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Woman Who Sought her Husband in the Palace of Erlik-Khan, The


LONG ages ago there reigned a young Khan whose father had died early and left him in possession of the kingdom. He was a youth comely to look upon, and dazzling in the glory of his might. To him had been given for his chief wife the daughter of a Khan of the South. But the young Khan loved not this wife. At a mile's distance from his palace there lived in her father's house a well-grown, beautiful maiden, of whom he had made his second wife; as she was not a Khan's daughter he feared to take her home to his palace, lest he should displease his mother, but he came often to visit her, and as they loved each other very much, she asked no more.

               One night, when the moon was brightly shining, some one knocked at the window, the maiden knew it was the Khan's manner of knocking, so she opened to him,--but with trembling, for he had never been wont to come at that hour; yet by the light of the moonbeam she saw that it was indeed himself, only instead of his usual garments, he was habited in shining apparel, which she could hardly look upon for its brightness, and he, himself, too, looked more exceeding beautiful than usual. When he had partaken of her rice-brandy and cakes, he rose and stood upon the doorstep, saying, "Come, sweet wife, come out together with me;" and when she had gone a little way with him, he said, "Come, sweet wife, come a little farther with me." And when she had gone a little farther with him, he said again, "Come, sweet wife, come yet a little farther." So she went yet a little farther till they had reached nearly to the gates of the palace, and from within the courts of the palace there came a noise of shouting and playing on instruments. Then inquired she, "To what end is this shouting and this music?" And he replied, "It is the noise of the sacrifice for the rites of the burial of the Khan (1)." "And why do they celebrate the rites of the burial of the Khan?" she asked, now beginning to fear in earnest. "Because I am dead, sweet wife, and am even now on my way to the deva's kingdom. But thou listen to me, and do according to my word, and all shall be well for thee and for our son. Behold, even now, within the palace, my mother and my chief wife strive together concerning a jewel which is lost. But I have purposely hid the jewel under a god's image in the apartment. Thou, therefore, pass the night in this elephant-stable of the palace hard by, and there shall our son be born; and in the morning, the elephant-tamers finding thee shall bring thee to my mother and my chief wife. But thou, take the jewel and give it to the chief wife and send her away to her own people. Then shall my mother have joy in thee alone and in the child, and you two together shall direct the Government till he be come to man's estate." Thus spoke the Khan.

               While he spoke these words, the wife was so stricken with fear and grief that she fell to the ground senseless, nor knew that he bore her into the elephant-stable, and went up to the deva's kingdom.

               In the night their son was born; and in the morning, the elephant-tamers coming in, said, "Here is a woman and a babe lying in the elephant-stable; this must not be, who knows but that it might bring evil to the elephants (2)?" so they raised her up, with her infant, and took her to the Khan's mother. Then she told the Khan's mother all that had befallen her, and as the jewel was found in the place the Khan had told her, it was taken for proof of her truth. Accordingly, the jewel was given to the chief wife, and she was dismissed to her own people; and as the Khan had left no other child, the boy born in the elephant-stable was declared heir, and his mother and the Khan's mother directed the Government together till he should come to man's estate.

               Thus the lowly maiden was established in the palace as the Khan had promised. Moreover, every month, on the fifteenth of the month, the Khan came in the night to visit her, disappearing again with the morning light. When she told this to the Khan's mother, she would not believe her, because he was invisible to all eyes but hers. And when she protested that she spoke only words of truth, the Khan's mother said, "If it be very truth, then obtain of him that his mother may see him also."

               On the fifteenth of the month, when he came again, she said therefore to him, "That thou shouldst come thus to see me every month, on the fifteenth of the month, is good; but that thou shouldst go away and leave me all alone again, this is sad, very sad. Why canst thou not come back and stay with us altogether, without going away any more?"

               And he made answer: "Of a truth there would be one way, but it is difficult and terrible, and it is not given to woman to endure so much fear and pain."

               But she replied, "If there were but any means to have thee back, always by my side, I would find strength to endure any terror or pain, even to the tearing out of the bones from the midst of my flesh."

               "This is the means that must be taken then," said the Khan: "Next month, on the fifteenth of the month, thou must rise when the moon's light is at the full, and go forth abroad a mile's distance towards the regions of the South. There shalt thou meet with an ancient man of iron, standing on the watch, who, when he shall have drank much molten metal, shall yet cry, 'Yet am I thirsty.' To him give rice-brandy and pass on. Farther on thou shalt find two he-goats fighting together mightily, to them give barm-cakes to eat and pass on. Farther along thou shalt find a band of armed men who shall bar thy way; to them distribute meat and pass on. Farther on thou shalt come to a frightful massive black building round which runs a moat filled with human blood, and from its portal waves a man's skin for a banner. At its door stand on guard two terrible erliks (3), servants of Erlik Khan (4); to each, offer an offering of blood and pass within the building.

