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

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Bhîxu Life


Wherefore the Well-and-wise-walking Khan once more took the way of the cool grove; and having brought thence the Siddhî-kür bound in his bag, and having eaten of his cake that never diminished, to strengthen him for the journey, as they went along the Siddhî-kür told him this tale, saying,--


LONG ages ago there lived in a country in the north of India, namely Nepaul, on the banks of a river named the Hiranjâvati (1), an old man and his old wife, who had no sons, but only one daughter. But this one daughter was all in all to them; and they had only one care in life, and that care was, how to establish her safely and well, that she might not be left alone in the world when they were on it no more. Nevertheless, though the maiden was fair to see, and wise and prudent in her ways, and though her parents had laid by a rich dowry for her portion, it so chanced that no one offered to marry her. Yet the years went by, and the man and his wife were both growing old, and they said, "If we marry her not now, soon will she be left all alone in the world."

               In a hut at some distance lived another aged couple, who were very poor; but they had one only son. Then said the father of the maiden to her mother, "We must give our daughter to the son of this poor couple for a wife, otherwise she will be left alone in the world."

               So they married the maiden to the son of this poor old couple, and they took him into their house, and he lived together with them.

               After a time, the husband felt a desire to return and see his parents; so he took his wife with him, and they went to seek his parents. At home, however, they were not, for they led a Bhixu life, and were gone on a begging expedition through all the tribes; therefore they went on, seeking them. About this time, a mighty Khan had given orders for a great distribution of alms (2). All that any one asked for, it was given him, whatsoever it might be. Only concerning the measure of rice-brandy distributed to any one person was there any restriction; but of all the rest there was no stint.

               The man and his wife therefore came with the rest of the people, and obtained their portion, according to their desire. When all had been well served, and had returned every one to his home, the man said to his wife, "If we would really be rich, and enjoy life, the way to do it is to go round through all the tribes, living on alms. So living, we have all we need desire. Moreover we need stand in no fear of thieves and robbers; our strength will not be brought down by labour by day, nor our sleep disturbed with anxiety by night; in drought and murrain we shall have no loss to suffer, for the herds of which we shall live will not be our own. To travel about ever among new people is itself no small pleasure. Moreover we shall never be vexed with paying tribute of that we have earned with the toil of our arms. If even we go back and take to us the inheritance thy parents promised to us, in how many days would it be all spent, and we become again even as now! But by going from tribe to tribe, living on alms, our store is never diminished, and there is nothing we shall lack (3)."

               Thus they lived many months, begging alms and lacking nothing, even as the man had said. Nevertheless, in the midst of their wanderings, a son was born to them. Then said the woman, "These wild tribes among whom we now are, give us nothing but rice-brandy, which is no food for me; neither have I strength to carry the child as he gets older." And as she knew her husband loved a vagabond life, and could not hear of going to live at home with her parents, she added, "Let us now go see my parents, and beg of them that they give us of their herds an ass, on which the infant may ride withal when we go round among the tribes seeking alms." To this proposition the man did not say "Nay," and they journeyed towards the house of the woman's parents, along the bank of the river Hiranjâvati.

               When they arrived at home, they found that the woman's parents were dead, nor was there the least remnant left of all their possessions: the herds were dispersed, and the flocks had fallen a prey to the wolves and the jackals; nothing remained but a few tufts of wool, which had got caught on the ant-heaps (4). The wife picked up the tufts, saying, "We will collect all these, and weave a piece of stuff out of them." But her husband pointed out that, at no great distance, was a plain with many tents, where, by asking alms, they could have plenty of barley and rice, without the trouble of weaving. They continued their way therefore towards the tents; but the woman continued saying, "When we have woven our piece of stuff, we will sell it, and buy a bigger piece, and then we will sell that and buy a bigger; and so on, till we have enough to buy an ass, then we will set our little one on it instead of carrying him. Then perhaps our ass will have a foal, and then we shall have two asses." "Certainly," answered her husband, "if our ass has a foal we shall have two asses." But the child said, "If our ass has a foal, I will take the foal, and will ride him, going about among the tribes, I also, asking alms even as you (5)." When his mother heard him speak thus, she was angry, and bid him hold his peace; she also went to correct him by hitting him with a stick, but the boy tried to escape from her, and the blow fell upon his head and killed him. Thus their child died.

               At the time that the woman's parents died, and the herds were dispersed, and the flocks devoured by wolves and jackals, one only lamb had escaped from the destruction, and had taken refuge in a hole in the ground, where it remained hid all day, and only came out at night to graze (6). One day a hare came by, and as the lamb was not afraid of the hare, she did not hide herself from him; therefore the hare said to her, "O lamb, who art thou?" And the lamb answered, "I belong to a flock whose master died of grief because his children went away and forsook him; and when he died, the wolves and the jackals came and devoured all his flock, and I, even I only, escaped of them all, and I have hid myself in this hole. Thou, O hare, then, be my protector." Thus spoke the lamb.

               But the hare answered, "Must not a lamb live in a flock? How shall a lamb live in a hole all alone? Behold, I will even bring thee to a place where are flocks of sheep, with whom thou mayest live as becometh a lamb."

               "It were better we stayed here," replied the lamb trembling; "for if we meet the wolf in the open country, how shall we escape him?" "For that will I provide," answered the hare; "only come thou with me." So they set out, the lamb and the hare together, for to seek a place where grazed flocks in goodly company.

