Folklore of the Santal Parganas | Annotated Tale

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How Sabai Grass Grew

ONCE upon a time there were seven brothers who had an only sister. These brothers undertook the excavation of a large tank; but although they spent large sums and dug very deep they could not reach water and the tank remained dry.

               One day as they were consulting what to do to get the tank to fill, they saw a Jogi corning towards them with a lota in his hand; they at once called to him to come and advise them, for they thought that, as he spent his time wandering from country to country, he might somewhere have learned some thing which would be of use to them. All the Jogi said to them was "You have a sister: if you sacrifice her, the tank will fill with water." The brothers were fond of the girl, but in their despair at seeing their labour wasted they agreed to give the advice of the Jogi a trial. So they told their mother the next day that, when their sister brought them out their midday meal, she was to be dressed in her best and carry the rice in a new basket and must bring a new water pot to draw their water in. At midday the girl went down to her brothers with her best cloth and all her jewellery on; and when they saw their victim coming they could not keep from tears. She asked them what they were grieving for; they told her that nothing was the matter and sent her to draw water in her new water-pot from the dry tank. Directly the girl drew near to the bank the water began to bubble up from the bottom; and when she went down to the water's edge it rose to her instep. She bent down to fill her pot but the pot would not fill though the water rose higher and higher; then she sang:--

"The water has risen, brother,     
And wetted my ankle, brother,     
But still the lota in my hand     
Will not sink below the surface."

                But the water rose to her knees and the pot would not fill, and she sang:--

"The water has risen, brother,     
And wetted my knees, brother,     
But still the lota in my hand     
Will not sink below the surface."

                Then the water rose to her waist and the pot would not fill, and she sang:--

"The water has risen, brother,     
And wetted my waist, brother,     
But still the lota in my hand     
Will not sink below the surface."

                Then the water reached her neck and the pot would not fill; and she sang:--

The water has risen, brother,     
And wetted my neck, brother,     
But still the lota in my hand     
Will not sink below the surface."

                At last it flowed over her head and the water-pot was filled, but the girl was drowned. The tank however remained brimful of sparkling water.

               Now the unhappy girl had been betrothed and her wedding day was just at hand. On the day fixed the marriage broker came to announce the approach of the bridegroom; who shortly afterwards arrived at the outskirts of the village in his palki. The seven brothers met him, and the usual dancing began.

               The bridegroom's party however wished to know why the bride did not appear. The brothers put them off with various excuses, saying that the girl had gone with her friends to gather firewood or to the river to draw water. At last the bridegroom's party got tired of waiting and turned to go home in great wrath at the way in which they had been treated. On their way they passed by the tank in which the girl had been sacrificed and, growing in the middle of it, they saw a most beautiful flower. The bridegroom at once determined to possess this, and he told his drummers to pick it for him; but whenever one of them tried to pick it, the flower moved out of his reach and a voice came from the flower saying:--

"Take the flower, drummer,     
But the branch you must not break."

and when they told him what the flower sang the bridegroom said that he would try and pick it himself; no sooner had he reached the bank than the flower of its own accord floated towards him and he pulled it up by the roots and took it with him into the palki. After they had gone a little way the palki bearers felt the palki strangely heavy: and when they looked in they found the bride also sitting in it, dressed in yellow garments; for the flower was really the girl who had been drowned.

               So they joyfully took the happy couple with drumming and music to the bridegroom's house.

               In a short time misfortune befel the seven brothers; they fell into the deepest poverty and were forced to earn what they could by selling leaves and sticks which they gathered in the jungle. As they went about selling these, they one day came to the village where their sister was living and as they cried their wares through the streets they were told to go to the house where the marriage had taken place. They went there, and as they were selling their leaf plates their sister saw and recognised them; they had only ragged loincloths on, and their skins were black and cracked like a crocodile's.

               At the sight their sister began to cry. Her friends asked what was the matter and she said a straw from the thatch had run into her eye, so they pulled down some of the thatch; she still went on crying and they again asked what was wrong; she said that she had knocked her foot against a stone in the ground; so they dug up the stone and threw it away. But she still went on weeping and at last confessed that the miserable-looking leaf-sellers were her brothers. Then her husband's parents told her to be comforted, and they gave the brothers oil and bade them go and bathe and oil their bodies: but the brothers were so hungry that when they got to the bathing place they drank the oil and ate the oil cake that had been given to them; and came back with their skins as rough as when they went. So then they were given more oil and some of the household went with them and made them bathe and oil themselves properly and then brought them to the house and gave them new clothes and made them a feast of meat and rice. According to the custom of the country they were made to sit down in order of age and were helped in that order; when they had all been helped and had eaten, their sister said to them "Now brothers you come running to me for food, and yet you sacrificed me in the tank." Then they were overwhelmed with shame: they looked up at the sky but there was no escape there; they looked down at the earth; and the earth split open and they all ran into the chasm. The sister tried to catch the youngest brother by the hair and pull him out, calling "Come back, brother, come back brother, you shall carry my baby about for me!" but his hair came off in her hand and the earth swallowed them all up. Their sister planted the hair in a corner of the garden and it is said that from that human hair, sabai grass originated.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: How Sabai Grass Grew
Tale Author/Editor: Bompas, Cecil Henry
Book Title: Folklore of the Santal Parganas
Book Author/Editor: Bompas, Cecil Henry
Publisher: David Nutt
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1909
Country of Origin: India
Classification: unclassified

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