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

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “how they formerly ate and drank” 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. 261 from the collection “stories of the western province and southern india”.

Story 261 - How they formerly Ate and Drank

IN a certain country there was a very important rich family, it is said. In this family were the two parents and their children, two sons only.

In the course of time the people of the family arrived at a very poor condition, it is said. During the time when they are thus, the mother of these two young children having gone near a shipping town,[1] winnowed the rice of the ships and continued to get her living. One day when she was winnowing the rice of a ship, quite unperceived by her the ship went to sea [with her on board].

During the time when he was thus unaware to which hand this woman who was the chief support[2] of the family— or the mother—went, the father one day for some necessary matter having gone together with the two sons to cross to that other bank of the river, tied one son to a tree on the bank on this side and placed him [there]; and having gone with the other one to the bank on that side, and tied the son to a tree there, came to take the other son [across]. While on the return journey in this way, this old man having been caught by a current in the river, and been taken by force to a very distant country, went to a village where they dry salt fish.

An old woman having seen the two children who had been tied on the two banks by him, unfastened their bonds (baemi); having heard [from one of them] about their birth and two parents, learning all the circumstances, she employed some person and caused even the child who was on the bank on that [other] side to be brought, and reared both of them.

During the time while the father of the two children was getting his living, drying salt fish, the King of that country died. Well then, because there was not a Crown Prince[3] of the King of the country, according to the mode of the custom of that country having decorated the King’s festival tusk elephant and placed the crown on its back, they sent it [in search of a new King]. And the tusk elephant having gone walking, and gone in front of that poor man who was drying salt fish, when it bent the knee he mounted on the back of the tusk elephant, and having come to the palace was appointed to the sovereignty.

After he was thus exercising the sovereignty a little time, it became necessary for this King to go somewhere to a country, and having mounted on a ship it began to sail away. The two sons who belonged in the former time to this King, who were being reared by the old woman, having become big were stationed for their livelihood as guards on this very ship. Their mother who was lost during the former time, earned a living by winnowing rice on this very ship.

Well then, while these very four persons remained unable to get knowledge of each other, during the night time, when the ship is sailing, in order to remove the sleepiness of the two brothers who were on the ship as guards, the younger brother told the elder brother to relate a story.

And when the elder brother said,

“I do not know how to tell stories,”

because again and again he was forcing him to relate anything whatever, he said,

“I do know indeed how to relate the manner of [our] ancient eating and drinking.”

“It is good. If so, relate even that,” the younger brother said.

Thereupon, the elder brother, beginning from the time when their parents were lost, told the story of the manner in which they formerly ate and drank, up to the time when they came for the watching on the ship,—how the two persons, eating and drinking, were getting their living.

These two persons’ mother, and the King who was their father, both of them, having remained listening to this story from the root to the top, at the last said,

“These are our two sons.”

Having smelt (kissed) each other, all four persons obtaining knowledge of each other after that lived in happiness, enjoying royal greatness.

Western Province.



In Folk-Tales of Kashmir (Knowles), 2nd ed., p. 154, a defeated King who was driven into exile with his wife and two children, engaged a passage by a vessel, but it sailed away with the Queen before the others got on board. She was sold to a merchant whom she agreed to marry if she did not meet with her husband and children in two years. The King, while returning for the other child after crossing a river with one, was carried away by the current, sank, and was swallowed by a fish, and saved by a potter when it died on the bank- He became a potter, and was selected as King by the royal elephant and hawk. A fisherman who had reared the two sons became a favourite, and the boys were kept near the King. When the merchant who bought the Queen came to trade, these youths were sent to guard his goods. At night, on the younger one’s asking for a tale his brother said he would relate one out of their own experience, and told him their history, which the Queen overheard, thus ascertaining that they were her sons. By getting the merchant to complain to the King about their conduct she was able to tell him her story, on which he discovered that she was his wife, and all were united'.

In Folklore of the Santal Parganas (collected by Rev. Dr. Bodding), p. 183, while a Raja and his wife were travelling in poverty the Queen was shut up by a rich merchant. At a river the Raja was swept away while returning for the child left on the bank, and afterwards selected as King by two state elephants. The children, reared by an old woman, took service under him, were appointed as guards for the merchant’s wife (the former Queen) when she was brought to a festival, and were recognised by her. The merchant complained of the guards, and on hearing their story the King discovered that they were his sons and the woman was his wife. In a variant the children were left on one bank of the river, and a fish swallowed their father, the boys being reared by a cow-herd.

In the Arabian Nights (Lady Burton’s ed., vol. iii, p. 366), a ship in which were an indigent Jew and his wife and two sons, was wrecked, one boy being picked up by a vessel, and the others cast ashore in different countries. The father secured buried treasures which a voice disclosed to him on an island, and became King there; the sons, hearing of his generosity, came to him and received appointments, but did not know each other. A merchant who came with their mother was invited to remain at the palace, the youths being sent to guard his goods and their mother at night. While conversing they found they were brothers; their mother, overhearing the story, recognised them, got the merchant to complain of their improper conduct, and on their repeating their history the King found they were his sons. The mother then unveiled herself, and all were united.

Footnotes and references:




Pradha stri.


Otunna-himi-kumamyek, lit., a Crown-Lord-Prince.