Hindu Tales from the Sanskrit
S. M. Mitra and Nancy Bell
Part 1 out of 3
Hindu Tales from the Sanskrit
S. M. Mitra
Mrs. Arthur Bell
Thanks to Mr. S. M. Mitra, the well-known Hindu psychologist and
politician, who has done so much to draw more closely together
the land of his birth and that of his adoption, I am able to bring
within reach of English children a number of typical Hindu Tales,
translated by him from the Sanskrit, some of them culled from the
ancient classics of India, others from widely separated sources. The
latter have hitherto been quite inaccessible to western students,
as they are not yet embodied in literature, but have been transmitted
orally from generation to generation for many centuries.
These tales are not only of a kind to enchain the attention of
children. They also illustrate well the close affinity between the two
chief branches of the great Aryan race, and are of considerable ethical
value, reflecting, as they do, the philosophy of self-realisation
which lies at the root of Hindu culture. They have been used from
time immemorial by the best teachers of India as a means of building
up the personalities of the young and maintaining the efficiency of
the adult. They serve in fact as text-books of the unique system of
Mind-Training which has been in use in India from remote Vedic times,
the root principle of which is as simple as it is effective.
Hindu children become familiar at their mothers' knees with these
stories, and are trained to answer questions on them, subtly chosen to
suit their ages and call into action their mental faculties. Appealing
to them as an amusing game, in which they vie with each other in
trying to solve the problems presented for their consideration,
the boys and girls, who are educated together till they are ten or
twelve years old, early learn to concentrate their attention; whilst
the simultaneous development of all their powers is encouraged and
they are, imperceptibly to themselves led to control their thoughts
and emotions from within, instead of having to obey orders which
they do not understand from without. They realize indeed, whilst
still in the nursery, the ideal suggested by the sage Vidura in the
Mahabharata: "Seek to know thyself by means of thyself, keeping thy
mind, intellect and senses, under control; for self is thy friend as
it is also thy foe."
1. The Magic Pitcher
2. The Story of a Cat, a Mouse, a Lizard and an Owl
3. A Royal Thief-Catcher
4. The Magic Shoes and Staff
5. The Jewelled Arrow
6. The Beetle and the Silken Thread
7. A Crow and His Three Friends
8. A Clever Thief
9. The Hermit's Daughter
The Magic Pitcher.
Long, long ago there lived far away in India a woodcutter called Subha
Datta and his family, who were all very happy together. The father
went every day to the forest near his home to get supplies of wood,
which he sold to his neighbours, earning by that means quite enough
to give his wife and children all that they needed. Sometimes he took
his three boys with him, and now and then, as a special treat, his two
little girls were allowed to trot along beside him. The boys longed to
be allowed to chop wood for themselves, and their father told them that
as soon as they were old enough he would give each of them a little axe
of his own. The girls, he said, must be content with breaking off small
twigs from the branches he cut down, for he did not wish them to chop
their own fingers off. This will show you what a kind father he was,
and you will be very sorry for him when you hear about his troubles.
All went well with Subha Datta for a long time. Each of the boys had
his own little axe at last, and each of the girls had a little pair
of scissors to cut off twigs; and very proud they all were when they
brought some wood home to their mother to use in the house. One day,
however, their father told them they could none of them come with him,
for he meant to go a very long way into the forest, to see if he could
find better wood there than nearer home. Vainly the boys entreated him
to take them with him. "Not to-day," he said, "you would be too tired
to go all the way, and would lose yourselves coming back alone. You
must help your mother to-day and play with your sisters." They had
to be content, for although Hindu children are as fond of asking
questions as English boys and girls, they are very obedient to their
parents and do all they are told without making any fuss about it.
Of course, they expected their father would come back the day he
started for the depths of the forest, although they knew he would
be late. What then was their surprise when darkness came and there
was no sign of him! Again and again their mother went to the door
to look for him, expecting every moment to see him coming along the
beaten path which led to their door. Again and again she mistook the
cry of some night-bird for his voice calling to her. She was obliged
at last to go to bed with a heavy heart, fearing some wild beast had
killed him and that she would never see him again.
1. What do you think had become of Subha Datta?
2. What would you have done when he did not come back?
When Subha Datta started for the forest, he fully intended to come
back the same evening; but as he was busy cutting down a tree, he
suddenly had a feeling that he was no longer alone. He looked up, and
there, quite close to him, in a little clearing where the trees had
been cut down by some other woodcutter, he saw four beautiful young
girls looking like fairies in their thin summer dresses and with
their long hair flowing down their backs, dancing round and round,
holding each other's hands. Subha Datta was so astonished at the
sight that he let his axe fall, and the noise startled the dancers,
who all four stood still and stared at him.
The woodcutter could not say a word, but just gazed and gazed at them,
till one of them said to him: "Who are you, and what are you doing in
the very depths of the forest where we have never before seen a man?"
"I am only a poor woodcutter," he replied, "come to get some wood to
sell, so as to give my wife and children something to eat and some
clothes to wear."
"That is a very stupid thing to do," said one of the girls. "You can't
get much money that way. If you will only stop with us we will have
your wife and children looked after for you much better than you can
do it yourself."
3. What would you have said if you had been the woodcutter?
4. Do you think the fairies really meant that they could do as they
Subha Datta, though he certainly did love his wife and children, was
so tempted at the idea of stopping in the forest with the beautiful
girls that, after hesitating a little while, he said, "Yes, I will stop
with you, if you are quite sure all will be well with my dear ones."
"You need not be afraid about that," said another of the girls. "We
are fairies, you see, and we can do all sorts of wonderful things. It
isn't even necessary for us to go where your dear ones are. We shall
just wish them everything they want, and they will get it. And the
first thing to be done is to give you some food. You must work for
us in return, of course."
Subha Datta at once replied, "I will do anything you wish."
"Well, begin by sweeping away all the dead leaves from the clearing,
and then we will all sit down and eat together."
Subha Datta was very glad that what he was asked to do was so easy. He
began by cutting a branch from a tree, and with it he swept the floor
of what was to be the dining-room. Then he looked about for the food,
but he could see nothing but a great big pitcher standing in the
shade of a tree, the branches of which hung over the clearing. So
he said to one of the fairies, "Will you show me where the food is,
and exactly where you would like me to set it out?"
At these questions all the fairies began to laugh, and the sound of
their laughter was like the tinkling of a number of bells.
5. What was there to laugh at in the questions of Subha Datta?
6. What is your idea of a fairy?
When the fairies saw how astonished Subha Datta was at the way they
laughed, it made them laugh still more, and they seized each other's
hands again and whirled round and round, laughing all the time.
Poor Subha Datta, who was very tired and hungry, began to get unhappy
and to wish he had gone straight home after all. He stooped down to
pick up his axe, and was just about to turn away with it, when the
fairies stopped their mad whirl and cried to him to stop. So he waited,
and one of them said:
"We don't have to bother about fetching this and fetching that. You
see that big pitcher. Well, we get all our food and everything else
we want out of it. We just have to wish as we put our hands in,
and there it is. It's a magic pitcher--the only one there is in the
whole wide world. You get the food you would like to have first,
and then we'll tell you what we want."
Subha Datta could hardly believe his ears when he heard that. Down he
threw his axe, and hastened to put his hand in the pitcher, wishing
for the food he was used to. He loved curried rice and milk, lentils,
fruit and vegetables, and very soon he had a beautiful meal spread
out for himself on the ground. Then the fairies called out, one after
the other, what they wanted for food, things the woodcutter had never
heard of or seen, which made him quite discontented with what he had
chosen for himself.
7. What would you have wished for if you had had a magic pitcher?
8. Would it be a good thing, do you think, to be able to get food
without working for it or paying for it?
The next few days passed away like a dream, and at first Subha Datta
thought he had never been so happy in his life. The fairies often went
off together leaving him alone, only coming back to the clearing when
they wanted something out of the pitcher. The woodcutter got all kinds
of things he fancied for himself, but presently he began to wish he
had his wife and children with him to share his wonderful meals. He
began to miss them terribly, and he missed his work too. It was no
good cutting trees down and chopping up wood when all the food was
ready cooked. Sometimes he thought he would slip off home when the
fairies were away, but when he looked at the pitcher he could not
bear the thought of leaving it.
9. What sort of man do you think Subha Datta was from what this story
tells you about him?
10. What do you think was the chief cause of his becoming discontented
after he had been in the service of the fairies for a few days?
Soon Subha Datta could not sleep well for thinking of the wife and
children he had deserted. Suppose they were hungry when he had plenty
to eat! It even came into his head that he might steal the pitcher
and take it home with him when the fairies were away. But he had not
after all the courage to do this; for even when the beautiful girls
were not in sight, he had a feeling that they would know if he tried
to go off with the pitcher, and that they would be able to punish him
in some terrible way. One night he had a dream that troubled him very
much. He saw his wife sitting crying bitterly in the little home he
used to love, holding the youngest child on her knee whilst the other
three stood beside her looking at her very, very sadly. He started up
from the ground on which he lay, determined to go home at once; but
at a little distance off he saw the fairies dancing in the moonlight,
and somehow he felt again he could not leave them and the pitcher. The
next day, however, he was so miserable that the fairies noticed it,
and one of them said to him: "Whatever is the matter? We don't care
to keep unhappy people here. If you can't enjoy life as we do, you
had better go home."
