Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The king Who Rides a Tiger

Part 1

Once, during the reign of a great king, there lived a Brahman priest, a landlord, and a shopkeeper, who decided that their valley of Sirdu had become too crowded to allow them to own all the land they desired.

“What shall I do for my sons?” said the landlord. “If I divide my holdings equally among them, there will not be enough for any one of them to make a living.”

“My sons will need land, too,” agreed the priest. “ For here there are already too many Brahmans to make holy work profitable.”

“The traders tell me that there is a beautiful valley farther north,” confided the shopkeeper. “It lies in the shadow of the great Fishtail peak. Let us go there together and start life a new. There will be enough land in that valley to divide among all our sons for many generations.”

So the three men packed their belongings into baskets and journeyed to the valley that lay under Fishtail peak.

On their way they met a young Magar farmer named Mana Ras who was going to the same valley. He, too, intended to clear some land and start a new farm. Now the three companions had not counted on sharing the valley with a Magar farmer. They wanted it all to themselves. But since they were no able to farm everywhere at once, they took all the land facing the south, which enjoyed the most sun, and forced Mana Ras to go across the river to the slope that faced north. This side of the valley got very little sun, but Mana Ras settled down to clear his fields, without complaint.

The fields were stony and full of roots. His crops were so sparse that his little wooden storage jar never had much corn in it. When he ate breakfast there was very little left for supper. And when he ate supper, he worried about the next morning’s breakfast.

One day, after the summer monsoon, a cobra slithered into the courtyard of the priest, to beg for asylum.

“Please, Pundit-ji(Brahman), hide me,” she pleaded. “ A mongoose is coming and I fear for my life.”

“Can you not see that I am busy with my workshop?” answered the Brahman, sitting with his book opened on his lap. “Should serving God be interrupted to serve a snake? Go over to the landlord and ask him to hide you.”

The cobra raced to the landlord’s courtyard to seek protection from the mongoose, but the zamindar(landlord) was just sitting down to the dinner.

“Tell her to wait until I have finished eating,” the landlord said to his wife.

“But I can’t wait, Zamindarni,” protested the cobra. “The mongoose will be here any minute!”

“Then tell her to go to the shopkeeper,” shouted the zamindar, who had overhead the cobra’s remark. “And come quickly with the curry. My rice is getting cold.”

The cobra turned and fled to the shopkeeper, hoping at last to find sympathy. But when the customers saw her coming they all ran from the shop.

“Do you think I would hide you in here after what you have just done to my business?” yelled the angry shopkeeper. “Go over there across the valley,” he added, waving his arm,” and get that stupid farmer to help you. He has nothing important to do.”

The trail across the valley was long and steep, but the cobra knew she would soon be caught if she wasted any more time. She whirled about and disappeared down the path toward the river.

“Oh, please,” she called out to Mana Ras as she approached him. “You must help me. The mongoose is coming. Hide me! Quickly! Please!”

“Of course, but where?” asked the surprised farmer.

“Your cummerbund,” she panted. “Let me crawl in there.”

Mana Ras unwound the long strip of ragged cloth which circled his waist, so the cobra could crawl between the folds. Then he cautiously would it around his waist again and went back to clearing his land.

The mongoose, in the meantime, was trailing the cobra from the priest’s house to the landlord’s and on to the shopkeeper’s. Now he was running up the path toward Mana Ras.

“Oh, Big Brother!” he called to Mana Ras. “Have you seen a cobra come here lately?”

“Yes, I have,” answered the farmer. “But she was in a great hurry. She was traveling that way,” and he pointed toward the Fishtail.

The mongoose raced past Mana Ras and disappeared into the jungle.

After a long while the cobra whispered: “How far do you think the mongoose is by now?”

“He must be at least three resting places away,” answered Mana Ras.

“Then I am safe,” sighed the cobra. “Unwind your cummerbund and let me out.”

When the snake dropped to the ground she turned to Mana Ras and said: “Little Brother, you were the only one in this whole valley who would save my life. The others across the river have scorned both of us, but some day they will treat you with great respect. Come now, I want to repay for your kindness.”

