Panchatantra: The Ungrateful Man

This wonderful story also appears in the Buddhist jataka tradition, and thus it made its way to Tibet also, as you can read here: The Ingratitude of Man.

[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 Ungrateful Man

In a certain town lived a Brahman whose name was Sacrifice. Every day his wife, chafing under their poverty, would say to him: "Come, Brahman! Lazybones! Stony-Heart! Don't you see your babies starving, while you hang about, mooning? Go somewhere, no matter where, find some way, any way, to get food, and come back in a hurry."

At last the Brahman, weary of this refrain, undertook a long journey and in a few days entered a great forest. While wandering hungry in this forest, he began to hunt for water. And in a certain spot he came upon a well, overgrown with grass. When he looked in, he discovered a tiger, a monkey, a snake, and a man at the bottom. They also saw him.

Then the tiger thought: "Here comes a man," and he cried: "O noble soul, there is great virtue in saving life. Think of that, and pull me out, so that I may live in the company of beloved friends, wife, sons, and relatives."

"Why," said the Brahman, "the very sound of your name brings a shiver to every living thing. I cannot deny that I fear you."

But the tiger resumed:

To Brahman-slayer, impotent,
To drunkard, him on treason bent,
To sinner through prevarication,
The holy grant an expiation:
While for ingratitude alone
No expiation will atone.

And he continued: "I bind myself by a triple oath that no danger threatens you from me. Have pity and pull me out."

Then the Brahman thought it through to this conclusion: "If disaster befalls in the saving of life, it is a disaster that spells salvation." So he pulled the tiger out.

Next the monkey said: "Holy sir, pull me out too." And the Brahman pulled him out too.

Then the snake said: "Brahman, pull me out too."

But the Brahman answered: "One shudders at the mere sound of your name; how much more at touching you!"

"But," said the snake, "we are not free agents. We bite only under orders. I bind myself by a triple oath that you need have no fear of me."

After listening to this, the Brahman pulled him out too. Then the animals said: "The man down there is a shrine of every sin. Beware. Do not pull him out. Do not trust him."

Furthermore, the tiger said: "Do you see this mountain with many peaks? My cave is in a wooded ravine on the north slope. You must do me the favour of paying me a visit there someday, so that I may make return for your kindness. I should not like to drag the debt into the next life." With these words he started for his cave.

Then the monkey said: "My home is quite near the cave, beside the waterfall. Please pay me a visit there." With this he departed.

Then the snake said: "In any emergency, remember me." And he went his way.

Then the man in the well shouted time and again: "Brahman! Pull me out too!"

At last the Brahman's pity was awakened, and he pulled him out, thinking: "He is a man, like me."

And the man said: "I am a goldsmith and live in Baroch. If you have any gold to be worked into shape, you must bring it to me." With this he started for home.

Then the Brahman continued his wanderings but found nothing whatever. As he started for home, he recalled the monkey's invitation. So he paid a visit, found the monkey at home, and received fruits sweet as nectar, which put new life into him.

Furthermore, the monkey said: "If you ever have use for fruit, pray come here at any time."

"You have done a friend's full duty," said the Brahman. "But please introduce me to the tiger." So the monkey led the way and introduced him to the tiger.

Now the tiger recognized him and, by way of returning his kindness, bestowed on him a necklace and other ornaments of wrought gold, saying: "A certain prince whose horse ran away with him came here alone, and when he was within range of a spring, I killed him. All this I took from his person and stored carefully for you. Pray accept it and go where you will."

So the Brahman took it, then recalled the goldsmith and visited him, thinking: "He will do me the favour of getting it sold."

Now the goldsmith welcomed him with respectful hospitality, offering water for the feet, an honourable gift, a seat, hard food and soft, drink, and other things, and then said: "Command me, sir. What may I do for you?"

And the Brahman said: "I have brought you gold. Please sell it."

"Show me the gold," said the goldsmith, and the other did so.

Now the goldsmith thought when he saw it: "I worked this gold for the prince."

And having made sure of the fact, he said: "Please stay right here while I show it to somebody." With this he went to court and showed it to the king.

On seeing it, the king asked: "Where did you get this?"

And the goldsmith replied: "In my house is a Brahman. He brought it."

Thereupon the king reflected: "Without question, that villain killed my son. I will show him what that costs." And he issued orders to the police: "Have this Brahman scum fettered, and impale him tomorrow morning."

When the Brahman was fettered, he remembered the snake, who appeared at once and said: "What can I do to serve you?"

"Free me from these fetters," said the Brahman.

And the snake replied: "I will bite the king's dear queen. Then, in spite of the charms employed by any great conjurer and the antidotes of other physicians, I will keep her poisoned. Only by the touch of your hand will the poison be neutralized. Then you will go free."

Having made this promise, the snake bit the queen, whereupon shouts of despair arose in the palace, and the entire city was filled with dismay. Then they summoned dealers in antidotes, conjurers, scientists, druggists, and foreigners, all of whom treated the case with such resources as they had, but none could neutralize the poison.

Finally, a proclamation was made with beat of drum, upon hearing which the Brahman said: "I will cure her."

The moment he spoke, they freed him from his fetters, took him to the king, and introduced him. And the king said: "Cure her, sir."

So he went to the queen and cured her by the mere touch of his hand. When the king saw her restored to life, he paid the Brahman honour and reverence, then respectfully asked him: "Reveal the truth, sir. How did you come by this gold?"

And the Brahman began at the beginning and related the whole adventure accurately.

As soon as the king comprehended the facts, he arrested the goldsmith, while he gave the Brahman a thousand villages and appointed him privy counsellor.

The Brahman summoned his family, was surrounded by friends and relatives, took delight in eating and other natural functions, acquired massive merit by the performance of numerous sacrifices, concentrated authority by heedful attention to all phases of royal duty, and lived happily.




(1200 words)


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