The Grasping Raja

: Part I.
: 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.