cloud replied: "The wind is superior even to me."

So he summoned the wind, and said: "Little girl, [357} I give you to him."

"Father," said she, "this one is too fidgety. Please invite somebody superior even to him."

So the holy man said: "O wind, is there anyone superior even to you?"

"Yes," said the wind. "The mountain is superior to me."

So he summoned the mountain and said to the maiden: "Little girl, I give you to him."

"Oh, father," said she. "He is rough all over, and stiff. Please give me to somebody else."

So the holy man asked: "O kingly mountain, is there anyone superior even to you?"

"Yes," said the mountain. "Mice are superior to me."

Then the holy man summoned a mouse, and presented him to the girl, saying: "Little girl, do you like this mouse?"

The moment she saw him, she felt: "My own kind, my own kind," and her body thrilled and quivered, and she said: "Father dear, turn me into a mouse, and give me to him. Then I can keep house as my kind of people ought to do."

And her father, through the magic power of his holiness, turned her into a mouse, and gave her to him.

"And that is why I say:

Though mountain, sun, and cloud, and wind, . . . .

and the rest of it."

But they paid no heed to Red-Eye's reasoning, and took the crow to their fortress, to the destruction [358} of their race. And on the journey Live-Strong laughed in his heart and said:

The secrets of diplomacy

To him alone were plain

Who, instant in his master's cause,

Advised that I be slain.

"Now if they were to take his advice, not even the slightest misfortune would befall them."

When they came to the fortress gate, Foe-Crusher said: "Come, my friends! Give this Live-Strong whatever chamber he prefers - for he wishes us well."

And Live-Strong, hearing this, reflected: "I must now devise a plan for their destruction. This is not possible if I live in their midst. For they would observe motions betraying my purpose, and would keep their eyes open. Only by remaining near the gate can I accomplish my desire."

He therefore said to the owl-king: "O King, what the king has said, is eminently right. Yet I, too, am a student of diplomacy and a well-wisher. I know that even one who is loyal and pure in purpose should not dwell in the heart of a fortress. I will therefore take my place here at the fortress gate and pay daily homage, my body sanctified by the dust from your lotus feet."

To this the owl-king agreed, and his efficient caterers daily gave Live-Strong, by special command of the king, the pick of the viands. So that in a very few days he grew strong as a peacock. [359}

But Red-Eye, seeing how Live-Strong was being pampered, was amazed, and he said to the counsellors and to the king himself: "Dear me! These counsellors are a pack of fools, and you, too, sir. I cannot think otherwise. Then there is the saying:

I played the fool at first; then he

Who had me on his tether;

And then the king and counsellor -

We all were fools together."

"How was that?" they asked. And Red-Eye told the story of

The Bird with Golden Dung

There was once a great tree on a mountain side. On it lived a bird in whose dung gold appeared.

One day a hunter came to the spot, and directly in front of him the bird dropped its dung, which at the moment of falling turned to gold. At this the hunter was amazed.

"Well, well!" said he. "For eighty years, man and boy, I have had bird-trapping on the brain, and I never once saw gold in a bird's dung." So he set a snare in the tree. And the bird, fool that he was, forgot the danger, and perched on the customary spot. Of course, he was caught immediately.

Then the hunter freed him from the snare, put him in a cage and took him home. But he reflected: "What am I to do with this bird of ill omen? If anybody should ever discover his peculiarity, it would be [360} reported to the king. In that case my very life would be in genuine danger. I will take the bird and report to the king myself." And he did so.

Now when the king saw the bird, his lotus eyes blossomed and he felt supremely gratified. "Come now, guardsmen," said he. "Look after this bird with anxious care. Give him everything he wants to eat and drink."

Then a counsellor said: "He was hatched from an egg. Why keep him? You have no evidence save the mere incredible assurance of a hunter. Is gold ever present in bird-dung? Take this bird from the cage and set him free."

So the king, taking the counsellor's advice, freed the bird, who perched on the lofty arch of the doorway long enough to drop dung which was of gold. Then he recited the stanza:

I played the fool at first; then he

Who had me on his tether;

And then the king and counsellor -

We all were fools together.

