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

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Avaricious Brother, The


Notwithstanding this generous promise and bountiful remission of his master Nâgârg'una, the Khan set out on his journey once again, even as before, determined this time to command his utterance and fulfil his task to the end. Treading his path with patience and earnestness he arrived at the cool grove, even to the foot of the mango-tree. There he raised his axe "White Moon," as though he would have felled it.

               Then spoke the Siddhî-kür, saying, "Spare the leafy mango-tree, and I will come down to thee."

               So the Khan put up his axe again and bound the Siddhî-kür on his back, to carry him off to Nâgârg'una.

               Now as the day was long, and the air oppressive, so that they were well weary, the Siddhî-kür began to tempt the Khan to speak, saying,--

               "Lighten now the journey by telling a tale of interest."

               But how weary soever the Khan was, he pressed his lips together and answered him never a word.

               Then the Siddhî-kür finding he could not make him speak, continued, "If thou wilt not lighten the journey by telling a tale of interest, tell me whether I shall tell one to thee."

               And when he found that he still answered him not, he said, "If thou wilt that I tell the tale, make me a sign of consent by nodding thine head backwards."

               Then the Well-and-wise-walking Khan nodded his head backwards, and the Siddhî-kür proceeded to tell the tale in these words:--


LONG ages ago there dwelt in a city of Western India two brothers.

               As the elder brother had no inheritance, and made a poor living by selling herbs and wood, he suffered the common fate of those in needy circumstances, and received no great consideration from his fellow-men.

               The younger brother on the other hand was wealthy, yet gave he no portion of his riches to his brother.

               One day he gave a great entertainment, to which he invited all his rich neighbours and acquaintances, but to his brother he sent no invitation.

               Then spoke the brother's wife to her husband, saying,--

               "It were better that thou shouldst die than live thus dishonoured by all. Behold, now, thou art not even invited to thy brother's entertainment."

               "Thy words which thou hast spoken are true," replied the husband. "I will even go forth and die."

               Thus saying, he took up his hatchet and cord, and went out into the forest, passing over many mountains by the way. On the banks of a stream, running through the forest, he saw a number of lions and tigers (1), and other savage beasts, so he forbore to go near that water, but continued his way till he came to the head of the stream, and here in the sheltering shade of a huge rock were a number of Dakinis (2), dancing and disporting themselves to tones of dulcet music. Presently one of the Dakinis flew up on high out of the midst of those dancing, and took out of a cleft in the rock a large sack, which she brought down to the grassy bank where the dancing was going on. Having spread it out on the ground in the presence of them all, she took a hammer out of it, and began hammering lustily into the bag. As she did so, all kinds of articles of food and drink that could be desired presented themselves at the mouth of the sack. The Dakinis now left off dancing, and began laying out the meal; but ever as they removed one dish from the mouth of the bag, another and another took its place.

               When they had well eaten and drank, the first Dakini hammered away again upon the bag, and forthwith there came thereout gold and silver trinkets, diadems, arm-bands, nûpuras (3), and ornaments for all parts of the body. With these the Dakinis decked themselves, till they were covered from head to foot with pearls and precious stones, and their hair sparkling with a powdering of gems (4). Then they flew away, the first Dakini taking care to lay up the bag and hammer in the cleft of the rock before taking her flight.

               When they were far, far on their way, and only showed as specks in the distant sky, then the man came forth from his hiding-place, and having felled several trees with his axe, bound them together one on to the end of the other with his cord, and by this means climbed up to the cleft in the rock, where the Dakini had laid up the hammer and bag, and brought them away.

               He had no sooner got down to the ground again, than to make proof of his treasure even more than to satisfy his ravenous appetite, he took the hammer out of the bag, and banged away with it on to the bag, wishing the while that it might bring him all manner of good things to eat. All sorts of delicious viands came for him as quickly as for the Dakinis, of which he made the best meal he had ever had in his life, and then hasted off home with his treasure.

               When he came back he found his wife bemoaning his supposed death.

