Village Folk-tales of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), vol. 1-3

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “the lion and the turtle” is gathered from oral sources sources, tracing its origin to ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). These tales are often found to contain similarities from stories from Buddhism and Hinduism. This is the story nr. 37 from the collection “stories told by the cultivating caste and vaeddas”.

IN a jungle there is a Lion King. While he was there, one day there was no prey for the Lion King when he was walking about seeking it. He obtained nothing as prey that day. As the Lion through fatigue was staying below a great big tree, avoiding the heat, he went to sleep.

While he was sleeping, a Turtle came out [of the bushes], having set off to go away from there. As he was going along, a “sara, sara” sound was heard, having been made by the dry leaves. The Lion King having opened his eyes [1] at the sound of this Turtle’s going, after he had looked saw the Turtle, and having become angry sprang at once near the Turtle. Having said,

“Bola ! What art thou going on a rapid journey in this manner for ? Didst thou not see that I am [here] ?”

the Lion King pushed against the Turtle.

Then the Turtle says,

“O Lord who will become a thousand Buddhas [in future existences], I didn’t come to cause you alarm, Sir; I am walking to procure my food,”

the Turtle said to the Lion King.

“What art thou going to seek and eat in this forest ?”

the Lion asked.

Then the Turtle says,

“O Lord, I am walking to obtain and eat any sort of things that I can eat,”

the Turtle said.

Then anger having gone to the Lion, he sprang to eat the Turtle. Then the Turtle, having brought his head inside, became like a stone. After he became thus, the Lion turning the Turtle to that side and to this side, and having clawed him arid bitten him, looked at him, having been unable to do anything to him. After he had been looking the Lion says,

“Having been like a what-is-it stone, didn’t you preach to me in overbearing words ?”

When he had been looking at him a little time, as the Turtle, having put his head outside again, was going off, the Lion says,

“ Bola, art thou a being who can do anything ? ’’

“O Lord, the things that you, Sir, can do you do. I do the things that I can do,”

the Turtle said.

“Bola, canst thou, who endest by drawing slowly and slowly what is like a lump of stone, run, jump, roar, swim in rivers that way and this way, equal to me ? And what canst thou do to me, who having roared and caused the bottom of the ears to burst, and killed every animal, eats it ?”

the Lion said.

Then the Turtle says,

“You, Sir, frighten and eat even all. You cannot frighten and kill, nor eat, me except on land. In the water, you, Sir, cannot swim that side and this side equal to me,”

the Turtle said to the Lion.

After the Lion, having become angry, said,

“Wilt thou come to swim that side and this side with me ? If not, I will put thee under a large stone,”

the Turtle having become afraid that he would kill him, having given his word to swim with the Lion that side and this side in a river, went near the river.

Having gone [there] the Turtle met with yet a Turtle, and said,

“Friend, a great trouble has befallen me to-day.”

After the friendly Turtle asked,

“What is it, friend ?”

the other Turtle says,

“The Lion King has come and wagered with me to swim that side and this side,”

he said.

Then the Turtle says,

“Why are you afraid of that, friend ? Say, ‘It is good.’ I will tell you a good trick ; you act in that way. What is it ?

You place a red flower in your mouth. I will place a red flower in my mouth. You having been on this side with the Lion King, and having sprung into the river and hidden at the bottom of the water very near there, remain [there], I having hidden near the river bank on that side will be [there].

The Lion King having come swimming, as he is going to land on that side, I being near the river bank and having said ‘Kurmarsha,’ [2] taking the flower will land [before him]. You also in that way having been hidden near the bank on this side, as the Lion King is going to land, having said, ‘Kurmarsha,’ quickly land [before him].”

The friendly Turtle having said [this], hid at the bottom of the water near the bank on that side of the river.

The Turtle that spoke with the Lion went near the Lion. Then the Lion asks,

“Art thou coming to swim ?”

he asked.

“Yes, Your Majesty,”

the Turtle said.

Then [after they had gone to the river] the Lion said to the Turtle,

“Thou, having swum in front, be off. I having come slowly shall get in front of thee,”

he said.

Then the Turtle, also holding a red flower in his mouth, having descended to the river, and having gone a little far, got hid at the bottom of the water. While it was hidden, as the Lion was going swimming near the river bank, the other Turtle which stopped at that side, having got in front before the Lion landed, and said,


having placed a red flower also in his mouth, landed on the river bank at once.

The Lion having seen him, again sprang into the river. As he came to this side, the Turtle that remained at the bank at this side, having got in front of the Lion at once, taking the flower also, said,


and landed.

Again the Lion swam to the other side. In that very way the Turtle having been there and said,


landed [in front of him].

Thus, in that way, when swimming seven or eight times, the Lion, who was without even any prey that day, having become unable to swim, and being without strength in the middle of the river, died.

Village Vaedda of Bintaenna.



In a variant of the North-western Province, the Lion lived in a cave, and met the Turtle when he went to the river to drink. He told the Turtle that it was unable to travel quickly because it always lived in one place. The Turtle shrugged its shoulders, and replied,

“Can you travel better than I ?”

The Lion challenged it to race with him, and the Turtle accepted the challenge, fixing the time eight days later.

The race of the two animals was not across the river, but along it, a series of Turtles having been stationed at various points where it was arranged that the Lion should come to the bank and call out,


At each place a Turtle rose on hearing this, and said,

“What is it, friend ?”

At the fifth stage, the Lion leapt over two stages as quickly as one, and broke his neck.

The resemblance of the race in this variant to that between Brer Rabbit and Brer Tarrypin in Uncle Remus is striking ; it even extends to the number of stages, five in both stories.

In The Orientalist, vol. i, pp. 87,88, Mr. W. Goonetilleke gave a variant from Siam, by Herr A. Bastian, in which the animals were the Garuda [or Rukh] and the Turtle; and two others by Lord Stanmore, from Fiji, where the animals were a Crane and a Crab in one instance, and a Crane and a Butterfly in the other, the insect being perched on the bird’s back during the race.

Footnotes and references:


Aehae aeragassi.


Apparently this is Kurma, turtle + marsha, √mriish. The meaning would be “Permit the Turtle” (to precede you). In Tht Orientalist, vol. i, p. 87, in which this part of the story is also given, it is stated that there is a saying, Kurmaya prativadma sinhasya maranan yatha, “As the death of the lion by the reply [? Kurmarsha] of the turtle.”

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