Mitra Sarma was a Brahmin living in a small village. He used to daily worship Fire. It was the month of Magha (February). The sky was full of clouds and it had already started raining. Sarma left for a neighbouring village at that time to seek the gift of a sacrificial lamb from some rich man. He called on a well-to-do man in the village and requested him to make him a gift of a healthy lamb for sacrifice to Gods. The wealthy man gave him one of the well-fed lambs he had.
Carrying the lamb on his shoulders, the Brahmin began his homeward journey. Three crooks, very hungry and emaciated, crossed his path and seeing the healthy lamb on the Brahmin’s shoulders thought, “Ah, God has sent us good food. Let us trick the Brahmin into parting with it and free us from hunger and cold.” At once, they began to act.
One of them changed into a disguise, and overtaking the Brahmin by another route, stopped him and said, “O what a fool you are? Such a great worshipper of Fire, why are you carrying this dog on your shoulders? This will bring you ridicule. Don’t you know that it is a sin to touch a dog, or a rooster, or a donkey?”
The Brahmin lost his temper and said, “You stupid fellow, are you blind? Why do you call a lamb a dog?”
The first crook replied, “Don’t be angry, if you think he is not a dog, please carry on. I have no objection.”
The Brahmin hardly walked a little distance when the second crook greeted him and said,
“O respected sir, it is highly regrettable that you are carrying a dead calf on your shoulders, however dear it is to you. The man who touches dead animals or birds has to undergo purification rites.”
The Brahmin challenged him, “Are you too blind? This is a live sacrificial lamb and you say he is a dead calf.”
The second crook said, “All right, sir. Please excuse me. I am an ignorant fool. Do as it pleases you.”
Now it was the turn of the third crook to cross the Brahmin’s path.
Turning to the Brahmin, the crook said, “Sir, it is highly improper. You are carrying a donkey on your shoulders. This is not done. The elders have said he who touches a donkey, knowingly or otherwise, has to take a bath fully dressed. So, please leave him before anybody notices it.”
Thinking that he was really carrying a donkey, the poor Brahmin threw the lamb to the ground and went home. Sthirajeevi, continuing his advice to Meghavarna, said,
“Also, remember not to quarrel with weak men when they are united because they cannot be defeated. See, for example, how a deadly snake becomes prey of a united army of ants. That is why I want to tell you a few words of caution. Follow them.”
“We shall do as you command us,” said Meghavarna.
Sthirajeevi then began revealing his plan, “Apart from the four strategies I had told you, there is a fifth one. In the presence of everyone, abuse me and punish me branding me as the friend of your enemy. That will convince the spies of our enemy that you don’t trust me any more. Bring some blood and spray it on my body. Then exile to the Rishyamooka hills.”
“I shall remain here bruised and when the enemy comes, I will try to earn his mercy and trust by blaming you. You stay in the hills till I find their fort and give you a signal when all the owls are sleeping in the day. Then you can come and with the help of your army kill all the owls. This plan is the result of great thought. We have no alternative.”
On Meghavarna approving the plan, Sthirajeevi started a mock fight with the king of crows. The king’s men and others, mistaking it for a real duel, were ready to kill Sthirajeevi when Meghavarna told them, “Don’t interfere. Go away. I will have the pleasure of punishing this unfaithful fellow.” Meghavarna then pretended to attack Sthirajeevi with his beak and doused him in blood he brought with him and left for the hills.
Then Krikalika, wife of the pretender who was spying on the crow camp, carried this news of the assault on minister Sthirajeevi and the king’s departure for the hills, to the owl king Arimardana. Soon after sunset, the owl king, accompanied by his ministers and followers, set out to kill all the crows. They reached the tree, home of the crows, and surrounded it.
Not finding a single crow there and happy for that reason, Arimardana told his men to look for the crows so that they could chase them and kill them. Meanwhile, Sthirajeevi, who suffered mock injuries, began weakly moaning to attract the attention of the owls.
When the owls saw this and rushed to kill him, he pleaded, “Sir, my name is Sthirajeevi and I am minister of Meghavarna, the king of crows. Before you kill me, I have something to convey to your king.”
Arimardana came to see the minister at once and asked him the reason for his plight. Sthirajeevi told him, “Our king wanted to avenge the massacre of his subjects by your men. When I knew he was bent upon waging a war with you, I advised him not to be rash and not go to war with you. I asked him to sign peace with you. My king thought that I was on your side and in great anger inflicted these injuries on me. As soon as I recover, I will show you where he and his men are hiding. You can destroy them.”
The king of owls called a meeting of his elders and his five ministers for consultations. He asked his first minister, Raktaksha, “Friend, our enemy’s minister is in our custody. What shall we do with him?”
The minister said, “What is there to discuss? Kill him instantly without hesitation. It is always better to destroy the enemy before he acquires strength. Such opportunities come once in a while. If you lose it now, you will never get it back. Don’t be carried away by Meghavarna’s minister’s show of affection. Because once lost, love never returns.”
To drive home the point, Raktaksha related to the king of owls the story of a cobra and a Brahmin.