The Santals are a Munda tribe, a branch of that aboriginal element which probably entered India from the North East. At the present day they inhabit the Eastern outskirts of the Chutia Nagpore plateau. This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it unde...
Once upon a time there was a man who had four sons: two of them were married and two were unmarried and the youngest was named Lita. One day Lita went to his father and asked for fifty or sixty rupees that he might go on a trading expedition and he promised that if he lost the money he would not ask for any share in the paternal property. As he was very urgent his father at last gave him sixty rupees and he set out on his travels. After going some way he came to a village in which all the inhabitants were chasing a cat; he asked them what was the matter and they told him that the cat was always stealing their Raja’s milk and the Raja had offered a reward of twenty rupees to anyone who would kill it. Then Lita said to them “Do not kill the cat; catch it alive and give it to me and I will pay you twenty rupees for it; then you can go to the Raja and say that you have killed it and ask for the reward; and if the Raja asks to see the body tell him that a stranger came and asked for the body, for he thought that a cat which had fed on milk should be good eating and so you gave it to him.” The villagers thought that this would be an excellent plan and promised to bring him the cat alive. They soon managed to catch it hiding under a heap of firewood and brought it to Lita and he paid them twenty rupees and then they went to the Raja and got twenty rupees from him.
Then Lita went on, and by-and-bye came to a village where the villagers were hunting an otter in a tank; they had made a cut in the bank and had let out all the water. Lita went to them and asked what they were doing; they said that they were hunting for an otter which had been destroying the Raja’s fish and the Raja had promised them a reward if they killed it, and they had driven it into the tank and were draining off the water in order to catch it. Then Lita offered to buy it of them if they brought it to him alive; so when they caught it they brought it to him and he gave them money for it and continued his journey with the cat and the otter. Presently he saw a crowd of men and he went up to them and asked what they were doing: and they told him that they were hunting a rat which was always gnawing the Raja’s pens and papers and the Raja had offered a reward for it, and they had driven it out of the palace, but it had taken refuge in a hole and they were going to dig it out Then Lita offered to buy it from them as he had bought the other two animals and they dug it out and sold it to him.
He went on and in the same way found a crowd of men hunting a snake which had bitten many people: and he offered to buy it for twenty rupees and when they had chased it till it was exhausted, they caught it alive and sold it to Lita. As his money was all spent, he then set off homewards; and on the way the snake began to speak and said: “Lita, you have saved my life; had you not come by, those men would certainly have had my life; come with me to my home, where my father and mother are, and I will give you anything you ask for; we have great possessions.” But Lita was afraid and said: “When you get me there you will eat me, or if you don’t, your father and mother will.” But the snake protested that it could not be guilty of such ingratitude and at last Lita agreed to accompany it when he had left the other animals at his home.
This he did and set off alone with the snake, and after some days they reached the snake’s home. The snake told Lita to wait outside while he went and apprized his parents and he told Lita that when he was asked to choose his reward he should name nothing but the ring which was on the father-snake’s finger, for the ring had this property that if it were placed in a seer of milk and then asked to produce anything whatever, that thing would immediately appear. Then the snake went on to his home and when the father and mother saw him they fell on his neck and kissed him and wept over him saying that they had never expected to see him again; the snake told them how he had gone to the country of men and how a reward had been set on his head and he had been hunted, and how Lita had bought him from the men who would have killed him. The father snake asked why he had not brought Lita to be rewarded and the snake said that he was afraid that when they saw him they would eat him.
But the father and mother swore that they could not be guilty of such ingratitude, and when he heard this the snake went and brought in Lita, and they entertained him handsomely for two days; and on the third day the father snake asked Lita what he would take as his reward. Lita looked round at the shining palace in which they lived and at first was afraid to speak but at last he said: “I do not want money or anything but the ring on your finger: if you will not give me that, I will take nothing; I saved your son from peril and that you will remember all your lives, and if you give me the ring I will honour you for it as long as I live.” Then the father and mother snake consulted together and the mother said “Give it to him as he asks for it” so the father snake drew it from his finger and gave it to Lita and they gave him also some money for his journey back; and he went home and found the other three animals safe and sound waiting for him.
