The False Rānī

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time a Rājā who had just married was returning with his bride to his kingdom. It was hot weather and a long journey and as they passed through a jungle the Rājā and all his men went down to a stream to drink leaving the bride sitting in her pālki. As the bride thus sat all alone she was frightened at seeing a she-bear come up. The bear asked the bride who she was and where she was going. When she heard, she thought that she would like to share so agreeable a fate, so by threats she made the Rānī get out of her pālki and give her all her fine clothes and jewellery and go away into the jungle. The bear dressing herself in the Rānī’s clothes, got into the pālki, and when the men came back they took up the pālki and went on their way without noticing any change, nor did the Rājā detect the fraud: he took the bear to his palace and installed her as his wife. Meanwhile the real bride had picked up the walking stick of the Rājā and a cloth which he had left on the road when he went to the stream, and ran into the jungle. She made her way to the house of a Ghāsi woman who lived by the Rājā’s palace with her daughters. The daughters earned a living by selling flowers and one day one daughter, as she sold the Rājā a garland, told him that his real bride was living in their house. The Rājā was very distressed and at once went to see his bride and was satisfied of her identity when she produced his stick and cloth. The real Rānī refused to go to his palace until the she bear had been put to death. Thereupon the Rājā gave instructions to his followers and sent word to the palace that he was dead. The officers and servants at the palace then prepared a big pit and lit a large fire in it: they then sent for the she bear and told her that she must perform the funeral ceremonies of her husband. They made her take off her fine clothes and told her to kneel down by the burning pit and make salaam to it. As she was doing so they pushed her into the pit and she was burned to death. Then the Rājā brought home his real bride in triumph. But from that time bears attack men when they get the chance.