Hitopadesha (English translation)

The Book of Good Counsels

by Sir Edwin Arnold | 1861 | 33,335 words

The English translation of the Hitopadesha: a work of high antiquity, and extended popularity. The prose is doubtless as old as our own era; but the intercalated verses and proverbs compose a selection from writings of an age extremely remote....

Chapter 12 - The Story of the Frogs and the Old Serpent

"In a deserted garden there once lived a Serpent, 'Slow-coil' by name; who had reached an age when he was no longer able to obtain his own food. Lying listlessly by the edge of a pond, he was descried by a certain Frog, and interrogated—

'Have you given up caring for food, Serpent?'

'Leave me, kindly Sir,' replied the subtle reptile; 'the griefs of a miserable wretch like me cannot interest your lofty mind.'

'Let me at least hear them,' said the Frog, somewhat flattered.

'You must know, then, gracious Sir,' began the Serpent, 'that it is now twenty years since here, in Brahmapoora, I bit the son of Kaundinya, a holy Brahman; of which cruel bite he died. Seeing his boy dead, Kaundinya abandoned himself to despair, and grovelled in his distress upon the ground. Thereat came all his kinsmen, citizens of Brahmapoora, and sat down with him, as the manner is—

'He who shares his brother's portion, be he beggar, be he lord,
Comes as truly, comes as duly, to the battle as the board;
Stands before the King to succor, follows to the pile to sigh;
He is friend and he is kinsman—less would make the name a lie.'

Then spoke a twice-passed Brahman,[1] Kapila by name, 'O Kaundinya! thou dost forget thyself to lament thus. Hear what is written—

'Weep not! Life the hired nurse is, holding us a little space;
Death, the mother who doth take us back into our proper place.'
'Gone, with all their gauds and glories: gone, like peasants, are the Kings,
Whereunto the world is witness, whereof all her record rings.'

What, indeed, my friend, is this mortal frame, that we should set store by it?—

'For the body, daily wasting, is not seen to waste away,
Until wasted, as in water set a jar of unbaked clay.'

'And day after day man goeth near and nearer to his fate,
As step after step the victim thither where its slayers wait.'

Friends and kinsmen—they must all be surrendered! Is it not said—

'Like as a plank of drift-wood
Tossed on the watery main,
Another plank encountered,
Meets—touches—parts again;
So tossed, and drifting ever,
On life's unresting sea,
Men meet, and greet, and sever,
Parting eternally.'

Thou knowest these things, let thy wisdom chide thy sorrow, saying—

'Halt, traveller! rest i' the shade: then up and leave it!
Stay, Soul! take fill of love; nor losing, grieve it!'

But in sooth a wise man would better avoid love; for—

'Each beloved object born
Sets within the heart a thorn,
Bleeding, when they be uptorn.'

And it is well asked—

'When thine own house, this rotting frame, doth wither,
Thinking another's lasting—goest thou thither?'

What will be, will be; and who knows not—

'Meeting makes a parting sure,
Life is nothing but death's door.'

For truly—

'As the downward-running rivers never turn and never stay,
So the days and nights stream deathward, bearing human lives away.'

And though it be objected that—

'Bethinking him of darkness grim, and death's unshunned pain,
A man strong-souled relaxes hold, like leather soaked in rain.'

Yet is this none the less assured, that—

'From the day, the hour, the minute,
Each life quickens in the womb;
Thence its march, no falter in it,
Goes straight forward to the tomb.'

Form, good friend, a true idea of mundane matters; and bethink thee that regret is after all but an illusion, an ignorance—

'An 'twere not so, would sorrow cease with years?
Wisdom sees aright what want of knowledge fears.'

'Kaundinya listened to all this with the air of a dreamer. Then rising up he said, 'Enough! the house is hell to me—I will betake me to the forest.'

'Will that stead you?' asked Kapila; 'nay—

'Seek not the wild, sad heart! thy passions haunt it;
Play hermit in thine house with heart undaunted;
A governed heart, thinking no thought but good,
Makes crowded houses holy solitude.'

To be master of one's self—to eat only to prolong life—to yield to love no more than may suffice to perpetuate a family—and never to speak but in the cause of truth, this,' said Kapila, 'is armor against grief. What wouldst thou with a hermit's life—prayer and purification from sorrow and sin in holy streams? Hear this!—

'Away with those that preach to us the washing off of sin—
Thine own self is the stream for thee to make ablutions in:
In self-restraint it rises pure—flows clear in tide of truth,
By widening banks of wisdom, in waves of peace and ruth.
Bathe there, thou son of Pandu![2] with reverence and rite,
For never yet was water wet could wash the spirit white.'

Resign thyself to loss. Pain exists absolutely. Ease, what is it but a minute's alleviation?'

'It is nothing else,' said Kaundinya: 'I will resign myself!' Thereupon,' the Serpent continued, 'he cursed me[3] with the curse that I should be a carrier of frogs, and so retired—and here remain I to do according to the Brahman's malediction.'

'The Frog, hearing all this, went and reported it to Web-foot the Frog-King, who shortly came himself for an excursion on the Serpent. He was carried delightfully, and constantly employed the conveyance. But one day observing the Serpent to be sluggish, he asked the reason.

