Hitopadesha- The Lapwings and The Ocean


Dhamanaka, the jackal, almost succeeded in sowing the seeds of suspicion in the lion’s mind. But he wanted to be ABSOLUTELY sure the lion wouldn’t talk to his friend and learn the truth. Now, the devious jackal narrated the story of the Lapwings and the Ocean to convince the lion that the bull could be stronger. But what about the bull? Does he leave the forest and go away? Discover all this and more in the last episode of the ‘losing friends’ section of the Hitopadesha: The Lapwings and the Ocean

The Lapwings and The Ocean

A pair of lapwings lived along the shore of the Southern Sea. It was time for them to build a nest for the female bird was ready to lay eggs. So she nudged her husband, “My dear, we should find a nice quiet spot and ready our nest. It won’t be very long now.” The husband replied surprisedly, “We’ve found it!”

The wife looked this way and that. The waves crashed on the shore, rolling in and out. The spray of water hit the low-flying birds. “What do you mean, we’ve found it?”

“Yes, dear. Isn’t this where we spend all our time? Why not build the nest here, on the seashore?”

“But look at the waves! When the tide comes in, the waves will wash away our nest!

The lapwings went back and forth about the sea.

“Oh, come on! Don’t you have faith in me? I can keep everyone safe! The Ocean won’t cause us any trouble. Not while I’m here.”

This brought a smile to the mama lapwing. “Oh, indeed! So, you don’t see the difference between you and the Ocean? I suppose it is difficult for us to understand our true strengths and weaknesses. A person who has enough self-awareness will never struggle because they know to make good decisions! They know when they must take risks and when to avoid things. But then, you say this is a good place, so I’ll lay my eggs here.”

The mama lapwing found a snug corner on the shore and laid her eggs.

Listening to the chatter of the lapwings made the sea curious. “Are lapwings really that much stronger than me? Let me see!”

A large wave swept over the sand. When the water receded, the lapwing eggs were gone. The mama bird cried out in agony. “My eggs! The waves washed them away!” The husband hugged and consoled her. “All is not lost. I will find them and bring them back.” Then he flew to plead with his king, the majestic Garuda. The lapwing pointed out how the sea had invaded his home unfairly and carried away his eggs.

Moved by the lapwings’ sorrow, Garuda decided to approach Lord Narayana. He not only creates but also preserves all living beings in the universe. Narayana heard Garuda’s plea and commanded the sea to return the lapwings’ eggs. The Ocean had no choice but to agree to return the lapwings eggs.

Dhamanaka looked doubtfully at the king. “That is why I said you can’t be sure which of you is the stronger without knowing more about your strengths and weaknesses.”

Pingalika’s eyes narrowed. “How will I know if he will attack or fight me?”

“That’s easy, your highness,” replied Dhamanaka. “Watch how he acts when he enters your presence. You’ll know he’s ready to plunge his horns into you if he bends low, almost bringing them to the ground. He may also look confused and dazed, as if he doesn’t know what or why things are happening this way. But beware. It is all an act, and he’s only trying to trick you.

The jackal left the king to his thoughts and went looking for the bull. As soon as Dhamanaka caught sight of Saneevaka, he made a long face as if he was deeply troubled by something.

Sanjeevaka was concerned. “Hello, friend. You look a bit upset. Is anything the matter?”

Dhamanaka sighed loudly. “That is the fate of people like us, isn’t it? We are only servants, after all. We have no ownership over anything. The powerful can take away our riches and any power we may have in a  flash. In the back of our mind, there’s always this niggling worry that we’ll lose favour with our lords and, because of that, our position in life.” Dhamanaka put his head in between his paws and lay down.

“You are speaking in riddles, Dhamanaka! Tell me clearly what has upset you,” Sanjeevaka asked him again.

Dhamanaka stared at the ground. “I feel like the man floundering in the water beside a sea snake. If I try to stay afloat by holding on to the serpent, it will kill me. But if I let go, I’m going to drown and die. Either way, I have no escape; I’m stuck between two unhappy choices. If I open my mouth and share what I know, I’ll share royal secrets. But if I keep quiet, one of my friends will be in danger. Alas! What am I to do? How will I find peace?” He sighed again and put his head in his paws.

Sanjeevaka felt uneasy. He insisted, “Come, tell me what’s bothering you. When you are troubled, sharing it with others makes it bearable.”

Dhamanaka lowered his voice. “I realize that I shouldn’t be leaking the king’s secrets. But I have a responsibility to you because I promised your safety when you came to live with us. The king has taken against you for some reason. He told me he will kill you the next time he sees you.”

Sanjeevaka’s knees wobbled, his stomach twisted, and his breath came faster.

The jackal stirred things further. “This is not the time to be stunned or sad. YOU MUST DO SOMETHING!

Sanjeevaka tried to make sense of the jackal’s words. He thought, “It is true that most people who are rewarded don’t deserve it. Wealth stays with one who never spends on anything, and the rain falls on the sea! Rulers like the person who talks sweetly.

But wait! I have a doubt! Did this jackal have a hand in all this? Did he say something to the king? I can’t make that out from the way he’s acting!”