She led him to the top of a high mountain and there commanded him to close his eyes. When she told him to open them again, he was standing in a beautiful palace.

“This is where I live,” said the cobra. “Take home anything you wish.” But Mana Ras could only stand and stare about him.

“Would you like the gold and silver pots?” she asked.

“Oh, no,” said Mana Ras. “If I kept them in a grass hut like mine, they would surely be stolen.”

“What about the elephants or the horses?”

“They would be very nice,” Mana Ras admitted. “But I am only a poor man. It would embarrass me to ride on such fine animals”

“Choose for yourself, then,” said the cobra. “There must be something here useful to you.”

Mana Ras was silent for a moment, enchanted by all the beautiful things he had never seen before. Suddenly he spoke up.

“I would like that!” he exclaimed, pointing to a little dog sitting in the coring on a couch. “She will not eat too much and she will be a good company when I am alone at night. During the day when I go to work in the fields, she can stay home and guard the hut.”

“Very well,” said the cobra. “If that is what you want, take her home with you. You have chosen wisely.”

Mana Ras thanked the snake and left the palace, cradling the little dog in his arms.

When he got back to his hut he was very tired. He cooked a big pot of cornmeal and ate quickly, saving a handful for his little dog. But the dog was not hungry. “Perhaps she was fed just before I left the palace,” thought Mana Ras, and making a soft bed for the dog between himself and the fire, he rolled up in his blanket and went to sleep.

The next morning before going to the fields, Mana Ras tried once more to feed his dog, but again the dog would not eat.

“Maybe you are used to finer food,” said Mana Ras. “But I am sure this will taste very good to you when you are hungry.”

He left the food on the floor, bade the animal guard the hut well, and went out into the fields to hoe his corn.

In the evening, a short time before Mana Ras was to come home, the little dog, who had been guarding the hut, stretched and stood up. Suddenly there was a loud bark and the little dog changed into a beautiful girl. The girl looked about her. Then she stamped her foot on the ground three times. At once a delicious meal appeared beside the hearth-rice and mutton curry, with many sweets. The girl separated the food into two portions, ate her share, and set the rest aside for Mana Ras. When she heard him coming down the trail, she quickly turned herself back into the little dog and curled up by the fire as if she had been there all the time, sleeping.

Mana Ras stepped into the hut and closed the door.

“What is this?” he said aloud, looking in amazement at all the food beside the fire. He sat down and cautiously picked up each dish, tasting the food with the tip of his finger. When he discovered how delicious it was, he ate hungrily and almost finished everything before he remembered his little dog.

“Ah, my spoiled pet,” he began. “At last I can offer you something worthy of your attention. See how you like this!” And he put some of the rice at the animal’s feet. But the dog only raised her head, then went back to sleep.

“What a hopeless animal!” cried Mana Ras. “You will not last long in this house with such a fussy appetite. But you cannot be starving or you would eat. From now on I will let you beg for food before I waste anything more on you.”

He picked up the uneaten rice and curry and dropped it into the fire. Then he rolled up in his blanket and slept.

The next morning Mana Ras ate his usual breakfast of cornmeal, left a bowl of water for the dog, and went into the jungle near his house to clear more land.

In the evening, before it was time for him to come home, the little dog again turned into a beautiful girl. And, as on the night before, the food appeared, the girl ate her share, and she changed back into the little dog again. Mana Ras could not imagine who was preparing these feasts for him. He was determined to find out.

The next morning he went to clear land again. After cutting only a few trees, he returned to a spot near his hut, where he could hide and still see through the doorway. At the usual time in the evening the little dog stood up, stretched, and-to Mana Ras’ astonishment – changed into a beautiful girl. The girl stamped three times on the ground with her foot and produced a magnificent meal-fried chicken, rice, chutneys, and many vegetables. She divided the food into two portions and sat down on a mat by the fire to eat her share. While her back was turned, Mana RAs stole up to the door, leapt into the room, and grabbed her.

“Oh!” she said, jumping up and spilling her food on the floor. “Do not touch me! I’ve guarded your hut and fed you handsomely, and yet called me hopeless and spoiled. Why didn’t you choose the gold and silver pots or the horses and elephants? Perhaps they would have pleased you better.”

