The Crow and his Friends
A story from ancient India
Read by Richard.
Proofed & audio edited by Jana.
Adapted and illustrated by Bertie.
Dedicated to Austin Billing, who supports us on Patreon.
In the branches of a great tree, in a forest in India, lived a wise old crow in a very comfortable, well-built nest. He led a very easy existence, and was particularly nosey about what his neighbours were getting up to. One day, popping his head over the edge of his home, he saw a fierce-looking man stalking along, carrying a stick in one hand and a net in the other.
"That fellow is up to some mischief, I'll be bound," thought the crow: "I will keep my eye on him." The man stopped under the tree, spread the net on the ground, and taking a bag of rice out of his pocket, he scattered the grains amongst the meshes of the net. Then he hid, hiding himself behind the trunk of the tree from which the crow was watching.
A little while later, some doves, led by a specially fine bird who had been chosen king because of his size and the beauty of his plumage, came flying rapidly along, and noticed the white rice, but did not see the net, because it was very much the same colour as the ground. Down swooped the king, and down swept all the other doves, eager to enjoy a good meal without any trouble to themselves. Alas, their joy was short lived! They were all caught in the net and began struggling to escape, beating the air with their wings and cooing out cries of distress.
The crow kept very quiet, watching to see what happened next. The man chuckled to himself, and got ready to take up his net with the poor doves imprisoned within. They would make several fine dinners for his family.
Now a very strange and wonderful thing came to pass. The king of the doves said to the imprisoned birds:
"Take the net up in your beaks, all of you spread out your wings at once, and fly straight up into the air as quickly as possible. "
In a moment, each little bird seized a separate thread of the net in his beak and up, up, up, they all flew, looking very beautiful with the sunlight gleaming on their white wings. Very soon they were out of sight; and the man came out of his hiding-place, very much surprised at what had happened. He stood gazing up after his vanished dinner for a little time, and then went away muttering to himself, while the wise old crow laughed at him.
“Caw! Caw! Caw!!”
When the doves had flown some distance, the king ordered them to rest in a clearing of the forest. While they all lay on the ground panting for breath, with the cruel net still hampering them, he said:
"Well done my friends. We have shown that we delicate doves can be strong when we all work together! Now we must take this horrible net to my old friend Hiranya the mouse, who will nibble through the strings for me and set us all free.”
Hiranya means “gold” in ancient Sanskrit, and this golden coloured mouse lived in a maze of holes back near the tree where the crow lived.
The weary pigeons took up their burden once more, and flew back to the place where they had been caught. This greatly surprised the crow, who wondered what would happen next. He hopped out of his nest and perched upon a branch where he could see better. Presently a great clamour arose, one word being repeated again and again: "Hiranya! Hiranya! Hiranya."
"Why, that's the name of the mouse who lives down below there," thought the crow. "Now, what good can he do? I know, I know," he added, as he remembered the sharp teeth of Hiranya. "That king of the doves is a sensible fellow. I must make friends with him."
Very soon the mouse came out. He didn't need to be told what was wanted, but at once began to nibble the string, first setting free the king, and then all the rest of the birds. "A friend in need is a friend indeed," cried the king. “A thousand thousand thanks!" And away he flew up into the beautiful free air of heaven, followed by the happy doves, none of them ever likely to forget the adventure or to pick up food from the ground without a good look at it first.
The mouse saw the rice strewn on the ground and began to eat with great relish, happy with his unasked for reward.
Presently he was joined by the old crow, who addressed him in his croaky voice:
"Hiranya," he said, "for that I know is your name, I am called Laghupatin, which means ‘he who flies quickly’, and I would gladly have you for a friend. I have seen all that you did for the pigeons, and have come to the conclusion that you are a mouse of great wisdom, ready to help those who are in trouble, without any thought of yourself."
"You are quite wrong," squeaked Hiranya. "I am not so silly as you make out. I have no wish to be your friend. If you were hungry, you wouldn't hesitate to gobble me up. I don't care for that sort of affection."
