The River Snake

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time a certain woman had been on a visit to a distant village. As she was going home she reached the bank of a flooded river. She tried to wade across but soon found that the water was too deep and the current too strong. She looked about but could see no signs of a boat or any means of crossing. It began to grow dark and the woman was in great distress at the thought that she would not be able to reach her home.

While she thus stood in doubt, suddenly out of the river came a great snake an said to her: “Woman, what will you give me if I ferry you across the river?” She answered: “Snake, I have nothing to give you.” The snake said I cannot take you across the river unless you promise to give me something. Now the woman at the time was pregnant and not knowing what else to do, she promised that when her child was born, if it were a daughter she would marry her to the river snake and if it were a son that, when the boy grew up he should become the “juri” or “name friend” of the snake. The woman swore to do this with an oath and then the snake took her on his back and bore her safely across the flooded stream. The woman safely reached her home and in a little time a daughter was born to her. Years passed away and the woman forgot all about the snake and her oath. One day she went to the river to fetch water and the snake came out of the stream and said to her: “Woman, where is the wife whom you promised to me?” The woman then remembered her oath and going back to her house she returned to the river with her daughter. When the girl came to the bank of the river the snake seized her and drew her underneath the water and her mother saw her no more. The girl lived with the snake at the bottom of the river and in the course of years bore him four snake sons.

Afterwards the girl remembered her home and one day she went to visit her mother. Her brothers when they came home were astonished to see her and said: “Sister, we thought that you were drowned in the river.” She answered: “No, I was not drowned, but I am married and have children.” The brothers said: “Where is this brother-in-law of ours?” Their sister said: “Go to the river and call him.” So they went to the river and called and the snake came up out of the water and went to their house with them. Then they welcomed the snake and gave him great quantities of rice beer to drink. After drinking this the snake became sleepy and coiling himself in great coils went to sleep. Then the brothers who did not like a snake brother-in-law took their axes and cut off the head of the snake while he slept, and afterwards their sister lived in their house.