Damsel the Elephant

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Indian Elephant

Damsel is the King's favourite elephant, until one day she starts keeping bad company. A Jataka fable from ancient India.

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This is Jana, and welcome to Storynory!

I am back with a Jataka tale, which is a fable in the Buddhist tradition.

As you may know, Buddhism is one of the great religions of Asia, and its founder is known as the Buddha.

These tales usually involve animals and teach morals. What sets them apart is that one of the Characters is often the Buddha himself, in one of his earlier lives. Buddhism teaches that the Buddha was born many times, sometimes as an animal and sometimes as a wise adviser to the king.
When he is in one of his earlier forms, or incarnations, he is known as the Bodhisatta.

Damsel The Elephant

Once upon a time, in the holy city of Benares, In India, there lived a king who owned an elephant with a smile so charming, he named her 'Damsel'. Damsel was the height of loyalty, always nodding in obedience, always calm and even-tempered: she never so much as stepped on a bug!

One night, a crew of thieves held a secret meeting inside Damsel's stall. They thought they had found the perfect hideout for discussing their grand plans of burgling houses, palaces, and maybe even a mithai store - mithai are Indian sweets, by the way. Little did they know, Damsel, with her impressively large ears, was eavesdropping on their entire conversation. The eldest thief, who fancied himself a professor of thuggery, would educate the recruits on the art and science of crime. Here’s a snippet of his eloquent lecture:

“Now listen up, lads. To break into a house, you must tunnel through the walls as cleanly and openly as a road leading to a king’s palace. And when lifting the goods, don’t hesitate to commit a little murder here and there. After all, dead men tell no tales.”

And so, the thieves, completely oblivious to their elephantine audience, continued to plot and plan, turning Damsel’s humble abode into a full-blown criminal masterclass.

After a lively discussion on the best practices of burglary, the thieves vanished into the night. Then they returned the next day and the day after to discuss their plans, thieving techniques and murderous ways.

Eventually, Damsel started to believe that the thieves were there to tutor her and that she must transform into a ruthless, cold-hearted, and aggressive elephant. And transform, she did. When her mahout - or elephant keeper - came to tend to her the next morning, Damsel picked him up with her trunk and gave him a good shake before plopping him down on the ground. Startled and bewildered, the mahout quickly scrambled away. Feeling quite proud of her assertiveness, Damsel treated everyone who approached her with the same enthusiasm. Nobody felt safe to go near her.

The news quickly reached the king that Damsel had lost her marbles. The King was indeed puzzled. So he spoke to his wise adviser, who was the Bodhisatta.

"Go, sage, and find out what has got into Damsel that she is playing up like this!”

The Bodhisatta examined Damsel's face and concluded she was not physically ill. So he spoke to her and asked:

“Did anyone tell you to behave like this?”

“Oh Yes, Wise One,” said the elephant. “Some Robbers come into my stall every night and instruct me to be violent.”

Armed with this information, the Bodhisatta informed the king that Damsel was physically fine but had been corrupted by the evil conversations she had overheard. The king asked him how to remedy the situation. The Bodhisatta suggested that a group of saintly sages sit near Damsel and talk about kindness and goodness. The king agreed, and the Bodhisatta arranged for the sages to sit near the elephant and discuss topics such as patience, love, and mercy.

After hearing these conversations, Damsel assumed that this was another lesson meant for her and decided to change her ways. And change, she did. She became the gentle and good-natured elephant she once was.

The king was delighted with the transformation. He asked the Bodhisatta if Damsel was truly 'cured'. The Bodhisatta confirmed that thanks to the wise and good company she was keeping, Damsel had reverted to her old, kind self. He then recited a stanza summarising the incident:

When she heard the evil speech,
Damsel rampaged, causing harm and breach;
When good company returned once more.
To be gentle and kind, she again swore.

So heed this lesson, take it to heart,
For wisdom and insight, it shall impart.

Surrounded by evil, we may falter, lose sight,
But with goodness around us, we can do right.

And that was the story of Damsel the Elephant, from the Jataka tales in the Buddhist Tradition.

The Buddha, born Siddhartha Gautama, was a sage, spiritual teacher, and the founder of Buddhism. He attained enlightenment and dedicated his life to teaching enlightenment and liberation from suffering.

We tell more about his birth and enlightenment on our other Podcast, Relaxivity, which is like Storynory for grownups and older kids! We call it “a little time to yourself”, a message we think busy parents will understand!

I will play you out with a little sample of our Buddha story, which you can find on our website, Relaxivity. app or in the usual podcast apps and players. For now, from me, Jana, see you soon at Storynory.