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Lita And His Animals






Category: Part I.

Source: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

Once upon a time there was a man who had four sons: two of them were
married and two were unmarried and the youngest was named Lita. One
day Lita went to his father and asked for fifty or sixty rupees that
he might go on a trading expedition and he promised that if he lost
the money he would not ask for any share in the paternal property. As
he was very urgent his father at last gave him sixty rupees and he
set out on his travels. After going some way he came to a village in
which all the inhabitants were chasing a cat; he asked them what was
the matter and they told him that the cat was always stealing their
Raja's milk and the Raja had offered a reward of twenty rupees to
anyone who would kill it. Then Lita said to them "Do not kill the cat;
catch it alive and give it to me and I will pay you twenty rupees for
it; then you can go to the Raja and say that you have killed it and ask
for the reward; and if the Raja asks to see the body tell him that a
stranger came and asked for the body, for he thought that a cat which
had fed on milk should be good eating and so you gave it to him." The
villagers thought that this would be an excellent plan and promised to
bring him the cat alive. They soon managed to catch it hiding under
a heap of firewood and brought it to Lita and he paid them twenty
rupees and then they went to the Raja and got twenty rupees from him.

Then Lita went on, and by-and-bye came to a village where the villagers
were hunting an otter in a tank; they had made a cut in the bank and
had let out all the water. Lita went to them and asked what they were
doing; they said that they were hunting for an otter which had been
destroying the Raja's fish and the Raja had promised them a reward if
they killed it, and they had driven it into the tank and were draining
off the water in order to catch it. Then Lita offered to buy it of them
if they brought it to him alive; so when they caught it they brought
it to him and he gave them money for it and continued his journey
with the cat and the otter. Presently he saw a crowd of men and he
went up to them and asked what they were doing: and they told him that
they were hunting a rat which was always gnawing the Raja's pens and
papers and the Raja had offered a reward for it, and they had driven
it out of the palace, but it had taken refuge in a hole and they were
going to dig it out Then Lita offered to buy it from them as he had
bought the other two animals and they dug it out and sold it to him.

He went on and in the same way found a crowd of men hunting a snake
which had bitten many people: and he offered to buy it for twenty
rupees and when they had chased it till it was exhausted, they
caught it alive and sold it to Lita. As his money was all spent,
he then set off homewards; and on the way the snake began to speak
and said: "Lita, you have saved my life; had you not come by, those
men would certainly have had my life; come with me to my home, where
my father and mother are, and I will give you anything you ask for;
we have great possessions." But Lita was afraid and said: "When you
get me there you will eat me, or if you don't, your father and mother
will." But the snake protested that it could not be guilty of such
ingratitude and at last Lita agreed to accompany it when he had left
the other animals at his home.

This he did and set off alone with the snake, and after some days they
reached the snake's home. The snake told Lita to wait outside while he
went and apprized his parents and he told Lita that when he was asked
to choose his reward he should name nothing but the ring which was on
the father-snake's finger, for the ring had this property that if it
were placed in a seer of milk and then asked to produce anything
whatever, that thing would immediately appear. Then the snake went
on to his home and when the father and mother saw him they fell on
his neck and kissed him and wept over him saying that they had never
expected to see him again; the snake told them how he had gone to
the country of men and how a reward had been set on his head and he
had been hunted, and how Lita had bought him from the men who would
have killed him. The father snake asked why he had not brought Lita
to be rewarded and the snake said that he was afraid that when they
saw him they would eat him.

But the father and mother swore that they could not be guilty of
such ingratitude, and when he heard this the snake went and brought
in Lita, and they entertained him handsomely for two days; and on
the third day the father snake asked Lita what he would take as his
reward. Lita looked round at the shining palace in which they lived
and at first was afraid to speak but at last he said: "I do not want
money or anything but the ring on your finger: if you will not give
me that, I will take nothing; I saved your son from peril and that
you will remember all your lives, and if you give me the ring I will
honour you for it as long as I live." Then the father and mother snake
consulted together and the mother said "Give it to him as he asks for
it" so the father snake drew it from his finger and gave it to Lita
and they gave him also some money for his journey back; and he went
home and found the other three animals safe and sound waiting for him.

