Indian Fairy Tales
by Joseph Jacobs
The Gold-Giving Serpent
NOW in a certain place there lived a Brahman named Haridatta. He was a farmer, but poor was the return his labour brought him. One day, at the end of the hot hours, the Brahman, overcome by the heat, lay down under the shadow of a tree to have a doze. Suddenly he saw a great hooded snake creeping out of an ant-hill near at hand. So he thought to himself, "Sure this is the guardian deity of the field, and I have not ever worshipped it. That's why my farming is in vain. I will at once go and pay my respects to it."
When he had made up his mind, he got some milk, poured it into a bowl, and went to the ant-hill, and said aloud:
"O Guardian of this Field! all this while I did not know that you dwelt here. That is why I have not yet paid my respects to you; pray forgive me." And he laid the milk down and went to his house. Next morning he came and looked, and he saw a gold denar in the bowl, and from that time onward every day the same thing occurred: he gave milk to the serpent and found a gold denar.
One day the Brahman had to go to the village, and so be ordered his son to take the milk to the ant-hill. The son brought the milk, put it down, and went back home. Next day he went again and found a denar, so he thought to himself: "This, ant-hill is surely full of golden denars; I'll kill the serpent, and take them all for myself." So next day, while he was giving the milk to the serpent, the Brahman's son struck it on the head with a cudgel. But the serpent escaped death by the will of fate, and in a rage bit the Brahman's son with its sharp fangs, and he fell down dead at once. His people raised him a funeral pyre not far from the field and burnt him to ashes.
Two days afterwards his father came back, and when he learnt his son's fate he grieved and mourned. But after a time, be took the bowl of milk, went to the ant-hill, and praised the serpent with a loud voice. After a long, long time the serpent appeared, but only with its head out of the opening of the ant-hill, and spoke to the Brahman: "'Tis greed that brings you here, and makes you even forget the loss of your son. From this time forward friendship between us is impossible. Your son struck me in youthful ignorance, and I have bitten him to death. How can I forget the blow with the cudgel? And how can you forget the pain and grief at the loss of your son?" So speaking, it gave the Brahman a costly pearl and disappeared. But before it went away it said: "Come back no more." The Brahman took the pearl, and went back home, cursing the folly of his son.
Jacobs, Joseph. Indian Fairy Tales.
London: David Nutt, 1912.
Jacobs' Notes and References
Source - Pantschatantra, III. v., tr. Benfey, ii. 244--7.
Parallels - Given in my .Aesop, Ro. ii. 10, p. 40. The chief points about them are--(1) though the tale does not exist in either Phaedrus or Babrius, it occurs in prose derivates from the Latin by Ademar, 65, and "Romulus," ii. 10, and from Greek, in Gabrias, 45, and the prose Aesop, ed. Halm, 96; Gitlbauer has restored the Babrian form in his edition of Babrius, No. 160. (2) The fable occurs among folk-tales Grimm, 105; Woycicki, Poln. Mähr. 105; Gering, Islensk. Aevent. 59, possibly derived from La Fontaine, x. 12.
Remarks - Benfey has proved most ingeniously and conclusively (Einl. i. 359) that the Indian fable is the source of both Latin and Greek fables. I may borrow from my Aesop, p. 93, parallel abstracts of the three versions, putting Benfey's results in a graphic form, series of bars indicating the passages where the classical fables have failed to preserve the original.
A Brahmin once observed a snake in his field, and thinking
it the tutelary spirit of the field, he offered it a libation of milk
in a bowl. Next day he finds a piece of gold in the bowl, and he recieves
this each day after offering the libation. One day he had to go else-where,
and he sent his son with the libation. The son sees the gold, and thinking
the serpent's hole full of treasure determines to slay the snake. He strikes
at its head with a cudgel, and the enraged serpent stings him to death.
The Brahmin mourns his son's death, but next morning as usual brings the
libation of milk (in the hope of getting the gold as before). The serpent
appears after a long delay at the mouth of the lair, and declares their
friendship at an end, as it could not forget the blow of the Brahmin's
son, nor the Brahmin his son's death, from the bite of the snake.
... A good man had become friendly with the snake, who
came into his house and brought luck with it, so that the man became rich
through it ... One day he struck the serpent, which disappeared, and with
it the man's riches. The good man tries to make it up, but the serpent
declares their friendship at an end, as it could not forget the blow.
In the Indian fable every step of the action is thoroughly justified whereas the Latin form does not explain why the snake was friendly in the first instance, or why the good man was enraged afterwards; and the Greek form starts abruptly, without explaining why the serpent had killed the farmer's Son. Make a composite of the Phaedrine and Babrian forms, and you get the Indian one, which is thus shown to be the original of both.