[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Panchatantra unit. Story source: The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sharma, translated by Arthur W. Ryder (1925).
How the Rabbit Fooled the Elephant
Now once there came a twelve-year drought, so that tanks, ponds, swamps, and lakes went dry. Then all the elephants said to the lord of the herd: "O King, our little ones are so tortured by thirst that some are like to die, and some are dead. Pray devise a method of removing thirst." So, he sent in eight directions elephants fleet as the wind to search for water.
Now those who went east found beside a path near a hermitage a lake named Lake of the Moon. It was beautiful with swans, herons, ospreys, ducks, sheldrakes, cranes, and water-creatures. It was embowered in flowering sprays of branches drooping under the weight of various blossoms. Both banks were embellished with trees. It had beaches made lovely by sheets of foam born of the splashing of transparent waves that danced in the breeze and broke on the shore. Its water was perfumed by the ichor-juice that oozed from elephant-temples washed clean of bees; for these flew up when the lordly creatures plunged. It was ever screened from the heat of the sun by hundreds of parasols in the shape of the countless leaves of trees on its banks. It gave forth deep-toned music from uncounted waves that turned aside on meeting the plump legs, hips, and bosoms of mountain maidens diving. It was brimming with crystal water, and beautified with thickets of water lilies in full bloom. Why describe it? It was a segment of paradise.
When they saw this, they hastened back to report to the elephant-king.
So Four-Tusk, on hearing their report, travelled with them by easy stages to the Lake of the Moon. And finding a gentle slope all around the lake, the elephants plunged in, thereby crushing the heads, necks, fore-paws and hind-paws of thousands of rabbits who long before had made their home on the banks. Now after drinking and bathing, the elephant-king with his followers departed to his own portion of the jungle.
Then the rabbits who were left alive held an emergency convention. "What are we to do now?" said they. "Those fellows — curse their tracks! — will come here every day. Let some plan be framed at once to prevent their return."
Thereupon a rabbit named Victory, perceiving their terror and their utter woe at the crushing of sons, wives, and relatives, said compassionately: "Have no fear. They shall not return. I promise it. For my guardian angel has granted me this grace."
And hearing this, the rabbit-king, whose name was Block-Snout, said to Victory: "Dear friend, this is beyond peradventure. For
Good Victory knows every fact
The textbooks teach; knows how to act
In every place and time. Where he
Is sent, there comes prosperity.
Speak for pleasure, speak with measure,
Speak with grammar's richest treasure,
Not too much, and with reflection -
Deeds will follow words' direction.
"The elephants, sir, making acquaintance with your ripe wisdom, will become aware of my majesty, wisdom, and energy, though I am not present. For the proverb says:
I learn if foreign kings be fools or no
By their dispatches or their nuncio.
And there is a saying:
The envoy binds; he loosens what is bound;
Through him success in war, if found, is found.
And if you go, it is as if I went myself. Because, if you
Speak what lies in your commission,
Speak with careful composition,
Grammar and good ethics seeking,
'It's as if myself were speaking.
This is, in brief, the envoy's care:
An argument to fit the facts
And sound results, so far as speech
May be translated into acts.
"Depart then, dear friend. And may the office of envoy prove a second guardian angel to you."
So Victory departed and espied the elephant-king in the act of returning to the lake. He was surrounded by thousands of lordly elephants, whose ears, like flowering branches, were swaying in a dignified dance. His body was dappled with masses of pollen from his couch made of twigs from the tips of branches of flowering cassia trees; so that he seemed a laden cloud with many clinging lightning-flashes. His trumpeting was as deep toned and awe inspiring as the clash of countless thunderbolts from which in the rainy season piercing flashes gleam. He had the glossy beauty of leaves in a bed of pure blue lotuses. His twisting trunk had the charm of a perfect snake. His presence was that of an elephant of heaven. His two tusks, shapely, smooth, and full, had the colour of honey. Around his entire visage rose a charming hum from swarms of bees drawn by the fragrant perfume of the ichor-juice that issued from his temples.
And Victory reflected: "It is impossible for folk like me to come too near. Because, as the proverb puts it:
An elephant will kill you if
He touch; a serpent if he sniff;
King's laughter has a deadly sting;
A rascal kills by honouring.
"I must by all odds seek impregnable terrain before introducing myself."
After these reflections, he climbed upon a tall and jagged rock-pile before saying: "Is it well with you, lord of the two-tusked breed?"
And the elephant king, hearing this, peered narrowly about, and said "Who are you, sir?"
"I am an envoy," said the rabbit.
"In whose service?" asked the elephant, and the envoy answered: "In the service of the blessèd Moon."
"State your business," said the elephant king, and the rabbit stated it thus.
"You are aware, sir, that no injury may be done an envoy in the discharge of his function. For all kings, without exception, use envoys as their mouthpieces. Indeed, there is a proverb:
Though swords be out and kinsmen fall in strife,
The king still spares the harsh-tongued envoy's life.
"Therefore by command of the Moon I say to you: 'Why, O mortal, why have you used violence upon others, with no true reckoning of your own power or your foe's? For the Scripture says:
All those who madly march to deeds,
Not reckoning who are masters,
Themselves or powerful enemies,
Are asking for disasters.
"'Now you have sinfully violated the Lake of the Moon, known afar by my sacred name. And there you have slain rabbits who are under my special protection, who are of the race of that rabbit-king cherished in my bosom. This is iniquitous. Nay, one would think you the only creature in the world who does not know the rabbit in the moon. But what is gained by much speaking? Desist from such actions, or great disaster will befall you at my hands. But if from this hour you desist, great distinction will be yours; for your body will be nourished by my moonlight, and with your companions you shall pursue your happy, carefree fancies in this forest. In the alternative case, my light shall be withheld, your body will be scorched by summer heat, and you with your companions will perish.'"
On hearing this, the elephant-king felt his heart stagger, and after long reflection he said: "It is true, sir. I have sinned against the blessèd Moon. Who am I that I should longer contend with him? Pray point out to me, and quickly, the way that I must travel to win the blessèd Moon's forgiveness."
The rabbit said: "Come, sir, alone. I will point it out." So he went by night to the Lake of the Moon, and showed him the moon reflected in the water. There was the brilliant, quivering disk, of lustrous loveliness, surrounded by planets, the Seven Sages, and hosts of stars, all dancing in the reflection of heaven's broad expanse. And its circle was complete, with the full complement of digits.
Seeing this, the elephant said: "I purify myself and worship the deity," and he dropped upon the water a trunk that two men's arms might have encircled. Thereby he disturbed the water, the moon's disk danced to and fro as if mounted on a whirling wheel, and he saw a thousand moons.
Then Victory started back in great agitation, and said to the elephant-king: "Woe, woe to you, O King! You have doubly enraged the Moon."
The elephant said: "For what reason is the blessèd Moon angry with me?"
"Because," said Victory, "you have touched this water."
So the elephant-king, with drooping ears, bowed his head to the very earth in deep obeisance, in order to win forgiveness from the blessèd Moon.
And he spoke again to Victory: "My worthy sir, in all other manners, also, beseech for me the forgiveness of the blessèd Moon. I shall never return here."
And with these words he went to his own place.
Next: The Cat's Judgement