Govyaghra samvadamu, extract from Bhojarajyam by Anantamatya

Rendered into English prose by “Rasika


[Anantamatya belongs to the fifteenth century A. D., and thus to that transition period in the history of Telugu literature, between the early era of translations of the classics, epics and Puranas, from Sanskrit, and the later era of original poems, the Prabandhas. His contemporaries among poets, like Srinadha, Potana, Somanadha, and Jakkana, attempted translations in the manner of the classics, but with a new vigour of imagination in story-telling and intensity of emotion. The Bhojarajyam of Anantamatya belongs to this period and this variety, and is well known for the wonderful power of interesting narrative and dramatic conversation.


The episode of the Cow and the Tiger, presented below, in a free rendering into English prose, has been published in the form of a continuous story in verse with a unity of its own, as an extract from the poem, which has a complicated structure of stories within stories, in the Telugu Kavyvmala, compiled by the late Sri Katuri Venkateswara Rao, for the Sahitya Akademi. The specimen can reveal only some of the excellences of the work of the great poet, like his high moral purpose and purity of sentiment; and not the qualities of style for which the poem is renowned; but it is still, the translator hopes, worthy of the attention of lovers of Indian literature among the readers of ‘Triveni’.]


Canto IV.


Verse 129: The cow belonged to a pious Brahmin (who maintained it for the milk and other things he needed for his daily Homa). She was ever sincere, and a model of virtuous conduct; never indulging in fight, always satisfied with what she had; going her way unperturbed, even in the bustle of the herd; to milk her, it was not necessary to bind her legs with the rope, but she would freely empty her udder, and rain down the milk; never ailed for a day; of moderate stature and compact shape, her udder full and glistening.


One day, this excellent cow was alone in the forest grazing, when a tiger perceived her, and approaching stealthily, from behind a bush, with his tail moving on the ground, and paw uplifted, was about to strike her down.


130. The cow apprehended the dangcr; but said, unperturbed, to the tiger, “Oh! pause for a moment; and do me the favour of listening to my words, with understanding.”


131. The tiger then stood, with her paw uplifted, and her terrible form fixed as in a picture, striking wonder in the denizens of the sky (witnessing the scene).


132. A tiger roaring with keen hunger; a milk-cow, within his grasp, asks him to pause; and he pauses, withholding to spring, and gazes! No wonder; a word, uttered with undaunted heart, should be able to pacify even the god of destruction on Doomsday.


133. But pausing thus, the tiger asked, “Why do you stop me, a hungry wild animal, from my prey? What is it you wish to say ? Say it.


134. The cow began, “A pretty calf has been born to me, my first-born; it is not even a week since his birth, he has not yet learnt to nibble at grass; I will go to him, and feed him once more at my breasts, and return to you anon. Kindly permit me, and earn the merit of a gracious act of virtue.


135. And the cow, even while speaking thus, was reflecting in her mind:


“I fed my child with the milk at my breasts early in the morning, and came away; with a little romping about, he would be hungry soon, and then what would be his fate! “


137. “Fed at my breasts, he would stand by me with drooping ears, beside himself with joy, while I licked his neck and dewlap. Who will take care of him hereafter? To whom is he to turn hereafter for protection?”


139. But fearing that, if the tiger should read her thoughts, he might hesitate to oblige her, she steadied her mind, and without allowing her anxiety to appear in her face, the cow said again:


140. “With a mouthful of milk, my child will be happy; your hunger will be appeased with, nothing less than, all the flesh of my body; but you know the order of priority in these duties of mine; please give me your consent, O prince among tigers–I will go and return in a trice .”


141. But the tiger smiled in derision, and said, “What is this you say, O cow, to fool me? You say you will go to your son and return soon; how can I believe? One who speaks may say anything, but one who hears should use his discretion before believing it.


142. “Even the most miserable animal will struggle to give up life, will never willingly die.


209. “Therefore, O cow, I know, once I let you go, and, pleased with the thought that you have escaped, by a clever ruse, from the clutches of a tiger with his terrible nails and teeth,


210. “You will go strutting to your son, feed him to the full with milk, and stay on chewing the cud. How could I expect you to return–to certain death?


212. “My hunger is keen, my stomach is clamouring for food, I must munch with delight and swallow your flesh even now, and appease my hunger. What is the use of speaking so foolishly, and remonstrating with me in this manner, at this juncture?”


