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The Children And The Vultures

Category: Part I.

Source: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

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 tinsead 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.

Next: The Ferryman

Previous: The Killing Of The Rakhas

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