               "Weep not for me!" he exclaimed, as soon as he was near enough for her to hear him; "I have that with me which will help us to live with ease to the end of our days." And without keeping her in suspense, he hammered away on his bag, wishing for clothes, and household furniture, and food, and every thing that could be desired.

               After this they gave up their miserable trade in wood and herbs, and led an easy and pleasant life.

               The neighbours, however, laid their heads together and said,--

               "How comes it that this fellow has thus suddenly come into such easy circumstances?"

               But his brother's wife said to her husband,--

               "How can thine elder brother have come by all this wealth unless he hath stolen of our riches?" As she continued saying this often, the man believed it, and called his elder brother to him and asked him, "Whence hast thou all this wealth; who hath given it to thee?" And when he found he hesitated to answer, he added, "Now know I that thou must have stolen of my treasure; therefore, if thou tell me not how otherwise thou hast come by it, I will even drag thee before the Khan, who shall put out both thine eyes."

               When the elder brother had heard this threat, he answered, "Going afar off to a place unknown to thee, having purposed in my mind to die, I found in a cleft of a rock this sack and this hammer (5)."

               "And how shall this rusty iron hammer and this dirty sack give thee wealth?" again inquired his brother; and thus he pursued his inquiries until by degrees he made him tell the whole story. Nor would he be satisfied till he had explained to him exactly the situation of the place and the way to it. No sooner had he acquainted himself well of this than, taking with him a cord and an axe, he set out to go there.

               When he arrived, he saw an immense number of deformed, ugly spirits, standing against the rock in eight rows, howling piteously. As he crept along to observe if there was any thing he could take of them to make his fortune as his brother had done, one of them happened to look that way and espied him, after which it was no more possible to escape.

               "Of a surety this must be the fellow who stole our bag and hammer!" exclaimed the ugly spirit. "Let us at him and put him to death."

               The Dakinis were thoroughly out of temper, and did not want any urging. The words were no soon uttered than, like a flock of birds, they all flew round him and seized him.

               "How shall we kill him?" asked one, as she held him tight by the hair of his head till every single hair seemed as if forced out by the roots.

               "Fly with him up to the top of the rock, and then dash him down!" cried some. "Drop him in the middle of the sea!" cried others. "Cut him in pieces, and give him to the dogs!" cried others again. But the sharp one who had first espied him said, "His punishment is too soon over with killing him; shall we not rather set a hideous mark upon him, so that he shall be afraid to venture near the habitations of his kind for ever?" "Well spoken!" cried the Dakinis in chorus, something like good-humour returning at the thought of such retribution. "What mark shall we set upon him?"

               "Let us draw his nose out five ells long, and then make nine knots upon it," answered the sharp-witted Dakini.

               This they did, and then the whole number of them flew away without leaving a trace of their flight.

               Fully crestfallen and ashamed, the avaricious brother determined to wait till nightfall before he ventured home, meantime hiding himself in a cave lest any should chance to pass that way and see him with his knotted nose. When darkness had well closed in only he ventured to slink home, trembling in every limb both from remaining fright at the life-peril he had passed through, and from fear of some inopportune accident having kept any neighbour abroad who might come across his path.

               Before he came in sight of his wife he began calling out most piteously,--

               "Flee not from before me! I am indeed thine own, very own husband. Changed as I am, I am yet indeed the very self-same. Yet a few days I will endeavour to endure my misery, and then I will lay me down and die."

               When his neighbours and friends found that he came out of his house no more, nor invited them to him, nor gave entertainments more, they began to inquire what ailed him; but he, without letting any of them enter, only answered them from within, "Woe is me! woe is me!"

               Now there was in that neighbourhood a Lama (6), living in contemplation in a tirtha (7) on the river bank. "I will call in the same," thought the man, "and take his blessing ere I die." So he sent to the tirtha and called the Lama.

               When the Lama came, the man bowed himself and asked his blessing, but would by no means look up, lest he should see his knotted nose. Then said the Lama, "Let me see what hath befallen thee; show it me." But he answered, "It is impossible to show it!"

