Sagas from the Far East; or, Kalmouk and Mongolian Traditionary Tales | Annotated Tale

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Fortunes of Shrikantha, The


Wherefore the Well-and-wise-walking Khan went forth yet again and fetched the Siddhî-kür, and as he brought him along the Siddhî-kür told him, according to the former manner, this tale, saying,--


LONG ages ago there was a Brahman's son whose name was Shrikantha (1). This man sold all his inheritance for three pieces of cloth-stuff. Lading the three pieces of cloth-stuff on to the back of an ass, he went his way into a far country to trade with the same (2).

               As he went along he met a party of boys who had caught a mouse and were tormenting it. Having tied a string about its neck, they were dragging it through the water. The Brahman's son could not bear to see this proceeding and chid the boys, but they refused to listen to his words. When he found that they would pay no heed to his words, he bought the mouse of them for one of his pieces of stuff, and delivered it thus out of their hands.

               When he had gone a little farther he met another party of boys who had caught a young ape (3) and were tormenting it. Because it did not understand the game they were playing, they hit it with their fists, and when it implored them to play in a rational manner and not be so hasty and revengeful, they but hit it again. At the sight the Brahman was moved with compassion and chid the boys, and when they would not listen to him he bought it of them for another of his pieces of stuff, and set it at liberty.

               Farther along, in the neighbourhood of a city, he met another party of boys who had caught a young bear and were tormenting it, riding upon it like a horse and otherwise teasing it; and when by his chiding he could not induce them to desist, he bought it of them for his last piece of stuff, and set it at liberty.

               By this means he was left entirely without merchandize to trade with, and he thought within himself, as he drove his donkey along, what he should do; and he found in his mind no better remedy than to steal something out of the palace of the Khan wherewith to commence trading. Having thus resolved, he tied his donkey fast in the thick jungle and made his way with precaution into the store-chambers of the Khan's palace. Here he possessed himself of a good provision of pieces of silk-stuff, and was well nigh to have escaped with the same when the Khan's wife, espying him, raised the cry, "This fellow hath stolen somewhat from the Khan's store-chamber!"

               At the cry the people all ran out and stopped Shrikantha and brought him to the Khan. As he was found with the stuffs he had stolen still upon him, there was no doubt concerning his guilt, so the Khan ordered a great coffer to be brought, and that he should be put inside it, and, with the lid nailed down, be cast into the water.

               The force of the current, however, carried the coffer into the midst of the branches of an overhanging tree on an island, where it remained fixed; nevertheless, as the lid was tightly nailed down, it soon became difficult to breathe inside the box. Just as Shrikantha was near to die for want of air, suddenly a little chink appeared, through which plenty of air could enter. It was the mouse he had delivered from its tormentors who had brought him this timely aid (4). "Wait a bit," said the mouse, as soon as he could get his mouth through the aperture, "I will go fetch the ape to bring better help."

               The ape came immediately on being summoned, and tore away at the box with all his strength till he had made a hole big enough for the man to have crept out; but as the box was surrounded by the water he was still a prisoner. "Stop a bit!" cried the ape, when he saw this dilemma; "I will go and call the bear."

               The bear came immediately on being summoned, and dragged the coffer on to the bank of the island, where Shrikantha alighted, and all three animals waited on him, bringing him fruits and roots to eat.

               While he was living here water-bound, but abundantly supplied by the mouse, the ape, and the bear with fruits to sustain life, he one day saw shining in a shallow part of the water a brilliant jewel as big as a pigeon's egg. The ape soon fetched it at his command, and when he saw how big and lustrous it was he resolved that it must be a talisman. To put its powers to the test, he wished himself removed to terra firma. Nor had he sooner uttered the wish than he found himself in the midst of a fertile plain. Having thus succeeded so well, he next wished that he might find on waking in the morning a flourishing city in the plain, and a shining palace in its midst for his residence, with plenty of horses in the stable, and provisions of all kinds in abundance in the store-chamber; shady groves were to surround it, with streams of water meandering through them.

               When he woke in the morning he found all prepared even as he had wished. Here, therefore, he lived in peace and prosperity, free from care.

               Before many months had passed there came by that way a caravan of merchants travelling home who had passed over the spot on their outward-bound journey.

