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

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

This folk-tale entitled “the teacher and his pupil” 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. 266 from the collection “south indian stories”.

Story 266 - The Teacher and his Pupil

IN a certain country there were a woman and her two children. After the woman’s husband went and died, there not being any all-refuge (saw-saranak) for the woman and children, after the children became big they remained without learning.

Thereupon the men of that country said to the woman,

“Your children are male children, are they not ? Because of it, make efforts and teach them. Should the persons learn a little it will be good for you.”

And the woman accepting this very speech, as she had nothing for expenses for teaching the children she went near a teacher, and said,

“Ane ! Mr. Teacher, from anyone whatever I have no all-protection. Therefore I have nothing to pay for an expense. Because of it, you, Sir, by favour to me having taught these two children, you taking one child be good enough to give me one child.”

The teacher also being pleased regarding it, said,

“It is good,”

and took charge of the two children. [After] thus taking charge of them, although having made efforts he taught both children, and the young child, having more intelligence than the teacher, learnt, the other elder child was unable to learn even a little. Because he could not learn he sent him to look after the teacher’s cattle.

After the young child had thoroughly learned, the teacher, thinking a deceitful thought, for the purpose of causing the young child to remain and of sending the elder child home, taught the young child in this manner:

“Child, I am sending a letter to your mother to-morrow [as follows]; ‘ Your young son indeed knows nothing; the elder child is learning very thoroughly. Because of it, having come [for him], go back, summoning him [to accompany you].’ When I have sent the letter your mother will come to-morrow. Then, putting on bad clothes, you remain, smearing cow-dung and the like on your hands. The elder child I shall dress well, and send to stay [at home],”

he said.

Because the young child was unable to say anything at that time on account of the teacher’s word, he said,

“It is good.”

After it became night, taking the disguise of a bird and having gone that night to his mother’s house, and taught her [as follows], he came back:—

“Mother, tomorrow our teacher will send you a letter [to this effect]:

‘Your elder child is learning well; the young child indeed cannot [leam] anything. Because of it, you having come call the elder child and go.’

In that way he will send the letter. Elder brother was unable to leam anything, therefore I am learning in a thorough manner. On account of it, to-morrow, when you are coming, our teacher, with the thought to cause me to stay, having smeared cow-dung on my body and put on me bad clothes, will put good clothes on elder brother.

Then teacher will say,

‘Look here. This big child indeed is learning a little; the young child cannot [leam] anything. Having put aside the young child for me, even to look after the cattle, call the big child and go.’

Then you say,

‘No, Mr. Teacher, you, Sir, having made such efforts, I do not want the child whom you have taught. Should you give me the young child it will do.’

Somehow having made efforts, asking for me come [home].”

And the teacher on the following day having written in the above-said manner, sent a letter. At that time the woman arrived at the teacher’s house. After that the teacher said,

“Your big child is learning the arts and sciences better than I; the young child knows nothing. Because of it, having caused the young child to stay to attend to the grazing of the cattle for me, you go back, summoning the elder child [to accompany you].”

At that time, the woman said,

“Ane ! Teacher, you, Sir, having made such efforts, be good enough to take for yourself the child who has embraced [the learning]. Should you give me the young child, it will do.”

Thereupon the teacher said,

“No, you are a poor woman, are you not ? Because of it, calling the elder child go.”

Then the woman having said it in the very [same] way as before, calling the younger child went away.

At that time the teacher having become angry regarding the young child, said:

“Son of the courtesan ! It is a work of yours, indeed, this ! Somehow or other, should I be able I will take you.”

The young child having gone to his mother’s house, the child said to his mother,

“Mother, there is no way for us to obtain a livelihood. Because of it, I will create myself a vegetable garden. You having uprooted the vegetables and tied them in bundles, place them [aside]. Men will come and ask for vegetables. Give the vegetables; do not give the cord that is tied round the vegetables,”

he said.

