Gateway to the Classics: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock
Eastern Stories and Legends by  Marie L. Shedlock

The Crow That Thought It Knew

O NCE upon a time, while Brahma-datta reigned as king in Benares, the Bodhisatta became a marsh crow, and dwelt by a certain pool. His name was Viraka, the Strong.

There arose a famine in Kasi. Men could not spare food for the crows, nor make offering to goblins and snakes. One by one the crows left the famine-stricken land, and betook them to the woods.

A certain crow named Savitthaka, who lived at Benares, took with him his lady crow and went to the place where Viraka lived, making his abode beside the same pool.

One day, this crow was seeking food about the pool. He saw how Viraka went down into it, and made a meal off some fish; and afterwards came up out of the water again, and stood drying his feathers. "Under the wing of that crow," thought he, "plenty of fish are to be got. I will become his servant." So he drew near.

"What is it, Sir?" asked Viraka.

"I want to be your servant, my Lord!" was the reply.

Viraka agreed, and from that time the other served him. And from that time, Viraka used to eat enough fish to keep him alive, and the rest he gave to Savitthaka as soon as he had caught them; and when Savitthaka had eaten enough to keep him alive, he gave what was over to his wife.

After a while pride came into his heart. "This crow," said he, "is black, and so am I: in eyes and beak and feet, too, there is no difference between us. I don't want his fish; I will catch my own!" So he told Viraka that for the future he intended to go down to the water and catch fish himself. Then Viraka said, "Good friend, you do not belong to a tribe of such crows as are born to go into water and catch fish. Don't destroy yourself !"

But in spite of this attempt to dissuade him, Savitthaka did not take the warning to heart. Down he went to the pool, into the water; but he could not make his way through the weeds and come out again—there he was, entangled in the weeds, with only the tip of his beak appearing above the water. So not being able to breathe he perished there beneath the water.

His mate noticed that he did not return, and went to Viraka to ask news of him. "My Lord," she asked, "Savitthaka is not to be seen: where is he?" And as she asked him this, she repeated the first stanza:—

"O have you seen Savitthaka, O Viraka,

have you seen

My sweet-voiced mate whose neck is like

the peacock in its sheen?"

When Viraka heard it, he replied, "Yes, I know where he is gone," and recited the second stanza:—

"He was not born to dive beneath

the wave,

But what he could not do he

needs must try;

So the poor bird has found a watery


Entangled in the weeds, and left

to die."

When Viraka heard When the lady-crow heard it, weeping, she returned to Benares.

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