Hitopadesha: Betrayal and Defeat


Last week, Chitravarna, the peacock King, marched his army to start a war with Hiranyagrabha, against his minister’s advice. Unfortunately for him, his impulsive actions resulted in losing many officers. Just when he thought he had to accept defeat and go back to his kingdom, the minister gave him much-needed advice. This time, Chitravarna listened and locked the gates of the Swan King’s fort. Betrayal from within changes the outcome of the war.

Betrayal and Defeat

Hiranyagarbha’s minister, Sarvajna, replied, “Right now, we need our men to fight with all their might. The best way you can inspire them is to reward them. A king who saves even the tiniest speck of wealth like it was a thousand gold coins during normal times but spends lavishly at the right time will always be wealthy.

Hiranyagarbha expressed some doubts. “But is it really wise to spend all that money now? Shouldn’t we be saving it for when we need it badly?”

 “Your Highness, will there be a more critical time for us? Ask your treasurers to gift the soldiers with gold, treasures, and clothes based on their strength and courage. This is the time for you, the King, to be generous. Knowing they are appreciated will inspire the men to believe in you and your cause. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing Chitravarna’s army because they are small in numbers at this point. Even a small but motivated army can win a large but disspirited one.”

They were interrupted by the crow, Meghavarna. He bowed low to Hiranyagarbha and announced, “Your majesty, your foes are at the castle’s entrance. Let me fight with the enemy. I can repay my debt to you on the battlefield.”

“Oh, no!” interrupted the crane for he had never lost his suspicions of the crow. He was sure there was some betrayal behind his sudden arrival in their midst.. “We must all go fight. We can’t stay hidden in the fortress forever, can we?

A crocodile is intimidating and powerful, but it is possible to defeat the reptile when it leaves the water. So, too, the lion. Out of the forest, it is weak as a jackal. Our enemy is fighting in an alien land. They’ll be easier to defeat than if we were fighting them on their soil.

A king must supervise his army in battle. If the soldiers don’t see their King lead them, they won’t respect him or his cause. Have you seen how a dog becomes as ferocious as a lion when its master commands? Your presence will give them the inspiration they need on the battlefield.” Sarvajna spurred the King on.

Encouraged by his minister, Hiranyagarbha, Meghavarna and the other warriors made their way to the fort’s entrance and fought fearlessly. As the battle raged, Chitravarna became more and more uneasy. It seemed like the Swan king and his army were more than a match and couldn’t be defeated. He pleaded with the vulture, “You promised me that we’ll win this war. Do something! End the war! Let victory be ours!”

The Vulture held up his hand. “Your majesty, we must understand what makes the enemy weak and then act. It is possible to destroy the opponent’s fortress if the conditions are right. For instance, if the fort is not strong enough to last a long battle, not well protected, or if the general who leads the army is neither brave nor clever, or if the soldiers are fearful. But none of these conditions apply here. Where it is not easy to win in open warfare, we can always hope for treachery and betrayal to help us. I have our spies in place precisely for this reason. I will see what they can do, but you must wait for the solution.

Most of Hiranyagarbha’s soldiers were drawn to the battle at the four gates of the castle. Inside, it was quieter, with fewer men about. Sarvajna was right to be afraid of betrayal. The crows, seeing an advantage, set fire to the buildings within while all was still dark.

Panic stricken cries of “The Enemy has taken the fort! The enemy has taken the fort!” filled the air. There was pandemonium everywhere as tongues of flames reached high and spewed smoke. In the blink of an eye, Hiranyagarbha’s soldiers glided into the surrounding waters to escape the fire.

But the swan king couldn’t make it to the lake. Chitravarna’s general, a rooster, attacked and surrounded him, cutting him off from his soldiers. The Saras crane swooped in to protect his King, but the swan waved him away. “Saraska, it’s too late! Get into the water and save yourself! There is no need for both of us to die. Crown my son Chudamani as your next King with support from Sarvajna.”

But the Saras crane was not going to back down from his sworn duty. “Oh, no, Your Majesty! Don’t you speak of such things! You will rule your kingdom for as long as the sun and the moon are around in this world. Moreover, as the general of your army, it is my job to protect the castle. To enter the fort, the enemy must get rid of me first. What’s more, who will I work for after you? It isn’t that easy to find a master who is patient, openhanded, and recognizes others’ worth like you.”

The King replied, “I admit that, but the reverse is also true, my friend! it is not easy to find someone who is truthful, hardworking, and faithful to work for you, either.”

The Saras crane spoke again. “Your majesty, it would make sense to leave the battlefield if there was a chance to live forever. But everyone must die at some time or other, isn’t it? Why should I desert you and bring shame to my name? Our life on earth is but brief. And what is life if it is not lived with honor? No kingdom can survive or thrive if its King is in danger. I know my duty, and that, is to save you, no matter the consequences. Without you, the people in your kingdom cannot live a prosperous life. Even Dhanvantri, the doctor of the Devas, can’t make a man live forever. If I don’t die today, I will another day.

Just as the lotus follows the sun, closing its petals at sunset and blooming at dawn, your men will follow you. If you die, they die; if you succeed, they succeed.”

Did the war stop as these two discussed their duties and what the general must do? No! It raged all around them, bringing Chitravarna’s army closer. The rooster brought its beak down forcefully at the swan king. But the Saras crane leaped between the two, and with a mighty shove, he pushed the rooster into the lake. That was the end of the rooster. The loss of their general infuriated the enemy soldiers, who then flew down on the crane and killed him.

No one stopped Chitravarna and his army entered the castle and looted all the treasures. Poets sang of his bravery and praised him. The Vulture had kept his promise. The betrayal of the crows had delivered the kingdom of Karpuradwipa through their treachery. Chitravarna returned victoriously to his base.”

The Saras crane’s sacrifice moved the princes, who’d been listening to Vishnusharma. “That general, the Saras crane, was so admirable. He shielded his master with his body and saved him.”

Their teacher nodded solemnly and prayed for its soul, “May that brave Saras Crane be blessed by the devas for someone who dies bravely in battle finds his way to deva Loka.

Now, you’ve heard all that is to learn about how to wage war.” He ended the story and looked keenly at his students. Had they understood his message? Would the lessons in these stories serve them well when they grew up to be rulers of the land?

The princes bowed to Vishnusharman and thanked him. “We enjoyed listening and learning about how to go to war.”

Vishnusharman blessed them. “Let me add, may kings not have to go to war with their elephants, horses, and infantry. May their enemies always run away, and may they have good advice from their elders.”

And with this, we end the section, Waging War in the Hitopadesha.

Click here for the previous episode of the Hitopadesha:

Hitopadesha: The Impatient King

Hitopadesha: Betrayal and Defeat

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