Tales of the Sun; or, Folklore of Southern India | Annotated Tale

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Eating Up the Protector

Eating Up the Protector [1]

IN THE country of Uttara there lived a Brâhmin named Kusalanatha, who had a wife and six sons. All lived in a state of prosperity for some time, but the entrance of Saturn into the Brâhmin's horoscope turned everything upside down. The once prosperous Brâhmin became poor, and was reduced to go to the neighbouring woods to gather bamboo rice with which to feed his hungry family. [2]

               One day while plucking the bamboo ears, he saw a bush close by in flames, in the midst of which was a serpent struggling for its life. The Brâhmin at once ran to its rescue, and stretching towards it a long green stick the reptile crept on to it and escaped from the flames, and then spread its hood and with a hissing sound approached to sting its rescuer. The Brâhmin began to weep and bewail his folly in having saved the ungrateful creature, at which the serpent asked him:--

               "O Brâhmin, why do you weep?"

               Said the old man: "You now purpose to kill me; is this the reward for my having saved your life?"

               "True, you have rescued me from a terrible death, but how am I to appease my hunger?" replied the serpent.

               And quoth the Brâhmin, "You speak of your hunger, but who is to feed my old wife and six hungry children at my house?"

               The serpent, seeing the anxiety of the Brâhmin, emitted a precious gem from its hood, and bade him take it home and give it to his wife for household expenses, after which to return to the wood to be devoured. The old man agreed, and, solemnly promising to return without fail, went home. Having given the gem to his family, and told them of his pact with the serpent, the Brâhmin went back to the wood. The serpent had meanwhile reflected upon its own base ingratitude.

               "Is it right," said it to itself, "to kill him who saved me from the flames? No! I shall rather perish of hunger, if I cannot find a prey to-day, than slay my protector."

               So when the old Brâhmin appeared, true to his word, the serpent presented him with another valuable gem, and after expressing a wish that he should live long and happily with his wife and children, went its own way, while the Brâhmin returned joyously to his home.

               "Even as the serpent purposed acting towards its benefactor," continued the king, "so did I, in my rage, intend putting to death my faithful minister and the protector of my life, Bodhaditya; and to free myself from this grievous sin there is no penance I should not undergo."

               Then king Alakesa ordered a thousand Brâhmins to be fed every day during his life, and many rich gifts to be distributed in temples as atonement for his great error. And from that day Bodhaditya and his three colleagues enjoyed still more of the royal favour. With those four faithful ministers king Alakesa lived a most happy life and had a most prosperous reign.

               May there be prosperity to all!


"Eating up the Protector." Akin to this, but with a very different conclusion, is the well-known story of the traveller who released a tiger from a trap into which he had fallen. The Brahman's fidelity to his pact with the serpent reminds one of the Arabian story of the Merchant and the Genie. In a Tamil tale, a cow having given herself up to a tiger to redeem her owner (it is to be understood, of course, that both animals are human beings re-born in those forms) she obtains leave to go and suckle her calf, after which she returns when the tiger, moved by her fidelity, lets her go free.

               The serpent's emitting gems recalls Shakespeare's allusion to the popular notion of the "toad, ugly and venomous, which bears a precious jewel in its head." It is a very ancient and widespread belief that serpents are the guardians of hidden treasures. Preller, in his work on Grecian mythology, refers to a Servian story in which a shepherd, as in our tale, saves the life of a snake in a forest fire, and, in return for this service, the snake's father gives him endless treasures and teaches him the language of birds. There is a very similar story in Dozon's "Contes Albanais."

               In the charming tale of "Nala and Damayanti," which occurs in the third part ("Vana Parva") of the grand Indian epic "Mahabharata," the exiled king perceives a snake with a ray of jewels in its crest, writhing in a jungle fire, and lifting it out, carries it some distance, and is about to set it down, when the snake says to him, "Carry me ten steps farther, and count them aloud as you go." So Nala proceeds, counting the steps--one, two, three--and when he said "ten" (dasa, which means "ten" and also "bite") the snake took him at his word, and bit the king in the forehead, upon which he became black and deformed.

               An abstract of a considerably modified form of our romance orally current among the people of Bengal may be given in conclusion: A king appoints his three sons to patrol in turn the streets of his capital during the night. It happens that the youngest Prince in going his rounds one night sees a beautiful woman issuing from the royal palace, and accosting her, asks her business at such an hour. She replies:--

               "I am the guardian deity of this palace; the king will be killed this night, therefore I am going away."