Then aloud, he said, “This makes me so sad! I can’t think of anything I did that could anger him. This is the problem with rulers. Even when you do everything for them, you can’t be sure they’ll be loyal to you in return. They turn on you for no reason. I can correct it if I’ve done something wrong to make him angry. But what can I do if he’s angry for no reason?”

 The jackal nodded in agreement. “You are right; people are so fickle, my friend. They would rather go after those who are selfish and rude instead of being friends with people who are nice to them. It is hard to understand someone who changes their opinions and feelings so quickly. Even wise yogis can’t figure out how to keep such people happy.   

I’ve noticed something about people. It is useless to help the wicked because they’ll just ignore your efforts. It is useless to advise ignorant folks because they won’t act on it. It’s useless to guide the stubborn because they’ll only do what they want to do.

But I’m not surprised. In life, good and bad things live together. So even if we’re having fun, we must remember things can go wrong. The sweet-smelling sandal tree is the home of snakes, and the lotus blooms in the pond alongside the crocodile. Looking closely at something, we’ll see it’s not all peaceful and serene. In the case of the sandal tree, the snake lives at its roots; the bees buzz around its flowers, and monkeys and bears inhabit the branches and canopy. If you walk up to the tree saying, “Oh, it is so lovely,” you are in danger from all these creatures.

I’ve known the king for a long time. He butters you up nicely when you talk to him, but inside, he is ruthless and selfish. He is good at putting on a mask and pretending to be something he is not. And you’ll fall for it, thinking he’s so friendly and easy to talk to. He’ll wave at you from a distance, is excited to see you, and even shares his space with you. He’ll ask about your family and your plans. But inside, oh, he is all poison and two-faced.

There is always a way to overcome obstacles. If the sea is in the way of achieving your goal, you can cross it by boat; if your path is dark, you can use a lamp to shed light. If the air around you is still and hot, a fan can cool you down, and if you face an elephant running amock, you can use a stick to control it. But even God is helpless when it comes to an evil mind.” Dhamanaka rubbed it in further.

All this talk only made Sanjeevaka feel even more down in the dumps. “I’m in no way a threat to the lion, as I don’t even eat meat. But he has taken against me. I guess there is no way out. It is a fair battle only when both sides are powerful. But here I am, no match for him.” He sighed.

“No matter who poisoned the king’s mind against me, I must accept that our relationship has soured. I know we can’t return to being friends like before, just like you can’t fix a broken glass again. Both the thunderbolt and the king’s anger can cause much damage. But there is one significant difference between the two. One ruins only where it strikes, but the other can destroy everything around it.

I must prepare myself for a fight. Is the king going to let me live if I don’t fight? Of course not! So I might as well die fighting! If I die, my bravery will make me attain heaven. The chances of me winning are small, but I will be happy if I do.”  

Sanjeevaka asked Dhamanaka, “Tell me, friend. How will I know what the king plans to do if he’s going to fight me?”

Dhamanaka pretended to think. Then he said, “Watch how the king stands and his facial expressions to understand his intentions. You know he will attack you if his tail is stiff, his leg raised, and his mouth wide open. Don’t you back down. Instead, be fierce as you are no coward.”

Oh my! Dhamanaka is making sure that the lion and the bull don’t find out the truth, isn’t he?

Satisfied that Sanjeevaka was prepared to fight the lion, the jackal met his brother. Karataka raised his eyebrows. “SO, were you able to talk to the king? Did anything come out of it?” he asked.

“But of course! Those two are no longer friends! Just wait until you see what I’ve planned!” Dhamanaka gloated.

From there, Dhamanaka went straight to the lion. “Your Highness, the traitor is coming your way. Show him your strength and your might. Let him shiver in fear!!!” he goaded the lion.

Maybe if he had had a little time alone, Pingalaka would have reflected on what was happening. But Dhamanaka didn’t want that. So he rushed his master into standing aggressively as the bull came in sight. Sanjeevaka saw the lion and knew his time was up. The beast stood just as Dhamanaka had described, with his tail stiff, paw raised, and wide open mouth baring sharp teeth. The bull lowered his horns as if ready to gore the lion. But he was no match for the wild cat and lay dead soon.

Pingalaka stood by his friend’s body, full of sorrow. “Oh, my goodness! What have I done? I have lost a friend, someone I trusted!”

Dhamanaka could not have that. So he replied, “My lord, You cannot feel sad at killing an enemy. If you hadn’t killed him, he would’ve destroyed you. You can forgive someone if you are an ordinary person. But you are a king. A ruler who forgives his enemy can be sure that the person will come after his position.”

Listening to this, Pingalaka felt less guilty. He hadn’t killed a blameless friend. Of course, he didn’t know the events that took place were according to the jackal’s plan. He ruled his kingdom as before and soon forgot about Sanjeevaka.

The jackals were very happy with the result and lived happily in the king’s court.

Vishnusharma paused and looked at the princes. “This is how one loses friends!”

The princes were entranced throughout the storytelling. “Thank you, dear Guru,” they said.

Vishnusharma blessed them, “My boys! May your enemies lose their friends, the wicked destroyed, and the people of your kingdom prosper!”

This ends the section, Losing Friends, from the Hitopadesha.

Click here for a short video on the story:

The Lapwings

Click here for the previous episode:

Episode 13: Separating Friends

Hitopadesha- The Lapwings and The Ocean

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