The Panchatantra, Book III
Category: Children
Level 3.73 2:09 h
The Panchatantra, Book III, is the last book of the series of fables set together inside a larger story. The tales are mostly told using verse and are all centered around animals. Although the tales are about animals and fictional, they teach lessons and touch on more significant issues. The main themes of Book III are that brains are more powerful than brawn. Despite the author being unknown, the value of these powerful fables has endured.

The Panchatantra

Vishnu Sharma

The Panchatantra, Book III

Book III

Crows and Owls

Here, then, begins Book III, called “Crows and Owls,” which treats of peace, war, and so forth. The first verse runs:

Reconciled although he be,
Never trust an enemy.
For the cave of owls was burned,
When the crows with fire returned.

“How was that?” asked the princes, and Vishnusharman told the following story.

In the southern country is a city called Earth-Base. Near it stands a great banyan tree with countless branches. And in the tree dwelt a crow-king named Cloudy with a countless retinue of crows. There he made his habitation and spent his time.

Now a rival king, a great owl named Foe-Crusher, had his fortress and his habitation in a mountain cave, and he had an unnumbered retinue of owls. This owl-king cherished a grudge, so that whenever he met a crow in his airings, he killed him and passed on. In this way his constant aggression gradually spread rings of dead crows about the banyan tree. Nor is this surprising. For the proverb says:

If you permit disease or foe
To march unheeded, you may know
That death awaits you, sure if slow.

Now one day Cloudy summoned all his counselors and said: “Gentlemen, as you are aware, our enemy is arrogant, energetic, and a judge of occasions. He always comes at nightfall to work havoc in our ranks. How, then, can we counter-attack? For we do not see at night, and in the daytime we cannot discover his fortress. Otherwise, we might go there and strike a blow. What course, then, shall we adopt? There are six possibilities — peace, war, change of base, entrenchment, alliances, and duplicity.”

And they replied: “Your Majesty does well to put this question. For the saying goes:

Good counselors should tell their king,
Unasked, a profitable thing;
If asked, they should advise.
While flatterers who shun the true
(Which in the end is wholesome, too)
Are foemen in disguise.

Therefore it is now proper to confer in secret session.”

Then Cloudy started to consult severally his five ancestral counselors, whose names were Live-Again, Live-Well, Live-Along, Live-On, and Live-Long. And first of all he questioned Live-Again: “My worthy sir, what is your opinion under the circumstances?” And Live-Again replied: “O King, one should not make war with a powerful enemy. And this one is powerful and knows when to strike. Therefore make peace with him. For the saying goes:

Bow your head before the great,
Lifting it when times beseem,
And prosperity will flow
Ever onward, like a stream.

And again:

Make your peace with powerful foes
Who are rich and good and wise,
Who are seasoned conquerors,
In whose home no discords rise.

Make your peace with wicked men,
If your life endangered be;
Life, itself first made secure,
Gives the realm security.

And again:

Make your peace with him whose wont
'Tis to conquer in a fight;
Other foes will bend their necks
To you, fearful of his might.

Even with equals make your peace;
Victory is often given
Whimsically; take no risks —
Says the current saw in heaven.

Even with equals victory
Whimsically may alight.
Try three other methods first;
Only in extremis fight.

And yet again:

See! The bully to whose soul
Power is all, and peace is not,
Clashing with an equal foe,
Crumbles like an earthen pot.

Land and friends and gold at most
Have been won when battles cease;
If but one of these should fail,
It is best to live in peace.

When a lion digs for moles
Hiding in their pebbly house,
He is apt to break his nails,
And at best he gets a mouse.

Therefore, where no prize is won
And a healthy fight is sure,
Never stir a quarrel, but
Whatsoe’er the cost, endure.

By a stronger foe assailed,
Bend as bends the river reed;
Do not strike, as serpents do,
If you wish your luck to speed.

Imitators of the reed
Slowly win to glory’s peak;
But the luckless serpent-men
Only earn the death they seek.

Shrink like turtles in their shells,
Taking blows if need there be;
Raise your head from time to time
Like the black snake, warily.

To sum it up:

Never struggle with the strong
(If you wish to know my mind)
Who has ever seen a cloud
Baffle the opposing wind?”

Having heard this view, the king said to Live-Well: “My worthy sir, I desire to hear your opinion also.” And Live-Well said: “O King, I disagree. Inasmuch as the enemy is cruel, greedy, and unprincipled, you should most certainly not make peace with him. For the proverb says:

With foes unprincipled and false.
'Tis vain to seek accommodation:
Agreements bind them not; and soon
They show a wicked transformation.

Therefore you should, in my judgment, fight with him. You know the saying:

'Tis easy to uproot a foe
Contemning fighters, never steady,
Cruel and greedy, slothful, false,
Foolish and fearful and unready.

“But more than this — we have been humiliated by him. Therefore, if you propose peace, he will be angry and will employ violence again. There is a saying:

The truculence of fevered foes
By gentle measures is abetted:
What wise physician tries a douche?
He knows that fever should be sweated.

Conciliation simply makes
A foeman’s indignation splutter,
Like drops of water sprinkled on
A briskly boiling pan of butter.

Besides, the previous speaker’s point about the strength of the enemy is not decisive.

The smaller often slays the great
By showing energy and vigor:
The lion kills the elephant,
And rules with unrestricted rigor.

And more than that:

Foes indestructible by might
Are slain through some deceptive gesture.
As Bhima strangled Kichaka,
Approaching him in woman’s vesture.

And yet again:

When kings are merciless as death,
All foes are quick to knuckle under;
Quick, too, to kill the kings who fall
Into compassion’s fatal blunder.

And he whose sun of glory sets
Before the glory of another
Is born in vain; he wastes for naught
The youthful vigor of his mother.

For Regal Splendor, unbesmeared
With foemen’s blood as rich cosmetic,
Though dear, is insufficient for
Ambitions truly energetic.

And in a kingdom unbedewed
With foemen’s blood in slaughter gory,
And hostile women’s falling tears,
The king enjoys no living glory.”

Having heard this view, the king put the question to Live-Along: “My worthy sir, pray express your opinion also.” And Live-Along said: “O King, the enemy is vicious and powerful and unscrupulous. Therefore you should make neither peace nor war with him. Only a change of base can be recommended. For the saying goes:

With vicious foemen, proud of power,
From hindering scruples free,
Adopt a change of base, not peace
Nor war, for victory.

Now change of base is known to be
No single thing, but twin —
Retreat, to save imperiled life;
Invasion, planned to win.

A warlike and ambitious king
May choose 'twixt April and
November — other months are barred —
To invade the hostile land.

For storming-parties — so the books
Prescribe — all times are fair,
If hostile forces show distress,
And lay some weakness bare.

A king should put his realm in charge
Of heroes strong and fit;
Then pounce upon the hostile land,
When spies have peopled it.

The case in hand requires, O King,
The base-change called Retreat,
Not peace nor war; the foe is vile,
And very hard to beat.

“Furthermore, a recessive movement is made, says the science of ethics, with due regard to cause and effect. The point is thus expressed in poetry:

When rams draw back, their butting fiercer stings;
The crouching king of beasts more deadly springs:
So wise dissemblers, holding vengeance sure,
In dumb communion with their hearts, endure.

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