213. The cow, filled with grief, at the obvious lack of understanding and consequent scepticism of the tiger, expostulated with him, “You imagine I will deceive you, and go, and will not return; and you cannot believe me; is it the proper thing for a virtuous soul? Am I a liar?”


Canto VI


9. “I will go there, if you permit, see my son, feed him bellyful with milk, console him, fondle him, advise him, and come back satisfied; but if you insist on feasting on me immediately, would I object?


10. “The elders say, there is no greater duty or virtue than to honour and feed a guest; and now you are my guest; if I leave you here, and do not come back, I will be guilty of a terrible sin.


11. “It is because of my mother-love, because my child is so young, and I am to leave him on such a long journey, and because, if I do not bid him farewell, this my regret will be eternal,


12. “I have appealed to you; but if you do not consent, you may do as you please; I am content and ready to appease your hunger.”


13. At these words, the heart of the tiger melted with pity, and he said, “O cow, seeing your grief at the thought of your son, if I let you go, I cannot stand this hunger, I may die; and you may delay, once you reach home; I cannot believe you will return promptly, unless you pledge your word on solemn oath, and swear.”


18. Then the cow said to the tiger, “Hear me then, O tiger, Why do you doubt me and fear me needlessly?


If I go home and do not return, O tiger, let me share the fate, of one, who turns away from his door, the hungry guest, without feeding him,


of a fool who, out of cupidity, gives his young daughter in marriage to an old man;


of one, who discards his wedded wife, without any fault in her,


of one; who squanders his wealth in extravagance, while his dependents suffer for want of food,


of the donor, who withholds the gift donated, without delivering it to the donee promptly, and obliges him to ask for it repeatedly.


19. When the cow uttered the oaths, the tiger said:


“You seem to be well versed in all the codes of virtuous conduct; who can equal you in your knowledge of Dharma? I will trust you and your word; you may go and return!


20. The cow, full of gratitude for the favour conceded, went round the tiger worshipfully, and in absolute accord of thought and word, went home in a graceful gait; her udder glistening, and filled with milk to the tips of the four paps...; and bellowing sonorously, the urchins playing in the streets getting out of her way, in haste.


21. Even as the sound reached his ears, the calf ran towards her, responding with eagerness; approached her, and jumping about, flourishing his tail in glee, sucked his share of the milk with gusto.


22. As long as the calf was sucking the milk, the mother stood, without even shifting her feet the least; still, without any movement, with no other thought in her mind, not caring to brush away even the fly settling on her, like a cow of stone, carved out of a rock.


25. The calf, when his stomach was full, left the udder of the mother, and played around her; rushing into the street and running back; looking up with lifted head at the call of the mother, but loitering here and there; touching the earth with the snout, smelling the earth and trying to remember it; dodging and threatening, springing up high into the air, when little children came in the way.


Looking at the child indulging in such playful movements, the mother, holding back the tears welling up in her eyes, thought:


“Alas! Woe is mine, obliged to forsake this little child, and go to meet the cruel fate.


26. “When the mother-cows of the herd return to the village in the evening, and the little calves of his age advance towards them with eagerness and affection, running forward with them, and not finding his mother among the cows, and realising his motherlessness, how bitterly will the child grieve?”


28. “He does not yet know that I am to leave him; he goes about here in innocence, and ignorance of the truth. The tiger there, unable to withstand the pangs of hunger, perhaps, denouncing me for a liar, may go his way; I should not delay any longer.”


Approaching the calf, the cow said:


29. “I have given birth to you, and suckled you these few days, being indebted to you, in past lives, only this much; hereafter, do not think of me, rid your mind of all attachment to me.


32. “ Do not wander alone, far from the herd, in the pastures; return home early, before sunset; and do not keep company with quarrelsome cows. Keep away from bustle….”


35. “Do not approach wells or deep streams, tempted by the attractive grass you may see there; do not dip your snout in waters in which cruel water-beasts may be.


37. “The stem of the lotus plant is light, the dry blade of grass is lighter, a speck of cotton is lighter still, the dust that rises from the earth is even more light; but the motherless child is the lightest, most despised of all; remember.”


39. As the mother-cow thus proceeded with her admonition, the calf in his wonder asked her, “How is it you speak in this strain, mother? Has the master, the good Brahmin, sold you for money, or he thinks of giving you away as a present to his beloved daughter, or contemplates gifting you away in charity, or as a votive offering to the gods, on an auspicious occasion?”


