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What Makes The Eclipse

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

Very early in the history of the world a beautiful female child, whom
the parents called Ka Nam, was born to a humble family who lived in a
village on the borders of one of the great Khasi forests. She was such
a beautiful child that her mother constantly expressed her fears lest
some stranger passing that way might kidnap her or cast an "evil eye"
upon her, so she desired to bring her up in as much seclusion as their
poor circumstances would permit. To this the father would not agree;
he told his wife not to harbour foolish notions, but to bring up the
child naturally like other people's children, and teach her to work and
to make herself useful. So Ka Nam was brought up like other children,
and taught to work and to make herself useful.

One day, as she was taking her pitcher to the well, a big tiger came
out of the forest and carried her to his lair. She was terrified
almost to death, for she knew that the tigers were the most cruel
of all beasts. The name of this tiger was U Khla, and his purpose
in carrying off the maiden was to eat her, but when he saw how young
and small she was, and that she would not suffice for one full meal
for him, he decided to keep her in his lair until she grew bigger.

He took great care of her and brought home to her many delicacies
which her parents had never been able to afford, and as she never
suspected the cruel designs of the tiger, she soon grew to feel quite
at home and contented in the wild beast's den, and she grew up to be
a maiden of unparalleled loveliness.

The tiger was only waiting his opportunity, and when he saw that
she had grown up he determined to kill her, for he was longing to
eat the beautiful damsel whom he had fed with such care. One day,
as he busied himself about his lair, he began to mutter to himself:
"Now the time has come when I can repay myself for all my trouble in
feeding this human child; to-morrow I will invite all my fellow-tigers
here and we will feast upon the maiden."

It happened that a little mouse was foraging near the den at that
time and she overheard the tiger muttering to himself. She was very
sorry for the maiden, for she knew that she was alone and friendless
and entirely at the mercy of the tiger; so the little mouse went
and told the maiden that the tigers were going to kill her and eat
her on the following day. Ka Nam was in great distress and wept very
bitterly. She begged of the mouse to help her to escape, and the mouse,
having a tender heart, gave her what aid was in her power.

In the first place she told the maiden to go out of the den and to
seek the cave of the magician, U Hynroh, the Giant Toad, to whom
the realm was under tribute. He was a peevish and exacting monster
from whom every one recoiled, and Ka Nam would have been terrified
to approach him under ordinary conditions, but the peril which faced
her gave her courage, and under the guidance of the mouse she went
to the toad's cave. When he saw her and beheld how fair she was,
and learned how she had been the captive of his old rival the tiger,
he readily consented to give her his protection; so he clothed her in
a toadskin, warning her not to divest herself of it in the presence
of others on pain of death. This he did in order to keep the maiden
in his own custody and to make her his slave.

When the mouse saw that her beautiful friend had been transformed
into the likeness of a hideous toad she was very sorrowful, and
regretted having sent her to seek the protection of U Hynroh, for
she knew that as long as she remained in the jungle Ka Nam would be
henceforth forced to live with the toads and to be their slave. So
she led her away secretly and brought her to the magic tree which was
in that jungle, and told the maiden to climb into the tree that she
might be transported to the sky, where she would be safe from harm
for ever. So the maid climbed into the magic tree and spoke the magic
words taught her by the mouse: "Grow tall, dear tree, the sky is near,
expand and grow." Upon which the tree began to expand upwards till
its branches touched the sky, and then the maiden alighted in the
Blue Realm and the tree immediately dwindled to its former size.

By and by the tiger and his friends arrived at the den, ravenous
for their feast, and when he found that his prey had disappeared
his disappointment and anger knew no bounds and were terrible to
witness. He uttered loud threats for vengeance on whoever had connived
at the escape of his captive, and his roars were so loud that the
animals in the jungle trembled with fear. His fellow-tigers also became
enraged when they understood that they had been deprived of their
feast, and they turned on U Khla and in their fury tore him to death.

Meanwhile Ka Nam wandered homeless in the Blue Realm, clothed in the
toadskin. Every one there lived in palaces and splendour, and they
refused to admit the loathsome, venomous-looking toad within their
portals, while she, mindful of the warning of U Hynroh, the magician,
feared to uncover herself. At last she appeared before the palace
of Ka Sngi, the Sun, who, ever gracious and tender, took pity on her
and permitted her to live in a small outhouse near the palace.

One day, thinking herself to be unobserved, the maid put aside her
covering of toadskin and sat to rest awhile in her small room, but
before going abroad she carefully wrapped herself in the skin as
before. She was accidentally seen by the son of Ka Sngi, who was a
very noble youth. He was astonished beyond words to find a maiden of
such rare beauty hiding herself beneath a hideous toadskin and living
in his mother's outhouse, and he marvelled what evil spell had caused
her to assume such a loathsome covering. Her beauty enthralled him
and he fell deeply in love with her.

He hastened to make his strange discovery known to his mother, and
entreated her to lodge the maiden without delay in the palace and to
let her become his wife. Ka Sngi, having the experience and foresight
of age, determined to wait before acceding to the request of her
young and impetuous son until she herself had ascertained whether a
maid such as her son described really existed beneath the toadskin,
or he had been deluded by some evil enchantment into imagining that
he had seen a maiden in the outhouse.

So Ka Sngi set herself to watch the movements of the toad in the
outhouse, and one day, to her surprise and satisfaction, she beheld
the maiden uncovered, and was astonished at her marvellous beauty
and pleasing appearance. But she did not want her son to rush into an
alliance with an enchanted maiden, so she gave him a command that he
should not go near or speak to the maid until the toadskin had been
destroyed and the evil spell upon her broken. Once again Ka Sngi set
herself to watch the movements of the toad, and one day her vigilance
was rewarded by discovering Ka Nam asleep with the toadskin cast
aside. Ka Sngi crept stealthily and seized the toadskin and burned
it to ashes. Henceforth the maiden appeared in her own natural form,
and lived very happily as the wife of Ka Sngi's son, released for
ever from the spell of the Giant Toad.

There was an old feud between U Hynroh and Ka Sngi because she
refused to pay him tribute, and when he learned that she had wilfully
destroyed the magic skin in which he had wrapped the maiden, his anger
was kindled against Ka Sngi, and he climbed up to the Blue Realm to
devour her. She bravely withstood him, and a fierce struggle ensued
which was witnessed by the whole universe.

When mankind saw the conflict they became silent, subdued
with apprehension lest the cruel monster should conquer their
benefactress. They uttered loud cries and began to beat mournfully
on their drums till the world was full of sound and clamour.

Like all bullies, U Hynroh was a real coward at heart, and when he
heard the noise of drums and shouting on the earth, his heart melted
within him with fear, for he thought it was the tramp of an advancing
army coming to give him battle. He quickly released his hold upon Ka
Sngi and retreated with all speed from the Blue Realm. Thus mankind
were the unconscious deliverers of their noble benefactress from the
hand of her cruel oppressor.

U Hynroh continues to make periodical attacks on the sun to this day,
and in many countries people call the attacks "Eclipses," but the
Ancient Khasis, who saw the great conflict, knew it to be the Giant
Toad, the great cannibal, trying to devour Ka Sngi. He endeavours to
launch his attacks when the death of some great personage in the world
is impending, hoping to catch mankind too preoccupied to come to the
rescue. Throughout the whole of Khasi-land to this day it is the custom
to beat drums and to raise a loud din whenever there is an eclipse.

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