is a collection of animal fables written in the 3rd century BCE. Although the collection is attributed to the Indian scholar Vishnu Sharma
, many of the fables included are much older. Described as a treatise on human conduct (nītiśāstra
), it remains one of the best-known Indian texts, with over two hundred different versions published in more than fifty languages.
The version presented here comes from a 12th-century edition by the Jain monk Purnabhadra, who rearranged and blended three earlier texts. The English translation by Arthur William Ryder remains popular, and retains the combined prose and verse format of the original.
In a part of a forest lived an elephant-king named Four-Tusk, who had a numerous retinue of elephants. His time was spent in protecting the herd.
Now once there came a twelve-year drought, so that tanks, ponds, swamps, and lakes went dry. Then all the elephants said to the lord of the herd: "O King, our little ones are so tortured by thirst that some are like to die, and some are dead. Pray devise a method of removing thirst." So he sent in eight directions elephants fleet as the wind to search for water.
Now those who went east found beside a path near a hermitage a lake named Lake of the Moon. It was beautiful with swans, herons, ospreys, ducks, sheldrakes, cranes, and water-creatures. It was embowered in flowering sprays of branches drooping under the weight of various blossoms. Both banks were embellished with trees. It had beaches made lovely by sheets of foam born of the splashing of transparent waves that danced in the breeze and broke on the shore.
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