Deccan Nursery Tales/The Sunday Story



When Englishmen and Englishwomen are little boys and girls, they listen with open ears to the tales of Golden-hair and the three Bears, of Cinderella and the Prince, and of the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. As the boys and girls grow up, the stories fade gradually from their minds. But a time comes when they have children of their own. And then, to amuse the children, they can find no tales more thrilling than those which fascinated them in their own childhood. Thus the old nursery tales are handed down for centuries from generation to generation. Exactly the same process goes on in India. There, too, when little Indian boys and girls grow up and have little boys and girls of their own, they too tell to wide-eyed audiences the tales which they themselves found so thrilling in their own childhood. Indian nursery tales, it is true, have a more religious tinge than those of Europe, but they are none the less appreciated on that account. The first six stories in this little book purport to explain the connexion between the heavenly bodies and the days of the week. So each day of the week has its separate tale. And all through Shravan or August, probably because it is the wettest month in the year, Deccan mothers tell afresh every week-day that day's story. And little Deccan children listen to the tales as they fall due with the same unvarying attention. For in nurseries, Indian as well as English, tales are loved the better when no longer new, and where the end is well known to, and therefore the better understood by, the tiny round-eyed listeners.

Now this is the tale which is told every Sunday[1] in Shravan: Once upon a time there was a town called Atpat, and in it there lived a poor Brahman. Every day he used to go into the woods to fetch sticks and to cut grass. One day he met there some nymphs and wood-fairies, who said that they were performing holy rites in honour of the sun. He asked, "What are these rites?" They replied, "If we tell you, you will become proud and vain and you will not perform them properly." But the Brahman promised, "No, I shall not become proud or vain and I shall observe the rites you tell me." They then told him that the month of Shravan was coming, and that on the first Sunday of Shravan he was to draw a picture of the sun with red sandal paste, that he was to offer to the drawing flowers and fruit, and that he should continue doing this for six months. Thereafter he should in various ways, which they told him, entertain guests and give alms to the poor.

The Brahman went home and performed the rites to the letter, so that the sun-god was very pleased. Wealth came to the Brahman and he grew richer and richer, and at last the queen of the land sent for him. The poor Brahman began to tremble and shake all over, but the queen said, " Do not shake or tremble, but give your daughters in marriage to our house." The Brahman said, "My daughters are poor; you will make them slaves or maid-servants." "No," said the queen, "I shall not make them slaves or maid-servants; I shall marry one to a king, and one to a minister." The Brahman agreed, and when the month of Margashish, or December, came he gave his two daughters in marriage, one to the king and one to the minister. Immediately after the marriage the Brahman said good-bye to his daughters, and did not see them again for twelve years. Then he visited the elder one, who had married the king. She gave him a wooden stand on which to sit while eating, and water in which to wash his feet, and then said, "Papa, papa, there is pudding to eat, there is water to drink." But the Brahman said, "Before I eat or drink, I must tell you my story." But his daughter said, "Papa, I have no time to listen to your story; the king is going a-hunting, and I must not keep him waiting for his dinner." The Brahman thought this very disrespectful and went off in a great rage to the house of his other daughter, who had married a minister. She welcomed her father and gave him a wooden stand on which to eat, and water to wash his feet, and said, "Papa, papa, here is pudding to eat and here is water to drink." But the Brahman said, "Before I eat or drink I must tell you my story." His daughter said, "Of course, papa, tell it to me, and I shall listen as long as you like." Then she went into an inner room and she fetched six pearls. She took three herself and three she put in her father's hand. And he told her how he had met the nymphs and wood-fairies, who had told him to worship the sun-god, and she listened to it all without missing a syllable. Then the Brahman ate and drank and went back to his own house. His wife asked him about their two daughters. He told her everything and said, "The elder one who would not listen to my story will come to grief."

And so she did. For the king, her husband, took an army into a far country and never came back. But the daughter who had listened to the story lived well and happy. As time went on the undutiful daughter became poorer and poorer, until one day she said to her eldest son, "Go to your aunt's house and beg of her to give you a present, and bring back whatever she gives you." Next Sunday the boy started and went to the village where his aunt lived. Standing by the village tank he called out, "O maids, O slave-girls, whose maids and slave-girls are ye?" They answered, "We are the maids and the slave-girls of the minister." The boy said, "Go and tell the minister's wife that her sister's son is here. Tell her that he is standing by the village tank, that his coat is tattered and that his garments are torn, and ask her to let him come into her house through the back door." The slave-girls took him in through the back door. His aunt had him bathed, and gave him clothes to wear, and food to eat, and drink, and a pumpkin hollowed out and filled with gold coins. As he left, she called to him, "Do not drop it, do not forget it, but take it carefully home." But as the boy went home, the sun-god came disguised as a gardener and stole the pumpkin filled with gold. When the boy reached his mother's house she asked, "Well, my son, what did your aunt give you?" He said, "Fortune gave, but Karma[2] took away; I lost everything my aunt bestowed on me." Next Sunday the second son went and stood by the village tank and called out, "O slave-girls and maid-servants, who is your master?" They said, "Our master is the minister." "Then tell the minister's wife that her nephew is here." He was taken in by the back door. He was bathed and clothed and given food and drink. As he was going, his aunt gave him a hollow stick full of gold coins and said, "Do not drop it, do not forget it, mind it carefully and take it home." On the way the sun-god came in the guise of a cow-herd and stole the stick. When the boy got home his mother asked him what he had brought. He said, "Fortune gave, but Karma took away." On the third Sunday a third son went and stood by the village tank. His aunt received him like the others and had him bathed, clothed, and fed. As he was going away, she gave him a hollow cocoa-nut stuffed with gold coins and said, "Do not drop it, do not forget it, but mind it carefully and take it home." On the way back he put down the cocoa-nut on the edge of a well, and it toppled over and fell into the water with a great splash. When he reached his mother's house she asked him what his aunt's present was. He said, "I have lost everything which fortune brought me." On the fourth Sunday the fourth son went. His aunt welcomed him like the others, and had him bathed and fed. When he left she gave him an earthen pot full of gold coins. But the sun-god came in the guise of a kite and snatched the pot away. When the boy reached home his mother asked him whether his aunt had given him anything. He said, "I have lost everything which my aunt gave me." On the fifth Sunday the mother herself got up and went to her sister's village and stood by the tank. The minister's wife took her in through her back door and had her clothed and fed. Then the minister's wife told her that all her trouble had come through not listening to her father's story, and the minister's wife repeated it to her. The king's wife listened to it, and stayed with her sister until the following month of Shravan, or August, when she did fitting worship to the sun.

