The Children And The Vultures

: Part I.
: 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 t
ey 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.