Painting of the monkey from The Monkey and the Crocodile, an Indian fable from the Panchatantra.

The Monkey & the Crocodile (An Old Indian Fable)

The Monkey and the Crocodile is a famous parable from the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian fables from the 3rd century BCE. It is a cautionary tale about friendship, trust, and intelligence. This is my own retelling, translated into English. The story is much the same.

Slashes made by an enraged barbarian fabulist.

Once upon a time, in a dense forest near the banks of the great river Ganga, there lived a clever monkey named Raktamukha. High up in a tree, he made his home and spent his days feasting on the sweet fruits that the tree provided. Not far from the riverbank, there was a small island where a cunning crocodile named Karalamukha made his abode.

One day, as Karalamukha was resting on the riverbank, Raktamukha dropped a ripe fruit from his tree. The fruit fell into the river and floated down to where the crocodile was resting. Intrigued by the delicious scent, Karalamukha tasted the fruit and found it to be the most delightful thing he had ever eaten.

Desiring more of the delectable fruit, Karalamukha swam to the tree where Raktamukha lived and said, “Dear Monkey, I have tasted the wonderful fruit that you so generously dropped into the river. I am in awe of its taste, and I wonder if you would be so kind as to share more of it with me.”

Raktamukha was pleased by the crocodile’s politeness and decided to befriend him. He threw more fruits to Karalamukha, who devoured them with great delight. In return, Karalamukha would bring fresh fish from the river for Raktamukha. Thus, the two became fast friends.

As the crocodile’s friendship grew, so did his wife’s jealousy. Why was her husband spending so much time with someone else? Perhaps the monkey was a woman. Perhaps Karalamukha was having an affair.

One day, Karalamukha invited Raktamukha to his home for a feast. “My dear friend,” he said, “my wife has heard of our friendship and the delicious fruits you have shared with me. She would be honored to have you as our guest and prepare a meal for you.”

Raktamukha hesitated, knowing he would have to cross the river to reach the island where the crocodile lived. He said, “Dear friend, I am delighted by your invitation, but I cannot swim. How can I reach your home on the island?”

“No worries,” replied Karalamukha, “I shall carry you on my back across the river. You may hold onto my strong tail for support, and I will ensure that you arrive safely.”

Trusting his friend, Raktamukha climbed onto the crocodile’s back, and they began their journey across the river. As they reached the middle of the river, Karalamukha suddenly spoke, “My friend, I must confess something. My wife not only wishes to meet you but also desires to taste the heart of the one who eats these delicious fruits. She believes it must be as sweet as the fruits themselves.”

Raktamukha, startled by this revelation, quickly thought of a plan to save himself. He calmly said, “My dear friend, why didn’t you tell me sooner? I would have gladly brought my heart along for your wife. Alas, it is still hanging in the tree where I live. Let us return so that I may fetch my heart for her.”

Karalamukha, believing Raktamukha’s words, turned around and swam back to the riverbank. As soon as they reached the shore, Raktamukha quickly jumped off the crocodile’s back and climbed to safety.

This brings to mind another fable from the Panchatantra. It is the tale of The King and His Parrots.

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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