               "How is this!" exclaimed the leader of the caravan. "Here, where a few months ago grew nothing but grass; here is there now sprung up a city in all this magnificence!" So they came and inquired concerning it of the Brahman's son.

               Then Shrikantha told them the whole story of how it had come to pass, and moreover showed them the talisman. Then said the leader of the caravan, "Behold! we will give thee all our camels and horses and mules, together with all our merchandize and our stores, only give us thou the talisman in exchange." So he gave them the talisman in exchange, and they went on their way. But the Brahman's son went to sleep in his palace, on his soft couch with silken pillows.

               In the morning, when he woke, behold the couch with the silken pillows was no more there, and he was lying on the ground in the island in the midst of the water!

               Then came the mouse, the ape, and the bear to him, saying--

               "What misfortune is this that hath happened to thee this second time?" So he told them the whole story of how it had come to pass. And they, answering, said to him, "Surely now it was foolish thus to part with the talisman; nevertheless, maybe we three may find it." And they set out to follow the track of the travelling merchants. They were not long before they came to a flourishing city with a shining palace in its midst, surrounded by shady groves, and streams meandering through them. Here the merchants had established themselves.

               When night fell, the ape and the bear took up their post in a grove near the palace, while the mouse crept within the same, till she came to the apartment where the leader of the caravan slept--here she crept in through the keyhole. The leader of the caravan lay asleep on a soft couch with silken pillows. In a corner of the apartment was a heap of rice, in which was an arrow stuck upright, to which the talisman was bound, but two stout cats were chained to the spot to guard it. This report the mouse brought to the ape and the bear. "If it is as thou hast said," answered the bear, "there is nothing to be done. Let us return to our master." "Not so!" interposed the ape. "There is yet one means to be tried. When it is dark to-night, thou mouse, go again to the caravan leader's apartment, and, having crept in through the keyhole, gnaw at the man's hair. Then the next night, to save his hair, he will have the cats chained to his pillow, when the talisman being unguarded, thou canst go in and fetch it away." Thus he instructed the mouse.

               The next night, therefore, the mouse crept in again through the keyhole, and gnawed at the man's hair. When the man got up in the morning, and saw that his hair fell off by handfuls, he said within himself, "A mouse hath done this. To-night, to save what hair remains, the two cats must be chained to my pillow." And so it was done. When the mouse came again, therefore, the cats being chained to the caravan leader's pillow, she could work away at the heap of rice till the arrow fell; then she gnawed off the string which bound the talisman to it, and rolled it before her all the way to the door. Arrived here, she was obliged to leave it, for by no manner of means could she get it up to the keyhole. Full of sorrow, she came and showed this strait to her companions. "If it is as thou hast said," answered the bear, "there is nothing to be done. Let us return to our master."

               "Not so!" interposed the ape; "there is yet one means to be tried. I will first tie a string to the tail of the mouse, then let her go down through the keyhole, and hold the talisman tightly with all her four feet, and I will draw her up through the keyhole." This they did; and thus obtained possession of the talisman.

               They now set out on the return journey, the ape sitting on the back of the bear, carrying the mouse in his ear and the talisman in his mouth. Travelling thus, they came to a place where there was a stream to cross. The bear, who all along had been fearing the other two animals would tell the master how little part he had had in recovering the talisman, now determined to vaunt his services. Stopping therefore in the midst of the stream, he said, "Is it not my back which has carried ye all--ape, mouse, and talisman--over all this ground? Is not my strength great? and are not my services more than all of yours?" But the mouse was asleep snugly in the ear of the ape, and the ape feared to open his mouth lest he should drop the talisman; so there was no answer given. Then the bear was angry when he found there was no answer given, and, having growled, he said, "Since it pleases you not, either of you, to answer, I will even cast you both into the water." At that the ape could not forbear exclaiming, "Oh! cast us not into the water!" And as he opened his mouth to speak, the talisman dropped into the water. When he saw the talisman was lost, he was full dismayed; but for fear lest the bear should drop him in the water, he durst not reproach him till they were once more on land.