To these words the cow replied:


42. “The good Brahmin is not giving me away to anyone, but I am myself going; listen!” and narrated the entire story to the calf in detail.


43. And the calf Was seized with fear; and fell on the earth, broken hearted, as if struck down by lightning or pierced with a spear; and rolling on the earth, kicking up her legs, tears streaming from the eyes and trembling, the calf bellowed piteously and exclaimed:


44. “Mother, where will you go? Will you forsake me and go to be swallowed by the tiger? Alas, What is there in life for a me hereafter?”


45. As he grieved thus, the mother caressed the calf on the head, with her snout, and expostulated with him thus: “For whom do you grieve thus, my son, and why do you yield to this needless sorrow?


46. “I am proceeding through the throat of the tiger, which is a highway to heaven, with truth-speaking as my prop, to enjoy the heavenly delights. This is a time for jubilation for us, why do you yield to grief?


47. “To any, once born, death is certain; instead of death in the normal course, with nothing to one’s credit, is not a death, which brings glory, and earns merit, to be coveted?


52. “Do not remonstrate further; if I delay here, I will be guilty of the sin of having uttered a lie, and deserve a place in the lower worlds, after death; why court such a disaster? Please consent to my leaving you, and send me willingly.”


53. Thus, at last, she consoled her son, quenching the blazing flames of his grief, with the soothing waters of her words of wisdom; and persuading him to stay behind, contented, she proceeded to the forest where the tiger was waiting, with speed, eagerness, and love in her heart.


54. There the tiger was cogitating:


55. “Could there be anything like morality or character in a grass-eating animal? I made a fool of myself trusting the words of the cow, and refraining from breaking her, when I could strike her down, my gullibility adding to my misfortune.


58. “After falling in the grip of a tiger and escaping somehow, which cow will return to the tiger willingly? Why vain desires and expectations? I have let slip the food actually in my mouth.


59. “If I do not pursue her, seek an opportunity, find it, and break her neck, one of these days, am I worth the name of a tiger?”


60. Before the tiger, thus beside himself with hunger, excited, and nursing thoughts of revenge, the cow appeared suddenly, having covered the distance with miraculous speed, as if she dropped from the sky; and said, “I have kept you waiting; I wonder how you could wait so long, suffering from such keen hunger?


61. “But I should not wonder; without such patience, how could one earn so much merit and virtue; was it not through your grace, I have been able to go home and console my son?


62. “Now I am ready; there is no hesitation in my mind; it is steady and integrated; feed on me as you please. I am offering my body to you, in good will and exceeding love; eat and speed my soul on to the heavens.”


63. The tiger was struck with wonder at the courage and composure of the cow, and said to himself: “It is many years since I was born, and grew, and attained this stature; but till now, did I ever come across any creature, with such a steadfast mind, and so pure?”


64. “I should not injure such a noble nature, and earn endless sin for myself; could I not find flesh for my food elsewhere? The god who gave me this life in this birth, will somehow provide the suitable food for me; he will not oblige me to feed on grass! Am I going to die, if I do not feed on this cow?” and said to the cow,


65. “I admire your truthfulness. I cannot kill you. Your virtue has saved you to-day. You may go home and join your friends and son, to your great delight and theirs.”


66. The cow then said


67. “Do you think I am so soft-hearted as to yield to temptation? Why do you test me thus? I have already gifted away this body to you. Why further talk?


69. “Your body is lean and dried up by the fire of the hunger in the stomach; and even your throat is dry. Your senses are benumbed, your stomach is touching your back; your life is about to leave the body. Why do you wait still? The sun is setting; having fasted throughout the day-time, at least now, feast on me, making a supper of my flesh and blood. And I will then proceed to heaven, happy, and feeling grateful to you.”


70. Saying so, the cow lifted up her head, and stretching the neck upwards, approached the tiger. But the tiger shrank, and stepped back, as the cow approached nearer, and would not strike.


Like the guest, pleading lack of hunger, and excusing himself, when the host invites to dinner and presses, the tiger refused to feed on the cow, who requested him to oblige her; and thus they carried on the strange conversation; the gods above witnessing the scene, were mightily pleased, and applauded the truthfulness of the cow, and the kind heart of the tiger.