There once lived a goala, a cowherd who was known to be the kindest and gentlest young man in his tribe. He looked after his cattle well and every day, when the sun was too hot for them, he would herd them under a peepal tree for their midday rest. The tree had been watching him carefully and one day it decided to speak to the young man
‘If you can give me milk every day, pour it into my roots’, said the peepal to the cowherd, ‘I will grant you a boon.’
The young man, always obedient and always happy to receive a boon, did as the tree asked. At noon, each day, as he brought his cows to rest, he would give the tree its share of milk. One day, as he had finished his daily routine, he saw the ground under the tree cracking. At first he thought that the roots having grown bulky with all the milk being poured were bursting out into the open. But then he saw a huge snake buried inside which, due to its daily diet of cow’s milk, had grown too fat for its hole in the ground. He was a little afraid, truth be told, but that did not stop him from feeding the tree or, as it turned out, the snake.
One afternoon, as the cowherd stepped back having poured the milk into the ground, the snake uncoiled itself and rose like a giant from the ground. The young man shrank in fear as he was sure that the snake would make a meal out of him. Sensing the man’s terror, the snake decided to speak to him.
‘Do not be afraid’, said the snake to the cowherd. ‘You have helped me break free of years of bondage and for that I will grant you a boon.’
The poor frightened cowherd did not know what boon to ask for and so he asked that the snake to bestow upon him what he thought best. The snake called him near and blew a gust of warm air upon his head and no sooner had he done that, his hair which was thick and long, turned into gold.
‘The golden hair on your head will help you get a good wife’, said the snake to the cowherd. ‘And you will be very powerful, so powerful that whatever you say will happen.’
The cowherd was not sure what that meant so he asked: ‘What sort of things will happen?’
‘If you say a man shall die he will die and if you say he shall come to life, he will come to life’, answered the snake. ‘But you must not tell this to anyone; not even to your wife when you marry; if you do the power will vanish.’
The cowherd went about his life, not expecting much to come out of the boon and yet hoping that something would. One day as he bathed in the river, one strand of his long golden hair came loose. On a whim, he wrapped it in a leaf and set it afloat. The leaf carrying the hair tumbled downstream where a princess was bathing with her attendants. As the leaf drifted towards them, the attendants tried to pull it out of the water but it went straight to the princess. Intrigued, the princess opened the tiny bundle and found a shiny strand of hair.
The princess tied it up in a piece of cloth took it home with her. She measured it; it was 12 fathoms long. She knew instantly that she had to meet the owner of this unusually long golden hair and if it were a man, he would be her husband and if it were a woman, she would be her closest friend. And she locked herself up in her room and refused to step out or eat until the person was found.
The Raja and the Rani, her father and her mother, were troubled. But they assured their daughter that the person whose hair had floated down to her as she bathed in the river would be found. And true to their word, they sent an army of messengers to hunt for the person whose golden hair had captivated their daughter’s heart. The messengers went everywhere, knocked on every door and spoke to every tree and flowing stream but they could not find the cowherd. But the princess was adamant. Without her golden haired friend, she would not live. She would hang herself she declared. Hearing her speak thus, her pet crow and pet parrot who had been chained to the perch of her window, spoke to her.
‘The man with the golden hair lives deep inside the forest’, said the birds to the princess. ‘If he had lived in a village they would have found him. If he had lived by the river, they would have found him. If he had lived on a tree, they would have found him but they will never be able to go deep into the heart of the forest. We alone can fetch him. So unfasten our chains and we will go in search of him.’
The king immediately ordered their release and he gave them a good meal before they flew out on their mission because they could not carry any provisions with them. After all they were birds and not men.
The crow and parrot sped through the air. Free as they were meant to be, they soared high with the wind until they saw the cowherd resting under the peepal tree. They sat down on a branch and discussed how they could get the cowherd to their princess. The parrot had an idea. But he was afraid of the cattle standing below the tree and so he asked the crow for help.
‘Fly down’, the parrot said to the crow, ‘and take his flute and when he chases you, fly further.’
The crow agreed readily. He swooped down, onto the back of a cow and then hopped from one cow to another until the flute lay on the ground right under his beak. In one swift movement, the crow picked it up and flew high and far, as fast as its wings could flap. The cowherd yelled and shouted but the crow flew higher and higher. The cowherd chased the crow who, lured him further and further away, by flitting from one tree to another. When the crow was tired, the parrot took over and between the two birds, they drew him far from his home in the forest, into the palace and into the princess’s room.
Their work done, the birds handed the flute over to the princess who was overjoyed to see a golden haired boy standing in front of her.
‘Give me my flute’ said the cowherd to the princess.
‘Only if you marry me’, said the princess to the cowherd.
But how could that be asked the cowherd when they had never been betrothed. The princess gently reminded him about the day that his hair had come floating down the river, wrapped in a leaf. The leaf had sought her out and the hair was the go-between that had arranged this marriage, she said.