After a time his father said that Lita must marry; so marriage go-betweens were sent out to look for a bride and they found a very rich and beautiful girl whose parents were agreeable to the match. But the girl herself said that she would only marry a man who would build a covered passage from her house to his, so that she could walk to her new home in the shade. The go-betweens reported this, and Lita’s father and brothers consulted and agreed that they could never make such a passage, but Lita said to his father: “Arrange the match; it shall be my charge to arrange for making the covered passage; I will not let you be put to shame over it.” For Lita had already put the ring to the test: he had dropped it into a seer of milk and said “Let five bharias of parched rice and two bharias of curds appear” and immediately the parched rice and curds were before him; and thereupon he had called out “The snake has worthily rewarded me for saving his life;” and the cat and the otter and the rat overheard what he said.
So the go-between was told to arrange for the wedding to take place that very month, as Lita’s birthday fell in the next month, which therefore was not suitable for his wedding. Then the bride’s family sent him back to say that they were prepared to send a string of nine knots; and the next day the go-between told this to Lita’s family and they said that they were willing to accept it; so the go-between brought a string of nine knots to signify that the wedding would take place in nine days. The days passed by and Lita’s father and brothers became very anxious because they saw no sign of the covered passage; but on the very night before the wedding, Lita took his ring and ordered a covered passage to be made from the one house to the other with a good path down the middle; and the next morning they found it made; and the bridegroom’s party passed along it to the bride’s house and the bride was escorted home along it.
Now the bride had been deeply in love with another young man who lived in her village and had much wished to marry him but her wishes of course were not consulted in the matter. Some time after the marriage she one day in the course of conversation asked her husband Lita how much he had spent on making the covered passage to her house and how he had built it so quickly. He told her that he knew nothing about it; that his father and mother had arranged for it and no doubt had spent a large sum of money. So the next day she took an opportunity of asking her mother-in-law about it, but Lita’s mother said that nothing had been spent at all; somehow the passage had been made in one night, she knew not how.
Then Lita’s wife saw that Lita was keeping a secret from her, and she began to reproach him for having any secrets from his wife: and at last when she had faithfully promised never to reveal the matter to anyone, he told her the secret of the ring. Now her former lover used still to visit her and one day she sent for him and said that she would no longer live with Lita, but wished to run away with him. The lover at first objected that they would be pursued and killed while if they escaped to a distance he would have nothing to support her with; but the faithless woman said that there need be no anxiety about that and she told him about the magic ring and how by means of it they could provide themselves with a house and everything they wanted. So they fixed a night for the elopement and on that night when Lita was asleep his wife quietly drew the ring off his finger and went out to her lover who was waiting outside and told him to get a goat from the pen; then they beheaded the goat and went inside and poured all its blood on the ground under the bed on which Lita was sleeping, and then having hid the body and head of the goat, they ran away.
Towards morning Lita woke up and missed his wife, so he lit a lamp to look for her and then saw the pool of blood under the bed. At this sight he was terror stricken. Some enemy had killed and carried off his wife and he would be charged with the murder. So he lay there wondering what would happen to him. At last his mother came into the room to see why he and his wife had not got up as usual and when she saw the blood she raised a cry; the village headman and chowkidar were sent for and they questioned Lita, but he could only say that he knew nothing of what had happened; he did not know what the blood was, he did not know where his wife was. Thereupon they sent two men to the house of the wife’s parents to see if by any chance she had run away there and in any case to bring her relations to be present at the enquiry into her disappearance. When her father and brothers heard what had happened they at once went to Lita’s house in wrath and abused him as a murderer. They asked why, if his wife had not done her duty to him, he had not sent her back to them to be chastised and taught better, instead of murdering her and they went straight to the magistrate and complained: the magistrate sent police who arrested Lita and took him before the magistrate.
Meanwhile it had become known that not only was Lita’s wife missing but also her lover; and Lita’s father presented a petition to the magistrate bringing this to notice and asserting that the two must have run away together. Then the magistrate ordered every search to be made for the missing couple but said that Lita must remain in custody till they were found, so he was shut up in prison. From prison he made an application to the magistrate that his three tame animals, the cat and the otter and the rat might be brought to the place where he was; the magistrate kindly consented but the animals were not allowed into the prison. However at night the rat being small made its way inside and found out Lita, and asked what was to be done. Lita said that he wanted the three animals to save him from his great danger as he had saved them; he wanted them to trace his wife and her lover and recover the ring; they would doubtless find them living in some gorgeous palace, the gift of the ring.