With that, Hiranya whisked away to his hole, pausing at the entrance, when he knew the crow could not get at him, to cry, "You be off to your nest and leave me alone!"
The feelings of the crow were very much hurt. Instead of obeying Hiranya, and going back to his nest, he hopped to the mouse's hole, and putting his head on one side in what he thought was a very taking manner, he said:
"Don’t misjudge me so. Never would I harm you! I should not dream of gobbling you up, as you say, however hungry I may be. Surely you are aware that I am a strict vegetarian, and never eat the flesh of other creatures. Let us share a meal together, and talk the matter over."
Hiranya, on hearing the last remark of Laghupatin, hesitated, and in the end he agreed that he would have supper with the crow that very evening. "There is plenty of rice here," he said, "which we can eat on the spot. It would be impossible for you to get into my hole, and I am certainly not about to visit you in your nest."
So the two at once began their meal, and before it was over they had become good friends. Not a day passed without them meeting, and when all the rice was eaten up, each of the two would bring something to the feast. This had gone on for some little time, when the crow said one day to the mouse: "Don't you think we might go up somewhere else for a time? I am rather tired of this bit of the forest, every inch of which we both know well. I've got another friend who lives beside a fine river a few miles away, a tortoise named Mandharaka; a thoroughly good, trustworthy fellow he is, though rather slow and cautious in his ways. I should like to introduce you to him."
"How in the world should I get there?" answered Hiranya. "It's all very well for you, you can fly. I can't walk for miles and miles. However, I too am sick of this place and would like a change."
"Oh, there's no difficulty about that," replied Laghupatin. "I will carry you in my beak, and you will get there without any fatigue at all." To this, Hiranya consented, and very early one morning the two friends started off together.
After flying along for several hours, they arrived at the river, where they were warmly welcomed by the tortoise. The tortoise, who had lived a great deal longer than either the mouse or the crow, was very chatty; and even Laghupatin, who was very fond of talking himself, liked to listen to his stories of long ago.
"I wonder," said the tortoise, "that you are not afraid to travel about as you have done, with your soft little body unprotected by any armour. Look how different it is for me. The claws, even of a tiger, a wild cat or an eagle, could not break my shell. I am very much afraid, my little friend, that you will be gobbled up some fine day.”
"Of course," said the mouse, "I know the truth of what you say; but I can very easily hide from danger, much more easily than you or Laghupatin. A tuft of moss or a few dead leaves are shelter enough for me, but big fellows like you and the crow can be quite easily seen."
“Well I hope you are right, my little friend,” said Mandaraka the tortoise.
The mouse and the crow lived as his guests for a long time, and one day they were suddenly joined by a new companion, a creature as unlike any one of the three friends as could possibly be imagined. This was a very beautiful deer, who came bounding out of the forest, all eager to escape from the hunters. Just as he reached the three friends, he fell to the ground, almost crushing the mouse, who darted away in the nick of time.
The tortoise, the crow and the mouse were all very sorry for the deer, who said:
"I thought my last hour had come this time, for the hunters were closing in on me; and even now I do not feel safe."
"I'll fly up and take a look 'round," said Laghupatin; and off he went to explore, coming back soon, to say he had seen the hunters disappearing a long distance off, going in quite another direction. Gradually the deer was reassured, and lay still where he had fallen.
"You should join us," said the tortoise. “When you have had a good meal, and a drink from the river, you will feel a different creature. My old friend Laghupatin will keep watch for us all, and warn us of any dangers approaching; I will give you the benefit of my long experience; and little Hiranya, though he is not likely to be of any use to you, will certainly never do you any harm."
The deer agreed to stop with the three friends, and for some weeks after his arrival all went well. One beautiful moonlit night the deer did not come back home as usual, and the other three became very anxious about him. The crow flew up to the highest tree nearby, and eagerly sought for some sign of their lost friend. Presently he saw him in a hunter’s trap - a net that had been spread over a hole.
