Ja 357 Laṭukikajātaka For this story see Benfey’s Introduction to the Panchatantra.
The Story about the Quail (who Killed an Elephant) (5s)

In the present Devadatta is seen as cruel and violent. The Buddha tells a story of an elephant who killed some hatchling quails, and the revenge their mother wrought upon him with the help of those friendly with her.

The Bodhisatta = the leader of the herd (of elephants) (yūthapati),
Devadatta = the solitary elephant (ekacārikahatthī).

Past Source: Ja 357 Laṭukika,
Quoted: Ja 536 Kuṇāla (Present).

Keywords: Violence, Revenge, Animals, Birds.

“Elephant of sixty years.” [3.115] This was a story told by the Teacher while dwelling in the Bamboo Grove, concerning Devadatta. One day they raised a discussion in the Dhamma Hall, saying: “Sirs, Devadatta is harsh, cruel, and violent. He has not an atom of pity for mortals.” When the Teacher came, he inquired what was the topic the monks were assembled to discuss, and on hearing what it was, he said: “Monks, not only now, but formerly also he was pitiless.” And herewith he told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life as a young elephant, and growing up a fine handsome beast, he became the leader of the herd, with a following of eighty thousand elephants, and dwelt in the Himālayas. At that time a quail laid her eggs in the feeding-ground of the elephants. When the eggs were ready to be hatched, the young birds broke the shells and came out. Before their wings had grown, and when they were still unable to fly, the Great Being with his following of eighty thousand elephants, in ranging about for food, came to this spot. On seeing them the quail thought: “This royal elephant will trample on my young ones and kill them. Lo! I will implore his righteous protection for the defence of my brood.” Then she raised her two wings and standing before him repeated the first verse:

1. “Elephant of sixty years,
Forest lord amongst your peers,
I am but a puny bird,
You a leader of the herd;
With my wings I homage pay,
Spare my little ones, I pray.” {3.175}

The Great Being said: “O quail, be not troubled. I will protect your offspring.” And standing over the young birds, while the eighty thousand elephants passed by, he thus addressed the quail, “Behind us comes a solitary rogue elephant. He will not do our bidding. When he comes, do you entreat him too, and so ensure the safety of your offspring.” And with these words he made off. And the quail went forth to meet the other elephant, and with both wings uplifted, making respectful salutation, she spoke the second verse: [3.116]

2. “Roaming over hill and dale
Cherishing your lonely way,
You, O forest king, I hail,
And with wings my homage pay.
I am but a wretched quail,
Spare my tender brood to slay.”

On hearing her words, the elephant spoke the third verse:

3. “I will slay your young ones, quail;
What can your poor help avail?
My left foot can crush with ease
Many thousand birds like these.” {3.176}

And so saying, with his foot he crushed the young birds to atoms, and urinating over them washed them away in a flood of water, and went off loudly trumpeting. The quail sat down on the bough of a tree and said: “Then be off with you and trumpet away. You shall very soon see what I will do. You little know what a difference there is between strength of body and strength of mind. Well! I will teach you this lesson.” And thus threatening him she repeated the fourth verse:

4. “Power abused is not all gain,
Power is often folly’s bane.
Beast that did my young ones kill,
I will work you mischief still.”

And so saying, shortly afterwards she did a good turn to a crow, and when the crow, who was highly pleased, asked, “What can I do for you?” the quail said: “There is nothing else, sir, to be done, but I shall expect you to strike with your beak and to peck out the eyes of this rogue elephant.” The crow readily assented, and the quail then did a service to a blue fly, and when the fly asked, “What can I do for you?” she said: “When the eyes of this rogue elephant have been put out by the crow, then I want you to let fall an egg upon them.” The fly agreed, and then the quail did a kindness to a frog, and when the frog asked what it was to do, she said: “When this rogue elephant becomes blind, and shall be searching for water to drink, then take your stand and utter a croak on the top of a mountain, and when he has climbed to the top, come down and croak again at the bottom of the precipice. This much I shall look for at your hands.” After hearing what the quail said, the frog readily assented. {3.177}

So one day the crow with its beak pecked out both the eyes of the elephant, and the fly dropped its eggs upon them, and the elephant being eaten up with maggots was maddened by the pain, and overcome with thirst wandered about seeking for water to drink. At this moment the frog standing on the top of a mountain uttered a croak. Thought the elephant, “There must be water there,” and climbed up the mountain. Then the frog descended, and standing at the bottom croaked again. The elephant thought: “There will be water there,” and [3.117] moved forward towards the precipice, and rolling over fell to the bottom of the mountain and was killed. When the quail knew that the elephant was dead, she said: “I have seen the back of my enemy,” and in a high state of delight strutted over his body, and passed away to fare according to her deeds.

The Teacher said: “Monks, one ought not to incur the hostility of anyone. These four creatures, by combining together, brought about the destruction of this elephant, strong as he was.

5. “A quail with crow, blue fly and frog allied
Once proved the issue of a deadly feud.
Through them king elephant untimely died:
Therefore all quarrelling should be eschewed.”

This verse was spoken after Fully Awakening.

He identified the Jātaka, “At that time Devadatta was the rogue elephant, and I myself was the leader of the herd of elephants.”