Santal Folk Tales by of the Santal Mission | Annotated Tale

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Story of Bitaram, The

IN A certain village there lived seven brothers. The youngest of them planted a certain vegetable, and went every day to examine it to see how it was growing. For a long time there were only the stalk and leaves, but at length a flower appeared, and from it a fruit. This fruit he measured daily to mark its growth. It grew continuously until it became exactly a span long, after which it remained stationary. One day he said to his sisters-in-law, "Do not eat my fruit, for whoever does so will give birth to a child only one span long." He continued his daily visits to his plant as usual, and was pleased to note that the fruit was evidently ripening. One day, during his absence, one of his sisters-in-law plucked the fruit and ate it. On returning from the field where he had been ploughing, he went to look at and measure his fruit, but it was gone, it had been stolen. Suspecting that some one of his sisters-in-law was the thief, he accused each of them in turn, but they all denied having touched it. When he found that no one would confess to having taken it, he said to them, "Do not tell upon yourselves, the thief will be caught before long." And so it happened, for one of them gave birth to a baby one span long. The first time he saw his sister-in-law after the child was born he laughed, and said to her, "You denied having stolen my fruit, now you see I have found you out."

               When the time came that the child should receive a name, Bitaram [1] was given to him, because he was only a span in height. Bitaram's mother used to take food to the brothers to the field when they were ploughing, and when Bitaram was able to walk so far he accompanied her. One day he surprised his mother by saying, "Let me take the food to my father and uncles to-day." She replied, "What a fancy! You, child, are only a span high, how can you carry it?" But Bitaram insisted saying, "I can carry it well enough, and carry it I will." His mother being unable to resist his pertinacity said, "Then, child, take it, and be off." So she placed the basket on his head and he set out. Arrived at the field he went up a furrow, but the ground was so uneven that before he reached his destination, he had lost nearly all the rice, which had been shaken out of the basket. On his coming near, one of his uncles called out, "Is that you Bitaram?" He replied, "Yes, it is I, Bitaram." Climbing up out of the furrow, he put down the basket saying, "Help yourselves, and I will take the oxen and buffaloes to the water." So saying, he drove off the cattle to the river. When they had quenched their thirst he gathered them together, and began to drive them back again to where he had left his father and uncles. While following them up the sandy back of the river, he fell into a depression made by the hoof of a buffalo, and was soon covered up by the loose sand sent rolling down by the herd as they ascended.

               When the cattle returned without Bitaram, his father and uncles became alarmed for his safety, and immediately went in search of him. They went here and there calling out "Bitaram, where are you?" But failing to find him they concluded that he had been devoured by some wild animal, and returned sorrowfully home. Rain fell during the night, and washed the sand from off Bitaram, so that he was able to get up, and climb out. On his way home he encountered some thieves who were dividing their booty in a lonely part of the forest. Bitaram hearing them disputing called out "Kehe kere" at the pitch of his voice. The thieves hearing the sound, looked round on all sides to see who was near, but the night being dark, and they not directing their eyes near enough to the ground to see Bitaram, they could discern no one. Then they said to each other, "Let us seek safety in flight. A spirit has been sent to watch us." So they all made off leaving behind them the brass vessels they had stolen. Bitaram gathered these up, and hid them among some prickly bushes, and then went home.

               It was now past midnight, and all had retired to rest, and as Bitaram stood shivering with cold at the closed door, he called out, "Open the door and let me in." His father hearing him said, "Is that you Bitaram?" He replied, "Yes, open the door." They then enquired where he had been, and he related all that had happened to him after he had driven the cattle to the river. Having warmed himself at the fire, he told his father of his adventure with the thieves in the forest. He said, "I despoiled some thieves, whom I met in the jungle, of the brass vessels they had stolen." His father replied, "Foolish child, do not tell lies, you yourself are not the height of a brass lota" (drinking-cup). "No father," said Bitaram, "I am telling the truth, come and I will shew you where they are." His father and uncles went with him, and he pointed out to them the vessels hidden among the prickly bushes. They picked them all up and brought them home.

