COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in July 2019 with all known ATU Classifications.

Story of the Brâhmaṇ’s Wife and the Mungoose


AT THE end of the third watch of the night, Bodhavyapaka, the Third Minister of king Alakesa, went to see whether the royal bedchamber was properly guarded, and the king, summoning him to his presence, told him of the First Minister's crime, upon which Bodhavyapaka, after making due obeisance, thus spake:--

               "Most noble king, such a grave crime should be severely punished, but it behoves us not to act before having ascertained that he is guilty beyond doubt, for evil are the consequences of precipitation, in proof of which I know a story which I will relate, with your Majesty's leave."


ON THE banks of the Ganges, which also flows by the most holy city of Banaras, there is a town named Mithila, where dwelt a very poor Brâhman called Vidyadhara. He had no children, and to compensate for this want, he and his wife tenderly nourished in their house a mungoose--a species of weasel. It was their all in all--their younger son, their elder daughter--their elder son, their younger daughter, so fondly did they regard that little creature. The god Visvesvara and his spouse Visalakshi observed this, and had pity for the unhappy pair; so by their divine power they blessed them with a son. This most welcome addition to their family did not alienate the affections of the Brâhman and his wife from the mungoose; on the contrary, their attachment increased, for they believed that it was because of their having adopted the pet that a son had been born to them. So the child and the mungoose were brought up together, as twin brothers, in the same cradle.

               It happened one day when the Brâhman had gone out to beg alms of the pious and charitable, that his wife went into the garden to cull some pot-herbs, leaving the child asleep in his cradle, and by his side the mungoose kept guard. An old serpent, which was living in the well in the garden, crept into the house and under the cradle, and was beginning to climb into it to bite the child when the mungoose fiercely attacked it and tore it into several pieces, thus saving the life of the Brâhman's little son, and the venomous snake, that came to slay, itself lay dead beneath the cradle.

               Pleased at having performed such an exploit, the mungoose ran into the garden to show the Brâhman's wife its blood-smeared mouth, but she rashly mistook the deliverer of her child for his destroyer, and with one stroke of the knife in her hand with which she was cutting herbs she killed the faithful creature, and then hastened into the house to see her dead son. But there she found the child in his cradle alive and well, only crying at the absence of his little companion, the mungoose, and under the cradle lay the great serpent cut to pieces. The real state of affairs was now evident, and the Brâhman presently returning home, his wife told him of her rash act and then put an end to her life. The Brâhman, in his turn, disconsolate at the death of the mungoose and his wife, first slew his child and then killed himself.

               "And thus," added the Third Minister, "by one rash act four creatures perished, so true is it that precipitation results in a series of calamities. Do not, then, condemn Bodhaditya before his guilt is clearly proved." Alakesa, having given Bodhachandra the signal to retire, he quitted the presence and went home.

               When the watch of the Fourth Minister, Bodhavibhishana, was terminated, he visited the private apartments of the king (who had been meanwhile pondering over the stories he had heard), and was called into the sleeping chamber by Alakesa, and informed of his colleague's unpardonable offence. The Minister, after due prostration, thus addressed his royal master:--

               "Great king, I can scarcely bring myself to believe that Bodhaditya could ever be guilty of such a crime, and I would respectfully remind your Majesty that it would not be consistent with your world-wide reputation for wisdom and justice were you to pronounce judgment in this case without having inquired into all the circumstances. Evil and injustice result from hasty decisions and actions, of which a striking illustration is furnished in the

[Story of the Faithless Wife and the Ungrateful Blind Man]


The Brahman's Wife and the Mongoose.--We have, in this story, an Indian variety of the well-known Welsh legend of Llewellyn and his dog Gellert. A similar legend was current in France during the Middle Ages. But our story--mutatis mutandis--is as old as the third century B.C., since it is found in a Buddhist work of that period. It also occurs in two Sanskrit forms of the celebrated Fables of Pilpay, or Bidnaia namely the "Pancha Tantra" (five chapters), which is said to date as far back as the 5th century A.D., and the "Hitopadesa" (Friendly Counsels); also in the Arabian and other Eastern versions of the same work. It is found in all the texts of the Book of Sindibad--Greek, Syriac, Persian, Hebrew, Old Castilian, Arabic, &c., and in the several European versions, known generally under the title of "The History of the Seven Wise Masters," the earliest form of which being a Latin prose work entitled "Dolopathos." There are, of course, differences in the details of the numerous versions both Western and Eastern, but the fundamental outline is the same in all. In my work on the migrations of popular tales, I have reproduced all the known versions of this world-wide story, with the exception of that in the present romance, which is singular in representing the woman as killing herself after she had discovered her fatal mistake, and her husband as slaying his little son and himself. The author of the romance probably added these tragedies, in order to enable the supposed narrator to more forcibly impress the king with the grievous consequences of acting in affairs of moment with inconsiderateness and precipitation. In most versions it is the husband who kills the faithful animal. Among the Malays the story of the Snake and the Mongoose is current in this form:--A man left a tame bear in charge of his house, and of his sleeping child, while he was absent from home. On his return he missed his child, the house was in disorder, as if some great struggle had taken place, and the floor was covered with blood. Hastily concluding that the bear had killed and devoured the child, the enraged father slew the animal with his spear, but almost immediately afterwards found the carcase of a tiger, which the faithful bear had defeated and killed, and the child emerged unharmed from the jungle, where it had taken refuge.

