Painting of the clever jackal "dusty" from the Indian fable in the Panchatantra.

The Clever Jackal & the Lion’s Pride (An Old Indian Fable)

The Clever Jackal and the Lion’s Pride is a famous fable from the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian fables from the 3rd century BCE. This is a re-telling by Juan Artola Miranda. It is about manipulating others by feeding their egos.

A long time ago, in a faraway jungle, there lived a lion with a jackal for a servant. One day, when the lion tried to kill an elephant, he took such cruel wounds that he could not stir a foot. Since the lion could not hunt, there was no food, and the jackal grew weak.

“O King,” said the jackal, “I am tortured with hunger. If I do not eat soon, I will surely perish, and then who will serve you?”

“Good jackal,” said the lion, “search out some animal that I can kill even in my present state. Once we have some food in our bellies, we will be well again.”

The jackal roamed the jungle until he found a frail donkey wandering the outskirts of a nearby village. The donkey was choking over the thin and prickly grass. The jackal approached him and said, “Uncle, my respects to you. It’s been so long since we last met. How have you grown so feeble?”

“What am I to do, nephew?” the donkey answered. “My master is merciless, torturing me with dreadful burdens and never sharing even a handful of fodder. I eat nothing but this prickly grass seasoned with dust.”

“Well, uncle,” said the jackal, “I know a lovely spot by a river, covered with emerald grass. Come and live with me. I promise you the pleasures of good meals and witty conversations.”

“Very well said, nephew,” answered Flop-Ear, “but village beasts are likely to be killed by forest animals. So what good is your charming spot to me?”

“Well,” said the jackal. “There are three unmarried she-donkeys who were tormented just like you. They are young and frisky, and they have grown plump. The other day, they said to me: ‘Uncle dear, go to some village and bring us a proper husband.’ That is why I came to fetch you.”

When he heard the jackal’s words, the donkey’s limbs quivered with lust. He said, “In that case, my dear sir, lead the way. We will hurry there.”

So the poor donkey went with the jackal into the lion’s den. However, the lion was dreadfully overeager. When the donkey drew near enough to pounce upon, the lion roared, leaped over him, and landed on the other side. It was dark in the den, and the donkey could not sense what was happening. In his panic, somehow, he escaped unharmed. Terrified, he fled back to the village.

“That was most strange,” the jackal told the lion. “I saw your heroic effort. Has your body regained strength, or your mind lost its reason?”

The lion was dumbfounded. “Perhaps my legs expected an elephant.”

“Have your legs prepared next time,” the jackal replied. “I will bring him to you again.”

“My dear fellow,” said the lion, “the donkey witnessed my fearsome performance and escaped. How can he be lured here again? Bring me some other, taller animal.”

But the jackal said, “The donkey is as not perceptive as you think, and besides, I have a plan.” So the jackal followed the donkey’s tracks and found him grazing in the old place.

When the donkey saw the jackal, he said, “Well, nephew, it was a charming spot you took me to. I was lucky to escape with my life! Tell me, what was that horrible creature?”

The jackal laughed. “Uncle, that was a she-donkey, horribly lovesick. Upon seeing you, she cried out in passion and rose up to embrace you, but you were shy and ran away. Now she says, ‘If that donkey does not marry me, I will plunge into fire or water or eat poison.’ It is all quite dramatic. So have mercy and return. If not, you will be a murderer.”

So the donkey, persuaded by this reasoning, followed the jackal back into the jungle and once more came into the lion’s den. The lion’s ego was wounded when he saw the lion strutting in with such confidence. Nevertheless, the lion had prepared his legs beforehand, and he killed the donkey with ease.

The lion, now red, went to the river to make himself yellow again. While the lion was away, the greedy jackal ate the donkey’s eyes and ears. When the lion returned, he was furious. “You scoundrel!” he bellowed. “What is this unseemly deed? You have eaten the eyes and ears, leaving me nothing but leftovers!”

“O King,” said the jackal respectfully, “if the donkey had eyes or ears, how could he come here, see you with his own eyes, hear you with his own ears, flee, and then decide to return?”

The lion’s pride was mended. He ate his share of the donkey without suspicion.

There is another fable, a darker one, from this same jungle. It is about a Frog King who seeks the help of a wicked snake.

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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