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

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Wife Who Loved Butter, The


When therefore the Well-and-wise-walking Khan saw that he had again failed in the end and object of his journey, he once more took the way of the cool grove; and having taken the Siddhî-kür captive as before in his bag, in which there was place for a hundred, and made fast the mouth of the same with his cord woven of a hundred threads of different colours, he bore him along to present to his Master and Teacher Nâgârg'una.

               And as they went the Siddhî-kür asked him to beguile the way with a tale, or else give the signal that he should tell one. And when the Well-and-wise-walking Khan had given the signal that the Siddhî-kür should tell one, he began after this wise, saying,--


LONG ages ago there dwelt in the neighbourhood of a city in the north part of India called Taban-Minggan (1) a man and his wife who had no children, and nine cows (2) for all possessions. As the man was very fond of meat he used to kill all the calves as soon as they were born that he might eat them, but the wife cared only for butter. One day when there were no more calves the man took it into his head to slaughter one of the cows; "What does it signify," said he to himself, "whether there are nine or eight?" So he killed one of the cows and ate it. When the meat of this cow was all at an end, he said to himself, "What does it matter whether there are eight cows or seven?" And with that he slaughtered another cow and ate it. When the meat of this cow had come to an end, he said within himself again, "What does it matter whether there are seven cows or six?" and with that he slaughtered another cow and ate it. This he continued doing till there was one only cow left. At last, when the wife saw that there was but one only cow left, she could refrain herself no longer. Determined to save this only cow from being slaughtered, she never let it out of her sight, but wherever she went led it after her by a string.

               One day, however, when the man had been drinking well of rice-brandy, and was sound asleep, the wife having to go out to fetch water, she thought it would be safe to leave the cow behind this once; but scarcely was she gone out when the man woke up, and, seeing the cow left alone behind, slaughtered it to eat.

               When the woman came back and found the last remaining cow was killed, she lifted up her voice and wept, saying, "What is there now left to me wherewithal to support life, seeing that the last and only cow that remained to us is killed." As she said these words, she turned her in anger and went away, and as she went the man cut off one of the teats of the cow and threw it after her. The woman picked up the teat and took it along with her; but she went along still crying till she came to a cave in a mountain side, where she took shelter. There she cast herself down on the ground, addressing herself in earnest prayer to the Three Precious Treasures (3) and the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, saying, "Now that my old man has brought me to the last extremity, depriving me of all that I had to support life, grant now, ye Three Precious Treasures, and thou Ruler of Heaven and Earth, that I may have in some way that which is needful to support life!" Thus she prayed. Also, she flung from her the teat of the cow which she had in her hand, and behold! it clove to the side of the cave, and when she would have removed it, it would no more be removed, but milk ran therefrom as from the living cow. And the milk thereof was good for making butter, which her soul loved.

               Thus she lived in the cave, and was provided with all she desired to support life. One day it befell that the memory of her husband coming over her, she said within herself, "Perhaps, now that the last cow is slaughtered and eaten, my old man may be suffering hunger; who knows!" Thus musing, she filled a sheep's paunch (4) with butter, and went her way to the place where her husband lived, and having climbed on to the roof, she looked down upon him through the smoke-hole (5).

               He sat there in his usual place, but nothing was set before him to eat saving only a pan of ashes, which he was dividing with a spoon, saying the while, "This is my portion for to-day;" and "That much I reserve for the portion of to-morrow." Seeing this, the wife threw her paunch of butter hastily through the roof, and then went back to her cave.

               Then thought the husband within himself, "Who is there in heaven or earth who would have brought me this butter-paunch but my very wife? who surely has said within herself, 'Perhaps, now that the last cow is slaughtered, my old man is suffering hunger.'" And as every night she thus supplied him with a butter-paunch, he got up at last and followed her by the track of her feet on the snow till he came to the cave where she dwelt. Nevertheless, seeing the teat cleaving to the side of the cave, he could not resist cutting it off to eat the meat thereof. Then he took to him all the store of butter the woman had laid up and returned home; but the wife, finding her place of refuge was known to him, and that he had taken all her store, left the cave and wandered on farther.

               Presently she came to a vast meadow well watered by streams, and herds of hinds grazing amid the grass; nor did they flee at her approach, so that she could milk them at will, and once more she could make butter as much as ever she would.

               One day it befell that, the memory of her husband coming over her, she said within herself, "Perhaps, now that he will have exhausted all the store of cow-milk-butter, my old man may be suffering hunger; who knows!" So she took a sheep's paunch of the butter made of hind's milk and went to the place where her husband lived. As she looked down upon him through the smoke-hole in the roof, she found him once more engaged sparingly dividing his portions of ashes. So she threw the butter-paunch to him through the smoke-hole and went her way. When she had done this several days, her husband rose and followed her by her track on the snow till he came to where the herd of hinds were grazing. But when he saw so many hinds, he could not resist satisfying his love of meat; only when he had slaughtered many of the hinds, these said one to another, "If we remain here, of a surety we shall all be put to death;" therefore they arose in the night and betook them afar, far off, whither neither the man nor his wife could follow them.

               When the wife found her place of refuge was known to her husband, and that he had dispersed her herd of hinds, she left the grassy meadow and wandered on farther.

