Once upon a time, a plover (a wading bird) and his wife lived right on the shore of the mighty ocean in the way that birds of their kind usually do. One day, when the plover’s wife was ready to lay her eggs, she asked her husband, “My dear, please find a nice, safe place for me to lay my eggs.”
“What’s wrong with this place?” asked the plover. “To me, this seems to be as good a place as any.”
The plover’s wife was most dissatisfied with the answer. “How can you say this is a safe place?” she retorted anxiously. “Don’t you know that every month when the moon grows round, the Ocean reaches out with strong long fingers and sweeps away anything that lies on the beach? I want you to find me a place where my eggs will be safe from the ocean’s rough waves.”
“Don’t be such a worrier,” the plover chided his anxious wife. “Trust me for once and do as I say. The Ocean is not as great or as powerful as you think!”
The Ocean, gliding along lazily under the summer sun, heard the plover’s arrogant words and was furious. ‘Why,’ he thought crossly, I can’t believe that such a tiny, helpless bird would dare ignore my strength and might. I’ll show him just how powerful I am. When the time comes, I’ll wash away every single egg his wife has laid.
Soon the plover’s wife laid her eggs and, one day, when the two birds were away from their nest, just as he had planned, the Ocean reached right onto the sandy beach. With a roar, he carried away the plover’s eggs on his rolling waves.
When the birds returned to their nest, they found it empty. The plover’s wife wept loudly in sorrow.
Then she turned on her husband angrily. “Why you foolish bird,” she raged. “Didn’t I tell you that we needed to find a safe place for me to lay my eggs? But you, in your pride and ignorance, refused to listen. Now, do you see what has happened? The cruel Ocean has taken away my precious eggs.” She wept loudly and noisily.
“Don’t worry, my dear,” said the plover, proudly puffing out his little chest. “I’ll not let the Ocean go unpunished for this. I’ll teach him a lesson by draining him dry with my beak!”
The plover’s wife was even angrier when she heard this. “Why you braggart!” she raged. “And how do you plan to empty the Ocean? Your beak will hardly hold a few drops of water.”
“Maybe,” said the plover confidently. “But remember, might is more than just strength. I’ll think of a way to dry up the Ocean, just wait and watch.”
When the plover’s wife saw how determined her husband was, she sighed. “Why don’t you ask all the other birds around if they can help you?”
The plover thought this was a good idea, so he asked the crows and the mynahs and the parrots and the herons if they could help him dry up the Ocean
“Why do you wish to dry up the Ocean?” some of the birds asked.
“The Ocean stole my wife’s precious eggs, so I want to pay him back,” the plover replied.
“Well, I don’t think we will be able to help you,” the other birds replied frankly. “The Ocean is much too great a force for us to defeat!”
The plover looked so disappointed on hearing this that one of the birds suggested they go and meet an aged gander who lived in Mansarovar. “He is a wise old bird and the only one who might be able to help out,” the bird said.
The birds immediately set out for Mansarovar, and they met the aged gander. The old bird listened silently as the plover, tears in his eyes, told of how the Ocean had snatched away his wife’s eggs. “You should go and appeal to Garuda, the king of all the birds. He is the only one who has the might to stand against the all-powerful Ocean,” the old gander advised.
The birds set out to Garuda’s house, but as they arrived there, the great bird was just going for a meeting with Vishnu. When he saw the flock of tearful birds hovering near his gateway, he turned back curiously.
“O Lord,” chorused the birds, bowing respectfully. “the Ocean has insulted us birds. He snatched away the plover’s eggs, and will not give them back. We want to punish him and bring him to justice, but don’t know how to go about this. We need your help and advice,”
Garuda was angry when he heard that the Ocean had dared to insult one of his subjects. As he thought of what he should do, a messenger from Vishnu’s abode arrived at the door. “Hurry up!” he urged Garuda. “Lord Vishnu awaits you at Amravati. Why are you so late?”
“Why does Lord Vishnu want to see a lowly creature like me?” Garuda asked crossly.
The messenger looked at Garuda in astonishment. “Why are you in such a bad mood?” he asked the king of birds. “Has Lord Vishnu spoken harshly to you?”
“The Ocean is Lord Vishnu’s abode, and it has stolen the eggs of the plover, who is one of my faithful subjects. It hurts me very much that a mere servant of the Lord should be so cruel to the plover. If Lord Vishnu has affection for me, he will allow me to extract justice for my subject, the plover.”
The messenger hurried to Vishnu and conveyed Garuda’s words. Vishnu smiled as he listened. “Garuda certainly is cross,” he said. “I’ll have to go and placate him myself.”
He transported himself in a trice to Garuda’s home. When the great bird saw Lord Vishnu standing before him, he bowed low and said in heartfelt tones, “My Lord, the Ocean has become very conceited and overbearing because you have chosen to make your abode within his waters. He stole the plover’s precious eggs, and refuses to return them. This is a grave insult to me too, for I am the king of all birds. I am not willing to tolerate this. I would have taught him a lesson myself, but my deep respect for you prevented me from taking any hasty action.”
“Don’t worry,” said Lord Vishnu soothingly. “I will settle this matter myself. Come with me – we will go and meet the Ocean right now.”
When they reached the shores of the Ocean, Lord Vishnu drew out his bow and, in a thunderous voice, told the Ocean, “Listen to me, O Ocean! Your conduct has displeased me. If you do not return the plover’s eggs immediately from your deep waters, I will unleash my arrow upon your waves, and you will soon be as dry as a desert!”
The Ocean shook with fear when he heard these words. He immediately stretched out his long, wet fingers and put the plover’s eggs back onto the shore. The plover and his wife gathered them up joyfully and offered their heartfelt thanks to Garuda.
Later, as they settled down peacefully in their home, the plover remarked to his wife, “Though we are not as strong and powerful as the Ocean, we could defeat him because he challenged us without knowing our might and the tactics we were ready to use. We could array powerful allies on our side and force the arrogant Ocean into submission.”
–Inspired by Panchatantra