It all came back in a flash to the cowherd and he then recalled how the snake had told him that his hair would find him a good wife. He asked to see the floating strand and when he saw that it was his, he said, ‘We belong to each other’.
The princess opened the doors to her room and announced the wedding to her waiting parents. Also, she warned, if they did not let them marry, they would elope and never come back. So a day was set and a wedding was arranged. Everything went to plan and soon the princess was happily married to the cowherd.
Soon the cowherd fell so deeply in love with his wife that he forgot everything else, even his herd of cattle. But a few days or, maybe months later, when he thought about them waiting in the forest with no one to look after them he felt terrible. ‘I must go back to my cows’, he said to his wife. His wife said that she would go with him and they went to the king to let him of know of their decision. The king arranged for a grand farewell feast for the couple and gave the cowherd half his kingdom and a son’s share of elephants and cattle. And the kind king said: ‘Go to your home in the forest if you want. Or if you want you stay here. I shall never turn you out of my kingdom.’
The cowherd thought about the king’s offer and said that he would stay back in his kingdom but that he would have to go see his cattle first. They must be pining for him. So the next day the couple set out for the forest where to their dismay they found the entire herd of cattle dead. The cowherd began to weep but then he remembered the boon that the snake had given him and he had an idea. He told his wife that he would use some jungle roots to bring his cows back to life and so he went in search of some leaves and herbs and held it to the noses of the dead animals, whispering to them, ‘Come back to life.’ At once the cows rose and the cowherd was overjoyed.
The cowherd was loud and exuberant in his gratitude to the snake. For without him and the peepal tree, he would have had no life at all. He filled a large vessel with milk and poured it at the foot of the tree. The snake heard his prayers and came out of the hole and blessed the couple. He also breathed upon the head of the princess and her hair too turned bright as gold. The couple then collected their cattle and made their way back to the palace where they lived in peace.
All went well for a few years. But the cowherd had a thought that troubled him deeply. The snake was like his father and mother but he had come away in such a hurry after their last meeting. He owed the snake a lot more he thought and so he went back to the forest to make amends. But the snake was gone and when he asked the peepal tree about its whereabouts, there was no answer. The poor golden haired cowherd returned home to his golden haired wife, disappointed.
STORY COLLECTED BY: ARUNDHUTI DASGUPTA
TEXT SOURCE: Folklore of the Santal Parganas by Cecil Henry Bompas
Cecil Henry Bompas published Folklore of the Santal Parganas. London: D. Nutt, 1909, compiled from stories collected by P. O. Bodding
The book is available on: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/11938/11938-h/11938-h.htm#t19
Once a girl was born with a curse that she would marry her own son. As soon as she hears the curse, she vows to escape the fate by secluding herself in the dense forest, eating only fruits and foreswearing all male company. But when she attains puberty, as fate would have it, she eats a mango from a tree under which a passing king has urinated. The mango impregnates her; bewildered, she gives birth to a male child; she wraps the baby in a piece of her sari and throws him into a nearby stream. The child is picked up by a childless king of the next kingdom, and brings him up as a handsome young adventurous prince. One day the young prince comes hunting in the same jungle where the cursed woman lives. They fall in love. She tells herself her son is longer alive and she can marry the boy she is in love with. She marries him and bears his child. According to the custom, the father’s swaddling clothes are preserved and brought out for the new born son. When the prince’s swaddling clothes brought out she recognizes her sari, with which she had swaddled her first son, now her husband and understands her fate had really caught up with her.
She waits till everyone is asleep and sings her lullaby to her new born baby:
O brother to my husband
Sleep o sleep
She then hangs herself by the sari twisted into a rope.
Collector: A.K. Ramanujan
Source: “The Indian Oedipus” (pp109-136), Vishnu on Freud’s Desk. Ed by J. Kripal, & T. G Vaidyanathan, Oxford University Press, 1999
Kak Busundi (aka Kaka Bhusundi) is considered to be a great devotee of Rama and, in Uttara Kand of the epic Ramayana, he is found narrating the story of Rama to Garuda, the vahana of Vishnu. After listening to the story, Garuda was intrigued about the devotion and knowledge residing in the body of a crow and wanted to know more. It was then that Kak Bhusundi revealed his story and told him how he became a crow.
Bhusundi was born a human being in the Kingdom of Ayodhya. He was a great devotee of Shiva and at the same time he was arrogant. He refused to worship any other god or deity, rather looked down on people who did so. Once he met a saint who was charmed by the intelligence of Bhusundi and accepted him as his disciple. While the saint too was a devotee of Shiva, he had immense respect for Rama too. Over time as Bhusundi’s hatred towards the devotees of Rama grew, the saint grew visibly worried. He even noticed that Bhusundi had begun to insult the people who worshipped Rama. The saint tried to reason with him. He explained to Bhusundi that the benefits of worshipping Shiva would only lead to the feet of Rama, but this would anger Bhusundi who, at times, would end up shouting at his guru too. The saint never took offence as he felt that Bhusundi was otherwise a good disciple.
