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The lion and the hare

The Panchatantra (or "Five Chapters") is a vast collection of ancient Indian animal stories, including one about "The Lion and the Hare." The introduction to the work explains how a wise old man named Vishnusarman uses the stories to teach three rather ignorant young princes the secrets of ruling successfully. Through the centuries, many cultures have translated, retold, and adapted the tales. Most scholars believe that the books of the Panchatantra have had a greater influence on the literature of the world than any other Indian writing.

Cyndy Hall

Long before the reign of the emperor Ashoka, many animal families inhabited a beautiful forest in northern India. For many years they lived in peace -- until a huge, haughty lion appeared. Every afternoon the lion set out to select an innocent woodland creature for his supper. Soon he had carved a bloody path of destruction and terror through the once tranquil wilderness. Tired of living in constant fear, the animals chose a committee to seek some type of compromise.

"O mighty lion," said an elderly gazelle, "we fear the very shadows of the trees that once sheltered us. Listen now to our plan: Let us draw lots each day to select a sacrifice for your supper. You will be saved the trouble of stalking and catching your prey, and we can go back to living in relative peace."

"How do I know you'll deliver?" asked the lion.

"If we don't," answered the gazelle, "you can go back to killing us at random."

The lion leaned forward, his suspicious eyes checking out each of the creatures huddled before him as if he were selecting his next meal. Finally, he spoke. "Let's try this plan of yours starting this afternoon. Send my supper by four o'clock. If it works, we continue. If it fails...be warned that I shall kill twice as many as before."

For several months the plan worked, but the animals were not happy -- they were still losing their friends and relatives to the hungry beast. One day, a young hare was chosen for sacrifice. Early that afternoon, he said goodbye to his tearful family and friends, and then spent a few minutes alone before meeting his escorts.

"Have you any final words?" asked the gray spotted owl.

"I do. If you would allow me to delay this walk to the lion's den for an hour or so, I think I have a plan that would free us from the tyranny of this bully.""But..."

"Please let me try -- my idea will endanger no one but myself."

The animals whispered among themselves. Finally the wily red fox spoke: "Since you're going to die anyway, we see no reason to deny this last request. Good luck!"

The forest glade was almost dark by the time the young hare reached the lion's den. "Where's my food?" the lion bellowed.

"O Blustery One, it's been stolen by another lion. I tried to stop him, but..."

"Stolen?" roared the lion. "How dare anyone steal my supper!"

"O Raucous King, I was bringing my cousin to you for his four o'clock appointment when suddenly a rather puny member of your species attacked us, snatching up my cousin.

'Stop!' I cried out. 'You're taking the food of the lion who owns the forest.'

'And who's going to stop me?' the imposter said in an arrogant tone.

'I'll report you to the real king of the forest,' I said.

'Tell this lion who's too lazy to hunt his own food that the prey belongs to the hunter,' the puny lion said to me. With that he ran off into the forest with my cousin.

"Where is this lion?" spat the bully.

"I followed his path through the forest," said the hare, "but..."

"Take me to him now!" the furious lion roared. The hare scampered off into the trees, leading the lion to a deep, water-filled pit he had found during earlier travels. "The thief is hiding in that shallow pit up ahead," the hare whispered to the lion.

As the lion crept stealthily to the edge of the pit, the hare yelled, "There he is! He's got my cousin!" He then quickly scurried between the lion's legs. When the lion looked down into the pit, he saw reflected in the water a lion standing over a helpless hare.

Without thinking, the great beast lunged at the reflection. The hare flattened his body to the ground as the mangy brute sailed over him, landing with a huge splash in the middle of the watery trap. The lion sank like a stone, never to be seen again.

Remember: Intelligence is power. Use your brains -- not your strength.

Calliope
JANUARY 2000
Copyright (c) 2000 Cobblestone Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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