The Grateful Cow

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there were two brothers who were very poor and lived only by begging and gleaning. One day at harvest time they went out to glean. On their way they came to a stream with muddy banks and in the mud a cow had stuck fast and was unable to get out. The young brother proposed that they should help it out, but the elder brother objected saying that they might be accused of theft: the younger brother persisted and so they pulled the cow out of the mud. The cow followed them home and shortly afterwards produced a calf. In a few years the cow and her descendants multiplied in a marvellous manner so that the brothers became rich by selling the milk and ghi. They became so rich that the elder brother was able to marry; he lived at home with his wife and the younger brother lived in the jungle grazing the cattle. The elder brother’s son used every day to take out his uncle’s dinner to the jungle. This was not really necessary for the cow used to supply her master with all sorts of dainties to eat, so the younger brother, when his nephew brought out the rice used to give the boy some of the sweetmeats with which the cow supplied him, but he charged him not to tell his parents about this nor to take any home. But one day the boy hid some of the sweetmeats in his cloth and took them home and showed them to his mother. His mother had never seen such sweetmeats before and was convinced that her brother-in-law wished to poison her son. So she took the sweetmeats away and the next day she herself took out the dinner to her brother-in-law and after he had eaten it she said that she would comb his hair and pick out the lice from it; so he put his head on her lap and as she combed his hair in a soothing way he went off to sleep. When he was asleep the woman took out a knife and cut off his head. Then she got up and leaving the head and body lying at the place went home. But the cow had seen what occurred and with her horns she pushed the head along until it joined the neck: whereupon the man immediately came to life again and learned what had happened to him. So he drove off all the cattle to a distant part of the jungle and began to live there.

Every day he milked his large herd of cows and got a great quantity of milk; he asked his friend the cow what he was to do with it and she told him to pour it into a hole in the ground at the foot of a pipal tree Every day he poured the milk into the hole and one day as he was doing so out of the hole came a large snake and thanked him for his kindness in supplying the milk and asked him what reward he would wish to receive in return. Acting on a hint from the cow the man said that he would like to have all the milk back again. Whereupon the snake vomited up all the milk which it had drunk and died on the spot. But the milk mingled with poison fell over the man and imported to his body a glorious and shining appearance, so that he seemed to be made of fire.

After this the man used every day to go and bathe in a river, and each day when he bathed he threw one of his hairs into the water: and his hairs were very long. Lower down the river a princess used to bathe and one day she saw one of the hairs come floating down and vowed that she would marry no one but the owner of the hair. So the father of the princess sent a Brāhman up the river to look for the man with the long hair. The Brāhman was a very thin man with his ribs showing through his skin. After some days he found our hero and was amazed at his shining appearance. He told him that a princess wished to marry him: he was invited to stay some days; he did so, living on the milk from the herd of cows and in a short time became very fat. The cow told the man to take a basket and creep into the hole from which the snake had come he did so and at the bottom he found a heap of gold and silver: he filled his basket with this and came back and gave it all to the Brāhman, and told him to go home and inform his master that he would come in a few days and marry his daughter. When the Rājā saw the gold and silver and how fat the Brāhman had got he was very pleased to think what a son-in-law he was getting. In a few days the cow said that it was time to start and as he had no other conveyance he set out riding on the cow. When they reached the boundary of the Rājā’s kingdom the man woke up one morning and found that a great retinue of elephants and horses and pālkis and sipāhis had appeared during the night. This was owing to the magic of the cow. So the man mounted an elephant and went in state to the Rājā and married his daughter with great ceremony. After staying some days he decided to return home and started off with his wife and grand retinue. When they reached the boundary of the kingdom all the elephants and horses and pālkis and sipāhis vanished into air, and the princess found that she and her husband had nothing but an old cow to ride upon. At this she was very unhappy but she was ashamed to go back to her father, so she went on with her husband and helped to tend the cows in the jungle.

One morning they woke up and found that in the night a grand palace had sprung up fitted with wealth of every kind, this was the last gift of the cow which soon afterwards died. Thus the man became a Rājā and founded a kingdom and he gave a rupee to every one who would come and settle in his kingdom. Many people came and among others his brother and sister-in-law who had fallen into great poverty. When they saw their brother they were afraid and thought that they would be killed, but he forgave them and gave them clothes and land and they all lived happily ever after.