How The Peacock Got His Beautiful Feathers

: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

When the world was young and when all the animals spoke the language

of mankind, the peacock, U Klew, was but an ordinary grey-feathered

bird without any pretensions to beauty. But, even in those days,

he was much given to pride and vanity, and strutted about with all

the majesty of royalty, just because his tuft was more erect than the

tuft of other birds and because his tail was longer and was carried

with more grace
than the tails of any of his companions.

He was a very unaccommodating neighbour. His tail was so big and

unwieldy that he could not enter the houses of the more lowly birds,

so he always attended the courts of the great, and was entertained

by one or other of the wealthy birds at times of festivals in the

jungle. This increased his high opinion of himself and added to his

self-importance. He became so haughty and overbearing that he was

cordially disliked by his neighbours, who endeavoured to repay him

by playing many a jest at his expense.

They used to flatter him, pretending that they held him in very high

esteem, simply for the amusement of seeing him swelling his chest and

hearing him boast. One day they pretended that a great Durbar of the

birds had been held to select an ambassador to carry the greetings

of the jungle birds to the beautiful maiden Ka Sngi, who ruled in the

Blue Realm and poured her bright light so generously on their world,

and that U Klew had been chosen for this great honour.

The peacock was very elated and became more swaggering than ever,

and talked of his coming visit with great boastings, saying that not

only was he going as the ambassador from the birds, but he was going

in his own interests as well, and that he would woo and win the royal

maiden for his wife and live with her in the Blue Realm.

The birds enjoyed much secret fun at his expense, none of them dreaming

that he would be foolish enough to make the attempt to fly so far,

for he was such a heavy-bodied bird and had never flown higher than

a tree-top.

But much to the surprise of every one, the peacock expressed his

intention of starting to the Blue Realm and bade his friends good-bye,

they laughing among themselves, thinking how ridiculous he was making

himself, and how angry he would be when he found how he had been

duped. Contrary to their expectations, however, U Klew continued his

flight upwards till they lost sight of him, and they marvelled and

became afraid, not knowing to what danger their jest might drive him.

Strong on the wing, U Klew soared higher and higher, never halting

till he reached the sky and alighted at the palace of Ka Sngi, the

most beautiful of all maidens and the most good.

Now Ka Sngi was destined to live alone in her grand palace, and her

heart often yearned for companionship. When she saw that a stranger

had alighted at her gates she rejoiced greatly, and hastened to

receive him with courtesy and welcome. When she learned the errand

upon which he had come, she was still happier, for she thought, "I

shall never pine for companionship again, for this noble bird will

always live with me"; and she smiled upon the world and was glad.

When U Klew left the earth and entered the realm of light and sunshine,

he did not cast from him his selfish and conceited nature, but rather

his selfishness and conceit grew more pronounced as his comforts and

luxuries increased. Seeing the eager welcome extended to him by the

beautiful maiden, he became more uplifted and exacting than ever and

demanded all sorts of services at her hands; he grew surly and cross

unless she was always in attendance upon him. Ka Sngi, on the other

hand, was noble and generous and delighted to render kindnesses to

others. She loved to shine upon the world and to see it responding to

her warmth and her smiles. To her mate, U Klew, she gave unstinted

attention and waited upon him with unparalleled love and devotion,

which he received with cold indifference, considering that all this

attention was due to his own personal greatness, rather than to the

gracious and unselfish devotion of his consort.

In former times Ka Sngi had found one of the chief outlets for her

munificence in shedding her warm rays upon the earth; but after the

coming of U Klew her time became so absorbed by him that she was no

longer able to leave her palace, so the earth became cold and dreary,

and the birds in the jungle became cheerless, their feathers drooped,

and their songs ceased. U Slap, the rain, came and pelted their

cosy nests without mercy, causing their young ones to die; U Lyoh,

the mist, brought his dark clouds and hung them over the rice fields

so that no grain ripened; and Ka Eriong, the storm, shook the trees,

destroying all the fruit, so that the birds wandered about homeless

and without food.

In their great misery they sought counsel of mankind, whom they knew

to be wiser than any of the animals. By means of divinations mankind

ascertained that all these misfortunes were due to the presence of U

Klew in the Blue Realm, for his selfish disposition prevented Ka Sngi

from bestowing her light and her smiles upon the world as in former

times; and there was no hope for prosperity until U Klew could be

lured back to jungle-land.

In those days there lived in the jungle a cunning woman whose name

was Ka Sabuit. Acting on the advice of mankind, the birds invoked her

aid to encompass the return of the peacock from the Blue Realm. At

that time Ka Sabuit was very destitute, owing to the great famine;

she had nothing to eat except some wild roots and no seed to sow in

her garden except one gourdful of mustard seeds--the cheapest and

most common of all seeds--and even this she was afraid to sow lest the

hungry birds should come and devour it and leave her without a grain.

