Panchatantra: The Cat's Judgement

This story is being told by a crow who is a character in another story, but I have not included that other story here. If you want, you can find the framing story here and see how it leads into this story about the cat as judge: How the Birds Picked a King.

The story makes reference to the ancient sage Narada; you can read more about him at Wikipedia.

The French poet La Fontaine borrowed stories from the Indian tradition for his verse fables, and he tells a story very similar to this one — The Cat, the Weasel, and the Young Rabbit — although in La Fontaine's story it is a weasel who has chased a rabbit out of his home, as opposed to the rabbit-as-interloper that you will see in this story.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Panchatantra unit. Story source: The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sharma, translated by Arthur W. Ryder (1925).

The Cat's Judgement

At one time I [a crow] was living in a certain tree. And beneath the same tree dwelt another bird, a partridge. So by virtue of our near neighbourhood there sprang up between us a firm friendship. Every day after taking our meals and airings we spent the evening hours in a round of amusements, such as repeating witty sayings, telling tales from the old story-books, solving puzzles and conundrums, or exchanging presents.

One day the partridge went foraging with other birds to a spot where the rice was ripe and abundant, and he did not return at nightfall. Of course, I missed him greatly and I thought: "Alas! Why does not my friend the partridge come home tonight? I am much afraid he is caught in some trap, or has even been killed." And many days passed while I grieved in this way.

Now one evening a rabbit named Speedy made himself at home in the partridge's old nest in the hole. Nor did I say him nay, for I despaired of seeing the partridge again.

However, one fine day the partridge, who had grown extremely plump from eating rice, remembered his old home and returned. This, indeed, is not to be wondered at.

No mortal has such joy, although
In heaven's fields he roam,
As in his city, in his land,
And in his humble home.

Now when he saw the rabbit in the hole, he said reproachfully: "Come now, rabbit, you have done a shabby thing in occupying my apartment. Please be gone, and lose no time about it."

"You fool!" said the rabbit, "don't you know that a dwelling is yours only while you occupy it?"

"Very well, then," said the partridge, "suppose we ask the neighbours. For, to give you a legal quotation,

For ownership of cisterns, tanks,
Wells, groves, and houses, too,
The neighbours' testimony goes -
Such is the legal view.

And again:

When house or field or well or grove
Or land is in dispute,
A neighbour's testimony is
Decisive of the suit."

Then the rabbit said: "You fool! Are you ignorant of the consecrated tradition which says:

Suppose beside your neighbour you
For ten long years abide,
What weight have learnèd arguments?
Eyewitnesses decide.

Fool! Fool! Did you never hear the dictum of the sage Narada?

The title to possession is
A ten years' habitation
With men. But with the birds and beasts
Mere present occupation.

"Hence, even supposing this apartment to be yours, still it was unoccupied when I moved in, and now it is mine."

"Well, well!" replied the partridge, "if you appeal to consecrated tradition, come with me, and we will consult the specialists. It shall be yours or mine according to their decision."

"Very well," said the other, and together they started off to have their suit decided. I, too, was at their heels, out of curiosity. "I will just see what comes of all this," I said to myself.

Now they had not travelled far when the rabbit asked the partridge: "My good fellow, who is to pass judgement on our disagreement?"

And the partridge answered: "On a sand-bank by the sacred Ganges — where there is sweet music from the dancing waves that inter-cross and break when the water is swept by nimble breezes — there dwells a tomcat whose name is Curd-Ear. He abides unshaken in his vow of penance and self-denial, and character has begotten compassion."

But when the rabbit spied the cat, his soul staggered with terror, and he said: "No, no! He is a seedy rascal. You must have heard the proverb:

Oh, never trust a rogue for all
His pharisaic puzzling:
At holy shrines some saints are found
Quite capable of guzzling."

Upon hearing this, Curd-Ear, whose manner of life had been assumed for the purpose of making an easy livelihood, desired to win their confidence. He therefore gazed straight at the sun, stood on his hind-legs, lifted his fore-paws, blinked his eyes, and in order to deceive them by pious sentiments, delivered the following moral discourse. "Alas! Alas! All is vanity. This fragile life passes in a moment. Union with the beloved is an empty dream. Family endearments are a conjurer's trick. But for the moral law, there would be no escape. Oh, listen to Scripture!

Each transitory day, O man,
To moral living give;
Else, like the blacksmith's bellows, you
Suck air, but do not live.

And furthermore:

Non-moral learning is a curse,
A dog's tail, nothing less,
That does not save from flies and fleas,
Nor cover nakedness.

And yet again:

A rotten ear among the wheat,
Among the birds a bat,
Is he who spurns the moral law;
The merest living gnat.

The flowers and fruit are better than the tree;
Better than curds is butter said to be;
Better than oil-cake, oil that trickles free;
Better than mortal man, morality.

The praise of constant steadfastness
Some wise professors sing;
But moral earnestness is swift,
Though many fetters cling.

Forget your prosings manifold;
The moral law is briefly told:
To help your neighbour — this is good;
To injure him is devilhood."

Having listened to this moral discourse, the rabbit said: "Friend partridge, here on the river-bank is the saint who expounds the moral law. Let us ask him."

But the partridge said: "After all, he is our natural enemy. Let us ask him from a distance."

So, together they began to question him: "O holy moralist, a dispute has arisen between us. Pray give judgement in accordance with the moral law. And whichever of us is found to speak falsely, him you may eat."

"Dear friends," said the cat, "I implore you not to speak thus. My soul abhors every act of cruelty, that street-sign pointing to hell. Surely, you know the Scripture:

The holy first commandment runs —
Not harsh, but kindly be —
And therefore lavish mercy on
Mosquito, louse, and flea.

Why speak of hurting innocence?
For he, with purpose fell
Who injures even noxious beasts,
Is plunged in ghastly hell.

"Nay, even those who slay living creatures in the act of sacrifice are befuddled, and their hermeneutic theology is at fault. And if you object to me the passage, 'One should sacrifice with goats,' in that passage the word 'goats' signifies grain that has aged seven years. 'Go, oats' - such is the true exegesis. And then, consider the passage:

If he who cuts down trees or cattle,
Or makes a bloody slime in battle,
Should thereby win to heaven - well,
Who (let me ask you) goes to hell?

"No, no. I shall eat nobody. However, I am somewhat old and do not readily distinguish your voices from a distance. So how am I to determine winner and loser? In view of this, pray draw near and make me acquainted with the case. Then I can pronounce a judgement that discriminates the essence of the matter, and thus causes no impediment in my march to the other world. You know the stanza:

If any man, from pride or greed,
Timidity or wrath,
Judge falsely, he has set his foot
On hell's down-sloping path.

And again:

Who wrongs a sheep, slays kinsmen five;
Who wrongs a cow, slays ten;
A hundred die for maidens wronged;
A thousand die for men.

"Therefore confide in me and speak clearly at the edge of my ear."

Why spin it out? That seedy rogue won their trust so fully that both drew near him. Then, of course, he seized them simultaneously, one with his paw, the other with the saw of his teeth. And when they were dead, he ate them both.

(1300 words)

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