               Early next morning some sepoys, who were searching for the thieves, happened to pass that way, and seeing the stolen property lying out side of the house, recognized it, and apprehended Bitaram's father and uncles and dragged them off to prison. After this Bitaram and his mother were obliged to beg their bread from house to house. She often attributed to him the misery which had befallen them, saying, "Had it not been for your pertinacity, your father and uncles would not have been deprived of their liberty."

               One day, as they were following their usual avocation, they entered a certain house, and Bitaram said to his mother, "Ask the people of the house to give me a tumki. [2]" She did not at first comply, but he kept urging her until being irritated she said, "It was through your pertinacity in insisting upon being allowed to carry the food to your father and uncles that they are now bound and in prison, and yet you will not give up the bad habit." Bitaram said, "No, mother, do ask it for me." As he would not be silenced she begged it for him, and the people kindly gave it.

               At the next house they came to, they saw a cat walking about, and Bitaram said, "Oh mother, ask the people to give me the cat." As before, she at first refused, but he continued to press her, and she becoming annoyed scolded him saying, "The young gentleman insists on obtaining this and that. It was your pertinacity that caused your father and uncles to be dragged to prison in bonds." Bitaram replied, "Not so, mother, do ask them to give me the cat." As the only way to silence him she said to the people of the house, "Give my boy your cat, he will hold it in his arms for a few minutes, and then set it down, but he carried it away with him." Bitaram then begged his mother to make him a bag, and fill it with flour, saying, "I am going to obtain the release of my father and uncles." She mockingly replied, "Much you can do." She made him a bag, however, and filling it with flour said, "Be off."

               Bitaram then strapped the bag of flour on the cat's back as a saddle, and mounted. Puss, however, refused to go in the direction desired, and it was with great difficulty that he prevailed upon her to take the road. As he rode along he observed a swarm of bees on an ant hill, and dismounting he addressed them as follows, "Come bees, go in, come bees, go in." The bees swarmed into the tumki, and Bitaram having covered them up with a leaf continued his journey. Before he had gone far he came to a large tank, which belonged to the raja who had imprisoned his father. A number of women had come to the tank for water, and Bitaram taking his stand upon the embankment began to shoot arrows at their waterpots. After he had broken several, the women espied him mounted on his cat with his bow and arrows in his hand, and believing him to be an elf from the forest fled in terror to the city. Going to the raja they said "Oh raja, come and see. Some one is on the tank embankment. We do not know who or what he is, but he is only a span high." The raja then summoned his soldiers, and commanded them to take their bows and arrows, and go and shoot him whoever he was. The soldiers went within range, but although they shot away all their arrows, they failed to hit him. So returning to the raja they said, "He cannot be shot." Hearing this the raja became angry, and calling for his bow and arrows, went to the tank and began to shoot at Bitaram, but although he persevered until his right side ached with drawing the bow, he could not hit him.

               When he desisted, Bitaram called out "Are you exhausted?" The raja answered "Yes." Then said Bitaram "It is my turn now," and taking the leaf from off the mouth of the basket called to the bees, "Go into the battle, bees." The bees issued from the basket like a black rope, and stung the raja and those who were with him. No way of escape offering, the raja called out to Bitaram, "Call off your bees, and I will give you the half of my kingdom and my daughter, and I will also set at liberty your father and uncles." Bitaram gathered the bees into the basket, and after his father and uncles had been released, took them back to the ant hill from whence he had brought them. On his return he wedded the princess and received half of her father's kingdom.

               Bitaram and his wife lived happily together, and every thing they took in hand prospered, so that before long they were richer than the king himself. One great source of Bitaram's wealth was a cow which the princess had brought him as part of her dowry. Being envious of their good fortune, the raja and his sons resolved to kill the cow, and thus obtain possession of all the gold and silver. So they put the cow to death, but when they had cut her up they were disappointed as neither gold nor silver were found in her stomach.

