The Messengers Of Death

: Part I.
: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

There was once a Brahman who had four sons born to him, but they

all died young; a fifth son however was born to him, who grew up

to boyhood. But it was fated that he too should die before reaching

manhood. One day while his father was away from home, the messengers of

death came to take him away. The Brahman's wife thought that they were

three friends or relations of her husband, who had come to pay a visit,

and gave
hem a hearty welcome. And when she asked who they were,

they also told her that they were connections of her husband. Then

she asked them to have some dinner and they said that they would eat,

provided that she used no salt in the cooking. She promised not to

do, but what she did was to scatter some salt over the bottom of the

dish. Then she cooked the rice and turned it into the dish and gave

it to them to eat. They ate but when they came to the bottom of the

dish they tasted the salt which had been underneath. Then the three

messengers said "She has got the better of us; we have eaten her salt

and can no longer deceive her; we must tell her why we have come."

So they told her that her son was to die that night and that Chando

had sent them to take away his spirit: all they could do was to

let her come too, and see the place to which her son's spirit was

going. The mother thought that this would be a consolation to her,

so she went with them. When they arrived in the spirit world they

told the Brahman's wife to wait for them by a certain house in which

dwelt her son's wife; and they took the boy to Chando. Presently they

brought him back to the house in which his wife dwelt and near which

his mother was waiting and she overheard the following conversation

between the boy and his wife. The wife said "Have you come for good

this time, or must you again go back to the world?"

"I have to go back once more."

"And how will you manage to return again here?"

"I shall ask for the dust of April and May and if it is not given

to me I shall cry myself to death; and if that fails, I shall cry

for a toy winnowing fan; and if they give me that, then I will cry

for an elephant and if that fails then on my wedding day there will

be two thorns in the rice they give me to eat and they will stick

in my throat and kill me. And if that does not come to pass, then,

when I return home after the wedding, a leopard will kill a cow and

I shall run out to chase the leopard and I shall run after it, till

I run hither to you."

"When you come back," said his wife, "bring me some of the vermilion

they use in the world" and the boy promised.

The messengers then took the Brahman's wife home, and shortly

afterwards the boy was born again. His mother had carefully guarded

the memory of all that she had heard in the other world; and when

the child asked for the dust and the winnowing fan and the elephant,

she at once gratified his desires. So the boy grew up, and his wedding

day arrived. His mother insisted on accompanying him to the bride's

house, and when the rice was brought for the bride and bridegroom

to eat together, she asked to be allowed to look at it first, and on

examining it pulled out the the two thorns; and then her son ate it

unharmed. But when the wedding party returned home and the ceremony

of introducing the bride to the house was being performed, word

was brought that a leopard had killed one of the cows; at once the

bridegroom ran out in pursuit; but his mother followed him and called

out, "My son, your wife told you to take her some of the vermilion of

this world; here is some that I have brought, take it with you." At

this her son stopped and asked her to explain what she meant; then

she told him all and he went no more in pursuit of the leopard:

so he stayed and grew up and lived to a good old age.