Vajradanstra was a lion living in a forest. He had two friends, a jackal named Chaturaka and a wolf named Kravyamukha. Because of their friendship with the lion, the jackal and the wolf had a free run of the forest. One day the lion found a female camel separated from its caravan and in labour pains. The lion killed the camel and found a live baby camel inside her womb. The lion and his friends fed on the dead camel but spared the baby. The lion adopted the baby and brought him home.
The lion told the baby camel, “You are now my child. Nobody can harm you. You can freely roam about the forest and have a nice time. You have ears which look like a pair of conches. So I will call you Sankhukarna.”
As days passed, Sankhukarna became a young and energetic animal. He was always to be seen in the company of Vajradanstra. One day the lion had to confront a wild elephant and in the fight the elephant badly injured the lion. Now the lion was too weak to go out and hunt. He called his friends, the jackal and the wolf, and the camel and told them, “Look for an animal. I will kill it and all of us can have a good meal.”
The three scoured the entire forest but could not find an animal. In despair, the jackal thought, “If we can kill this camel we will have a sure meal for several days. But he is a favorite of our king. He will not agree to kill the camel. Yet with my cunning I will see that the lion kills him. The learned have said there is nothing impossible or forbidden for an intelligent being.”
The jackal told the camel, “O Sankhukarna, our lord has been without food for a long time and he may die of hunger. His death will mean a disaster for all of us. I have a plan to get over this problem. Listen.”
“Go ahead. Let me know what you have in mind. I shall certainly do whatever I can for the lord because if we do good to our master we will reap a reward hundred times more valuable than what we gave to the master,” said the camel.
Chaturaka, the jackal said, “O young camel, offer your body to the lord at the double the profit. Your body also will grow in size and the lord also will continue to live.”
The camel replied, “I am ready. Let the lord know that he can have my body provided the Lord of Duty is a witness to my sacrifice.”
The jackal, the wolf and the camel then called on the lion to inform him of the camel’s decision. The jackal told the lion, “We searched the entire forest without sighting even a small animal. It is already sunset now. The camel is prepared to offer his body if you are ready to increase the size of his body and invite the Lord of Duty to be a witness.”
On the lion agreeing to the proposal, the jackal and the wolf at once pounced on the camel and tore him to pieces.
Vajradanstra, the lion, told the jackal, “I am going to the river to take a bath and worship the deities. Till I come back, keep an eye on this food.’ The minute the lion left the scene, the jackal thought of a plan to have the camel all to himself. He told Kravyamukha, the wolf, “You seem to be very hungry. Go ahead and feast on the camel meat. When the lion comes I shall convince him about your innocence.”
As the wolf started to taste the meat, the jackal alerted him and told him that the lord was coming and to allay any suspicion he should stop eating and leave the place. When the lion came, he saw that the heart of the camel was missing. Angrily, the lion roared and said, “Who is the culprit, I will kill him.”
The wolf then looked at the jackal suggesting that the jackal should convince the lion of his innocence. But the cunning jackal said, “You did not heed my warning and ate the meat. Why do you now expect me to help you?’ Realizing the danger, the wolf fled the scene to save his life.
Meanwhile, a caravan of camels passing by stopped where the lion and the jackal were planning the next move. The lead camel had a big bell tied to his neck. Frightened by the sound of the bell, the lion asked the jackal to find out what the sound was all about. He had not heard such sounds in his life. Pretending to find out, the jackal went out of the lion’s sight and shouted from there, “O lord, run for your life.”
“What’s the matter,” the lion asked him. “Why are you frightening me? Let me know clearly what’s happening.”
The jackal said, “My lord, the Lord of Death is angry that you have killed the camel before its death was due. He is upset and vowed that he would get from you one thousand times more than the value of the camel we have killed. It is the Lord of Death who hung a bell in the lead camel’s neck. He also brought with him all the ancestors of the camel.”
The jackal thus tricked the lion into hurriedly fleeing the place, leaving the camel’s body all to himself to feast upon.
Moral of the story: Spurn the company of the wicked; else you will come to grief.