146 | LAPHAM’S QUARTERLY
ropes, or even kill you. So why don’t you eat
When the donkey heard this he was out-
raged. “You are a dweller of the woods, and for
that reason you can have no musical sensibility,
which is why you speak like this. But have you
not heard it said:
When autumnal moonlight
puts the darkness to flight
and the beloved stays near,
music’s tones murmurous, sweet as nectar,
breathe softly upon the ear
of those blessed with Fortune’s favor.
“True enough, dear Uncle, but you bray so
harshly. So why do something against your own
interests?” urged the jackal.
And the donkey, bristling with indignation,
rejoined, “Shame, shame on you, you blockhead!
What? Do you think I do not know any music?
All right then, listen, I’ll tell you the basic prin-
ciples of musicology. They are as follows:
Seven notes and three scales there be
with one and twenty modes in use,
Music moves bound by measures three,
Six singing styles express beautifully
the nine moods and emotions forty,
enhanced skillfully by shading and
six and thirty ways, varied exquisitely.
One hundred and five-and-eighty songs
and more of golden sound most
with subtle phrasing, delicate flourishes
and many a graceful embellishment, are
found set down for the skilled vocalist.
Nothing is to be found here in this world
nor in the world of immortals above
nobler than the art of song.
The Great Lord Himself Ravana
with throbbing music he drew with such
out of bare wizened sinews taut.
“So now tell me, how can you think that I
am not a musicologist? And restrain me from
performing?” demanded Pushy peremptorily.
“Very well, Uncle, if you think so, go ahead
and sing to your heart’s content while I stay by
the gap in the fence and keep an eye on the
men guarding the fields,” observed the jackal.
As soon as the jackal had stationed himself
near the gap in the fence, the donkey, with outthrust neck, began his performance. When the
watchmen stationed in the fields heard the braying, they gnashed their teeth in rage, and picking
up their cudgels, ran to the spot where the donkey stood. They fell in a body and belabored him
so hard that he fell to the ground. Then, picking
up a millstone, they tied it around his neck; then
they lay down to sleep. In a few moments the
donkey stood up, forgetting the pain and soreness as donkeys normally do. With the millstone
still hanging around his neck, the donkey crashed
headlong through the fence and galloped away
while the jackal, watching from a safe distance,
smiled to himself as he muttered this verse:
Well sung, dear Uncle,
you did sing your song,
though I told you to hold your tongue;
and now you wear this jewel
never ever seen before
at your neck…a medal
for being so musical.
Visnu Sarma, from The Pancatantra. The musicological principles articulated by the donkey in this
fable appear in many treatises on Indian music,
including the thirteenth-century Sangitaratnakara,
considered the first modern work on the subject. Its
author, Sarngadeva, was a Brahmin accountant
and musician from Kashmir. The Sangitaratnakara
propagated the idea of musical modes called ragas,
listing 264 of them, each suited for a particular
mood, hour, or season.