Why the Lion is both grateful and mocking towards the jackal

In Indian fables, the Lion is seen as King of the Jungle (or forest) and he is accompanied by a jackal who is his counterpart or majordomo. Loyally obeying the King without any question or hesitation, the jackal’s advantage in representing the Lion is especially significant when it comes to food since he is tasked with finding an animal which could be potential prey for the grateful Lion who in turn shares his kill with the jackal once he has eaten.

There are however both positives and negatives to the equation between the Lion and the Jackal. Even though the Jackal finds pride and honour in serving the Lion, he also finds himself as an object of abusive amusement both verbally and physically from to the Lion who will go as far as degrading him, smacking him, tripping him or even knocking him down. This could stem from the fact that in real life in the wild, Lions do not tolerate the company of Jackals who try to steal their kills and will always chase off an approaching jackal who may try the best they can to grab a piece of meat from a Lion’s kill without being spotted.

However while this may be theoretical from my point of view, another hypothesis which came to me as kind of a revelation is that among the many tales which feature jackals representing Lions in India there is one particular story wherein a jackal fooled a Lion. It is not known whether or not the Lion ever found out from his loyal follower as to whether or not he had been deceived at all, but if he did then it could easily explain why the Lions sometimes humiliates the jackal although the story did produce a moral as fables always do.

– Vikram

The Lion, the King of the Forest had recently appointed a jackal to represent him because he believed that not always could he hunt on his own and he was right in gaining a representative. The jackal accompanied the Lion nearly wherever he went and always listened to the King if he was needed for something important to carry out. The Lion was always grateful to the jackal and over the years, the two formed a seeming best friend equation that the jungle could not dissociate.

When it came to hunting, the jackal was also an excellent scout by patrolling the jungle for potential prey and was even able to assess whether or not a particular animal would be a fitting meal for his master. Once he believed he had found an animal that could satiate his King’s hunger, he would alert the Lion by either reporting to him right away or simply through a bark or howl loud enough for the Lion to come charging to the spot where he could claim his kill.

After eating what he wanted of the animal he killed, he would leave the rest for the jackal. One day, however the Lion while deciding to practice some independent hunting for a change in order to test skills he had not used for some time before he met and appointed his counterpart from years before. Unfortunately, he made a terrible mistake in attacking a fierce elephant which was the leader of a herd. Of course, he was no match and was badly wounded being unable to walk for days altogether.

While he was recovering, the Lion found little opportunity to request his majordomo to alert him to prey because he knew that in this state, he could not hunt and he could only get better through rest and food the latter of which was provided by the jackal’s findings of smaller prey such as rabbits.

Upon recovering except for a slight limp, the King addressed the jackal, “It is time for you to resume your duties as I do mine.” The jackal replied, “Anything Your Majesty, but I have a suggestion.” Hearing this, the Lion responded, “You have been loyal. Please, go ahead.” The jackal proposed, “To ease your recovery, I can bring prey to you instead of alerting you to its presence. It’ll be easier for you, given your recent recovery.”

The Lion gave his nod, and the jackal went off to seek any animal that he could lure into the Lion’s claws. Deer were a staple first-choice diet for the Lion but when the jackal saw his first deer for the day, he knew that the King not only should try a new meal but also as he requested not exhaust himself by chasing prey. He looked far and wide but there seemed to be almost no option for him let alone his master.

All of a sudden, he saw a donkey grazing by a river who was looking somewhat depressed. The jackal had always believed like many of the jungle’s residents that donkeys were stupid due to their brains not functioning and some were even born without one at all which was not just exaggeration but also humiliation towards donkeys themselves. But be that as it may, a donkey had not been seen in the jungle for some time now and the jackal believed that the King should try donkey meat.

Approaching the donkey, the jackal said “It has been a while since any of your kind roamed here. You seem troubled. What is troubling you?” The donkey sighed, “Why should I be happy? I used to work hard and be loyal to my washerman master and his family. But they never appreciated me. I fled because I felt belittled and uncared for.”

Believing he could use this to an advantage, the jackal said “My dear friend, it breaks my heart to hear this from you. How right you have been in running away from those who you do not deserve if they clearly disown you. Still if you believe that you are not cared for, there is one thing that can possibly curb your sadness” “Which is?” and after the donkey questioned, the jackal said, “Our King the Lion wishes to meet you in the hopes of making you his Chief Minister”.

“Why should I serve the Lion? The most feared of all beasts in the jungle? He may kill me, and I doubt I am capable of being his chief minister.” The jackal chuckled, replying, “You underestimate both yourself and the Lion. If you served humans who undervalued you, serving the King of the Jungle should hold far greater honour.”