After which he took his carefree flight through the atmosphere.

"And that is why I say:

I played the fool at first, . . .

and the rest of it."

But once more - for fate was hostile - they neglected Red-Eye's counsel, sound as it was, and [361} pampered Live-Strong further with varied viands, including plenty of meat.

Then Red-Eye called together his personal adherents, and said to them privately: "The end is at hand. The welfare of our king, and his fortress, are things of the past. I have given him such counsel as an ancestral counsellor should give. Let us now, for our part, seek another fortress in the mountains. For the saying goes:

Joy comes from knowing what to dread,

And sorrow smites the dunderhead:

A long life through, the woods I've walked,

But never heard a cave that talked."

"How was that?" they asked. And Red-Eye told the story of

The Cave That Talked

There was once a lion in a part of a forest, and his name was Rough-Claw. One day he found nothing whatever to eat in his wanderings, and his throat was pinched by hunger. At sunset he came to a great mountain cave and went in, for he thought: "Surely, some animal will come into this cave during the night. I will hide and wait."

Presently the owner of the cave, a jackal named Curd-Face, came to the door and began to sing: "Cave ahoy! Cave aho-o-oy!" Then after a moment's silence, he continued in the same tone: "Hello! Don't you remember how you and I made [362} an agreement that I was to speak to you when I came back from the world outside, and that you were to sing out to me? But you won't speak to me today. So I am going off to that other cave, which will return my greeting."

Now when he heard this, the lion thought: "I see. This cave always calls out a greeting when the fellow returns. But today, from fear of me, it doesn't say a word. This is natural enough. For

The feet and hands refuse to act

When peril terrifies;

A trembling seizes every limb;

And speech unuttered dies.

"I will myself call out a greeting, which he will follow to its source, so providing me with a dinner."

The lion thereupon called out a greeting. But the cave so magnified the roar that its echo filled the circuit of the horizon, thus terrifying other forest creatures as well, even those far distant. Meanwhile the jackal made off, repeating the stanza:

Joy comes from knowing what to dread,

And sorrow smites the dunderhead:

A long life through, the woods I've walked^

But never heard a cave that talked.

"Take this to heart and come with me." And Red-Eye, having made his decision, departed for another fortress, accompanied by a retinue of followers.

At Red-Eye's departure, Live-Strong was [363} overjoyed. And he reflected: "Very good, indeed. Red-Eye's flight is a blessing to us. For he was farsighted, while the rest are numskulls. I can easily destroy them now. For the proverb says:

If no farsighted counsellors,

Long-tried, secure,

Aid him, the downfall of a king

Is swift and sure.

And there is sound reasoning in this:

The shrewd discover enemies

Disguised as friends

In senseless counsellors whose speech

To evil tends."

After these reflections, he dropped each day one fagot from the forest into his own nest, with the ultimate purpose of setting the cave afire. Nor did the owls, poor fools, perceive that he was building up his nest in order to burn them alive. Well, there is sense in the saying:

Cause your friends no bitter woes;

Do not fraternize with foes:

Friends, when lost, are friends no more;

Enemies were lost before.

Thus, pretending to build a nest, Live-Strong constructed a woodpile at the fortress gate. Then at sunrise, when the owls became blind, he hastened away and reported to Cloudy: "My lord and king, I have prepared the enemy's cave for burning. Come with your retainers, each bringing a lighted fagot from the forest, to throw on my nest at the gate of the [364} cave. Thus all your foes will die in torments like those in Pot-baking Hell."

At this Cloudy was delighted and said: "Father, tell me your adventures. It is long since we met."

"No, my son," said Live-Strong. "This is no time for talk. Some enemy spy might possibly report my journey hither. And our blind enemy, thus informed, might make his escape. Make haste, make haste. For the proverb says:

When speed is needful, never permit

Delay, but do it pat;

Else, wrathful gods are sure to strike

The undertaking flat.

And again:

Whatever deed you have in mind

(Especially when fate is kind),

Do quickly. If you wait a bit,

Then time will suck the juice of it.

