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IX

NAGOBA, THE SNAKE-KING

ONCE upon a time there was a town called Atpat. In it there lived a Brahman who had seven little daughters-in-law. In the fulness of time the month of Shravan came and with it Nagpanchmi Day. [1] In honour of the festival, one little daughter-in-law went to her grand-papa's house, another went to her great grand-papa's house, another went to her father's house, until at last only the youngest daughter-in-law remained behind. Her father and mother were dead, and she had no uncles and no aunts and no little brothers or sisters. So the poor little daughter-in-law felt very sad and sat down and cried in a corner. Then she remembered that it was Nagpanchmi Day, and that it was a festival in honour of Nagoba, the great snake-king. So she prayed under her breath, "Please, please, snake-king, come and pretend that you have been sent to fetch me to my father's house!" And the great snake-king heard the prayer and felt quite sorry for the poor little daughter-in-law who was crying in the corner. He assumed the guise of a Brahman and came to the house where the little daughter-in-law was, and said that he had been sent to fetch her to her father's house. Her father-in-law was very much astonished. For he wondered why, if the new-comer really was a relative of the little daughter-in-law, he had never paid him a visit before. At last he asked the little daughter-in-law who the new-comer was. She did not know in the least. But she was so overjoyed that some one should have come for her that she at once answered, "He is my mother's brother." Her father-in-law believed her and sent her off in the care of Nagoba, the snake-king. Still disguised as a Brahman, he took her to the entrance of his underground palace and there he told her who he was. He then reassumed his true appearance, and, expanding the mighty hood behind his head, he seated the little girl on it and took her down to his splendid dwelling-house beneath the earth. In the central hall he presented her to the snake-queen and to all the snake-princes, and told them that in no circumstances whatever were they to bite the little daughter-in-law.

One day the snake-queen was about to be confined. So she asked the little daughter-in-law to sit by her side with the lamp in her hand. The little daughter-in-law did so, and a little time afterwards the snake-queen gave birth to a fresh litter of little snake-princes. When the little daughter-in-law saw them all wriggling about, she was frightened out of her wits. She let the lamp slip out of her hands. It fell on the ground and burnt all the little snakes' tails off. The snake-queen did her best to comfort them, but the stumps of the little princes' tails ached so dreadfully that it was ever so long before the snake-queen could put them off to sleep. When the snake-king came home that evening, she told him what had happened. And she was so cross with the little daughter-in-law, that the snake-king had to promise that she should go back to her father-in-law's house. A few days later, the snake-king assumed once again the guise of a Brahman, and, loading the little daughter-in-law with presents, took her back to her husband's home. In the course of time the little snake-princes grew up, but their tails never grew again. So their father, the snake-king, called one little prince, No-tail; and the second little prince, Cut-tail; and the third little prince, Dock-tail. And one day they asked the snake-queen how it was that their tails had been broken off. She told them how the little daughter-in-law had burnt them off by dropping the lamp on them.

The snake-princes, when they heard their mother's answer, were terribly cross with the little daughter-in-law, and they vowed that they would be revenged on her. So they found out where she lived, and they sent a message to her house, saying that they were coming to pay her a visit. But they really meant to bite her to death directly they saw her. The little daughter-in-law was overjoyed when she heard that the snake-princes were coming to visit her. For ever since the snake-king had pretended to be her uncle, she always thought of little No-tail and little Cut-tail and little Dock-tail as if they had been her own cousins. Now it so happened that the very day on which they were expected at the little daughter-in-law's house was Nagpanchmi Day. The little daughter-in-law was sitting in the house all alone waiting for little Prince No-tail, little Prince Cut-tail, and little Prince Dock-tail. They were late in coming, so to pass the time she drew pictures of Nagoba, the snake-king, on her dining-platform and on the wall. When she had finished the pictures, she worshipped them and offered them milk and food. Then she prayed to the great snake-king, "Please please, King Nagoba, guard from all hurt, wherever they may be, my little cousins No-tail and Cut-tail and Dock-tail." And last of all she prostrated herself at full length before the pictures which she had drawn on the wall and on her dining-platform.

In the meantime little Prince No-tail and little Prince Cut-tail and little Prince Dock-tail had come up without the little daughter-in-law noticing them. But when they saw the honour which she was paying their father, King Nagoba, and heard the prayer which she had offered on their behalf, they no longer wished to kill or bite the little daughter-in-law. On the contrary, they made themselves known to her and stayed all that day in the house and were as good and as nice as possible. When night fell, they drank the milk which she had offered to the snake-king. And in its place they put a necklace with nine beautiful jewels in it. Before day broke they went away quietly and returned to their father's palace under the ground. Next morning when the little daughter-in-law woke up she saw the lovely necklace lying where the milk had been. She gave a shout of delight, and putting it round her neck, she ran all over the house showing it to everybody. And every one was perfectly charmed with it. And the snake-princes never again came to bite any one in that household. And the little daughter-in-law and her husband and her father-in-law and little Prince No-tail and little Prince Cut-tail and little Prince Dock-tail, they all lived happily for ever so long afterwards.

"THEY NO LONGER WISHED TO KILL OR BITE THE LITTLE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW."

  1. Nagpanchmi Day falls on Shravan Sud 5, i.e. the 5th day of the bright half of Shravan.