Folklore of the Santal Parganas | Annotated Tale

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Messengers of Death, The

THERE was once a Brahman who had four sons born to him, but they all died young; a fifth son however was born to him, who grew up to boyhood. But it was fated that he too should die before reaching manhood. One day while his father was away from home, the messengers of death came to take him away. The Brahman's wife thought that they were three friends or relations of her husband, who had come to pay a visit, and gave them a hearty welcome. And when she asked who they were, they also told her that they were connections of her husband. Then she asked them to have some dinner and they said that they would eat, provided that she used no salt in the cooking. She promised not to do, but what she did was to scatter some salt over the bottom of the dish. Then she cooked the rice and turned it into the dish and gave it to them to eat. They ate but when they came to the bottom of the dish they tasted the salt which had been underneath. Then the three messengers said "She has got the better of us; we have eaten her salt and can no longer deceive her; we must tell her why we have come."

               So they told her that her son was to die that night and that Chando had sent them to take away his spirit: all they could do was to let her come too, and see the place to which her son's spirit was going. The mother thought that this would be a consolation to her, so she went with them. When they arrived in the spirit world they told the Brahman's wife to wait for them by a certain house in which dwelt her son's wife; and they took the boy to Chando. Presently they brought him back to the house in which his wife dwelt and near which his mother was waiting and she overheard the following conversation between the boy and his wife. The wife said "Have you come for good this time, or must you again go back to the world?"

               "I have to go back once more."

               "And how will you manage to return again here?"

               "I shall ask for the dust of April and May and if it is not given to me I shall cry myself to death; and if that fails, I shall cry for a toy winnowing fan; and if they give me that, then I will cry for an elephant and if that fails then on my wedding day there will be two thorns in the rice they give me to eat and they will stick in my throat and kill me. And if that does not come to pass, then, when I return home after the wedding, a leopard will kill a cow and I shall run out to chase the leopard and I shall run after it, till I run hither to you."

               "When you come back," said his wife, "bring me some of the vermilion they use in the world" and the boy promised.

               The messengers then took the Brahman's wife home, and shortly afterwards the boy was born again. His mother had carefully guarded the memory of all that she had heard in the other world; and when the child asked for the dust and the winnowing fan and the elephant, she at once gratified his desires. So the boy grew up, and his wedding day arrived. His mother insisted on accompanying him to the bride's house, and when the rice was brought for the bride and bridegroom to eat together, she asked to be allowed to look at it first, and on examining it pulled out the the two thorns; and then her son ate it unharmed. But when the wedding party returned home and the ceremony of introducing the bride to the house was being performed, word was brought that a leopard had killed one of the cows; at once the bridegroom ran out in pursuit; but his mother followed him and called out, "My son, your wife told you to take her some of the vermilion of this world; here is some that I have brought, take it with you." At this her son stopped and asked her to explain what she meant; then she told him all and he went no more in pursuit of the leopard: so he stayed and grew up and lived to a good old age.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Messengers of Death, 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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