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The frog king and the snake

A cautionary tale from the Panchatantra, a collection of stories from India


Published: 15 Nov 2022

Time taken : >15mins

Stories from the Panchatantra

Did you know that the Panchatantra is a collection of animal stories from India? It is more than 2,000 years old. Every story from the Panchatantra has a lesson at the end.

However, do you know how the stories came about? It is believed that a king was worried about which of his three sons will take over the kingdom from him. After talking to his sons, he grew worried. He thought that all of three of them were quite dim-witted and did not know much about how to rule a kingdom. So, he called upon a learned man, Vishnu Sharman, to teach his three sons about the ways of the world and how to be a good ruler. And so, the wise man created a collection of animal fables with a moral at the end of each story, and shared these stories with the king's three sons.

Read on to discover the story of the Frog King and the Snake, one of the many stories from the Panchatantra. Then take our quiz to find out more about India's rich storytelling culture.

A cursed life

Gangadatta was the king of frogs and he ruled over all the frogs that lived in an abandoned well.

Even though he was the king of all frogs, he did not have an easy time. He could not escape the constant nagging and complaining he received from his relatives over the pettiest of matters. Every time he faced them, he was met with criticisms over how he should rule his kingdom. Everyone had their own opinion and they were not afraid to make it known. Being king was a curse!

One day, after a whole day of listening to non-stop squabbles and insults from his family, Gangadatta decided that he had had enough! Without a single word, he leapt over the wall of the well and left his kingdom.

Alone and upset, his mind began to think of revenge. He wanted to get back at his relatives who had driven him mad. It was because of them that he could not even have a moment’s peace and he had to leave his kingdom.

Just then, he saw a snake winding its way up a tree. Ah! This was exactly what he needed. The angry frog began to hatch a plan in his head and cautiously approached the slithering reptile.

Clearing his throat, he then spoke up, "My friend, I am Gangadatta, the king of frogs. I have come here to make you an offer…"

The serpentine snake slid down the branches, eyeing the four-legged critter hungrily. “Ssss....sssooo...friends you say? Snakes and frogs have never been friends. You do know I can swallow you in a split second and there will be no escape for you! What do you want, frog?” the snaked hissed.

Trembling in fear, Gangadatta summoned his courage and replied, "Your words are true, snake, but I am here to make you an irresistible offer. I have been driven to madness by my relatives who have nothing good to say about anything I do. I will bring you back to my kingdom and there, you can eat as many frogs as you want. I have plenty of annoying relatives. But you have to promise me that no matter what, you will not eat me and my wife and children. You get your fill and I get rid of all the naysayers."
Curiosity piqued the snake. “If I were to accept your offer, how can I get to the bottom of the well? I have no legs like you to jump down.”

“Don’t worry, there is a hole at the side of the well. You can get in through the hole and it would not be too far off from the bottom. And you can sit at the side of the well where the water won’t reach you,” the frog reassured the snake.

A meal as and when he wants? Food right at his doorstep? Not having to hunt for a long time? This offer was too good to be turned down. “Alright. We will be friends and I agree to your terms. Show me the way.”

Once he reached the well, the snake squeezed himself through the hole and dropped to the bottom of the well.

It was paradise for the snake! There were frogs, frogs, frogs everywhere. Without wasting another minute, he struck at his leaping dinner. He had as many frogs as his stomach could fit.

The frog king was pleased. Finally! He got his revenge! No more annoying relatives.

A betrayal

Days and weeks went by. The predator had his fill. However, the number of frogs in the well started dwindling until only the king and his wife and children were left.

The snake called out to the king and said, “Look, I have eaten all your annoying relative and subjects. There are no more frogs other than you and your wife and children.”

Gangadatta knew what the snake wanted. Hesitantly, he said, “My friend, you’ve had your fill... There is nobody else now except for my wife and kids. You have to keep to your promise friend, and not eat them.”

