Week 5: Hitopadesa (Hitopadesha)

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BOOK ONE: The Acquisition of a Friend

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

Remember that the storyteller is now Chitra-greeva, the leader of the flock of pigeons. He is telling a story about a tiger and a traveller as a warning to his fellow pigeons.

FABLE 2: The Tiger and the Traveller
(a story told by Chitra-greeva, the chief of the pigeons, to the pigeons in FABLE 1, which is a story told by Vishnu-Sarma to the young princes in the frametale)

As I was travelling on the southern road, once upon a time, I saw an old tiger seated upon the bank of a large river with a bunch of kusa grass in his paw, calling out to every one who passed, "Ho! ho! traveller, take this golden bracelet." But every one was afraid to approach him to receive it.

At length, however, a certain traveller, tempted by avarice, regarded it as an instance of good fortune; "but," said he, "in this there is personal danger, in which we are not warranted to proceed.

"Confidence should not be put in rivers; in animals which have claws or horns; in men with weapons in their hands; nor in women; nor in those of royal birth.

"It is not good to pass by that we dislike, even to gain that which we like; for the water of life becometh mortal when mixed with a poison.

"Yet," said he, "there is risk in every undertaking, for the acquisition of wealth. Hence, it is said,

"No man beholdeth prosperity who doth not encounter danger; but having encountered danger, if he surviveth, he beholdeth it.

"This I have considered, and now let me ask thee plainly, where is thy gold? But stop, tigers eat men, and the opinion of the world is hard to be defeated."

"I too," replied the tiger, "have read religious books. Hear what they say,

"In granting and refusing, in joy and in sorrow, in liking and in disliking, good men, because of their own likeness, show mercy unto all things which have life."

The traveller then asked him, where was the bracelet; and the tiger having held out his paw, showed it to him and said, "Look at it, it is a golden bracelet."

"How shall I place confidence in thee?" said the traveller, and the tiger replied, "Formerly, in the days of my youth, I was of a very wicked disposition, and as a punishment for the many men and cattle I had murdered, my numerous children died, and I was also deprived of my wife; so, at present, I am destitute of relations. This being the case, I was advised, by a certain religious person, to practise charity and other religious duties; I am not grown extremely devout. I perform ablutions regularly, and am charitable. Why then am I not worthy of confidence?"

"So far, you see," continued the tiger, "I have an interest in wishing to give away, to some one, this golden bracelet from off my own wrist; and as thou appearest to be rather a poor man, I prefer giving it to thee; according to this saying:

"Make choice of the poor, O son of Kuntee, and bestow not thy gifts on others. Medicine is to be administered to the sick; for of what benefit is physic to those who are in health?

"Then go, and having purified thyself in this stream, take the golden bracelet."

The traveller, no sooner begins to enter the river to purify himself, than he sticks fast in the mud, and is unable to escape. The tiger told him he would help him out; and creeping softly towards him, the poor traveller is seized, and instantly exclaims to himself, "Alas! the career of my heart is cut short by fate! I did not well in that I placed confidence in one of such evil disposition."

But whilst the unfortunate traveller was thus meditating on his fate, he was devoured by the tiger.

I have said, therefore, A traveller, through lust of gold, being plunged into an inextricable mire, is killed and devoured by an old tiger.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did the tiger offer to the travellers who were passing by?
  • how did the tiger persuade the traveller to get into the river?
  • what did the tiger do when the traveller became stuck in the river mud?

Source: Fables and Proverbs from the Sanskrit, Being the Hitopadesa. Charles Wilkins (1787), with an introduction to the second edition by Henry Morley (1886). Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing (www.kessinger.net). There is no online edition of this text. IMPORTANT NOTE: The text has been substantially abridged. Where you see one or two proverbs in the text here, there are frequently four or five or more proverbs in the original edition.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM