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

by Henry Parker | 1910 | 406,533 words

Collection of stories from the time of ancient Ceylon (now: Sri Lanka) drawn from various sources and traditions (locally, buddhism, hinduism, etc.). The stories found in these volumes are practically literal translations of the written Sinhalese originals....


When the forest and jungle of north-central or northwestern Ceylon is viewed from the upper part of a hill of considerable height, it has the appearance of a dark green sea, across which, if there be any wind, waves closely resembling those of the ocean roll along in parallel lines as the swaying tree tops bend under the gusts of the breeze. As clouds pass between it and the sun their shadows of darker green follow each other over this seemingly illimitable ocean. The undulations of the ground are lost; all appears to be at one general level, except that here and there a little island is visible where a low rocky mound succeeds in raising its head above the verdant waves.

Any hills of lower elevation than our post of observation look Strangely dwarfed, while higher ones behind us stand out more prominently than ever. In the immediate neighbourhood, perhaps glimpses may be obtained of one or two pale green rice fields, contrasting with the darker foliage around them, and of the light blue reflection of the sky in the water of a village tank ; but further away there is no break in the uniformity of the forest sea. No houses are to be seen nor sounds heard, and the visible country appears to be an uninhabited silent wilderness of vegetation.

Let us descend from such an elevated post, and proceed to examine the depths of the green ocean at closer quarters. I shall assume that the reader is accompanying me on a visit to a Kandian village, where we can learn something of the mode of life and the ideas of the dwellers in this jungle, and' become acquainted with some of the animals who are introduced into the stories which they relate.

We leave the dusty main roads, and follow a winding village path, never straight for a hundred yards except by accident—not such a path as was constantly encountered thirty or more years ago, on which the overhanging thorny bushes often made it necessary to bend low or run the risk of having one’s clothes torn, but a track flanked with grass, having the bushes completely cleared away for a width of twelve feet.

For a long distance we journey under an exhausting, pitiless, brazen sun, which during all the middle part of the day the traveller feels but never sees—never directing his gaze towards its blinding glare. The heat is reflected from the unsheltered path. Shut out from the cooling breath of the wind, we have on each side only closely interlaced jungle, a tangled growth, consisting chiefly of leafy thorns and creepers from ten to fifteen feet high, interspersed at varying intervals with a few large trees. This is the wild growth that has sprung up on the sites of abandoned chenas or jungle clearings, and will be cut down again for them from five to seven years afterwards.

An occasional recent example of such a clearing may be passed, having a few large surviving scorched trees, and several smaller ones, interspersed among the growing crop of green millet. Round this a rough fence made by laying sticks and blackened sapling trunks horizontally between pairs of crooked posts—part of the unconsumed remains after the cut and dried up bushes had been burnt—protects the crop from the intrusion of deer and pigs and buffaloes.

Near the middle of the clearing, where two young trees grow in proximity, two thin posts have been fixed in the ground, and between these four supports a floor of sticks has been constructed at a height of ten or twelve feet above the ground, reached by a rough stick ladder with rungs two feet apart, and having a thatched roof overhead, and a flimsy wall of sticks, interwoven with leafy twigs or grass on the windward side. A thin floor of earth, watered and beaten until it became hard, permits a small fire of sticks to be made in the shelter if the nocturnal air be chilly. In this solitary watch-hut a man, or sometimes two, sit or lie nightly, in order to drive away intruding animals that may successfully evade or break through the protecting fence, and feed on the crop.

In such clearings are cultivated chiefly millet of different sorts, or edible grasses, sesame, and a small pulse called mun ; while in the richer soil around some scattered conical brown anthills are planted maize, pumpkins, or red chillies, and a few small cucumbers called kaekiri, bearing yellow or reddish fruit some six inches long. Climbing up two or three of the smaller trees are to be seen gourds, with their curious, hanging, pale, bottle-shaped fruit.

Along the path through the chena jungle there are not many signs of life. A Monitor Lizard or “Iguana,” about four feet long, which we frighten as it was licking up ants and other insects on the roadside with its extensile thin tongue, scurries off quickly, and disappears down a hole in the side of an anthill. Over the jungle come the slow monotonous calls, “Tok, tok, tok, tok,” of a small Barbet, perched on the topmost twig of one of the higher trees, jerking its body to the right and left as it repeats its single note. A Woodpecker crosses the path with a screaming cry, three times repeated, and a few other birds may appear at intervals, but otherwise there is not much to > break the sameness.

Then, if one be lucky, comes a tract of the original forest that has escaped the chena clearer’s destructive bill-hook and fires, in which is immediately experienced the welcome relief afforded by the delightful cool shade cast by the forest trees of many species which stretch high above the lower bushes. This is the home of the Elephant, traces of which are observed in the wide footprints and an occasional broken-down sapling or fractured branch. A slightly leaning tree on the side of the path has tempted one to rub his back on it, and lower down are the scratches left by a Leopard’s claws, as he scraped them on it like a cat.

As we pass along the leaf-strewn way, the loud hoarse cry, “Ho, ho,” of the large grey Monkeys (Semnofithecus priamus) whom we startle, resounds through the trees. They cease to feed on the succulent young leaves, and shake the rustling branches in their bold leaps among the higher ones. This is soon followed by a sudden stillness as they mysteriously conceal themselves, vanishing as though by magic among the denser foliage.

Bird calls unfamiliar to a stranger are heard, especially the short cry of two notes, rather than the crow, of the Jungle-cock—the wild game-fowl of Ceylon,—the sheep-like bleats of the Lesser Hombill, sometimes the rich notes of the Crested Drongo, or the often reiterated whistle, “To meet ye'-ou,” of the Whistling Babbler. A charming Ground Dove that was picking up seeds on the path, flies off quickly down the path, and turns suddenly through the bushes. A few white or brown or striped Butterflies, and sometimes the lovely, large, dark velvety-green or steely blue Omithoptera, flit about. A few sharp notes, uttered as a small timid creature, little bigger than a hare, darts off under the bushes, tell Us that we have startled a little Mouse-deer, Miminna. These fragile-looking animals always stand on tiptoe, appearing exactly, as Mr. R. A. Stemdale expressed it in his work, The Mammalia of India, “as if a puff of wind would blow them away.” But as a rule, there is not much animal life noticeable even in these forests, unless one can spare time to search for it.

Another patch of the chena jungle succeeds the forest, and then the path reaches one end of the embankment of a village tank or reservoir, a shallow sheet of water varying in size from two or three acres to more than one hundred, but commonly from twenty to fifty in area. The trim, earthen, grass-sloped embankment, nearly straight, from an eighth of a mile to half a mile long, from nine to sixteen feet high, and six feet wide on the top, rises a few feet above the water level.

In its contrast with the parched and heated ground along which we have come, the scene always appears strikingly beautiful. There are few fairer spots on the earth than some of the village tanks when they are nearly full of water. Here we may sit in the cool shelter of an umbrageous tree, and contemplate nature in its most idyllic aspect. The busy world, with its turmoil and stress, its noisy factories and clanging machinery, its hurrying railway trains and motor-cars, its crowded cities full of an artificial and unhealthy existence, has disappeared, as though it had been merely a fantastic vision of the night. Here all is peace : an uneventful calm that has survived the changes of perhaps two thousand years, and that may be unaltered in another two thousand. One may wonder if the fevered life of the present western civilisation will last as long, or will have burnt itself out, and been swept away like that of the dead civilisations that preceded it.

Abandoning these day dreams, which the seclusion of the site induces, we look around us. At both sides of the tank and along the outer toe of the embankment grow lofty trees, with grey trunks often strengthfened by wide buttresses, which are thrown out so as to afford their support in the direction in which it is chiefly needed. If a branch become unduly expanded on one side of the tree, always that on which it receives the rays of the sun, so as to displace the centre of gravity, the trunk at once proceeds to develop these thin triangular buttresses under it, wide at the base, and extending ten or fifteen feet upward. As though designed by an engineer, there are usually two which act as struts, and support the trunk below the overweighted branch; and on the opposite side a broader one which acts as a tie, and assists in holding back the stem.

There is no lack of varied forms of animal life here. Often a party of brown Monkeys who have come to drink at the tank are to be seen in some of the trees, sitting quietly inspecting the visitors, or walking leisurely along the branches, a few of the females carrying under their bodies a young one tightly clutching them.

In many tanks, a low grey or dark-stained rock in the water affords a favourite basking ground for the sluggish muddy-brown Crocodiles that make their home in all but a few of the smallest of these tanks. They lie on it like stranded logs, exposed to the sun’s rays, often with wide-open mouths, as though overcome by the heat, from which, however, they make no effort to escape.

A few black Cormorants and a white Egret or two may also be there, resting on another part of the rock; and close to the water even one or two little Black Tank Turtles, but not the edible White Tank Turtle (Kiri-ibba), which is much less common. On a stump in the water is usually perched a Darter, a bird that can outswim its fishy prey, with long snake-like neck, drying its expanded wings under the fiery tropical rays. Its mate will be immersed in the water, in which it swims with only its head and neck visible above the surface.

Near the upper margin of the tank wades, with long deliberate strides, a lanky Great White Egret (Herodias alba), its neck outstretched in advance, and head held ready for a rapid spear-like thrust of its long tapering bill at any frog or small fish incautious enough to remain within its fatal reach. Nearer the edge of the shallowest water Lesser Egrets step more hurriedly in search of frogs, and often chase them as they rush spluttering along its surface.

At the larger tanks the hoarse scream of a White-tailed Fishing Eagle (Polioaetus ichthyaetus), perched on one of the higher branches of a tall tree overhanging the water, resounds across the open space, without frightening a flock of reddish-brown Whistling Teal that float motionless near some lotus leaves, watching the human intruders, who monopolise all their attention.

As we proceed along the embankment, we disturb some of the large Frogs that were sunning themselves on it, or catching flies near the edge of the water, and that plunge headlong into it with extended hind legs.

We now perceive on the low side of the tank a stretch of fields, a couple of hundred yards, a quarter of a mile, or half a mile long, or even more, in which the clear uniform light green sheet of the paddy or growing rice affords a pleasant relief after the uninteresting chena jungle. A long group of feathery-fronded Coconut trees near the tank, fringing the far side of the field, indicates that we are close to a Kandian village. The thatched grey roofs of some of the houses are soon distinguishable below the palms, nearly concealed among the plantain trees and other bushes growing about them. Above these stand out several tall, deep green, pointed-leaved Mango trees, and higher still a few wide-spreading Tamarinds and slender Halmilla trees.

Before we reach them, our attention is again arrested by the repeated mewing calls of the light-coloured Jacanas (Hydrophasianus chirurgus), with pheasant-like tails and enormously lengthened toes, which distribute their weight over a wide area. This enables them to walk on the round floating leaves of the lotus plants that cover one portion of the tank, picking unwary insects out of the water.

Near the side of the tank are to be seen the upper parts of the dark heads of buffaloes, of which the bodies are immersed, as they lazily chew the cud. A White Egret is perched on one whose back appears above the water. At intervals a head disappears quietly below the surface, and the dense crowd of small flies that had settled on it is driven to flight, only to return once more as soon as it rises again.

In the shallower water near them, and nearly stationary, or moving a few feet only at a time, stands a small silent Pond Heron ( Ardeola grayi), avoiding observation as much as possible. Its shoulders are raised, and its head is drawn down, so that it appears to have no neck ; its dorsal plumes spread over the closed wings and completely hide them. When it stands still in this, its usual, attitude it is almost unnoticeable among the aquatic weeds. On our approach it flies off with a croak, transformed into a bird displaying broad white wings and a long thin neck. It is far from being the voracious bird that a well-known tale represents it to be.    ,

A Chestnut Bittern ( Ardetta cinnamomea), that had stationed itself at the foot of the embankment, flits silently across the water, and a Blue or Pied Kingfisher is seen poising itself with down-turned bill, over a shoal of small fishes, on which it drops unexpectedly with a sudden splash, and then wings its way to another position where others have been detected.

On a patch of grass at the upper side of the tank we observe a couple of white-necked Black Storks ( Ciconia leucocephala) promenading sedately in search of luckless frogs, but maintaining a careful watch for human enemies who may be tempted to endeavour to approach within gunshot.

Near this end of the embankment, a party of village women who have brought their large, narrow-mouthed, brown earthen pots or “chatties” for water, holding them on their hips by passing an arm round the neck, will probably take to flight on seeing the white strangers, or otherwise stand as far off the path as the space permits, until they pass. A cry of rapidly shouted words is repeated through the village, announcing the arrival of “gentlemen,” and soon some of the men emerge, and after saluting us with hands raised to the chest and palms touching each other, guide us into it.

On our way we pass by single houses or groups of two or three, built in the midst of each little paddock, fifty or one hundred feet wide or more, often with a very slight fence around it, of the scattered area under the coconut palms which forms the gardens of the Kandian village. Decently clad men and women come out of their mud-walled and often whitewashed dwellings' to stare at the strangers, as well as children of all sizes, in varying stages of scanty clothing, from a short piece of white calico which reaches from the waist to the ankles, down to its vanishing point. The men wear a plain white cloth from the waist to the ankles. The women have a white or coloured one about twelve feet long, one end passing from the waist over the front of the figure, with the corner thrown over the right shoulder, and hanging down behind as far as the waist; the rest of the cloth is wrapped twice round the lower part of the figure, from the waist downwards. When they visit other villages many of the people of both sexes wear white jackets ; in the women’s jackets the sleeves are gathered and puffed out at the shoulder, and reach only to the elbow, and there is a wide, sometimes frilled, double collar.

Our guides lead us on until we reach a dwelling possibly a little more carefully constructed than the others, close to which is a thatched, open, rectangular shed, about twelve feet long by nine feet wide, with its roof resting on plain round wooden posts. Its raised earthen floor is hastily swept, a heavy wooden mortar cut out of a piece of tree trunk, and used for pounding rice in order to remove the skin, is rolled away, and the shed is then ready for our temporary occupation.

This is a maduwa, or shed erected for travellers and strangers, as well as for the general use of the owner, in which the women may plait mats, or clean paddy or rice in the wooden mortar, with a long wooden pestle having an iron ring round the lower end. Here also the man’s friends may sit and chat, and chew the leaf of the Betel vine with broken-up bits of the nut of the Areka Palm, and a little lime, and a fragment of tobacco leaf, while they discuss the state of the crops, or the local news.

When such a shed is erected on the side of a path for public use, it may have, but rarely, half walls four feet high ; or the posts may be tenoned into a rectangle of substantial squared logs that are halved into each other at the angles, where they rest upon large stones, so as to be clear of the ground, and thus partly protected from attacks by white ants. The squared beams act as seats for the tired passer-by.

At the end of the maduwa in the village there is sometimes a very small room of the same width, in which is stored mill et or pulse in bags, or ash-pumpkins, together with a few articles required about the house, such as surplus grass mats, and flat winnowing baskets. Under the roof of the maduwa, above the cross-beams and some sticks laid on them, will be the owner's little plough, and board for levelling the' mud of the rice field before sowing, and some short coils of rope made from the twisted inner bark of tough creepers, and one or two fish creels.

When there is no suitable shed of this kind for the visitor, a hut, usually one belonging to the village headman, is swept out and temporarily given up to our use. If information of the coming visit had been sent beforehand, the hut or shed would have been provided with a ceiling made of lengths of white calico borrowed from the family washerman, and perhaps the walls also would have been hung with others, sometimes including such coloured ones as he had washed for some of the villagers.

While food is being prepared by our servants in a small shed or kitchen dose to the house, we stroll through the village, and observe as we go that all the houses lie east and west, or north and south, and are thatched with straw or plaited Coconut leaves. They are all rectangular, usually eight or nine feet wide and some twelve feet long, and are raised a couple of feet from the ground, on a solid earthen foundation. Each one has a low verandah, two feet six inches or three feet wide, along the front side, and one heavy door of adzed or sawn timber near the middle; but there is very rarely a window, and even then only one of the smallest size.

Near the end of the house, and within sight of the veranda, there are one or two round corn stores, considerably wider at the top than at the base, with conical thatched roofs. They rest upon cross sticks placed upon four horizontal adzed logs, which are supported by four small rough blocks of stone at the corners. Their walls are made of a wicker frame hung from four or five durable posts set in the ground, which are usually the heart wood of trees that are not eaten by white ants. The upper part of the wicker frame is firmly tied to the tops of these, and the whole wicker work is then thickly overlaid and stiffened by successive coatings of mixed clay and sand, on which, as on all the walls and floor of the dwelling house, there is placed a thin surface wash of cow-dung.

These corn stores contain the household supply of paddy or millet. They are entered only by raising the loose conical roof on one side by a long prop, and getting inside by means of a rough ladder, at the opening thus made, over the top of the wall, which rises eight or nine feet above the ground. Sometimes, but rarely in the northern Kandian districts, a small rectangular hut is used as a com store, the entrance in that case being made through a doorway in the middle of one side.

The open ground along the front of the house is clean, and free from grass and weeds, and is swept every morning. In this space, called the midula, there is a stand of peeled sticks supported on thin posts, and having a stick platform about four feet, or a little more, in length and two feet in width, raised three feet from the ground, with often another similar platform below it. On these are laid, after being washed, the blackened earthenware cooking pots of the house, and spoons made of segments of coconut shell with long wooden handles, which are used with them.

In the little kitchen at the end of the house, with a lean-to roof, the hearths or fire-places called lipa are formed of three round stones fixed on the ground, about eight inches apart, on which are set the cooking pots, over a fire of dry sticks. Sometimes a separate small shed is built as a kitchen, but often the cooking is done inside the single apartment of the house, at one end of it.

In each garden are a number of Coconut trees, some thin Halmilla trees, and often a Mango tree, or a darkleaved Jak tree, with its enormous light green fruit hanging on pedicles from the trunk or larger branches, as well as a Lime tree, and four or five clumps of Plantain stems nearer the dwelling. Round the base of one or two of the Coconuts or Halmilla trees are piled on end long bundles of firewood, nearly two feet thick and six or eight feet, long, the unconsumed sticks from the chena, collected by the women, tied round with creepers, and carried home on their heads. Climbing up a small tree in front of the house is a fine Betel vine, which is watered every day during the dry weather. We notice that a bleached skull of a bull is fixed among the leaves to guard the creeper from the unlucky glance of the “Evil Eye,” which might cause its premature decay. In the damper ground adjoining the rice field a few slender Areka palms are growing, with their clusters of small fruit hanging below their leafy crowns.

On the outer side of the village, near the embankment of the tank, there are the large, rough-stemmed Tamarind trees that we noticed as we came. A number of separate thin posts are fixed in the bare ground below them, to which are tethered a few small Buffalo calves, which will be joined by their mothers at dusk, after their bath in the tank is finished.

Further on, there is a small enclosure protected by a stick fence, round which a few thorns are placed. At the entrance, the halves of a split log, about nine inches wide, form gate posts; and five moveable horizontal bars pass easily through holes cut through them, a few loose thorns being rolled against them when the enclosure is shut up at night. This is a cattle-fold, or gala, into which the little harmless black humped cattle are driven each evening by some boys, with the repeated long-drawn cry, Gale, “Into the fold.” In some districts tobacco or chillies will be planted on this well-manured plot of ground in the following spring, a new cattle fold being then made.

On our return to the shed we see that our host’s wife has cooked his evening meal of boiled rice and vegetable curry, with a bit of sun-dried fish as a flavouring, these last being often made burning hot with red chillies. She serves it in the raised veranda to him and a relative who has come from a distant village, after giving them water for rinsing out their mouths. Both sit or “squat” on their heels, and convey the food to their mouths with their right hands, out of the shallow, rather wide basins that act as plates. Where the supply of such household articles runs short, leaf plates made of a piece of plantain leaf, or two or three halmilla leaves pinned together, are used. When they have finished the meal, and have rinsed their right hands and drunk water—which is never taken while eating— and have been served with a chew of betel leaf and its accompaniments, the wife eats the remains of the meal alone, inside the house. If she and her husband were alone they would take it together, the husband being first served.

The men now sit on mats spread in the narrow veranda, where a little oil lamp is perhaps hung, and the woman, after throwing out the remains of the food for the dog, and washing the basins and cooking utensils, and arranging them on their stand, joins the party, and shares in the evening’s conversation. Sometimes, however, .she finds it necessary to pound some paddy until bed-time, in order to remove the husk, in readiness for the meals of the following day; or millet or rice may require grinding into flour in the stone quern.

If some intimate village friends were there, this would be the time when, after discussing the events of the day, or making arrangements for the morrow, a member of the party might finish the evening’s chat by relating one of the familiar old stories of which translations appear in this book.

In the end the woman retires, the visitor stretches himself on his grass mat in the veranda, and the host extinguishes the lamp, if one had been lit, and enters the single room of his house. On the next night it will be his turn to occupy the watch-hut at the chena, where his partner is sitting now.

