Rumi's Mathnawi (selections)

Week 6: Middle East - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The jackal that pretended to be a peacock

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 400 words.

The jackal is the trickster character of the ancient Indian tradition, and it is a pair of jackals who are the central characters in the collection of stories called the Panchatantra. The Arabic translation of the Panchatantra, called Kalila wa Dimna ("Kalila and Dimna," after the names of the two jackals) was an important source for many of Rumi's stories - including this story of the jackal who fell into the vat of colored dye.

A JACKAL once got into a dyeing-vat and there tarried for a space. Then he got out again, and his skin was stained with the dye. 'See, I have become the Peacock of Heaven's Heights!' he cried. Indeed, his dyed fur had acquired a delightful sheen, and when the sun shone upon those colours he beheld himself green and crimson, russet and gold. So he displayed himself to the other jackals.

'Little jackal,' they all exclaimed, 'what is the matter? Why is your head full of such perverse glee? You have gone apart form us in your exultation; what is the ground for your high disdain?'

'You here,' one of the jackals went up to him and cried, 'are you a pretender, or is your heart truly joyous? You have perpetrated a fraud so as to jump up on the pulpit and with your vainglory make all the people envious. You have laboured much but experienced no true ardour, so you have displayed a fraudulent piece of impudence.'

The multicoloured jackal slunk up quietly and whispered into the ear of the reprover. 'Why, just look at me! Look at my colours! No idolater possesses an idol like me. I have become lovely and many-hued as the garden. Do not turn your head from me: bow down before me! See my pomp and splendour, my sheen, my glitter, my colour! Call me the Pride of the World, the Pillar of the Faith! I have become the theatre of the grace Divine, I have become the tablet expounding the majesty of God. You jackals, beware! Do not call me a jackal; how should a jackal possess so much beauty?'

The jackals gathered about him like moths around a candle. 'Say, what shall we call you then, creature of pure substance?'

'Peacocks of the Spirit,' they then said to him, 'hold displays in the Garden of Roses. Do you make such a display?'

'No,' he replied. 'How should I tread the streets of Mina, never having gone into the desert?'

'Do you utter the peacocks' cry?'

'No,' he answered.

'Then you are not a peacock, father of lofty airs! The glory-robe of the peacock is the gift of heaven; how should you ever attain to it by means of dyes and false pretences?'

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

  • why did the jackal think he had become a peacock?
  • how did the "peacock" expect to be treated by the other jackals?
  • how did the jackals decide that the jackal was not a peacock at all?

Source: Tales from Masnavi, Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by A.J. Arberry (1961). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. 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 12:52 PM