Then Subha Datta was very much frightened lest they should really
send him away; so he told them about his dream and that he was afraid
his dear ones were starving for want of the money lie used to earn
"Don't worry about them," was the reply: "we will let your wife know
what keeps you away. We will whisper in her ear when she is asleep,
and she will be so glad to think of your happiness that she will
forget her own troubles."
11. Do you think what the fairies said to the woodcutter was likely
to comfort him about his wife and children?
12. If you had been in Subha Datta's place what would you have said
to the fairies when they made this promise?
Subha Datta was very much cheered by the sympathy of the fairies,
so much so that he decided to stop with them for a little longer
at least. Now and then he felt restless, but on the whole the time
passed pleasantly, and the pitcher was a daily delight to him.
Meanwhile his poor wife was at her wits' end how to feed her dear
children. If it had not been that the two boys were brave, plucky
little chaps, she really would have been in despair. When their father
did not come back and all their efforts to find him were in vain,
these boys set to work to help their mother. They could not cut
down trees, but they could climb them and chop off small branches
with their axes; and this they did, making up bundles of faggots and
selling them to their neighbours. These neighbours were touched by
the courage they showed, and not only paid them well for the wood
but often gave them milk and rice and other little things to help
them. In time they actually got used to being without Subha Datta,
and the little girls nearly forgot all about him. Little did they
dream of the change that was soon to come into their lives.
13. Was it a good or a bad thing for the boys that their father did
not come back?
14. If you think it was a good thing, will you explain why? and if
it was a bad thing, why you think it was?
A month passed peacefully away in the depths of the forest, Subha
Datta waiting on the fairies and becoming every day more selfish
and bent on enjoying himself. Then he had another dream, in which he
saw his wife and children in the old home with plenty of food, and
evidently so happy without him that he felt quite determined to go and
show them he was still alive. When he woke he said to the fairies,
"I will not stop with you any longer. I have had a good time here,
but I am tired of this life away from my own people."
The fairies saw he was really in earnest this time, so they consented
to let him go; but they were kind-hearted people and felt they ought
to pay him in some way for all he had done for them. They consulted
together, and then one of them told him they wished to make him a
present before he went away, and they would give him whatever he
15. What do you think it was that made Subha Datta determine to go
home when he found his wife and children could do without him?
16. What would you have chosen if the fairies had told you you could
have anything you liked?
Directly the woodcutter heard he could have anything he asked for,
he cried, "I will have the magic pitcher."
You can just imagine what a shock this was to the fairies! You know,
of course, that fairies always keep their word. If they could not
persuade Subha Datta to choose something else, they would have to
give him their beloved, their precious pitcher and would have to
seek their food for themselves. They all tried all they could to
persuade the woodcutter to choose something else. They took him to
their own secret treasure-house, in an old, old tree with a hollow
trunk, even the entrance to which no mortal had ever been allowed
to see. They blindfolded him before they started, so that he could
never reveal the way, and one of them led him by the hand, telling
him where the steps going down from the tree began. When at last the
bandage was taken from his eyes, he found himself in a lofty hall
with an opening in the roof through which the light came. Piled up
on the floor were sparkling stones worth a great deal of gold and
silver money, and on the walls hung beautiful robes. Subha Datta was
quite dazed with all lie saw, but he was only an ignorant woodcutter
and did not realize the value of the jewels and clothes. So when the
fairies, said to him, "Choose anything you like here and let us keep
our pitcher," he shook his head and said: "No! no! no! The pitcher! I
will have the pitcher!" One fairy after another picked up the rubies
and diamonds and other precious stones and held them in the light,
that the woodcutter might see how lovely they were; and when he still
only shook his head, they got down the robes and tried to make him
put one of them on. "No! the pitcher! the pitcher!" he said, and at
last they had to give it up. They bound his eyes again and led him
back to the clearing and the pitcher.
17. Would you have been tempted to give up the pitcher when you saw
the jewels and the robes?
18. What made Subha Datta so determined to have the pitcher?
Even when they were all back again in the clearing the fairies did
not quite give up hope of keeping their pitcher. This time they gave
other reasons why Subha Datta should not have it. "It will break very
easily," they told him, "and then it will be no good to you or any
one else. But if you take some of the money, you can buy anything
you like with it. If you take some of the jewels you can sell them
for lots of money."
"No! no! no!" cried the woodcutter. "The pitcher! the pitcher! I will
have the pitcher!"
"Very well then, take, the pitcher," they sadly answered, "and never
let us see your face again!"
So Subha Datta took the pitcher, carrying it very, very carefully,
lest he should drop it and break it before he got home. He did not
think at all of what a cruel thing it was to take it away from the
fairies, and leave them either to starve or to seek for food for
themselves. The poor fairies watched him till he was out of sight,
and then they began to weep and wring their hands. "He might at least
have waited whilst we got some food out for a few days," one of them
said. "He was too selfish to think of that," said another. "Come,
let us forget all about him and go and look for some fruit."
So they all left off crying and went away hand in hand. Fairies do
not want very much to eat. They can live on fruit and dew, and they
never let anything make them sad for long at a time. They go out of
this story now, but you need not be unhappy about them, because you
may be very sure that they got no real harm from their generosity to
Subha Datta in letting him take the pitcher.
19. Do you think the woodcutter was wrong to ask for the pitcher?
20. What would have been the best thing for Subha Datta to ask for,
if he had decided to let the fairies keep their pitcher?
You can just imagine what a surprise it was to Subha Datta's wife
and children when they saw him coming along the path leading to his
home. He did not bring the pitcher with him, but had hidden it in a
hollow tree in the wood near his cottage, for he did not mean any one
to know that he had it. He told his wife that he had lost his way in
the forest, and had been afraid he would never see her or his children
again, but he said nothing about the fairies. When his wife asked him
how he had got food, he told her a long story about the fruits he
had found, and she believed all he said, and determined to make up
to him now for all she thought he had suffered. When she called the
little girls to come and help her get a nice meal for their father,
Subha Datta said: "Oh, don't bother about that! I've brought something
back with me. I'll go and fetch it, but no one is to come with me."
Subha Datta's wife was sorely disappointed at this, because she loved
her husband so much that it was a joy to her to work for him. The
children too wanted, of course, to go with their father, but he
ordered them to stop where they were. He seized a big basket which was
fall of fuel for the fire, tumbled all the wood in it on the floor,
and went off alone to the pitcher. Very soon he was back again with
his basket full of all sorts of good things, the very names of which
his wife and children had no idea of. "There!" he cried; "what do you
think of that? Am I not a clever father to have found all that in the
forest? Those are the 'fruits' I meant when I told Mother about them."
21. What would you have thought about this wonderful supply of food,
if you had been one of the woodcutter's children?
22. Was it a good thing for those children to have all this food
without working for it? If not, why was it not a good thing?
Life was now, of course, completely changed for the family in the
forest. Subha Datta no longer went to cut wood to be sold, and the
boys also left off doing so. Every day their father fetched food for
them all, and the greatest desire of each one of the family was to
find out where it came from. They never could do so, for Subha Datta
managed to make them afraid to follow him when he went forth with
his basket. The secret he kept from the wife to whom he used to tell
everything soon began to spoil the happiness of the home. The children
who had no longer anything to do quarrelled with each other. Their
mother got sadder and sadder, and at last decided to tell Subha Datta
that, unless he would let her know where the food came from, she would
go away from him and take her little girls with her. She really did
mean to do this, but something soon happened to change everything
again. Of course, the neighbours in the wood, who had bought the
fuel from the boys and helped them by giving them fruit and rice,
heard of the return of their father and of the wonderful change in
their lot. Now the whole family had plenty to eat every day, though
none of them knew where it all came from. Subha Datta was very fond
of showing off what he could do, and sometimes asked his old friends
amongst the woodcutters to come and have a meal with him. When they
arrived they would find all sorts of good things spread out on the
ground and different kinds of wines in beautiful bottles.
This went on for some months, Subha Datta getting prouder and prouder
of all that he could do, and it seemed likely that his secret would
never be discovered. Everybody tried to find it out, and many followed
him secretly when he set forth into the woods; but he was very clever
at dodging them, hiding his treasure constantly in a new place in the
dead of the night. If he had only been content with getting food out
of his pitcher and drinking pure water, all would most likely have
been well with him. But that was just what he could not do. Till he
had his pitcher he had never drunk anything but water, but now he
often took too much wine. It was this which led to the misfortune
of losing his beloved pitcher. He began to boast of his cleverness,
telling his friends there was nothing they wanted that he could not
get for them; and one day when he had given them a very grand feast,
in which were several rare kinds of food they had asked for, he drank
too much wine--so much that he no longer knew what he was saying.
This was the chance his guests wanted. They began teasing him,
telling him they believed he was really a wicked robber, who had
stolen the food or the money to buy it. He got angry, and at last
was actually silly enough to tell them all to come with him, and
he would show them he was no robber. When his wife heard this, she
was half pleased to think that now at last the secret would come out
of where the food came from, and half afraid that something terrible
would happen. The children too were greatly excited, and went with the
rest of the party, who followed their father to the last hiding-place
of the precious pitcher.
When, they all got very near the place, however, some idea began to
come into Subha Datta's head that he was doing a very foolish thing. He
stopped suddenly, turned round facing the crowd that followed him,
and said he would not go a step further till they all went back to
the cottage. His wife begged him to let her at least go with him,
and the children all clamoured not to be sent back, but it was no
good. Back they all had to go, the woodcutter watching till they were
out of sight.
