fables of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 2031C
D. L. Ashliman
On the shore of the Ganges there was a hermitage filled with holy men dedicated to prayer, self denial, repentance, the study of holy scriptures, fasting, and meditation. They drank only small amounts of very pure water, and mortified their bodies with a diet of bulbs, roots, fruits, and water plants. Their only clothing were loincloths made from tree bark.
The father of the hermitage was named Yajnavalkya. He had just finished bathing in the Ganges and was about to rinse out his mouth when a little mouse fell from a falcon's beak into his hand. After looking at it, he set it onto a fig leaf, bathed himself once more, rinsed out his mouth, and performed his penitential and other rituals. Then through the power of his holiness he transformed the mouse into a girl.
Taking her home with him to his hermitage, he said to his wife, who was childless, "My dear, take her in place of a daughter. Bring her up with care!"
Thereafter she was reared, loved, and nurtured. When she was twelve years old, and the wife saw that she was ready for marriage, she said to her husband, "Listen, husband, do you not see that it is past time for our daughter's marriage?"
He said, "What you say is quite right! So if she is willing, I will summon the exalted sun god and present her to him as a wife.
His wife said, "What could be said against that? Do it!"
Through the power of prayer and incantations the sun appeared without delay, saying, "Holy man, why do you summon me?"
The man answered, "Behold! Here stands my little daughter. If she will have you, take her as a wife!"
Having said this, he said to his daughter, "Daughter, does this exalted one please you, this sun god who illuminates the three worlds?"
The daughter said, "Father, he is too hot. I do not want him. Summon a better one!"
Hearing this, the wise man said to the sun, "Exalted one, is there a being more powerful than you?"
The sun answered, "Yes, there is a stronger one than I. The cloud, through whose cover I become invisible."
Then the wise man summoned the cloud and said to his daughter, "Daughter, shall I give you to this one as a wife?"
She answered, "He is black and cold. Therefore give me to another powerful being!"
Upon this the wise man asked the cloud, "Listen, cloud! Is there anyone more powerful than you?"
The cloud answered, "The wind is more powerful than I! Driven by the wind, I am scattered into a thousand pieces."
After hearing this, the wise man summoned the wind and said, "Daughter, does the wind please you most of all as a husband?"
She answered, "Father! He is entirely too inconstant. Summon a more powerful one instead!"
The wise man said, "Wind, is there anyone more powerful than you?"
The wind said, "The mountain is more powerful than I, for however strong I am, he still stands firmly against me."
Then the wise man summoned the mountain and said to the girl, "Daughter, shall I give you to this one in marriage?"
She answered, "Father, he is hard and rigid. Therefore give me to another one."
The wise man asked the mountain, "Listen, king of the mountains, is there anyone more powerful than you?"
The mountain answered, "The mice are more powerful than I, for they make holes in my body with violence."
With that the wise man summoned a mouse and showed him to her, saying, "Daughter, shall I give you to him as a wife? Does this mouse king please you?"
Seeing him, she thought, "He is of my own kind."
Her hair stood on end with pleasure, making her even more beautiful, and she said, "Father, make me into a mouse and give me to him as a wife so I can fulfill the domestic duties prescribed for my kind!"
Through the power of his holiness he transformed her into a little mouse and gave her to the other mouse as a wife.
One of India's most influential contributions to world literature, The Panchatantra (also spelled Pañcatantra or Pañca-tantra) consists of five books of animal fables and magic tales (some 87 stories in all) that were compiled in their current form between the third and fifth centuries AD. It is believed that even then the stories were already ancient. The tales' self-proclaimed purpose is to educate the sons of royalty.
Although the original author's or compiler's name is unknown, an Arabic translation from about 750 AD attributes The Panchatantra to a wise man called Bidpai, which is probably a Sanskrit word meaning "court scholar."
The fables of The Panchatantra found their way to Europe through oral folklore channels and by way of Persian and Arabic translations. They substantially influenced medieval writers of fables.
"O Chando, we understand that you are the greatest being in the world and we have come to marry our daughter to you."
Chando answered, "I fancy there is some one greater than I."
"Who is he?" asked the parents.
"The cloud is greater than I, for it can hide my face and quench my rays."
