The Prince Who Became King of the Jackals

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there lived a Rājā whose son formed a great friendship with a barber. For some reason the Rājā quarrelled with his son and ordered him to leave the kingdom. Accordingly the prince departed to a far country in company with his friend, the barber. In order to earn a living the barber opened a school and the prince took service with a mahājan. They were in such straits that the prince had to submit to very hard terms, it was arranged that his wages were to be one leaf-plate full of rice a day: and that if he threw up the service he was to lose a piece of his skin a span long. After a short time the prince who had been brought up in luxury found the work so hard and the food so scanty that he resolved to leave the mahājan: but before he went he had to submit to a piece of skin being cut off, in terms of the agreement. The prince then went to the barber and told him how ill he had fared. The barber vowed that he should be avenged. So he went and offered himself as a servant to the mahājan: he was engaged and it was agreed that whichever party first proposed to terminate the contract should lose a piece of skin a span long. The barber worked so badly and ate so much that one day the mahājan in a fit of rage ordered him to leave the place and in consequence forfeited a piece of his skin.

Having repaid the mahājan in his own coin the prince and the barber left those parts and journeyed to the land of the king of the jackals. They found the king of the jackals asleep in front of his cave. While he still slept the barber shaved all the hair off his tail. Then the two friends hid in the cave, drawing a cart in front of the entrance. When the jackal awoke and found that he had been shaved he concluded that there were bongas (spirits) about; and ran away in terror. After going a short distance he met a bear who asked where he was going in such a hurry. The king of the jackals said that some bongas had taken possession of his cave and shaved off his hair. The bear agreed to go back with the jackal and see if he could exorcise the spirits. Going to the cave the bear climbed on to the cart to offer a sacrifice. As he sat there the barber caught hold of his tail and held on to it while the prince began to stab the bear with a knife. The bear howled and groaned but could not get away. The king of the jackals who was looking on was delighted, for he concluded that the bongas had taken possession of the bear who would learn who they were and how they were to be exorcised. At last the bear broke free and ran away: the jackal ran after him and asked him what the bongas had told him: but the bear only said ugh ugh and ran into the jungle. Then the jackal met a tiger and telling his story persuaded the tiger also to try his hand at exorcising the spirits. The tiger was treated in the same way as the bear had been and ran off without giving the jackal any information.

Then the king of the jackals resolved to try himself and mounted on to the cart. But the barber stabbed him through the bamboos and killed him. Then the prince succeeded to the kingdom of the jackals, and not only so, but replaced the piece of skin which he had forfeited to the mahājan by a piece of the skin of the dead jackal.