               "In the very midst of the building thou shalt find a Mandala (5) formed by eight awful sorcerers, and at the feet of each will lie a heart which will cry to thee, 'Take me! take me!' In the midst of all will be a ninth heart which must cry 'Take me not!'

               "If thou fortified by thy love shall be neither rendered afraid by the aspect of the place, nor terrified by the might of the sorcerers, nor confounded by the wailing of the voices, but shalt take up and bear away that ninth heart, neither looking backwards nor tarrying by the way, then shall it be granted us to live for evermore on earth together."

               Thus he spoke; and the morning light breaking, she saw him no more. The wife, however, laid up all his words in her heart; and on the fifteenth of the next month, when the moon shone, she went forth all alone without seeking help or counsel from any one, content to rely on her husband's words. Nor letting her heart be cast down by fear or pain, she distributed to each of those she met by the way the portion he had appointed. At last she reached the Mandala of sorcerers, and, regardless of the conflicting cries by which she was assailed, boldly carried off the ninth heart, though it said, "Take me not!" No sooner had she turned back with her prize than the eight sorcerers ran calling after her, "A thief has been in here, and has stolen the heart! Guards! Up, and seize her!" But the Erliks before the door answered, "Us she propitiated with a blood-offering; we arrest her not. See you to it." So the word was passed on to the company of armed men who had barred her passage; but they answered, "Us hath she propitiated with a meat-offering; we arrest her not. See you to it." Then the word was passed on to the two he-goats. But the he-goats answered, "Us hath she propitiated with a barm-cake-offering; we arrest her not. See you to it." Finally, the word was passed on to the ancient man of iron; but he answered, "Me hath she propitiated with a brandy-offering; I arrest her not."

               Thus with fearless tread she continued all the way to the palace. On opening the door of his apartment, the Khan himself came forward to meet her in his beauty and might, and in tenfold glory, never to go away from her again any more, and they fell into each other's arms in a loving embrace.

               "Scarcely could a man have held out as bravely as did this woman!" exclaimed the Khan.

               And as he uttered these words, the Siddhî-kür replied, "Forgetting his health, the Well-and-wise-walking Khan hath opened his lips." And with the cry "To escape out of this world is good!" he sped him through the air, swift, out of sight.

               Of the Adventures of the Well-and-wise-walking Khan the first chapter, concerning the Woman who brought back her Husband from the palace of Erlik-Khan.


(1) Songs commemorating the deeds of the departed, were sung at their funeral rites, often instead of erecting monuments to them; the fixing their acts in the memory of the living being considered a more lasting memorial than a tablet of stone. Probably the custom originated before the discovery of the art of writing; it seems, however, to have been continued afterwards. Gâthâ was the name given to these songs in praise of ancestry, particularly the ancestors of kings, usually accompanied by the lute. Weber, Indische Studien, i. p. 186, gives specimen translations from such.

(2) The elephant is the subject of frequent mention in the very oldest writings of India. He is mentioned as a useful and companionable beast just as at the present day, in the Vêda, and the Manu (e. g. Rig-Vêda, i. 84, 17, "Whoso calls upon Indra in any need concerning his sons, his elephants, his goods and possessions, himself or his people, &c."). In the epic poems, he is constantly mentioned as the ordinary mount of warriors. There is no tradition, however, as to his being first tamed and brought under the service of man, though the art penetrated so little into the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, that the inhabitants used to smear themselves and their plants with poison as the best protection against being devoured by him as a wild beast.

               The elephant is distributed over the whole of India from Ceylon to China, wherever there is sufficient growth of foliage. In a domestic state he may live to 120 years, probably nearly double that time when left wild; he is reckoned at his strongest prime in his sixtieth year. His habit is to live in herds.

               A beast so intelligent and available as an aid to man, and particularly to a primitive people, naturally took an important place in the mythology of the country. We find this saliently impressed on the architectural decorations of the country; constantly he is to be seen used as a karyatyd; the world is again seen resting on the backs of four huge elephants, or the king of gods carried along by one. It is a curious instance of appreciativeness of the acuteness of the sensibility of the elephant's trunk, that Ganesha, the god who personifies the sense of touch, is represented gifted with such an appendage. It is among the Buddhistic peoples we find him most especially honoured. In Ceylon the white elephant (a variety actually found in the most easterly provinces) is regarded as a divine incarnation; "Ruler of the white elephant," is one of the titles of the Birmese Emperor; in Siam also it is counted sacred. In war he was an invaluable ally: they called him the Eightfold-armed one, because his four tramping feet, his two formidable tusks, his hard frontal bone and his tusk supply eight weapons. The number of elephants a king could bring into the field was counted among his most important munitions of war and constituted one principal element of his power.