At this the father and mother hurried off with their daughter in search of the cloud, and when they found him, told him that they had brought their daughter to give him to wife, as he was the greatest being in the world.
"I may be great," said the cloud, "but there is a greater than I, the wind. The wind rises and blows me away in a minute."
So they went in search of the wind and when they found him, explained to him why they had brought him their daughter.
The wind said, "I am strong but there are stronger than I. The mountains are stronger. I can blow things down or whirl them away, but I cannot move the mountains."
So on they went to the mountain and explained their errand.
The mountain said, "I am great but there are more powerful than I. The ground-rat is more powerful, for however high I may be the ground-rats burrow holes in me and I cannot resist them."
The poor parents by this time began to feel rather discouraged, but still they made up their minds to persevere and went on to look for the ground-rat. They found him and offered him their daughter in marriage, but the ground-rat denied that he was the most powerful being on earth. The Musahars were more powerful for they lived by digging out ground-rats and eating them.
The hapless couple went home very dejectedly, reflecting that they had begun by despising their own caste and had gone in search of something greater and had ended where they began. So they arranged to marry their daughter to a man of their own caste after all.
Moral. You should not despise your own caste or race; you cannot help what caste you are born into. A Santal may learn to read and write and associate with men of good position and thereby his mind may be perverted. He may wish to change his caste and become a Sadhu, or a Kherwar, or a Boistab, or a Mussulman, or a Christian or anything else; but people will still know him for a beef-eating Santal. If he becomes a Christian, no one will think him the equal of a Saheb or a Brahman; no Saheb will marry his daughter or give him his daughter in marriage. Remember what happened to the Musahar, who despised his own caste. God caused you to be born in a certain caste. He and not we made the different castes, and He knows what is good and bad for us.
Once near a lonely farmhouse surrounded by rice fields there lived a rat couple. They were highly regarded by their own kind and very prosperous. One day, in addition to their many other children, a little daughter was born to them. She was so dainty with her shiny gray fur, her broad little upright ears, and her glistening eyes, that her parents became quite proud of their little daughter. Day in and day out their only thoughts were how they might prepare a magnificent future for her.
When the little rat came of age, both parents came to the conclusion that only the most powerful being in the entire world should be her husband.
Once they were discussing this matter with a neighbor, and he said, "If you want to give your daughter in marriage to the most powerful being, you must choose the sun as your son-in-law, for without question, no one equals the sun in power.
The rat couple saw that this was true, and without hesitation they made their way to the sun and presented to him their proposal that he should marry their daughter.
The sun replied, "I am much indebted to you that you have come so far, and that you have the kind intention to give me your daughter in marriage, but please tell me just why you have chosen me to be your son-in-law."
The rats said, "We would like to give our daughter in marriage to the most powerful being in the world, and without dispute you are that one. Therefore we have chosen you to be our son-in-law."
Then the sun said, "What you say is not without foundation, but there is a being more powerful than I, and it is he to whom you must give your daughter."
The rats replied, "Can there in truth be someone more powerful than you?"
The sun said, "When I want to shine on the earth, a cloud often comes by and covers me up, and my rays are unable either to penetrate it or to frighten it away. I am powerless against the cloud. Thus you must go to the cloud and make him your son-in-law."
The rats saw that it was so, and they went to the cloud.
After they had presented their proposal to him, the cloud said, "You are in error if you think that I am the most powerful being. I do indeed have the power to cover the sun, but I am powerless against the wind. When he begins to blow, he drives me away and tears me to pieces. There is nothing I can do against him."
So the rats went to the wind and made the proposal to him that he should marry their daughter, whom they wanted to give in marriage to the most powerful being.
But the wind said, "You are in error. I do indeed have the power to drive away the cloud, but I am powerless against the wall that people build to hold me back. I can neither blow through it nor do anything to it. The wall is much more powerful than I."
So the rats again set forth and came to the wall, to whom, in a similar manner, they made their request.
The wall replied, "It is indeed true that I have the power to resist the wind, but there is a rat that is undermining me, boring into me and making holes throughout me, and there is nothing I can do to stop him. I am powerless against the rat. It would be better for you to take the rat for your son-in-law than to choose me!"
This pleased the rats, for they saw that the wall was right. They returned home and married their dear daughter to a handsome young rat.
