Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

035 – The Giant Crab

Kakkata-Jataka, Bharhut

The giant crab lurking to catch the hind leg of the Bodhisatta

Once, a giant crab lived in a Himalayan lake. He was so large that it caught and killed an elephant to enjoy its flesh. The crab thus created havoc among the elephants and made many to flee the lake.

At that time, the queen elephant conceived the Bodhisatta in her womb. Anticipating the possible danger in the lake the king elephant sent her to a safer place, far from the lake, for delivery. In course of time, she delivered a baby, who grew up like a purple mountain. He was also wise and brave. Soon, he chose a good and nice female elephant as his companion. By and by, he came to know of the havoc created by the giant crab, who was the cause of the separation from his father. So, he planned to go to the lake and kill the crab.

Eventually, one day, he marched to the lake with his mates. There, he approached his father and sought his permission and blessing to kill the giant crab. First, the elephant king did not grant him the permission but later allowed him when requested, repeatedly.

The Bodhisatta then called upon all his friends to launch an expedition against the crab. His attack was not rash as he collected all relevant information about his enemy, viz., the crab was to attack the last among the retreating animals from the lake. He ordered all the elephants to march to the lake and browse there. When retreating, he deliberately stayed behind all other elephants. Thus, he was caught by the crab, which held one of his hind legs as a smith holds the lump of iron between his tongs. The Bodhisatta then pulled up his leg but could not budge an inch. The crab, indeed, was very powerful. The elephant in his peril then trumpeted in a high pitch. Sensing the danger all the elephants ran helter-skelter. In the meanwhile the crab drew him closer and closer to suck his blood. Seeing the danger he shouted at his mate not to run away. The female elephant then answered that she was not to leave him in his distress and said,

The question of leaving you does not arise
O noble husband of sixty!
None so dear can be found
On the earth like thee.

She then came near the crab and spoke to him in a sweet and dulcet voice:

Among all the living crabs in the sea; or
Whether the Ganga or Nabbada be;
You are the best and most powerful, I know
Please listen and let my mate go.

Pleased with the female’s flattery, the crab loosened his grip with the least suspicion of what the elephant could do. No sooner than the elephant found the grip of the crab loosened, he gave a thunderous cry of elation, which drew all the run away elephants back. Together, they pulled the crab on the shore and trampled him to mince-meat.

In course of time, the crab-tarn was flooded with water and the two claws of the crab floated to the Ganga. One of those claws was found and lifted by ten brothers who made it a drum called Aanaka. The other claw was carried away to the sea and was picked up by the titans, who made a drum out of it and called it ‘Aalambara’. In one of the battles when the titans lost to Sakka the drum came in possession of the latter. Since then Sakka used the drum in his battle to strike awe in the hearts of his enemies. Thus, the expression – ‘it thunders like the Aalambara cloud !’ – is in vogue.

See Kakkata Jataka Jataka Pali No. 267.