Week 5: Hitopadesa (Hitopadesha)

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BOOK ONE: The Acquisition of a Friend

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

So here we are in a story, about a jackal and a cat, within a story, about a crow and a deer, within a story, about a mouse and a crow, within a story about the young princes and how Vishnu-Sarma is educating them. Now that is a nested story!

FABLE 4: The Jackal and The Cat
(a story told by the crow to the deer in FABLE 3, which is a story told by Hiranyaka the mouse to Laghu-patanaka the crow in FABLE 1, which is a story told by Vishnu-Sarma to the young princes in the frametale)

On the banks of the river Bhageerathee, and upon the mountain Greedhra-koota, there is a large parkattee tree, in the hollow of whose trunk there dwelt a jackal, by name Jarad-gava, who, by some accident, was grown blind, and for whose support the different birds, who roosted upon the branches of the same tree, were wont to contribute a trifle from their own stores, by which he existed.

It so fell out, that one day a certain cat, by name Deerga-karna (Long-ear), came there to prey upon the young birds, whom perceiving, the little nestlings were greatly terrified, and began to be very clamorous; and their cries being heard by Jarad-gava, he asked who was coming.

The cat Deerga-karna, too, seeing the jackal, began to be alarmed, and so cried to himself, "Oh! I shall certainly be killed, for now that I am in his sight, it will not be in my power to escape! However, let what will be the consequence, I will approach him."

So having thus resolved, he went up to the jackal, and said, "Master, I salute thee!"

"Who art thou?" demanded the jackal.

Said he, "I am a cat."

"Ah! wicked animal," cried the jackal, "get thee at a distance; for, if thou dost not, I will put thee to death."

"Hear me for a moment," replied puss, "and then determine whether I merit either to be punished or to be killed.

"What, is any one, simply by birth, to be punished or applauded? When his deeds have been scrutinized, he may, indeed, be either praiseworthy or punishable."

The jackal after this desired the cat to give some account of himself, and he complied in the following words: "I am," said he, "in the constant habit of performing ablutions on the side of this river; I never eat flesh, and I lead that mode of life which is called Brahma-charya (forsaking all worldly concerns to lead a godly life). So, as thou art distinguished amongst those of thy own species noted for skill in religious matters, as a repository of confidence; and as the birds here are always speaking before me in praise of thy good qualities, I am come to hear from thy mouth, who art so old in wisdom, the duties of religion. Thou, master, art acquainted with the customs of life; but these young birds, who are in ignorance, would fain drive me, who am a stranger, away. The duties of a housekeeper are thus enjoined:

"Hospitality is commanded to be exercised, even towards an enemy, when he cometh to thine house. The tree does not withdraw its shade, even from the wood-cutter.

"And if there be no bread, the stranger should be entertained with kind words, and whatever can be spared, as in these lines:

"Some straw, a room, water, and in the fourth place, gentle words. These things are never to be refused in good men's houses.

"Good men extend their pity, even unto the most despicable animals. The moon doth not withhold the light, even from the cottage of a Chandala (outcast)."

To all this the jackal replied, "Cats have a taste for animal food, and above is the residence of the young birds: it is on this account I speak to thee."

The cat having touched her two ears and then the ground, exclaimed, "I who have read books upon the duties of religion, and am freed from inordinate desires, have forsaken such an evil practice; and, indeed, even amongst those who dispute with one another about the authority of the Sastras, there are many by whom this sentence, "Not to kill is a supreme duty," is altogether approved; as in this verse:

"Those who have forsaken the killing of all; those who are helpmates to all; those who are a sanctuary to all; those men are in the way to heaven.

"Behold the difference between the one who eateth flesh, and he to whom it belonged! The first hath a momentary enjoyment, whilst the latter is deprived of existence!"

The cat by these means having satisfied him, he remained in the hollow of the tree with the jackal, and passed the time in amusing conversation; and the jackal told the young birds that they had no occasion to go out of the way.

After this, when many days had passed, it was discovered that the cat had, by degree, drawn the little birds down into the hollow of the tree and there devoured them; but when he found inquiry was about to be made by those whose young ones had been eaten, he slipped out of the hole and made his escape. In the meantime, the bones of the young ones having been discovered in the hollow of the tree by the birds, who had been searching here and there, they concluded that their little ones had been devoured by the jackal, and so, being joined by other birds, they put him to death.

Wherefore I say, To one whose family and profession are unknown, one should not give residence: the jackal Jarad-gava was killed through the fault of a cat.

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

  • how did the old jackal manage to survive?
  • how did the cat persuade the jackal that its intentions were good?
  • why did the birds finally kill the jackal?

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