'May it please you,' explained the Serpent, 'your slave has nothing to eat.'

'Eat a few of my frogs,' said the King. 'I give you leave.'

'I thank your Majesty!' answered the Serpent, and forthwith he began to eat the frogs, until the pond becoming clear, he finished with their monarch himself. 'I also,' said Night-cloud, 'stooped to conquer, but King Silver-sides is a good King, and I would your Majesty were at peace with him.'

'Peace!' cried King Jewel-plume, 'shall I make peace with my vassal! I have vanquished him—let him serve me!'

"At this moment the Parrot came in. 'Sire!' said he, breathlessly,' the Stork Strong-bill, Rajah of Ceylon, has raised the standard of revolt in Jambudwipa, and claims the country.'

'What! what!' cried the King in a fury.

'Excellent good, Goose!' muttered the Minister. 'This is thy work!'

'Bid him but await me!' exclaimed the King, 'and I will tear him up like a tree!'

'Ah, Sire,' said the Minister—

'Thunder for nothing, like December's cloud,
Passes unmarked: strike hard, but speak not loud.'

We cannot march without making peace first; our rear will be attacked.'

'Must it be so?' asked the King.

'My Liege, it must,' replied the Vulture.

'Make a peace then,' said the King, 'and make an end.'

'It is well,' observed the Minister, and set out for the Court of the King Silver-sides. While he was yet coming, the Crane announced his approach.

'Ah!' said the Swan-King, 'this will be another designing spy from the enemy.'

'Misdoubt him not!' answered the Goose, smiling, 'it is the Vulture Far-sight, a spirit beyond suspicion. Would your Majesty be as the Swan that took the stars reflected in the pool for lily-buds, and being deceived, would eat no lily-shoots by day, thinking them stars?'

'Not so! but treachery breeds mistrust,' replied the Rajah; is it not written—

'Minds deceived by evil natures, from the good their faith withhold;
When hot conjee once has burned them, children blow upon the cold.'

'It is so written, my Liege,' said the Minister. 'But this one may be trusted. Let him be received with compliments and a gift.'

'Accordingly the Vulture was conducted, with the most profound respect, from the fort to the King's audience-hall, where a throne was placed for him.

'Minister,' said the Goose, 'consider us and ours at thy disposal.'

'So consider us,' assented the Swan-King.

'I thank you,' said Far-sight; 'but—

'With a gift the miser meet;
Proud men by obeisance greet;
Women's silly fancies soothe;
Give wise men their due—the truth.'

'I am come to conclude a peace, not to claim your kingdom. By what mode shall we conclude it?'

'How many modes be there?' asked King Silver-sides.

'Sixteen,' replied the Vulture.

'Are the alliances numbered therein?' asked the King.

'No! these be four,' answered the Vulture, 'namely—of mutual help—of friendship—of blood—and of sacrifice.'

'You are a great diplomatist!' said the King. 'Advise us which to choose!'

'There is no Peace like the Golden "Sangata," which is made between good men, based on friendly feeling, and preceded by the Oath of Truth,' replied the Vulture.

'Let us make that Peace!' said the Goose. Far-sight accordingly, with fresh presents of robes and jewels, accompanied the Goose to the camp of the Peacock-King. The Rajah, Jewel-plume, gave the Goose a gracious audience, accepted his terms of Peace, and sent him back to the Swan-King, loaded with gifts and kind speeches. The revolt in Jambudwipa was suppressed, and the Peacock-King retired to his own kingdom.

"And now," said Vishnu-Sarman, "I have told your Royal Highnesses all. Is there anything remaining to be told?"

"Reverend Sir!" replied the Princes, "there is nothing. Thanks to you, we have heard and comprehended the perfect cycle of kingly duty, and are content."

"There remains but this, then," said their Preceptor:—

'Peace and Plenty, all fair things,
Grace the realm where ye reign Kings;
Grief and loss come not anigh you,
Glory guide and magnify you;
Wisdom keep your statesmen still
Clinging fast, in good or ill,
Clinging, like a bride new-wed,
Unto lips, and breast, and head:
And day by day, that these fair things befall,
The Lady Lukshmi give her grace to all.'

Footnotes and references:


The young Brahman, being invested with the sacred thread, and having concluded his studies, becomes of the second order,—a householder—"grihastha."


Yudisthira, titular son of the Prince of Delhi, in the Mahabharata.


The power of a Brahman's curse is everywhere illustrated in Hindoo writings. "Carry me to Viswamitra," says Vasistha, "lest he curse thee, O chief of rivers!" (Mahabharata—Salya Parva). These sages transformed each other into birds, by the force of mutual imprecation. Bhagvata-Pooran—ix. 7, 6. But Vaswamitra was originally a Kshattriya, and became a Brahman by his austerities only. Vasistha, a true Brahman, resisted by a curse the celestial weapons raised against him. Saktri also, his son, met the King Kalmashapada, and, refusing to yield the path, was struck by him. The Brahman instantly cursed the King to become a man-eater, and the first victim of the imposed propensity was the powerful but improvident Saktri himself. (Mahabharata, Adi Parva.) The ocean, originally fresh and pure, became salt by the power of a Brahmanic imprecation.

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