After a time his father said that Lita must marry; so marriage
go-betweens were sent out to look for a bride and they found a very
rich and beautiful girl whose parents were agreeable to the match. But
the girl herself said that she would only marry a man who would build
a covered passage from her house to his, so that she could walk to her
new home in the shade. The go-betweens reported this, and Lita's father
and brothers consulted and agreed that they could never make such a
passage, but Lita said to his father: "Arrange the match; it shall
be my charge to arrange for making the covered passage; I will not
let you be put to shame over it." For Lita had already put the ring
to the test: he had dropped it into a seer of milk and said "Let
five bharias of parched rice and two bharias of curds appear" and
immediately the parched rice and curds were before him; and thereupon
he had called out "The snake has worthily rewarded me for saving his
life;" and the cat and the otter and the rat overheard what he said.

So the go-between was told to arrange for the wedding to take place
that very month, as Lita's birthday fell in the next month, which
therefore was not suitable for his wedding. Then the bride's family
sent him back to say that they were prepared to send a string of nine
knots; and the next day the go-between told this to Lita's family
and they said that they were willing to accept it; so the go-between
brought a string of nine knots to signify that the wedding would take
place in nine days. The days passed by and Lita's father and brothers
became very anxious because they saw no sign of the covered passage;
but on the very night before the wedding, Lita took his ring and
ordered a covered passage to be made from the one house to the other
with a good path down the middle; and the next morning they found
it made; and the bridegroom's party passed along it to the bride's
house and the bride was escorted home along it.

Now the bride had been deeply in love with another young man who lived
in her village and had much wished to marry him but her wishes of
course were not consulted in the matter. Some time after the marriage
she one day in the course of conversation asked her husband Lita how
much he had spent on making the covered passage to her house and how
he had built it so quickly. He told her that he knew nothing about it;
that his father and mother had arranged for it and no doubt had spent a
large sum of money. So the next day she took an opportunity of asking
her mother-in-law about it, but Lita's mother said that nothing had
been spent at all; somehow the passage had been made in one night,
she knew not how.

Then Lita's wife saw that Lita was keeping a secret from her, and
she began to reproach him for having any secrets from his wife: and
at last when she had faithfully promised never to reveal the matter
to anyone, he told her the secret of the ring. Now her former lover
used still to visit her and one day she sent for him and said that she
would no longer live with Lita, but wished to run away with him. The
lover at first objected that they would be pursued and killed while if
they escaped to a distance he would have nothing to support her with;
but the faithless woman said that there need be no anxiety about that
and she told him about the magic ring and how by means of it they
could provide themselves with a house and everything they wanted. So
they fixed a night for the elopement and on that night when Lita
was asleep his wife quietly drew the ring off his finger and went
out to her lover who was waiting outside and told him to get a goat
from the pen; then they beheaded the goat and went inside and poured
all its blood on the ground under the bed on which Lita was sleeping,
and then having hid the body and head of the goat, they ran away.

Towards morning Lita woke up and missed his wife, so he lit a lamp to
look for her and then saw the pool of blood under the bed. At this
sight he was terror stricken. Some enemy had killed and carried off
his wife and he would be charged with the murder. So he lay there
wondering what would happen to him. At last his mother came into the
room to see why he and his wife had not got up as usual and when she
saw the blood she raised a cry; the village headman and chowkidar
were sent for and they questioned Lita, but he could only say that
he knew nothing of what had happened; he did not know what the blood
was, he did not know where his wife was. Thereupon they sent two men
to the house of the wife's parents to see if by any chance she had
run away there and in any case to bring her relations to be present
at the enquiry into her disappearance. When her father and brothers
heard what had happened they at once went to Lita's house in wrath
and abused him as a murderer. They asked why, if his wife had not done
her duty to him, he had not sent her back to them to be chastised and
taught better, instead of murdering her and they went straight to the
magistrate and complained: the magistrate sent police who arrested
Lita and took him before the magistrate.

Meanwhile it had become known that not only was Lita's wife missing
but also her lover; and Lita's father presented a petition to the
magistrate bringing this to notice and asserting that the two must
have run away together. Then the magistrate ordered every search to be
made for the missing couple but said that Lita must remain in custody
till they were found, so he was shut up in prison. From prison he made
an application to the magistrate that his three tame animals, the cat
and the otter and the rat might be brought to the place where he was;
the magistrate kindly consented but the animals were not allowed
into the prison. However at night the rat being small made its way
inside and found out Lita, and asked what was to be done. Lita said
that he wanted the three animals to save him from his great danger
as he had saved them; he wanted them to trace his wife and her lover
and recover the ring; they would doubtless find them living in some
gorgeous palace, the gift of the ring.

