Painting of the king and his parrots, from the old Indian fable in the Panchatantra.

The King’s Parrots (An Old Indian Fable)

The King’s Parrots is a famous parable from the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian fables from the 3rd century BCE. It’s a cynical story about the value of friendship with those less fortunate than ourselves.

This is a retelling in my own words.

The Fable

Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, there lived a wise and just king who loved his subjects. He had a beautiful garden full of fruit trees and exotic plants. The king’s favourite part of the garden was where his parrots lived.

The king cherished these parrots and would visit them often. He loved to hear their melodious voices and watch them play. One day, the king had an idea. He decided to teach the parrots the art of speech so they could converse with him and his courtiers.

Under the king’s guidance, the parrots learned to speak fluently. They quickly became proficient in various subjects, including literature, politics, and even philosophy. The parrots were admired by everyone in the kingdom, and their fame spread far and wide.

Meanwhile, in a distant forest, another group of parrots lived near a den of thieves. These bandits would often speak among themselves about their exploits, and the parrots, being very intelligent birds, picked up their language and mannerisms.

One day, a merchant passing through the forest came across this group of parrots that spoke like scoundrels. He knew of the king’s love for parrots, so he caught them, then headed for the palace.

The merchant arrived at the king’s court and presented the parrots he’d captured. The king was delighted by their lowly way of talking, so he placed them in his garden alongside his more sophisticated parrots.

Soon, the parrots from the den of thieves began to converse with the royal parrots, sharing their foul humour and criminal ideas. The royal parrots were attentive, and they learned.

As time passed, the king’s lofty parrots fell to the level of the lowly parrots. The once wise and eloquent parrots now spoke the language of thieves and criminals. The king was heartbroken to see his beloved parrots corrupted so.

The Moral

The moral of The King’s Parrots is that we become who we’re surrounded by. It’s been said many ways:

  • You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. (Often attributed to Jim Rohn.)
  • Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are.
  • A man is known by the company he keeps.
  • Birds of a feather flock together.

This particular fable is especially cynical. It warns you not to surround yourself with lowlifes, which seems sensible enough until you consider the plight of the lowlifes. After all, you’d assume that the parrots from the den of thieves would have learned literature, politics, and philosophy from the king’s parrots. But that’s not what the fable is about.

So, if we look at the fable with the same cynicism as the original storyteller, I think the moral is that we’re corrupted by the worst people we spend our time with.

This reminds me of another story. There is a fable of a jackal who lived in this very same jungle.

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.


  1. Boni Aditya on April 11, 2024 at 5:18 pm

    What is the moral of this story?

    • Juan Artola Miranda on May 5, 2024 at 5:14 pm

      Good question! I added a section with the moral lesson.

      I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly kind moral lesson. I’m not sure I like it. But I suspect there’s wisdom there.

      The moral is that we become like those we associate with. Or, perhaps, that we sink to the level of the worst people we allow into our lives.

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