They never regretted this, for their daughter lived happily and contentedly with a man of her own kind. And the parents, who once had wanted to elevate her so high, shared in her happiness and satisfaction.
Down under the earth, near this mighty colossus, lived a soft-furred mole and his wife. One day a daughter was born to them. It was the most wonderful mole baby that ever was known. The father was so proud of his lovely offspring that he determined to marry her only to the grandest thing in the whole universe. Nothing else would satisfy his pride in the beautiful creature he called his own.
Father Mole sought long and hard to find out where and what, in all nature, was considered the most wonderful. He called in his neighbors and talked over the matter with them. Then he visited the king of the moles and asked the wise ones in his court to decide for him. One and all agreed that the Great Blue Sky was above everything else in glory and greatness.
So up to the Sky the Mole Father went and offered his daughter to be the bride of the Great Blue, telling how, with his vast azure robe, the Sky had the reputation, both on the earth and under it, of being the greatest thing in the universe.
But, much to the Mole Father's surprise, the Sky declined. "No, I am not the greatest. I must refer you to the Sun. He controls me, for he can make it day or night as he pleases. Only when he rises, can I wear my bright colors. When he goes down, darkness covers the world, and men do not see me at all, but the stars instead. Better take your charming daughter to him."
So to the Sun went Mr. Mole and though afraid to look directly into his face, he made his plea. He would have the Sun marry his attractive daughter. But the mighty luminary, that usually seemed so fierce, dazzling men's eyesight and able to burn up the very grass of the field, seemed suddenly very modest. Instead of accepting at once the offer, the Sun said to the father, "Alas! I am not master. The Cloud is greater than I, for he is able to cover me up and make me invisible for days and weeks. I am not as powerful as you think me to be. Let me advise you to offer your daughter to the Cloud."
Surprised at this, the Mole Father looked quite disappointed. Now he was in doubt as to what time he had best propose to the Cloud, -- when it was silvery white and glistening in a summer afternoon, or when it was black and threatening a tempest. However, his ambition to get for his daughter the mightiest possible bridegroom prompted him to wait until the lightnings flashed and the thunder rolled. Then, appearing before the terrible dark Cloud that shot out fire, he told of the charms of his wonderful daughter and offered her as bride.
"And why do you come to me?" asked the Cloud, its face inky black with the wrath of a storm and its eyes red with the fires of lightning.
"Because you are not only the greatest thing in the universe, but you have proved it by your terrible power," replied the Father Mole.
At this the Cloud ceased its rolling, stopped its fire and thunder and almost laughed. "So far from being the greatest thing in the world, I am not even my own master. See already how the Wind is driving me. Soon I shall be invisible, dissolved in air. Let me commend you to the Wind. The Master of the Cloud will make a grand son-in-law."
Thereupon Papa Mole waited until the Wind calmed down, after blowing away the clouds. Then telling of his daughter's accomplishments and loveliness, he made proffer of his only child as bride to the Wind. But the Wind was not half so proud as the Mole Father had expected to find him. Very modest, almost bashful seemed the Wind, as he confessed that before Miryek, the colossal stone image, his power was naught.
"Why, I smite that Great Stone Face and its eyes do not even blink. I roar in his ears, but he minds it not. I try to make him sneeze, but he will not. Smite him as I may, he still stands unmoved and smiling. Alas, no. I am not the grandest thing in the universe, while Miryek stands. Go to him. He alone is worthy to marry your daughter."
By this time the Mole Father was not only footsore and weary, but much discouraged also. Evidently all appreciated his shining daughter; but would he be able, after all, to get her a worthy husband?
He rested himself a while and then proceeded to Miryek, the colossus of granite as large as a lighthouse, its head far up in the air, but with ears ready to hear. The Mole Father squeaked out compliments to the image as being by common confession the greatest thing on earth. He presented his request for a son-in-law and then in detail mentioned the accomplishments of his daughter, sounding her praises at great length. Indeed, he almost ruined his case by talking so long.