               Then the Lama said again, "Let me see it; showing it will not harm thee." But when he looked up and let him see his knotted nose, the sight was so frightful that a shudder seized the Lama, and he ran away for very horror." However, the man called after him and entreated him to come back, offering him rich presents; and when he had prevailed on him to sit down again, he told him the whole story of what had befallen him.

               To his question, whether he could find any remedy, the Lama made answer that he knew none; but, remembering his rich presents, he thought better to turn the matter over in case any useful thought should present itself to his mind, and said he would consult his books.

               "Till to-morrow I will wait, then, to hear if thy books have any remedy; and if not, then will I die."

               The next morning the Lama came again. "I have found one remedy," he said, "but there is only one. The hammer and bag of which your brother is possessed could loose the knots; there is nothing else."

               How elated so ever he had been to hear that a remedy had been found, by so much cast down was he when he learnt that he would have to send and ask the assistance of his brother.

               "After all that I have said to him, I could never do this thing," he said mournfully, "nor would he hear me." But his wife would not leave any chance of remedying the evil untried; so she went herself to the elder brother and asked for the loan of the sack and hammer.

               Knowing how anxious his brother had been to be possessed of such a treasure, however, the brother thought the alleged misfortune was an excuse to rob him of it; therefore he would not give it into her hand. Nevertheless, he went to his brother's house with it, and asked him what was the service he required of his sack. Then he was obliged to tell him all that had befallen, and to show him his knotted nose. "But," said he, "if with thy hammer thou will but loose the knots, behold the half of all I have shall be thine."

               His brother accepted the terms; but not trusting to the promise of one so avaricious, he stipulated to have the terms put in order under hand and seal. When this was done he set to work immediately to swing his hammer, and let it touch one by one the knots in his brother's nose, saying as he did so,--

               "May the knots which the eight rows of evil Dakinis made so strong be loosed."

               And with each touch and invocation the knots began to disappear one after the other.

               But his wife began to regret the loss of half their wealth, and she determined on a scheme to save it, and yet that her husband should be cured. "If," said she, "I stop him before he has undone the last knot he cannot claim the reward, because he will not have removed all the knots, and it will be a strange matter if I find not the means of obtaining the hammer long enough to remedy one knot myself." As she reasoned thus he had loosed the eighth knot.

               "Stop!" she cried. "That will do now. For one knot we will not make much ado. He can bear as much disfigurement as that."

               Then the elder brother was grieved because they had broken the contract, and went his way carrying the sack, and with the hammer stuck in his girdle. As he went, the younger brother's wife went stealthily behind him, and when he had just reached his own door, she sprang upon him, and snatched the hammer from out his girdle. He turned to follow her, but she had already reached her own house before he came up with her, and entering closed the door against him: then in triumph over her success, she proceeded to attempt loosing the ninth knot. Only swinging it as she had seen her brother-in-law do, and not knowing how to temper the force so that it should only just have touched the nose, the blow carried with it so much moment that the hammer went through the man's skull, even to his brain, so that he fell down and died.

               By this means, not the half, but the whole of his possessions passed to his elder brother.

               "If the man was avaricious, the woman was doubly avaricious," here exclaimed the Khan, "and by straining to grasp too much, she lost all."