23. Would Subha Datta have been wise if he had told has wife about
24. Do you think it would have been a good or a bad thing for the
secret to be found out?
When the woodcutter was quite sure that every one was gone and
nobody could see where he had hidden the pitcher, he took it from the
hole in which it lay and carried it carefully to his home. You can
imagine how everybody rushed out to meet him when he came in sight,
and crowded round him, so that there was danger of the pitcher being
thrown to the ground and broken. Subha Datta however managed to get
into the cottage without any accident, and then he began to take
things out of the pitcher and fling them on the ground, shouting,
"Am I a robber? Am I a robber? Who dared to call me a robber?" Then,
getting more and more excited, he picked up the pitcher, and holding
it on his shoulder began to dance wildly about. His wife called out
to him, "Oh, take care, take care! You will drop it!" But he paid no
attention to her. Suddenly, however, he began to feel giddy and fell to
the ground, dropping the pitcher as he did so. It was broken to pieces,
and a great cry of sorrow went up from all who saw the accident. The
woodcutter himself was broken-hearted, for he knew that he had done
the mischief himself, and that if only he had resisted the temptation
to drink the wine he would still have his treasure.
He was going to pick up the pieces to see if they could be stuck
together, but to his very great surprise lie could not touch them. He
heard a silvery laugh, and what sounded like children clapping their
hands, and he thought he also heard the words, "Our pitcher is ours
again!" Could it all have been a dream? No: for there on the ground
were the fruits and cakes that had been in the pitcher, and there
were his wife, his children and his friends, all looking sadly and
angrily at him. One by one the friends went away, leaving Subha Datta
alone with his family.
25. If you had been Subha Datta's wife, what would you have done when
this misfortune came to her husband?
26. What would you have done if you had been the woodcutter?
This is the end of the story of the Magic Pitcher, but it was
the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of Subha Datta and
his family. They never forgot the wonder-working pitcher, and the
children were never tired of hearing the story of how their father
came to get it. They often wandered about in the forest, hoping that
they too would meet with some wonderful adventure, but they never saw
the fairies or found a magic pitcher. By slow degrees the woodcutter
returned to his old ways, but he had learnt one lesson. He never
again kept a secret from his wife; because he felt sure that, if he
had told her the truth about the pitcher when he first came home,
she would have helped him to save the precious treasure.
27. What lesson can be learnt from this story?
28. Do you think it is easier for a boy or a girl to keep a secret?
29. Why is it wrong to let out a secret you have been told?
30. What do you think was the chief fault in the character of Subha
The Story of a Cat, a Mouse, a Lizard and an Owl.
This is the story of four creatures, none of whom loved each other,
who lived in the same banyan tree in a forest in India. Banyan trees
are very beautiful and very useful, and get their name from the fact
that "banians," as merchants are called in India, often gather together
in their shade to sell their goods. Banyan trees grow to a very great
height, spreading their branches out so widely that many people can
stand beneath them. From those branches roots spring forth, which,
when they reach the ground, pierce it, and look like, columns holding
up a roof. If you have never seen a banyan tree, you can easily find
a picture of one in some dictionary; and when you have done so, you
will understand that a great many creatures can live in one without
seeing much of each other.
In an especially fine banyan tree, outside the walls of a town called
Vidisa, a cat, an owl, a lizard and a mouse, had all taken up their
abode. The cat lived in a big hole in the trunk some little distance
from the ground, where she could sleep very cosily, curled up out
of sight with her head resting on her forepaws, feeling perfectly
safe from harm; for no other creature, she thought, could possibly
discover her hiding-place. The owl roosted in a mass of foliage at
the top of the tree, near the nest in which his wife had brought up
their children, before those children flew away to seek mates for
themselves. He too felt pretty secure as long as he remained up there;
but he had seen the cat prowling about below him more than once,
and was very sure that, if she should happen to catch sight of him
when he was off his guard seeking his prey and obliged to give all
his attention to what he was doing, she might spring out upon him
and kill him. Cats do not generally attack such big birds as owls,
but they will sometimes kill a mother sitting in her nest, as well
as the little ones, if the father is too far off to protect them.
The lizard loved to lie and bask in the sunshine, catching the flies
on which he lived, lying so still that they did not notice him, and
darting out his long tongue suddenly to suck them into his mouth. Yet
he hid from the owl and the cat, because he knew full well that,
tough though he was, they would gobble him up if they happened to be
hungry. He made his home amongst the roots on the south side of the
tree where it was hottest, but the mouse had his hole on the other side
amongst damp moss and dead leaves. The mouse was in constant fear of
the cat and the owl. He knew that both of them could see in the dark,
and he would have no chance of escape if they once caught sight of him.
1. Which of these four creatures do you think was most to be pitied?
2. Do you think that animals ever hate or love each as human
The lizard and the mouse could only get food in daylight; but the
lizard did not have to go far for the flies on which he lived, whilst
the mouse had a very dangerous journey to take to his favourite feeding
place. This was a barley field a short distance from the banyan tree,
where he loved to nibble the full ears, running up the stalks to get at
them. The mouse was the only one of the four creatures in the banyan
tree who did not feed on others; for, like the rest of his family,
he was a vegetarian, that is to say, he ate nothing but vegetables
Now the cat knew full well how fond the mouse was of the barley-field,
and she used to keep watch amongst the tall stems, creeping stealthily
about with her tail in the air and her green eyes glistening,
expecting any moment to see the poor little mouse darting hastily
along. The cat never dreamt that any danger could come to her, and
she trod down the barley, making quite a clear path through it. She
was quite wrong in thinking herself so safe, for that path got her
into very serious trouble.
It so happened that a hunter, whose great delight was to kill wild
creatures, and who was very clever in finding them, noticing every
little thing which could shew him where they had passed by, came
one day into the barley-field. He spied the path directly and cried,
"Ha! ha! Some wild animal has been here; not a very big one; let's
have a look for the footprints!" So he stooped down to the ground,
and very soon saw the marks of pussy's feet. "A cat, I do believe,"
he said to himself, "spoiling the barley she doesn't want to eat
herself. I'll soon pay her out." The hunter waited until the evening
lest the creature should see what he was going to do, and then in the
twilight he set snares all over the barley-field. A snare, you know,
is a string with a slip-knot at the end of it; and if an animal puts
his head or one of his paws into this slip-knot and goes on without
noticing it, the string is pulled tight and the poor creature cannot
3. Was it right or wrong of the hunter to set the snare?
4. Do you think the cat was wrong to lie in wait for the mouse?
Exactly what the hunter expected happened. The cat came as usual to
watch for the mouse, and caught sight of him running across the end of
the path. Puss dashed after him; and just as she thought she really
had got him this time, she found herself caught by the neck, for she
had put her head into one of the snares. She was nearly strangled
and could scarcely even mew. The mouse was so close that he heard the
feeble mew, and in a terrible fright, thinking the cat was after him,
he peeped through the stems of the barley to make sure which way to
run to get away from her. What was his delight when he saw his enemy
in such trouble and quite unable to do him any harm!
Now it so happened that the owl and the lizard were also in the
barley-field, not very far away from the cat, and they too saw the
distress their hated enemy was in. They also caught sight of the little
mouse peeping through the barley; and the owl thought to himself,
"I'll have you, my little friend, now puss cannot do me any harm,"
whilst the lizard darted away into the sunshine, feeling glad that
the cat and the owl were neither of them now likely to trouble their
heads about him. The owl flew quietly to a tree hard by to watch what
would happen, feeling so sure of having the mouse for his dinner that
he was in no hurry to catch him.
5. What would you have done if you had been the mouse, when you saw
the cat in the snare?
6. Was the owl wise or foolish to wait before he caught the mouse?
The mouse, small and helpless though he was, was a wise little
creature. He saw the owl fly up into the tree, and knew quite well
that if he did not take care he would serve as dinner to that great
strong bird. He knew too that, if he went within reach of the claws
of the cat, he would suffer for it. "How I do wish," he thought to
himself, "I could make friends with the cat, now she is in distress,
and get her to promise not to hurt me if ever she gets free. As long
as I am near the cat, the owl will not dare to come after me." As he
thought and thought, his eyes got brighter and brighter, and at last
he decided what he would do. He had, you see, kept his presence of
mind; that is to say, he did not let his fright of the cat or the owl
prevent him from thinking clearly. He now ventured forth from amongst
the barley, and coming near enough to the cat for her to see him quite
clearly, but not near enough for her to reach him with her claws,
or far enough away for the owl to get him without danger from those
terrible claws, he said to the cat in a queer little squeaky voice:
"Dear Puss, I do not like to see you in such a fix. It is true we have
never been exactly friends, but I have always looked up to you as a
strong and noble enemy. If you will promise never to do me any harm,
I will do my best to help you. I have very sharp teeth, and I might
perhaps be able to nibble through the string round your beautiful
neck and set you free. What do you think about it?"
7. Do you think there was any chance of a cat and a mouse becoming
8. Can you give two or three instances you know of presence of mind
When the cat heard what the mouse said, she could hardly believe her
ears. She was of course ready to promise anything to anyone who would
help her, so she said at once:
"You dear little mouse, to wish to help me. If only you will nibble
through that string which is killing me, I promise that I will always
love you, always be your friend, and however hungry I may be, I will
starve rather than hurt your tender little body."