The donkey felt flattered because for some time now, he had not heard a word of praise about himself. Even if this was not coming from man but from beast it was certainly enough to motivate him and feel good about himself “Lead me to the King,” he said with a smile. The jackal responded, “This is your proudest moment. By embracing a duty the King offers, you have earned greatness, making your mark in the wild.”

Following the jackal’s encouraging reply, the two set off to see the Lion. When they reached his den, still the donkey seemed afraid to come closer to interact with the Lion who had emerged. Briefly leaving the donkey’s side, the jackal went over to the Lion and apologized for the donkey not coming closer. The Lion decided to go over himself to the donkey believing that even though the donkey was not scared, his fear would not cause him to run away but consume him to the point that he would feel defenceless. Limping to the donkey, the Lion caused paranoia to sink in further into the donkey’s mind since he too believed donkeys to be stupid and the jackal had encouraged him to use that advantageously.

He was mistaken when the terrified animal ran for his life and he could not catch up to him. The Lion glared fiercely at his majordomo and growled, “You assured me it would be easy to catch him due to his stupidity! Am I fit enough to chase, even at 93 – 97% recovery? Can you not you see my limp? Suggesting I walk over to my prey when they would flee – is that not overlooking my potential failure?”


“Then I will guide him close to you, so you will not have to move. I will make it right for my mistake by bringing him back,” the majordomo proposed. The Lion found the idea absurd, replying, “That is impossible! He knows you led him here to be my meal. Bring another beast instead.”

“You will not regret what I am suggesting” said the jackal with confidence because he knew he had to make it up to the King and again set off to find the donkey before his master could say another word. After a while he found the donkey under a tree catching his breath through heavy hyperventilating. “What a fool you are!” the jackal said sternly once he had caught up to the donkey who by now had regained the strength he lost from his run.

“Why did you flee like that?!”. “You know why!” the donkey erupted. “He was going to kill me! “How can you judge from a distance?” the jackal questioned. “He approached to greet and welcome you, and you responded by fleeing? That is dishonourable to the King. You must not only make amends by accepting the boon he offers but also apologize. Otherwise, the jungle will be displeased.”

The donkey thought hard; indeed, he had been foolish to run away when the Lion was not even walking toward him with any malice or emotion that showed an act to kill. He believed that at once he should repent for his actions and with great humility and gratitude accept the role of Chief Minister that the Lion would give him. “I have insulted his Majesty with my overreaction then. Please take me back to him”

The jackal took the donkey back to the Lion and the donkey politely approached the Lion to converse with him. “Welcome back my friend” said the King when he saw his ‘guest’ approaching. “It was unkind of you to have run away like that and I am touched that you have returned which I believe is enough to be an apology for me. You are now my Chief Minister”. As soon as the donkey came near, the Lion killed him with a savage blow to the head.

As he was about to dine, the jackal said “Indeed you must be hungry, but you need to remember that a King always takes a bath before his meal”. The jackal did have a point as normally on certain occasions, the Lion before eating would always leave the jackal to guard his meal while he went to bathe and returned to eat but he reminded the jackal not to eat until he had returned and finished what he wanted to satiate himself with. He trusted the jackal enough to do the same again.

“Very well. You know what you must do then. While I go and bathe, watch over the dead beast’s body until I return”. Once the Lion departed, the jackal attended his duty but all of a sudden, his humbleness faded and he felt tempted to eat the kill despite the loyalty he maintained to his rule of not eating without the King’s permission or when he was away.

He knew however that he had to act quick before his counterpart returned so he decided rather than eat the entire kill, he would just eat the head and brains and he did just that. When the Lion returned and prepared to eat, he was shocked to find the head torn open and the brains missing. Suspecting none other than the jackal due to him being the only one around, he turned angrily to him.

“You rascal! You have devoured the head and brains of the animal! Am I expected to consume what you typically do?! Have I not emphasized that you are not to eat what I have hunted let alone partake in my hunts unless I allow it?!” The jackal calmly responded after the Lion’s roar, “Your Majesty, you are aware, as much as me and the entire jungle, that donkeys lack brains. You yourself crushed this animal’s head while choosing him as your meal. If he had any intelligence thanks to a brain, he would not have returned.”

Paying deep attention to his majordomo’s words, the Lion saw that indeed the donkey before his death displayed an act of stupidity by following the jackal back. He always thought of donkeys as stupid and now he was convinced after seeing it firsthand himself. Besides, he was near 100% recovery and his representative had been generous enough to lure prey to him for a change. “Very well” he said, his impatience ceasing “I shall first have my fill of this animal and you may then eat the rest”



Moral – If you do not lose your head in the face of calamities you will overcome them.

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