“Precisely king! We are friends, aren't we? You have led me here and so you are responsible for my meals. And look around you…What else is left for me? After all that I have done for you, is this how you repay me?” The snake licked his lips and hissed. He was hungry and wanted the king of frogs to send some more frogs.

It was then that Gangadatta realized his mistake. The reptile wanted more and there was nothing that he could do to protect his family.

The snake’s stomach growled. Not being able to stand his hunger any longer, he lunged at the frog king’s children. He started picking them off one by one. And with one final swoop, he lunged at Gandatta’s wife and swallowed her whole.

The frog king knew that his days were numbered. He had to think of a plan quick! The snake inched menacingly towards Gandatta. Gandatta croaked, “Please…stop. Please don’t eat me. We are friends, aren’t we?”

The snake stopped, hissing at the terrified frog, “Ssss…stop? Why should I? If you are a true friend, you will sacrifice your life for me.”

“But, what happens after you eat me, snake? There will be nobody left and you will go hungry.”

The snake retreated, thinking about what Gandatta said. “Well, what else can you do for me? Would you have me eat these bones?” he asked Gandatta.

“No, not at all! I will leave you for a few days and look for other frogs to this well. I will invite them to my kingdom as king. Once they are here, you can have as many of them as you want.

Upon hearing the frog’s idea, snake agreed to let him leave.

Without wasting a single second, Gandatta leaped as high as he could, escaping the angry snake. Without even looking back, the frog went as far as his legs could carry him.

And so, the snake waited anxiously for Gandatta to return with more frogs to his kingdom. Several days passed. Gandatta was still nowhere to be seen. Days turned into weeks. The snake was getting more anxious. It was no longer greed that he felt. He was famished! His stomach growled louder as the hours passed. He had to do something.

The snake tried to climb up the sides of the well but the walls were too smooth. He could not get a grip to crawl up to safety. He was trapped.

The snake tried to find other ways of getting out but hope was fading fast. With every single try, he began to feel even more exhausted. The once well-fed snake feared that he would die soon if he could not find a way out.

He laid his head down to conserve his strength. But just then, he saw a small lizard that lived outside of the well.

“Help, please help me lizard,” he called out with the very last ounce of energy left in him. “Please, I am trapped in here and without food. My friend the frog king has left the walls of this well to look for food but it has been weeks. Can you please look for him and convey my humble request for him to return here. I am afraid I might not last for long without his help.”

Taking pity on the once majestic and serpentine creature, the lizard decided to look for Gandatta.

It was no long before the lizard found Gandatta.

“Gandatta, I have brought you a message from your friend the snake. He wants me to let you know that he would like for you to return to the well. he is starving and dying."

The frog king listened to the snake's plea, conveyed to him by the lizard. He paused and thought about the request. Should he return after all that the snake had done? Can he ever trust the snake  again? He thought long and hard before he spoke. “Lizard, please tell the snake that I have made the decision to never return to the well ever again. He is starving and a starving person can be cruel and go to any extent to get what he wants. He has shown cruelty in breaking his promise before and I shall never return to the well.”

And so, the king of frogs saved himself even though it was too late to save his family and friends. And without the frog’s help, the snake slowly but surely perished in the well, surrounded by the bones of those that he devoured without thought.

What is the moral of the story? Is the snake or the frog in the wrong? Why not share your thoughts with a friend?

If you have enjoyed this story from the Panchatantra, why not check out the story of The Indigo Jackal, another tale from the Panchatantra. Featuring music, dance and puppetry, The Indigo Jackal is happening from 19 – 20 Nov as part of Kalaa Utsavam 2022

Did you know that India has a rich history and culture of storytelling and that there are many different ways to tell a story. Find out more about five of them in this quiz. 

Experience the diversity

Kalaa Utsavam 2022

Immerse yourself in Indian arts and culture with Esplanade's annual Indian festival of arts.

18 – 27 Nov 2022
Various venues
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