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True Friends – A tale from Hitopadesha

Hitopadesha is said to have been written by a certain Pandit Narayana whose time period seems to be much later than Pandit Vishnu Sharma who gave us the Panchatantra. Pandit Narayana’s inspiration was from the Panchatantra and his stories are also somewhat similar to the Panchatantra stories. The story I am narrating comes under the section titled “Choice of Friends”.

Long ago, in the forests of Dandakaranya, there lived a deer named Hiran and a crow named Kakah who were thick friends. They used to meet every day and spend happy times together.

Once, a wily jackal by name, Shrugala, chanced to see the deer when he was grazing around.

“What a healthy deer he is!” thought Shrugala. “He would make a superb meal for me!” The very thought of relishing the deer’s flesh made him drool. But he was very greedy and so thought that he would make the deer fatter before he made him his prey. So he went and tried to befriend the deer.

“Hello Deer!” he called out. Hiran was surprised to see a jackal calling out to him with a smile on his face and so raised his head. Shrugala came nearer. “I want to be your friend. My name is Shrugala”.  

Hiran was confused and could not reply immediately and Shrugala went on. “You are wondering why I want to be your friend? Well I have heard elders say that the company you keep determines your character. And I know that all my friends are cunning and you are a simple straight forward deer and I admire your traits and want to become like you. So please accept me as your friend. We shall meet every day and spend the day together happily. By the way, what is your name?”

Hiran got flattered by the sweet words of Shrugala and nodded his head. “Okay! Shrugala, I will be your friend. Call me Hiran” said he. “Wait till my friend Kakah comes and I will introduce you to him. He will also be extremely happy to meet you”.

Kakah, however, was not at all pleased about Hiran’s new-found friendship. He chided Hiran. “How can you just accept somebody as your friend without knowing anything about them? You should always consider being friends with anybody only after knowing their nature” he said. He then told him the story of the Vulture and the cunning Cat which you can read by clicking here.

Shrugala became anxious that his grand plan would fail and so said to Kakah, “Well, even on the day you met Hiran, both of you were strangers to each other, but how is it that your friendship only grows stronger every day? Hiran has already accepted me as his friend and should not go back on his word.” With no other way, they accepted Shrugala in their group and they spent the days together. They used to find their own food and Shrugala always kept an eye on Hiran waiting for him to become fatter.

One day, after Kakah went in search of his food, Shrugala called Hiran. “Hiran, I have found a nice place for you to have tasty corn which you can eat to your heart’s content” said he, and took him to the field of a farmer at the edge of the forest. The field was full of lush corn crop ready to be harvested. Hiran was delighted. He thanked Shrugala for his good gesture and went to eat the corn. Day by day, eating the fresh corn, Hiran was becoming fatter and Shrugala was very happy to see this and waited for the right opportunity to strike.

As days passed, the farmer began to notice that the quantity of corn was reducing in one corner of his field and eventually found the culprit. He laid a net trap for him the next day in the field.

Hiran, unaware of the trap went merrily and got caught in the trap and suddenly found that he could not get out of there. He cried out aloud. “Shrugala!  Kakah!  please come and help me. I have been caught in a net” he shouted. The farmer’s house was a bit far off, from the field and he had not yet seen Hiran caught in the net.

Shrugala was lurking nearby behind some bushes and was waiting for the farmer to kill Hiran and thought that he could then pounce on the farmer and frighten him and take away Hiran’s body. But as time went by, the farmer also did not come out and see. So Shrugala went near Hiran, with a fake look of shock on his face, and started talking pitifully to Hiran.

Hiran on the other hand, was panicking and told Shrugala to somehow tear the net with his teeth and claws and set him free. “You are my good friend and a friend should always help another who is in need. Please help! Please!” he pleaded. Shrugala just did not bother and quietly slunk away much to Hiran’s anguish. He went and hid behind the bushes again waiting to see what would happen.

In a short while, thankfully Kakah arrived on the scene and he was really shocked to see his dear friend caught in a net.

“What happened Hiran? How did you get into this trap?” he asked with concern. Hiran told him how Shrugala had shown him this field and how Shrugala had refused to help now. Kakah was furious but he knew that saving Hiran was the priority and just at that time, he saw the farmer walking out of his house with a huge club in hand. He was coming towards the field.

Kakah thought fast and told Hiran, “Look, there is no time now. You lie down still and pretend to be dead. I will sit on you and pretend to peck your eyes. The farmer will think you are dead and when he removes the net, I will caw thrice and you get up and run for your life. We will catch up in the evening”.

Hiran agreed to Kakah’s idea and lay still. The farmer was coming nearer and he saw the crow sitting and pecking at the deer.

“Hmmm. He looks dead. Is he? Poor fellow! He must have died out of sheer fright” he mumbled to himself. “My effort is saved. I don’t need to unnecessarily kill this fellow. And I will get to eat fresh deer meat today Hahaha….”

He then shooed away Kakah. “Shoo, shoo” he shouted and Kakah went and perched on a nearby tree. The farmer carefully removed the net and turned to the other side to fold it since he thought the deer was dead anyway.

