Kathāmṛta - 71 - Śaktiyaśo-lambaka - Stories of the Fools

This article is part 71 of 103 in the series Kathāmṛta

Narrating this story to Sañjīvaka, Damanaka said: ‘Thus a wise man remains steadfast when danger approaches. Now, this is what you must do. When Piṅgalaka rises and lifts up his tail, plough your horns up his belly and rend it!’, and went straight to Karaṭaka. Sañjīvaka walked up to the lion, which slowly got up and walked forward with its tail raised up. Right then the bull sprang forward, thrusting forth its horns. The lion too landed its strong paw with sharp claws upon the bull. Watching this, the gentle Karaṭaka wistfully addressed Damanaka: ‘Look at the predicament you have landed our master in for your selfish gains! Alas. If sane advice is imparted to someone who has already resolved to not pay heed, he will meet the same fate as was meted out to the woodpecker, by the foolish monkeys’, and proceeded to narrate this story:-


There lived a troop of monkeys in a forest. On one cold night they saw a glow worm and mistook it for a spark. They foolishly put some grass and dried leaf over it and started blowing on it to raise fire for warmth.

Looking at that one Marukuṭa said, “This is not fire; it is a fire-fly. Why do you simply struggle?” Still, they did not keep quiet. It then climbed down the tree and stopped them. A monkey, which got angry crushed the bird with a stone. Something which is done with a wicked thought will not end on a good note:

In the past, there lived two merchants named Dharmabuddhi and Duṣṭabuddhi. They travelled abroad and earned two thousand dinars. They kept aside a hundred for their daily expenses and hid the rest under a tree.

One day, Duṣṭabuddhi went alone and took hold of all the money there. After a month, he said – “Dharmabuddhi! We need money for our expenditure. Let us go fetch some!” Seeing that there was no money there, he accused Dharmabuddhi of being a thief. They argued with each other and took the complaint to the king. When the royal court was not able to judge the case, Duṣṭabuddhi said – “Let us ask the tree under which we had buried the money; the tree will answer!” It was decided that they would all go to the tree the next morning.

That night, Duṣṭabuddhi sought his father’s help. He asked him to hide himself within the hollow in the tree the next morning and utter words in his favour. The next day, when everyone went to the tree and asked –“Who picked up the dinars from here?”, they clearly heard a voice say – “It was Dharmabuddhi who took the money!” It is impossible for a tree to talk. They suspected that there was someone hiding with the tree and got the hollow of the tree put on smoke. Duṣṭabuddhi’s father choked and fell down to death. Having discovered he truth, the royal officials got Dharmabuddhi his share of the wealth. They chopped off the arms and tongue of Duṣṭabuddhi and sent him away from the town.

Thus, anything that is performed in an unethical manner will not be successful. Just as the baka bird (crane) behaved in a just manner with the snake, only activities performed dhārmicaly will be successful.

In the past a crane regularly laid eggs at its abode. A snake frequently came to the crane’s nest in its absence and ate the eggs. The crane planned to avenge for the loss of its eggs. It laid parts of dead fish from the mouth of the burrow of a mongoose up until the snake’s anthill. The mongoose followed the smell of the fish until the anthill, entered it and ate the snake and all its young ones.

Thus, we will need to be tactful in achieving our task. Let me narrate yet another story in this regard.

A merchant had inherited a large iron cauldron from his father. As he had to travel abroad, he left it at another merchant’s place and requested him for its safekeeping. When he returned and asked for his belonging back, the merchant said that rats ate away the cauldron. He thought to himself with a smile – Well, it must have been really tasty if rats had to feast on it. He said that he would visit him for lunch the very day. The merchant, who was to safe-keep the cauldron happily agreed. He gave him some gooseberries and sent him with his son to have bath. The first merchant took bath in a river, hid the boy in a friend’s house and came back alone. When he was asked where the boy was, he said that an eagle took him away. The father was enraged and said “This crooked guy has hidden my son!” He complained to the king. The royal court said – “It is impossible for an eagle to take away the boy! This is not true!” Then, the first merchant said –“In a place where rats can eat an iron cauldron, there, an eagle can carry an elephant as well – why not a mere boy?”

The king then learnt about the entire story; he ensured that the first merchant got back his cauldron and the second one got back his son. Thus, instead of getting your work done in a strategic manner you have hurled our master into peril—thus he said.