               Bitaram placed his cow's hide in the sun, and when it was dry carried it away to sell it. Darkness coming on he climbed into a tree for safety, as wild beasts infested the forest through which he was passing. During the night some thieves came under the tree in which he was, and began to divide the money they had stolen. Bitaram then relaxed his hold of the dry hide, which made such a noise as it fell from branch to branch that the thieves fled terror-stricken, and left all their booty behind them. In the morning Bitaram descended, and collecting all the rupees carried them home. He then shewed the money to his wife, and said "Go and ask the loan of your father's paila, that I may measure them." So she went and brought the measure, which had several cracks in it. Having measured his money he sent back the raja's paila, but he had not noticed that one or two pieces were left sticking in the cracks. So they said to him, "Where did you get the money?" He replied "By the sale of my cow's hide." Hearing this they said, "Will the merchant who bought yours, buy any more?" He said, "Yes. I received all this money for my one hide, how much more may not you receive seeing you have such large herds of cattle! If you dispose of their hides at the same rate as I have done, you will secure immense wealth." So they killed all their cattle, but when they offered the hides for sale they found they had been hoaxed. They were ashamed and angry at having allowed themselves to be thus imposed upon by Bitaram, and in revenge they set fire to his house at night, but he crept into a rat's hole and so escaped injury. In the morning he emerged from his hiding place, and carefully gathering up the ashes of his house tied them up in a cloth, and carried them away. As he walked along he met a merchant, to whom he said, "What have you in your bag?" He replied "Gold-pieces only." The merchant then enquired of Bitaram what he had tied up in his cloth, to which he answered, "Gold-dust only." Bitaram then said, "Will you exchange?" The merchant said, "Yes." So they exchanged, and Bitaram returned laden with gold. Not being able to count it, he again sent his wife to borrow her father's paila, and having measured the gold-pieces returned it to him. This time a few pieces of gold remained in the cracks in the paila, and the raja, being informed of it, went and asked Bitaram where he got the gold. He replied, "I sold the ashes of my house which you burnt over my head, and received the gold in return." The raja and his sons then enquired if the merchant, who bought the ashes from him, would buy any more. Bitaram replied, "Yes, he will buy all he can get." "Do you think," said they, "he will buy from us?" Bitaram advised them to burn their houses, and like him, turn the ashes into gold. "I had only one small house," he said, "and I obtained all this money. You have larger houses, and should therefore receive a correspondingly large amount." So they set fire to, and burnt their houses, and gathering up the ashes took them to the bazar, and there offered them for sale. After they had gone the whole length of the bazar, and had met with no buyers, some one advised them to go to where the washermen lived, saying, they might possibly take them. The washermen, however, refused, and as they could not find a purchaser, they threw away the ashes, and returned home determined to be revenged upon Bitaram.

               This time they decided upon drowning him, so one day they seized him, and putting him into a bag they carried him to the river. Arrived there they put him down, and went to some little distance to cook their food. In the meantime a herd boy came up and asked Bitaram why he was tied up in the bag. He replied, "They are taking me away to marry me against my will." The herd boy said, "I will go instead of you. I wish to be married." Bitaram replied, "Open the bag and let me out, and you get in, and I will tie it up again." So Bitaram was released, and the herd boy took his place, and was afterwards thrown into the river and drowned.

               Bitaram on escaping collected all the herd boy's cattle, and drove them home. When the raja and his sons returned, they found Bitaram with a large herd of cows and buffaloes. Going near, they enquired where he had got them. He replied, "At some distance below the spot where you threw me into the river, I found numerous herds of cattle, so I brought away as many as one person could drive. If you all go, you will be able to bring a very much larger number." So they said, "Very well, put us into bags, and tie us up as we did you." Bitaram replied, "It is impossible for me to carry you as you did me. Walk to the river bank, and there get into the bags, and I will push you into the river." They did as he suggested, and when all was in readiness, he pushed them into the river, and they were all drowned.

               Bitaram returned alone, and took possession of all that had belonged to them. The whole kingdom became his, and he reigned peacefully as long as he lived.



[1] Bita is Santali for span, and Bitaram is span Ram, or span-long Ram.

[2] A small basket with a contracted opening.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Bitaram, The
Tale Author/Editor: Campbell, A.
Book Title: Santal Folk Tales by of the Santal Mission
Book Author/Editor: Campbell, A.
Publisher: Santal Mission Press
Publication City: Pokhuria
Year of Publication: 1891
Country of Origin: India
Classification: unclassified

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