Village Folk-tales of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), vol. 1-3

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “the story of the cobra’s bite” is gathered from oral sources sources, tracing its origin to ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). These tales are often found to contain similarities from stories from Buddhism and Hinduism. This is the story nr. 250 from the collection “stories of the western province and southern india”.

Story 250 - The Story of the Cobra’s Bite

IN a certain country there was a King, it is said. Belonging to that King there was only a single son-Prince. He handed over this Prince to a Royal Preceptor for teaching him the arts and sciences. Although until this Prince became big to a [considerable] degree he was learning near the Royal Preceptor, he did not properly get to know even a single letter.

While he was staying thus, a King of another country sent a letter to his father the King. Thereupon he gave this letter to the Prince to read. The Prince, bringing the letter near his forehead, looked at it, rubbing his eye he looked, (after) running round the house he looked; but he was unable to read it. The royal retinue who saw this laughed.

At that time anger having arisen in the King concerning this, he very quickly caused the Royal Preceptor to be brought. He spoke to him angrily. The Royal Preceptor, becoming afraid [said], " Your Majesty, your son is unable to learn. Let this [other] child who learnt at the same time with that Prince, and this child who came to learn after that, read, if you please;” and he presented two children before him. Thereupon the two children read the letter with ease. After that, the King being angry with his Prince, settled to kill him on the following day.

His mother the Queen having arrived at much grief concerning this, on the following day, at the point of its becoming light, having tied up a packet of masuran and given it to him, ordered him to set off and go away from the country. And the Prince, in the manner his mother said, taking the packet of masuran set off and went away from the country.

While he was thus going he saw a place where an astrologer, assembling children (lamb) together, is teaching. The Prince having halted at that place and spoken to the teacher about learning [under him], remained there. And although, having stayed there much time, he endeavoured to learn, while he was there also he was unable to learn.

During this time the astrologer-teacher having become afflicted with disease, dismissed and started off the whole of the scholars. He told the Prince to go away. At the time when the Prince was going, he approached to take permission from the teacher. Thereupon the teacher, having spoken to the Prince, said, " Learning even the advice which I now give to yourself, take it and establish it in your mind as long as there is life.” The Prince answered, " It is good.”

The advice indeed was this :—“ Having gone to a place to which you did not go [before], should they give any seat for sitting down, without sitting there at once you must draw out and shake the seat, and [then] sit down. While you are at any place, should they give to eat, not eating the food at once, [but] taking a very little from the food, after having given it to an animal and looked at it a little time you must eat. Having come to an evil place to take sleep, not lying down at once you must lie down at the time of being sleepy. Not believing anything that any person has only said, should you hear it with the ear and see it with the eye [even], not believing it on that account only, [but] having inquired still further, you must act.”

[After] hearing this advice the Prince having set out from there, went away. At the time when he had gone a considerable distance, the Prince became hungry; and the Prince having halted at a place, said to the house man,

“Ane! Friend, I am very hungry. I will give you the expenses; give me to eat for one meal.”

Having said [this], the Prince unfastened the packet of masuran that was in his hand, and from it gave him a single masurama. The man after having seen these told his wife about the packet of masuran that the Prince had.[1] The wife also having become desirous to take the packet of masuran, told her husband the stratagem to kill the Prince and take them. Talking in this way, they dug a secret (bom) hole and covered it, and having fixed a seat upon it made him sit there to eat food.

The Prince having established in his mind the advice which the astrologer-teacher gave, drew away and shook the seat; at the time when he endeavoured to look [at the place] all the things that were there fell into the secret hole. Having seen this and arrived at fear, the Prince set off from there and began to go away.

Having thus gone a considerable distance, and having halted at a place because of hunger, the Prince said to a man,

“On my giving the expenses give me to eat for one meal.”

Thereupon the man said,

“It is good.”

Then the Prince, having unfastened the packet of masuran, bringing a masurama gave it to the man. The man having told his wife also about the matter of the masuran, they arranged a means to kill the Prince and take the masuran. Having thought of giving poison to the Prince to kill him while here, they put poison into the food, and having set a seat and brought a kettle of water for washing himself, gave it to him.

The Prince, after washing his [right] hand and mouth, having gone and sat down, according to the advice of the astrologer-teacher taking from all the food a very little gave it to the dog and cat that were near the Prince, and remained looking [at them] a little time. While he was [waiting] thus, in a little time the dog and cat died and fell down. Having seen this and become afraid, the Prince set off from there and began to go away.

