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YASHPEH
International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 593


The Children and the Vultures

Book Name:

Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Tradition: India

Once upon a time all the women of a village went to the jungle to gather karla fruit; and one of them was pregnant. In the jungle she felt that her time was come and she went aside without telling any of her friends and gave birth to twin boys. The other women went on gathering fruit and when they had filled their baskets and were on their way home they noticed that one of their number was missing, but as it was late they were afraid to go back and look for her, and besides they felt sure that she must have been devoured by some wild animal.

Meanwhile the mother of the twins began to call to her friends, but they were far out of hearing; so she debated whether she should carry home the two babes or her basket of karla fruit; she did not feel strong enough to carry both the infants in her arms and so she decided to take the basket of fruit, especially as she would probably have plenty more children, while the karla fruit could not be replaced. She covered the twins with leaves of the Asan tree and went home.

But when her husband heard what had happened he was very angry, and scolded her well; she could easily have thrown away the fruit and carried home the children in the basket instead of taking so much trouble about the karla fruit, as if no one had ever seen any before. He wanted to take a few friends and go and look for the children at once; but his father and mother begged him not to risk his life in the jungle at night; the woman had been a fool but that could not be remedied; people must learn by experience; as the Hindu proverb says “When your caste goes, wisdom comes.” They could not allow the breadwinner of the family to risk his life; though the roof and doors of the house had gone, the walls remained; as long as the tree stood new branches would grow; but if the tree fell there was no more hope; so in the end the children were left where they were.

No sooner had the mother gone than a pair of king vultures swooped down to make a meal of the children but they cried so pitifully that the vultures had hot the heart to kill them but instead carried them up to their nest and brought them food: and nurtured them. And when the children began to walk they carried them down to the ground and when they were big enough to take care of themselves they told them to go into the neighbouring villages and beg; but they forbade them to go towards the village in which their real parents lived. So every day the two boys went out begging, and as they went from house to house, they sang: –

                  “Our mother took away the karla fruit

                  She covered us up with Asan leaves.

                  The pair of King vultures

                  Reared us. – Give us alms.”

And people had pity on them and gave them enough to live on. One day the two boys thought that they would go and see what the country was like in the direction which had been forbidden to them; so they set out singing their usual song, and when they came to the house where their mother lived she heard them sing and knew that they must be her children; so she called them and bathed them and oiled their bodies and told them that she was their mother and they were very glad to stay with her.

But when the children did not return, the vultures flew in search of them and circled round and round in the air looking for them. The mother saw them and knew what they wanted, so she took the children into the house and hid them under a large basket. But the vultures flew down to the house and tore a hole in the thatch and entered through it and overturned the basket and seized the children. Then the father and mother also caught hold of them and the vultures pulled and the parents pulled until the children were torn in two and the vultures flew away with the portions they had secured. The father and mother sorrowfully burnt on a pyre the remains of the children that were left to them.

The vultures when they reached their nest were unwilling to eat the flesh of the children they had reared, so they set fire to their nest; but as the flames rose high, some juice spirted out from the burning flesh on to the vultures and they tasted it and found it so good that they pulled the rest of the flesh out of the flames and ate it, and from that time vultures feed on human bodies.

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