Thereupon, having said,

“It is good,”

she did so, not giving the cord. Having sold the vegetables, for a few days they obtained a livelihood.

After that, the child said to his mother,

“Mother, now then, there is no way for us to obtain a livelihood. Because of it, I will become a fighting-cock. Men having come and given the price you say and say, will take the cock. Don’t you give the cord only, with which the cock has been tied. Should you give it the men will capture me.”

His mother said of it,

“It is good.”

After that, having become the fighting-cock, while he was so, certain men having come asked for the fighting-cock. After that, saying a great price and having given the cock, taking the cord that had tied the cock, and the money, with the money for a little time they obtained a livelihood.

After that the child said to his mother,

“Mother, because we have nothing for food or drink I will become a horse. Our teacher will come to take me. You give only the horse; don’t give the cord.”

After that having become the horse, while he is it the teacher who taught him came. Having come and having offered a price for the horse he gave the money. Having given it, when he was preparing to bring away the horse that woman said she could not give the cord.

At that time the teacher said,

“I cannot give you the cord. I gave the money for the cord with it”

; and not having given the cord to the woman, holding the cord and having mounted on the back of the horse he made it bound along without stopping, as though killing it. Causing it to bound along in this manner, when he was near a piece of water the horse, being unable to run [further], taking the appearance of a frog sprang into the water.

The teacher became angry at it, and having collected a multitude of men besides, taking a net tried to catch the frog. At that time the frog having become a golden finger-ring, and crept inside [a crevice in] a stone step at the place where the royal Princess bathes at that tank, remained [there]. Although that teacher with extreme quickness made efforts to find the frog he did not meet with it.

After that, a royal Princess and a female slave having come to the pool, when they were bathing the ring having been at the angle of the stone the female slave met with it. Having met with it she showed it to the royal Princess. Thereupon the royal Princess, taking it, put it on her hand. Placing it on her hand, and having bathed and finished, she went to the palace.

The Princess having been sleeping, eats the evening food at about twelve at night. That day, in the night, the female slave, having taken cooked rice and gone to the royal Princess, and having placed it on the table, and made ready betel and areka-nut for the betel box, and placed it [ready], went to sleep.

After all went to sleep, that ring, having loosened itself from the hand of that Princess and having become a man, and eaten a share from the cooked rice that was for the Princess, and eaten also a mouthful of betel, and come near the bed on which the royal Princess is sleeping, expectorated[1] on the Princess’s clothes, and having come to her finger, remained like a ring on her hand.

The Princess having arisen to eat the cooked rice, when she looked [saliva stained red by] betel [and areka-nut] had been expectorated on her clothes.

Having said,

“Who is it ?”

and having gone, when she looked at the cooked rice at that time a half of the cooked rice had been eaten. After that, not eating the rice, and thinking,

“By whom will this work be done ?”

she went to sleep. Regarding this she did not tell anyone else.

On the following day, also, in that way she went to sleep. That day, also, that ring having gone in that manner and eaten the cooked rice, and eaten the betel, and expectorated on the clothes, and gone [back] to the finger, remained [there]. The Princess that day also having awoke, when she looked, that day also, having eaten half the cooked rice and betel, he had expectorated on the clothes.

On the following day, with the thought,

“Somehow or other I must catch this man who comes,”

having pricked the Princess’s finger with a needle and put a lime fruit on it, except that she simply stays closing her eyes, by its paining she remained without going to sleep.

That day, also, that ring, with the thought,

“This Princess will have gone to sleep,”

having loosened itself from the finger, when he was becoming ready to eat the cooked rice the Princess having come and said,

“Who are you ?”

seized him.

Thereupon the youth having told her all the circumstances, while staying there became the ring. The magic-performing boy, as it appears to him by the various sciences, said to the Princess,

“The teacher who taught me the sciences will come here to-morrow to perform magic. I shall become a good beautiful necklace on your neck. He having come, and having thoroughly performed magic for the King’s mind to become pleased, will think of getting presents.