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


(1) I know not whether this placing together of lions and tigers is to be ascribed to unacquaintance with their habits, or to idealism. Though both natives of parts of India they have not even the same districts assigned them by nature. So inimical are they also to each other, and so unlikely to herd together, that it has been supposed the tiger has exterminated the lion wherever they have met. (Ritter, Asien, vol. iv. zweite Hälfte, 689, 703, 723.) Indian fable established the lion as the king of beasts--Mrigarâga. Amara, the Indian Lexicographer, places him at the head of all beasts. The ordinary Sanskrit name is Sinha, which some translate "the killer," from sibh, to kill. The same word (sinhanâda) stands for the roaring of the lion and for a war cry. Sinhâsana, literally a lion-seat, stands for a throne; for the lion was the typical ruler. The fables always make him out as powerful, just, temperate, and willing to take the advice of others, but often deceived by his counsellors. The lion also gave its name to the island of Ceylon, which to the Greeks was known as Taprobane, from Tâmbapanni or Tâmrapani, the capital built by Vigaja, its first historical settler (said by the natives to come from tâmra, red, and pâni, hand, because he and his companions being worn out with fatigue on their arrival lay down upon the ground and found it made their hands red; but tamra (neut.) means also red sandalwood, and parna is a leaf, which makes a more probable interpretation, but there is also another deriving from "a red swamp"). But this name passed quite out of use both among native and Greek writers in the early part of the first century. Ptolemy calls it Σαλικὴ, the Indian word being Sinhala, the Pali, Sîhala = "resting-place of the lion" (i.e. the courageous warriors, the companions of Vigaja). Kosmas has Σίελεδίβα = Sinhaladvipa, "the island Sinhala." In the writings of the Chinese pilgrims it is called Sengkiolo, which they render "lion's kingdom." In the southern dialects of India l is often changed into r, and thus in Marcellinus Ammianus we find the name has become Serendivus. Out of this came zeilau and our Ceylon. In our word "Singhalese" we have a plainer trace of the lion's share in the appellation.

               The writers of the time of Alexander do not appear to have come across any authentic account of the tiger, and his people seem to have known it only from its skin bought as merchandize. Nearchos and Megasthenes both quite overstate its size, as "twice as big as a lion," and "as big as a horse." Augustus exhibited a tiger in Rome in the year 11 B.C., and that seems the first seen there. Claudius imported four. Pliny remarks on the extreme swiftness and wariness of the tiger and the difficulty of capturing him. His place in the fable world is generally as representative of unmitigated cruelty. The Pantcha-Tantra contains a tale, however, in which a Brahman, wearied of his existence by many reverses, goes to a tiger who has a reputation for great ferocity and begs him to rid him of his life. The tiger in this instance is so moved by the recital of the man's afflictions that he not only spares his life, but nurtures him in his den, enriching him also with the jewelled spoil of the many travellers who fall victims to his voracity. In the end, however, the inevitable fox comes in as a bad counsellor, and persuades him the Brahman is intending to poison him, and thus overcoming his leniency, induces him to break faith with the Brahman and devour him.

(2) Dakinis were female evil genii, who committed all sorts of horrible pranks, chiefly among the graves and at night. In this place it is more probably Raginis that are intended, beautiful beings who filled the air with melody. (Schmidt, trans, of sSanang sSetsen, p. 438, quoted by Jülg.)

(3) Nûpuras, gold rings set with jewels, worn by women of rank, and also by dancing girls.

(4) The custom of wearing quantities of jewelled ornaments seems to have passed into Rome, along with the jewels themselves, and to such an extent that Pliny tells us (book ix.), that Roman women would have their feet covered with pearls, and a woman of rank would not go out without having so many pearls dangling from her feet as to make a noise as she walked along. The long-shaped pearls of India, too, were specially prized for ear-rings; he particularly mentions their being made to bear the form of an alabaster vase, just as lately revived in Rome. They particularly delighted in the noise of two or more of these pendants together as a token of wealth, and gave it the name of crotalia, which, however, they borrowed from the Greeks. They also wore them pendant from their rings. The Singhalese pearls are the most esteemed. The dangerous fishery of these forms the occupation of a special division of the Parawa or Fisher-Caste of the Southern Indians. The pearl-oysters were said to swim in swarms, led by a king-oyster, distinguished by his superiority in size and colouring. Fishers aimed at capturing the "king," as then the whole swarm was dispersed and easily caught; as long as the king was free, he knew how to guide the major part of his swarm of subjects out of danger (Pliny, ix. 55, 1). They thought the pearl was more directly under the influence of the heavens than of the sea, so that if it was cloudy at the time of their birth, they grew dull and tinted; but if born under a bright sky, then they were lustrous and well-tinted; if it thundered at the time, they were startled and grew small and stunted. Concerning the actualities of pearl-fishery, see Colebrook's "Account" of the same in Trans. of R. As. Soc. ii. 452, et seq.