With stony patience, Miryek listened to the proud father with a twinkle in his white granite eyes. When his lips moved, he was heard to say, "Fond Parent, what you say is true. I am great. I care not for the sky day or night, for I remain the same in daylight and darkness. I fear not the sun, that cannot melt me, nor the frost that is not able to make me crumble. Cold or hot, in summer or in winter time, I remain unchanged. The clouds come and go, but they cannot move me. Their fire and noise, lightning and thunder, I fear not. Yes, I am great." Then the stone lips closed again.
"You will make, then, a good bridegroom for my daughter? You will marry her, I understand?" asked the proud father as his hopes began to rise, though he was still doubtful.
"I would gladly do so, if I were greatest. But I am not," said Miryek. "Down under my feet is the Mole. He digs with his shovel-like hands and makes burrows day and night. His might I cannot resist. Soon he shall undermine my base and I shall topple down and lie like common stone along the earth. Yes I by universal confession, the Mole is the greatest thing in the universe and to him I yield. Better marry your daughter to him."
So after all his journeying, the lovely daughter's father sought no further. Advised on all sides, and opinion being unanimous, he found out that the Mole was the greatest thing in the universe. His daughter's bridegroom was found at home and of the same family of creatures. He married her to a young and handsome Mole, and great was the joy and rejoicing at the wedding. The pair were well-mated and lived happily ever afterward.
The monk led her to his wife, and said to the latter, "Here is a girl who belongs to me, and I desire that you shall treat her as my own child."
When she had come to the age of womanhood, the monk said to her, "My dear daughter, you are quite grown up, and you absolutely must have a husband; choose then, one to suit yourself, so that I may unite you to him."
"Since you leave me free to choose," she replied, "I wish for my husband, he who is the most powerful in the world."
"Perhaps you would like the sun?" said he; and he went to find the sun, and said to it, "O! thou who art so essentially great, I have a daughter who desires to have for a husband he who is the most powerful in the world; would you be willing to marry her?"
"I will show you someone who is more powerful than I," said the sun. "It is the cloud which obscures me, and makes my rays pale and tarnishes the splendor of my fires."
The monk went to the cloud and repeated to him the sun's words."
"And I," said the cloud, "I will show you someone more powerful than I. Go find the wind which makes me come and go, which drives me from east to west."
The monk went to find the wind, and said to him the same things which he had said to the cloud; but the wind said to him also, "I will show you someone more powerful than I. It is the mountain that I cannot move."
Then the monk went to speak to the mountain, which made him this reply, "I will show you someone more powerful than I. It is the rat, against which I cannot defend myself, when he bores into me and makes his home in me."
At last the monk went and said to the rat, "Do you wish to marry my young daughter?"
"And how could I do so?" cried the rat. "My hole is narrow, and a rat only marries a mouse."
The monk then prayed his Lord to change the young girl into a mouse, as she was before, and this to the entire contentment of the young girl.
Immediately she resumed her original shape, and she ran away with the rat.
The sun replied, "But there is one even mightier than I: the cloud, for he is able to cover my brightness entirely."
So the vole went to the cloud, addressed him as "the mightiest one," and asked to wed his daughter.
The cloud responded that the vole would find an even stronger being in the wind, who had the power to push the cloud away at will.
Next the vole journeyed to the wind, explaining that he understood him to be the most powerful creature of all, and wishing therefore to marry his daughter.
"You are mistaken," answered the wind. "The wall is stronger than I. He can withstand my mightiest blast."
"Then I withdraw my request for you daughter's hand," replied the vole. I will marry only into the mightiest family." And he went forthwith to the wall.
Upon hearing the vole's request to marry his daughter, and the explanations thereto, the wall replied, "You have been misled, my friend. There is a creature still mightier than I."
"Who, then?" asked the vole. "He must be the strongest in the world."
"Quite so," said the wall. "It's the mouse who has a nest inside of me. No mortar can withstand her gnawing. With time she'll be the death of me. However far you go, you'll find no better wife than this little lady mouse."
And thus it is with the proud and the arrogant who strive beyond their rightful place, and end up even lower than where they started.
A mouse once from an owl's beak fell;
I'd not have pick'd it up, I wis;
A Brahmin did it: very well;
Each country has its prejudice.
The mouse, indeed, was sadly bruised.
Although, as neighbors, we are used
To be more kind to many others,
The Brahmins treat the mice as brothers.