               In a black-letter English edition of the "Seven Wise Masters," the knight, having slain his hound and discovered his child safe in its cradle, exclaims (and here the hand of the misogynist monkish writer is very evident!)--"Woe be to me, that, for the words of my wife, I have slain my good and best greyhound, the which had saved my child's life, and hath slain the serpent; therefore I will put myself to penance." And so he brake his sword in three pieces, and travelled in the direction of the Holy Land, and abode there all the days of his life. The preceding story of the Hunter and his Dog, it will be observed, is closely allied to that of the Brahman's Wife and the Mongoose; and in conclusion, where the hunter erects a stately tomb over his dog's remains, it presents a striking resemblance to the Welsh legend of Llewellyn and the dog Gellert, which is probably not merely fortuitous.

               A very curious version is found in a black-letter chapter-book, entitled the "Seven Wise Mistresses," written in imitation of the "Seven Wise Masters," by one Thomas Howard, about the end of the seventeenth century, in which a knight and his lady are wrecked and cast ashore on a desert island, and the knight soon afterwards dies. His wife takes a thorn out of a lion's foot (Androcles in petticoats), and the grateful animal follows her about, and provides her with food, and this is how the story goes on:--

               "At last she began mourning to herself, deploring her condition in living in such obscurity in a foreign Country, and as her daily companion, a savage Beast, her mind yearning after her own habitation, she thus complained: 'Oh, how hath fortune frowned on me that I am driven out from all human knowledge, and am glad to take up my habitation with the Beast of the Field!'

               "As she thus complained to herself, the Devil chanced to appear to her, and demanded the cause of her complaint, and she related all to him as you have heard. Then said he to her: 'What wilt thou give and I will provide a ship which shall carry thee home to thy own country.' She answered: 'Half my Estates.'

               "'Nay,' said the Devil, 'If thou wilt give me thy Soul at the term of twelve years, I will set thee down in thy own country, and thou shalt live and flourish so long.' 'God forbid,' said the Lady. 'I would rather end my wretched life in this solitary island than that.' 'Why then,' said the Devil, 'I will make this bargain with you, that if you abstain from sleeping all the time of our voyage, which shall be but three days, I will have nothing to do with your Soul; if you sleep, I will have it as I have said.'

               "And upon this bargain the lady ventured, provided she might have her Lion with her. So 'twas concluded, and a brave Ship came and took the Lady and her Lion. When she lay down the Lion lay by her, and if she slumbered the Lion would touch her with his paw, by which means he kept her awake all the voyage, until she landed in her own country, and being come to her Father's house, she knocked at the gate. Then the Porter coming with all speed opened the gate and thought that it was a Beggar.

               "Frowningly he shut it again, saying, 'There's nothing here for you.' Then she bounced at the gate again, and asked the Porter if such a Knight lived there, meaning her Father, and he said 'Yes.' 'Then,' said she, 'Pray, deliver this piece of ring unto him.' Now this ring was it she brake betwixt her Father and she at her departure out of the land. Then the Porter delivered the Ring to his Master, saying: 'The Beggar woman at the gate willed me to deliver the piece of ring unto you.'

               "When the Knight saw the ring he fell down in a swound but when he was revived he said, 'Call her in, for she is my only Daughter, whom I thought was dead.' 'Then,' said the Porter, 'I dare not call her in, for there is a mighty Lion with her.' 'Though it be,' said the Knight, 'call her in.' Then said the Porter [to the Lady], 'You are to come in, but leave your Lion outside.' 'No,' said the Lady, 'my Lion goes whereever I go, and where he is not, there will I not be.'

               "And when she came to her Father she fell down on her knees and wept. Her Father took her up in his arms and kissed her, weeping as fast, and after he clothed her in purple, and placed her by him in a chair, and demanded an account of her travels, and she told him all that had happened, and how the Lion had saved her life, and was the greatest comfort she had in the Wilderness. It chanced afterwards that as the Knight was going into his Wood to look after his young Horses, he met with a wild Boar, with whom he fell in combat. The Lion loved the Old Knight, and by accident walking along he scented the Boar, and as the Lion ran toward the place where the Boar was, the Steward espied him, and he ran into the Palace, and cryed out, 'the Lion is running after my Master to destroy him.'

               "Then the Lady sent after him ten of her servants, who met the Lion, his mouth all bloody, and they ran back and told the Lady the Lion had destroyed her aged Father. Then said the Lady, 'O woe is me that ever I was born, that have brought a Lion from far to destroy my own Father.' Therefore she commanded her servants to slay the Lion, which no sooner was done but her Father came in, and said; 'O, I have met with a wild Boar, with whom I fought, and there came the Lion to my aid, and slew the Boar, and so saved my life, else I had died by the Boar.'

               "When the Lady heard this, O how she wept and wrung her hands, saying, 'For the words of a wicked Steward, I have slain my good Lion, who hath saved my life and my Father's. Cursed be the time I was advised by him.'"

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of the Brâhmaṇ’s Wife and the Mungoose
Tale Author/Editor: Kingscote, Georgiana
Book Title: Tales of the Sun; or, Folklore of Southern India
Book Author/Editor: Kingscote, Georgiana & Sastri, Pandit Natesa
Publisher: W. H. Allen & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1890
Country of Origin: India
Classification: unclassified

Back to Top