The Snake Who Lost His Hiss

The Elders of a village went to the Saint where he was meditating in a cave in the mountains, and complained about Nagaraja, an evil snake that had terrorized the village.

“His hiss can be heard for miles around,” they said. “He bites and swallows our cattle, our dogs, our children, our men, our women. Even the bravest among us have become afraid to venture out into the fields, which are dry, parched, uncultivated. Our granaries are depleted and empty. Our numbers are dwindling from death by the snake, and by starvation. Help us, Guru—you alone can subdue and vanquish him.”

The Saint, realizing the gravity of the situation, descended to the village, and went to the large, spreading bodhi tree. This used to be the tree under which children played, yogis meditated, and lovers lay in each other’s arms in the moonlight. But no more. Now at its coiling, twisted roots, the snake lived in his burrow.

“Come forth, O Ancient One,” the Saint called, and the snake crept out of his hold, slithering and undulating, his scales shimmering in the sunlight. He was dark and shining in his majesty, awesome in his length and his beauty. He glided to the Guru and coiled up meekly at the man’s feet.

“Oi, what is it that I hear about you being the scourge of the village? Leave your destructive ways. Be good. Don’t kill needlessly. Stop biting them. Leave them alone,” the Saint said.

Because the snake had good karma, because he could be made conscious of the consequences of his acts, and because he had the sense and power to obey the Saint, he returned to his burrow, resolving henceforth to leave his evil ways and be good.

The fields yielded grain, the children came out to play, the lovers loved, the brave came out with their bows and arrows, and the villagers were once again at peace.

One day, several months later, the Saint passed by the tree in the village, and found the snake coiled near the root of the tree. He was utterly transformed. His scales had fallen off, he looked mangy, emaciated, innocuous, limp. He had sores all over his body. He seemed to be on the verge of death.

“Oi, what happened to you?” the Saint asked.

“This, O Guru, is the fruit of obedience, of being good. I obeyed you, I gave up my evil ways, I let the villagers alone, I stopped biting them, I stopped eating their livestock, and what happened? Even the rats dance on my head. I haven’t eaten for months. I am simply waiting to be eaten when I die.”

“This is your own fault,” the Saint replied. “I told you not to bite them, but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”

Retold by Kamla Kapur, from a tale by Ramakrishna.