The notion haunts their heads, that when
The soul goes forth from dying men,
It enters worm, or bird, or beast,
As Providence or Fate is pleased;
And on this mystery rests their law,
Which from Pythagoras they're said to draw.
And hence the Brahmin kindly pray'd
To one who knew the wizard's trade,
To give the creature, wounded sore,
The form in which it lodged before.
Forthwith the mouse became a maid,
Of years about fifteen;
A lovelier was never seen.
She would have waked, I ween,
In Priam's son, a fiercer flame
Than did the beauteous Grecian dame.
Surprised at such a novelty,
The Brahmin to the damsel cried,
"Your choice is free;
For every he
Will seek you for his bride."
Said she, "Am I to have a voice?
The strongest, then, shall be my choice."
"O sun!" the Brahmin cried, "this maid is thine,
And thou shalt be a son-in-law of mine."
"No," said the sun, "this murky cloud, it seems,
In strength exceeds me, since he hides my beams;
And him I counsel you to take."
Again the reverend Brahmin spake --
"O cloud, on-flying with thy stores of water,
Pray wast thou born to wed my daughter?"
"Ah, no, alas! for, you may see,
The wind is far too strong for me.
My claims with Boreas' to compare,
I must confess, I do not dare."
"O wind," then cried the Brahmin, vex'd,
And wondering what would hinder next, --
"Approach, and, with thy sweetest air,
Embrace -- possess -- the fairest fair."
The wind, enraptured, thither blew; --
A mountain stopp'd him as he flew,
To him now pass'd the tennis-ball,
And from him to a creature small.
Said he, "I'd wed the maid, but that
I've had a quarrel with the rat.
A fool were I to take the bride
From one so sure to pierce my side."
The rat! It thrill'd the damsel's ear;
The name at once seem'd sweet and dear.
The rat! 'Twas one of Cupid's blows;
The like full many a maiden knows;
But all of this beneath the rose.
One smacketh ever of the place
Where first he show'd the world his face.
Thus far the fable's clear as light;
But, if we take a nearer sight,
There lurks within its drapery
Somewhat of graceless sophistry;
For who, that worships e'en the glorious sun,
Would not prefer to wed some cooler one?
And doth a flea's exceed a giant's might,
Because the former can the latter bite?
And, by the rule of strength, the rat
Had sent his bride to wed the cat;
From cat to dog, and onward still
To wolf or tiger, if you will:
Indeed, the fabulist might run
A circle backward to the sun. --
But to the change the tale supposes, --
In learned phrase, metempsychosis.
The very thing the wizard did
Its falsity exposes --
If that indeed were ever hid.
According to the Brahmin's plan,
The proud aspiring soul of man,
And souls that dwell in humbler forms
Of rats and mice, and even worms,
All issue from a common source,
And, hence, they are the same of course. --
Unequal but by accident
Of organ and of tenement,
They use one pair of legs, or two,
Or e'en with none contrive to do,
As tyrant matter binds them to.
Why, then, could not so fine a frame
Constrain its heavenly guest
To wed the solar flame?
A rat her love possess'd.
In all respects, compared and weigh'd,
The souls of men and souls of mice
Quite different are made, --
Unlike in sort as well as size.
Each fits and fills its destined part
As Heaven doth well provide;
Nor witch, nor fiend, nor magic art,
Can set their laws aside.
In a mill a rat once lived and prospered. It took after the miller, and from day to day its paunch grew bigger. It became as round as a cucumber and as fat as a candle.
One day, looking at its round, sleek figure, the rat said to itself, "Behold I am so beautiful and strong. Why should I not go and pay a visit to God? He is sure to receive me."
No sooner said than done. Leaving the mill, he started on his journey to God. After traveling a few days and not coming nearer to God, he stopped and said, "Methinks that either God lives much farther away than I believed, or I have lost my way. I will go to the sun and ask where God is."
Coming to the sun, the rat asked, "Where is God?"
"Off with you," shouted the sun. "I have no time for idle talkers."
The rat went to the clouds and asked them, "Where is God?"
"We cannot stop to bandy words with the like of you."
Away the rat went and came to the wind. "Where is God?" asked the rat.
"There," replied the wind, whistling, and getting hold of the rat hurled him down onto an ant-heap, and there he found his level.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised October 30, 2014.