One day, Bhusundi was worshipping at the temple of Shiva. The belief that Rama was an inferior god had firmly entrenched itself in his mind by now. Bhusundi was doing his japa when his guru entered the temple. But Bhusundi decided to ignore the guru and went on doing his japa. Seeing this insult to the guru, Shiva was angered. His voice could be heard in the temple when he cursed Bhusundi that he would change into a snake and live in the hollows of a tree for showing disrespect to his guru.
When the guru heard Shiva’s curse, he was worried and immediately sang a hymn in praise of the lord (Namami shamishana nirvanaroopam….. Uttara Kanda 107) which seemed to placate Shiva. Shiva offered him a boon and the guru asked that may he always be devoted to Shiva and would he please offer him another boon? When Shiva agreed, he pleaded on behalf of his disciple requesting that he be pardoned. Shiva said that since he had uttered the words, he could not take them back; however, he could ensure that the curse in a way became a blessing for him. He would have to take one thousand such births till he assumed the form of a human; however, each birth would be like changing clothes for him. He would not have to undergo the agony of birth and death and would seamlessly assume forms and while at it, he would even retain the knowledge of his previous births. Also, since he was born in Ayodhya, he would end up being a great devotee of Lord Rama!
Soon, he changed about one thousand forms and at the end of it, he was born in the house of a Brahmin family. He became a great devotee of Rama and while he was growing up, he would not want to listen to any other gods or deities. His father would try his best to inculcate in him the devotion of other gods, but Bhusundi would not even want to listen to anything. Soon he grew up and went for his learning from hermitage to hermitage and from one teacher to another. Bhusundi ended up at the ashram of Sage Lomasa, who was renowned for his knowledge of religion and philosophy. Once, after telling some stories of Rama, the sage explained the concept of the formless Supreme Being and the concept of Brahman, as he felt that Bhusundi was ready for it. But Bhusundi was not interested in anything else and requested the sage that he wanted to know only about Rama and none else. The sage tried to explain the need for acknowledging the concept of a formless and an attribute less Supreme Being, but Bhusundi was not willing to listen. This led to an argument and the sage cursed him that he would turn into a crow for being stubborn and not willing to listen to anything and repeating only his point of view as this was how crows behaved.
When Rama came to know that his devotee had been cursed, he approached the sage and urged him to take it back. Sage Lomasa called Bhusundi back and blessed him for being the chosen one and recited the entire Ramacharitamanas and was finally blessed as one of the most ardent devotees of Lord Rama. Bhusundi was overjoyed and continued to sing the praise of Lord Rama and thus ended the story of the devoted crow.
Story Collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Textual Source – Uttarakand or the Ramacharitamanas, by Tulasidas
Location: Pan India
According to the Gond Ramayani, Lakshman is a virtuous man, so virtuous that he wouldn’t pluck grass, wouldn’t look at any woman, etc. His palace was guarded by the sun and moon, tigers and bears and many other dangerous animals and insects. One day, he came saw a musical instrument that he wanted to play. He got one made for himself, hung it on the wall and fell asleep for 12 years. Meanwhile, the musical instrument, frustrated at being hung on the wall, entered Lakshman’s dream and asked to be played.
Lakshman does as requested. He wakes up and starts playing the instrument. The instrument had promised Lakshman that none on earth would be able to hear the music he created since he was a celibate and none ought to hear him play the instrument. But the music was not willing to be confined; it wanted to step out of the palace. So it broke the walls of the palace and wafted right up to the heavens, into Indralok, thereby keeping its promise of not spreading on earth!
The music found its way into the ears of Indra Kamayani, one of Lord Indra’s daughters. She was so enchanted by the music that she turned into an eagle and flew down to earth to see who was playing such a melody. When she reached the palace she found Lakshman fast asleep. She made several attempts to wake him up, but to no avail. Eventually, out of sheer frustration, she tore her clothes, removed her jewels and threw them around Lakshman’s room.
In the morning, when Sita came into the room, she was appalled to see it in such disarray. She suspected her brother-in-law of illicit liaisons. She rushed to Ram, but he was a king after all and extremely busy with matters of the court. Sita accused him of being preoccupied with ruling his kingdom and not caring for his brother. It was time he was married, she told him. Ram was surprised at the suggestion, as he knew that his brother was sworn to celibacy. Where was the question of marriage? Sita told him her worst fears and told him that he ought to go and see for himself all that was going on in Lakshman’s palace. Ram refused to believe her version of events and called for the Pandavs to help him who arrived soon. Bhim was asked to find out the truth. (Pandavas of Mahabharat are a common recurrence in the Gond Ramayani)
Bhim checked out the palace and reported the truth back to Rama. But he was not convinced. He decided to look for himself and along with a retinue of courtiers and the Pandavs proceeded to Lakshman’s palace. When asked to explain the torn garments and ornaments strewn all over the room, Lakshman was unable to say anything at all. He protested his innocence but could not tell them where all the things had appeared from.