All take care to lie, if possible, in an east and west direction, and on no account with their heads to the south. This is the abode of Yama, the god of death, while the north is the quarter inhabited by demons. These directions are therefore exposed to evil influences which might affect the sleeper, and perhaps cause such unlucky omens as evil dreams.

The dog curls himself on the ground at the front of the house, the cat wanders off to join some village cronies, and all is silent in the village, except the rustling of the Coconut fronds overhead, the monotonous call, “Wuk; chok-cho-tok,” uttered by a small owl in one of the higher trees, and the more distant chorus of the frogs in the adjoining rice field.

Now and again we' hear at some villages the long-drawn, human-like cry, “Hoo, hoo, hoo,” of a large Wood-Owl (Syrnium indranee), that is flying round high in the air, and answering its distant mate. It is a weird unearthly sound, which is always firmly believed by the villagers to be uttered by demons, as will be noticed in some of the stories.

The earliest cry of the morning is the deep booming note, three or four times repeated, of the large Ground Cuckoo (Centrococcyx rufipennis), which is heard soon after dawn appears. Our host’s wife is at work before daylight, scraping into shreds the kernel of a half coconut, and preparing some milk-rice—rice boiled in milk made by squeezing grated coconut in water until the latter assumes the colour of milk.

By sun-rise, the Crows of the village are astir, and the Parrakeets, commonly called “Parrots” in the East, which have been sleeping in the coconut trees, fly away in parties in search of food.

The notes of the double kettle-drum at a neighbouring wihara, or Buddhist temple, consisting of three deep-toned strokes at short intervals, followed by five rapid blows on a higher key, once repeated, the whole series being many times sounded, now announce to the villagers within hearing that this is one of the four Poya days of the month, the Buddhist Sabbath, kept at each of the quarters of the moon.

About an hour later, our host’s wife is joined by a party of eight or ten women, and one or two men, all dressed in clean white clothes. They proceed to the temple, each carrying in a small bowl a present of milk-rice and a few cakes, covered with a white cloth.

There they chant three times, after the resident monk, the Buddhist creed,

“I go to the Buddha-refuge, I go to the Faith-refuge, I go to the Community (of Monks)-refuge”;

this is followed by some more stanzas in the ancient language, Pali, after which they return, and resume the ordinary occupations of the day.

Our host is about to leave his room after his night’s rest, when the chirp of a little pale-coloured House Lizard on the wall causes him to turn back suddenly, in order to avoid the evil influences against which the wise Lizard had uttered its warning voice. He occupies himself in the house for a short time longer, and then, at a luckier moment, makes his appearance afresh, taking care to step over the threshold with the right foot first.

He is cheered by finding that nothing obstructs his way in the least after he comes out, and that we are the first living beings on which his gaze rests. To begin the d^y by seeing first a person of superior status is a lucky omen of the favourable character of the rest of the day, and one with which he is not often blessed. We increase the auspicious impression by a few judicious friendly remarks; but are careful not to offer any decided praise regarding any of his possessions, since we are aware of his opinion that one never knows if such sayings may not have a reverse effect through the malevolence of jealous evil spirits. There is an Evil Mouth, as well as an Evil Eye.

A man or two, and a few boys, come from the adjoining houses to watch our doings, from the open space in front of the house, or the veranda ; but all turn their faces away and ignore us from the moment when we sit down to our “early tea,” and until it is finished. This is done so as to avoid any risk of our food’s affecting us injuriously, owing to a possible glance of the Evil Eye, which a person may possess without being aware of the fact.

We notice a little copper tube slung on the right upper arm of our host’s wife, by means of a yellow thread which passes through two rings on its under side. In reply to our carefully worded inquiry regarding it, he informs us that as she had been troubled with evil dreams they had thought it advisable to get a friend of his, a Vedarala or doctor, who was acquainted with astrological and magical lore, to supply her with a magical diagram and spell against dreams, inscribed on a strip of dried palm leaf, which was rolled up and placed in the tube. The thread, a triple one, was coloured with saffron, and nine knots were made on it before it was tied on her arm, a magical spell being repeated as each knot was made. Thanks to this safeguard the dreams had ceased, but it was considered advisable not to remove the thread and charm for a few weeks longer.

Our host’s relative, having eaten some milk-rice, and taken a chew of betel and areka-nut in his mouth, is about to return to his distant village, and now leaves, saying only,

“Well, I am going.”

“It is good; having gone come,”

is the reply. The latter word must not be omitted, or it might appear that his return in the future was not desired.

So he sets off on his journey, the host accompanying him to the garden fence. However, in a few minutes he is back again, and explains that he had met with a bad omen which made it necessary to postpone the departure. A dog stood in the path, obstructing his way, and made no attempt to move even when he spoke to it. The host cordially agrees that it would be most unwise to continue the journey after such an unfavourable omen on starting, and it is settled that he will leave early in the afternoon, when the danger, whatever it may be, probably will have passed away.

And so on, like a perpetual nightmare haunting him during his whole journey through life, the Kandian villager sees his dreaded portents in the simplest occurrences of his daily life. A few are prognostications of good luck ; but far more in number are those which are to him obvious warnings, not to be disregarded with impunity, of some unknown but impending evil that he must avoid if possible.

