Hitopadesha-The Blue Jackal

Last week, the Peacock King sent a parrot as a messenger to the court of Hiranyagarbha, the king of Karpuradwipa. The Swan King and his minister know they must prepare for war. The minister, Sarvajna, advised his king about sending spies and facing the battle bravely. In today’s episode, the minister and the king continue to discuss plans for the war when they are interrupted by a soldier. A crow named Meghavarna wants to meet the king. The minister is suspicious of strangers and cautions the king by telling him the story of the Blue Jackal.

The Crow Arrives

Sarvajna continued to advise the king. “The next thing to focus on is building a castle. Fighting from a fortress gives us an advantage over the other army. Because a single soldier can attack a hundred others from the top of a fort, and if we had a hundred soldiers there, they could take on a hundred thousand. No one has managed to survive a war without a strong fort. A king who goes to war without a fortress is as powerless as a man who falls over the side of the oat and flails about in the water.

A castle can keep the enemy soldiers off if a deep moat surrounds it. It needs tall towers, plenty of weapons, and a ready supply of water. It is even better if it is built around mountains, rivers, and deserts. Your Highness, the fort must be big enough to fit your army, but that is not all. The enemy shouldn’t be able to break in easily. We must store enough food, water, and fuel for a large army to last for a long time and a secret way that only we know to enter and exit.”

The king interrupted his minister. “Who should we ask to build such a fortress for us?”

Sarvajna knew who he wanted to send. “Sir, this is a job for someone with experience in construction work. We need a person who has spent years doing the job and not someone studying it. Otherwise, the fort will not stand up to the enemy attack. I know the best crane for the job. He has much experience in building. Let’s ask him to come here and speak to us.”

The crane entered the room and bowed low to the king. Hiranyagarbha ordered, “My dear crane, build a fortress for us immediately!”

One look at their faces and the crane knew they were talking about serious subjects. “Oh, yes, sir. There is this island that is perfect for a fortress. Please ask them to deliver the building supplies to the center of the island, and I’ll take care of the rest.

I’ll start by building a silo to store grains because we need a safe place to store our food. Popping a precious gem into our mouth won’t feed our hunger! And then, of course, I’ll stock up on salt because food without salt is as good as cow dung!

The king raised his hand to stop the crane’s rambling speech. “Why don’t you carry on? There is a lot of work to do, isn’t there?”

Off went the crane. But the door opened, and once again, the doorkeeper entered with news. “Sir, a crow named Meghavarna wants an audience with you. I’ve asked him to wait at the entrance with his attendants. Should I bring him in?” He stood there doubtfully.

“A crow?” The king swung around and eyed his minister. “That’s a good thing, surely! The crow flies all over and is a curious bird. He must know a lot about Jambudwipa and the peacock king’s army. Let’s invite him in and find out what he knows.”

The goose frowned. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, sir,” he hesitated. “The crow is not a water bird like us. He must be on the peacock’s side. We must be cautious,” he warned his king.

“You must know the story of the Jackal who dyed himself blue and left his pack to live with others. He ended up losing his life.”

“No, I don’t know the story of the blue jackal! What is it? Can you tell me?” the king prompted him. So the minister narrated the story of the blue jackal.

The Blue Jackal

Once, a jackal wandered out of the forest and found himself just outside a town. A curious animal by nature, he kept prodding and poking into everything he saw. He found himself at a cloth dyer’s workshop somewhere along the way. The man had stored his dyes in large drums outside the building. The jackal climbed on the planks to investigate but tripped on the uneven wooden boards. He plunged head-first into a massive drum of indigo dye.

The jackal sputtered and gasped for breath and tried to climb out. But he couldn’t grasp the rim no matter how hard he tried. Finally, he was so exhausted that he couldn’t move a muscle except to breathe. Luckily, his snout stuck out above the dye. He stayed there, his coat soaking in the colour. The dyer came to his workshop in the morning and saw the broken boards. He moved around cautiously, thinking maybe there was a thief up to no good. He peeked cautiously into the drum and jerked back. An animal! A jackal, from the looks of it. What was he going to do?

He paused, listening for the sound of breathing. Now, the jackal, too, had heard footsteps. Not knowing what was coming his way, the animal stayed still, breathing veeeeery slowly so that no sound emerged from him.

The animal was dead! Thank goodness!! The man felt as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders. He reached in, dragged the jackal out of the drum, and dropped him on the grass. Then he closed everything up again and went out to find someone who would take the dead animal away.

The wet animal lay there, basking in the sunlight. It felt good after the cold, wet drum. When he was sure the man was far away, the jackal sprinted to the forest. He halted among some bushes and trees and rubbed his legs.

Darn it, he was blue! How was anyone going to recognize him? Then, an idea struck him out of the blue. No one would know he was just an ordinary jackal. How wonderful was that? Ohoho! He was going to live it up!

Thrilled to bits at this turn in his life, the blue jackal wandered around, looking regal and mighty until he came to a clearing. The jackals from different packs glanced at him and were stunned by his coat. He looked like them, yet… he had a gorgeous blue coat. What magic was this? Soon, the meadow filled with all the jackal packs in the forest. The blue jackal mounted a rock and gazed intently at the pack leaders.

“I am the new king of the forest!” he declared. “For the goddess of the forest choose me. This stunning blue coat you see is the evidence. She picked the most powerful herbs and rubbed my fur to highlight my royalty. From now on, everything in this forest should be as I say.”

Spellbound by the colour of the coat, the other jackals fell at his feet as if to seek his blessings. “Indeed, your majesty! We will do as you command!” And thus, the blue jackal became the king of the forest. Slowly, with the help of the jackal packs, the blue jackal’s rule extended to all the animals in the forest, including the great cats, the tiger, and the lion. If things had stayed the same, all would have been well. But it was not to be. The blue jackal swelled with pride at having the great cats under him. The other jackals noticed a change in him. The blue jackal treated them with contempt and slowly edged them out of his court. Imagine that! He was ashamed of his own kind and wanted to have nothing to do with them.

The jackals were crushed. They had worked selflessly, taking pride that the goddess had chosen one of their kind. Their cunning had brought the tigers and lions to fear the blue jackal. And now, they were discarded like a rag. They slunk away, far from the blue jackal’s court. Concerned by their gloomy, piteous talk, an old, wily jackal reassured them. “It’s hard to be dismissed like this after all the hard work you did. You probably feel it is unjust and bad for you. If you think about it for a moment, you’ll realise it is worse for him. By pushing us away, the blue jackal has put himself in danger. We advised him on how to keep the others under control. We protected him from the larger and ferocious animals by deceiving them. The colour of his coat blinds the tigers and others. They haven’t figured out he is one of us. How long do you think he will last among them? Why, even now, I can think of a plan to bring his downfall.”

At this, the others perked up their ears. The elder jackal continued. “This very evening, we’ll move closer to the clearing where he holds court. When the time is right, let us all howl as one. The fool cannot resist joining us because he cannot change his nature. How do you think the others will feel when they recognise they’ve been tricked, that there is nothing special about the blue jackal? Do you think the tiger will let him get away with it?”

That evening, the packs followed the old jackal’s advice, and the blue jackal was no more!

Your Majesty, our enemy, is always looking for our secrets, weaknesses, and strengths. This stranger could be the enemy’s agent. And if we welcome a stranger amongst us, he will swallow us up, like the flames that invade a dead tree and burn it to cinders.”

To be Continued…

Click here for the previous episode of the Hitopadesha:

Hitopadesha: Preparing for War

Hitopadesha-The Blue Jackal

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