On hearing this, the mouse, without hesitating a moment, climbed up
on to the cat's back, and cuddled down in the soft fur near her neck,
feeling very safe and warm there. The owl would certainly not attack
him there, he thought, and the cat could not possibly hurt him. It was
one thing to pounce down on a defenceless little creature running on
the ground amongst the barley, quite another to try and snatch him
from the very neck of a cat.
The cat of course expected the mouse to begin to nibble through
the string at once, and became very uneasy when she felt the little
creature nestle down as if to go to sleep, instead of helping her. Poor
Pussy could not turn her head so as to see the mouse without drawing
the string tighter, and she did not dare to speak angrily lest she
should offend him. "My dear little friend," she said, "do you not
think it is high time to keep your promise and set me free?"
Hearing this, the mouse pretended to bite the string, but took care not
to do so really; and the cat waited and waited, getting more miserable
every minute. All through the long night the same thing went on:
the mouse taking a little nap now and then, the cat getting weaker
and weaker. "Oh," she thought to herself, "if only I could get free,
the first thing I would do would be to gobble up that horrid little
mouse." The moon rose, the stars came out, the wind murmured amongst
the branches of the banyan tree, making the unfortunate cat long to be
safe in her cosy home in the trunk. The cries of the wild animals which
prowl about at night seeking their food were heard, and the cat feared
one of them might find her and kill her. A mother tiger perhaps would
snatch her, and take her to her hungry cubs, hidden away in the deep
forest, or a bird of prey might swoop down on her and grip her in his
terrible claws. Again and again she entreated the mouse to be quick,
promising that, if only he would set her at liberty, she would never,
never, never forget it or do any harm to her beloved friend.
9. What do you suppose the mouse was thinking all this time?
10. If you had been the mouse, would you have trusted to what the
cat said in her misery?
It was not until the moon had set and the light of the dawn had put
out that of the stars that the mouse, made any real effort to help
the cat. By this time the hunter who had set the snare came to see if
he had caught the cat; and the poor cat, seeing him in the distance,
became so wild with terror that she nearly killed herself in the
struggle to get away. "Keep still! keep still," cried the mouse,
"and I will really save you." Then with a few quick bites with his
sharp teeth he cut through the string, and the next moment the cat
was hidden amongst the barley, and the mouse was running off in
the opposite direction, determined to keep well out of sight of the
creature he had kept in such misery for so many hours. Full well he
knew that all the cat's promises would be forgotten, and that she
would eat him up if she could catch him. The owl too flew away,
and the lizard went off to hunt flies in the sunshine, and there
was not a sign of any of the four inhabitants of the banyan tree
when the hunter reached the snare. He was very much surprised and
puzzled to find the string hanging loose in two pieces, and no sign
of there having been anything caught in it, except two white hairs
lying on the ground close to the trap. He had a good look round,
and then went home without having found out anything.
When the hunter was quite out of sight, the cat came forth from the
barley, and hastened back to her beloved home in the banyan tree. On
her way there she spied the mouse also hurrying along in the same
direction, and at first she felt inclined to hunt him and eat him
then and there. On second thoughts however she decided to try and keep
friends with him, because he might help her again if she got caught a
second time. So she took no notice of the mouse until the next day,
when she climbed down the tree and went to the roots in which she
knew the mouse was hidden. There she began to purr as loud as she
could, to show the mouse she was in a good humour, and called out,
"Dear good little mouse, come out of your hole and let me tell you how
very, very grateful I am to you for saving my life. There is nothing in
the world I will not do for you, if you will only be friends with me."
The mouse only squeaked in answer to this speech, and took very good
care not to show himself, till he was quite sure the cat was gone
beyond reach of him. He stayed quietly in his hole, and only ventured
forth after he had heard the cat climb up into the tree again. "It
is all very well," thought the mouse, "to pretend to make friends
with an enemy when that enemy is helpless, but I should indeed be a
silly mouse to trust a cat when she is free to kill me."
The cat made a good many other efforts to be friends with the mouse,
but they were all unsuccessful. In the end the owl caught the mouse,
and the cat killed the lizard. The owl and the cat both lived for
the rest of their lives in the banyan tree, and died in the end at
a good old age.
11. Do you think it is ever possible to make a real friend of an enemy?
12. What do you think the mouse deserved most praise for in his
13. Which of the four animals in this story do you like best and
which do you dislike most?
14. Can an animal be blamed for acting according to its nature? For
instance, can you call it cruel for a cat or an owl to kill and eat
15. Is it always right to forgive an injury?
16. Can you give an example from history of the forgiveness of
A Royal Thief-Catcher.
In one of the smaller cities of India called Sravasti the people
gathered together on a very hot day to stare at and talk about a
stranger, who had come in to the town, looking very weary and walking
with great difficulty because his feet were sore with tramping for a
long distance on the rough roads. He was a Brahman, that is to say,
a man who devoted his whole life to prayer, and had promised to give
up everything for the sake of pleasing the god in whom he believed,
and to care nothing for comfort, for riches, or for good food.
This Brahman carried nothing with him but a staff to help him along,
and a bowl in which to receive the offerings of those who thought it
their duty to help him and hoped by doing so to win favour in the sight
of God. He was naked, except for a cloth worn about his loins, and his
long hair was all matted together for want of combing and brushing. He
made his way very slowly and painfully through the crowds, till he came
to a shady corner, and there he sank down exhausted, holding out his
bowl for the gifts of the people. Very soon his bowl would have been
full of all sorts of good things, but he made it clear that he would
accept nothing to eat except rice still in the husk, and nothing to
drink but pure water. He was however willing to take money; and when
the people who wished to help him found that out, they brought him
a good many silver and gold pieces. Some who had no money to spare
gave him jewels and other things which could be sold for money.
1. Can you explain why the Brahman would only accept such food as
rice in the husk and water?
2. Do you think it was right or wrong of the Brahman to take money
As time went on, the Brahman became very well known in Sravasti. His
fame indeed spread far beyond the town, and people came from far away
to consult him about all sorts of things, and he gave them good advice,
for he was a very wise man. Those who wanted him to tell them what to
do paid him for his advice, and as some of them had plenty of money
and were glad to help him, he soon became quite rich. He might have
done a great deal of good with all this money by helping the poor and
suffering, but unfortunately he never thought of doing so. Instead
of that, he got to love the money for its own sake. At night, when
all those who had come to see him had gone to rest, and there was no
fear of his being found out, he used to steal away into the forest,
and there he dug a deep hole at the root of a great tree, to which
he took all his money and jewels.
In India everybody has a siesta, that is to say, a sleep in the
middle of the day, because the heat is so great it is difficult to
keep well and strong without this extra rest. So, although it is quite
light at the time, the streets are deserted, except for the dogs who
prowl about, trying to find something to eat. Now the Brahman loved
his money and other treasures so much, that he used very often to
do without this siesta and go to the forest to enjoy the pleasure of
looking at them. When he got to the tree, he would bend down, clear
away the earth and leaves with which he had hidden his secret hole,
take out the money and let it slip through his fingers, and hold up
the jewels to the light, to watch how they gleamed and glistened. He
was never so happy as when he was alone with his riches, and it was
all he could do to tear himself away from them when the time came to
go back to his shady corner. In fact he was becoming a selfish miser
instead of the holy man the people of Sravasti thought he was. By the
time the siesta was over he was always back again in his place beneath
the tree, holding out his bowl and looking as poor and thin as ever,
so that nobody had the least idea of the truth.
3. Why was it wrong for the Brahman to hide away his money and jewels?
4. Can anyone be a miser about other things as well as money and
jewels? If so, what other things?
For many months the Brahman led this double life; until one day,
when he went as usual to his hiding-place, he saw at once that some
one had been there before him. Eagerly he knelt down, full of fear
of exactly what had actually happened. All his care in concealing the
hole had been wasted, for it was quite empty. The poor man could not
at first believe his own eyes. He rubbed them hard, thinking that
there was something the matter with them. Then he felt round and
round the hole, hoping that after all he was mistaken; and when at
last he was obliged to believe the terrible truth that there really
was not a sign of his money and jewels, he became almost mad with
misery. He began to run from tree to tree, peering into their roots,
and when there was nothing to be seen, he rushed back again to his
empty hole, to look into it once more. Then he wept and tore at his
hair, stamped about and cried aloud to all the gods he believed in,
making all kinds of promises, of what he would do if only they would
give him back his treasures. No answer came, and he began to wonder who
could have done such a terrible thing. It must, he felt sure, have been
one of the people of Sravasti; and he now remembered he had noticed
that a good many of them had looked into his bowl with longing eyes,
when they saw the money and precious stones in it. "What horrible,
wicked people they are," he said to himself. "I hate them. I should
like to hurt them as they have hurt me." As he thought in this way he
got more and more angry, until he became quite worn out with giving
way to his rage.
5. What would you have done if you had been the Brahman when he lost
6. Is it wrong to be angry when any one has done you an injury?
After roaming about in the forest for a long time, the Brahman went
back to the house in Sravasti where some kind people had lent him a
room, glad and proud to have such a holy man, as they thought he was,
living under their roof. He felt sure they had had nothing to do with
the loss of his treasure, because they had given him many proofs of
their goodness and honesty. Soon he was pouring out all his grief to
them, and they did all they could to comfort him, telling him that he
would very soon have plenty more money and jewels. They let him see
however that they thought it was mean of him to hide away his riches,
instead of using them to help the poor and suffering; and this added
very much to his rage. At last he lost all self-control and cried,
"It is not worth while for me to live any longer. I will go to some
holy place of pilgrimage by the banks of the river, and there I will
starve myself to death."
