Once a merchant was leading a caravan of a hundred camels loaded with valuable cloth. Not able to bear all the load, one of his camels, named Kradanaka, fell limp. Moved by his plight, the merchant divided his load and distributed it on other camels. But since he found himself in a wild forest region where delay was impossible, he proceeded, leaving Kradanaka behind.
When the caravan was gone, Kradanaka hobbled about and began to crop the lush grass of forest. Thus in a very few days the poor fellow regained his strength.
In that forest lived a lion named Madotkata, who had as hangers-on a leopard, a crow, and a jackal. As they roamed the forest, they encountered the abandoned camel. The lion said: “This is an exotic animal in our forest. Ask him what he is.” So the crow informed him: “This goes by the name of camel in the world. He is an herbivore and is fit to be killed for food”. But the lion said: “I shall not kill someone who came seeking hospitality. According to our elders, you cannot kill even an enemy who came trusting you.” Thereupon the lion asked Kradanaka: “My good friend, where did you come from?” And the camel gave precise details of his separation from the caravan, so that the lion experienced compassion and guaranteed his personal security.
In this course of affairs, the lion fought an elephant one day and got seriously wounded by the elephant’s tusk. He had to restrict himself to his cave and could not hunt. After about a week had passed, the lion and his servants could not bear the hunger anymore. So the lion said to them: “I am crippled by this wound and cannot hunt as usual. Bring me a food-animal. I will kill him somehow and provide food for you all.”
The leopard, the jackal, the crow and the camel looked everywhere for an animal but could not find anyone. The crow and the jackal conferred together, and the jackal said: “Friend crow, why roam about? Here is Kradanaka, who trusts our king. Let us provide for our sustenance by killing him.”
“A very good suggestion,” said the crow. “But after all, the master guaranteed his personal security, and so cannot kill him.”
“Leave it to me. I shall convince Madotkata to kill the camel. Wait here. I will meet the lord and get his permission,” said the jackal and left to meet the lion.
When he found the lion, he said: “Master, we have roamed the entire forest, and are now too famished to stir a foot. Since my lord is also in the same condition, I humbly suggest that we make a meal of this camel.”
Highly annoyed with the ruthless proposal, the lion said, “Shame upon you, most degraded of sinners! If you repeat these words, I shall first kill you. I have given him my word. How can I kill him? Haven’t our elders said that no gift is greater than the gift of an assurance?”
“You are right my lord,” replied the jackal, “It would be a sin to kill him who has your word. But if the camel voluntarily offers himself as food to his lord and king, then it is no sin to accept the offer. If he does not volunteer, you can kill anyone of us. You are hungry and close to your end. If we are not of use to our gracious master at this time then our lives have no value.
After listening to this, Madotkata said: “Very well. This seems to be more reasonable.”
The jackal told the other three assistants: “Friends, our lord is very low. The life is oozing out of him. If he goes, there would be no one to protect us from others. So, let us go and voluntarily offer our own bodies to him. Thus we shall pay the debt we owe our gracious master.”
So they all went, their eyes brimming with tears, bowed low before Madotkata, and sat down.
“What’s the matter? Did you find an animal?” asked the lion. And the crow replied: “Master, though we roamed everywhere, we still did not catch any creature. But I request my lord to have me for his meal. Thus the lord will survive while I shall go to heaven.”
On hearing this, the jackal said: “Your body is too small. If he ate you, the master would hardly prolong his life. You have shown your loyalty, now make way, while I address the master.” So the jackal bowed respectfully and said: “Lord, I request you to have me for your meal and ensure me a place in heaven. The lord has rights of life and death over his servants. Therefore, it is no sin in exercising his rights.”
Hearing this, the leopard said: “Very praiseworthy, indeed, my friend. However, your body is rather small, too. Well, you have shown yourself a loyal servant. Make way, then, so that I, too, may win the master’s grace.”
Thereupon the leopard bowed low and said: “Master, let me give away my life to save your life. Please allow me to earn a permanent berth in heaven.”
Hearing this, poor Kradanaka thought: “Well, they used the most elegant speech. Yet the master did not kill a single one of them. So I, too, will make a speech befitting the occasion. I have no doubt that all three will contradict me.”
Having come to this conclusion, he said: “Very admirable, friend leopard. But you too are carnivorous. How, then, can the master eat you? Make way, then, so that I, too, may address the master.” So poor Kradanaka stood in the presence, bowed low and requested the lion to have him for that day’s meal.
Hereupon the lion gave the word and at once, the jackal and the leopard pounced on him, tore him to pieces and all of them had a sumptuous feast.