               As they went along, they saw on the ground a hand-loom, which some one sitting out there to weave had left behind. The hare bid the lamb put it on her back, and bring it along with her. The lamb did as she was bid. A little farther they saw a piece of yellow stuff lying on the ground: this also the hare bid the lamb pick up and bring with her. The lamb did as she was bid. And a little farther on they saw a piece of paper, with something written on it, blown along by the wind; this likewise the hare bid the lamb bring with her. And the lamb did as she was bid.

               A little farther on they saw a wolf coming. As he drew near them, the hare said to the lamb, "Bring me now my throne." Then the lamb understood that he meant the hand-loom, and she set it in the way. Then the hare continued, "Spread abroad over me my gold-coloured royal mantle." Then the lamb understood that he meant the piece of yellow stuff he had bid her pick up, and she spread it over him as he sat on the hand-loom for a throne. Then said the hare again "Reach me the document which the moon sent down to me on the fifteenth of the month (7)." So the lamb understood that he meant the piece of written paper he had bid her pick up, and she gave it into his hand.

               By this time the wolf had come up with them, and when he saw the hare seated so majestically on the hand-loom for a throne, and with the royal mantle of yellow stuff about him, and the written document in his hand, the lamb moreover standing quietly by his side, he said within himself, "These must be very extraordinary beasts, who do not run away at my approach, after the manner of common beasts." Therefore he stood still, and said to the hare, "Who and whence art thou?" But the hare, still holding the piece of written paper in his hand, made as though he were reading from it as follows:--"This is the all high command of the god Churmusta (8) unto the most noble and honourable hare, delivered unto him by the hands of the moon, on the fifteenth of the month. On the same most noble and honourable hare I lay this charge, that he do bring me, before the fifteenth of the next moon, the skins of a thousand rapacious, flock-scattering wolves." And as the hare read these words, he erected his ears with great importance and determination of manner, and made as though he would have come down from his throne to attack the wolf.

               The wolf, still more alarmed at this proceeding, took flight, nor so much as looked back to see whether the hare was really pursuing him.

               As soon as he was well on his way, the hare and the lamb set out once more on their journey, taking another direction from the wolf, and arrived happily at one of the most fertile pastures in the kingdom of Nepaul.

               "The prudence of that hare was equal to his good feeling," 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) Hiranjavatî, "the gold-coloured river," also called Svarnavati, "the yellow river," both names occurring only in Buddhist writers: one of the northern tributaries of the Ganges, into which it falls not far from Patna, and the chief river of Nepaul. Its name was properly Gandakavatî = "Rhinoceros-river," or simply Gan'da'kî, whence its modern name of the Goondook, as also that of Kondochates, into which it was transformed by the Greek geographers. In its upper course it often brings down ammonite petrifactions, which are believed to be incarnations or manifestations of Vishnu, hence it has a sacred character, and on its banks are numerous spots of pilgrimage.

(2) Concerning such distributions of alms, see Koppen, i. 581 et seq.

(3) The story affords no data on which to decide whether this cynical speech is supposed to be a serious utterance representing the actual motives on which the mendicant life was actually adopted under the teaching of Buddhism, affording a strong contrast from those which have prompted to it under Christianity, or whether it is intended as a satire on the Bhixu. (For Bhixu, see pp. 330, 332.)

(4) I know not how the tufts of wool could have got caught off the sheeps' backs on to ant-heaps, unless it be that the marmots being as we have already seen (note 3, Tale IV.) called ants, the tale-repeater takes it for granted there are marmot-holes in Nepaul like those familiar to him in Mongolia, which Abbé Huc thus describes (vol. i. ch. ii.), "These animals construct over the opening of their little dens a sort of miniature dome composed of grass artistically twisted, designed as a shelter from wind and rain. These little heaps of dried grass are of the size and shape of mole-hills. Cold made us cruel, and we proceeded to level the house-domes of these poor little animals, which retreated into their holes below, as we approached. By means of this Vandalism we managed to collect a sackful of efficient fuel, and so warmed the water which was our only aliment that day."

(5) "Though there is so much gold and silver there is great destitution in Tibet. At Lha-Ssa, for instance, the number of mendicants is enormous. They go from door to door soliciting a handful of tsamba (barley-meal), and enter any one's house without ceremony. The manner of asking alms is to hold out the closed hand with the thumb raised. We must add in commendation of the Tibetians that they are generally very kind and compassionate, rarely sending the mendicant away unassisted." (Abbé Huc, vol. ii. ch. v.)

(6) Indian tales often remind one of the frequent web of a dream in which one imagines oneself starting in pursuit of a particular object, but another and another fancy intervenes and the first purpose becomes altogether lost sight of. This was particularly observable in the tale entitled "How the Schimnu-Khan was slain," in which, after many times intending it, Massang never goes back to thank his master at last. The present is a still more striking instance, in its consequence and repeated change of purport. In pursuing the mendicant's life, the search for the man's parents is forgotten; and the man and his wife are themselves lost sight of in the episode of the lamb.

(7) Concerning the combination of the Moon and the hare, see Liebrecht, in Lazarus and Steinthal, Zeitschrift, vol. i. pt. 1. The Mongols see in the spots in the moon the figure of a hare, and imagine it was placed there in memory of Shâkjamuni having once transformed himself into a hare out of self-sacrifice, that he might serve a hungry wayfarer for a meal. (Bergman, Nomadische Streifereien unter den Kalmüken, in 1802-3, quoted by Jülg.)

(8) See note 5, Tale III.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Bhîxu Life
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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