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YASHPEH
International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 589


The Widow’s Son

Book Name:

Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Tradition: India

Once upon a time there was a poor woman whose husband died suddenly from snake bite, leaving her with one little girl. At the time she was expecting another child and every day she lamented the loss of her husband and prayed to Chando that the child she should bear might be a son: but fresh troubles came upon her, for when her husband’s brothers saw that she was with child they declared that she had been unfaithful to her husband and had murdered him to conceal her shame: and although they had no proof of this, they seized on all their dead brother’s property and land and left the widow nothing but the bare house to live in.

But Chando had pity on her and when her time was full a boy was born to her. She gave thanks to Chando and devoted herself to bringing up the child. The boy grew up and learned to walk and talk and one day he asked his mother where his father was. She told him that a snake had bitten his father before he was born. Thereupon the boy embraced her and told her not to cry as he would support her and take the place of his father. The mother was filled with wonder and gratitude at the boy’s intelligence.

In answer to her daily prayers she met with kindness at all hands: when she went out working her employers gave her extra wages: when she went gleaning something extra was left for her, and if she had to beg no one refused to give her alms, so in time she was able to get together some household requisites and start keeping fowls and pigs. By selling these she saved enough money to buy goats and sheep: and in course of time was able to think of buying a cow.

By that time her son – whom she called Bhagraihad grown up to be a boy and took an interest in all that went on: so he asked his mother how he could tell when to buy a heifer. She said that if when the seller was showing a cow to an intending purchaser the animal dropped dung, it should be bought without hesitation, as such a cow was sure to take kindly to its new home and to have plenty of calves: another equally good sign was if the cow had nine teeth. Thereupon Bhagrai declared that he would set out to buy a cow and be guided in his choice by these signs and not come back till he found one. His mother thought that he was too young to undertake such a business but at last yielded to his entreaties. Then he tried to get some one in the village to go with him on his expedition but no one of his own friends or relations would go, so he had to arrange with a man of the blacksmith caste to keep him company.

Early one morning they set out, enquiring as they went along whether any one had a cow for sale. For a long time they were unsuccessful but after passing right through the territories of one Raja, they at length came to a village where they heard of a heifer for sale. As they were examining it it dropped dung, and on inspection its mouth showed nine teeth. Bhagrai at once declared that he must buy it and would not listen to the blacksmith who tried to dissuade him because, although the animal was full grown, it had had no calf and was probably barren. Bhagrai however preferred to be guided by the signs of which his mother had told him, and after a certain amount of haggling bought the animal for five rupees. The money was paid and he and the blacksmith set off homewards with the cow.

Night overtook them and they turned into a village and asked to be allowed to sleep in the verandah of one of the houses: and permission being given they tied the cow to a post and went to sleep. In the middle of the night the owner of the house came and took away their cow and tied an old and worthless one of his own in its place. On waking in the morning Bhagrai and the blacksmith saw at once what had happened and charged the owner of the house with the theft. He vehemently denied all knowledge of the matter and after they had quarrelled for a long time went to call the villagers to arbitrate between them. But he took care to promise the headman and leading villagers a bribe of five rupees if they decided the case in his favour: so the result was a foregone conclusion and the arbitrators told Bhagrai to take away the old worthless cow.

He however refused to accept the decision and said that he would go and find two people to represent him on the panchayat. The villagers raised no objection for they knew that he was a stranger, and thought that they could easily convince any persons he might pick up. Bhagrai set off towards a village he saw in the distance but lost his way in the jungle, and as he was wandering about he came on two jackals. On seeing him they started to run but he called to them to stop and telling them all that had happened asked them to come to the panchayat. The jackals answered that it was clear that the villagers had been bribed, but they would come and do what was possible. They told him to bring the villagers with both the cows to a big banyan tree outside the village. All the villagers went out to meet the jackals and Bhagrai stood up in the midst and began to explain his grievance.

Meanwhile the jackals sat quite still, seeming to take no interest in what was going on. “A fine pair these are to have on a panchayat” said the villagers to each other, “they are nearly asleep: they have been up all night catching crabs and grasshoppers and now are too tired to keep awake.” “No,” said one jackal, “we are not as sleepy as you think: we are quite willing to take a part in deciding this dispute: but the fact is that I and my wife have a quarrel and we want you first to decide that for us and then we will take up the question of the cow; if you villagers can settle our difference satisfactorily we shall be able to conclude that you have given a fair judgement on the complaint of this orphan boy.”

The villagers told him to continue and he explained “I and my wife always go about together: we eat at the same time and drink at the same time and yet she drops dung twice a day while I do so only once: what is the reason of this?” The villagers could think of no answer and the jackal bade them ask his wife: so they laughed and asked whether it was true that she dropped dung twice to the he-jackal’s once. But the jackal reproved them for their levity, wise men of old had said that it was wrong to jest when men of weight met to decide a dispute; so they became serious and the she-jackal answered “It is true that I drop dung twice to his once: there is an order laid on me to do so: I drop dung once at the same time that he does: that excrement falls to the ground and stays there: but the second time the excrement falls into the mouths of the ancestors of those men who take bribes and do injustice to the widow and orphan and when such bribetakers reach the next world they will also have to eat it. If however they confess their sin and ask pardon of me they will be let off the punishment: this is the reason why I have been ordered to drop dung twice.” “Now you have heard what she has to say” put in the he-jackal “what to you think of the explanation? I hope that there are no such bribetakers among you: if there are they had better confess at once.”

Then all the villagers who had agreed to take a share of the bribe and had helped to rob the boy of his cow confessed what they had done and declared that the boy should have his cow again, and they fined the thief five rupees. So Bhagrai and the blacksmith went gladly on their way and the blacksmith soon told all his neighbours of the two wonderful jackals who talked like men and had compelled the villagers to restore the stolen cow. “Ah” said the boy’s mother “they were not jackals, they were Chando,” When Bhagrai’s uncles heard all this and saw how he and his mother had prospered in spite of the loss of all their property, they became frightened and gave back the land and cattle which they had taken, without waiting for them to be claimed.

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