Every evil is directly due to evil spirits, either specially instigated to injure him by inimical magicians, or taking advantage of some accidental opportunity. The evil spirits are innumerable and malevolent, and ever ready to make use of any chance to annoy or injure human beings. Thus it would be the height of foolhardiness to ignore events that appear to be signs of some approaching unfavourable action on their part.

One man informed me that in the dusk one evening he was unable to find the little exit path from his chena, and was compelled to remain all night there before the clearing work was finished. He attributed this entirely to the malicious action of an evil spirit, who had blocked it up in order to annoy him. When daylight came the path was clear, and so plainly to be seen that he was certain that he could not have missed it at night had it been in a similar state at that time.

I knew of one instance in which a man who had arranged to make a lengthy trading journey, and had loaded his cart with produce ready for an early start at daybreak, abandoned the trip because he had a dream in the night which he considered indicated an unfavourable prospect. The reader will find a similar tale included among these stories ; and although the villagers laugh at the foolish men of whom it is related, there are scores of others who would return home under such circumstances.

It is a holiday season for the villagers, during which they can devote themselves to the congenial occupation of contemplating the growth of the rice and the millet crop; but it was preceded by much hard work in the rice field and the chena. The felling of the thorny jungle at the chena, the lopping and burning of the bushes, the clearing and hoeing of the ground, and the construction of the surrounding fence, were carried on continuously under a scorching sun from morning to night, until the work was completed shortly before the first light showers enabled the seed to be sown, after a further clearing of the- weeds that had sprung up over the ground.

As soon as the heavier rains had softened the hard soil of the rice field, baked, where not sandy, by the tropical sun until it became like stone, the work of ploughing and preparing the land for the paddy crop was one that permitted little or no intermission. Every morning the men carried their little ploughs on their shoulders, and yoking a couple of buffaloes to each of them, spent many hours in guiding the blunt plough backwards and forwards through the soil, overgrown since the last crop by a covering of grass. It requires no slight labour to convert such an apparently intractable material into a smooth sheet of soft mud, eight inches deep. After that is done, all the little earthen ridges that form the raised borders of each of the rectangular plots into which the field is divided, and that are necessary for retaining the sheet of water which is periodically flooded over the rice, must be repaired and trimmed.

When that is accomplished the ground must be sown by hand without delay,. with paddy which has already sprouted, and being merely scattered lightly on the surface of the thick mud, will grow at once. The preparation of the paddy for this purpose is one of the duties of the women, who soak it in water, and spread it a few inches thick on large mats laid on the floor of the shed or the veranda. In three days it will be sprouted, and ready for immediate sowing. After the sowing is completed, there still remains the repair or reconstruction of the stick fence which protects the field from cattle, or, in some parts, deer.

It is thought to be essential for obtaining a satisfactory crop, that each of the more important operations of these or any other works should be commenced on a day and at an hour that have been selected by the local astrologer as auspicious. There must be no unfavourable aspects of the planets, which are held to have a most powerful and often deleterious influence on all terrestrial matters; planets or no planets, certain days are also recognised by every person who claims a modicum of intelligence, as being notoriously unlucky.

After the time for beginning the ploughing, or commencing the clearing of the jungle at the chena, has been so chosen, a start must be made at that hour, even though it be nothing more than a beginning ; and usually the plough is once run at that time through each little plot of the field, several days before the real ploughing is undertaken. In the case of the chena, a few branches will be lopped off at the lucky moment, and the remainder of the work can then be done when convenient.

Without such necessary precautions no village cultivator would be astonished at the subsequent failure or unproductiveness of the crops, either through excess or deficiency of the rainfall, or damage caused by wild animals, or, in the case of the rice, by an excessive irruption of “flies” or bugs, which suck out the milky juices of the immature grains. The surprise would be felt, not at the failure of the crops under such unfavourable conditions, but at the survival of any crop worth reaping.

Of course, in the case of the “flies” on the rice the usual remedy of their forefathers will be tried. A Bah Tiyanna, a priest who makes offerings to arrest or avert the evil influences due to unpropitious planets, will be summoned. After presenting a small offering, he will march round the crop, blowing a perforated chank shell in order to alarm any unfavourable spirits ; at each side of the field he will formally exorcise the flies, and in a loud voice order them to depart.[1]

But on the whole, notwithstanding the thorough confidence of the exorcist in the efficacy of this treatment, it is felt to be a last resort, which ought to be, but often is not, altogether as successful as the owner of the crop might desire. Planets and flies are sometimes intractable, and will not hearken to the charmer. Besides, thinks the cultivator, who knows if the Bali Tiyanna was so foolish as to speak to some one on his march round the field, and thus break the spell ?

Now that he comes to consider the matter, the cultivator remembers that he heard the cry of a Woodpecker [2] as he was leaving the house for the first ploughing. He thought at the time that, as the hour had been declared to be a fortunate one, that warning scream was intended for some other person ; but now he is of opinion that it may have been addressed to him. It is unfortunate; it must have been settled by Fate that he should neglect it, but he will exercise more care another time. He feels that he can always place confidence in the House Lizards and Woodpeckers, because they receive their information from the gods themselves.

When the chena crop is ripe, the wives of the owners collect a number of friends and relatives, and proceed with them to the place, each carrying a light sack or two, and a diminutive sickle. With this they cut off the heads of the millet, storing them in the sacks ; the straw is left as useless. All the party are rather gaily dressed, usually in white, and often have a broad strip of calico tied over the head, with the ends falling down the back. This work is looked upon as a recreation, and is carried on amid a large amount of chatter and banter, and the singing of songs by first one and then another, each verse being repeated by the whole party. Some that are sung are simple verses from the olden time, which probably are believed to have a magical influence.