"Later, when your enemies are slain, and you have returned to your home, I will tell the whole story in carefree humour."

So Cloudy and his followers, taking Live-Strong's advice, seized one lighted fagot apiece in their bills, flew to the gate of the cave, and threw their fagots upon Live-Strong's nest. Then all the owls (being blind in the daytime) remembered Red-Eye's counsels as they suffered the torments of Pot-baking Hell. In this fashion Cloudy exterminated his foes and returned to his old fortress in the banyan tree.

There he mounted the lion-throne and, his heart [365} overflowing with joy, he questioned Live-Strong in full session of his court: "Father, how did you pass the time in the midst of the enemy? For the proverb says:

Better a plunge in blazing fire

(The righteous know)

Than momentary contact with

A wicked foe."

And Live-Strong said: "My lord and king!

Whatever path provides escape

When danger's face is seen,

With clear decision follow, if

It noble seem, or mean:

Two arms like trunks of elephants,

Fight-calloused, skilled to wield

The bow of heaven, Arjun felt

To woman's bracelets yield.

The wise and strong, awaiting days

More prosperous, must grant

Obedience to wicked lords

Whose speech is adamant:

Gigantic Bhima, smoke-begrimed,

Puffing at labour, and

A ladle flourished in his fist,

Was cook in Matsya land.

The prudent, hopeful man should act

As suits an evil case,

Should steel his heart to carry through

A holy deed, or base:

Great Arjun with a calloused arm

From twanging bow divine

Effeminately danced, and saw

His tinkling girdle shine. [366}

The wise, alert, ambitious man,

If he expect success,

Must wait on fortune, watch his step,

And curb his stateliness:

Yudhishthir King, with pilgrim's staff,

Long drew his painful breath,

Though worshiped by his brothers, great

As War, and Wealth, and Death.

So Kunti's handsome, powerful twins,

High birth writ on their brows,

Were menials at Virata's court,

And lived by counting cows.

So queenly Draupadi, with youth's

And matchless beauty's seal,

In charm most like a goddess, fell

By turn of fortune's wheel;

And haughty maidens called her slave

And sneered at her for sport,

What time she powdered sandalwood

In Matsya's royal court."

"Father," said Cloudy, "this dwelling with an enemy seems to me like the sword-blade ordeal."

"So it is," said Live-Strong. "But I never saw such a pack of fools anywhere. Not one was sensible except Red-Eye. He, indeed, has great capacity, an intelligence not blunted by his extensive scientific attainments. He discovered my exact purpose. But as for the other counsellors, they were great fools, making a living by a mere pretence of giving good counsel, with no flair for verity. They were not even aware of this: [367}

'It's ruinous to trust the scamps

Who come to you from hostile camps;

Such rivals you should chase away,

For constant trouble does not pay.

The foeman serving as a scout,

Who knows (by bobbing in and out)

Your favoured chair, familiar bed,

And how you drink, and what you're fed,

Your travels to another town -

Will strike his heedless foeman down.

The prudent therefore guards himself -

The source of virtue, love, and pelf -

With every effort, strain, and stress:

For death will follow heedlessness.

And there is plenty of sense in this:

Who, ill-advised, does not commit

Grave faults of savoir faire?

What glutton has not much unrest

Within himself to bear?

Whom does not fortune render proud?

Whom does not death lay low?

To whom do not possessions bring

Abundant harm and woe?

The steady forfeit glory, while

The restless forfeit friends;

The bankrupt forfeits family,

The banker, better ends;

The man of passion forfeits books,

The fawner, friendship's flower;

The king with careless counsellors

Must forfeit kingly power.

"Yes, O King, I have experienced in person what you were kind enough to put into words: that [368} association with the enemy is equal to the sword-blade ordeal. As the old verse puts it:

Bear even foes upon your back;

When fortune clogs

Your path, endure. The great black snake

Slew many frogs."

"How was that?" asked Cloudy. And Live-Strong told the story of the frogs that rode snakeback (next page).


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