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The Story Of Bitaram

Source: Santal Folk Tales

In a certain village there lived seven brothers. The youngest of
them planted a certain vegetable, and went every day to examine
it to see how it was growing. For a long time there were only the
stalk and leaves, but at length a flower appeared, and from it a
fruit. This fruit he measured daily to mark its growth. It grew
continuously until it became exactly a span long, after which it
remained stationary. One day he said to his sisters-in-law, "Do not
eat my fruit, for whoever does so will give birth to a child only one
span long." He continued his daily visits to his plant as usual, and
was pleased to note that the fruit was evidently ripening. One day,
during his absence, one of his sisters-in-law plucked the fruit and
ate it. On returning from the field where he had been ploughing, he
went to look at and measure his fruit, but it was gone, it had been
stolen. Suspecting that some one of his sisters-in-law was the thief,
he accused each of them in turn, but they all denied having touched
it. When he found that no one would confess to having taken it, he
said to them, "Do not tell upon yourselves, the thief will be caught
before long." And so it happened, for one of them gave birth to a
baby one span long. The first time he saw his sister-in-law after
the child was born he laughed, and said to her, "You denied having
stolen my fruit, now you see I have found you out."

When the time came that the child should receive a name, Bitaram [2]
was given to him, because he was only a span in height. Bitaram's
mother used to take food to the brothers to the field when they were
ploughing, and when Bitaram was able to walk so far he accompanied
her. One day he surprised his mother by saying, "Let me take the food
to my father and uncles to-day." She replied, "What a fancy! You,
child, are only a span high, how can you carry it?" But Bitaram
insisted saying, "I can carry it well enough, and carry it I will." His
mother being unable to resist his pertinacity said, "Then, child,
take it, and be off." So she placed the basket on his head and he
set out. Arrived at the field he went up a furrow, but the ground was
so uneven that before he reached his destination, he had lost nearly
all the rice, which had been shaken out of the basket. On his coming
near, one of his uncles called out, "Is that you Bitaram?" He replied,
"Yes, it is I, Bitaram." Climbing up out of the furrow, he put down
the basket saying, "Help yourselves, and I will take the oxen and
buffaloes to the water." So saying, he drove off the cattle to the
river. When they had quenched their thirst he gathered them together,
and began to drive them back again to where he had left his father and
uncles. While following them up the sandy back of the river, he fell
into a depression made by the hoof of a buffalo, and was soon covered
up by the loose sand sent rolling down by the herd as they ascended.

When the cattle returned without Bitaram, his father and uncles became
alarmed for his safety, and immediately went in search of him. They
went here and there calling out "Bitaram, where are you?" But failing
to find him they concluded that he had been devoured by some wild
animal, and returned sorrowfully home. Rain fell during the night,
and washed the sand from off Bitaram, so that he was able to get up,
and climb out. On his way home he encountered some thieves who were
dividing their booty in a lonely part of the forest. Bitaram hearing
them disputing called out "Kehe kere" at the pitch of his voice. The
thieves hearing the sound, looked round on all sides to see who was
near, but the night being dark, and they not directing their eyes near
enough to the ground to see Bitaram, they could discern no one. Then
they said to each other, "Let us seek safety in flight. A spirit has
been sent to watch us." So they all made off leaving behind them the
brass vessels they had stolen. Bitaram gathered these up, and hid
them among some prickly bushes, and then went home.

It was now past midnight, and all had retired to rest, and as Bitaram
stood shivering with cold at the closed door, he called out, "Open
the door and let me in." His father hearing him said, "Is that you
Bitaram?" He replied, "Yes, open the door." They then enquired where
he had been, and he related all that had happened to him after he had
driven the cattle to the river. Having warmed himself at the fire, he
told his father of his adventure with the thieves in the forest. He
said, "I despoiled some thieves, whom I met in the jungle, of the
brass vessels they had stolen." His father replied, "Foolish child,
do not tell lies, you yourself are not the height of a brass lota"
(drinking-cup). "No father," said Bitaram, "I am telling the truth,
come and I will shew you where they are." His father and uncles went
with him, and he pointed out to them the vessels hidden among the
prickly bushes. They picked them all up and brought them home.

