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

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Light Makes Prosperity

THERE is a Tamil proverb dîpam lakshmîkaram, meaning, "light makes prosperity," and the following story is related to explain it:--

               In the town of Gôvindapâthî there lived a merchant named Pasupati Setti, who had a son and a daughter. The son's name was Vinîta and the daughter's Garvî, and while still playmates they made a mutual vow, that in case they ever had children that could be married to each other, they would certainly see that this was done. Garvî grew up to marry a very rich merchant, and gave birth in due course to three daughters, the last of whom was named Sungunî. Vinîta, too, had three sons. Before, however, this brother and sister could fulfil their vow an event happened which threw a gloom over all their expectations.

               Pasupati Setti died, and his creditors--for he had many--grew troublesome. All his property had to be sold to clear his debts, and in a month or two after his father's death Vinîta was reduced to the condition of a penniless pauper. But being a sensible person he patiently bore up against his calamity, and tried his best to live an honest life on what little was left to him.

               His sister Garvî was, as has been already said, married into a rich family, and when she saw the penniless condition of her brother the engagements she had entered into with him began to trouble her. To give or not to give her daughters in marriage to the sons of her brother! This was the question that occupied her thoughts for several months, till at last she determined within herself never to give poor husbands to her children. Fortunately for her, two young merchants of respectable family offered themselves to her two eldest daughters, she gladly accepted them and had the weddings celebrated. The last daughter, Sugunî, alone remained unmarried.

               Vinîta was sorely troubled in his heart at this disappointment, as he never thought that his sister would thus look down upon his poverty; but, being very sensible, he never interfered and never said a word. The vow of his childhood was, however, known to every one, and some came to sympathise with him; while others spoke in a criticising tone to Garvî for having broken her promise, because her brother had become poor through unforeseen circumstances. Their remarks fell on the ears of Sugunî, who was as yet unmarried, and also was a very learned and sensible girl. She found her uncle Vinîta extremely courteous and respectful, and his sons all persons of virtue and good nature. The thought that her mother should have forgotten all these excellent and rare qualities in the presence of fleeting mammon (asthiraisvarya) vexed her heart very greatly. So, though it is considered most contrary to etiquette for a girl in Hindû society to fix upon a boy as her husband, she approached her mother and thus addressed her:--

               "Mother, I have heard all the story about your vow to your brother to marry us--myself and my sisters--to his sons, our cousins; but I am ashamed to see you have unwarrantably broken it in the case of my sisters. I cannot bear such shame. I cannot marry anyone in the world except one of my three cousins. You must make up your mind to give me your consent."

               Garvî was astonished to hear her youngest daughter talk thus to her.

               "You wish to marry a beggar?" said she. "We will never agree to it, and if you persist we will give you away to your penniless pauper, but we will never see your face again."

               But Sugunî persisted. So her marriage with the youngest son of Vinîta was arranged. He had never spoken a word about it to his sister, but he had waited to make matches for his children till all his sister's daughters had been given away, and when he heard that Sugunî was determined to marry his youngest son, he was very pleased. He soon fixed upon two girls from a poor family for his other sons, and celebrated the three weddings as became his position.

               Sugunî was as noble in her conduct as in her love for her poor cousin. She was never proud or insolent on account of having come from a rich family. Nor did she ever disregard her husband, or his brothers, or father.

               Now Vinîta and his sons used to go out in the mornings to gather dried leaves which his three daughters-in-law stitched into plates (patrâvalî), which the male members of the family sold in the bâzâr for about four panams each. [1] Sometimes these leaf-plates would go for more, sometimes for less; but whatever money the father-in-law brought home his daughters-in-law used for the day's expense. The youngest of them was Sugunî, who spent the money most judiciously, and fed her father-in-law and his sons sumptuously. Whatever remained she partook of with her two poor sisters-in-law, and lived most contentedly. And the family respected Sugunî as a paragon of virtue, and had a very great regard for her. Her parents, as they had threatened, never returned to see how their last, and of course once beloved, child was doing in her husband's home. Thus passed a couple of years.