Mana Ras was sorry he had spoken so harshly. But how could he have known the dog who refused to eat was really a beautiful girl?

“You must forgive me,” pleaded Mana Ras. “I did not know I was speaking to you when I scolded my little dog for not eating. I only wanted the dog to eat, so she would not become ill.”

Mana Ras softened the girl’s heart with his arguments until she was convinced that he loved her very much. After talking together for a time, they decided to get married.

“I am just a poor farmer,” said Mana Ras sadly, turning his head toward the fire “What can I give you but a hut for a home and hard work all of your life?”

The girl stood up as though she had not heard him and stamped seven times with her foot. Slowly the little hut turned into a beautiful golden palace.

“Is there no end of surprises you have in store for me!” laughed Mana Ras in delight.

The girl gave him a bewitching glance and promptly stamped her foot again. At once the horses and elephants appeared, carrying the gold and silver pots.

Mana Ras called his new bride Indra. She was a good wife and the two were very happy living together in the golden palace.

Part 2

Not long after Indra came to live with Mana Ras, the Brahman priest across the valley decided to make a pilgrimage to the home of the god Shiva, who lived in the snows underneath the Fishtail. To do this he had to pass across the land on the side of the valley that Mana Ras had been clearing for his farm. As the priest climbed around the corner of a hill, he was amazed to see a golden palace in place of Mana Ras grass hut. This discovery so unsettled him that he forgot his pilgrimage and ran back to tell his two friends.

“Brothers!” he gasped, when he saw them talking together at the Sahu’s(shopkeeper) shop. “You will never guess what I have just seen!”

“What is it?” they both asked impatiently.

“A golden palace – a golden palace on Mana Ras’ farm, with horses and elephants in the courtyard and gold and silver pots shining through the window. And there is a beautiful girl in the courtyard, combing her hair with a golden comb!”

The shopkeeper and the landlord laughed.

“I would like to have some of that wine you have been drinking lately, Pundit-ji,” taunted the landlord. “then I could see pretty girls and golden palaces, too.”

“My dear friends,” said the priest, “as sure as I am a Brahman and have not had a drop of wine since the day I was born, Mana Ras has a golden palace! Come ad look for yourselves if you don’t believe me!”

The shopkeeper and the landlord were curious to see just how far their Brahman friend would carry his jest, so they agreed to go with him. When they came up around the corner of the hill, they say the priest had not been joking at all. Everything he had told them was true. They decided to go at once and tell the king.

The king listened to the three men very patiently, without believing a word they said. But he was curious. After he had dismissed them, he left the palace, disguised as a yogi, and headed straight for the farm of Mana Ras. When he arrived, indeed, there was the golden palace, just as the men had described it.

Indra had been sitting in the courtyard coming her hair when he saw the yogi coming. She recognized him immediately.

“This is no yogi, but the king himself, in disguise,” she thought, and ran into the kitchen. She covered her face quickly with charcoal dust and returned to the courtyard to comb her hair.

The yogi leaned on his staff and looked over the courtyard wall.

“Oh, Little Sister!” he said. “I am very thirsty. Will you fetch me a drink?”

Indra went into the kitchen and returned with a brass cup full of buttermilk.

“Oh, that was good!” said the yogi, after he had drunk it down without stopping. “But it still has not quenched my thirst. Please bring me a jug of water.”

Indra returned in a moment with the water, and handed it to the yogi. He lifted it above his lips as if to drink, but after several gulps he tossed the rest at Indra, washing the soot from her face.

“Forgive me, Little Sister,” he said. “But now I know how beautiful you really are.”

On the way back to his castle, the king began to envy Mana Ras very much. It did not seem right to him that such a peasant should have a golden castle and so beautiful a wife. As soon as he got home he sent his soldiers to bring Mana Ras to the palace.

When the farmer was brought before him, the king pointed to a large rooster in the courtyard and said: “Bring a cock here tomorrow to fight mine. If your cock wins you can have my wife, but if my cock wins I will have your wife. Now be gone with you!”