When the birds came to seek counsel of her she was very pleased,

hoping that she could by some design force them to promise not to

rob her garden. After they had explained to her their trouble, she

undertook to bring U Klew back to the jungle within thirteen moons

on two conditions: one, that the birds should refrain from picking

the seeds from her garden; the other, that they should torment the

animals if they came to eat her crops or to trample on her land. These

appeared such easy terms that the birds readily agreed to them.

The garden of the cunning woman was in an open part of the jungle and

could be seen from many of the hill-tops around, and in past days the

sun used to shine upon it from morning till night. Thither Ka Sabuit

wended her way after the interview with the birds, and she began to

dig the ground with great care and patience, bestowing much more time

upon it than she had ever been known to do. Her neighbours laughed

and playfully asked her if she expected a crop of precious stones to

grow from her mustard seed that year that she spent so much labour

upon the garden, but the elderly dame took no heed. She worked on

patiently and kept her own counsel while the birds waited and watched.

She shaped her mustard bed like unto the form of a woman; this provoked

the mirth of her neighbours still more and incited many questions

from them, but Ka Sabuit took no heed. She worked patiently on and

kept her own counsel while the birds waited and watched.

By and by the seeds sprouted and the plot of land shaped like a

woman became covered with glistening green leaves, while the birds

continued to watch and to keep the animals at bay, and the cunning

woman watered and tended her garden, keeping her own counsel.

In time small yellow flowers appeared on all the mustard plants, so

that the plot of land shaped like a woman looked in the distance like a

beautiful maiden wearing a mantle of gold that dazzled the eyes. When

the neighbours saw it they wondered at the beauty of it and admired

the skill of the cunning woman; but no one could understand or guess

at her reason for the strange freak and Ka Sabuit threw no light on

the matter. She still patiently worked on and kept her own counsel.

Up in the Blue Realm U Klew continued his despotic and arrogant sway,

while his gentle and noble wife spared no pains to gratify his every

wish. Like all pampered people who are given all their desires, the

peacock became fretful and more and more difficult to please, tiring

of every diversion, and ever seeking some new source of indulgence,

till at last nothing seemed to satisfy him; even the splendours and

magnificence of the palace of Ka Sngi began to pall.

Now and then memories of his old home and old associates came to

disturb his mind, and he often wondered to himself what had been the

fate of his old playmates in jungle-land. One day he wandered forth

from the precincts of the palace to view his old haunts, and as he

recognised one familiar landmark after another his eye was suddenly

arrested by the sight of (as it seemed to him) a lovely maiden dressed

all in gold lying asleep in a garden in the middle of the forest

where he himself had once lived. At sight of her his heart melted

like water within him for the love of her. He forgot the allegiance

due to his beautiful and high-born wife, Ka Sngi; he could only think

of the maiden dressed all in gold, lying asleep in a jungle garden,

guarded by all the birds.

After this U Klew was reluctant to remain in the Blue Realm. His whole

being yearned for the maiden he had seen lying asleep on the earth,

and one day, to his wife's sorrow, he communicated his determination

to return to his native land to seek the object of his new love. Ka

Sngi became a sorrowful wife, for there is no pang so piercing to the

heart of a constant woman as the pang inflicted by being forsaken

by her husband. With all manner of inducements and persuasions and

charms she tried to prevail upon him to keep faithful to his marriage

vows, but he was heartless and obdurate; and, unmindful of all ties,

he took his departure. As he went away Ka Sngi followed him, weeping,

and as she wept her tears bedewed his feathers, transforming them into

all the colours of the rainbow. Some large drops falling on his long

tail as he flew away were turned into brilliant-hued spots, which

are called "Ummat Ka Sngi" (the Sun's tears) by the Khasis to this

day. Ka Sngi told him that they were given for a sign that wherever

he might be and on whomsoever his affections might be bestowed, he

would never be able to forget her, Ka Sngi, the most beautiful and

the most devoted of wives.

Thus U Klew, the peacock, came back to the jungle. The birds,

when they saw his beautiful feathers, greeted him with wonder and

admiration. When he informed them that he had come in quest of a lovely

maiden dressed all in gold, they began to laugh, and it now became

clear to them what had been the object of the cunning woman when she

shaped her mustard bed like unto the shape of a woman. They invited

U Klew to come and be introduced to the object of his love, and they

led him forth with great ceremony to the garden of Ka Sabuit, where he

beheld, not a beautiful maiden as he had imagined, but a bed of common

mustard cunningly shaped. His shame and humiliation were pitiful to

behold; he tried to fly back to the Blue Realm, but he was no longer

able to take a long flight; so, uttering the most sad and plaintive

cries, he had to resign himself to the life of the jungle for ever.

Every morning, it is said, the peacock can be seen stretching forth

his neck towards the sky and flapping his wings to greet the coming

of Ka Sngi; and the only happiness left to him is to spread his lovely

feathers to catch the beams which she once more sheds upon the earth.