               The derivation of the word elephant does not seem easy to fix, but the best supported opinion is that it is a Greek adoption of the Sanskrit word for ivory ibhadanta, compounded with the Arabic article al from its having been received along with the article itself through Arabian traders; the transition from alibhadanta to Ἐλέψας, Ἐλέψαντος, is easily conceived [1].

               Among the Brahmanical writers the most ordinary designation was gag'a; also ibha, probably from ibhja, mighty, but they had an infinite number of others; such as râg avâhja, "the king-bearer;" matanga, "doing that which (he) is meant (to do); dvirada, "the two-toothed;" hastin or karin, "the handed" (beast), or beast with a hand, for the Indians, like the Romans, call his trunk a hand; dvipa, dvipâjin, anêkapa, "the twice drinking," or "more than once drinking," in allusion to his taking water first into his trunk and then pouring it down his throat. Among the facts and early notions concerning him, collected and handed down by Ælianus, are the following:--that elephants were employed by various kings to keep watch over them by night, an office which their power of withstanding sleep facilitated; that in a wild state, they frequently had encounters with the larger serpents, whose first plan was to climb up into the trees and then dart upon and throttle them. But the most curious remark of all is, that they were endowed with a certain kind of religion, and that when wounded, overladen, or injured, it was their custom to look up to heaven, asking why they had been thus dealt with. (Ælianus, De Nat. Anim. v. 49 and vii. 44; also Pliny, viii. 12. 2.) There are also legends about their paying divine honours to the sun and moon, and in the Indian collection of fables called the Hitopadesha, there is one of an elephant being conducted by a hare to worship the reflection of the moon in a lake.

               In peace they were equally serviceable as in war, and were employed not only for riding, but for ploughing. A beast so useful was naturally treated with great regard, and we read of Indian princes keeping a special physician to attend to the ailments of their elephants, and particularly to have care of their eyesight (Ælianus, De Nat. Anim. xiii. 7).

(3) The office of the erliks or servants of Erlik-Khan, (see next note) was to bring every soul before this judge to receive from him the sentence determining their state in their next re-birth, according to the merits or demerits of their last past existence. (Schmidt's translation of sSanang sSetsen, 417-421, quoted by Jülg.)

(4) Erlik-Khan is the Tibetian name of Jama (Sanskrit), the Judge of the Dead and Ruler over the abode of the Departed; he is son of Vivasvat or the Sun considered as "the bringer forth and nourisher of all the produce of the earth and seer of all that is on it." Vivasvat has another son, Manu, the founder of social life and source of all kingly dynasties. (Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, i. 19, 20.) As with all mythological personages or embodiments, however, the characteristics of Jama have undergone considerable modifications under the handling of different teachers and peoples in different ages, and in some Indian writings he is spoken of as if he were the personification of conscience. Thus, in the ancient collection of laws called the Manu (viii. 92) occurs the following passage, "Within thine heart dwells the god Jama, the son of Vivasvat: when thou hast no variance with him, thou hast no need to repair to the Gangâ, nor the Kuruxêtra;" meaning clearly, "If thou hast nothing on thy conscience, thou hast no object in making a pilgrimage." Muni, "who keepeth watch over virtue and over sin," however, more properly represents conscience. Sir William Jones, in quoting the above passage, inserts the words "subduer of all" after "Jama," probably not without some good reason or authority for assigning to him that character.

               Lassen finds early mention of a people living on the westernmost borders of the valley of the Indus (iii. 352, 353) who paid special honour to Jama as god of death, deprecating his wrath with offerings of beasts; and he connects with it a passage in Ælianus, who wrote on India in the 3rd century of our era, making mention of a bottomless pit or cave of Pluto, "in the land of the Aryan Indians," into which "every one who had heard a divine voice or met with an evil omen, threw a beast according to the measure of his possessions; thousands of sheep, goats, oxen and horses being sacrificed in this way. He says further that there was no need to bind or drive them, as a supernatural power constrained them to go without resistance. He appears also to have believed that notwithstanding the height from which they were thrown, they continued a mysterious existence in the regions beneath.

               "To walk the path of Jama," is an expression for dying, in the very early poems; and a battle-field was called the camp of Jama (Lassen, i. 767). In the Vêda, the South, which is also reckoned the place of the infernal regions, is spoken of as the kingdom of Jama (i. 772).

(5) Mandala, a magic circle. (Wassiljew, 202, 205, 212, 216, quoted by Jülg.)


[1] This elaborate derivation, however, has been disputed, and it is more probable the name is derived from two words, signifying "the Indian ox." In Tibet it has no name but "great ox."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Woman Who Sought her Husband in the Palace of Erlik-Khan, The
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Mongolia & Russia
Classification: unclassified

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