FablesJataka StoriesStories from India

The Cunning Deer

The Cunning Deer

Once upon a time there was a king of Magadha reigning in Rājagaha. At that time the Bodisat came to life as a stag, and lived in the forest, attended by a herd of deer.

Now his sister brought her son to him, saying, “Brother! instruct this thy nephew in the devices of the deer.”

“Very well,” said the Bodisat, in assent, and directed his nephew, “Go away now, dear, and on your return at such and such a time you may receive instruction.”

And he failed not at the time appointed by his uncle, but went to him and received instruction.

One day as he was wandering about in the wood, he was caught in a snare. And he uttered a cry—the cry of a captive. Then the herd took to flight, and let the mother know that her son had been caught in a snare. She went to her brother, and asked him,—

“Brother! was your nephew instructed in the devices of the deer?”

“Suspect not your son of any fault,” said the Bodisat. “He has well learnt the devices of the deer. Even now he will come back to us and make you laugh for joy.” And he uttered this stanza:

I’ve trained the deer to be most swift,
To drink at midnight only, and, abounding in disguise,
To keep in any posture that he likes.
Breathing through one nostril hid upon the ground,
My nephew, by six tricks at his command
Will yet outdo the foe!

Thus the Bodisat, pointing out how thoroughly his nephew had learnt the devices of the deer, comforted his sister.

But the young stag, when he was caught in the trap, struggled not at all. He lay down on the ground as best he could; stretched out his legs; struck the ground near his feet with his hoofs, so as to throw up earth and grass; let fall his head; put out his tongue; made his body wet with spittle; swelled out his belly by drawing in his breath; breathed through the lower nostril only, holding his breath with the upper; made his whole frame stiff and stark, and presented the appearance of a corpse. Even the bluebottles flew round him, and here and there crows settled!

When the hunter came up, he gave him a blow on the stomach; and saying to himself, “He must have been caught early in the morning, he is already putrid,” he loosed the bands which tied him. And apprehending nothing, he began to collect leaves and branches, saying to himself, “I will dress him at once, here on the spot, and carry off the flesh.”

But the young stag arose, stood on his feet, shook himself, stretched out his neck, and, swiftly as a cloud driven by a mighty wind, returned to his mother!

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