Damanaka said with a laugh, “Is there any doubt of the lion winning? This lion possesses a body scarred with wounds made by the tusks of great elephants in rut in the heat of confrontation and all this poor bull can boast of is cane marks of thrashing by its master!” Even as they were speaking, the lion went and killed the bull. Karaṭaka and Damanaka regained their former positions.

5. After narrating this story Gomukha said, “Deva! You have just heard the story of the wise and the intelligent. Now listen to the story of the ignorant and the foolish.”

Tales of Fools

A merchant once took his goods to the Kaṭākadvīpa. Much of it contained flakes of Agarwood [Aquilaria agallocha, a fragrant wood like sandalwood]. All the other goods were sold. The people of that island had never seen Agarwood and so they didn't ask for it. Then, he burnt all the flakes and turned them into charcoal, which he sold there!

A village bumpkin once had fried til seeds and finding them to be tasty, he thought: Why not directly grow such til? and fried all the til seeds he had before he planted them in the soil. All the seeds were destroyed.

A fool once thought: In the morning, we need water to take a bath and we need fire to light the lamp for the deities; if both are nearby then things will move quickly in the morning! Thinking thus, at night he put the fire inside the water tank and went to sleep. When he awoke the next morning, the fire was doused and the water had become dirty! As a result of bathing in that water his face and his body blackened with soot.

A dimwit saw that his wife had a flat nose while his teacher had a fleshy nose and so while they both were sleeping, he chopped off their noses and tried to exchange them; as a result, both their noses were severed!


In a forest lived a wealthy fool. A few tricksters and villains came to him and befriended him. They told him, “We have found a city-dwelling girl for you!” He was delighted and gave them a lot of money. After a few days, they told him that the wedding took place; and a child has been born. Thus, they looted him of all his wealth. When he exclaimed, “Alas! I never saw my child,” and began weeping, they looked at his foolishness and had a hearty laugh!

Once when a village was digging the ground, he found a stock of jewels and ornaments tied up in a cloth. Thieves had stolen it from the palace and had hidden it there. He took those ornaments and placed them before his wife. Not knowing the utility of those ornaments, he tied the cummerband to her head; necklace to her waist; anklet to her wrist; and bangles to her ears. While all the onlookers laughed, the matter reached the ears of the king, who sent his guards to seize the ornaments. But they let him free, realizing that he was a fool.


Once a fellow had taken bales of cotton to sell them. Nobody bought them because they were dusty and unclean. When he saw goldsmiths cleaning the gold by putting it in the fire, he tried to follow suit and threw the cotton into the fire to cleanse it. Needless to say, it burnt to ashes!

Some of the fools ventured to harvest the dates; there they saw an uprooted tree; they thought that it is easier to harvest the dates if all the trees are uprooted and so they did; when they took the collected bunches of dates and returned, they were punished for uprooting the trees.


A king called for someone who could find treasures. Worried that he’d desert him, one of his wicked ministers gouged out his eyes. Thus blinded he failed to even understand the topography of the land; how would he be able to find treasures!


Another fool visited his friend who resided in the city and was partaking of tasty meals and asked him, ‘What ingredient that makes your food so tasty?’ his friend replied, ‘Salt!’ hearing that he thought it would be very satisfying to eat salt itself and he took a lump of salt and ate it!


A fool had a cow; it would give 100 palas of milk everyday; as some festival was imminent, in a bid to get a higher yield for the festival, he stopped milking it for a month; on the day of the festival, there was no milk remaining!


A fool had a head injury which made his head look like a copper pot. He was sitting below a tree; a boy who had collected wood apples saw his head and as a prank he threw one of the fruits. The fool did nothing even though he was hurt and his head bled; the boy continued hitting him with more fruits; finally, he exhausted them all and returned home hungry without having anything to eat. The fool with his head hurting thought, ‘What if the fruits are sweet! Who can bear such pain!’ and went away. The cloth which he had tied to his head became the headgear signifying his coronation in the kingdom of fools!