Lakshman had to take the agnipariksha, trial by fire, Ram ordered. And the story then goes into a detailed description of the ritual–a palace of iron is made by the ironsmith. It is so elaborate that it takes 12 years to make one. Once made, Lakshman is asked to sit inside. Wood from all over is collected to light a fire and heat the entire palace. The enormous fire heats up the area for miles and there is no chance of Lakshman being alive in it, unless he is virtuous enough to remain unscathed.
Soon when the right amount of time had passed Bhim was asked to extinguish the fire. But the fire refused to go out until Bhim filled large pots of water from a water source nearby and doused it. Predictably, Lakshman emerged unscathed, and the water which flowed out of the large pots, became the River Mahanadi that flows even today.
Another version of the same story says that Indra Kamayani was so besotted by Lakshman’s good looks, that she kidnapped him and turned him into a ram. She tied him in her palace during the day and restored to him his human body at night so that she could enjoy his company. Fed up, Lakshman communicated his plight to Sita by appearing in her dream. He pleaded to be rescued. Rama and his army along with Bhim, went to heaven, disguised as musicians and acrobats. So pleased was Indra with their performance that he granted them a wish. They asked for the ram (Lakshman). While they are bringing him home on their chariots, Indrakamani turned herself into an eagle and attacked their cavalcade. A battle ensued between Sita and Indrakamani. Narada then hatched a plan and told Indrakamani that she would get Lakshman as her husband if she went with them. Lakshman took her to his palace which had 18 doors and under the pretext of performing ancestor worship locked her in and left her there for the rest of her life. It is believed that when diseases like cholera and plague break out, it is because of the angry hissing of Indrakamani!
STORY COLLECTED BY: Utkarsh Patel
LOCATION: Madhya Pradesh
TEXT SOURCE: “Ramayani – Lakshmanji ki sat pariksha” (Hindi) by Dr. Vijay Chaurasiya
IMAGE DETAILS: Gond Ramkatha painting
IMAGE SOURCE: From the ‘Ramkatha’ series of paintings organized by Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (www.ignca.in)
There were seven suns in the creation.
Therefore the globe was very hot.
One and all were upset because of the hotness of seven suns.
One day, the seven Munda brothers conversed,
“The earth is so hot for the seven suns. If we kill the sun, the earth will be calm.”
They shot arrows towards the suns and killed six.
The seventh sun bolted from the arrow of the seventh brother and concealed itself behind the hill.
The entire world was caught in the darkness of the nightfall. The animals and birds in the forest sat in a meeting and decided to get back the light. They explored for light. But where would they get the light without the sun? They were troubled.
The bunny rabbit snooped and heard the worries of the animals and birds.
He said, “There is a sun still thriving, hiding afraid of the human being.
If you call him, he may come back and appear.
Tiger, the king of the forest called the sun.
But the sun did not turn up.
Other birds and animals tried to get the sun by calling him.
But the Sun did not listen to them.
The rooster hesitatingly asked, “May I call once?”
The birds and animals giggled at the rooster.
Tiger, the king said, “Let him try once. Maybe, the sun will come in response to his call.”
Facing towards the hill that the sun had taken shelter behind, the rooster called the sun
Kok re Kak.
The sun seemed to peek out from the other side of the hill.
Encouraged, the rooster called again, Kok re Kok
This time the sun looked up a little more.
The rooster called a third time, Kok re Kok.
Now the whole sun arose out of the hill and looked at the sky.
The sky and earth were bursting with light.
The Munda brothers understood their mistake and started adoring the Sun.
(This is a Munda oral tale collected from the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. The illustration that goes with the story is based on the Id Tal style of traditional painting practiced by the Saora tribe. The original story is told in Munda language. Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra, a folklorist who has authored several books on the oral traditions of the tribes of Odisha has translated it into English.)
STORY COLLECTED BY: Mahendra Kumar Mishra
IMAGE CREDIT: Emam Gomanga, a teacher from the Saora tribe who paints in the Id tal style
Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra is a noted Folklorist of India and is the author of Oral Epics of Kalahandi. He has set up Community Digital Archives in tribal areas in Odisha. He is the initiator of multicultural education in Odisha using folklore in primary schools. Dr Mishra is also the Chief Editor Lokaratna , an e-journal for Folklore Foundation, Bhubaneswar , Orissa in collaboration with the Dspace of Cambridge University, UK and National Folklore Support Center, Chennai. Dr Mishra is also the author of Folktale of Odisha published by the National Book Trust of India. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Once there was a wizened old jogi who lived in a forest. He was very virtuous and kind, and there was no soul who received any harm on account of him. One day it so happened that a party of jogis was chasing a cobra in the forest. Fleeing before his hunters, the cobra came to the old jogi to seek refuge with him and said “A party of jogis is chasing me. Please find a way to hide me.” The jogi asked, “Where can I hide a big, giant snake like you?” The snake replied, “Open your mouth wide and I will go inside your belly. Once those searching for me are gone, I will come out.” The kind jogi trusted the snake’s word. He opened his mouth and the cobra went inside his belly.
