The third part of the Panchatantra, known as Kakolukiyam (The Fierce Enmity between the Crows and the Owls), starts here.
It begins like this -
Never trust the individual who was once our bitterest enemy and who now, reconciled, purports to be our closest friend. Because the owls’ fort was burnt to cinders by the wily crow.
“How did that happen?” asked the three Princes of Mahilaropya.
And so Pandit Vishnu Sharma told them the following story -
On the outskirts of the beautiful city of Mahilaropya, there was a huge banyan tree that sheltered an entire colony of crows, which was ruled by the crow King Meghvarna.
In the cavernous mountains nearby, there was a large owl colony ruled by the owl King Arimardan. Every night the owls would fly down from their mountainous retreat and circle about the banyan tree. They had a longstanding enmity with the crows and if they spotted a crow on any of the outer branches of the banyan tree, they would immediately attack and kill him. These nightly raids killed many crows and left the rest of the population quaking in daily fear.
One day, King Meghvarna called all the crows together and told them that it had become imperative to deal with the owls’ menace.
He said, “Our enemies, the owls, are strong, resourceful, and always on the lookout for an opportune moment to attack us. They come every night and destroy us. Something must be done to stop their daily depredations. We can’t see well at night and so we are unable to oppose them when they attack. And we don’t know where their fort is, otherwise we might have attempted to attack that in the daylight when they cannot see so well. So, tell me, good crows, what do you think we ought to do? Should we sue for peace, make war, fortify our tree, move elsewhere, ask our allies for help, or use deception against the enemy? What do you think would be appropriate?”
They replied, “Sire, it is well that you consult us. A King must always consult his ministers to find an effective solution to any problem. We must think over the matter and discuss it in the private chamber, not here in open court.”
Now Meghvarna had five hereditary ministers called Ujjivi, Sanjivi, Anujivi, Prajivi, and Chiranjivi, and when they were all in the private chamber, he asked each of them, in turn, to give him their opinion about which was the best course to adopt in their current situation.
Ujjivi said, “Sire, it is not wise to declare war against a stronger enemy. We cannot win against them. The owls are more numerous than us and they attack at a time when they know we can’t retaliate, so it is best to sue for peace in my opinion.”
“I see. And what is your opinion, Sanjivi?”
Sanjivi said, “I don’t agree, I don’t think it is at all appropriate to sue for peace with the enemy. They are cruel, greedy, and utterly without scruples, and as such cannot be depended on to honor any treaty. And you must not forget, Sire, that they have defeated us and that being the case, asking for peace, puts us in an even weaker position. We will only invite their scorn and perhaps incite them to do us more violence. No, Sire, it is far better to go to war than to knuckle under. We may not be as strong as them, but, even so, a smaller, determined force can still hold the day.”
It was Anujivi’s turn next and he said, “Sire, the enemy is strong and ruthless. I don’t propose either making a treaty or going to war. The only thing to be done is to retreat and move to a safer place.”
“Retreat? Move? Never!” spoke out Prajivi. “Nor should we make peace or go to war. What we need to do is fortify ourselves, so that their attacks amount to nothing. When they discover that it is impossible to harm us, they will give up and go away.”
“What do you think, Chiranjivi?”
Chiranjivi said, “I think we should seek help from our allies. On our own, although we may be strong and willing, there is not a lot we can do.”
Meghvarna sighed and turned to another of his ministers, a rather elderly crow who had served his father and his grandfather too. His name was Sthirjiva and he was well-versed in politics.
“Uncle, you have heard what these ministers had to say about the matter. What is your opinion? What do you think we should do?”
Sthirjiva said, “Yes, I heard them, and their suggestions are not improper. But the current situation demands a different approach. We must resort to deception to win against the enemy. That way, we will lose none of our strength and can continue to live here, while the enemy will be entirely destroyed and will trouble us no more. We must look for a weak opening in their ranks and exploit it against them.”
Meghvarna said, “But, Uncle, we don’t even know where they have their fort. So how are we going to find their vulnerability?”
Sthirjiva said, “Well, we can send our spies out to gather that information.”
“Yes,” said Meghvarna. “I suppose we will have to do that. But, tell me, Uncle, how did this enmity start anyway? Why do the owls hate us so much?”
“I’ll tell you,” said Sthirjiva, and began his tale.