A place of pilgrimage, you know, is one where some great event,
generally connected with religion, has taken place, to which
pilgrims go to pray in the hope of winning some special favour from
God. The word pilgrim means a wanderer, but it has come in course
of time to signify any traveller who comes from a distance to some
such place. Benares in India is a very famous place of pilgrimage,
because it is on the River Ganges, which the Hindus worship and love,
believing that its waters can wash away their sins. Hundreds and
thousands of Hindus go there every year to bathe in it, and many
who know that they have not long to live wait on its banks to die,
so that after their bodies have been burnt, as is the custom with
the Hindus, their ashes may be thrown into the sacred stream.
7. Can you name two other places of pilgrimage, one held sacred by
Christians and one by Hindus?
8. Will you explain exactly why the two places you have thought of
are considered holy?
The news of the Brahman's loss spread very quickly through Sravasti;
and as is so often the case, every one who told the story made it a
little different, so that it became very difficult to know what the
truth really was. There was great distress in the town, because the
people thought the Brahman would go away, and they did not want him to
do that. They were proud of having a man they thought so holy, living
amongst them, and ashamed that he should have been robbed whilst he was
with them. When they heard that he meant to starve himself to death,
they were dreadfully shocked, and determined to do all they possibly
could to prevent it. One after another of the chief men of Sravasti
came to see him, and entreated him not to be in such a hurry to be
sure that his treasure would never be found. They said they would
all do everything they possibly could to get it back for him. Some of
them thought it was very wrong of him to make such a fuss about it,
and blamed him for being a miser. They told him it was foolish to
care so much for what he could not take with him when he died, and
one specially wise old man gave him a long lecture on the wickedness
of taking away the life which had been given to him by God to prepare
for that in the other world. "Put the idea of starving yourself out
of your head," he said, "and whilst we are seeking your treasure,
go on as you did before you lost it. Next time you have any money
and jewels, turn them to good account instead of hoarding them up."
9. Do you think the Brahman was of any real use to the people of
10. In what qualities do you think the Brahman was wanting when he
made up his mind to starve himself to death?
In spite of all that any one could say to him, the Brahman was quite
determined that he would not live any longer. He set off to the place
of pilgrimage he had chosen, taking no notice of any one he met,
but just marching steadily on. At first a number of people followed
him, but by degrees they left off doing so, and soon he was quite
alone. Presently however he could not help noticing a man approaching
from the direction in which he was going. Very tall, very handsome,
very dignified, this man was one whom no one could fail to admire,
even if he had been only an ordinary person. But he was the king of
the whole country, whose name was Prasnajit; and a little distance
behind him were a number of his attendants, waiting to obey his
orders. Everybody, even the Brahman, loved the king, because he took
such a very great interest in his people and was always trying to do
them good. He had heard all about the loss of the money, and was very
much vexed that such a thing should have happened in his land. He had
also heard that the Brahman meant to kill himself, and this distressed
him more than anything else, because he thought it a very wicked and
terrible thing to do.
The king stood so exactly in the path of the Brahman that it was
impossible to pass him by without taking any notice of him, and
the unhappy man stood still, hanging down his head and looking very
miserable. Without waiting for a moment, Prasnajit said to the Brahman:
"Do not grieve any more. I will find your treasure for you, and give
it back to you; or if I fail to do so I will pay you as much as it was
worth out of my own purse: for I cannot bear to think of your killing
yourself. Now tell me very carefully where you hid your gold and
jewels, and everything about the place, to help me to make sure of it."
The Brahman was greatly delighted to hear this, because he knew full
well that the king would keep his word, and that, even if his own
treasure was never found, he would have plenty of money given to him
by the king. He at once told Prasnajit exactly where he had put his
store, and offered to take him there. The king agreed to go with him
at once, and he and the Brahman went straight away to the big hole
in the forest, the attendants following them a little way behind.
11. If you had been the king, how would you have set about finding
12. Was it a good or a bad thing for the Brahman to have secured the
help of the king?
After the king had seen the big empty hole, and noticed exactly where
it was, and the nearest way to it from the town, he returned to his
palace, first telling the Brahman to go back to the house he lived
in, and wait there till he received a message from him. He promised
to see that he wanted for nothing, and sent one of his attendants
to a rich merchant of Sravasti, who had already done a good deal
for the Brahman, to order him to supply the holy man with all he
needed. Very glad that after all he was not going to die, the Brahman
obeyed willingly, and for the next few days he was taken care of by
the merchant, who supplied him with plenty of food.
As soon as Prasnajit was back in his palace, he pretended that he was
taken suddenly ill. His head ached badly, he said, and he could not
make out what was the matter with him. He ordered a proclamation to
be sent all round the town, telling all the doctors to come to the
palace to see him. All the doctors in the place at once hastened to
obey, each of them hoping that he would be the one to cure the king
and win a great reward. So many were they that the big reception
room was full of them, and they all glared at each other so angrily
that the attendants kept careful watch lest they should begin to
fight. One at a time they were taken to the king's private room,
but very much to their surprise and disappointment he seemed quite
well and in no need of help from them. Instead of talking about his
own illness, he asked each doctor who his patients were in the town,
and what medicines he was giving to them. Of course Prasnajit's
questions were carefully answered; but the king said nothing more,
just waving his hand to shew that the interview was at an end. Then
the attendants led the visitor out. At last however a doctor came,
who said something which led the king to keep him longer than he had
kept any of the others. This doctor was a very famous healer who had
saved the lives of many of Prasnajit's subjects. He told the king
that a merchant named Matri-Datta was very ill, suffering greatly,
but that he hoped to cure him by giving him the juice of a certain
plant called nagaballa. At the time this story was written, doctors
in India did not give their patients medicine, or write prescriptions
for them to take to chemists to be made up, because there were no
chemists in those days, such as there are in all the towns of Europe,
who keep the materials in stock for making medicines. A doctor just
said to his patient, "you must take the juice of this or that plant";
and the suffering person had to go into the fields or woods to find
the plant or else to send a servant to do so.
When the king heard that the doctor had ordered Matri-Datta to take the
juice of the nagaballa plant, he cried "No more doctors need come to
see me!" and after sending away the one who had told him what he wanted
to know, he gave orders that Matri-Datta should be sent for at once.
13. Can you guess why the king sent for the doctors?
14. Do you think Matri-Datta had anything to do with stealing the
Ill and suffering though he was, Matri-Datta did not dare disobey the
king: so he came at once. As soon as he appeared, Prasnajit asked him
how he was, and said he was sorry to have to make him leave his home
when he was ill, but the matter on which he wished to see him was
of very great importance. Then he suddenly added: "When your doctor
ordered you to take the juice of the nagaballa plant whom did you
send to find it?"
To this Matri-Datta replied trembling with fear: "My servant, O king,
sought it in the forest; and having found it, brought it to me."
"Go back and send that servant to me immediately," was the reply; and
the merchant hurried away, wondering very much why the king wanted to
see the man, and hoping that he himself would not get into disgrace
on account of anything he had done to make Prasnajit angry.
15. Have you any idea why the king wanted the servant sent to him?
16. From what the story tells you so far, do you think Prasnajit was
a good ruler of his kingdom?
When Matri-Datta told his servant that he was to go to the palace to
see the king, the man was dreadfully frightened, and begged his master
not to make him go. This made Matri-Datta pretty sure that he had done
something wrong and was afraid of being found out. "Go at once," he
said, "and whatever you do, speak the truth to the king. That will be
your only chance if you have offended him." Again and again the servant
entreated Matri-Datta not to insist, and when he found it was no good,
he asked him at least to come with him to the palace and plead for him
with Prasnajit. The merchant knew then for certain that something was
seriously wrong, and he consented to go to the palace with his servant,
partly out of curiosity and partly out of fear for himself. When the
two got to the palace, the attendants at once led the servant to the
presence of the king, but they would not let the master go with him.
Directly the servant entered the room and saw the king sitting on
his throne, he fell upon his face at the foot of the steps, crying,
"Mercy! mercy!" He was right to be afraid, for Prasnajit said to him
in a loud voice: "Where are the gold and the jewels you took from
the hole in the roots of a tree when you went to find the nagaballa
plant for your master?" The servant, who really had taken the money
and jewels, was so terrified when he found that the king knew the
truth, that he had not a word to say at first, but just remained
lying on the ground, trembling all over. Prasnajit too was silent,
and the attendants waiting for orders behind the throne looked on,
wondering what would happen now.
17. Have you guessed what the nagaballa plant had to do with finding
out who had stolen the money and jewels?
18. If you had been the king, what punishment would you have ordered
for the thief?
When the silence had lasted about ten minutes, the thief raised his
head from the ground and looked at the king, who still said not a
word. Something in his face however made the wicked servant hope that
he would not be punished by death in spite of the great wrong he had
done. The king looked very stern, it is true, but not enraged against
him. So the servant rose to his feet, and clasping his hands together
as he held them up to Prasnajit, said in a trembling voice: "I will
fetch the treasure, I will fetch the treasure." "Go then at once,"
said the king, "and bring it here": and as he said it, there was a
beautiful expression in his eyes, which made the thief more sorry
for what he had done than he would have been if Prasnajit had said,
"Off with his head!" or had ordered him to be beaten.
