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The Lion and the Hare

India, the Panchatantra


In the middle of a forest there lived a lion by the name of Bhâsuraka (Heroic One). In consequence of his great strength he unceasingly killed many gazelles, hares, and other animals.

One day all the forest creatures assembled. Gazelles, boars, buffalo, wild oxen, hares, and so forth, went to him and said, "Sir, why are you unnecessarily murdering all the wild animals, when one animal would be sufficient to fill you? Therefore enter into an agreement with us. From this day forth you may sit here quietly, and every day one animal will come to you, as his turn comes up, and allow you to eat him. In this manner you can effortlessly acquire your nourishment, and we will not be wholly exterminated. That is the right of a king, and let it thus be carried out."

After hearing their words, Bhâsuraka said, "What you say is true. But if ever an animal fails to come to me here, then I will surely devour all of you."

They sealed their promise with the words, "So be it!" and now, free of danger, they moved fearlessly about the forest. However, every day, in turn, one animal came to the lion: an old one, one who had renounced all earthly affairs, one who was torn by grief, or one who feared he might lose his wife and children. One animal presented himself to the lion every noon to serve as his meal.

Following the predetermined order, it became the hare's turn, and however little he liked it, he was sent to the lion by the other animals. He walked as slowly as possible and thus missed the established deadline. With a fearful heart he sought a way to escape death. Toward the end of the day he finally arrived.

The lion, famished from his long wait, was filled with anger. Licking the corners of his mouth, he thought, "Aha! Tomorrow I shall kill all the creatures in the forest."

Just as he was thinking this the hare walked up, bowed, and stood before him.

When the lion saw that this creature, who otherwise was so light-footed, was the one who had arrived so late, he was filled with anger and spoke threateningly, "Hey, you miserable little hare. It had to be you who come so long after the appointed time, you who otherwise are the most light-footed of them all! Because of your failure, after I have killed you, tomorrow I am going to exterminate all the rest of the animals."

To this the hare bowed and spoke humbly, "Sir, it is neither my fault nor the fault of the other animals. Would you like to hear the cause of my tardiness?"

The lion said, "Speak quickly, before you find yourself between my teeth!"

The hare said, "Sir, after learning from the other animals that today was my turn, I was sent away with four hares. On my way here I was approached by another large lion, who came from his den and said to me, 'Hey there! Where are you going? Pay homage to your guardian angel!' I answered, 'We are going, in keeping with our contract, to our lord Bhâsuraka, in order to serve as his meal.' To that he said, 'If that is so, then all of the animals must also enter into a contract with me, because this forest belongs to me. This Bhâsuraka is a miserable thief. But if he is king here, then leave the four hares here as hostages, and demand that he come here as quickly as possible, so that the one of us who can prove himself king through his strength will be able to eat all the animals here.' Then following his order I came here. That is the reason why I am late. Now your order is my command!"

Having heard this, Bhâsuraka said, "My dear, if this is the case then quickly show me this rogue of a lion so I can vent my anger against the other animals on him and become myself once again."

The hare said, "Sir, you are right. We warriors go to battle to protect our homeland and to fight against evil. This enemy lives in a castle. If he attacks us from his castle, we'll be threatened, but if he stays in his castle, he'll be difficult to overcome."

Bhâsuraka answered, "My dear, lead me to this rogue. Even if he is in a castle, I will kill him."

The hare said, "But I have seen that he is very powerful. Sir, it is not good for you to go without knowing his strength."

Bhâsuraka said, "Ha! What is this to you? Lead me to him, even if he does live in a castle."

The hare said, "If you insist, come with me, sir."

After saying this he set forth and went to a well. There he said to Bhâsuraka, "Sir, who is able to withstand your majesty? This rogue saw you coming from afar and has retreated into his castle. Come here and I will show him to you."

After hearing this Bhâsuraka said, "My dear, show me his castle at once!"

Then the hare showed him the well. The foolish lion, seeing his own reflection in the middle of the well, roared fiercely. A doubly loud roar echoed up from within the well.

Hearing this, he thought, "He is very powerful," and he threw himself on him, and thus he lost his life.

The hare, on the other hand, after having cheerfully reported back to the other animals, was greatly praised by them, and he lived happily in the forest.