Week 5: Hitopadesa (Hitopadesha)

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BOOK TWO: The Separation of a Favorite

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

In order to persuade Damanaka that curiosity is a dangerous thing, Karattaka tells the story of an ape who paid a terrible price for his curiosity. Karattaka also cautions Damanaka against interfering in things that are none of his business, and to illustrate this point he tells the story of a donkey who foolishly decided to try to do the watchdog's job for him.

FABLE 2: The Ape and The Wedge
(a story told by Karattaka the jackal to Damanaka the jackal in FABLE 1, which is a story told by Vishnu-Sarma to the young princes in the frametale)

In the country which is called Magadha, Subhadanta, a man of the Kayastha tribe, had begun to build a theater for an entertainment. one of the carpenters having with his saw cut some way through a piece of timber, put a wedge into the slit. A troop of apes coming that way in search of their usual food, one of them, as if directed by the wand of Time, took hold of that wedge with his two hands, and sitting down, his lower parts hung within the slit. At length, from the natural giddiness of his species, with great difficulty he drew out the wedge, so that the boards closing, what was between them (his testicles) were entirely destroyed, and he deprived of his life.

Wherefore, I say,

The man who will have to do in matters with which he hath no business, may be repulsed and sleep upon the ground; like the ape who drew out the wedge.

back to FABLE 1: The Bull, The Lion and The Two Jackals
(a story told by the teacher, Vishnu-Sarma, to the young princes in the frametale)

"For all this," said Damanaka, the concerns of the master should certainly be looked into, even by the servant."

"The prime minister," observed Karattaka, "being employed in the superintendence of all affairs, let him do it. An inferior should, on no occasion, interfere with the department of another; for,

"He who shall meddle with the department of another, out of zeal for the welfare of his master, may repent; like the ass who was punished for braying."

Damanaka inquired how that happened; and Karattaka recounted the following story:

FABLE 3: The Thief, The Ass, and The Dog
(a story told by Karattaka the jackal to Damanaka the jackal in FABLE 1, which is a story told by Vishnu-Sarma to the young princes in the frametale)

At Varanasee (Benares) there lived a washerman, whose name was Karphoora-patta ("White-Cloth"). Once upon a time, having spent the evening until it was very late in the agreeable company of a young woman, he went to bed fatigued, and slept soundly. In the meantime, a thief got in with the intention to rob the house.

In the court there were an ass and a dog. The ass said to the dog, upon hearing the thief, "This is thy business; then why dost thou not get up, and by barking contrive to rouse thy master?"

"What hast thou to do with my department?" replied the dog. "Thou knowest full well how I watch and guard this house, and yet this master of ours doth not consider my merit; and I am even stinted in my allowance of provisions. Now, masters in general, without spying some fault in their servants, are not wont to shorten their allowance."

"Hear me, barbarian!" exclaimed the ass. "The dog species, from their nature, are not to be touched. Villain! thou neglectest thy master's business. Be it so; but it is my duty to do something that shall wake him; for,

"The sun should be worshipped on the back, the god of fire on the belly, a master in every way, and the world above without deceit."

Having repeated these lines, he began to make a great noise by braying; so that the washerman was alarmed; but, although exceedingly drowsy, he got up and gave the ass a good beating with a large stick.

I repeat, therefore,

He who shall meddle with the department of another, out of zeal for the welfare of his master, may repent; like the ass who was punished for braying.

back to FABLE 1: The Bull, The Lion and The Two Jackals
(a story told by the teacher, Vishnu-Sarma, to the young princes in the frametale)

"Observe: our employment is searching for game," (said Karattaka); "But now I have considered, I think there is not any occasion for our doing that today; for there is plenty of provisions for us, and some to spare."

Damanaka, displeased at this observation, exclaimed, "What! Dost thou serve his Highness, the Rajah, merely for the sake of food? They say,

"A dog having found a bone with a few sinews sticking about it, dirty, loathsome, and without a bit of meat upon it, is rendered exceedingly happy, although it be not sufficient to satisfy his hunger.

"Whilst,

"The lion permitted the jackal to come near and escape, and killeth the elephant. Every man, although reduced to distress, longeth for fruit suitable to his strength."

"Observe the difference in the behaviors of him who serveth, and of him who is served:

"Shaking the tail, falling down at the feet, and, prostrated upon the ground, looking up at his face and stomach: all this the dog performeth to his master who feedeth him. But the noble elephant looketh boldly, and eateth not, unless he liketh, with a hundred kind entreaties."

"But what have we," interrupted Karattaka, "to do with these reflections; we, who are of little power, and not the principal?"

"In a very short interval of time a minister may enjoy the principal station, or the reverse," replied Damanaka; "for, they say,

"As by repeated efforts, a stone is mounted upon the summit of a hill, and instantly thrown down; so may we ourselves, by our virtues and our vices, be elevated and cast down."

"But after all," observed Karattaka, "what is it thou art speaking of?"

"The curious story," replied Damanaka, "of his Highness Pingalaka's returning without drinking, and staying at home. Then, I will now, through the opportunity given by his fears, turn the fault to my own advantage."


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

  • how did the ape lose his testicles?
  • what happened to the donkey who brayed when the watchdog wouldn't bark?
  • what is it that the jackal Damanaka is so curious about?

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