The jogis chasing the cobra searched around, and went away when they could not find the snake. The cobra was feeling very cool and comfortable inside the jogi’s belly and did not come out. And the belly grew day by day but the cobra forgot all about his promise and remained inside.
One day the jogi was fast asleep and his mouth was wide open. Deciding to enjoy some fresh air, the cobra extended his head from the jogi’s mouth. It so happened that a cat was sitting close-by, and seeing the cobra’s head protrude out of the jogi’s mouth, she crept near stealthily. Striking like lightning, the cat caught the cobra’s head in her mouth and pulled him out whole. With her sharp claws she killed the cobra in no time.
The jogi had now awakened. Seeing the cobra lying he dead highly commended the cat, and said, “Mother Cat, from today onwards you shall be the snake’s enemy. I grant you the freedom. Now you should leave the forest and go and live among humans. Everyone shall eat your leavings and what you jump over no one will eat.*”
Hearing these words, the cat prepared to depart to live among the humans. At the time of departure the jogi stroked the cat and as the fingers of his fingers were smeared with black colour, the cat’s fur was marked with black lines running across its body. From that day every cat has carried a black line and every cat is an enemy of the snake.
(*The jogi with his blessing effectively raised the cat’s status to that of a person. An animal’s leftovers are not fit to be eaten, but a person’s leftovers can be eaten. In Sindh, if a person crosses over or jumps over food it is deemed unfit for human consumption, but it can be eaten if an animal has jumped over it.)
(Translated from the Sindhi by Musharraf Ali Farooqi)
STORY COLLECTED BY: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
STORY TOLD BY: Muhammad Soomar Sheikh of taluka Badin in Lower Sindh
LOCATION: Sindh, Pakistan
In Assam, we find a version of the Ramayana known as the Durgavari Giti Ramayana. It is a lyrical composition (giti) by a poet named Durgavar. His work was first published in 1915 by Bisay Chandra Biswasi of Hajo, an ancient place of pilgrimage near Guwahati (Assam).Since then the work has been published by a few others who have primarily drawn upon this text and in 1972, Prabin Chandra Das found a manuscript of one of Durgavar’s cantos (the Ayodhya kanda) which was believed to have been missing until then. Das retrieved it from an Oja family in Hajo.
This story was sung along with the other songs of the Durgavari Ramayana during ojapali performances which are today preserved only among the people of Hajo. Ojapali is a quasi dramatic performing art form where a group of 4-5 singers, besides their leader and chief assistant, recite lyrics from the epics and puranas. The oja leads the performance and Durgavar, most believe, was an oja or leader of an ojapali troupe.
The song begins at the point when Bharata goes back to Ayodhya after informing Rama about Dasharatha’s death. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana set out for Gaya to offer oblations to the deceased king. The brothers ask Sita to wait as they go out to collect fruits for the rituals. Sita whiled away her time playing with sand but, as she sat lost in her thoughts, Dasharatha appeared before her and asked her to offer him an oblation of san (balir pinda). Sita was reluctant but Dasharatha was adamant so she asked the sun, air, the earth and river Phalgu to be her witness. When Rama returned, he did not believe the story. So Sita asked the sun, air, the earth and the river to reveal the truth to her husband. But the devas present in nature refused to do that. However Sita was saved because Dasharatha came down to tell Rama that he had forced Sita to give him balir panda.
Infuriated by the behaviour of the gods, Sita cursed them – the sun, she said, would be devoured by Rahu and the moon by Ketu (both demons) and the river Phagu was banished to flow below the earth. She also cursed the basil plant, the kusha grass and the plantain tree.
A version of Sita’s sand oblation is found in the Garuda Purana, Shiva Mahapurana, the Oriya version of the Mahabharata and the Bengali version of the Ramayana and the Ananda Ramayana. These versions differ slightly from the Durgavari story but they all talk about Sita’s sand oblation to Dasharatha.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Location: Pan India
Text Source: Prabin Chandra Das, Dugavari:An Assamese Version of the Ramayana; Rama Katha in Tribal and Folk Traditions of India Edited by KS Singh and Birendranath Datta
Born in Dhaka, in 1877, Sri Dakshinaranjan Mitra Mazumdar was a writer of children’s stories in Bengali literature. He collected many folk tales and fairy tales during his life time .His first collection of Bengali folk tales, Thakumar Jhuli was very popular during his lifetime, and has become a classic today. “Shaat Bhai Champa”, one of my personal favourites from the book was told to me by my Didima (mother’s mother) and remains in my head told exactly as she told it to this day. I find, on reading it recently, she was faithful to the book. While as an adult woman, I could object to this story on several grounds, as a child I simply loved it, and fully approved of the children being smarter and wiser than the adults…
Once upon a time, there was a king who had seven queens. Six of the queens were haughty and cruel, but the seventh and youngest was gentle and kind, and so the King favoured her the most. This made the other queens extremely jealous. For many years, none of the queens bore any children, and the king was worried. If he had no heir, how would his kingdom run? Who would inherit? Then one day, the courtiers brought him good news. The youngest queen was pregnant, and the king was overjoyed. He distributed sweets and opened his treasure trove to the entire kingdom to spread the glad tidings. The other six queens were eaten up with jealousy. This was the last straw!