As Mana Ras walked back through the courtyard, on his way out of the palace, he looked once more at the rooster and was frightened by its size. It was the biggest rooster he had ever seen; and it was crowing so loud Mana Ras had to hold his ears. He returned to his own palace looking very troubled. When Indra called him to eat his dinner, he said:

“No, I am not hungry. I have a problem. I cannot eat anything tonight. :

“Come!” she urged. “Problems are never solved on empty stomach.”

After Mana Ras had eaten he told his wife what was troubling him.

“You must go to bed and get a good sleep,” she said. “In the morning I will give you my golden ring to take to my eldest sister, Jayti. If you show it to her she will know who you are. Then you can tell her your problem, and shell will know just what to do to help you.”

As soon as the sun was up, Mana Ras went down the trail to visit his wife’s eldest sister. She did not know who he was, nit as soon as Mana Ras showed her the golden ring, she said:

“Oh, sister’s Husband, forgive me! I did not recognize you. Come in and have something to eat.”

Mana Ras started to tell her why he had come, but she interrupted him.

“Please! You must eat first. Then we can solve all your difficulties. My younger sister would never forgive me if I let you return home without feeding you.”

After Mana Ras had eaten, Jayti brought a baby chick from the coop and told him to take the little bird to the castle to fight the king’s rooster. Mana Ras was puzzled, but he did not want to argue with his wife’s eldest sister. He left the house, muttering to himself.

“Oh, Sister-in-law, you must be mad! The big rooster will only have to step on this little thing to kill it. Then the king will claim my Indra as his wife. What have you done to me?”

When Mana Ras got home he started to complain to Indra, but she would not listen to him.

“Your king has challenged you to a contest. It is getting late. He will be very angry if you keep him waiting.”

Mana Ras hurried off to the king’s castle, holding the baby chick gently so he would not crush it.

When the king saw what Mana Ras has brought to fight his big rooster, he laughed out loud.

“Ho, everyone, gather round!” he shouted. “You are to witness a great battle, but be careful you don’t die from laughing!”

He ordered his rooster brought into the courtyard for the fight. Mana Ras put his little chick on the ground. It was trying so hard to peep it could hardly stand up. The big rooster was released and he strutted over to the baby chick, raising his feathers and clashing his spurs together. When he was close enough to kill his enemy, he scratched the ground several times and-with the eyes of every spectator on him-sat down. The king was mystified. He talked to the rooster, he scolded him, he begged him to attack the baby chick, but the big bird would not move. In a sudden fury, the king shouted:

“Take him from my sight! Cook him for supper! Maybe that will teach him to obey me.”

Then the king turned to Mana Ras and said:

“Tomorrow you must bring a goat to fight my goat. If your goat wins the battle you may have my wife, but if my goat wins I will have your wife. Now go!”

As Mana Ras turned to leave he saw the king’s goat. Such a goat he had never seen before. It was tied with a heavy chain to an iron pole; and every few minutes it would back up and ram the iron pole with all its might, shaking the whole courtyard.

That night when Indra called him to supper, Mana Ras said: “No, I cannot eat. The problem I have tonight is far greater than the one I had last night. I am not hungry.”

“Come”, she begged. “Food and a good night’s sleep will make everything look brighter. We shall solve your problem in the morning.”

When Mana Ras awoke the next day, Indra gave him her golden ring and told him to go her second sister, Mylee, for only she knew how to help him.

When Mana Ras arrived at his sister-in-law’s house, he showed her the golden ring and began to tell her his troubles.

“Come in and eat first,” said Mylee, “for my sister’s husband must not leave my house without eating. Then I will help you.”

After Mana Ras had eaten, Mylee went out to the goat pen and returned with a baby kid, just big enough to hop about.

“Oh, Sister-in-law,” moaned Mana Ras to himself as he carried the little kid home under his arm. “how can this infant ever defeat the fierce goat I saw in the king’s courtyard? You must want the king to take your sister away from me.”

When Mana Ras reached his palace Indra was waiting to speed him on his way and would not listen to his protests.

“You will be late,” she admonished, “and the king will not be pleased. Hurry!”