“Caw caw caw!” cried Kakah and the next moment Hiran was up on his fours and ran so fast even before the farmer realized what had happened. The farmer turned around and was furious that he had been outwitted. He saw Hiran run behind the bushes and raised his club and threw it with all force hoping that it would hit Hiran. It came and landed with a thud on Shrugala’s back instead, as Shrugala was hiding there.

With a shrieking howl, Shrugala ran out of the bushes limping with great difficulty as his back had almost been broken.

And he was never to be seen again near Hiran and Kakah!

From the Panchatantra – Four Friends

Dear Readers, A very Happy New Year to all who are celebrating New Year today all over India!

Today, I am narrating a story from Panchatantra, from the chapter Mitralabha or ‘Gaining of friends’.

There are already a few stories from Panchatantra in this website which you can locate and read using the ‘Search’ tool on the right or down below if reading from mobile.

A small introduction to Panchatantra is available in the background guide for new readers.  Click here to see the background guide.

Long, long ago in the forests of Central India, there lived four friends, Hiranyaka the mouse, Mandaraka the tortoise, Laghupatanaka the crow and Chitranga the deer. The mouse, tortoise and crow were friends for a long time, while Chitranga had joined their group recently after escaping from a hunter. However, they enjoyed the company of each other and would meet regularly near a lake in the forest to share their thoughts.

One day, when the friends were meeting at the lakeside, Chitranga did not come. Hiranyaka, Laghupatanaka and Mandaraka waited and waited but there was no sign of the deer.

The friends got worried. They thought that Chitranga might have been trapped or killed by some hunter or would have fallen into a pit made by the hunters to catch elephants.

“What do we do now?” asked Hiranyaka, the mouse.

Mandaraka, the tortoise who was the oldest of them all looked at the crow and said, “Look here Laghupatanaka, neither Hiranyaka nor I can run fast in this jungle. You, on the other hand can fly high and see things which are far away. Why don’t you fly around and see if you can spot Chitranga?”

“You are right” said Laghupatanaka. “I will fly and see and tell you.”

Saying so, he flew over a short distance looking for Chitranga. Not very far away from the lakeside, there was a clearing and there he saw Chitranga lying down, trapped in a hunter’s net. The hunter who had laid the trap did not seem to be anywhere nearby. Laghupatanaka flew down to Chitranga. Chitranga was so relieved to see his friend but was feeling so helpless that tears were flowing from his eyes.

“Friend, what happened?” asked Laghupatanaka.

“What should I say?” sobbed the deer. “Death is chasing me and I am happy that I could at least see you before I die.”

“Don’t lose heart my friend” said the crow. “I will go immediately and bring Hiranyaka here. His sharp teeth will cut the net in no time.” He immediately flew fast to the lakeside and told Hiranyaka and Mandaraka of the plight of Chitranga.

“Come on Hiranyaka” he said to the mouse. Climb on to my back and I will take you there fast. The hunter will come any moment and we will have to free Chitranga soon”.

“You are correct” said the mouse as he climbed on to Laghupatanaka’s back. “We, as friends should do our best to free him. Otherwise what is the point of friendship?”

The moment they landed near Chitranga, the deer felt very happy. He was so glad that he had such good friends. He realized how important it was to have good friends, and how troubles could be easily overcome with the help of good friends.

Hiranyaka asked the deer, “How is it that a clever and swift being like you got caught like this?”

Chitranga said, “Friend let us not talk about it now. Cut the net fast so that I may get out. The hunter will be here any moment. Quick” There was fear in his eyes.

“Don’t you worry my dear”, said the mouse. “My sharp teeth will do the job in a jiffy. But do tell me how this happened.”

Chitranga said, “What to say, my friend, when luck forsakes you and when death comes for you, you lose your thinking ability and that is what happened to me.”

As they were talking, with the crow perched on a nearby tree, they noticed that Mandaraka was slowly sauntering and was reaching the clearing.

The crow said to Chitranga and Hiranyaka, “Look, who is coming. Who told Mandaraka to come here? It is such a foolish act. Now if the hunter comes, both of you can run away and I will fly away and it is he who will be caught. Hmm… Such stupidity! Now how do we save Mandaraka from the hunter?”

As they were debating on how to hide Mandaraka since there were no bushes around, the hunter appeared on the scene.

Hiranyaka was cutting the last string of the hunter’s net and in a flash, Chitranga got up and ran for his life. Hiranyaka scampered up the tree nearby. The hunter was stunned for a second but the next moment when he saw Mandaraka plodding his way to safety, there was a wicked smile on his face.

“Aha!” he exclaimed, “I will not go home empty handed after all haha…” he chuckled as he picked up Mandaraka and tied him to his bow and slung him on his back and started walking away.

Hiranyaka felt very bad for the tortoise.

“Everything in this world seems short-lived” he thought to himself. “And when troubles come, they keep coming in waves affecting the same persons again and again. The only solace during troubles is the sweet thing called friendship, but again now we are losing a good friend…” He was feeling very sad.

Meanwhile the deer and the crow came back and the crow said, “There is no way we can save Mandaraka if we sit here brooding. We have to act fast. Come on, let’s plan.”