Then the King will ask,

‘What dost thou want ?’

At that time that person will say,

‘We indeed do not want any other thin g; should you give that Princess’s necklace it will be enough.’

Then the King will tell you to give it. Thereupon, you, as though you became angry, having unfastened it from the neck and crushed it in the hand, throw it away into the open space in front of the palace. When throwing it there one grain will burst open. Then that magician, taking the appearance of a cock, will pick up each grain [of com out of that one] and eat it. Then you remain treading on one grain [of com] with your foot. Having been treading on it, when [the cock], having eaten all, is coming to an end, raise the foot. Then I having become a jackal, catching the cock will eat it.”

To that speech the Princess said,

“It is good.”

On the following day, in the above-mentioned manner that magician came. In that way doing magic, he asked for that necklace as a present. The Princess did just as that youth said. At that time a grain burst. Thereupon the magician, having become a cock, ate the grains [of com which came out of it]. Then the Princess having come, remained treading on one with the foot. The cock having eaten the grains, when they were becoming finished the Princess raised the foot. At that time the grain seed that was under the foot having become a jackal, caught and ate that cock.

After that, the King, ascertaining that the youth was cleverer than that magician, having married and given to him the King’s Princess, gave him the sovereignty also. After that, causing to be brought there the youth’s mother and his elder brother also who stayed near the teacher, he remained exercising the kingship in a good manner.

Immigrant from Malayalam, Southern India.
(Written in Sinhalese, and partly related in that language.)


The Teacher and the Bull (Variant a)

In a certain country there was a most skilful teacher. One day when this teacher went to walk in the village, having seen that there were two sons of a widow woman at one house, asking for these two children from the woman for the purpose of teaching them the sciences he went away [with them].

The teacher began to teach these two the sciences. But perceiving that the elder one could not learn the sciences he taught him the method of cooking, and the younger one the sciences. After he had taught these two the sciences it was [agreed] that the mother should select the person [of them] whom she liked.

When their learning was near being finished, the younger one having gone home said,

“You ask for me; elder brother knows how to cook, only.”

The mother having said,

“It is good,”

after their learning was finished the teacher told the mother to take the person she liked. That day she brought away the younger one. The teacher, perceiving the trick that the younger one had done for him, was displeased.

The widow woman was very poor. One day the boy said,

“Mother, let us sell cattle”;

and taking a [charmed] cord and having given it to his mother, he said,

“Having fixed this cord to my neck, at that time I shall become a bull. At the time when you sell the bull do not give the cord to anyone.”

When the woman put the cord on her son’s neck he became a most handsome bull. Having taken the bull to the city and sold it, she brought the cord home. At the time when the merchant [who had bought the bull] looked in the evening, the bull had broken loose and gone away.

After having done thus many a time, the merchant related the circumstance to the teacher of that district.

The teacher, knowing the matter, said,

“Having brought the bull together with the cord, place it and tie it at the side of a jungle.”

That woman on the following day having taken the bull [for sale], he gave about double the price he was paying for the bull, and having brought the cord also, tied it at the side of a jungle, [and informed the teacher].

While it was [there], in the evening the teacher having approached it in a leopard-disguise killed the. bull.

Uva Province.


The Brahmana and the Scholar (Variant b)

At a certain city there was a famous Brahmana. He taught a certain youth the whole of his science. After the scholar learnt the science the Brahmana became angry [with him]. While the time is going on thus, the Brahmana thought of killing the scholar. The scholar also got to know about it.

While they were at a certain place, these two persons having struck [each other] on the face, the Brahmana chased the scholar along the path. The scholar being unable to run [further], took the appearance of a bull, and ran off. The Brahmana, also, bringing a leopard’s appearance, chased him. The scholar being unable to run thus, becoming a parrot began to fly. The Brahmana, also, becoming a hawk began to go chasing it. At last the parrot, being unable to fly, entered the palace of a certain King by the window. The Brahmana, also, bringing a youth’s appearance became appointed for looking after the oxen of a house near by.