Fools never achieve anything noteworthy and they become the butt of ridicule. Only the wise earn respect, saying so he narrated the following story:-

The Story of the Wise Crow, Mouse, Pigeon and the Deer

A crow named Laghupāti had its nest in a silk cotton tree. Beneath the tree, a hunter spread his net and scattered some grains which served as bait to catch a flock of pigeons. The chief among them, called Citragrīva, tutored all the other pigeons to hold the net with their beak and fly away. The hunter followed them for a while and returned empty handed. Citragrīva went to its friend, a mouse named Hiraṇyaka and took its help to cut through the net and freed everyone. Seeing all this, the crow was impressed by the mouse, requested its friendship. The mouse answered from its burrow, ‘How can we be friends? You are a predator and I’m your prey!’ The crow replied, ‘If I eat you now, I’ll be rid of hunger temporarily; but if I become your friend, you are capable of saving me from my death sometime!’ They became friends. After a few days, the crow took the mouse to its friend, a tortoise named Mantharaka

When the tortoise Mantharaka asked the mouse Hiraṇyaka why he had to leave his hometown, the latter began to narrate his tale:-

I used to live in a burrow near the town. Once I even stole a necklace from the palace by putting my strong teeth to good use. Impressed by this, the other mice thought that I was strong and could procure things and joined me. Every night, I used to fetch rice from the bag of an ascetic who lived in a temple near my burrow. One day his friend was with him. They both ate heartily and went to bed. When I went in to draw some rice from the ascetic’s bag as usual, he started to throw about his stick, trying to land a blow on me. When his friend asked him what he was upto, he replied, ‘A mouse comes here every night. No matter how high I place the bag, it jumps up and takes the rice away. I am trying to drive it away by creating all this noise with my stick!’. To this, his friend said “All animals have greed within them. This, my friend, is the source of all harm! Let me tell you what happened once, when I had gone to the house of a brahmana. I overheard him tell his wife ‘Today is an auspicious day, dear wife. A brāhmaṇa has come to our humble home. Do prepare the til-coconut-rice dish!’. ‘Why indulge in all this luxury, given our penury!’, she protested. He replied ‘My dear, it is good to accumulate, but within limits. Let me explain through a story:-

Once a hunter armed himself set out in search of a prey. He tied a little meat on top of his bow, readied his arrow and chased down a wild boar. The beast died due to its wounds from the arrow. The hunter too perished due to the injuries the boar inflicted upon him. A fox stood from afar and watched the whole thing play out. When it was all over, it slowly walked up and greedily wished to gather everything. It did not try to devour the boar or the hunter. Instead it tried to chew upon the meat on top of the bow. Right then the bow string snapped and the released arrow struck the fox which then died a painful death.

That is why I say that it is not wise to accumulate beyond what one needs’, he concluded. She agreed and went to put out til in the sun to dry. However when she was inside, a stray dog came and defiled it. Thus greed brings misery and not happiness.”

Then the ascetic’s friend brought a sickle and dug up the burrow. My fellow mice and I had to flee for our lives. When we did so, all our treasures like the necklace from the palace fell into his hands. Gazing fondly at the ornament, he said ‘This mouse was so powerful only because of the influence of all this treasure’. Later that night when I went to steal some rice, the ascetic hit me with his stick. Thanks to my good fortune, I was only injured and didn’t lose my life. However I had lost my ability to jump high. This is why I say: wealth is youth and penury is old age! Since then, finding food has become a matter of daily struggle. All my companions went away. Thus after much suffering I came here seeking the friendship of this crow Laghupāti.

After a few days, a deer called Citrāṅga, which feared for its life from a hunter, also joined them. One day when the deer had gone to graze, it got caught in the hunter’s net. The crow saw it and flew the mouse to it. The mouse furiously gnawed at the net and freed the deer. The tortoise had come to watch all this out of curiosity and fell within the hunter’s gaze. He quickly caught hold of it and tied it up with a rope. With the tortoise in his hands, the hunter began to walk. Looking at their friend in trouble, the animals quickly hatched another plan. The deer Citrāṅga lay down playing dead a little distance away at the shore of the lake. The crow sat on top of it and acted as if it was nibbling on it. The hunter got fooled looking at this, for he thought the deer was dead. Gleefully he laid the tortoise down and strode up towards the deer. Right then the mouse scrambled up to the tortoise and nibbled away at the rope and freed it. The tortoise then quietly slipped into the lake. When the hunter came to it, the deer suddenly sprang up and scampered into the woods. The crow flew away and perched atop a tree.

Thus, with their intelligence, the three animals achieved their goal.

When there is danger imminent, we should be ready to sacrifice life to save a friend. We should trust friends and not women.


The current article is a translation of Prof. A R Krishnasastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta along with additional segments added from the original Kathā-sarit-sāgara (of Soma-deva). Bṛhat-kathā-mañjarī (of Kṣemendra) and Bṛhat-kathā-śloka-saṃgraha (of Budha-svāmin) have also been referred to. The translation has been rendered by Raghavendra GS, Arjun Bharadwaj, Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading. So are the other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri



Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

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