               Arrived at the bank, he cried out, "Of a surety thou art a cross-grained, ungainly sort of a beast; for in that thou madest me to answer while I had the talisman in my mouth, it has fallen into the water, and is more surely lost to the master than before." "If it is even as thou hast said," answered the bear, "there is nothing to be done. Let us return to the master." But the mouse waking up at the noise of the strife of words, inquired what it all meant. When therefore the ape had told her how it had fallen out, and how that they were now without hope of recovering the talisman, the mouse replied, "Nay, but I know one means yet. Sit you here in the distance and wait, and let me go to work."

               So they sat down and waited, and the mouse went back to the edge of the stream. At the edge of the stream she paced up and down, crying out as if in great fear. At the noise of her pacing and her cries, the inhabitants of the water all came up, and asked her the cause of her distress. "The cause of my distress," replied the mouse, "is my care for you. Behold there is even now, at scarcely a night's distance, an army on the march which comes to destroy you all; neither can you escape from it, for though it marches over dry land, in a moment it can plunge in the water and live there equally well." "If that is so," answered the inhabitants of the water, "then there is no help for us." "The means of help there is," replied the mouse. "If we could between us construct a pier along the edge of the water, on which you could take refuge, you would be safe, for half in and half out of the water this army lives not, and could not pursue you thither." So the inhabitants of the water replied, "Let us construct a pier." "Hand me up then all the biggest pebbles you can find," said the mouse, "and I will build the pier." So the inhabitants of the water handed up the pebbles, and the mouse built of the pebbles a pier. When the pier was about a span long, there came a frog bringing the talisman, saying, "Bigger than this one is there no pebble here!" So the mouse took the talisman with great joy, and calling out, "Here it is!" brought the same to the ape. The ape put the talisman once more in his mouth, and the mouse in his ear; and having mounted on to the back of the bear, they brought the talisman safely to Shrikantha (5).

               Shrikantha not having had his three attendants to provide him with fruits for so many days was as one like to die; nevertheless, when he saw the talisman again, he revived, and said, "Truly the services are great that I have to thank you three for." No sooner, however, had he the talisman in his hand, than all the former magnificence came back at a word--a more flourishing city, a more shining palace, trees bending under the weight of luscious fruits, and birds of beautiful plumage singing melodiously in the branches.

               Then said Shrikantha again to his talisman, "If thou art really a good and clever talisman, make that to me, who have no wife, a daughter of the devas should come down and live with me, and be a wife to me." And, even as he spoke, a deva maiden came down to him, surrounded with a hundred maidens, her companions, and was his wife, and they lived a life of delights together, and a hundred sons were born to him."

               "Of a truth that was a Brahman's son whom fortune delighted to honour," exclaimed the Well-and-wise-walking Khan. And as he had marched fast, and they were already far on their journey when the Siddhî-kür began his tale, they had reached even close to the precincts of the dwelling of the great Master and Teacher Nâgârg'una, when he spoke these words. Nevertheless, the Siddhî-kür had time to exclaim, "Excellent! Excellent!" and to escape swift out of sight.

               But the Well-and-wise-walking Khan stood before Nâgârg'una.

               Then spoke the great Master and Teacher Nâgârg'una, unto him, saying,--

               "Seeing thou hast not succeeded in thine enterprise, thou hast not procured the happiness of all the inhabitants of Gambudvîpa, nor promoted the well-being of the six classes of living beings (6). Nevertheless, seeing thou hast exercised unexampled courage and perseverance, and through much terror and travail hast fetched the Siddhî-kür these thirteen times, behold, the stain of blood is removed from off thee, though thou fetch him not again. Moreover, this that thou hast done shall turn to thy profit, for henceforth thou shalt not only be called the Well-and-wise-walking Khan, but thou shalt exceed in good fortune and in happiness all the Khans of the earth."