19. What do you think is the best way to make wicked people good?
20. What is the most powerful reason a man or woman or a child can
have for trying to be good?
As soon as the king said, "Go at once," the servant started to his
feet and hastened away, as eager now to restore what he had stolen
as he had been to hide it. He had put it in another hole in the very
depths of the forest; and it was a long time before he got back to
the palace with it, for it was very heavy. He had thought the king
would send some guards with him, to see that he did not run away,
and that they would have helped him to carry the sack full of gold
and jewels; but nobody followed him. It was hard work to drag the
heavy load all the way alone; but at last, quite late in the evening,
he was back at the palace gates. The soldiers standing there let him
pass without a word, and soon he was once more in the room in which
the king had received him. Prasnajit still sat on his throne, and
the attendants still waited behind him, when the thief, so tired he
could hardly stand, once more lay prostrate at the bottom of the steps
leading up to the throne, with the sack beside him. How his heart did
beat as he waited for what the king would say! It seemed a very long
time before Prasnajit spoke, though it was only two or three minutes;
and when he did, this is what he said, "Go back to your home now,
and be a thief no more."
Very, very thankfully the man obeyed, scarcely able to believe that
he was free to go and that he was not to be terribly punished. Never
again in the rest of his life did he take what did not belong to him,
and he was never tired of telling his children and his friends of
the goodness of the king who had forgiven him.
21. Do you think it would have been better for the thief to have
22. What lesson did the thief learn from what had happened to him?
The Brahman, who had spent the time of waiting in prayers that his
treasure should be given back to him, and was still determined that,
if it were not, he would starve himself to death, was full of delight
when he heard that it had been found. He hastened to the palace and was
taken before the king, who said to him: "There is your treasure. Take
it away, and make a better use of it than before. If you lose it again,
I shall not try to recover it for you."
The Brahman, glad as he was to have his money and jewels restored, did
not like to be told by the king to make a better use of them. Besides
this he wanted to have the thief punished; and he began talking
about that, instead of thanking Prasnajit and promising to follow his
advice. The king looked at him much as he had looked at the thief and
said: "The matter is ended so far as I have anything to do with it:
go in peace."
The Brahman, who was accustomed to be honoured by every one from the
king on his throne to the beggars in the street, was astonished at
the way in which Prasnajit spoke to him. He would have said more,
but the king made a sign to his attendants, two of whom dragged the
sack to the entrance of the palace and left it there, so that there
was nothing for the Brahman to do but to take it away with him. Every
one who has read this wonderful story would, of courses like to know
what became of him after that, but nothing more is told about him.
23. Do you think that the Brahman learnt anything from his loss and
recovery of his treasure?
24. Was the Brahman more wicked than, the thief or the thief than
25. Do you think the Brahman continued to be a miser for the rest of
26. What were the chief characteristics of the king--that is to say,
what sort of man do you think he was?
27. Which of the people who are spoken of in this story do you like
and admire most, and which do you dislike most?
The Magic Shoes and Staff.
Far, far away in a town of India called Chinchini, where in days
long gone by the ancient gods in whom the people believed are said
sometimes to have appeared to those who called upon them for help,
there lived three brothers of noble birth, who had never known what
it was to want for food, or clothes, or a house to live in. Each
was married to a wife he loved, and for many years they were all
as happy as the day was long. Presently however a great misfortune
in which they all shared befell their native country. There was no
rain for many, many weeks; and this is a very serious thing in a hot
country like India, because, when it does not rain for a long time,
the ground becomes so parched and hard that nothing can grow in
it. The sun is very much stronger in India than it is in England;
and it sent forth its burning rays, drying up all the water in the
tanks and changing what had been, a beautiful country, covered with
green crops good for food, into a dreary desert, where neither men nor
animals could get anything to eat. The result of this was that there
was a terrible famine, in which hundreds of people and animals died,
little children being the first to suffer.
Now the three brothers, who had none of them any children, got
frightened at the state of things, and thought to themselves, "If we
do not escape from this dreadful land, we shall die." They said to
each other: "Let us flee away from here, and go somewhere where we
are sure of being able to get plenty to eat and drink. We will not
take our wives with us; they would only make things worse for us;
let us leave them to look after themselves."
1. What do you think of the behaviour of the three brothers? Was
there any excuse for their leaving their wives behind them?
2. Do you think the wives themselves can have been to blame in any
way in the matter?
So the three wives were deserted, and had to manage as best they
could without their husbands, who did not even trouble to wish them
goodbye. The wives were at first very sad and lonely, but presently a
great joy came to one of them which made the other two very happy as
well. This joy was the birth of a little boy, whose two aunts loved
him almost as much as his mother did. The story does not tell how
they all got food whilst the famine was going on, though it is very
evident that they were not starved, for the baby boy grew fast and
was a strong healthy little fellow.
One night all the three wives had the same dream, a very wonderful one,
in which the god Siva, who is very much honoured in India, appeared to
them. He told them that, looking down from Heaven, he had noticed how
tenderly they cared for the new-born baby, and that he wished them to
call him Putraka. Besides this he astonished them by adding that, as
a reward for the unselfish way in which they had behaved, they would
find one hundred thousand gold pieces under the little child's pillow
every morning, and that one day that little child would be a king.
3. Do you think the three women wanted to be rewarded for loving
4. Is it a good thing to have a great deal of money?
The wonderful dream was fulfilled, and the mother and aunts called
the boy Putraka. Every morning they found the gold pieces under his
pillow, and they took care of the money for him, so that when he grew
up he was the very richest man in the whole country. He had a happy
childhood and boyhood, his only trouble being that he did not like
having never seen his father. His mother told him about the famine
before he was born, and how his father and uncles had gone away and
never come back. He often said, "When I am a man I will find my father
and bring him home again." He used his money to help others, and one
of the best things he did was to irrigate the land; that is to say,
he made canals into which water was made to flow in times when there
was plenty of rain, so that there was no danger of there being another
famine, such as that which had driven his father and uncles away. The
country in which he lived became very fruitful; everybody had enough
to eat and drink; and Putraka was very much loved, especially by
the poor and unhappy. When the king who ruled over the land died,
everybody wanted Putraka to take his place, and he was chosen at once.
5. Will you describe the kind of man you think Putraka was?
6. Do you know of any other country besides India in which everything
depends on irrigation?
One of the other wise things Putraka did, when he became king, was to
make great friends with his Brahman subjects. Brahmans are always very
fond of travelling, and Putraka thought, if he were good and generous
to them, they would talk about him wherever they went, and that perhaps
through them his father and uncles would hear about him. He felt sure
that, if they knew he was now a king ruling over their native land,
they would want to come back. He gave the Brahmans plenty of money,
and told them to try and find his father and uncles. If they did,
they were to say how anxious he was to see them, and promise them
everything they wanted, if only they would return.
7. Do you think it was wise of Putraka to be so anxious to get his
father and uncles back, when he knew how selfish they had been in
leaving his mother and aunts behind them?
8. Can you suggest anything else Putraka might have done in the matter?
Just what the young king hoped came to pass. Wherever the Brahmans
went they talked about the country they came from and the wonderful
young king who ruled over it. Putraka's father and uncles, who were
after all not so very far off, heard the stories about him, and
asked the Brahmans many questions. The answers made them very eager
to see Putraka, but they did not at first realize that he was closely
related to them. Only when they heard the name of his mother did they
guess the truth. Putraka's father knew, when he deserted his wife,
that God was going to give her a child soon; which made it even more
wicked of him to leave her. Now, however, he forgot all about that,
only thinking how he could make as much use as possible of the son
who had become a king. He wanted to go back at once alone, but the
uncles were not going to allow that. They meant to get all they could
out of Putraka too; and the three selfish men, who were now quite old,
set off together for the land they had left so long ago.
They arrived safely, and made their way to the palace, where they were
received, with great rejoicings. None of the wives, said a word of
reproach to, the husbands who had deserted them; and as for Putraka,
he was so overjoyed at having his father back, that he gave him a
beautiful house to live in and a great deal of money. He was very
good to his uncles too, and felt that he had now really nothing left
to wish for.
9. Do you think Putraka showed strength or weakness of character in
the way he received the travellers?
10. How do you think the king ought to have behaved to his father
The three wives very soon had good reason to wish their husbands had
stayed away. Instead of being grateful for all Putraka's generosity,
they were very unkind and exacting, never pleased with anything;
and whatever they had given them, they were always trying to get
more. In fact, they were silly as well as wicked; for they did not
realize that this was not the way to make the king love them or wish
to keep them with him. Presently they became jealous of Putraka,
and began to wish to get rid of him. His father hated to feel that
his son was king, whilst he was only one of that king's subjects;
and he made up his mind to kill him, hoping that if he could only get
rid of him he might rule over the country in his stead. He thought
and thought how best to manage this, and did not at first mean to
tell his brothers anything about it; but in the end he decided he
had better have them on his side. So he invited them to go with him
to a secret place to talk the matter over.
11. What qualities did Putraka's father show in this plot against
12. Was there any other way in which the king's father could have
gained a share in governing the land?