               Presently, a storm coming on, she took shelter in a hole in a rock where straw was littered down; so she laid herself to sleep amid the straw. But the hole was the den of a company of lions, tigers, and bears, and all manner of wild beasts; but they had a hare for watchman at the opening of the hole. At night, therefore, they all came home and laid down, but they perceived not the woman in the straw; only in the night, the woman happening to move, a straw tickled the nose of the hare. Then said the hare to a tiger who lay near him, "What was that?" But the tiger said, "We will examine into the matter when the morning light breaks." When the morning light broke, therefore, they turned up all the straw and found the woman lying. When the tiger and the other beasts saw the woman lying in their straw, they were exceeding wroth, and would have torn her in pieces. But the hare said, "What good will it do you to tear the woman in pieces? Women are faithful and vigilant animals; give her now to me, and I will make her help me watch the cave." So they gave her to the hare, and the hare bade her keep strict watch over the cave, and by no means let any one of any sort enter it; and he treated her well and gave her plenty of game to eat, which the wild beasts brought home to their lair.

               Thus she lived in the den of the wild beasts and did the bidding of the hare. One day, however, it befell that, the memory of her husband coming over her, she said within herself, "Perhaps, now that the hinds are all dispersed, my old man may be suffering hunger; who knows!" So she took with her a good provision of game, of which the wild beasts brought in abundance, and went to the place where her husband lived. He sat as before, dividing his portions of ashes; so she threw the game she had brought down through the smoke-hole.

               When she had thus provisioned him many days, he said within himself, "Who is there in heaven or earth who should thus provide for me, but only my loving wife?" So the next night he rose up and tracked her by the snow till he came to the den of the wild beasts.

               When the wife saw him, she cried, "Wherefore camest thou hither? This is even a wild beasts' lair. Behold, seeing thee they will tear thee in pieces!" But the man would not listen to her word, answering, "If they have not torn thee in pieces, neither will they tear me." Then, when she found that he would not escape, she took him and hid him in the straw. At night, when the wild beasts came home, the hare said to the tiger, "Of a certainty I perceive the scent of some creature which was not here before;" and the tiger answered, "When morning breaks we will examine into the matter." Accordingly, when morning broke they looked over the place, and there in the straw they found the woman's husband. When they saw the man they were all exceedingly wroth, nor could the hare by any means restrain them that they should not tear them both in pieces. "For," said they, "if of one comes two, of two will come four, and of four will come sixteen, and in the end we shall be outnumbered and destroyed, and our place taken from us." So they tore them both in pieces, both the wife and her husband.

               "That woman fell a sacrifice to her devotion to her husband, who deserved it not at her hand!" exclaimed the Khan.

               And as he let these words escape him, 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.


(1) Tabun Minggan = "containing five thousand." (Jülg.) The tale-repeater again gives a name of his own language to a town which he places in India.

(2) Cows and oxen were always held in high estimation by the ancient Indians. The same word that stood for "cow" expressed also "the earth," and both stand equally in the Vêda for symbols of fruitfulness and patient labouring for the benefit of others. The ox stands in the Manu for "uprightness" and "obedience to the laws." In the Ramajana (ii. 74, 12) Surabhi, the cow-divinity (see the curious accounts of her origin in Lassen, i. 792 and note), is represented as lamenting that over the whole world her children are made to labour from morning to night at the plough under the burning sun. Cows were frequently devoted to the gods and left to go whithersoever they would, even in the midst of towns, their lives being held sacred (Lassen, i. 298). Kühn (Jahrbuch f. w. K. 1844, p. 102) quotes two or three instances of sacrifices of cows but they were very rare; either as sacrifices to the gods or as rigagna ("sacrifices to the living") i. e. the offerings of hospitality to the living. The ox was reckoned peculiarly sacred to Shiva, and images were set up to him in the temples (see Lassen, i. 299). Butter was the most frequent object of sacrifice (ib. 298). The Manu (iii. 70) orders the Hôma or butter-sacrifice to be offered daily to the gods, and the custom still subsists (see Lassen, iii. 325). Other names for the cow were Gharmadhug = "giver of warm milk;" and Aghnjâ = "the not to be slain;" also Kâmadhênu or Kâmaduh = "the fulfiller of wishes," and (in the Mahâ Bhârata) Nandunî = "the making to rejoice" (Lassen, i. 721). See also the story of Sabala, the heavenly cow of the Ramajana, in note 8 to "Vikramâditja's Youth." Oxen were not only used for ploughing, but also for charioteering and riding, and were trained to great swiftness. Ælianus (De Nat Anim. xv. 24) mentions that kings and great men did not think it beneath them to strive together in the oxen-races, and that the oxen were better racers than the horses, for the latter needed the spur while the former did not. An ox and a horse, and two oxen with a horse between them were often harnessed together in a chariot. He also mentions that there was a great deal of betting both by those whose animals were engaged in the race and by the spectators. The Manu, however (d. p. c. ix. 221--225), forbids every kind of betting under severe penalties. Ælianus mentions further the Kâmara, the long-haired ox or yak, which the Indians received from Tibet.

(3) The "Three Precious Treasures" or "jewels" of Buddhism are Adi-buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, which in later Buddhism became a sort of triad, called triratna, of supreme divinities; but, at the first, were only honoured according to the actual meaning of the words (Schmidt, Grundlehre der Buddhaismus, in Mem. de l'Ac. des Sciences de S. Petersbourg, i. 114), viz. Sangha, sacred assembly or synod; Dharma, laws (or more correctly perhaps, necessity, fate, Lassen, iii. 397), and Buddha, the expounder of the same. (Burnouf, Introd. à l'Hist. du Budd. i. 221.)

               Consult Schott, Buddhaismus, pp. 39, 127, and C. F. Köppen, Die Religion des Buddha, i. 373, 550-553, and ii. 292-294.

(4) See note 2, Tale IV.

(5) Abbé Huc describes the huts of the Tibetian herdsmen as thus constructed with a hole in the roof for the smoke. The Mongolians live entirely in tents which, if more primitive, seem cleaner and altogether preferable.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Wife Who Loved Butter, 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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