He thought for a while and again spoke. “The hunter will have to cross the big pond which is a mile away from here. Chitranga, you run fast through the bushes and go near the pond and lie down as if dead. Hiranyaka, I will carry you and reach there. I will sit on Chitranga, cawing and pretending to peck his eyes while you hide in some bush. The hunter will surely prefer the deer over the tortoise and he will put down Mandaraka near the pond and come to lift Chitranga. Hiranyaka, you have to swiftly cut the strings from Mandaraka’s legs so that he can disappear into the pond. Then when I caw loudly once, Chitranga can get up and run away. Okay?”

“Right” said Hiranyaka and climbed on to Laghupatanaka’s back. Chitranga swiftly reached the farther end of the pond and lay down as if dead. The crow and the mouse soon reached the place and Laghupatanaka sat on the deer and pretended to peck his eyes cawing all the while.

In a short while the hunter reached the pond and was distracted by the cawing and saw that there was a dead deer at the farther end of the pond. He paused for a while and then put the tortoise down and approached the deer slowly.

Hiranyaka darted from the bush behind which he was hiding and started to gnaw at the bow string. Mandaraka’s legs were only tied and so in an instant, he was free. “Slide into the pond, quick” whispered Hiranyaka to the tortoise, and Mandaraka plodded as fast as he could and with a ‘whoosh’ went inside the water.

At the same time when the hunter came very near the crow gave a loud caw and flew away. The next moment, Chitranga got up and darted into the dark bushes and the hunter was so shocked that he had been cheated. Resigned to his fate he turned around to come back and take the tortoise but got another shock that the tortoise was nowhere to be seen. He was aghast and went home feeling betrayed and bitter.

After he had gone away far, the four friends reunited and celebrated.

“This is a lesson to mankind” said Hiranyaka, “that friends who are faithful to each other can never be defeated!”

The four lived a long life thereafter as the thickest of friends.  

The Foolish Camel

Once upon a time, in a town in central India, there was a rich merchant. Once, he found that he had acquired lot of camels and therefore wanted to sell some of them. The animal market was in a village at a distance from the town an one had to pass through a thick jungle to reach the village. The merchant started with his retinue of about four or five men and five camels which he wanted to sell.

The journey through the jungle was about four to five hours and on the way, one of the camels hit its foreleg on a boulder very badly. It could not walk. It sat on the grass. The merchant tried to make it get up but of no avail. It was getting dark and the merchant decided to leave the camel there as he could not risk his own life and therefore left the camel to fend for itself and went away with his team.

The poor camel was frightened of the dark but nevertheless had enough grass to feed on and also found some other plants which were actually medicinal plants. After eating the plants for two days, the camel to its surprise, found that his leg had healed. But he did not know where to go and started roaming aimlessly.

In the same jungle, there lived a jackal-crow duo who were both equally cunning and depended on an lion for their food. They used to flatter the lion all day and feed on the remains of the lion’s hunt. But slowly, the lion became weak with age and could not hunt as swiftly as he did earlier. The jackal-crow duo were wondering about the fate of their food at this rate. Just then, they sighted the camel and thought that it could be of some use to them. So they went and slowly befriended the camel with their sweet words and asked the camel to join their group.

The camel unwittingly joined the group as it was a town-bred camel and did not know the ways of the jungle. He also felt safe in their company as he knew that no other animal dare attack an animal in the company of a lion. Days passed and the lion was hunting prey once in 2 days and once in 3 days and sometimes only once a week. It was hard for the jackal and the crow to be without food for long periods. But the camel simply fed off the grass and was growing fatter by the day. He was happy that he had good friends and a carefree life.

It so happened that the lion could not hunt for the next 10 days. The jackal and crow were very hungry and did not know what to do. It was then that they plotted against the camel. With a plan in their mind, they called the camel along and went to see the lion. They talked to the lion about the dwindling food and their ‘concern’ about the lion’s health, which would deteriorate if there was no food.

Suddenly, the crow fell at the feet of the lion and said, “O King, I offer myself to thee. I pray that you eat this small body of mine and satisfy your hunger.” The jackal immediately followed. He pushed the crow aside with his paw and a disgusted look on his face. “What do you think you brat?!! Do you think the king can even satisfy his hunger for a day by eating your puny body??? Eat me, O king. I offer thee my flesh, bone and skin.” The lion was wondering as to what was happening. The camel too, thought that when both the jackal and crow were offering sacrifices, he should also do so to show his loyalty. Moreover, the lion would not eat his friends.

So he fell flat in front of the lion and said, “O king, you have given me asylum in this hostile jungle and what more is there to offer to you than my body?? How will your hunger be satiated by eating a skinny jackal? Therefore, please eat me, O king” and he closed his eyes. Little did he know that it would be the last time he would do so.

“Grrrrrrrrrrrraaaar.” There was a deafening roar and the next second, the camel’s neck had been torn apart. The lion and the cunning duo feasted on the camel till all that remained were the bones.

sdgbseth

 

Thus, the camel learnt the hard way that friends must always be chosen with care.

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