Week 5: Hitopadesa (Hitopadesha)

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BOOK ONE: The Acquisition of a Friend

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

That is the end of the story that the mouse Hiranyaka has told to the tortoise Manthara (their new friend at their new home). Now the tortoise Manthara will tell a story in reply about the dangers of greed. In the debate afterwards, you will see that the mouse Hiranyaka thinks that it is important to make an effort to get things, while Manthara the tortoise is a much more carefree character. Do you think you are more like Hiranayaka the mouse or like Manthara the tortoise...?

back to FABLE 1: The Pigeon & The Mouse, The Crow, The Tortoise, and The Deer
(a story told by the teacher, Vishnu-Sarma, to the young princes in the frametale)

To all this the tortoise Manthara replied, "Sir, your fault was this: you laid up too large a stock. It is said:

"Giving away is the instrument for accumulated treasures: it is like a bucket for the distribution of the waters deposited in the bowels of a well.

"If we are rich with the riches of which we neither give nor enjoy, we are rich with the riches which are buried in the caverns of the earth.

"They say:

"The wealth of the miser goeth neither to the celestials, nor to the Brahmans, nor to his kindred, nor to himself; but to the fire, the thief, and the magistrate.

"It is said:

"A hoard should always be made: but not too great a hoard. A jackal, through the fault of hoarding too much, was killed by a bow."

"How was this?" demanded Hiranyaka; and Manthara related the following story.

FABLE 7: The Huntsman, The Deer, The Boar, The Serpent, and The Jackal
(a story told by Manthara the tortoise to Hiranyaka the mouse, in FABLE 1, which is a story told by Vishnu-Sarma to the young princes in the frametale)

A certain huntsman, by name Bhirava, an inhabitant of Kalyana-kattaka, being fond of flesh, once upon a time when tot hunt in the forests of the Vindhya mountains, and having killed a deer, as he was carrying him away, he chanced to see a wild boar of a formidable appearance. So laying the deer upon the ground, he wounded the boar with an arrow; but, upon his approaching him, the horrid animal set up a roar dreadful as the thunder of the clouds, and wounding him in the groin, he fell like a tree cut off by the axe.

At the same time, a serpent, of that species which is called Ajagara, pressed by hunter and wandering about, rose up and bit the boar, who instantly fell helpless upon him, and remained upon the spot.

In the meantime, a jackal, by name Deergha-rava, prowling about in search of prey, discovered the deer, the huntsman, and the boar; and having observed them, he said to himself, "Here is a fine feast prepared for me.

"As, to corporeal beings, unthought-of riches arrive; so, in like manner, do blessing make their appearance. In this I think providence hath extended them farther than usual.

"Be it so, as long as with their flesh I shall have food to eat. The man will last me for a whole month, and the deer and the boar for two more; then the serpent will serve me a day; and let me taste the bow-string too. But, in the first place, let me try that which is the least savory. Suppose, then, I eat this catgut line which is fastened to the bow: saying so, he drew near to eat it; but the instance he had bit the gut in two, his belly was ripped open by the spring of the bow; and he was reduced to the state of the five elements (earth air, fire, water, and ether).

I say, therefore,

"A hoard should always be made: but not too great a hoard. A jackal, through the fault of hoarding too much, was killed by a bow."

back to FABLE 1: The Pigeon & The Mouse, The Crow, The Tortoise, and The Deer
(a story told by the teacher, Vishnu-Sarma, to the young princes in the frametale)

"After all," added the tortoise, "it is best to be satisfied in this region of good and evil destiny."

"I cannot agree to that," replied Hiranyaka, "for,

"As frogs to the pool, as birds to a lake full of water; so doth every species of wealth necessarily blow to the hands of him who exerteth himself.

"They say,

"When pleasure is arrived, it is worthy of attention; when trouble presenteth itself, the same. Pains and pleasures have their revolutions like a wheel!

"Hear this, my friend," replied the tortoise:

"The shadow of a cloud, the satisfaction of the vulgar, new corn, women, youth, and riches, are to be enjoyed but for a short time.


"Man should not be over-anxious for a subsistence, for it is provided by the Creator. The infant no sooner droppeth from the womb, than the breasts of the mother begin to stream.

"My friend:

"He, by whom the geese were formed white, parrots are stained green, and peacocks painted of various hues - even He will provide for their support.

"Attend also, my friend, to these secrets of the wise men:

"How are riches the means of happiness? In acquiring they create trouble, in their loss they occasion sorrow, and they are the cause of endless divisions among kindred!

"The rich man hath cause of fear, from the magistrate, from water, from fire, from the robber, not less from his own people, even as from death the living.

"So also:

"Were the thirst of gain entirely forsaken, who would be poor? Who would be rich? If way were given to it, slavery would stand upon the head.

"But why so much upon this subject? Let us beguile the time together in amusing conversation."

"O! thou art a worthy person, Manthara," observed the crow; "a place of confidence, and a being for protection!

"The good are always ready to be the upholders of the good in their misfortunes. Elephants even are wont to bear the burdens of elephants who have sunk in the mire."

In this manner did they pass their time; and, contented with their particular food, they dwelt happily together.

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

  • how did it happen that the jackal found the corpses of a man and a deer and a boar all in the same place?
  • why did the jackal decide to start by eating the catgut bowstring?
  • how was the jackal killed?

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