Having gone on and on in this way, near the palace of another King through hunger-weakness he fell, and struck the ground. The men who saw this having gone running, said to the King [that] a man like a royal Prince had fallen down, and was not far from the palace.

The King gave orders,

“Very speedily bring him here.”

Thereupon the men having lifted him up, took him to the royal house.

While he was there, when he asked him [regarding] the circumstances,

“I am very weak through hunger;[2] for many days I have not obtained any food,”

he said.

“At first having made rice gruel, give ye him a little,”

the King said.

Thereupon the servants having said,

“It is good” (Yaha-pataeyi),

prepared and gave it. After his weakness was removed in this way, he asked him [about] the circumstances. Commencing at the beginning, from the time (taen) when he went near the Royal Preceptor, he told the story before the King (raju).

Then the King spoke,

“Wast thou unable to learn letters ? Not thus should a royal Prince understand. Wast thou unable to learn the art of swords, the art of bows, etc. ?”

he asked.

Thereupon, when answering he said he knew the whole of those arts; only letters he did not know.

At that time the King thought thus,

“Because of his not knowing only letters, ordering them to kill him was wrong, the first-born son. Remain thou near me,”

he commanded.

Belonging to the King there was a single daughter only. As there were no sons he regarded this Prince like a son. When not much time had gone thus, the King thought of giving [a Princess] in marriage to him.

The King having spoken to him, said thus,

“Tell me which place is good for bringing [a Princess from], to marry to thee.”

Many a time he told him [this].

And the Prince when replying on all the occasions said,

“I am not willing to leave His Majesty the King and go away.”

Thereupon ascertaining that he says thus through willingness that he should marry the King’s daughter to him, he said,

“I am not willing to give my daughter to thee. Shouldst thou say, ‘Why is that ?’ seven times now, seven Princes married (baen̆deya) that person. They having died, on the following day after the Princes married her it befel that I must bury them. Because death will occur to thee in the very same way, I am not willing to give my daughter to thee,”

he said.

Thereupon the Prince said thus,

“To a person for whom death is not ordained death does not come; death having been ordained that person will die. Because of that, I am wishful to marry (bandinta) that very Princess,”

he said. Then the King fulfilled his wish. Thus they two having married, according to the custom he sent them away [into a separate dwelling].

While he was with that very Princess, having remembered the warning given on that day by the astrologer-teacher, being heavy with sleepiness while eating betel, he woke up many times. At this time the Princess had gone to sleep.

[At last] he hears a sound in the house. The Prince having heard it and become afraid, at the time when he was looking about [after] taking his sword in his hand, he saw a cobra of a size equal to a Palmira trunk descending from the roof. This cobra, indeed, was a young man who had tied his affection to this Princess, a person who having died through his love [for her] was [re-]born a cobra. Through anger towards all who marry the Princess he killed them.

The royal Prince having gone aside, in a little time it descended until it was near the ground. [Then] the Prince by one stroke of the sword cut the cobra into three pieces. Thus the danger which there had been for much time that day was destroyed.

On the following day, according to custom with fear the servants arrived in front of the Princess’s house. But the Prince having come out, placed the three pieces of the cobra upon a post. Thereupon having been amazed, the royal servants very speedily ran off and told the King (rajuhata) about this. The King, also, having arrived there was astonished, and commanded them to take the trunk of the cobra to the cemetery, and burn it.

During these very days, another King having asked the Great King for assistance for a war, sent letters. And the King sent this Prince to the war, with the army. When he had thus gone, in a few days the Princess bore a son.

The war lasted twelve years. After twelve years, having conquered in the war he was ready to come to his own country. By this time the Princess's son had become big. But the people of the country, not knowing whose son [he was], thought him a person who had married the Princess. And this news had become spread through the country.

The royal Prince having arrived near his own country, the Prince got to hear the news; but having remembered the warning of the astrologer-teacher, he thought that to believe it in the future he must make inquiry.

Coming close to the royal palace by degrees, he addressed the army; and thereafter, after he had beaten on the notification tom-tom,

“Assemble ye,”

having allowed them to go, when it became night he arrived inside the palace by an outer window. Thus he arrived in the house called after the Princess.