After many meetings the three wicked men decided that they would
pay some one to kill the king, first making the murderer they chose
swear that he would never tell who had ordered him to do the terrible
deed. It was not very difficult to find a man bad enough to take money
for such an evil purpose, and the next thing to do was to decide
where and when the deed was to be done. Putraka had been very well
brought up by his mother, and he often went to a beautiful temple near
his palace to pray alone. He would sometimes stop there a long time,
winning fresh wisdom and strength to do the work he was trusted with,
and praying not only for himself, but for his father, his mother,
his aunts and uncles, and for the people he loved so much.
The murderer was told to wait in this temple, and when the young king
was absorbed in prayer, to fall suddenly upon him and kill him. Then,
when Putraka was dead, he was to take his body and bury it far away
in the depths of the forest where it could never be found. At first it
seemed likely that this cruel plot would succeed. To make quite sure,
the murderer got two other men as wicked as himself to come and help
him, promising to give them a share in the reward. But the god who
had taken care of Putraka ever since he was born, did not forget him
now. As the young king prayed, forgetting everything in his earnest
pleading for those he loved, he did not see or hear the evil men
drawing stealthily close to him. Their arms were uplifted to slay him,
and the gleam of the weapons in the light that was always kept burning
flashed upon him, when suddenly the heavenly guardian of the temple,
who never left it day or night, but was generally invisible, appeared
and cast a spell upon the wicked men, whose hands were arrested in
the very act to strike.
What a wonderful sight that must have been, when Putraka, disturbed in
his prayers, looked round and saw the men who had come to kill him,
with the shadowy form of the guardian threatening them! He knew at
once that he had been saved from a dreadful death by a messenger from
the god he had been worshipping. As he gazed at the men, the guardian
faded away and he was left alone with them. Slowly the spell cast on
them was broken, and they dropped their weapons, prostrated themselves,
and clasped their hands in an appeal for mercy to the man they had
meant to destroy. Putraka looked at them quietly and sadly. He felt
no anger against them, only a great thankfulness for his escape. He
spoke to the men very sternly, asking them why they wished to harm him;
and the chief murderer told him who had sent them.
The knowledge that his father wished to kill him shocked and grieved
the young long terribly, but he controlled himself even when he learnt
the sad truth. He told the men that he forgave them, for they were
not the most to blame; and he made them promise never to betray who
had bribed them to kill him. He then gave them some money and told
them to leave him.
13. What do you think the most beautiful incident in this account of
the scene in the temple?
14. What do you suppose were the thoughts of the murderers when they
left the temple after Putraka forgave them?
When Putraka was alone, he threw himself upon the ground and wept very
bitterly. He felt that he could never be happy again, never trust
anyone again. He had so loved his father and uncles. It had been
such a joy to him to give them pleasure, and yet they hated him and
wished to kill him. He wondered whether he was himself to blame for
what had happened, and began to think he was not worthy to be king,
if he could make such a mistake as he now feared he had made in being
so generous to those who could have such hard thoughts of him as
to want to take his life. Perhaps after all it would be better for
his country to have another king. He did not feel as if he could go
back to his palace and meet his father and uncles again. "What shall
I do? What shall I do?" he cried, his sobs choking his voice. Never
in all his life had he thought it possible to be so miserable as he
was now. Everything seemed changed and he felt as if he were himself
a different person. The only thing that comforted him at all was the
thought of his mother, whose love had never failed him; but even that
was spoiled by the remembrance that it was her husband who had wished
to kill him. She must never know that, for it would break her heart:
yet how could he keep it from her? Then the idea came to him that
the best thing he could do would be to go away and never see his own
15. What do you think was wrong in Putraka's way of looking at
16. Was his idea of leaving his country and his people a sign of
weakness or of strength?
In the end the poor young king decided that he would go right away
as his father and uncles had done; and his mind being made up,
he became more cheerful and began to think he might meet with some
interesting adventures in a new country, where nobody knew anything
about him. As soon as it was light, he wandered off into the forest,
feeling, it is true, very lonely, but at the same time taking a
certain pleasure in being entirely his own master; which a king can
never really be, because he has to consider so many other people and
to keep so many rules.
After all Putraka did not find the forest so very lonely; for he
had not gone far in it before his sad thoughts were broken in upon
by his coming suddenly to a little clearing, where the trees had
been cut down and two strong-looking men were wrestling together,
the king watched them for a little while, wondering what they were
fighting about. Then he called out, "What are you doing here? What
are you quarrelling about?"
The men were greatly surprised to hear Putraka's voice, for they
thought that they were quite alone. They stopped fighting for a minute
or two, and one of them said: "We are fighting for three very precious
things which were left behind him by our father."
"What are those things?" asked Putraka.
"A bowl, a stick and a pair of shoes," was the reply. "Whoever wins
the fight will get them all. There they lie on the ground."
"Well, I never!" cried the king, laughing as he looked at the things,
which seemed to him worth very little. "I shouldn't trouble to fight
about such trifles, if I were you."
"Trifles!" exclaimed one of the men angrily. "You don't know what
you are talking about. They are worth more than their weight in
gold. Whoever gets the bowl will find plenty of food in it whenever he
wants it; the owner of the stick has only to write his wishes on the
ground with it and he will get them; and whoever puts on the shoes
can fly through the air in them to any distance."
17. Which of these things would you rather have had?
18. What lesson do you learn from what the men said about the things
on the ground?
When Putraka heard the wonders which, could be done with what he had
thought not worth having, he determined to get possession of the three
treasures for himself; not considering that it would he very wrong to
take what did not belong to him. "It seems a pity to fight," he said,
"why don't you race for the things, and let whichever wins the race
have them? That banyan tree over there would make a good winning post
and I will be the umpire."
Instead of guessing what Putraka had in his mind, the brothers, who
were very simple fellows, said at once: "All right. We won't fight,
we'll race instead, and you can give us the start." Putraka agreed,
and directly they were off he lost not a moment, but picked up the
bowl and the staff, put on the shoes, and flew straight up into the
air with the treasures. When the brothers came back, disputing about
which of them had won, there was not a sign of Putraka, the bowl,
the stick, or the shoes. They guessed at once what had happened;
and after staring up in the air for a long time, they went home,
feeling very much enraged with the man who had cheated them, and
ashamed of having been so stupid as to trust him.
19. What do you think of Putraka's behaviour in this matter?
20. If you could have had one of the three things Putraka stole,
which would you have chosen?
On and on flew Putraka, full of eager delight in the new power of
flight. How he loved rushing through the air, cleaving it like a bird
on the wing! All he wanted to make him perfectly happy was someone
to enjoy his new powers with him. Presently he found himself above
a beautiful city with towers and pinnacles and minarets gleaming in
the sunshine. "Ah!" he thought, "that is the place for me. I will go
down there, and see if I can find a nice house to live in, and some
people to make friends with, who will not try to kill me or to cheat
me, but love me and be grateful to me for any kindness I show them."
As Putraka was hovering in the air above the town to which he had
taken such a fancy, he noticed a little house which rather pleased
him; for though it was poor-looking, there was something cheerful and
home-like about it. Down he sped and alighted at the door. Only one
poor old woman lived in the house, and when Putraka knocked and asked
if he might come in, she said "Yes" at once. He gave her some money,
and told her he would like to live with her, if she would let him
do so. She was only too glad to consent, for she was very lonely;
and the two lived happily together for a long time.
21. Do you think that if Putraka had flown home on his wonderful
shoes, taking his staff and bowl with him, his, father and uncles
would still have tried to kill him?
22. How could Putraka have prevented them from doing him harm if he
had returned to his home?
The old woman grew very fond of Putraka, caring for him and waiting
on him as if he had been her own son. She was so anxious that he
should be happy that she became afraid he would become tired of
living alone with her. So she said to him one day: "My dear adopted
son, you ought to have a wife to keep you company. I know the very
one for you, the only one really worthy of you. She is a princess,
and her name is Patala. She is so very lovely that every man who sees
her falls in love with her and wants to carry her off. So she is most
carefully guarded in the top rooms of a great palace, as high as
the summits of the loftiest mountains." When Putraka heard this he
was all eagerness to see the princess, and at once determined to go
forth to seek her. He was more than ever glad now that he had stolen
the shoes, because he knew that they would carry him even to the top
of the highest mountains.
23. What qualities did the old woman show when she told Putraka about
24. What faults of character did the young king show when he decided
at once to leave the old woman who had been so good to him?
The very evening of the day when Putraka heard about the princess,
he started on his journey, taking with him his bowl and staff. The old
woman gave him very careful instructions which way to go, and begged
him to come back to tell her how he had got on. He promised he would,
thanked her for all she had done for him, and flew away in a great
state of excitement. She watched him till he was quite out of sight,
and then went sadly into her lonely home, wondering if she would ever
see him again.
It was not long before Putraka came in sight of the palace. It was a
beautiful night, and the moon was shining full upon the room in which
the princess was asleep. It was a very big one, with costly furniture
and priceless tapestry hung round the walls, and there were doors
behind the tapestry leading to other apartments, in some of which the
attendants on Patala slept, whilst others kept watch lest anyone should
intrude upon their mistress. No one thought of guarding the windows,
for they were so high up that only a bird could reach them.
