Of Crows And Owls
This third part of the Panchatantra begins with a verse:
Trust not even a close friend
Who earlier was your enemy.
This is the story of how the crows burnt the home of a trusting pack of owls.
Once upon a time all the crows in a town called Mahilaropya made a huge banyan tree their home. The tree had hundreds of branches. Their king, known as Meghavarna, set up strong fortifications to ensure security for his brood. Similarly, the owls of the town made a nearby cave their colony. They also had a king, called Arimardana, who ruled with the help of a strong and cunning army.
The owl king kept a close eye on the banyan tree and on account of previous enmity killed every night any crow he sighted outside the tree. Slowly, the owl king managed to kill all crows that could be seen outside the tree. That is why wise men had always said that whoever neglects disease or the enemy perishes in their hands.
Alarmed at the loss of his flock, Meghavarna assembled his ministers and asked them to prepare a plan to fight the owls. He placed before them six strategies and asked them to name the best of the six. The first minister suggested compromise as a tactic because one had first to survive to gather strength and later destroy the enemy. The elders have said,
“Bend to the enemy when he is strong
Attack him when he is vulnerable.
Don’t wage a war if it doesn’t bring
Power, or wealth or friendship.”
The second minister ruled out compromise and offered trickery as a formula. He cited the example of how Bheema in the Mahabharata had killed Keechaka in the disguise of a woman. He also quoted elders saying,
“Never accept peace with
An enemy who is not just
For, he will break his word
And stab you in the back.”
The minister referred to the learned as saying that it is easy to defeat an enemy who is a tyrant, a miser, an idler, a liar, a coward and a fool. Words of peace will only inflame an enemy blinded by anger.
The third minister said, “O lord, our enemy is not only strong but also wicked. Neither compromise nor trickery will work with him. Exile is the best way. We shall wait and strike when the enemy becomes weak.”
“Neither peace nor bravado
Can subdue a strong enemy
Where these two do not work
Flight is the best alternative.”
The fourth minister opposed all these tactics and suggested the king of crows should stay in his own fort, mobilize support from friends and then attack the enemy. He quoted the learned as saying,
“A king who flees is like
A cobra without fangs.
A crocodile in water
Can haul an elephant.”
Therefore, the minister said, “An ally is what wind is to fire. The king must stay where he is and gather allies for support.”
The fifth minister offered a strategy similar to that of the fourth and said, “Stay in your fort and seek the help of an ally stronger than the enemy. It also pays to form an axis of less strong allies.”
After listening to all the ministers, Meghavarna turned to the wisest and senior most among his counsels, Sthirajeevi, and asked him for his advice. The wise man told Meghavarna,
“Oh, king of crows, this is the time to use duplicity to finish the enemy. You can thus keep your throne.”
“But learned sir, we have no idea of where Arimardana lives and of what his failings are.”
“That is not difficult. Send your spies and gather information on the key men advising the king of owls. The next step is to divide them by setting one against the other.”
“Tell me why did the crows and owls fall out in the first place,” asked Meghavarna.
Sthirajeevi said, “That is another story. Long, long ago all the birds in the jungle—swans, parrots, cranes, nightingales, owls, peacocks, pigeons, pheasants, sparrows, crows etc.—assembled and expressed anguish that their king Garuda had become indifferent to their welfare and failed to save them from poachers. Believing that people without a protector were like passengers in a ship without a captain, they decided to elect a new king. They chose an owl as their king.
As the owl was being crowned, a crow flew into the assembly and asked them why and what they were celebrating. When the birds told him the details, the crow told them, the owl is a wicked and ugly bird and it is unwise to choose another leader when Garuda is still alive. To crush enemies it is enough if you mentioned Garuda’s name or for that matter the name of anyone who is great. That was how the hares managed to live happily by taking the name of the moon.”
The birds asked the visiting crow, “Tell us how this has happened.”
“I will tell you,” said the crow and began telling them the story of the hares and the elephants.