The king, oblivious of their fury, tied a long gold chain to himself and to his queen, and said, “I will have to sit in the Durbar. If you pull at this chain, I will come as soon as you have had the baby, and gaze at my child and tell the world of its birth.” The young queen was kept in a special room where she could have her baby in peace. But then who would go in with her to help? The six wicked queens said, “Never fear, we shall be with her.” The king went off to his court leaving the six jealous queens in charge.
The wicked queens shook the chain and raised several false alarms, till the furious king told them all, “If you shake that chain one more time before anything happens, I will kill every one of you!” And with that he went crossly off to administer his kingdom once more. At last the young queen gave birth to seven beautiful little boys and one lovely little girl, perfectly healthy, and kicking their little arms and legs as all babies should. The young queen was so weak that she could barely speak or see her babies. When she asked to see them, the wicked queens pulled dreadful faces and said, “As if she could bear our king sons or daughters! Look, this is what she’s given the Kingdom!” They produced a handful of rats, some frogs and some crabs and showed them to her. The poor queen passed out with shock and the six wicked queens did not shake the golden chain this time around. Very, very quietly, they brought out eight earthenware jars, stuffed the little babies into them and secretly buried them in a pile of ashes near the palace. Only then did they shake that gold chain good and hard.
The king, all excited, announced the birth of his children to the kingdom with drum rolls and brought all his favourite courtiers with him to see his child. He was sure that a beautiful healthy boy had been born, the perfect heir to his kingdom. Imagine his shock and humiliation when to his horror, the six wicked queens brought a whole lot of frogs and rats and crabs and said, “Look, these are your heirs!”
The king, in a flaming rage banished the poor young queen, and the six wicked queens celebrated her disgrace. Peace left the kingdom that day along with the young queen. The six wicked queens quarreled among themselves, the palace was full of intrigue and the kingdom fell into decay. The sorrow of the young queen even broke the hearts of the trees and the stones, the rivers and the canals dried up, and the green fields grew dry and bare. The young queen, reduced to collecting cow dung, supplied dried cow dung cakes to the palace for a living and wandered around outside the palace. The palace fell into disrepair, and no trees flowered in the palace gardens. There were no flowers now for the king’s puja. What a disaster, at a time when the greatest and most fervent prayers were required!
At last, one day, the palace gardener came and reported to the king, “There are no flowers anywhere except on the palace ash heap, where seven Champa and one Parul tree grow, and each of these has a flower.” The king said, “Then bring them to me so I may perform my Puja”.
The gardener did as asked, but as he tried to pluck them, the little red Parul flower called out, “Shaat bhai Champa, jagore.” …. “Awake, my seven brothers Champa!”
Immediately, the seven Champa flowers replied, “Keno , Bon Parul, Dako re?” …. “Why do you call us little sister, Parul?”
And the bright red flower, Parul, called out, “The King’s gardener has come.
Will you give him flowers, everything you’ve got?
Will you give him flowers or would you rather not?”
The brothers called out:
“We won’t! We won’t!
We would rather fly,
Away, away, up on high!
Tell him to go.
Tell him to say, If the King should come, why then we may”…..
The gardener was astonished. He ran back to the king and reported this miracle. The king, amazed, arrived at the ash heap to find the eight beautiful trees and as soon as he arrived, Parul called out,
“The King himself has come.
Will you give him flowers, everything you’ve got?
Will you give him flowers or would you rather not?”
But, the brothers called out,
“We won’t! We won’t! We would rather fly
Away, away, up on high!
Tell him to go. Tell him to say,
If the eldest Queen should come, why then we may”…..
And all the flowers flew even higher up and away from the reach of the king and his courtiers. The eldest Queen arrived, her payals jingling, and up, up she reached to pick the flowers, but they rose even higher and said,
Away, away, up on high!
Tell her to go. Tell her to say,
If the middle Queen should come, why then we may”…..
In this way, one by one, all the six wicked queens were called, but no one could get their hands on the seven Champas and their little red sister, Parul. Finally, the flowers rose so high, they shone like stars in the sky. The King was frantic! What would he do? At last, they called for the King’s slave, she who picked up cow dung for the palace fires.
A frenzied search was set up for the slave! Finally she was found, out in the fields collecting cow pats. Without much ado, she was bundled into a hand held four handled chair and carried unceremoniously off to the Palace garden where she was dumped before the trees. Dressed in rags, covered in cow dung as she was, she was ordered to pick the flowers for the king’s puja at once. As soon as she reached up, the seven little Champa flowers, and the one little red Parul flower transformed into seven sturdy little boys and one jolly little girl, and they all flung their arms around her and hugged her tight shouting, “Ma, Ma, Ma!”