               Megasthenes, Diodorus, Arrianus, and others (quoted by Lassen, 1, 649, n. 2), tell a curious legend by which Hercules as he parted from earth gave to his young daughter Pandaia the whole of Southern India for her portion, and that from her sprang the celebrated hero dynasty of the Pândava; Hercules found a beautiful female ornament called pearls on his travels, and he collected them all and endowed his daughter's kingdom with them.

(5) It is impossible not to be struck by the similarity of construction between this tale and that of the Spanish colonial one I have given in "Patrañas" with the title of "Matanzas," thus bringing the sagas of the East and West Indies curiously together.

(6) Lama, Buddhist priest: the tale-repeater again grafts a word of his own language on to the Indian tale.

(7) Tîrtha, from tri, to cross a river. It denoted originally a ford; then, a bathing-place on the borders of sacred streams; later its use became extended to all manner of pilgrimage-places, but more frequently those situated at the water's edge. They were the hermitages of Brahmans who gave themselves to the contemplative life before the rise of Buddhism, while to many of them also were attached legends of having been the dwellings of the mysterious Rishi, similarly before the rise of Brahmanism. The fruits of the earth and beasts brought to them as offerings at these holy places, as also the mere visiting such spots, was taught to be among the most meritorious of acts. "From the poor can the sacrifice, O king, not be offered, for it needs to have great possessions, and to make great preparations. By kings and rich men can it be offered. But not by the mean and needy and possessing nothing. But hear, and I will tell thee what is the pious dealing which is equal in its fruits to the holy sacrifice, and can be carried out even by the poorest. This is the deepest secret of the Rishi. Visits paid to the tîrtha are more meritorious than even offerings" (made elsewhere). "He who has never fasted for three nights, has never visited a tîrtha, and never made offerings of gold and cows, he will live in poor estate" (at his next re-birth). "But so great advantage is not gained by the Agnishtoma or other most costly sacrifice as by visiting tîrthas." (Tirthagâtrâ, iii. 82, v. 4055 et seq.) In other places it is prescribed that visits paid to some one particular tîrtha are equal to an offering of one hundred cows; to another, a thousand. To visiting another, is attached the reward of being beautiful at the next rebirth; a visit to another, cleansed from the stain of murder, even the murder of a Brahman; that to the source of the Ganges, brings good luck to a whole generation. Whoso passes a month at that on the Kanshiki, where Vishvamitra attained the highest perfection, does equivalent to the offering of a horse-offering and obtains the same advantage (phala = fruit). Several spots on the Indus or Sindhu, reckon among the holiest of tîrthas pointing to the course of the immigration of the Aryan race into India. Uggana on its west bank is named as the dwelling-place of the earliest Rishis and the scene of acts of the gods. A visit to Gandharba at its source, or Sindhûttama the northern-most tîrtha on its banks, was equivalent to a horse-offering.

               The Puranas are full of stories and legends concerning tîrthas noteworthy for the deeds of ancient kings and gods. They tell us of one on the Jumna, where Brahma himself offered sacrifice. At the Vârâha-tîrtha Vishnu had once appeared in the form of a wild boar. The Mahâ Bhârata and other epic poems speak of these visits being made by princes as a matter of constant occurrence, as well as of numbers of Brahmans making the occasion of their visits answer the purpose of an armed escort, to pay their devotions at the same time without incurring unnecessary danger by the way. The Manu also contains prescriptions concerning these visits. In consequence of the amount of travelling they entailed the tîrthânusartri or tîrtha-visitor was quoted as a geographical authority.

               The Horse-sacrifice mentioned above was part of the early Vedic religion. In the songs of Dirghatamas, Rig-Veda i. 22, 6 and 7, it is described with great particularity. And instances are mentioned of horse-sacrifices being performed, in the Ramajana, i. 13, 34, and Mahâ Bhârata, xiv. 89 v. 2644. There is also a medal existing struck by a king of the Gupta dynasty, in the 3rd century of our era, commemorative of one at that date. There do not appear altogether to be many instances named however. The Zendavesta (quoted by Burnouf, Yacna, i. p. 444) mentions that it was common among the Turanian people, on the other hand, to sacrifices horses to propitiate victory.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Avaricious Brother, 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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