               The Prince persuades the goddess to return into the palace and await the event. As in our story, he enters his father's sleeping chamber and discovers a huge cobra near the royal couch. He cuts the serpent into many pieces, which he puts inside a brass vessel that is in the room. Then seeing that some drops of the serpent's blood had fallen on his step-mother's breast, he wraps a piece of cloth round his tongue to protect it from the poison, and licks off the blood. The lady awakes, and recognises him as he is leaving the room. She accuses him to the king of having used an unpardonable freedom with her. In the morning the king sends for his eldest son, and asks him: "If a trusted servant should prove faithless how should he be punished?"

               Quoth the Prince: "Surely his head should be parted from his body; but before doing so you should ascertain whether the man is actually guilty."

               And then he proceeds to relate the following story:--"Once upon a time there was a goldsmith who had a grown-up son, whose wife was acquainted with the language of animals, but she kept secret from her husband and all others the fact of her being endowed with such a rare gift. It happened one night she heard a jackal exclaim: 'There is a dead body floating on the river; would that some one might give me that body to eat, and for his pains take the diamond ring from the finger of the dead man.'

               "The woman arose from her bed and went to the bank of the river, and her husband, who was not asleep, followed her unobserved. She went into the water, drew the corpse to land, and unable to loosen the ring from the dead man's finger, which had swelled, she bit off the finger, and leaving the corpse on the bank, returned home, whither she had been preceded by her husband. Almost petrified with fear, the young goldsmith concluded from what he had seen that his wife was not a human being, but a ghoul (rakshasi), and early in the morning he hastened to his father and related the whole affair to him--how the woman had got up during the night and gone to the river, out of which she dragged a dead body to the land, and was busy devouring it when he ran home in horror.

               "The old man was greatly shocked, and advised his son to take his wife on some pretext into the forest and leave her there to be destroyed by wild beasts. So the husband caused the woman to get herself ready to go on a visit to her father, and after a hasty breakfast they set out. In going through a dense jungle, where the goldsmith proposed abandoning his wife, she heard a serpent cry, 'O, passenger, I pray thee to seize and give me that croaking frog, and take for thy reward the gold and precious stones concealed in yonder hole.' The woman at once seized the frog and threw it towards the serpent, and then began digging into the ground with a stick. Her husband quaked with fear, thinking that his ghoul-wife was about to kill him, but she called to him, saying, 'My dear husband, gather up all this gold and precious gems.'

               "Approaching the spot with hesitation he was surprised to perceive an immense treasure laid bare by his wife, who then explained to him how she had learned of it from the snake that lay coiled up near them, whose language she understood. Then he said to his wife--'It is now so late that we cannot reach your father's house before dark, and we might be slain by wild beasts. Let us therefore return home.' So they retraced their steps, and approaching the house the goldsmith said to his wife--'Do, you, my dear, go in by the back door, while I enter by the front and show my father all this treasure.'

               The woman went in by the back door and was met by her father-in-law, who, on seeing her, concluded that she had killed and devoured his son, and striking her on the head with a hammer which he happened to have in his hand, she instantly expired. Just then the son came into the room, but it was too late."

               "I have told your Majesty this story," adds the eldest Prince, "in order that before putting the man to death you should make sure that he is guilty."

               The king next calls his second son and asks him the same question, to which he replies by relating a story to caution his father against rash actions.

               "A king, separated from his attendants while engaged in the chase, saw what he conceived to be rain-water dropping from the top of a tree, and, being very thirst, held his drinking cup under it until it was nearly filled, and, just as he was about to put it to his lips, his horse purposely moved so as to cause the contents to be spilled on the ground, upon which the king in a rage drew his sword and killed the faithful animal; but afterwards discovering that what he had taken for rain-water was poison that dropped from a cobra in the tree, his grief knew no bounds."

               Calling lastly his third son, the king asks him what should be done to the man who proved false to his trust. The Prince tells the story of the wonderful tree, the fruit of which bestowed on him who ate of it perennial youth, with unimportant variations from the version in our romance.

               Then the Prince explained the occasion of his presence in the Royal bedchamber, and how he had saved the king and his consort from the cobra's deadly bite. And the king, overjoyed and full of gratitude, strained his faithful son to his heart, and ever after cherished and loved him with all a father's love.


[1]: Corresponding to the English proverb: “Quarrelling with one’s bread and butter.”

[2]: Full grown and ripe bamboo bears a kind of corn which when collected and shelled resembles wheat. Hunters cook a most excellent food of bamboo grain and honey.—T.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Eating Up the Protector
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

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