Preferred Citation: Ramanujan, A. K. A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India. Berkeley London:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.

A Jackal King

22. A Jackal King

A jackal roamed in the rain all day looking for food. He didn't find any, and it got dark. He sneaked into town and entered a washerman's house. He ate whatever he could put his snout to, and as he ran in a hurry he fell into the washerman's indigo vat. He tried to get out of it, but he couldn't. He struggled till morning, when a clever idea occurred to him. He lay in the vat motionless, his legs stiff, as if dead. The washerman came to dip his clothes in the vat and found what looked like a dead animal in it. “Didn't God give this wretched animal any eyes to see where he was going?” he grumbled, and he picked up the jackal in disgust and threw it on the rocks outside town. The jackal waited till he disappeared and then got up and ran. Once he found himself in a safe place, he looked at himself only to find that he was stained a strange blue all over. He couldn't recognize himself. How would other animals recognize him? Maybe he could work this to his advantage and become the king of the forest, he thought. He was after all a jackal. Nobody had to teach him tricks.

He called a meeting of all the jackals and addressed them: “O jackals all, the goddess of this forest appeared to me yesterday and poured ambrosia all over me and blessed me. She said, ‘From now on, my son, you are the king of this forest ’and she appointed me king. If you don't believe me, just look at my body. So, from today on, you are my subjects and I am your king. Don't you ever forget it!”

They looked at him in amazement. His body was indeed colored an astonishing blue. The jackals thought, “Maybe this is all true. Why else would he be blessed with this unearthly color?” They asked him, “Your Highness, what's your name?”

How could he say just “Jackal”? Was he an idiot? He said instead, “Jackal Tackal Lackal Raja.”

They, poor things, couldn't remember such a long name. They simply hurrahed: “Long live our raja! Victory to our maharaja! Jai!

From that day, the jackal made the other jackals serve him. Soon the other animals also shouted Jai! and became his subjects. Even powerful animals like lions and tigers submitted to his rule, impressed by the color of his body. Whenever he went anywhere, he had to ride the elephant. He had to have the lion to his right, the tiger to the left, and packs of jackals behind him and in front of him. Who wouldn't grow vain with such power and royalty? He no longer cared for his own kind. He wouldn't let a fellow-jackal anywhere near him. All the despised jackals slunk away from him.

One day, a wise old jackal said to them, “Don't worry about him, fellows. His time is up. If he was born one of us and now acts too big to be friends with us, it means his downfall is near. The tiger and the lion fear him only because they don't know he's a jackal. If they find out who he is, they won't wait a minute. They'll tear him to pieces. All these days, I thought, ‘After all, he's one of us. He is rising in life. Let him enjoy it.’ But now he has turned against us, what does it matter if he lives or dies? When he comes to this evening's assembly, surround him and set up a big howl. Howl for all you are worth. The rest is God's will.” The jackals agreed.

The court assembled that evening. King Jackal Tackal Lackal arrived in style with his retinue and sat on his throne. As if in great jubilation, all the jackals raised their voices and howled and howled. King Jackal forgot himself and joined them in their howls. He was in his element—he howled louder than the rest.

The tiger and the lion, at first taken aback, soon realized that this was only a common jackal who had become king by deceiving them, the imposter! They pounced on him at once and tore him to pieces.

That's why wise people say: “You can't change what you are born with. A dog is a dog even when it sits in a palanquin.”


[NKTT, but cf. Motif J 512.13, Jackal accidentally made king but joins other jackals in howling at night. Killed (IO).]

A Jackal King

Preferred Citation: Ramanujan, A. K. A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India. Berkeley London:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.