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The Grasping Raja

Category: Part I.

Source: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

There was once a Raja who was very rich. He was a stern man and
overbearing and would brook no contradiction. Not one of his servants
or his subjects dared to question his orders; if they did so they got
nothing but abuse and blows. He was a grasping man too; if a cow or a
goat strayed into his herds he would return the animal if its owner
claimed in the same day; but he would not listen to any claim made
later. He was so proud that he thought that there was no one in the
world wiser than himself.

It happened that a certain man living in the kingdom of this Raja
lost a cow; one evening it did not come back to its stall from
the grazing-ground; so the next day he set out to search for it and
questioned every one he met. He soon got news that a cow like his had
been seen in the Raja's herd. So he went to look, and there, among
the Raja's cattle, he saw his own cow. He asked the cowherd to let him
take it away; but the cowherd refused to do so without a written order
from the Raja. So the owner went off to the Raja and claimed his cow;
but the Raja would not listen and gave him only abuse and turned him
out. Then he went to his friends and asked them to help him but they
were afraid to do anything and advised him to regard the cow as lost
for good.

So the unfortunate man took his way homeward very unhappily; on the way
he sat down by the bank of a stream and began to bewail his loss. As
he cried, Thakur took pity on him and sent a jackal to him. The jackal
came and asked why he was crying, and when it had heard the story of
the loss of the cow, it said "Cheer up! go back to the Raja and tell
him that you want a panchayat to settle the matter about the cow;
and that you intend to call one whether he agrees to abide by its
decision or no. If he agrees, come back quickly to me and I will
arrange to get back your cow for you." So off went the owner of the
cow to the Raja and told him that he wanted to call a panchayat. The
Raja made no objection and bade him call the neighbours together. The
poor man did so and then hurried off to the jackal and told it how
things had turned out. The jackal returned with him to the outskirts
of the city and then sent him to the Raja to say that the panchayat
must be held on the plain outside the city--for the jackal was afraid
of the dogs in the city.

When the Raja received this message it made him very angry, however he
went outside the city and met the panchayat and ordered them to get
to business quickly. Then the owner of the cow stood up and told his
story and the neighbours who had assembled called to him encouragingly,
but the jackal sat in the background and pretended to be asleep. When
the tale was finished, the Raja told the people who had assembled to
give their decision, but they were all so afraid of the Raja that not
one ventured to speak. As they kept silence the Raja turned to the
owner of the cow. "Well, where are the people who are going to judge
the case? No one here will say a word." "That is my judge," said the
man pointing to the jackal. "Why it is fast asleep; what sort of a
judge is that?" But just then the jackal shook itself and said. "I
have had a most remarkable dream." "There, he has been dreaming,
instead of listening to the case." exclaimed the Raja.

"O Raja don't be so scornful" said the jackal, "I am a cleverer judge
than you." "You, who are you? I have grown old in judging cases and
rinding out the truth; and you dare to talk to me like that!" "Well,"
retorted the jackal, "if you are so clever guess the meaning of my
dream; and if you cannot, give the man back his cow; if you can say
what it means, I will acknowledge that you are fit to be a Raja. This
is what I dreamt.--I saw three die in one place; one from sleepiness;
one from anger and one from greed. Tell me what were the three and
how did they come to be in one place."

This riddle puzzled every one, but the friends of the man who had
lost his cow saw their opportunity and began to call out to the Raja
to be quick and give the answer. The Raja made several guesses, but
the jackal each time said that he was wrong, and asserted that the
real answer would strike every one present as satisfactory. The Raja
was completely puzzled and then suggested that there was no coherency
in dreams: if the jackal had had some meaningless dream, no one could
guess it. "No," said the jackal, "you just now laughed at the idea that
any one should come to a panchayat and go to sleep; and what you said
was true; I would not really go to sleep on an occasion like this;
and I did not really dream. Now show that you are cleverer than I;
if you can, you keep the cow."

The Raja thought and thought in vain, and at last asked to be told the
answer to the puzzle. First the jackal made him write out a promise
to restore the cow and to pay twenty-five rupees to the panchayat;
and then it began:--"In a forest lived a wild elephant and every
night it wandered about grazing and in the day it returned to its
retreat in a certain hill. One dawn as it was on its way back after
a night's feeding, it felt so sleepy that it lay down where it was;
and it happened that its body blocked the entrance to a hole which
was a poisonous snake. When the snake wanted to come out and found
the way blocked, it got angry and in its rage bit the elephant and the
elephant died then and there. Presently a jackal came prowling by and
saw the elephant lying dead; it could not restrain itself from such a
feast and choosing a place where the skin was soft began to tear at
the flesh. Soon it made such a large hole that it got quite inside
the elephant and still went on eating. But when the sun grew strong,
the elephant's skin shrunk and closed the hole and the jackal could
not get out again and died miserably inside the elephant. The snake
too in its hole soon died from want of food and air. So the elephant
met its death through sleepiness and the snake through anger and the
jackal through greed. This is the answer to the puzzle, but Chando
prevented your guessing it, because you unjustly took the poor man's
cow and as a lesson to you that he is lord of all, of the poor and
weak as well as of Rajas and Princes."

When the jackal concluded all present cried out that the answer was
a perfect one; but the Raja said "I don't think much of that; I know
a lot of stories like that myself." However he had to give back the
cow and pay twenty-five rupees to the panchayat. In gratitude to the
jackal the owner of the cow bought a goat and gave it to the jackal
and then the jackal went away and was seen no more.

Next: The Prince Who Would Not Marry

Previous: Catching A Thief

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