Having come in that way and seen that a youth was living with the Princess, he became angry, and said, " I will cut down the two persons,” taking the sword in his hand. [But] having remembered the warning of the astrologer-teacher, he said, " Without being hasty I will still test them,” and again he put the sword into the sheath.

At the sound, the [young] Prince who was with his mother opened his eyes, and having seen his father and become afraid, saying, " Mother, mother,” crept under the bed. The mother, too, having opened her eyes at this time and when she looked having seen her lord, spoke [to him]. Thereupon he told the Princess the whole circumstances, and for the Princess there was great sorrow [at the report spread regarding her].

On the morning of the following day, the Prince having seen the Great King told him about the war, and the manner in which he got the victory in it. And the King, being much pleased, appointed great festivals at the city; and having decorated the Prince with the Crown and given him the kingship, the King began to perform acts in view of the other world.

Western Province.



Compare the advice given to the Brahmana in No. 209 in this vol., and the variants appended.

In Folk-Tales of Bengal (L. Behari Day), p. 100, a Queen was married afresh every day to a person selected by the royal elephant, this new King each morning being found dead in some mysterious manner in the bed-room. A merchant’s son who had been obliged to leave his home was chosen as King by the elephant, and heard of the nocturnal danger. While he lay awake armed, he saw a long thread issue from the Queen’s left nostril; it grew thicker until at last it was a huge snake. He at once cut off its head, and remained there as the permanent King.

In the Katha Sarit Sagara (Tawney), vol. i, p. 137, each time the daughter of a King was married the bride-groom was found dead in the chamber on the following morning. When royal bride-grooms could be obtained no longer, the King ordered that from each house in turn a person of either the royal or Brahmana caste should be brought and allowed to remain in the room for one night, on the understanding that anyone who survived should be married to the Princess. All died, until at last a brave Brahmana from another country offered to take the place of the son of the widow with whom he was lodging. He remained awake, and in the night saw a terrible Rakshasa open the door, and stretch out his arm. The Brahmana at once stepped forward and cut off the arm, and the Rakshasa fled. The hero was afterwards married to the Princess. He met with the Rakshasa in the same way at another city, and learnt from him that by Shiva’s orders he was preventing the Princesses from being married to cowards.

In the same work, vol. ii, p. 449, there is an account of a Brah-mana who placed himself under a teacher at Pataliputra, but was so stupid that he did not manage to learn a single syllable.

Iii Folk-Tales of Kashmir (Knowles), 2nd ed., p. 32 fi., there is a variant; see note after No. 209 in this volume. The closest resemblance is in the episode in which the Prince takes the place of the Potter’s son who was about to be summoned to be married to the Princess whose husbands had all died on their wedding night. During the night the Prince was careful not to sleep; he lay down with his sword in his hand. In the middle of the night he saw two snakes issue from the nostrils of the Princess, and come towards him. He struck at them and killed them. Next morning the King was surprised to find him alive, and chatting with his daughters. The Prince then told the King who he was, and he became the heir apparent.    ,

In Sagas from the Far East, p. 291, after a certain King died, the persons who were elected in turn as his successor died each night without any apparent cause. Vikramaditya and his companion, a youth who had been reared by wolves, took the place of a youth who had been chosen as King, and on inquiry learnt that as secret offerings that were made by the former King to the devas and spirits had been discontinued, it must be the offended spirits who killed each new King every night. When the offerings were made the deities were appeased, and no more deaths occurred in this way.

In the Arabian Nights (Lady Burton’s ed., vol. iii, p. 263), there is an account of a haunted house in Baghdad; any person who stayed during the night in it was found dead in the morning. This was the act of a Jinni (demon) who was guarding a treasure which was to be made over to a specified person only. He broke the necks of all others, but when the right maji came he gave him the treasure.

There is a variant of the first danger from which the youth escaped, in a Sierra Leone story given in Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider, and the Other Beef (Cronise and Ward), p. 251. A King who had been falsely told that his son was likely to depose him, gave him two .tasks which he accomplished successfully, and afterwards caused a deep Jiole to be dug, placed broken bottles in the hottom, spread a mat over it, set a chair on it, and told ■the boy to sit on it. The boy replied that he never sat down without first shaking the place. When he beat the mat with a heavy stick the chair fell into the hole, and the boy escaped.

For the pit-fall compare No. 159, vol. ii, and the appended notes.

Footnotes and references:


Lit., that was near the Prince.


Lit., “For me [there is] much hunger-weakness.”