A long time ago, in heaven, Shani the god of bad luck and Lakshmi the god of good luck had a row. Both claimed they were higher than the other in the hierarchy of gods. The gods were equally ranged on either side and a resolution was hard to find. So their sights settled on a man who was known to be wise and just. His name was Sribatsa, which meant the child of Lakshmi.
When Sribatsa was told that he had play adjudicator he panicked because he did not want to get on the wrong side of either. He decided that he would not speak at all but let his actions speak instead. He got two seats made, one of silver and another of gold. When they arrived he asked Lakshmi to sit on the golden stool and Shani on the silver. This infuriated Shani and he cursed him, saying that for the next three years, he would make life a living hell for Sribatsa. Lakshmi told him not to worry because she would always be beside him.
Sribatsa went to his wife Chintamani and told her that he would go away for a while so that Shani’s evil eye would spare her. She would have none of that however and refused to stay behind and the two set out together. Before leaving their house they did two things: hid all their gold and wealth in their mattress and invoked Lakshmi, asking her to watch over their home as they wandered the world. Lakshmi promised them her protection.
The two left with the mattress and soon reached the bank of a river. A boat with a boatman was waiting in the water. Sribatsa asked him to ferry them across. But the boatman said, he could take only one person at a time. So Sribatsa said, take my wife and mattress across first. But the boatman said, the mattress would have to be taken across separately. Reluctantly the couple agreed, but no sooner had the boat got to the middle of the river, a massive whirlpool rose out of nowhere sucked the boat into its swirling waters. The boat disappeared and so did the river.
Sribatsa and his wife found themselves in a village full of woodcutters. Sribatsa convinced the village folk to let him stay. He soon learnt the art of wood cutting and being sharp and skilled, he began felling trees whose wood carried a greater value. He would cut sandalwood trees make more money than the others with half the amount of wood. The angry woodcutters drove the couple out of the village.
The next village was full of weavers. Chintamani was a skilled weaver and she was soon spinning finer yearn than the other women in the village for which she earned more money and also their envy. To make matters worse, Sribatsa to earn the favour of the men of the village invited them for a feast where his wife cooked such a good meal that everyone went back and praised her to their wives. The women started hating her even more. One day at the village river, the women had gathered for work when they saw a boat standing by the water. Chintamani accidentally touched it and the boat began to move. The boatmen who had been unsuccessful in all attempts to move the boat for a few days were astonished and thought that this woman must have magical powers. So they ambushed her and dragged her on to the boat. The women stood watching and did nothing as they wanted to get rid of her.
When Sribatsa heard what had happened to his wife, he went mad with grief. He came to the river and decided to follow its course till he found her. As it grew dark he climbed on to a tree and slept. The morning came and he saw a Kapila cow which was known to be an inexhaustible source of milk. So he milked her and drank to his heart’s content. As he looked up he saw that the cow dung was pure gold and he wrote his name on it while it was still wet. As it hardened it took the shape of a gold brick. This went on day after day as Sribatsa set up a post on the tree from where he could watch the boats going up and down the river. The number of bricks went up and they made a neat pile of glistening gold which caught the eye of every traveller on that river and that is what drew the boat carrying Chintamani to the spot too.
Meanwhile on the boat, Chintamani prayed to Lakshmi to make her ugly and despicable so that her abductors would leave her alone. Chintamani’s face changed and her body broke out in sores and repulsed by her looks, the men threw her into a small cell where they let her rot. The boat made its way to the foot of the tree and the men grabbed the gold bricks and with them Sribatsa; he too was put into the same cell as Chintamani and despite the sores on her body, he recognised her. The two however kept this knowledge secret. Meanwhile the batmen who enjoyed a game of dice found an able partner in Sribatsa and they would often bring him into their group. But as Sribatsa began winning all the games, they threw him overboard. Luckily Chintamani had the presence of mind to throw a pillow over to him and he used that to float ashore. He found himself in a garden that seemed to have fallen upon bad times. He spent the night shivering in the cold. By the morning, as the sun came out, the garden had undergone a dramatic change. It was a riot of colour; every tree was laden with flowers and fruits. Now the garden belonged to an old woman who used to supply flowers to the king’s palace. But as the garden fell barren, she had lost her place and livelihood as the chief flower supplier to the royal house. She was ecstatic when she saw her garden blooming once again and when she saw Sribatsa curled up in a corner, she believed him to be a lucky charm. So she ran to the king who gave her back her job and she recommended Sribatsa for a job. The king found him to be an intelligent man and asked him to choose the post he wanted. Sribatsa asked that he be made in charge of collecting toll from all the boats that travelled up and down the river. And soon enough he found the boat that had his wife and his gold bricks. He detained the boat and charged them with kidnapping and theft and since all the bricks had his name on them, the king had no trouble believing him. Also when Chintamani stepped out of the boat, she turned as beautiful as she once was. And the king, when he heard all the troubles that Sribatsa had been through, plied him with gifts and food and after a few days sent him home.

Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
Source: Folktales of Bengal by Rev Lal Behari Dey
Location: Bengal