The Widow's Son

: Part I.
: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

Once upon a time there was a poor woman whose husband died suddenly

from snake bite, leaving her with one little girl. At the time she

was expecting another child and every day she lamented the loss of

her husband and prayed to Chando that the child she should bear might

be a son: but fresh troubles came upon her, for when her husband's

brothers saw that she was with child they declared that she had been

unfaithful to
er husband and had murdered him to conceal her shame:

and although they had no proof of this, they seized on all their dead

brother's property and land and left the widow nothing but the bare

house to live in.

But Chando had pity on her and when her time was full a boy was born

to her. She gave thanks to Chando and devoted herself to bringing up

the child. The boy grew up and learned to walk and talk and one day he

asked his mother where his father was. She told him that a snake had

bitten his father before he was born. Thereupon the boy embraced her

and told her not to cry as he would support her and take the place

of his father. The mother was filled with wonder and gratitude at

the boy's intelligence.

In answer to her daily prayers she met with kindness at all hands:

when she went out working her employers gave her extra wages: when

she went gleaning something extra was left for her, and if she had

to beg no one refused to give her alms, so in time she was able to

get together some household requisites and start keeping fowls and

pigs. By selling these she saved enough money to buy goats and sheep:

and in course of time was able to think of buying a cow.

By that time her son--whom she called Bhagraihad grown up to be a boy

and took an interest in all that went on: so he asked his mother how

he could tell when to buy a heifer. She said that if when the seller

was showing a cow to an intending purchaser the animal dropped dung,

it should be bought without hesitation, as such a cow was sure to take

kindly to its new home and to have plenty of calves: another equally

good sign was if the cow had nine teeth. Thereupon Bhagrai declared

that he would set out to buy a cow and be guided in his choice by

these signs and not come back till he found one. His mother thought

that he was too young to undertake such a business but at last yielded

to his entreaties. Then he tried to get some one in the village to go

with him on his expedition but no one of his own friends or relations

would go, so he had to arrange with a man of the blacksmith caste to

keep him company.

Early one morning they set out, enquiring as they went along whether

any one had a cow for sale. For a long time they were unsuccessful

but after passing right through the territories of one Raja, they at

length came to a village where they heard of a heifer for sale. As

they were examining it it dropped dung, and on inspection its mouth

showed nine teeth. Bhagrai at once declared that he must buy it

and would not listen to the blacksmith who tried to dissuade him

because, although the animal was full grown, it had had no calf and

was probably barren. Bhagrai however preferred to be guided by the

signs of which his mother had told him, and after a certain amount

of haggling bought the animal for five rupees. The money was paid

and he and the blacksmith set off homewards with the cow.

Night overtook them and they turned into a village and asked to be

allowed to sleep in the verandah of one of the houses: and permission

being given they tied the cow to a post and went to sleep. In the

middle of the night the owner of the house came and took away their

cow and tied an old and worthless one of his own in its place. On

waking in the morning Bhagrai and the blacksmith saw at once what

had happened and charged the owner of the house with the theft. He

vehemently denied all knowledge of the matter and after they had

quarrelled for a long time went to call the villagers to arbitrate

between them. But he took care to promise the headman and leading

villagers a bribe of five rupees if they decided the case in his

favour: so the result was a foregone conclusion and the arbitrators

told Bhagrai to take away the old worthless cow.

He however refused to accept the decision and said that he would go and

find two people to represent him on the panchayat. The villagers raised

no objection for they knew that he was a stranger, and thought that

they could easily convince any persons he might pick up. Bhagrai set

off towards a village he saw in the distance but lost his way in the

jungle, and as he was wandering about he came on two jackals. On seeing

him they started to run but he called to them to stop and telling

them all that had happened asked them to come to the panchayat. The

jackals answered that it was clear that the villagers had been bribed,

but they would come and do what was possible. They told him to bring

the villagers with both the cows to a big banyan tree outside the

village. All the villagers went out to meet the jackals and Bhagrai

stood up in the midst and began to explain his grievance.

Meanwhile the jackals sat quite still, seeming to take no interest

in what was going on. "A fine pair these are to have on a panchayat"

said the villagers to each other, "they are nearly asleep: they have

been up all night catching crabs and grasshoppers and now are too tired

to keep awake." "No," said one jackal, "we are not as sleepy as you

think: we are quite willing to take a part in deciding this dispute:

but the fact is that I and my wife have a quarrel and we want you

first to decide that for us and then we will take up the question of

the cow; if you villagers can settle our difference satisfactorily

we shall be able to conclude that you have given a fair judgement on

the complaint of this orphan boy."

The villagers told him to continue and he explained "I and my wife

always go about together: we eat at the same time and drink at the

same time and yet she drops dung twice a day while I do so only once:

what is the reason of this?" The villagers could think of no answer and

the jackal bade them ask his wife: so they laughed and asked whether

it was true that she dropped dung twice to the he-jackal's once. But

the jackal reproved them for their levity, wise men of old had said

that it was wrong to jest when men of weight met to decide a dispute;

so they became serious and the she-jackal answered "It is true that

I drop dung twice to his once: there is an order laid on me to do so:

I drop dung once at the same time that he does: that excrement falls

to the ground and stays there: but the second time the excrement falls

into the mouths of the ancestors of those men who take bribes and

do injustice to the widow and orphan and when such bribetakers reach

the next world they will also have to eat it. If however they confess

their sin and ask pardon of me they will be let off the punishment:

this is the reason why I have been ordered to drop dung twice." "Now

you have heard what she has to say" put in the he-jackal "what to you

think of the explanation? I hope that there are no such bribetakers

among you: if there are they had better confess at once."

Then all the villagers who had agreed to take a share of the bribe

and had helped to rob the boy of his cow confessed what they had done

and declared that the boy should have his cow again, and they fined

the thief five rupees. So Bhagrai and the blacksmith went gladly on

their way and the blacksmith soon told all his neighbours of the two

wonderful jackals who talked like men and had compelled the villagers

to restore the stolen cow. "Ah" said the boy's mother "they were not

jackals, they were Chando," When Bhagrai's uncles heard all this and

saw how he and his mother had prospered in spite of the loss of all

their property, they became frightened and gave back the land and

cattle which they had taken, without waiting for them to be claimed.