Early next morning some sepoys, who were searching for the thieves,
happened to pass that way, and seeing the stolen property lying out
side of the house, recognized it, and apprehended Bitaram's father
and uncles and dragged them off to prison. After this Bitaram and
his mother were obliged to beg their bread from house to house. She
often attributed to him the misery which had befallen them, saying,
"Had it not been for your pertinacity, your father and uncles would
not have been deprived of their liberty."

One day, as they were following their usual avocation, they entered
a certain house, and Bitaram said to his mother, "Ask the people of
the house to give me a tumki. [3]" She did not at first comply, but
he kept urging her until being irritated she said, "It was through
your pertinacity in insisting upon being allowed to carry the food
to your father and uncles that they are now bound and in prison, and
yet you will not give up the bad habit." Bitaram said, "No, mother,
do ask it for me." As he would not be silenced she begged it for him,
and the people kindly gave it.

At the next house they came to, they saw a cat walking about, and
Bitaram said, "Oh mother, ask the people to give me the cat." As
before, she at first refused, but he continued to press her, and she
becoming annoyed scolded him saying, "The young gentleman insists on
obtaining this and that. It was your pertinacity that caused your
father and uncles to be dragged to prison in bonds." Bitaram replied,
"Not so, mother, do ask them to give me the cat." As the only way to
silence him she said to the people of the house, "Give my boy your cat,
he will hold it in his arms for a few minutes, and then set it down,
but he carried it away with him." Bitaram then begged his mother to
make him a bag, and fill it with flour, saying, "I am going to obtain
the release of my father and uncles." She mockingly replied, "Much you
can do." She made him a bag, however, and filling it with flour said,
"Be off."

Bitaram then strapped the bag of flour on the cat's back as a saddle,
and mounted. Puss, however, refused to go in the direction desired,
and it was with great difficulty that he prevailed upon her to take
the road. As he rode along he observed a swarm of bees on an ant
hill, and dismounting he addressed them as follows, "Come bees, go
in, come bees, go in." The bees swarmed into the tumki, and Bitaram
having covered them up with a leaf continued his journey. Before he
had gone far he came to a large tank, which belonged to the raja who
had imprisoned his father. A number of women had come to the tank for
water, and Bitaram taking his stand upon the embankment began to shoot
arrows at their waterpots. After he had broken several, the women
espied him mounted on his cat with his bow and arrows in his hand,
and believing him to be an elf from the forest fled in terror to
the city. Going to the raja they said "Oh raja, come and see. Some
one is on the tank embankment. We do not know who or what he is,
but he is only a span high." The raja then summoned his soldiers,
and commanded them to take their bows and arrows, and go and shoot
him whoever he was. The soldiers went within range, but although they
shot away all their arrows, they failed to hit him. So returning to
the raja they said, "He cannot be shot." Hearing this the raja became
angry, and calling for his bow and arrows, went to the tank and began
to shoot at Bitaram, but although he persevered until his right side
ached with drawing the bow, he could not hit him.

When he desisted, Bitaram called out "Are you exhausted?" The raja
answered "Yes." Then said Bitaram "It is my turn now," and taking the
leaf from off the mouth of the basket called to the bees, "Go into the
battle, bees." The bees issued from the basket like a black rope, and
stung the raja and those who were with him. No way of escape offering,
the raja called out to Bitaram, "Call off your bees, and I will give
you the half of my kingdom and my daughter, and I will also set at
liberty your father and uncles." Bitaram gathered the bees into the
basket, and after his father and uncles had been released, took them
back to the ant hill from whence he had brought them. On his return
he wedded the princess and received half of her father's kingdom.

Bitaram and his wife lived happily together, and every thing they
took in hand prospered, so that before long they were richer than the
king himself. One great source of Bitaram's wealth was a cow which
the princess had brought him as part of her dowry. Being envious of
their good fortune, the raja and his sons resolved to kill the cow,
and thus obtain possession of all the gold and silver. So they put
the cow to death, but when they had cut her up they were disappointed
as neither gold nor silver were found in her stomach.