In this royal palace there was a Princess. The parrot having been during the day time in the disguise of a parrot, in the night time took also the appearance of a Prince. In the night time, in the appearance of a Prince he went near the Princess. Having been thus, in the day time, at the time when the parrot is bathing daily a cock comes. The parrot having gone away immediately got hid.

Having been thus, and being unable to escape, one day at night having uttered spells over and given [the Princess] three Mi[2] seeds, he said that at the time when the cock comes she is to break them in pieces.

On the following day, at the time when [the parrot] was bathing, the Brahmana came in the disguise of a cock. Thereupon she broke up the three Mi seeds. Immediately a jackal having come, seizing the neck of the cock went off [with it].

After that, the Prince, marrying the royal Princess, in succession to the King exercised the sovereignty over the city.

Uva Province.



This story with its variants is the first tale of The Story of Madana Kama Raja (Natesha Sastri), p. 2. The two sons of a deposed King who became a beggar were educated by a Brahmaria on the understanding that he should keep one of them. By the younger son’s advice he was selected by the parents, his brother being too stupid to learn anything. He first became a hen which the King bought for a hundred pagodas; in the night she became a bandicoot, a large rat, and returned home. Then he became a horse which the Brahmana bought for a thousand pagodas, and rode and flogged till it was exhausted. At a pool the spirit of the Prince entered a dead fish, and the horse fell down lifeless; then to save himself he entered a dead buflalo which thereupon became alive, and lastly a dead parrot which when pursued by the Brahmaria in the form of a kite took refuge in a Princess’s lap, and was put in a cage. On two nights while she slept the Prince resumed his own shape, rubbed sandal on her, ate her sweetmeats, and returned to the cage; on the third night she saw him and heard his story. As predicted by him, the Brahmana came with rope-dancers, and as a reward for their performance demanded the bird. By the Prince’s advice the Princess broke its neck when giving it, and his spirit entered her necklace. She broke it, casting the pearls into the court-yard, where they became worms. When the Brahmaria while still in the swing took a second shape as a cock and began to pick up the worms, the Prince became a cat and seized it. By the King’s intervention the enemies were reconciled, the Prince married the Princess, and afterwards recovered his father’s kingdom.

In Indian Nights’ Entertainment (Swynnerton), p. 216, the first part is similar, the teacher being a fakir. The youth turned himself into a bull which was sold, without the head-stall, for a hundred rupees, disappeared, and became the youth again. When he next changed himself into a horse the fakir chased it; it became a dove and the fakir a hawk, then it turned into a fish and the fakir a crocodile. When near capture the fish became a mosquito and crept up the nostril of a hanging corpse; the fakir blocked the nostril with mud and induced a merchant to bring him the body. Then follow some of the Vikrama stories, and at last at the corpse’s request the merchant removed the mud, and the youth escaped. The fakir then accepted the boy’s challenge that he should be a goat and the fakir a tiger, and one should devour the other. The goat was tied outside the town at night, men who were stationed to shoot the tiger when it came, fired, and both animals were killed.

In Folklore of the Santal Parganas (collected by Rev. Dr. Bodding), p. 134, a Queen bore two sons owing to magical aid given by a Jogi, who was to have one of them as a reward. The clever younger one whom he wanted ran off. The man first chased him as a leopard, then they were a pigeon and hawk, a fly and egret. The fly settled on the rice plate of a Queen; when the Jogi induced her to throw the rice on the ground the boy became a coral bead in her necklace. The man then got her to scatter the beads on the floor, and while as a pigeon he was picking them up, the boy took the form of a cat and killed it.