The entire court was amazed. The king wept with joy and sorrow all at the same time, and the six wicked queens shook with terror. The king ordered a terrible fate for them. They were thrown into a pit and buried in thorns. The king returned to his palace, and restored his young queen, his seven sons, one daughter and began to rule happily once more. The Palace was filled with sounds of celebration and victory.
*In many Indian systems of thought, in accordance with “Pagan” folklore elsewhere in the world, there is a belief that mortal beings can be reborn as trees.
*This story has found its way in several popular Bengali songs (“Dhitang Dhitang Bole” has a line, “Parul Bon dake, Champa chhutey ai” which means: “The little sister Parul calls, ‘Champa, come to me quickly.” And a film version with a song, “Shaat bhai Champa Jagore” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u17nGu-D64E)
*Champa in Bengali describes several different kinds of flowers from several different botanical families. This folk tale lists seven and a bright red flower called Parul.
STORY COLLECTED BY: SHAIONTONI BOSE
STORY TOLD BY: GRANDMOTHER
TEXT SOURCE: ‘THAKUMAR JHULI’ BY Sri Dakshinaranjan Mitra Mazumdar
During my recent travels in Cambodia I came across a collection of folktales by Muriel Paskin Carrison. To my delight, I found that the author had chosen the stories intelligently and translated them with utmost care from the original Gatiloke (GAH-tee-Low-Kah), a collection of ancient Cambodian folk stories which is a part of the country’s ancient literary tradition. These tales were used by Buddhist monks in their sermons. They are moral tales set in villages or towns and are about ordinary people and their strengths and weaknesses and how they go about making a living. Gati means “the way” and loke means “the world”. Loosely translated “Gatiloke” means “the right way for the people of the world to live.”
Among all the Gatiloke stories, this one caught my attention because even after reading it, I was at a loss about its purpose, till I read a tiny note at the end of the book which said that Buddhist monks often told stories about a crude Brahman character. It was only then that I understood the point of the story: it was told and retold by the monks to mock or ridicule the Brahmanical society in a country which was switching over from Hinduism to Buddhism. The monks delighted in telling stories which tarnished the brilliance and high position enjoyed by Brahmans and depicted them as crude, selfish and silly. A religion based on ahimsa and very high moral standards was not averse to using some underhand methods to make its point against the abhorrent caste system and the Hindu religion with its superstitious obedience to the Brahmans.
This is how story goes……..
Once upon a time, a Bodhisattva in the form of a son was born to a noble Brahman couple. The father passed away when he was young and his mother sent him away to the eminent scholars in Taxila, a revered centre of learning, to study the Vedas and the ancient scriptures. After years of intensive study and successfully mastering the three Vedas and other scriptures, the boy returned home. His mother by then was an old lady and he began caring for her and teaching the children in his village. Soon he became popular and was well respected as a teacher and his fame spread far and wide. Scholars and students travelled long distances to study under him and listen to him.
Among the Bodhisattva’s students was one who was not only dazzlingly handsome but also intelligent, diligent and humble. The student, however, was completely unaware of his qualities. He worked hard for three years, acquired knowledge of the Vedas, bid farewell to his learned teacher and came back to his village. Upon his return, he excitedly told his parents everything he had learnt. His mother listened thoughtfully and expressed her joy at her son’s depth and breadth of knowledge, but she sprang upon him a question to which he did not have an answer. The mother asked whether he had learnt how to court a woman, the answer to which was negative. The mother suggested that he ought to go back to his teacher and learn about that too.
The handsome young man returned to his Bodhisattva teacher and requested him to teach about women and the art of courting. The Bodhisattva carefully considered the matter but given his ignorance of the subject, suggested that the student should approach his mother who was an expert. The boy thanked Bodhisattva and went to the Brahman lady, his guru’s mother. She was now an octogenarian with wrinkled skin and withered body but when she saw the dazzling handsome young man she instantly fell in love with him. She did not lose much time in professing her love for him and goaded him to marry her. The young student was perplexed at such a proposal as she was the noble mother of his respected teacher. He politely refused to do anything discourteous that might distress his esteemed teacher. The old Brahman lady was so besotted that she refused to take NO for an answer. She even promised to get rid of her son by killing him. The young man was at a loss. Her passion and lust scared him and he acquiesced, half-heartedly, with her plan. But, he was loyal to his teacher so, he went to the monastery and with great embarrassment narrated the entire story. The Bodhisattva listened to him calmly and requested his student to find out how and when his mother planned to kill him.
The youth went back to the Brahman lady and asked about her plans. The old lady, totally unsuspecting and eager to please her husband to be, told him that in the dead of night, when the Bodhisattva slept, she would behead him with a sharp sword. The youth duly reported back. The Bodhisattva hatched a plan. He asked his student to get the trunk of a banana tree, about four-arm length tall, and place it on his bed and cover it with a blanket. The young man did as told and hid with his guru behind the curtain. At the stroke of midnight the feeble old lady entered the room dragging behind her the heavy sword, went close to the bed and checked that her son was fast asleep. She tried to lift the heavy sword to bring it down on her sleeping son, but she was weak and the sword much too heavy for her. So as she attempted to bring it crashing down on to the covered banana tree, the old lady slipped, fell and died instantly.
