The Mongoose Boy,

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas,

A Santhal Pargana Tale

Once upon a time there was a Rājā who had seven wives but no children. In hope of issue he retired to the jungle and began a course of prayers and sacrifices. While he was so engaged a Brāhman came to him and told him to take a stick and with it knock down seven mangoes from a neighbouring tree, and catch them before they reached the ground: he promised that if the Rānīs ate these mangoes they would bear children. The Rājā did as he was directed and took the mangoes home and gave one to each of his wives.

The youngest Rānī happened at the time to be sweeping out a room and so she put her mango in a niche in the wall. Just then a neighbour sent a mongoose, who was her servant, to ask for a light. While the Rānī was fetching a firebrand from the hearth the mongoose saw the mango and climbing up nibbled part of it without being seen. After this the Rānī ate the mango. In due time the seven Rānīs each gave birth to a son: but the son of the youngest Rānī was the most beautiful with a face like a mongoose. The eldest Rānī was jealous of the beauty of the youngest Rānī’s son so one day she sent the youngest Rānī to fetch some water: and during her absence took up the mongoose boy and putting a stone and a broom in its place took the child away and buried it in the pit from which the potters dig their earth. When the Rājā heard that his youngest wife had given birth to nothing but a stone and a broom he was very angry and turned her out of the palace.

Meanwhile a potter had found the mongoose boy still alive and had taken him to his home. There the child grew up and became a strong boy. One day he asked the potter to make him an earthenware horse. On this horse he used to ride about, for directly he mounted it, it was endowed with life. One day the mongoose boy took his earthenware horse to water it at a tank near the palace and there his six brothers saw it and insisted that they also should have earthenware horses to ride. Horses were accordingly made for them but when they mounted, the horses would not budge an inch. Enraged at this the princes complained to their mothers. The Rānīs at once suspected the identity of the potter’s boy and told their sons to kill him.

So one day when the young princes met him at the tank they killed the mongoose boy and buried his body. At the place where the body was buried there grew up a bamboo of extraordinary size and a bush with sweet and beautiful flowers: many people tried to cut down the big bamboo and to pluck the beautiful flowers but every arm that was raised to do so was restrained by some unseen power. Eventually the news of this portent reached the ears of the Rājā who went to see what was happening. When the Rājā tried to pluck a flower he succeeded at the first attempt. The Rājā then cut down the bamboo and out of it stepped the mongoose boy who told of the illtreatment which he had received at the hands of the six Rānīs and their sons. The Rājā wished him to come to the palace but he insisted that his mother should first be sent for. This was at once done.

Then the Rājā had a wide and deep well dug and announced that a Pujā was to be performed at the opening of the well. To the ceremony came the six Rānīs and their sons. As they all knelt at the edge of the well doing pujā the Rājā had them pushed into it, so that they were all drowned. Thus the wicked were punished and the mongoose boy eventually succeeded to his father’s kingdom.