The Cunning Potter,

Translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

A Santhal Pargana Tale

Once upon a time there lived at the gate of a Rājā’s palace a Potter who had a pretty wife. The Rājā fell in love with the Potter’s wife and schemed to get rid of the husband. He could not bring himself to commit a cold blooded murder, but he tried to accomplish his object indirectly by setting the Potter impossible tasks which he was to accomplish on pain of death. The Rājā accordingly sent for the Potter and ordered him to bring him the heads of twenty-four jackals.

The Potter went away to the jungle and began to dig a large hole in the side of a hill. A jackal presently came by and stopped to ask why he was digging the hole. The Potter said that it was going to rain fire from heaven, and that every one who had not such a shelter would be burnt. At this the jackal became very frightened; the Potter thereupon said that he was so sorry for them that he would allow the jackal and his friends to share the hole which he was digging. The jackal gratefully ran away and returned with a number of other jackals. They all went into the hole and the Potter closed the entrance. After a time the Potter looked out and said that the fire was over; he then stationed himself at the mouth of the hole and as the jackals came out he cut off their heads with a knife; in this away he beheaded twenty-three jackals; but the last jackal saw what was happening and dodged the knife and escaped. The Potter took the twenty-three heads to the Rājā; but the Rājā pretended to be angry and said that if the Potter did not at once procure a twenty-fourth head, he would be beheaded himself. The Potter took a pot of gur and went to a pool of water which lay in the direction in which the twenty-fourth jackal had fled. Smearing his body all over with gur, he lay down by the water and pretended to be dead. Presently the jackal which had escaped passed that way with a friend. Seeing the body the second jackal proposed at once to go and eat it; but the first jackal warned the other that there was probably some plot and related how twenty-three of his friends had lost their lives at the hands of this very Potter. But the second jackal would not listen to advice and going to the supposed corpse smelt it and then began to lick it; finding the taste of the gur very pleasant it set to work to lick the body all over beginning at the feet; it licked the feet and then the legs, when it reached his waist it was within reach of his hand and the Potter stabbed it with his knife and took the head to the Rājā.

Foiled in this design, the Rājā next ordered the Potter to bring him a jar of tiger’s milk. Taking some loaves of bread, the Potter went into the jungle and soon found a cave in which was a pair of tiger cubs whose parents were away hunting. The Potter told the cubs that he was their uncle and gave them the bread to eat; they liked the taste of the bread very much. Then the Potter hid himself in a tree near the cave. Presently the tigress came back but her cubs refused to suck her milk as usual, the tigress asked the reason of this and the cubs said that their uncle had come and fed them with something nicer than milk and they were no longer hungry. They then pointed out the Potter in the tree and the tigress wanted to know what he had given her cubs to eat. He told her that it was bread: the tigress said that she would like to try some herself, whereupon the potter replied that he would give her some if she would first give him some of her milk. The tigress agreed and also consented that her legs should be tied while she was being milked in order that she might not be able to harm the potter. The tigress having been milked, the Potter gave her a loaf of bread and then ran away as fast as he could.

Finding that he would not be able to get rid of the Potter by any such devices, the Rājā then persuaded the faithless wife to put the Potter to death. She accordingly set up an idol in her house and prayed daily to this that her husband might become blind and die. One day the Potter overheard her prayers: the next day he hid behind the idol and when the woman came and prayed he answered from behind the idol that her prayer was granted and that in two days her husband would become blind. Accordingly, two days later the Potter pretended to become blind. Then the woman sent word to the Rājā that her husband was blind and that they had nothing to fear from him. The Rājā accordingly came one night to visit the woman, and the Potter killed them both with an axe. He buried the body of his wife, but he was in great trouble as to how to dispose of the body of the Rājā: for he knew that there would be a hue and cry when the disappearance of the Rājā was discovered. At last he decided to put the body in a field of brinjals belonging to a neighbour. Towards morning, the owner of the field came to see that his property was all right, and seeing some one among the brinjals, thought that it was a thief. He accordingly hit the supposed thief on the head; and when he came to examine the body, he was shocked to find that he had, as he thought, killed the Rājā. In great distress he went to consult his friend, the Potter; the Potter advised him to put the body among the buffaloes belonging to a Goālā. At dawn the Goālā came to look at his buffaloes and seeing the body of the Rājā thought that it was a thief stealing the milk of the buffaloes: catching up a club, he inflicted a blow which caused the body to fall over. When the Goālā, found that the body was that of the Rājā and that he had apparently killed him, he was in great fear and went to his friend, the Potter, for advice. It was finally decided to dispose of the body by putting it down a well. The next day great search was made for the missing Rājā and the body was found in the well by a Brāhman. Preparations were made for the obsequies and a funeral pyre erected. The Potter saw his opportunity and digging a hole in the ground under the pyre hid himself in it. When the body had been cremated and the mourners were still collected at the spot, the Potter began to speak from the hole in which he was concealed: the bystanders thought that they heard the voice of the Rājā declaring that the Potter had always been his true friend and that he desired that he should be given half the kingdom and the hand of his daughter in marriage. The supposed wishes of the late Rājā were obeyed and the Potter lived in luxury for the rest of his life.