The Bodhisattva and his handsome student watched everything hiding behind the curtain and they agreed with a heavy heart that the noble lady foolishly died of love.
Bodhisattva is a divine being worthy of nirvana who remains on the human plane to help men to salvation.
Story collected by: Anuradha Dhar Bose
Text Source: Cambodian Folk Stories from Gatiloke by Muriel Paskin Carrison
A long time ago in Kashmir, there lived a king who loved a good war. He took great pride in his military and lost no chance to talk about the courage and prowess of his fighting men. He also lavished his kingdom’s treasures on his army, looking after his men well and buying them the best weapons his gold could get.
One day, keen to see how his army was shaping up, the king asked all his forces to congregate at a maidan on the outskirts of his capital city. His wazirs were also asked to be present and on the appointed day a large crowd gathered to attend the grand show.
As the king sat there, in the midst of his people, decked out in regal finery, his eyes fell upon a strange creature. A seven legged haiwan (strange animal) who upped on all sevens and fled as soon as he spied the king spying him. The king chased after him and after a short distance, the animal stopped in the middle of the path and shook himself all over, turned into a djinn and slew the king and ate him.
Upon his death, his son was anointed to the throne. He too ruled well with a firm but kind hand. Until one day, he was seized by this great desire to know what had happened to his father. When the whole story was revealed to him, he announced that he wanted to arrange just such a grand display of the kingdom’s armed forces. And so it was organised. The whole town gathered and just as it had happened in the case of the father, the young prince too spotted the same seven legged beast. He too ran after him and the beast did exactly what it had done before: shook himself all over and turned into a djinn. But the prince invoked the great god and asked him for help. And god sent an angel to the rescue who warned the prince that the beast that stood before him was among the most dangerous beasts ever to have walked the earth. If even a drop of his blood fell to the ground, it would lead to many more beasts springing up from the earth. He gave the prince a double edged arrow and asked him to pierce the beast’s eyes and bring him down. The prince did as told and the beast fell to his death.
The prince cut off his head, stuck it on the arrow and took it back with him to his palace where there were 12,000 rooms. He locked up the head in one of the rooms and handed the key to his mother. But the mistake he made was that he did not tell his mother what he had brought back with him; he merely told her that she could go to all the rooms in the palace except the locked one. Naturally, curiosity got the better of the queen and one day, she opened the door to the room with head of the beast. As she stepped into the cold dark space behind the door, she heard a hollow laugh.
Your son is a djinn, the voice said. He killed me, your husband and now wants to kill you.
The queen was shocked, confused and extremely frightened. What should she do she asked the voice.
Pretend to be unwell and ask him to get the milk of a tigress and if he can, then you will surely know he is not human.
The queen obliged and one early morning, well before dawn, the prince set out for the forest. He sat waiting on top of a tree when his eyes soon spotted a tigress with her cubs sprawled upon the grass. He aimed his arrow and luck was on his side, quite clearly that day, because his arrow tore upon an abscess that had given the tigress much pain and upon whose release, she was greatly relieved. She looked at him with gratitude and beckoned that he should ask anything he desired. The prince told her the entire story and the tigress willingly gave him some milk. The tigress also gave the prince a tuft of her hair; show it to the sun when you are in trouble and I will come to your aid, she said.
The prince duly carried it back to the queen, who was horrified at the thought that her son had achieved what no human could have done. Back to the room with the head, she went and this time the djinn said, she would have to pretend to still be unwell.
Send the prince off to a castle far away from the kingdom. In that castle, guarded by fierce men and animals, lives a princess. Ask him to bring her to you as her touch is the only cure for your sickness. The prince will not survive the journey.
The queen sent the prince off. After a while he remembered the tuft of hair and as promised, the tigress and her cubs appeared when he held it up to the sun. The tigress warned him about the mission. There were three doors to the castle she said. Behind one was a block of iron which the prince would have to cleave, if he wanted to go further. The next door had an imitation cow behind it which the prince would have to milk, or else the djinns would have him for a meal. And finally behind the third door was a princess, who would accept him only if she was pleased with him. If not, she would ensure his death.
The frightened prince asked for guidance. The tigress said that she would help him. She would sit inside the block of iron and force it to break into two. And, said one of the young cubs, he would help him milk the cow without letting the djinns interfere. And, said the other young cub, he would sprinkle a charm over the princess so that when she saw him, she would have eyes for none other.
The prince managed to get to the princess who was so smitten that she accompanied him back to the palace. When he reached home, he told his mother everything. Even his adventures with the seven legged beast and that is when his mother the queen realised her folly. She sought his forgiveness and the prince readily gave it. He married the princess and ruled over his kingdom well. And the room; that was left locked for ever.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta
TEXT SOURCE: Folk tales of Kashmir, J.Hinton Knowles