Story of the Day: The Crab and the Elephant

This is a story I am posting here for future inclusion in the (upcoming) Elephant unit. It is a Jataka tale from Jataka Tales, edited by H. T. Francis and E. J. Thomas (1916).

In this story, the Buddha, born as an elephant, defeats a monstrous crab, with help provided at a crucial moment by the loyal she-elephant who is his wife.

The end of the story provides an explanation of the origin of the Drum and the Drum.


Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, there was a great lake in Himalaya, wherein was a great golden Crab. Because he lived there, the place was known as the Crab Tarn [Crab Lake].

The Crab was very large, as big round as a threshing floor; it would catch elephants, and kill and eat them, and from fear of it the elephants durst not go down and browse there.

Now the Bodhisatta was conceived by the mate of an elephant, the leader of a herd, living hard by this Crab Lake. The mother, in order to be safe till her delivery, sought another place on a mountain, and there she was delivered of a son, who in due time grew to years of wisdom, and was great and mighty, and prospered, and he was like a purple mountain of collyrium.

He chose another elephant for his mate, and he resolved to catch this Crab. So with his mate and his mother, he sought out the elephant herd, and finding his father, proposed to go and catch the Crab.

"You will not be able to do that, my son," said he.

But he begged the father again and again to give him leave, until at last he said, "Well, you may try."

So the young Elephant collected all the elephants beside the Crab Lake, and led them close by the lake. "Does the Crab catch them when they go down, or while they are feeding, or when they come up again?"

They replied, "When the beasts come up again."

"Well then," said he, "do you all go down to the lake and eat whatever you see, and come up first; I will follow last behind you." And so they did.

Then the Crab, seeing the Bodhisatta coming up last, caught his feet tight in his claw, like a smith who seizes a lump of iron in a huge pair of tongs. The Bodhisatta's mate did not leave him, but stood there close by him.

The Bodhisatta pulled at the Crab, but could not make him budge. Then the Crab pulled, and drew him towards himself. At this in deadly fear the Elephant roared and roared; hearing which all the other elephants, in deadly terror, ran off trumpeting and dropping excrement. Even his mate could not stand, but began to make off.

Then to tell her how he was held a prisoner, he uttered the first stanza, hoping to stay her from her flight:

"Gold-clawed creature with projecting eyes,
Lake-bred, hairless, clad in bony shell,
He has caught me! Hear my woful cries!
Mate! Don't leave me — for you love me well!"

Then his mate turned round, and repeated the second stanza to his comfort:

"Leave you? Never! Never will I go —
Noble husband, with your years threescore.
All four quarters of the earth can show
None so dear as thou hast been of yore."

This way she encouraged him, and saying, "Noble sir, now I will talk to the Crab a while to make him let you go," she addressed the Crab in the third stanza:

"Of all the crabs that in the sea,
Ganges, or Nerbudda be,
You are best and chief, I know:
Hear me — let my husband go!"

As she spoke thus, the Crab's fancy was smitten with the sound of the female voice, and forgetting all fear he loosed his claws from the Elephant's leg, and suspected nothing of what he would do when he was set free.

Then the Elephant lifted his foot, and stepped upon the Crab's back; and at once his eyes started out.

The Elephant shouted the joy-cry. Up ran the other elephants all, pulled the Crab along and set him upon the ground, and trampled him to mincemeat. His two claws broken from his body lay apart.

And this Crab Lake, being near the Ganges, when there was a flood in the Ganges, was filled with Ganges water; when the water subsided it ran from the lake into the Ganges.

Then these two claws were lifted and floated along the Ganges. One of them reached the sea; the other was found by the ten royal brothers while playing in the water, and they took it and made of it the little drum called Anaka.

The Titans [Asuras] found that which reached the sea, and made it into the drum called Alambara. These afterwards being worsted in battle with Sakka [Indra, King of the Gods], ran off and left it behind. Then Sakka caused it to be kept for his own use; and it is of this they say, "There is thunder like the Alambara cloud!"

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