Of crows, serpents, cranes and crabs…

Read the previous part here…

The secret of a well-thought-of conspiracy is not even known to the Gods. It is due to his well-hatched plan that the weaver enjoyed the company of the princess, in the form of Vishnu.

Hearing this, Karataka said…


“What you have said makes sense, but I still feel apprehensive. Sanjeevaka is very clever, and Pingalaka is angered easily. Even though you are intelligent, I strongly suspect that you would not be able to separate the two.”

Damanaka replied ” Even if I am not capable, think of me as being capable for this task. It is said…”

उपायेन हि यच् छक्यं न तच् छक्यं पराक्रमैः ।
काकी कनक-सूत्रेण कृष्ण-सर्पम् अघातयत् ॥ २२८ ॥

upāyena hi yac chakyaṃ na tac chakyaṃ parākramaiḥ |
kākī kanaka-sūtreṇa kṛṣṇa-sarpam aghātayat || 228 ||

What is possible through trickery, cannot be done by valor. It is through trickery that the crow used the golden chain to destroy the serpent.

Karataka asked -“How is that so?”

Damanaka said…

काकीकृष्णसर्पकथा

The story of the crow and the black serpent

There was a huge fig free in a place not far away from here. Two crows lived on this tree. They laid eggs regularly, but whenever their babies were born, a black serpent, who lived in the hollow of the tree, crawled up to their nest, and ate them. Dejected, the couple went to meet their close friend, a fox, who lived near a tree close-by. “My dear friend!”, said the male crow. You know all about the wicked serpent. He eats our babies every time! What are we supposed to do? Please help us get rid of him. It is said…

यस्य क्षेत्रं नदी-तीरे भार्या च पर-सङ्गता ।
स-सर्पे च गृहे वासः कथं स्यात् तस्य निर्वृतिः ॥ २२९ ॥

yasya kṣetraṃ nadī-tīre bhāryā ca para-saṅgatā |
sa-sarpe ca gṛhe vāsaḥ kathaṃ syāt tasya nirvṛtiḥ || 229 ||

A man, whose fields lie on the banks of a river, whose wife desires another man, and whose house has a snake living in it…how can such a man ever be happy?

सर्प-युक्ते गृहे वासो मृत्युर् एव न संशयः ।
यद् ग्रामान्ते वसेत् सर्पस् तस्य स्यात् प्राण-संशयः ॥ २३० ॥

sarpa-yukte gṛhe vāso mṛtyur eva na saṃśayaḥ |
yad grāmānte vaset sarpas tasya syāt prāṇa-saṃśayaḥ || 230 ||

Living in a house with a serpent means sure death. Even if the serpent lives near a village, everyone’s lives are always in danger.

“And that is why, living with the serpent on the same tree is always dangerous, we always have a fear of death.”

The fox listened to them patiently, and then replied “You don’t have to worry about this issue anymore. That wicked snake cannot be killed without some form of trickery. Because…”

नूनं स लुब्धो नोपायम् अन्तरेण वध्यः स्यात् ।
उपायेन जयो यादृग् रिपोस् तादृङ् न हेतिभिः ।
उपाय-ज्ञो ऽल्प-कायो ऽपि न शूरैः परिभूयते ॥ २३१ ॥

nūnaṃ sa lubdho nopāyam antareṇa vadhyaḥ syāt |
upāyena jayo yādṛg ripos tādṛṅ na hetibhiḥ |
upāya-jño ‘lpa-kāyo ‘pi na śūraiḥ paribhūyate || 231 ||

Victory over an enemy by using trickery is much easier to attain, than by using weapons and force, A weaker man, if he knows trickery, cannot be defeated by even the bravest warriors.

भक्षयित्वा बहून् मत्स्यान् उत्तमाधम-मध्यमान् ।
अतिलौल्याद् बकः कश्चिन् मृतः कर्कटक-ग्रहात् ॥ २३२ ॥

bhakṣayitvā bahūn matsyān uttamādhama-madhyamān |
atilaulyād bakaḥ kaścin mṛtaḥ karkaṭaka-grahāt || 232 ||

A crane that ate fish of all sizes, became greedy and died at the hands of a crab.”

The crows asked ” How did that happen?”

The fox replied…

बककर्कटककथा

The story of the crane and the crab

In a forest, not far away from here, was a huge lake. This lake had a lot of marine life – ducks, fish, frogs, crabs and many more. A crane also lived there from a long time. He had grown old, and was hence unable to catch fish to feed himself. Dejected, he sat on the banks of the lake, his throat parched due to hunger, weeping silently, his tears flowing down in a stream.

A good-hearted crab saw the crane crying alone, and felt bad. He approached the old crane, along with some of his friends, and asked him affectionately “Sire! Why are you not eating anything today? I have been seeing you crying since long…is everything alright?”

The crane turned towards the crab, his eyes filled with tears. ” You are right my friend. I am no more interested in eating these fish, and have decided to give upon my life by not eating anything henceforth. That is why I am not eating fish, even though they swim close to me.”

The crab was perplexed. “Why have you lost interest in eating?”

The crane replied “My child, I was born in this lake, and I grew old here. I have now heard that there will be a famine in this area, for twelve long years.”

“From who did you hear this?” asked the frog.

“From a renowned astrologer. He has never been wrong. The lake already has very less water. It will dry up soon. If it does, all those friends of mine, who I grew up with, will die. I cannot bear the thought of seeing them dying. That is why it is better if I give up my own life.”. The wiped his tears and continued ” The smaller creatures living in the lakes nearby have already started to relocate to larger lakes. Crocodiles, alligators, water elephants and other big creatures are moving by themselves. Only at this lake are all of us sitting idle, unaware of this imminent danger. It makes me very sad to think that not even a trace of all of us will remain!”

The crab became very anxious, and rushed back to the lake to tell the other small creatures what he had heard. This frightened them as well. All the fish, tortoises and other smaller creatures got together and approached the crane, and asked him, “Oh good sir! Is there any way to protect us?”

The crane replied ” Yes there is! A little far away from here lies a very big and deep lake, with a thousand lotuses. It is so vast that it will not dry up, even if this imminent famine continues for twenty-four years. I can take you there, if you choose to climb onto my back.”

The small creatures believed the crane, and agreed immediately. They all lined up, jostling for space and trying to be the first to climb onto the crane’s back. The wicked crane started to carry them one-by-one. He would fly to a nearby rock, throw them on it and then eat them till his stomach was full. He would then fly back, carrying the good messages of those who had been ‘rescued’, and repeat this when he felt hungry again. And so this continued for a few months.

One day, the crab walked up to the crane and said…

to be continued