Folklore of the Santal Parganas | Annotated Tale

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Caterpillar Boy, The

ONCE there was an old woman who lived on the grain she could collect from other people's threshing floors. One day as she swept up a threshing floor she found a caterpillar among the paddy; she threw it away but it came crawling back again; she threw it away again, but it said "Do not throw me away, take me home with you and you will prosper." So she let it stay and that day she found that she collected a whole basketful of rice; at this she was delighted, and put the caterpillar on the top of her basket and took it home. There she asked the caterpillar what work it would do, and it said that it would watch the paddy, when it was spread out to dry after being boiled, and prevent the fowls and pigs from eating it.

               So the caterpillar used to watch the paddy while the old woman went out looking for food; and every day she brought back a full basket of rice, and so she soon became rich. It got whispered about that the old woman was so prosperous, because she had a caterpillar boy in her house.

               One day the caterpillar said that he wanted to go and bathe, so he went to the river and took off his caterpillar skin, and bathed, and as he rubbed his head, one or two hairs came out, and these he wrapped up in a leaf and set the packet to float down the stream. Lower down the stream a princess was bathing and when she saw the packet come floating down, she had it fished out, and when she opened it she saw the hairs inside and she measured them and found them to be twelve fathoms long; then the princess vowed that she would not eat rice, till she found the man to whom the hairs belonged. And she went home and shut herself in her room and refused to eat.

               At this her father and mother were much distressed, and when they heard what had happened the Raja said "Well she wants a husband, I will find him for her." And he sent a notice throughout his kingdom saying that he would give his daughter and half his kingdom to the man who had hair twelve fathoms long. Everyone who heard this came with his sons and the princess was told to look at them and choose whom she liked; but none had hair twelve fathoms long, and she would take none of them. Then the Raja asked whether everyone in the kingdom had come, and he was told that there was a caterpillar boy, who lived with an old woman, who had not come, so the Raja sent to fetch him, but he said that he had no arms or legs and could not go; so they sent a palki for him and he was brought in that. And when the palki was set on the ground, the caterpillar boy rolled out and the princess said that he should be her husband.

               At this her father and mother were much ashamed and remonstrated with her, but she persisted in her fancy, so the marriage took place. They sent the newly married pair to live in a house at the outskirts of the village and only one maidservant accompanied the princess. Every night the caterpillar boy used to take off his skin and go out to dance, and one night the maidservant saw him and told her mistress. And they agreed to watch him, so the next night they pretended to go to sleep, but when the caterpillar boy went out, they took his skin and burnt it on the fire; and when he came back, he looked for it, but could not find it. Then the princess got up and caught him in her arms, and he retained his human form, and he was as handsome as a god.

               In the morning the caterpillar boy and his wife stayed inside the house, and the Raja sent some children to see what had happened, and the children brought back word that there was a being in the house, but whether human or divine they could not say. Then the Raja went and fetched his son-in-law to the palace, but the caterpillar was not pleased and said to his wife; "They treat me very well now that they see that I am a man, but what did they do before?" However he stayed in his father-in-law's palace.

               Presently the Raja said that his kingdom was too small to give half of it to his son-in-law, so he proposed that they should go and conquer fresh territory, and carve out a kingdom for the caterpillar boy. So they went to war and attacked another Raja, but they were defeated and their army cut to pieces. Then the son-in-law said that he would fight himself; so he drew his sword and brandished it and it flashed like lightning and dazzled the eyes of the enemy and his shield clanged on his thigh with a noise like thunder; and he defeated the other Raja and took his kingdom and carried off all his wealth.

               But the Raja thought that as his son-in-law was so strong, he would one day kill him also and take his kingdom: so he resolved to find a means to kill him. On their way back from the war they found no water on the road and were distressed with thirst. One day they came to a large tank and found it dry. So they made a sacrifice in the hopes that water would flow. First they sacrificed goats and sang:--

"Tank, we are giving goats     
Trickle out water!     
Tank, we are giving goats     
Flow, water!"

                But no water came. Then in succession they sacrificed sheep, and oxen and buffaloes, and horses and elephants, but all in vain: and after each failure the Raja said "Son-in-law, it is your turn," and at last his son-in-law said "Well, let it be me;" and he armed himself and mounted his horse and went and stood in the middle of the tank, and he sang:--

"Up to my knees the water, father,     
The water, father, has oozed out."

                And the Raja answered:--

"Do you, my son, remain standing there,"

                And as he sang the water welled out up to his horse's knee and then to its belly; and he still sang and the water rose to the horse's back and then to his own waist, and to his chest, and he still sang, and it reached his mouth and then he was completely submerged and the tank was full. Then they all drank their fill and the Raja said to his men "We have sacrificed this Saru prince. I will kill any of you who tells my daughter what has happened" and they promised not to tell, but they forgot that there were two dogs with them. And when they got home each man's wife brought out water and welcomed him and the princess asked where her husband, the Saru prince, was, and no one answered; then she sang:--

"Oh Father, my father; How far away     
Is the Saru Prince, the Gindu Raja?"

and the Raja answered

"My daughter, my darling, the Saru Prince, the Gindu Raja     
Is very far away, amusing himself with hunting."

                And she sang to them all, but no one told her anything, and then she sang to the two dogs, who were named Chaura and Bhaura:--

"Oh Chaura, oh Bhaura,     
How far away     
Is the Saru Prince, the Gindu Raja?"

and they answered

"Oh sister, oh Rani!     
Your father has sacrificed him     
In the big tank."

                Thereupon she began to cry, and every day she sat and cried on the bank of the tank.

               Now the two daughters of the Snake King and Queen had received the Saru Prince as he disappeared under the water, and when they heard the princess crying every day they had pity on her; she used to sing:--

"Oh husband! Oh Raja!     
My father has sacrificed you     
In the big tank.     
Oh husband! Oh Raja,     
Take me with you too."

                So the daughters of the Snake King and Queen took pity on her and told their frog chowkidar to restore the Saru Prince to his wife; and the Prince and his wife went home together. When the Raja and his wife saw their son-in-law again, they were terrified, but he said nothing to reproach them. The princess however could not forgive them for trying to kill her husband and always looked angrily at them; then the Raja and the Rani took counsel together and agreed that they had done wrong to the prince, and that he must be a magician; and they thought that their daughter must also be a magician, as she had recognised the prince when he was a caterpillar, and she could not even see his long hair; so they were afraid and thought it best to make over the kingdom to their son-in-law, and they abdicated in his favour, and he took the kingdom.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Caterpillar Boy, The
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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