Instantly good fortune came to her. After years of weary righting, her husband, the king, at last overcame his enemies, and after taking great wealth from them turned homewards with his army. As he went towards his capital, he passed the village where the minister's wife lived. There he learnt that his queen was with her sister, so he sent for her with a befitting escort. "O auntie, auntie," cried all the queen's little nephews and nieces, "umbrellas have come for you, and horse-tails and guards and foot-soldiers." Every one rushed out to see, and the king and queen greeted each other after years of separation. The sisters gave each other gifts of clothes, and the king and his queen went away together. At the first halting-place the servants cooked the food. The queen filled the king's plate and then her own, and then she thought of the story which her sister had told her. She ordered her servants to go through the neighbouring village and bring in any one who was hungry and too poor to buy food. They found none such in the village, but on the way back they met a starving wood-cutter, and, bringing him to the queen, told him to listen to the tale which she would tell him. The queen brought six pearls. Three she gave to the wood-cutter, and three she kept herself. Then she told him the story of her father and the wood-fairies. The wood-cutter listened with all attention, and as he listened his faggot of wood became all of gold. He went away delighted, promising to worship the sun in the way the wood-fairies had shown to the Brahman.

Next day the cavalcade reached the second halting-place. Food was cooked; the queen filled the king's plate and then her own plate, and again she told her servants to bring from the neighbouring village any one who was hungry and too poor to buy food. They came upon a petty farmer, whose well had dried up and whose crops had withered. He was sitting sadly by his field when they called him to go with them and listen to the queen's tale. He went with them to the camp. There the queen brought six pearls and gave three of them to the farmer and kept three of them herself. Then she told the story of her father and the wood-fairies. And as the farmer listened, all attention, the water began to pour into the well, and the crop began to look fresh and green. He went away delighted, and promised to worship the sun in the way the wood-fairies had told the Brahman. Next day the cavalcade reached the third halting-place. Food was cooked, and the queen filled the king's plate and then her own plate. Then she told the servants to search in the neighbouring village for any one who was hungry and too poor to buy food. They met an old woman. Her eldest son had been lost in the forest. Her second son had been drowned in a pond. Her third son had died of snake-bite. They told her to come and listen to the queen's story. She went with them, and as she listened, all attention, first the son who had been lost in the forest walked into the camp, next the son who had been drowned in the pond, and last of all the son who had died of a snake-bite. The old woman went away crying with joy, and promising to worship the sun in the way the wood-fairies had instructed the Brahman. Next day the cavalcade reached the fourth halting-place. Food was cooked, and the queen first filled the king's plate and then her own. After dinner she sent her servants as before to bring in some poor and hungry man from the neighbouring village. They found a man whose eyes were so crooked that he could hardly see, who had no arms or legs, and who had not even a name. For he was only known as "Lump of flesh." He was lying on his face, but when they brought him into camp, the queen had him placed on his back and had a jug of water poured over him. Then she took six pearls. Three she kept herself, and three she placed on the stomach of "Lump of flesh." Then she told him the tale of her father and the wood-fairies. He listened, all attention, and as he listened his arms and legs grew out of his body, and hands and feet appeared at the ends of them. He too went away delighted, and he promised to worship the sun in the way the wood-fairies had told the Brahman.

At the end of the next day's march the king and queen reached their home. Food was cooked, and as they sat down to dinner the sun-god himself appeared and joined them at their meal. The king had all the doors flung wide open, and ordered a fresh and far more splendid dinner to be prepared, with any number of dishes, each dish having six separate flavours. When it was served the sun-god and the king began to eat, but in the first mouthful the sun-god found a hair. He got very very angry, and called out, "To what sinful woman does this hair belong?" Then the poor queen remembered that during her twelve years of poverty she had always sat under the eaves combing her hair, and knew that it must have been one of her hairs which had got into the sun-god's food. She begged for mercy, but the sun-god would not forgive her until she had clothed herself in a black blanket, plucked a stick out of the eaves, and had gone outside the town and there thrown the stick and the hair over her left shoulder. Then the sun-god recovered his good-humour, and finished his dinner. And the Brahman, the king and queen, and the wood-cutter and the farmer whose well had dried up, and the old woman who had lost her children, and "Lump of flesh" with the cross eyes, they all remained in the favour of the sun-god and lived happily ever afterwards.

  1. In India days of the week have the same mysterious connexion with the astral bodies that they have in Europe. Aditwar or Raviwar is sun's day (Sunday); Somwar is moon's day (Monday); Mangalwar is Mars' day (mardi); Budhwar is Mercury's day (mercredi); Brihaspatiwar is the day of Diespiter or Jupiter (jeudi); Shukrawar is Venus' day (vendredi); Shaniwar is Saturn's day (Saturday).
  2. His bad actions in a former life.