Jataka: The Crow that Thought It Knew

You will see another story set in Benares (Varanasi), which is located in what was the ancient kingdom of Kasi (Kashi). This time, the Buddha has become a crow named Viraka; he is not just a common crow but is instead a marsh crow, much more wise than the common crow Savitthaka, who is the other main character in the story. As the Buddha explains in his introduction to the story, this foolish crow was the earlier incarnation of the traitorous disciple Devadatta: Viraka-Jataka.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Jataka Tales unit. Story source: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock (1920).

The Crow that Thought It Knew

ONCE upon a time, while Brahmadatta reigned as king in Benares, the Bodhisatta became a marsh crow, and dwelt by a certain pool. His name was Viraka, the Strong.

There arose a famine in Kasi. Men could not spare food for the crows, nor make offering to goblins and snakes. One by one the crows left the famine-stricken land, and betook them to the woods.

A certain crow named Savitthaka, who lived at Benares, took with him his lady crow and went to the place where Viraka lived, making his abode beside the same pool.

One day, this crow was seeking food about the pool. He saw how Viraka went down into it and made a meal off some fish and afterwards came up out of the water again and stood drying his feathers. "Under the wing of that crow," thought he, "plenty of fish are to be got. I will become his servant." So he drew near.

"What is it, Sir?" asked Viraka.

"I want to be your servant, my Lord!" was the reply.

Viraka agreed, and from that time the other served him. And from that time, Viraka used to eat enough fish to keep him alive, and the rest he gave to Savitthaka as soon as he had caught them, and when Savitthaka had eaten enough to keep him alive, he gave what was over to his wife.

After a while pride came into his heart. "This crow," said he, "is black, and so am I: in eyes and beak and feet, too, there is no difference between us. I don’t want his fish; I will catch my own!"

So he told Viraka that for the future he intended to go down to the water and catch fish himself. Then Viraka said, "Good friend, you do not belong to a tribe of such crows as are born to go into water and catch fish. Don’t destroy yourself!"

But in spite of this attempt to dissuade him, Savitthaka did not take the warning to heart. Down he went, to the pool, into the water, but he could not make his way through the weeds and come out again—there he was, entangled in the weeds, with only the tip of his beak appearing above the water. So not being able to breathe he perished there beneath the water.

His mate noticed that he did not return, and went to Viraka to ask news of him.

"My Lord," she asked, "Savitthaka is not to be seen: where is he?" And as she asked him this, she repeated the first stanza:—

"O have you seen Savitthaka, O Viraka,
have you seen
My sweet-voiced mate whose neck is like
the peacock in its sheen?"

When Viraka heard it, he replied, "Yes, I know where he is gone," and recited the second stanza:—

"He was not born to dive beneath the wave,
But what he could not do he needs must try;
So the poor bird has found a watery grave,
Entangled in the weeds, and left to die."

When the lady-crow heard it, weeping, she returned to Benares.

(500 words)

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