THERE was once a Raja and his dewan and they each had one son; these sons were married in infancy but as they grew up they never heard anything about their having been married. When the boys reached manhood and found no arrangements being made for their weddings they began to wonder at the delay and often talked about it, and in the end they agreed to run away to another country. Soon after this resolve of theirs some horse dealers came to their home with horses to sell; the two youths at once saw that if they could each have a horse and learn to ride it, it would be easy for them to run away from home. So they hurried to their fathers and begged them to buy them each one of the beautiful horses which the dealers had brought. The Raja and the dewan did not like to disappoint their sons so they bought the horses, to the great delight of the boys, who used to ride them every day.
One day the Raja's son was out riding by himself and he passed by a tank where a number of women and girls were bathing and drawing water; as he came galloping along the women ran back in a fright; and as they could not draw their water while he was there, an old woman came up to him and told him to go away and not stay making eyes at the girls as if he had no wife of his own: "What wife have I?", said the prince, "I know nothing of having been married." "You were married sure enough when you were an infant," replied the old woman: "your wife is still in her father's house, but now that you have grown up they will probably bring her home to you this year."
Then the prince asked where his wife lived and having learnt the name of the village he galloped off home and at once began to question his mother about his marriage; his mother told him that they intended to have the bride brought home that year, but the prince was impatient and proposed that he should go off at once to his father-in-law's and see his wife, and try to persuade them to let her come back with him without any ceremony; his mother made no objection, so he got ready for the journey and started off on horseback. He had not gone far when he saw a field of thatching grass on fire, and in the middle, surrounded by the flames, was a huge poisonous snake, unable to escape.
As the prince rode by, the snake called out to him "Prince, you are going joyously to bring home your bride, and here am I in danger of being burned alive; will you not have pity on me and save me? If you do I will confer a boon on you." "But if I save you," objected the prince, "you will only eat me: snakes do not know what gratitude is." "I am not of that kind," answered the snake: "here I am in danger of death, I beseech you to have pity on me." These pleadings prevailed and the prince got off his horse and beat out the fire and then spread a cloth over the embers so that the snake could crawl out. When the snake was safe the prince asked for the boon that had been promised him: "No boon will you get" said the snake: "you did a foolhardy thing in saving me, for now I am going to eat you, and you cannot escape from me."
The prince saw that there was little hope for him but he begged the snake to allow two or three judges to decide whether it was fair that he should be killed, after what he had done. The snake agreed to this provided that the judges were not human beings; he was willing to be bound by the opinions of any one else.
They set out together to look for judges and soon saw a herd of cattle resting under a banyan tree by a pool of water, so they agreed to make these their judges; then the prince explained to one of the cows and the banyan tree and the water what they were to decide, whether it was fair for the snake, whose life he had saved, now to want to kill him. The banyan tree was the first to answer: it said "You did good to the snake and your wages for doing good are evil; you saved his life and he will now kill you, this is fair, this is the justice we have learnt from human beings; you enjoy the shade of us trees and in return you lop off our branches and sit on them, and do us all manner of injury; it is right that the snake should eat you."
Then the prince turned to the cow: "He may eat you," answered the cow: "the tree is right, see how men treat cattle; you drive away our calves from us and take our milk and you beat us and make us work hard; for all this ill treatment the snake shall eat you."
Then the prince asked the water what it had to say: "I agree with the other two" said the water: "to return evil for good is the justice of mankind, it is by drinking water that your very lives are preserved; yet you spit into it and wash dirty things in it; shall not the snake return you evil for good?" So judgment was delivered, and the snake wanted to eat the prince; but the prince asked the tree and the cow and the water to listen while he made one prayer; he told them how he had been married when he was too young to know anything about it, and how he was going for the first time to see his wife, when this misfortune befell him; so he begged that he might be allowed to go and see his bride and then be eaten on his way back; the banyan tree asked what the snake thought about this proposal and the snake said that it would make no objection if the tree and the cow and the water would be sureties for the return of the prince within three days. So the prince promised them faithfully that he would return and they let him go.
The prince rode on to his father-in-law's house, and when he arrived, a bed was brought out for him to sit on and he was asked where he came from. When he explained who he was, they at once brought water and washed his feet and then gave him oil and a tooth stick and took him to bathe; then they brought him curds and dried rice to eat and afterwards killed a goat and made a feast and showed him every honour.
That evening as his wife was rubbing his arms and legs, the prince remained silent and downcast and showed none of the joy of a bridegroom; and when his bride asked what was the matter, he told her that he had only come to see her for one day and that afterwards she must try and forget all about him. At first he would not tell her more, but when she urged him, he told her how he had to go and surrender himself to the snake on the next day. When she heard this she vowed that she would go with him and die with him.
The next morning came and the prince said that he must return, and his wife said that she was going with him; so they made everything ready and set out on their way. When they came within sight of the banyan tree where the prince was to be killed, he tried to turn his wife back but though he used force she refused to leave him and said that she would first see him killed and then go home; so at last he let her accompany him.
When they reached the tree she asked to be allowed to go in front and be the first to meet the snake; to this the prince assented. They had not gone far when they saw the snake awaiting them in the path with its crest raised, and when they drew near, the prince's bride begged the snake to eat her first, as she had nowhere to live if she survived her husband. The snake refused and bade her go home to her parents; she said that that was impossible; they had sold her and the prince had bought her, in life and in death, bones and ashes. But the snake would not listen and made for the prince to eat him. His wife however kept in front of the snake and would not let it pass; she called the banyan tree to witness that the snake should not eat her husband without first killing her; without her husband she would have no one to support her.
Then the snake promised to teach her an incantation by means of which she could support herself, so saying, the snake conferred some magic power upon and taught her an incantation; and promised her that if she took some dust in her hand and repeated the incantation and then blew on the dust, any person on whom she sprinkled the dust would at once be burnt to ashes. Then the prince's wife asked how she should restore the people to life and the snake taught her that also, but she was not satisfied and said that she must try at once to see whether the snake was deceiving her or no; so the snake bade her experiment on a tarop tree which grew near. Thereupon she gathered up some dust and repeated the incantation and blew on it and suddenly threw it over the snake, which at once turned to ashes, and that was the end of the snake.
Then the prince and his wife went on their way rejoicing, and he was filled with wonder at the way in which his bride had saved him by persisting in going with him.