The poor deer was very glad indeed to see the crow, and cried to him in a piteous voice: "Be quick, be quick, and help me, before the terrible hunters find me and kill me."
"I can do nothing for you myself," said the crow, "but I know who can. Remember who saved the doves!"
He flew off home, and very soon returned with the little mouse in his beak, and it did not take long for Hiranya to nibble through the cords and save the life of the animal a hundred times as big as himself.
How happy the deer was when the cruel cords were loosened and he could stretch out his limbs again! He bounded up, but took great care not to crush the mouse, who had done him such a service. "Never, never, never," he said, "shall I forget what you have done for me. Ask anything in my power, and I will do it."
"I want nothing," said Hiranya, "except the joyful thought of having saved you."
By this time the tortoise had crept to the river-bank, and he too was glad that the deer had been saved. He praised the mouse, and declared that he would never again look down upon him. Then the four started to go back to their usual haunt in the forest; the deer, the crow, and the mouse soon arrived there quite safely, whilst the tortoise, who could only get along very slowly, lagged behind.
He had not got very far from the riverbank before the cruel hunter who had set the net to catch the deer, came to see if he had succeeded. Great was his rage when he found the net lying on the ground, but not exactly where he had left it. He began to search about for any creature who could have gnawed through the cords.
There was not a sign of the mouse, but he soon saw the slow moving Mandharaka. “He’s not as good a prize as a deer, but all the same I shall take him and cook him in a pot for soup,” said the hunter, who picked up the poor creature.
When the tortoise in his turn did not come home, the deer, the crow and the mouse were very much worried. They decided that, however great the risk, they must go back and see what had become of their friend. Great was the surprise and terror of all three when they saw the hunter striding along towards them, with the tortoise in the net under his arm. Once more the little mouse showed his wisdom. He said to the deer: "Throw yourself on the ground and pretend to be dead; and you," he added to the crow, "perch on his head and bend over as if you were going to peck his eyes out."
Without any idea what Hiranya meant by these strange orders, the two did as they were told; the poor deer feeling anything but happy lying still where his enemy was sure to see him. The hunter did see him very soon, and thinking to himself, "After all I shall get that deer," he let the tortoise fall, and came striding along as fast as he could.
Up jumped the deer without waiting to see what became of the tortoise, and sped away like the wind. The hunter rushed after him, and the two were soon out of sight. The tortoise, whose armour had saved him from being hurt by his fall, was indeed pleased when he saw little Hiranya running towards him. "Be quick, be quick, little mouse!" he cried, "and set me free." Very soon the sharp teeth of the mouse had bitten through the meshes of the net, and before the hunter came back, after failing to catch the deer, the tortoise was safely swimming across the river, leaving the net upon the ground, whilst the crow and the mouse were back in the shelter of the forest.
"There's some magic at work here," said the hunter when he discovered that his prisoner had escaped. "The stupid beast could not have got out alone," he added, as he picked up the net and walked off with it. "But he wasn't worth keeping anyhow."
That evening the four friends met once more, and talked over all they had gone through together. The deer and the tortoise were full of gratitude to the mouse, and could not say enough in his praise, but the crow was rather sulky, and remarked: "If it had not been for me, neither of you would ever have seen Hiranya. He was my friend before he was yours."
In spite of this little dispute, the four friends were soon as happy together as before the adventure of the tortoise. They once more agreed never to part and lived happily together for many years, as they had done ever since they first met.
Because although the four friends were totally different from each other, in every way possible, it was their differences that made them love and value each other all the more.
And that was ‘The Crow and his Friends’, an ancient tale from India.
I'm delighted to dedicate this story to Austin Billing. We received this message from him.
“This is Austin speaking. Just to let you know I really like the Peer Gynt stories and I've been listening to Storynory for three years. I'm 8 years old and live in Singapore.”
Ah, thanks Austin.
Read by me, Richard, for Storynory.com. For now, from me, goodbye.