Hitopadesha – The Crow and The Snake

The Crow and the Snake

When the lion king installed his friend Sanjeevaka, the bull, as his chief advisor, he kicked everyone else out of his court. Dhamanaka, the jackal was furious at himself for HE had introduced the bull to the lion! He vowed to break their friendship. But his brother, Karataka, felt the friendship was too strong. Dhamanaka argued that all it needed was a good bit of plotting as in the case of the story of the Crow and the snake.

The Crow and The Snake

A pair of crows built their nest on a tree. The female crow laid eggs, sat on the nest attentively, and incubated them. When the eggs hatched, the two crows flew afar to find food for the chicks.

Unfortunately, the two birds had not noticed the danger lurking in the hollow of their tree. For in the hollow lived a large black serpent. The smell of the eggs had tempted the snake, but of course, it didn’t slither up the tree to the nest because both the birds were there. So, it lay in waiting, waiting for a day like this when both the parents would be out of sight and out of hearing, for the chicks were loud and SQUEAKY! Up, up he went, his scales moving noiselessly over the bark. Finally, he reached the nest and had a scrumptious feast.

When the two crows returned with thick juicy worms, they couldn’t understand what had happened. They weren’t at the wrong tree or something, were they? But…, the nest was the same. A few tiny feathers were stuck between the twigs on the nest. The two birds circled around the area for any sign of their nestlings when their blood turned cold. The snake stuck its head out of the hollow and pulled it back in the blink of an eye.

As you can imagine, the parents were heartbroken. But it didn’t stop there. No matter how careful they were, the snake managed to gobble up the crow chicks before they grew big enough to fly away. Finally, the female crow told her husband, “My dear, Even if we built our nest on a taller tree nearby, the snake will find our babies. Let’s move away from this forest and build another nest somewhere far.”

The husband patted her reassuringly. “You know what? I was foolish to give the snake so many chances, but I’ve come to my senses now. He will never change. Now, I will finish him off so he won’t bother us ever again!”

“Really? What are you going to do? Please be careful, for he is a powerful and dangerous enemy,” the female crow warned her husband.

“Oh, I’m not going to attack him outright. That wouldn’t do. What I can’t gain through force, I can get by using my brain. All it needs is some smart planning. He is a smug little fool, and it is easy to trap a fool. Wasn’t that how the rabbit brought down the high and mighty lion?”

“What happened to the lion? What did the rabbit do?” the wife asked her husband.

“It was like this…,” began the male crow.

The Lion and the Hare

The lion, Durdanta, lived in the mountain named Mandara. He was such a ferocious and powerful beast that he killed all the animals he saw when he went hunting. This indiscriminate killing began to worry the animals around him. So, they put their heads together and came up with a plan. All the animals went to Durdanta and negotiated with him.

They were careful not to complain or sound whiny. “Your royal Highness, we noticed you’ve been killing too many of us at one time. That concerns us because we’re worried that you may run out of food. So, we’ve come up with a plan to save you the trouble of hunting. One of us will come to you every day, right here, and be your meal.”

The lion was fascinated by the suggestion! “Hmmm, home delivery service! What a novel idea!” Aloud, he said, “Sure! Why not?”

From then on, the lion ate whichever creature walked into his den. He was surprised at how easy it was not to have to work for his meals.

The animals must have had some kind of rotation; one day, it was an old hare’s turn to be the lion’s dinner.

Naturally, the hare was not thrilled at the idea. He thought, “If I believed it would save my life, I’d try hard not to make the lion angry. But no matter what I do, he’s going to eat me. So why should I rush to his den? Let me enjoy the sights and sounds of this earth a wee bit longer on my last day here.” And that’s what he did! The hare wandered around listening to the birdsongs, smelling fresh grass, and tasting berries. When he finally reached the den, it was many hours later. The famished lion was prowling at the den’s entrance. At the sight of the small hare, Durdanta roared, baring his sharp teeth.