Mana Ras ran down the trail with the kid tucked inside his shirt. Once again at the castle he had to face the king’s ridicule.

“What is the matter with this man? Doesn’t he want to keep his beautiful wife? My goat will tear his goat to pieces.”

Mana Ras put the tiny kid down on the ground and stood back, trembling, to see what would happen. When the big goat saw the kid he lowered his head, bleated fiercely, and charged. Just as he was about to toss his opponent into the air, the kid hopped to one side and the powerful billy goat rammed into the castle wall, killing himself instantly.

The king was very angry. He had been tricked twice by this farmer. He was not going to be tricked again.

“Enough of this mischief!” shouted the king. “Tomorrow you will bring me some tiger’s mild before sundown or I will come to your house, myself, and carry you wife back here with me.”

Mana Ras returned to Indra in despair.

` “This king is determined to have you for his wife, and now he has thought of something neither you nor your sisters will be able to help me solve. I must bring him the milk of a tiger!”

“If the king asked you to make a human being, you could do that too,” replied Indra. “Now come and eat your supper. Tomorrow you will visit my little sister, Kanchi, and she will help you get the tiger’s milk.”

When Kanchi saw the golden ring, she knew at once the man who needed the tiger’s milk was her older sister’s husband.

“Come in and rest yourself,” she said. “I have just made some fresh curd and millet bread. After you have eaten, I will see what we can do about getting you some tiger’s milk.”

“But Kanchi,” protested Mana Ras, “I have no time. The king said I must return with it before sundown or he will go himself to the palace and take Indra away from me.”

“Sister’s Husband, you would be angry if Indra sent my husband from your door without feeding him. Now come and eat. You will have plenty of time to do the king’s bidding.”

When Mana Ras had finished eating, Kanchi went out into the stable and returned- much to her guest’s astonishment – leading a beautiful tigress.

“If you take the milk in a jug, Sister’s Husband, you might spill it along the way. It is better that you take tigress herself and milk her before the king.”

Kanchi tied the tigress to a post by the porch and stepped inside the house for a moment. She came out carrying a handsome saddle studded with jewels and a bridle of velvet, sewn with hundreds of tiny silver bells.

The tigress was nervous in the presence of a stranger, but as soon as Kanchi placed the saddle over the animal’s back, it became as docile as a lamb. Mana Ras thanked Kanchi for her help, climbed onto the tiger’s back, and rode off.

Indra heard her husband coming this time, and ran out to urge him on his way. But he surprised her but shouting:

“I am very late! I have business with the king and I must not keep him waiting! I will come right back.”

Mana Ras sped on to the castle. People on the trail jumped aside when they heard the bells jingling. They gazed open-mouthed at a farmer riding by on a tiger.

Te king, who was waiting impatiently for sundown, heard the bells and walked up to the gate to see who was coming.

“Someone must have a very fast horse,: he said to the gatekeeper. When he saw it was Mana Ras riding on a tiger and heading straight for the castle, he became frightened.

“Never mind!” he shouted, waving his arms to ward off the beast. “ You can keep your wife and I will keep mine!”

But Mana Ras was not to be turned away so easily. He rode up to the terrified king, sprayed his beautiful robes with milk, turned the tigress around, and galloped home.

News spread quickly of the simple farmer boy who had met the king’s challenge. Soon everyone was saying:

“We need a king who is brave and who will not make trouble for the poor. Mana Ras should wear the crown.”

So the old king was chased out of the valley and the throne was prepared for Mana Ras. Many people came to the coronation, with gifts to pay homage to their new ruler. Among them Mana Ras recognized the priest, the landlord, and the shopkeeper, all dressed in their finest clothes and bowing low before him.

Never before had there been a wiser king that Mana Ras, and never since there been a king brave enough to visit his subjects riding on a tiger.


Bazaar – A cluster of small shops

Brahman – Member of the highest caste; a priest and teacher

Brahmani – The wife of a Brahman

Cummerbund – Long cloth wound around the waist

Kanchi – Youngest daughter

Mylee – Second daughter

Pundit-ji – Respectful form of address to a Brahman

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