The Women's Sacrifice

: Part I.
: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

This is a story of the old days when the Santals both men and women

were very stupid. Once upon a time the men of a certain village had

fixed a day for sacrificing a bullock; but the very day before the

sacrifice was to take place, the Raja's sipahis came to the village

and carried off all the men to do five days forced labour at the Raja's

capital. The women thus left alone suffered the greatest anxiety;

they thought
t quite possible that their husbands and fathers would

never be allowed to return or even be put to death; so they met in

conclave and decided that the best thing they could do would be to

carry out the sacrifice which the men had intended to make and which

had been interrupted so unexpectedly.

So they made haste to wash their clothes and bathe, and by way

of purification they fasted that evening and slept on the bare

ground. Then at dawn they made ready everything wanted for the

sacrifice and went to the jungle with the bullock that was to be

the victim. There at the foot of a sal tree they scraped a piece

of ground bare and smeared it with cow dung; then they put little

heaps of rice at the four corners of a square and marked the place

with vermilion; then they sprinkled water over the bullock and led

it up to the square.

But here their difficulties began for none of them knew what

incantations the men said on such an occasion; they wasted a lot of

time each urging the other to begin, at last the wife of the headman

plucked up courage and started an invocation like this: "We sacrifice

this bullock to you; grant that our husbands may return; let not the

Raja sacrifice them but grant them a speedy return." Having got as

far as this she wanted the other women to take a turn, but they said

that her invocation was capital and quite sufficient; and they had

better get on to the sacrifice at once. Easier said than done; they

none of them knew how to do it; as they all hung back the headman's

wife scolded them roundly and bade them take the axe and kill the

beast; then they all asked where they were to strike the animal:

"Where its life resides," said the headman's wife. "Where is that,"

asked the women. "Watch and see what part of it moves," answered she,

"and strike there." So they looked and presently the bullock moved

its tail: "That's where its life is," shouted they; so three or

four of them caught hold of the rope round the animal's neck and

one woman seized the axe and struck two blows at the root of the

animal's tail. She did it no harm but the pain of the blow made

the bullock pass water. "See the blood flowing," cried the women,

and eagerly caught the stream in a vessel; then the sacrificer dealt

another blow which made the bullock jump and struggle until it broke

loose and galloped off. The women followed in pursuit and chased it

through a field of cotton; the bullock knocked off many of the ripe

cotton pods and these the women thought were lumps of fat fallen from

the wounded bullock, so they took them home and ate them; such fools

were the women in those days.