A Balinese Folktale: The Crane in Priestly Robe
On the slope of mount Meru, there was a pond with many fishes lived in it; they lived happily there for long time. Unfortunately a long drought came, the water decreased significantly day by day. The fishes began to feel insecure.
A crane, seeing this condition from the branch of a tree near the pond, thought that it is the perfect time for him to do something so he dressed himself with priest robe and wear a priest headdress. He came to the edge of the pond and addressed the fishes: Oh, my children the drought has surely take his toll on you, the water of this pond will surely evaporate in no time, and you will die if you stay here. I know a pond on the other slope of this mountain; there is plenty of water there and it won’t run out of water even in a drought that three times longer than we experience now”.
To this interesting offer, one of the fish responded: “oh that sounds good, but how can we believe you; you are a crane, you feed on us. It is the nature of crane to eat fish. If we come with you, I am afraid we will end up in your belly instead of in a pond full of water”.
The crane in solemn tone responded: My dear child you don’t have to be afraid. I have ordained as a priest. I have abandoned the path violence; I now walk in the way of Ahimsa. I admit, in the past, I had eaten many of your kinds, I am aware of my past sin, by helping you I hope I can redeem my sins. It is not I who help you but you are the one who help me by giving me a chance to atone for my past mistakes. Besides it is the duty of a priest to help other”.
Upon hearing these words, the fishes gather together and discuss their situation. They fully understood that if they stay in this pond they will surely die since the water was decreasing constantly. They also aware that crane was the natural predator of them but the crane have been ordained as a priest and it is forbidden for him to harm others besides crane’s words give a hope for better life in better place for them. The discussion reached its end. One of the fish swam up and spoke to the crane: “we accepted your offer, and we hope that your words are true and of course we also hope that when you take us to the new pond, you will fly as fast as possible since we can not survive for a long time outside of the water”.
To these words, crane responded: “no need to worry my child, as a priest, it is forbidden for me to tell a lie or to harm other sentient beings and of course I will flay as fast as I can to ensure your safety. But I can not take you all at once; I have to carry you one by one between my beaks, so my burden is not too heavy and I can fly fast enough to arrive at the new pond before you breathe your last breath”. The fishes agreed to this arrangement.
Watching silently from a corner of the pond was a crab; he was the friend of the fishes. He remained skeptical to the crane offer. He watched in silence when his friends were taken one by one by the crane to the new pond. After some time all of the fishes had been taken by the crane, the crab approached the crane and said: “oh dear crane, please take me to the new pond. I can not live here alone; I will be so lonely without my friends”. The crane agreed to take the crab to the new pond, but the crab refused to be carried between the crane’s beaks, he begged to be allowed to hang on the crane’s neck. The crane agreed, and the crab hung on the crane’s neck by holding it with his pincers.
The crane flew with the crab held his neck tightly with his pincers. From above the crab saw the remains of his friends, many fish bones scattered on the top of a flat rock. The crab concluded that the crane, disguised as a priest, had deceived his friends and feasted on them.
Enraged, the crab shouted: “you deceived and killed my friend; it is your time to be killed now”. The crab tightened his grip to crane’s neck and choked the crane. With gasping breath the crane spoke “if you kill me now, we will fall to the ground and you will die also”. To this threat, the answered: “my friends are waiting for me in the Old Land, I will gladly join them, and share them an interesting story, and of course I will take you to prove that my story is real.” The crab tightened his grip further and killed the crane. Both of them fell down on the flat rock.
Crane illustration from Field Guide to Birds of North America