(1) Shrikantha, "one whose cup contains good fortune" = born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

(2) The merchant class acquired an important position in India at an early date, as the Manu concerns itself with laws for their guidance. The Manu, however, distinctly defines trading as the occupation of the third caste (i. 90), "The care of cattle, sacrifice, reading the Vêda, the career of a merchant, the lending of gold and silver, and the pursuit of agriculture shall be the occupation of the Vaishja." Similarly in the Jalimâlâ legend given in Colebrooke's "Miscellaneous Essays," it is said "The Lord of Creation viewing them (the various castes) said, 'What shall be your occupation?' These replied, 'We are not our own masters, O God. Command what we shall undertake.' Viewing and comparing their labours he made the first tribe superior over the rest. As the first had great inclination for the divine sciences (brahmaveda) it was called Brahmana. The protector from ill was Kshatriga (warrior). Him whose profession (vesa) consists in commerce, and in husbandry, and attendance on cattle he called Vaisga. The other should voluntarily serve the three tribes, and therefore he became Sudra." That a Brahman's son, therefore, should condescend to engage in trade must be ascribed either to the degeneracy of later times or to the ignorance of or indifference to Brahmanical peculiarities of the Buddhist tale-repeater; or else his parents were of mixed castes.

               In legendary tales Banig is a typical merchant, and the name ultimately came to designate the subdivision of the Vaishja caste, in which trading had become hereditary. The word is derived from pani, which means both to buy and to play games of hazard, and ga, born or descended; hence Banig meant, literally, merchant's son. This designation later became corrupted into Banyan.

               It is not possible to learn very much about the merchant's early status, as the subject of trade would naturally seem unworthy of frequent mention in the great epic poems; nevertheless the Ramajana (ii. 83, v. 11) speaks of "the honourable merchants" (naigamâh). Mercantile expeditions, especially by sea, however, partook of the heroic, and as such find a place even in the Mâha Bhârata; and there is a hymn in the Vêda (Rig. V. i. 116, 5) praising Asvin for protecting Bhugju's hundred-oared ship through the immeasurable, fathomless ocean, and bringing it back safely to land.

(3) Apes enter frequently not only into the fables but into the epic poetry of India. The Ramajana, narrating the spreading of the Aryan Indians over the south and far-east, speaks of the country as inhabited by apes, and of Rama taking apes for his allies; also, on one occasion, of his re-establishing an ape-king in possession of his previous dominions. Consult Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, i. 534, 535. Megasthenes mentions various kinds of apes and monkeys, with, however, scarcely recognizable descriptions, in his enumeration of the wild animals of India (Fragm. x. p. 410). Kleitarchos tells that when Alexander had reached a hill in the neighbourhood of the Hydaspes, he came upon a tribe of apes arranged in battle array, looking so formidable that he was about to give the signal for attacking them, but was withheld by the representations of Taxiles, king of the neighbouring country of Taxila, who accompanied him (Fragm. xvi. p. 80). The Pantcha-Tantra contains a fable in which the King of Kamanapura establishes an ape for his bodyguard as more faithful and efficient than man; a thief, however, brings a serpent into the apartment, and at sight of the mortal enemy of his kind, the ape runs away. Another fable of the same collection tells of a Brahman who, having succeeded in rearing a flourishing garden of melons, found them all devoured as soon as ripe by a party of apes, nor was he able by any means to get rid of them. One day he laid himself down hid amid the leafage as if he had been dead, but with a stick in his hand ready to attack them when they approached. At first they indeed took him for dead and were venturing close up to him, when one of them espied the stick and cried to the others, "Dead men do not carry arms," and with that they all escaped; and it was the same with every trap he laid for them, by their wariness they evaded them all.

(4) The Indian world of story abounds in tales in which the low notion of expecting some advantage to accrue in this life is proposed as the object and reward of good actions. Instances will doubtless occur to the reader. The Pantcha-Tantra Collection contains one in which an elephant is caught by a Khan out hunting, by being driven into a deep dyke. He asks advice of a Brahman who passes that way, as to how he is to extricate himself. "Now is the time," answers the Brahman, "to recall if you have ever done good to any one, and if so to call him to your aid." The elephant thereupon recalls that he once delivered a number of rats whom a Khan had hunted and caught and shut up in earthen jars by lifting the earthen jars with his trunk and gently breaking them. He accordingly invokes the aid of these rats, who come and gnaw away at the earth surrounding the dyke, till they have made so easy a slope of it that the elephant can walk out.

               Christianity fortunately proposes a higher motive for our good actions, and the experience of life would make that derived from results to be expected from gratitude a very poor one.

(5) A story, with a precisely similar episode of the recovery of a jewel by ancillary beasts, comes into the legend of another ruin of the Italian Tirol.

(6) See note 4 to "Vikramâditja's Throne discovered."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Fortunes of Shrikantha, 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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