The young king alighted on the ledge of the window of the princess'
room, and looked in. There, on a golden bed, amongst soft cushions
and embroidered coverings, lay the most lovely creature he had ever
beheld, so lovely that he fell in love with her at once and gave
a loud cry of delight. This woke the princess, who started up and
was about to scream out aloud in her terror at seeing a man looking
in at the window, when Putraka with the aid of his magic staff made
himself invisible. Then, thinking she had been dreaming, Patala lay
down again, and the king began talking to her in a low voice, telling
her he had heard of her beauty and had flown from far away to see
her. He begged her to allow him to show himself to her, and added:
"I will go away again directly afterwards if you wish it."
Putraka's voice was so gentle, and it seemed to Patala so wonderful
that a man could fly and make himself invisible, that she was full
of curiosity to see him and find out all about him. So she gave her
consent, and immediately afterwards the young king stood within the
room, looking so noble and so handsome that she too fell in love at
first sight. Putraka told her all about his life and adventures, which
interested her very much. She was glad, she said, that he was a king;
but she would have loved him just as well, whoever he might have been.
After a long talk, Patala begged him to leave her for fear her
attendants should discover him and tell her father about him. "My
father would never let me marry you," she declared, "unless you were
to come with many followers as a king to ask my hand; and how can
you do that when you are only a wandering exile?"
25. Was there any reason to fear that Putraka would be discovered
when he could make himself invisible at any moment?
26. What do you think would have been the right thing for Putraka
and Patala to do when they found out that they loved each other?
It was very difficult to persuade Putraka to go, but at last he
flew away. Every night after that, however, he came to see Patala,
spending the days sometimes in one place, sometimes in another, and
using his magic bowl to supply himself with food. Alas, he forgot
all about the dear old woman to whom he owed all his happiness,
and she slowly gave up hope of ever seeing him again. He might quite
easily have flown to her cottage and cheered her with his presence;
but he was so wrapped up in his love for Patala that everything else
went out of his head. This selfishness on his part presently got him
into serious trouble, for he became careless about making himself
invisible when he flew up to the princess' window. So that one night
he was discovered by a guardian of the palace. The matter was at once
reported to the king, who could not at first believe such a thing
was possible. The man must have seen a big bird, that was all. The
king, however, ordered one of his daughter's ladies to keep watch
every night in an ante-room, leaving the door open with the tapestry,
in which there was a slit, drawn carefully over it, and to come and
tell him in the morning if she had seen or heard anything unusual.
Now the lady chosen loved the princess, and, like many of her
fellow-attendants, thought it was very cruel of the king to punish his
own child for being so beautiful, by shutting her up as he did. It
so happened that the very first night she was on guard, Putraka had
flown a very, very long way, not noticing where he was going, because
he was thinking so earnestly of Patala. When at last he flew in at
her window, he was so weary that he sank down on a couch and fell
fast asleep. The princess too was tired, because she had lain awake
talking to her lover so many nights running that she had had hardly
any rest. So when the lady peeped through the slit in the tapestry,
there, by the light of the night lamp, she saw the young king lying
unconscious, whilst the princess also was asleep.
Very cautiously the attendant crept to the side of Putraka, and took a
long, long look at him. She noticed how handsome he was, and that he
was dressed in beautiful clothes. She especially remarked the turban
he wore, because in India the rank to which men belong is shown by
the kind of turbans they wear. "This is no common man," she thought,
"but a prince or king in disguise. What shall I do now? I will not
raise an alarm which might lead to this beautiful young lover being
killed and the heart of my dear mistress broken."
27. If you had been the lady who found Putraka in Patala's room,
what would you have done?
28. What could Putraka have done to guard against being discovered?
After hesitating a long time, the lady made up her mind that she would
only put some mark in the turban of Putraka, so that he could be known
again, and let him escape that night at least. So she stole back to
her room, fetched a tiny, brooch, and fastened it in the folds of the
turban, where the wearer was not likely to notice it himself. This
done, she went back to listen at the door.
It was nearly morning when Putraka woke up, very much surprised at
finding himself lying on the couch, for he did not remember throwing
himself down on it. Starting up, he woke Patala, who was terribly
frightened, for she expected her ladies to come in any minute to help
her to dress. She entreated Putraka to make himself invisible and fly
away at once. He did so; and, as usual, wandered about until the time
should come to go back to the palace. But he still felt too tired to
fly, and instead walked about in the town belonging to Patala's father.
The lady who had been on guard had half a mind to tell her mistress
that her secret was discovered. But before she could get a chance to
do so, she was sent for by the king, who asked her if she had seen
or heard anything during the night. She tried very hard to escape
from betraying Patala; but she hesitated so much in her answers
that the king guessed there was something she wanted to hide, and
told her, if she did not reveal the whole truth, he would have her
head shaved and send her to prison. So she told how she had found
a handsome man, beautifully dressed, fast asleep in Patala's room;
but she did not believe her mistress knew anything about it, because
she too was asleep.
The king was of course in a terrible rage, and the lady was afraid
he would order her to be punished; but he only went on questioning
her angrily about what the man was like, so that he might be found
and brought before him. Then the lady confessed that she had put
the brooch in the turban, comforting herself with the thought that,
when the king saw Putraka and knew that Patala loved him, he might
perhaps relent and let them be married.
When the king heard about the brooch, he was greatly pleased; and
instead of ordering the lady to be punished, he told her that, when
the man who had dared to approach his daughter was found, he would
give her a great reward. He then sent forth hundreds of spies to
hunt for the man with a brooch in his turban, and Putraka was very
soon found, strolling quietly about in the market-place. He was so
taken by surprise that, though he had his staff in his hand and his
shoes and bowl in the pocket of his robes, he had no time to write
his wishes with the staff, or to put on the shoes, so he was obliged
to submit to be dragged to the palace. He did all he could to persuade
those who had found him to let him go, telling them he was a king and
would reward them well. They only laughed at him and dragged him along
with them to the palace, where he was at once taken before the king,
who was sitting on his throne, surrounded by his court, in a great hall
lined with soldiers. The big windows were wide open; and noticing this,
Putraka did not feel at all afraid, for he knew he had only to slip on
his shoes and fly out of one of the windows, if he could not persuade
the king to let him marry Patala. So he stood quietly at the foot of
the throne, and looked bravely into the face of his dear one's father.
This only made the king more angry, and he began calling Putraka all
manner of names and asking him how he dared to enter the room of his
daughter. Putraka answered quietly that he loved Patala and wished
to marry her. He was himself a king, and would give her all she had
been used to. But it was all no good, for it only made the king more
angry. He rose from his throne, and stretching out his hand, he cried:
"Let him be scourged and placed in close confinement!"
Then Putraka with his staff wrote rapidly on the ground his wish that
no one should be able to touch him, and stooping down slipped on his
magic shoes. The king, the courtiers and the soldiers all remained
exactly as they were, staring at him in astonishment, as he rose up in
the air and flew out of one of the windows. Straight away he sped to
the palace of Patala and into her room, where she was pacing to and fro
in an agony of anxiety about him; for she had heard of his having been
taken prisoner and feared that her father would order him to be killed.
29. What do you think would have been the best thing for the king to
do when Putraka was brought before him?
30. If Putraka had not had his shoes with him, how could he have
escaped from the king's palace?
Great indeed was the delight of Patala when her beloved Putraka once
more flew in at her window; but she was still trembling with fear
for him and begged him to go away back to his own land as quickly
"I will not go without you," replied Putraka. "Wrap yourself up warmly,
for it is cold flying through the air, and we will go away together,
and your cruel father shall never see you again."
Patala wept at hearing this, for it seemed terrible to her to have to
choose between the father she loved and Putraka. But in the end her
lover got his own way, and just as those who were seeking him were
heard approaching, he seized his dear one in his arms and flew off
with her. He did not return to his own land even then, but directed
his course to the Ganges, the grand and beautiful river which the
people of India love and worship, calling it their Mother Ganga. By
the banks of the sacred stream the lovers rested, and with the aid of
his magic bowl Putraka soon had a good and delicious meal ready, which
they both enjoyed very much. As they ate, they consulted together
what they had better do now, and Patala, who was as clever as she
was beautiful, said:
"Would it not be a good thing to build a new city in this lovely
place? You could do it with your marvellous staff, could you not?"
"Why, of course, I could," said Putraka laughing. "Why didn't I think
of it myself?" Very soon a wonderful town rose up, which the young
king wished to be as much as possible like the home he had left,
only larger and fuller of fine buildings than it. When the town was
made, he wished it to be full of happy inhabitants, with temples
in which they might worship, priests to teach them how to be good,
markets in which food and all that was needed could be bought, tanks
and rivulets full of pure water, soldiers and officers to defend the
gates, elephants on which he and his wife could ride, everything in
fact that the heart of man or woman could desire.
The first thing Putraka and Patala did after the rise of their own
town, which they named Patali-Putra  after themselves, was to get
married in accordance with the rites of their religion; and for many,
many years they reigned wisely over their people, who loved them and
their children with all their hearts. Amongst the attendants on those
children was the old woman who had shown kindness to Putraka in his
loneliness and trouble. For when he told Patala the story of his life,
she reproached him for his neglect of one to whom he owed so much. She
made him feel quite ashamed of himself, and he flew away and brought
the dear old lady back with him, to her very great delight.
31. Which of the people in this story do you like best?
32. Do you think Putraka deserved all the happiness which came to
him through stealing the wand, the shoes and the bowl?
33. Can you suggest any way in which he could have atoned for the
wrong he did to the brothers whose property he took?
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