In the Katha Sarit Sagara (Tawney), vol. i, p. 342, a man became an ox when a witch tied a string round his neck, and regained his shape when it was removed. On p. 340 the animal was an ape; when the string was taken off a spell was also necessary to restore the man’s form. In vol. ii, pp. 157, 168, a man was similarly turned into a peacock, and resumed his shape when the thread was removed.

In Sagas from the Far East, p. 2, the elder son of a Khan studied without result under seven magicians for seven years; the younger son acquired their mystic knowledge by peeping through a crack in the door. The elder one afterwards sold the younger to them in the form of a horse; as they were killing it he entered a fish, which as seven larger fishes they chased. Then he became a dove, which when seven hawks pursued it took refuge in Nagaxjuna’s bosom and told him its story. When the seven men asked for his rosary he put the large bead in his mouth as requested by the youth, and biting the string, let the others fall, on which they became worms that seven cocks began to pick up. On the large bead’s falling it changed into a man who killed the cocks with a stick; they became human corpses.

In the same work, p. 273, when the father of Vikramaditya went to fight a demon he left his body near an image of Buddha for safety. On his younger wife’s burning it on a pyre, he appeared in a heavenly form and stated that as his body was destroyed he could not revisit the earth.

In the Arabian Nights (Lady Burton’s ed., vol. i, p. 118) a Princess-magician summoned an Ifrit (Rakshasa) who had turned a Prince into an ape, and with a sword made from a hair of her head cut him in two as a lion. They then became a scorpion and python, a vulture and eagle, a black cat and wolf. The cat became a worm which crept into a pomegranate; when this broke up and the seeds fell on the floor, the wolf (Princess) became a white cock which ate all but one that sprang into the water of a fountain and became a fish, the cock as a larger fish pursuing it. At last they fought with fire in their true forms, and were reduced to ashes.

In the same work, vol. iv, p. 492, a magician warned a Prince not to part with the bridle of a mule which was a metamorphosed Queen, but her old mother bought the animal and got the bridle with it. When she removed the bridle and sprinkled water on the mule it became the Queen again at her orders.

In the Katha Sarit Sagara, vol. i, p. 420, the Asura Maya showed a King his former Asura body. The King magically re-entered the body, abandoning his own frame, and the dead Asura arose. He embalmed and kept his human body, saying that it might prove useful to him. Apparently this approaches the Egyptian belief in the return of the soul to its body after death. Mr. Tawney referred such ideas in China to Buddhist influence.

In the same work, vol. ii, p. 353, a decrepit old hermit who had magical power left his own body, and entered that of a boy of sixteen years who was brought to be burnt, after which he threw his old abandoned body into a ravine, and resumed his ascetic duties as a youth.

In Dr. De Groot’s The Religious System of China, vol. iv, p. 134 S, instances are quoted from Chinese writers, of bodies which had been reanimated by souls of others who died, and it is stated that

“it is a commonplace thing in China, a matter of almost daily occurrence, that corpses are resuscitated by their own souls returning into them.”

In the Rev. Dr. Macgowan’s Chinese Folk-lore Tales, p. 109, the spirit of a King who was murdered by being pushed into a well three years before, appeared to a monk, gave an account of the murder, and said,

“My soul has not yet been loosed from my body, but is still confined within it in the well.”

The body was taken out, and revived when a few drops of the Elixir of Life were applied to the lips.'7 (See also the first note on p. 376, vol. ii.)

In Folk-Tales of Kashmir (Knowles), 2nd ed., p. 71, a cord placed round the neck of a Prince by the daughter of a sorceress changed him into a ram; when it was accidentally removed he became a Prince again.

In The Kathakopa (Tawney), p. 38, a Vidyadhara gave a Prince the power of entering another body. When he utilised it, it was given out that he was dead. His spirit returned to his own body by its own volition.

Footnotes and references:


Leaving a red mark like blood, owing to the areka-nut he had chewed.


Bassia longifolia.