The rat went out and gave the other two Lita's message and they
readily undertook to do their best; so the next morning the three
animals set off. In vain they hunted all over the country, till one
day they came to the bank of the Ganges and there on the other side
they saw a palace shining like gold. At this their hopes revived,
for this might be a palace made by the magic ring. But the cat and
the rat objected that they could not cross the river. The otter said
that he would easily manage that and he took the cat on his back and
the rat climbed on to the back of the cat and so the otter ferried
them both across the river; then they consulted and decided that
it would be safest to wait till the evening before they went to the
palace to see who lived in it. When they looked in in the evening,
they at once recognised Lita's wife and her lover; but these two were
in constant terror of being pursued and when they had had their evening
meal they fastened and bolted every entrance so securely that no one
could gain admittance. Then the cat and the otter told the rat that
he must collect all the rats of the neighbourhood and they must burrow
through the wall and find some way of abstracting the magic ring.

So the rat collected a crowd of his friends and in no time they bored
a hole through the wall; then they all began to look for the ring;
they hunted high and low but could not find it; however the cat sat
at the entrance of the hole which they had made and vowed that they
should not come out, unless they got the ring. Then the first rat
climbed on to the bed in which the couple were sleeping and searched
their clothes and examined their fingers and toes but in vain; then
he thought that the woman might have it in her mouth so he climbed
on to her chest and tickled her nose with the tip of his tail; this
made her sneeze and behold she sneezed out the ring which she had
hidden in her mouth. The rat seized it and ran off with it and when
the cat was satisfied that he had really got it, she let him out and
the three friends set off rejoicing on their homeward journey. They
crossed the river in the same way as when they came with the cat
riding on the otter and the rat on the cat: and the rat held the
ring in its mouth. Unfortunately when they were halfway across,
a kite swooped down to try and carry off the rat. Twice it swooped
and missed its grasp but the second time it struck the rat with its
wing and the rat in terror let the ring fall into the river.

When they reached the bank the three friends consulted what they
were to do in this fresh misfortune. As the otter was the only one
who could swim it volunteered to look for the ring, so it plunged
into the water and searched the bottom of the river in vain; then it
guessed that a fish must have swallowed the ring and it set to work
to catch every fish it saw and tore them open; at last in the stomach
of a big fish it found the ring, so it brought the fish to the bank
and while they were all rejoicing and eating a little of the fish a
kite swooped down and carried off the fish, ring and all.

The three animals watched the kite flying away with the fish; but some
women who were gathering firewood ran after the kite and took the fish
from it and putting it in their basket went home. Then the otter and
the rat said to the cat "Now it is your turn: we have both recovered
the ring once, but we cannot go into the house of these humans. They
will let you go near them easily enough; the ring is in the fish's
stomach, you must watch whether they throw away the stomach or clean
it, and find an opportunity for carrying off the ring."

So the cat ran after the women and when they began to cut up the
fish, it kept mewing round them. They threw one or two scraps to it,
but it only sniffed at them and would not eat them; then they began
to wonder what on earth the cat wanted, and at last they threw the
stomach to it. This it seized on gladly and carried it off and tore
it open and found the ring and ran off with it to where the otter
and the rat were waiting. Then the three friends travelled hard for
a day and a night and reached the prison in which Lita was confined.

When Lita got the ring he begged his jailer to get him a seer
of milk and when it was brought he dropped the ring in it, and said
"I wish the bed on which my faithless wife and her lover are sleeping
to be brought here with them in it this very night" and before morning
the bed was brought to the prison. Then the magistrate was called and
when he saw that the wife was alive he released Lita, and the lover
who had run away with her had to pay Lita double the expenditure
which had been incurred on his marriage, and was fined beside.

But Lita married another wife and lived happily with her. And some
time afterwards he called the otter and the cat and the rat to him
and said that he purposed to let them go and before they parted he
would give them anything they wished for. They said that he owed them
nothing, and they made Lita promise to let them know if ever he lost
the ring or fell into trouble, and he promised to help them if ever
their lives were in danger, and one morning he took them to a bazar,
near which was a tank full of fish, and he turned the otter into
the tank and left the cat and the rat to support themselves in the
bazar. The next day he went to see them and the otter came out of
the tank and gave him a fish which it had caught, and the cat brought
him some milk it had stolen, and that was the last he saw of them.





Next: The Boy Who Found His Father

Previous: The Magic Cow



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