Bitaram placed his cow's hide in the sun, and when it was dry carried
it away to sell it. Darkness coming on he climbed into a tree for
safety, as wild beasts infested the forest through which he was
passing. During the night some thieves came under the tree in which
he was, and began to divide the money they had stolen. Bitaram then
relaxed his hold of the dry hide, which made such a noise as it fell
from branch to branch that the thieves fled terror-stricken, and
left all their booty behind them. In the morning Bitaram descended,
and collecting all the rupees carried them home. He then shewed the
money to his wife, and said "Go and ask the loan of your father's
paila, that I may measure them." So she went and brought the
measure, which had several cracks in it. Having measured his money
he sent back the raja's paila, but he had not noticed that one or
two pieces were left sticking in the cracks. So they said to him,
"Where did you get the money?" He replied "By the sale of my cow's
hide." Hearing this they said, "Will the merchant who bought yours,
buy any more?" He said, "Yes. I received all this money for my one
hide, how much more may not you receive seeing you have such large
herds of cattle! If you dispose of their hides at the same rate as
I have done, you will secure immense wealth." So they killed all
their cattle, but when they offered the hides for sale they found
they had been hoaxed. They were ashamed and angry at having allowed
themselves to be thus imposed upon by Bitaram, and in revenge they
set fire to his house at night, but he crept into a rat's hole and
so escaped injury. In the morning he emerged from his hiding place,
and carefully gathering up the ashes of his house tied them up in a
cloth, and carried them away. As he walked along he met a merchant,
to whom he said, "What have you in your bag?" He replied "Gold-pieces
only." The merchant then enquired of Bitaram what he had tied up in
his cloth, to which he answered, "Gold-dust only." Bitaram then said,
"Will you exchange?" The merchant said, "Yes." So they exchanged,
and Bitaram returned laden with gold. Not being able to count it, he
again sent his wife to borrow her father's paila, and having measured
the gold-pieces returned it to him. This time a few pieces of gold
remained in the cracks in the paila, and the raja, being informed of
it, went and asked Bitaram where he got the gold. He replied, "I sold
the ashes of my house which you burnt over my head, and received the
gold in return." The raja and his sons then enquired if the merchant,
who bought the ashes from him, would buy any more. Bitaram replied,
"Yes, he will buy all he can get." "Do you think," said they, "he
will buy from us?" Bitaram advised them to burn their houses, and
like him, turn the ashes into gold. "I had only one small house,"
he said, "and I obtained all this money. You have larger houses,
and should therefore receive a correspondingly large amount." So
they set fire to, and burnt their houses, and gathering up the ashes
took them to the bazar, and there offered them for sale. After they
had gone the whole length of the bazar, and had met with no buyers,
some one advised them to go to where the washermen lived, saying,
they might possibly take them. The washermen, however, refused,
and as they could not find a purchaser, they threw away the ashes,
and returned home determined to be revenged upon Bitaram.

This time they decided upon drowning him, so one day they seized him,
and putting him into a bag they carried him to the river. Arrived
there they put him down, and went to some little distance to cook
their food. In the meantime a herd boy came up and asked Bitaram why he
was tied up in the bag. He replied, "They are taking me away to marry
me against my will." The herd boy said, "I will go instead of you. I
wish to be married." Bitaram replied, "Open the bag and let me out,
and you get in, and I will tie it up again." So Bitaram was released,
and the herd boy took his place, and was afterwards thrown into the
river and drowned.

Bitaram on escaping collected all the herd boy's cattle, and drove
them home. When the raja and his sons returned, they found Bitaram
with a large herd of cows and buffaloes. Going near, they enquired
where he had got them. He replied, "At some distance below the spot
where you threw me into the river, I found numerous herds of cattle,
so I brought away as many as one person could drive. If you all go,
you will be able to bring a very much larger number." So they said,
"Very well, put us into bags, and tie us up as we did you." Bitaram
replied, "It is impossible for me to carry you as you did me. Walk to
the river bank, and there get into the bags, and I will push you into
the river." They did as he suggested, and when all was in readiness,
he pushed them into the river, and they were all drowned.

Bitaram returned alone, and took possession of all that had belonged
to them. The whole kingdom became his, and he reigned peacefully as
long as he lived.

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