At noon and in the evening the bags full of millet are carried to the houses of the owners of the crop. Meals are provided for the whole party by them, and nonpayment is made for the work. In most districts the men never take any part in this reaping, and their presence would be thought objectionable. As one of them expressed it, they stay at home and boil water.

For the reaping of the rice crop, the man to whom it belongs collects a few assistants in the same way, the women also sometimes joining in the work. The stems of the plants are cut near the ground, and are tied up in little sheaves, which are collected first at some of the junctions of the earthen ridges in the field. The whole are removed afterwards and built into larger stacks at the side of the field, near a flat threshing-floor of hard earth, surrounded by a fence in which a few trees are planted as a shade.

The threshing of the stacks is a business of great importance, which must be performed according to ancient customs that are supposed to have a magical effect, and prevent injurious demoniacal interference with the out-turn. After the floor has been thoroughly cleaned and purified, a magical circular diagram, with mystical symbols round it, is drawn on the ground round a central post, before the threshing can be commenced.

The unthreshed rice is laid over the floor in a circle round the central post, and four buffaloes in a row are driven over it, round and round the post, following the direction taken by the sun, that is, from the east towards the south and so on through the circle, the stems of the rice being shaken up from time to time. After the corn has been thus trampled out of the ears it is collected and poured gradually out of baskets held high in the air, so that the wind may blow away the chaff. The corn is then placed in sacks and carried to the store.

After the crop of the chena or field has been gathered in, a small offering of the first-fruits is made at the local Dewala, or demon temple, and cleaned rice is also presented to the resident monk at the local Buddhist temple.

When the crop is placed in the store, the household supply of food for at least a great part of the year, and commonly for the whole year, has been provided for. Such additions as salt, sun-dried fish, and some of the condiments used in curries are obtained by bartering coconuts, or paddy, or millet, at little roadside shops which are established at a few places along the main roads throughout the country. These are kept by Muhammadan trades— commonly termed Tambi, with, in village talk, the honorific addition ayiya, “ elder brother,”—or Sinhalese from the Low Country districts, or Tamils from Jaffna; and rarely or never by Kandians. From these shops, also, clothes are procured at long intervals in the same way, or a special journey is made to the nearest town or larger shopping centre.

As a general rule, in the interior it is all a matter of barter, and very little money is used, so little indeed that if the crops be less satisfactory than usual the villager often has difficulty in paying the tax of a rupee and a half (two shillings), which is collected by Government each year from adult males, towards the cost of keeping the roads in order. In the poorer districts, the payment of this, the only direct tax of the villager, is like a recurring annual nightmare, which worries him for weeks together, and unfortunately cannot be charmed away, like his other nightmares, by a magic thread.

Village life is on the whole a dull one. Its excitements are provided by demon-ceremonies for the cure of sickness, occasional law-suits, and more especially by weddings, which afford a welcome opportunity for feasting, and displaying clothes and jewellery, but sometimes also cause quarrels owing to caste or family jealousies. It would be too long a digression to attempt to describe these here. Pilgrimages to important Buddhist temples are also undertaken, about nine-tenths of the pilgrims being women, a proportion sometimes observable in church attendance in England.

One of the pleasantest features of village life is the family re-union at the Sinhalese New Year, April n or 12, when all the members meet at their old home if possible, and make little presents to each other, and pay ceremonial visits, dressed in their best clothes, to their relatives and friends. The men also call on their local headmen, who in the same way visit their superiors. I have known considerable numbers of villagers tramp ninety miles on hot dusty roads, with an equally long return journey in prospect, in order to be present at this home gathering.

For three weeks before the day, the whole village life is disorganised by preparations for this festival. The houses are furbished up, plantains and palm sugar are collected, often from places many miles away, new clothes are purchased, and every one’s mind is given up to anticipation of the event and provision for it, to the complete exclusion of all ordinary work. It is also a busy time for astrologers, who are required to fix a suitable day and a lucky hour for the first lighting of the New Year's fire, the first cooking of food, and, three or four days later, the hour at which the heads of all shall be anointed, pending which important ceremony no work is begun or journey commenced.

In many villages the women produce from some dark hiding-place the little board with fourteen little cup-shaped hollows, in two rows each consisting of seven cups, on which the ancient game called in Ceylon “Olinda” is played. Four bright red seeds of the Olinda creeper are placed in each cup, and the two players, who sit on opposite sides of the board, “sow” them one by one in the holes. As a rule, only ’the women play at this game, at which many of them are adepts, carrying it on for hours at a time with the greatest rapidity and skill. At the conclusion of the New Year’s holiday, or soon after it, the boards are returned to their hiding-pilaces, and often are not used again for another year. In the villages where Low Country influence has penetrated, many of the men find gambling a more attractive amusement, as well as a more exciting one, at this time.

About once in a couple of years a party of Gypsies who speak Telugu, and broken Tamil and Sinhalese, come along the high road, and settle down on a patch of open grass near a tank. The talipat palm leaves with which their diminutive oblong huts are roofed, and strong creepers or bamboos curved in a semicircle, for making the skeleton framework, are transported on small donkeys, the women and children carrying the other few household goods and cooking utensils in bundles on their heads. Some take about with them large numbers of goats.