The rat went out and gave the other two Lita’s message and they readily undertook to do their best; so the next morning the three animals set off. In vain they hunted all over the country, till one day they came to the bank of the Ganges and there on the other side they saw a palace shining like gold. At this their hopes revived, for this might be a palace made by the magic ring. But the cat and the rat objected that they could not cross the river. The otter said that he would easily manage that and he took the cat on his back and the rat climbed on to the back of the cat and so the otter ferried them both across the river; then they consulted and decided that it would be safest to wait till the evening before they went to the palace to see who lived in it. When they looked in in the evening, they at once recognised Lita’s wife and her lover; but these two were in constant terror of being pursued and when they had had their evening meal they fastened and bolted every entrance so securely that no one could gain admittance. Then the cat and the otter told the rat that he must collect all the rats of the neighbourhood and they must burrow through the wall and find some way of abstracting the magic ring.
So the rat collected a crowd of his friends and in no time they bored a hole through the wall; then they all began to look for the ring; they hunted high and low but could not find it; however the cat sat at the entrance of the hole which they had made and vowed that they should not come out, unless they got the ring. Then the first rat climbed on to the bed in which the couple were sleeping and searched their clothes and examined their fingers and toes but in vain; then he thought that the woman might have it in her mouth so he climbed on to her chest and tickled her nose with the tip of his tail; this made her sneeze and behold she sneezed out the ring which she had hidden in her mouth. The rat seized it and ran off with it and when the cat was satisfied that he had really got it, she let him out and the three friends set off rejoicing on their homeward journey. They crossed the river in the same way as when they came with the cat riding on the otter and the rat on the cat: and the rat held the ring in its mouth. Unfortunately when they were halfway across, a kite swooped down to try and carry off the rat. Twice it swooped and missed its grasp but the second time it struck the rat with its wing and the rat in terror let the ring fall into the river.
When they reached the bank the three friends consulted what they were to do in this fresh misfortune. As the otter was the only one who could swim it volunteered to look for the ring, so it plunged into the water and searched the bottom of the river in vain; then it guessed that a fish must have swallowed the ring and it set to work to catch every fish it saw and tore them open; at last in the stomach of a big fish it found the ring, so it brought the fish to the bank and while they were all rejoicing and eating a little of the fish a kite swooped down and carried off the fish, ring and all.
The three animals watched the kite flying away with the fish; but some women who were gathering firewood ran after the kite and took the fish from it and putting it in their basket went home. Then the otter and the rat said to the cat “Now it is your turn: we have both recovered the ring once, but we cannot go into the house of these humans. They will let you go near them easily enough; the ring is in the fish’s stomach, you must watch whether they throw away the stomach or clean it, and find an opportunity for carrying off the ring.”
So the cat ran after the women and when they began to cut up the fish, it kept mewing round them. They threw one or two scraps to it, but it only sniffed at them and would not eat them; then they began to wonder what on earth the cat wanted, and at last they threw the stomach to it. This it seized on gladly and carried it off and tore it open and found the ring and ran off with it to where the otter and the rat were waiting. Then the three friends travelled hard for a day and a night and reached the prison in which Lita was confined.
When Lita got the ring he begged his jailer to get him a seer of milk and when it was brought he dropped the ring in it, and said “I wish the bed on which my faithless wife and her lover are sleeping to be brought here with them in it this very night” and before morning the bed was brought to the prison. Then the magistrate was called and when he saw that the wife was alive he released Lita, and the lover who had run away with her had to pay Lita double the expenditure which had been incurred on his marriage, and was fined beside.
But Lita married another wife and lived happily with her. And some time afterwards he called the otter and the cat and the rat to him and said that he purposed to let them go and before they parted he would give them anything they wished for. They said that he owed them nothing, and they made Lita promise to let them know if ever he lost the ring or fell into trouble, and he promised to help them if ever their lives were in danger, and one morning he took them to a bazar, near which was a tank full of fish, and he turned the otter into the tank and left the cat and the rat to support themselves in the bazar. The next day he went to see them and the otter came out of the tank and gave him a fish which it had caught, and the cat brought him some milk it had stolen, and that was the last he saw of them.