“How dare you arrive so late, you piffling little hare? Don’t you know I’m the mighty Durdanta!”

The hare was lucky he didn’t go deaf then and there. But, oh, he could think on his feet. “Your majesty, please, please,” he held up his paw. “Hear me out. It wasn’t my fault at all. I did leave my home early in the morning! I couldn’t wait to get here because it is such an honour to be your dinner. Alas! Do you know what delayed me? I ran into another lion, sir, that too within your territory! I begged and begged and begged him to let me come to you and let you know first. I knew you would be hungry. He agreed on the condition that I go back immediately after informing you of my whereabouts. He is waiting for me, even now.”

The lion turned red with rage. “Who dares trespass in my territory! Take me to this rogue who threatens to take my food!”

Remember the hare went wandering before he came to Durdanta’s den? He had spotted a well on the way. Now, he took the lion to this well.

Trembling with fake fear, the hare pointed his paws at the mouth of the well. He whispered, “It’s in there. I won’t show my face because it’ll warn him. If you…look down…he’s there.”

Durdanta slammed his paws on the gaping well. Grunting and baring his pointed teeth, the vicious creature peered into the well…and drew a long breath. Then Without a warning, he leaped in to fight the creature in the water. The conceited and selfish beast was too stupid to realize that it was his own image reflecting off the water!

Being powerful because of your size and strength is all well and good. But it’s your smarts that matter. See how the meek hare managed to con the lion? That is how I plan to take on the snake.”

“Your story is interesting, no doubt. But what is your plan?” The female crow asked, wanting to reassure herself that her husband’s idea was sound.

The male crow replied, “You know that the prince comes to bathe daily in the pond near here? I’ve been observing his routine for some days now. He puts his clothes and jewellery on the steps before he enters the water. Fly to the steps when the prince is already in the water and grab the gold necklace. The guards will be watching for other people or wild animals. So you won’t be in danger. Make sure they follow you and see you drop the necklace into the snake’s hollow.”

He looked intently at his wife. “Fly to the topmost branch as soon as you dispose of the necklace, you hear me? Don’t stand around waiting to see what the guards do,” he warned her.

And so it happened. The prince came to the pond for a dip. He left his clothes neatly folded on the steps leading to the ghat and placed the jewellery on top of the clothes. The mama crow waited until he was in the water, for that’s when the guards moved away to give him some privacy. The husband had been right—no one paid any attention to the crow as she swung low, snatched the necklace, and rose into the air.

“Hey!” the prince let out a yell. The guards turned at the cry and saw him waving at the crow. The gold necklace dazzled radiantly in the sun as the crow flew low enough to tempt the guards. Then the chase was on—the five men waved their sticks and spears as they stumbled through the brush. Fortunately, the crow had had a head start and was too far away for the men to fling their weapons at her. She hovered in the air when she got to her tree until the guards were near enough to see what she did. Then, swiftly, she dropped the necklace in the hollow and shot out of there. She remembered her husband’s advice not to linger. The guards, of course, had no idea of the history between the crow and the snake.

An uproar drowned out all the other noises in that part of the forest. Voices cried out one after another.

“Aaaah!”

“SNAKE!”

“KILL IT! KILL IT!”

Thump! Crack!

Yaaay!”

It’s dead!“”It’s dead!

The crows didn’t have to see it to know the snake was dead. The guards left with the glittering heavy jewellery, happy to be able to report their adventure to the prince. The crows were rid of their enemy once and for all.

Dhamanaka looked pleased as he ended the story. “See, we don’t have to target the bull directly. There is something to be learned from the story of the crow and the snake! We can find a way to weaken this friendship on the sly.” He told his brother.

Karataka nodded encouragingly. “If that’s what you believe, then I wish you success in what you are about to do.”

To be continued …

Click here to watch a video of the story:

The Lion and the Hare

Click here to listen to the previous episode of the Hitopadesha:

Episode 12: The Trouble Between the Friends

Hitopadesha – The Crow and The Snake

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