               One day the king of the town was taking an oil bath, and pulling a ring off his finger, left it in a niche in the open courtyard. A garuda (Brâhmanî kite) was at that moment describing circles in the air, and, mistaking the glittering rubies in the ring for flesh, pounced upon it and flew away. Finding it not to be flesh he dropped it in the house of Sugunî's husband. She happened to be alone working in the courtyard, while her sisters-in-law and the others were in different parts of the house. So she took up the sparkling ring and hid it in her lap.

               Soon afterwards she heard a proclamation made in the street that the king had lost a valuable ring, and that any person who could trace it and give it back to him should obtain a great reward. Sugunî called her husband and his brothers and thus addressed them:--

               "My lord and brothers, I have the king's ring. Exactly at midday a garuda dropped it in our courtyard and here it is. We must all go to the king, and there, before you three, I shall deliver up the ring, explaining how I got it. When his majesty desires me to name my reward I shall do so, and beg of you never to contradict or gainsay my desires, if they appear very humble in your opinion."

               The brothers agreed, and they all started for the palace. They had a very great respect for Sugunî and expected a good result from this visit to the king.

               The palace was reached, and the ring was given back to the king with the explanation. His majesty was charmed at the modesty and truthfulness of Sugunî, and asked her to name her reward.

               "My most gracious sovereign! King of kings! Supreme lord! Only a slight favour thy dog of a servant requests of your majesty. It is this, that on a Friday night all the lights in the town be extinguished, and not a lamp be lit even in the palace. Only the house of thy dog of a servant must be lighted up with such lights as it can afford."

               "Agreed, most modest lady. We grant your request, and we permit you to have the privilege you desire this very next Friday."

               Joyfully she bowed before his majesty, and returned with her husband and the others to her house. She then pledged the last jewel she had by her and procured some money.

               Friday came. She fasted the whole day, and as soon as twilight approached she called both the brothers of her husband, and thus addressed them:--

               "My brothers, I have made arrangements for lighting up our house with one thousand lamps to-night. One of you, without ever closing your eyes for a moment, must watch the front of our house and the other the back. If a woman of a graceful appearance and of feminine majesty wishes you to permit her to enter it, boldly tell her to swear first never to go out again. If she solemnly agrees to this, then permit her to come in. If in the same way any woman wishes to go out, make a similar condition that she must swear never to return at any time in her life."

               What Sugunî said seemed ridiculous to the brothers; but they allowed her to have her way, and waited to see patiently what would take place.

               The whole town was gloomy that night, except Sugunî's house; for, by order of his majesty, no light was lit in any other house. The Ashtalakshmîs--the Eight Prosperities--entered the town that night and went house by house into every street. All of them were dark, and the only house lit up was Sugunî's. They tried to enter it, but the brother at the door stopped them and ordered them to take the oath. This they did, and when he came to understand that these ladies were the Eight Prosperities, he admired the sagacity of his brother's wife.

               A nimisha after the eight ladies had gone in, there came out of the house a hideous female and requested permission to go, but the brother at the back would not permit this unless she swore never to come back again. She solemnly swore, and the next moment he came to know that she was Mûdêvî, or Adversity, the elder sister of Prosperity.

               For she said:--"My sisters have come. I cannot stay here for a minute longer. God bless you and your people. I swear by everything sacred never to come back."

               And so, unable to breathe there any longer, Adversity ran away.

               When the morning dawned, the Prosperities had already taken up a permanent abode with the family. The rice bag became filled. The money chest overflowed with money. The pot contained milk. And thus plenty began to reign in Sugunî's house from that day. The three brothers and her father-in-law were overjoyed at the way Sugunî had driven away their poverty for ever, and even Sugunî's parents did not feel it a disgrace to come and beg their daughter's pardon. She nobly granted it and lived with all the members of her family in prosperity for a long life.

               It is a notion, therefore, among orthodox Hindûs, that light in the house brings prosperity, and darkness adversity. [2]



[1]: A paṇam is generally worth two ânâs.

[2]: See also the second tale in this series [Why Brâhmaṇs cannot eat in the Dark].

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Light Makes Prosperity
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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