ONCE upon a time a young man of the Goala caste was going to his wedding; he was riding along in a palki, with all his friends, to the bride's house and as he was passing by a pool of water he heard a voice saying, "Stop you happy bridegroom; you are happy, going to fetch your bride; spare a thought for my misfortune and stay and pull me out of this quagmire." Looking out he saw a cow stuck fast in the mud at the edge of the pool, but he had no pity for it and harshly refused to go to its help, for fear lest he should make his clothes muddy.
Then the cow cursed the Goala, saying, "Because you have refused to help me in my extremity, this curse shall light on you, directly you touch your bride you shall turn into a donkey." At these words the Goala was filled with fear and telling the bearers to put down the palki he alighted and ran and pulled the cow out of the mud; this done, he begged her to withdraw the curse, but the cow declared that this was impossible, what she had said was bound to come to pass. At these words the Goala began to lament and threw himself at the feet of the cow, beseeching her; at length the cow relented, and promised that though the curse could not be withdrawn it should be mitigated and it would be possible for his wife to restore him to human shape. So the Goala had to take what comfort he could from this and returning to the palki he told his friends what had passed. Much downcast the procession continued its way, wondering what would be the upshot of this adventure.
Arrived at the bride's house, they proceeded to celebrate the wedding; but as the Goala touched the bride with his finger to apply the vermilion mark to her forehead, he suddenly became a donkey. The company were filled with dismay and the bride's parents declared that they would never let their daughter go away with such a husband, but the bride herself spoke up and said that as Thakur for some reason had given her such a husband she would cleave to him, and nothing that her relations said could shake her purpose; so when the bridal party set out homewards, she went with them to her husband's house. But there everyone laughed at her so much for having married a donkey that she made up her mind to run away to another country; so one day she packed up some provisions for the journey and set out, driving the donkey before her.
She journeyed on and on till one day she happened to come to a tank with a large well near it; she turned the donkey loose to graze on the banks of the tank and sat down by the well to eat some of the food which she had with her. In the fields below the tank were some twenty ploughmen in the service of the Raja of that country, driving their ploughs; and when it got past noon these men began to grumble, because; no one had brought them their dinner; as it got later and later they became more and more violent, and vowed that when anyone did come they would give him a good beating for his laziness. At last one of the maid-servants of the Raja was seen coming along, carrying their food in a basket on her head and with her child running by her side. The sight pacified the ploughmen and the maid-servant hastened to set down the basket near them and then went off to the well to draw some water for them.
Just as she was ready to let down the water-pot, a wedding procession passed along the road with drums and music, making a fine show. The maid could not keep her eyes off this, but at the same time did not wish to keep the ploughmen waiting any longer; so, with her eyes on the procession, she tied the well-rope, as she thought round the neck of the water-pot, but really, without knowing it, she tied the rope round the neck of her own little child and proceeded to lower him into the well. When she pulled up the rope she found that she had strangled her own child.
She was of course much distressed at this, but she was even more afraid of what might be done to her and at once hit on a device to save herself from the charge of murder. Taking the dead child in her arms she ran to the ploughmen and scattered all the food she had brought about the ground; then with the child still in her arms, she ran to the Raja and complained to him that his ploughmen had assaulted her, because she was late in taking them their dinner, had knocked the basket of food all about the ground and had beaten her child to death; she added that a strange woman was grazing a donkey near the place and must have seen all that passed.
The Raja at once sent a Sipahi to fetch the ploughmen and when they came before him he asked them what had happened, and bade them swear before Sing bonga whether they were guilty of the murder. The ploughmen solemnly swore to speak the truth, and then told the Raja exactly what had happened, how the woman had killed her child by mistake and then falsely charged them with the murder. Then the Raja asked them whether they had any witnesses, and they said that there was no one of their own village present at the time, but that a strange woman was grazing an ass on the banks of the tank, who must have seen all that happened. Then the Raja sent two sipahis to fetch the woman, telling them to treat her well and bring her along gently. So the sipahis went to the woman and told her that the Raja wanted her on very important business; she made no demur and went to fetch her donkey. The sipahis advised her to leave it behind to graze, but she said that wherever she went the donkey must go and drove it along with her.
When she appeared before the Raja he explained to her what had happened, and how the maid-servant told one story about the death of the child and the ploughmen another, and he charged her to speak the truth as to what she had seen. The Goala's bride answered that she was ready to take an oath and to swear by her donkey: if she spoke the truth the donkey would turn into a man, and if she lied it would retain its shape. "If you take that oath," said the Raja, "the case shall be decided accordingly." Then the Goala's wife began to tell all that she had seen and how the ploughmen were angry because their dinner was late, and how the maid-servant had gone to the well to draw water and had strangled her child by mistake and had then knocked over the basket and charged the ploughmen with the murder. "If I have lied may Chando punish me and if I have spoken the truth may this ass become a man;" so saying she laid her hand on the back of the animal and it at once resumed its human shape.
This was sufficient to convince the Raja, who turned to the maid-servant and reproached her with trying to ruin the ploughmen by her false charge. She had no answer to make but took up the dead body of the child and went out without a word.
Thus the Goala was restored to his original shape, but he and his faithful wife did not return to their own relations; they took service with a farmer of that country and after a time they saved money and took some land and lived prosperously and well. From that time men of the Goala caste have always been very careful to treat cattle well.