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

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “the heron and the crab” 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. 64 from the collection “stories of the durayas”.

Story 64 - The Heron And The Crab

THERE is a great big mountain. On the mountain there is a rock-hole [containing water]. In it there are some small fishes. At all other places a Heron [1] eats the small fishes. In this rock-hole the Heron cannot eat the small fishes ; he goes along [in the air], above the rock cave.

On account of it, the Heron puts on a false appearance.

“I am indeed an ascetic,”

he said.

“I do not kill living creatures,”

he said.

Thereupon the small fishes came for a talk. After they came he said,

“Being in this hole ye cannot go up and down,”

he said.

“Because it is so, I will take you and put you in a river possessing length and breadth,” he said.

After that, having taken them one by one he ate them. At the time when he was taking the Crab which remained over from them, the Crab took hold of the neck of the Heron. While on the way, when the Heron was preparing to kill the Crab, the Crab getting to know of it, cut the neck of the Heron with his claws and killed it.

Duraya. North-western Province.


The Pond Heron. (Variant.)

At the time of a great drought the water of a pool having nearly dried up, the fishes [2] saw that they were coming near dying.

A Pond Heron [3] which saw it, having very speedily come flying, spoke to the fishes :

“Friends, I will go and conduct you to a pool in which there is much water,”

he said. They were pleased at it.

The Pond Heron holding one by his bill, and having gone and put it down at the pool in which there was water, again brought it near those that were in the pool at which the water had dried up, and let it go. The fish which he brought informed them that there was a pool in which there was water, in the way the Heron said. All the nshes that were in the dried-up pool became wishful to go.

Now then, the Pond Heron having taken them one by one, leaving aside the pool in which there was water, took them to a tree near it, and ate them. After not many days the fishes were finished ; the Pond Heron ate all. Having eaten them, below the tree on which he put them there was a heap of bones to the extent of a tree in height.

Afterwards having seen that a Crab was in the dried-up pool, the Pond Heron spoke to it:

“Friend, you also come to be conducted there,”

he said.

The Crab also spoke to the Pond Heron:

“Friend, my shell is very thin,”

he said.

“I will take you carefully,”

the Pond Heron said. After he had said it the Crab became wishful to go.

The Pond Heron took hold of his shell, and the Crab took hold of the neck of the Pond Heron with his two claws. Having taken hold of him the Pond Heron flew away.

Having seen that, leaving the pool on this side, he was flying to the tree, the Crab spoke to him.

“The pool is here,”

he said.

“I am taking thee to eat,”

the Pond Heron said.

At that time having seized the two claws the Pond Heron killed him,

Washerman. North-western Province.


The Pond Heron. (Variant.)

In a certain country a Pond Heron stayed, it is said. At the time while the Pond Heron was there, seeking small fishes m the tanks, a great general drought befel. On account of it all the tanks dried up. The Pond Heron ate all the small fishes that stayed in them.

Having eaten them, he remained hungry for two or three days, there being no more small fishes. Having been in that state, and having flown away to seek food, as he was going along he saw that a tank having dried up, small fishes were there, being unable to go elsewhere.

The Pond Heron having gone there, asked the small fishes,

“What, friends, are you there for ?”

Then the small fishes said,

“Ane ! Friend, the little water that there was for us having dried up, we are without water.”

After that, the Pond Heron said,

“If so, friends, there is a good river for you. I will take you to it, and put you down there.”

The little fishes said,

“It is good, friend. If so, take us and put us down there.”

The Pond Heron said,

“If so, let one come [first, and see the river],”

and holding it with his bill he took it to the river, and put it down.

That small fish going in the water all round the river came near the Pond Heron. Then the Pond Heron having said to the small fish,

“Let us go, friend,”

the small fish said,

“Friend, I cannot go.”

The Pond Heron said,

“No, friend, let us go. Can you remain, without going ? Your other people are to come.”

Afterwards the small fish said “Ha.” So the Pond Heron, taking the small fish with his bill, came flying back. Having come to a great rough tree, and settled on a branch of the tree, he ate the small fish.

Again he went flying to the place where the small fishes were.

The small fishes asked,

“Friend, one of us went with you. Where is he ?”

The Pond Heron replied,

“Friends, he said he would not come. He stayed in the river.”

Then those small fishes said,

“If so, go with us, and put us down in it.”

After that, the Pond Heron, taking one of them, settled on the tree at which he ate that small fish,' and ate it. Again he came to the place where the other small fishes were. Then those small fishes said,

“Friend, take us also, and put us in the river.”

The Pond Heron again having taken a small fish and settled on that very tree, ate it. Thus, in that way having taken the small fishes until they were finished, he ate them all.

Having finished the small fishes, a Crab was omitted outside. The Pond Heron came and asked the Crab,

“What, friend, are you here alone for ?”

The Crab said,

“Ane ! Friend, the small fishes of this tank went to the quarters where they went. I alone remain."

Then the Pond Heron said, “Friend, shall I take you also to the river, and put you down in it ?”

The Crab said “Ha.”

Afterwards the Pond Heron, holding the Crab with his bill, took it and settled on the tree on which he ate the small fishes.

While he was there the Crab asked,

“What, friend, have you delayed here for ?”

Then the Pond Heron said,

“It is here that I ate also the few small fishes that stayed in the tank. It is here I shall eat you also.”

Afterwards the Crab, having stiffened his claws a little, seized the neck of the Pond Heron. Then the Pond Heron with his bill tightened his hold of the Crab. Thus, in that way holding each other, both of them died, and fell on the ground below the tree.

Tom-tom Beater. North-western Province.



The Jataka story No. 38 (vol. i, p. 96), about a Crane and a Crab, nearly agrees with the second of these tales, but the ending is like that of the first one, the Crab killing the Crane. It is also much more artificial and developed in the conversations.

It is possible that the story related by the Duraya may represent a very early form of the tale, or perhaps the original one. If the story were derived from the Jataka tale, it is very improbable that in a country where ponds are more numerous than in any other, we should find the pool of the Jataka, to which the fishes were to be taken, displaced in two of these by a river.

The story is given in Indian Fables (Ramaswami Raju), p. 88. A Crane pretended to carry the fish to a pond, and was killed by a Crab.

In Skeat’s Fables and Folk-Tales from an Eastern Forest, p. 18, the bird was a Pelican, which was killed by a Crab.

In the Panchatantra (Dubois), a Cormorant came to the fishes at a pool, and allayed their suspicions by putting on an appearance of piety and by alleging that he had become a religious devotee. He informed them that he foresaw a twelve years’ drought, in which the pools would dry up and they would perish, and he offered to transport them to a mountain pool fed by a perennial spring. They were eaten on a rock, and the Crab strangled the bird.

In the Katha Sarit Sagara (Tawney), vol. ii, p. 31, the animals were a Crane and a Makara, which is said by the translator to generally mean a crocodile, though in early carvings in Ceylon and India it is a fabulous animal with two short legs and a tail usually curved upon its back. The bird frightened the fish by saying that a man was coming to catch them with a net, and he offered to convey them to a lake. When the Makara was taken to the rock at which the others were killed, he cut off the Crane’s head.

This story nearly agrees with that in the Hitopaaesa, in which a Crab killed the bird.

Footnotes and references:


Kokka, a word which also means Egret, and some other large wading birds.


Lula (Ophiocephalus striatus).


Kanakoka (Ardeola grayi).

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