The Bodhisatta was once an elephant. He was mighty and wise and lived deep in the Himalayas. A giant golden crab, as large as a threshing floor, lived in a mountain lake and ate elephants who entered it. One time the Bodhisatta resolved to catch the deadly crab, and he led his herd into the lake. The crab only caught elephants as they left the water, so the Bodhisatta had all the others walk out before him. Then, when the Bodhisatta started to leave, the crab grabbed his leg with his powerful claw.
The Bodhisatta pulled with all his strength, but the crab was stronger and started to pull him down. The Bodhisatta trumpeted in rage, causing such fear in the other elephants that they defecated and ran off. Even his mate began to flee, but he asked her to stay near him. Regaining her composure, she praised the crab as the greatest anywhere. Seduced by her sweet voice, he let go of the Bodhisatta’s leg. Immediately, the Bodhisatta lifted his foot and stomped on the crab’s back, killing it. The other elephants ran back to the lake in joy and pulled the crab onto the shore, trampling it to little bits.
The golden crab’s giant claws broke off and sank into the lake. Later, when there was a flood, they floated out into the Ganges River where some people found them and made them into the mystical Anaka and Alambara drums, the latter taken and used by Indra, king of the gods.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Bodhisatta’s elephant wife was an earlier birth of a landowner’s wife. She was very beautiful and completely devoted to her husband. One time, while they journeyed together collecting debts, they were captured by a band of thieves. Their leader was smitten by the wife and considered killing the landowner so he could take her. She boldly told him that if he killed her husband, she would kill herself; so he set the couple free.
Back home, the pair went to pay respect to the Buddha and told him what had happened, the husband saying he owed his life to her. The Buddha told them this story so they knew that she had once saved his life too.