As soon as they have raised their little huts, each about four feet high, and surrounded by a shallow channel for carrying off rain water, the adults leave them in charge of the children and old women, and spread through all the villages of the neighbourhood in order to collect food or money. The man carries in a round, flat, black basket slung in a cloth from his shoulder, a cobra or two, which are made to “dance,” a term which means merely sitting coiled up (the head with the hood expanded being raised about fifteen inches from the ground), and making attempts to strike the moving knee or hand of the crouching exhibitor. The women tell fortunes by the lines on the hands.

All the village girls endeavour to raise the requisite three halfpence or twopence so as to hear, often for the third or fourth time, of their past and future experiences, and to be promised handsome husbands possessing fields and cattle. The adults pay a little rice for the exhibition of the cobras.

When the Gypsies have exhausted the contributory possibilities of the adjoining villages they move on again to another camping ground. They have always a number of dogs which assist in catching animals for the food supply, and it is few, whether provided with legs or without legs, that are thought unfit to eat. The diet includes white ants, rat-snakes, owls, and munguses, as well as any stray village fowls that can be acquired surreptitiously.

These Gypsies of Ceylon are an interesting race, and I may be permitted a digression in order to furnish some details regarding them. I am not aware how long they have settled in Ceylon; they are permanent dwellers in the island, and are especially found in the northern half and the eastern districts, but also in the south and in the hill districts. In the Sinhalese districts they have developed a dialect which appears to be a curious compound of Telugu and Sinhalese. Thus fowls, which in Telugu are termed Kollu, are known by them as Guglu, the Sinhalese Kukuhi.

From a Gypsy with whom, by the aid of pecuniary intervention, I established friendly relations, cemented by my presenting him one day with a fine newly-caught cobra, I learnt that they enjoy general good health, notwithstanding the apparent hardships of their life. They attribute this to their constant changes of drinking-water and camping-sites, no camp being maintained in one place for more than seven days in the Sinhalese districts. In the Eastern Province, where the Gypsies possess very large herds of cattle, amounting sometimes to four or five hundred, they camp in one spot for a month if the grazing be sufficiently good.    ,

They do not keep their cobras for more than a month. After being kept for that period, they not only become too tame to “dance,” but, what is far more important, their poison fangs grow afresh, and it would be dangerous to retain them. They are therefore always released at the end of that time, if not earlier. They are fed regularly upon fowls’ eggs and occasional rats.

My friend characterised as nonsense the idea of their handling and using cobras which have not had their, fangs excised. The reader may remember Sir Bartle Frere’s note in Old Deccan Days, p. 329, regarding a boy who continued to handle with impunity poisonous snakes with unremoved fangs, until at last one killed him. The reader is also referred to Drummond Hay’s Western Barbary, 1844, pp. 105-108, in which an account is given of a snake-charmer who allowed a deadly snake to bite him.. A fowl that it bit immediately afterwards died in a minute, while the man did not suffer from the bite. Hay saw the snake’s fangs. He mentions another instance at Tangier, in which a youth who was sceptical regarding the poison allowed the snake to bite him, and died from the effect of it.

I saw this Gypsy cut off-the fangs of the cobra that I gave him. This was done with a common pen-knife which he kept for the purpose. The head being held sideways on a thick stick, so that the upper jaw lay on it, the fang was cut off at the base. The head was then turned, and the other fang removed. The man then passed his fore-finger along the jaw, and finding a slight roughness or projection, sliced off a little of the bone at each side. After this he released the cobra, which followed him and sprang at him furiously, time after timfe, and had its first lesson on the ease with which he evaded its strokes. When it became tired of attempting the impossible, he consigned it to his basket—another cobra ready for exhibition.

.Some of these men are extraordinarily expert in making pretended captures of cobras which they apparently fascinate by their pipes, so as to attract them from their holes or hiding-places. They perform this feat so cleverly as to deceive many people, who insist that it is a real capture. I have twice got them to do it for me—in the Southern and the North-western Provinces—and although I watched them from a very short distance, I was unable to see whence the cobra was produced. On both occasions I examined the mouth of the cobra immediately after it was captured, and in both instances I found that the fangs had been removed. My Gypsy friend also assured me that it was a mere trick which only a few learn. •

In each case, the man, who was dressed only in a cloth extending from the waist to the calf, after piping for some time at the edge of the bushes in which the snake might possibly be found, bent down suddenly, half entering the bush, and apparently endeavoured to seize a cobra which eluded him. After resuming the piping for a few seconds more, he bent down again at the same spot, and drew out a large cobra—one was nearly six feet long ; it extended to the full length of his outstretched hands—holding it by the tail; then slipping his other hand rapidly along its' body he grasped it tightly behind the jaws. Probably when first bending down he placed a cobra on the ground, afterwards seizing it by the tail as it was moving off.

In one case, a pretence at being bitten on the thumb on the way back from the bush was very effective. There were two bleeding punctures between the nail and the knuckle, at the right distance apart, and the expressions of pain no doubt were not altogether simulated.

The supposed poison was extracted by means of the usual spells and remedial agents—a charmed piece of creeper and a tiny ball of lime, the latter to check the progress of the poison along the arm, and the former to draw it down to the wounds ; and two “snake stones”— nearly flat rectangular pieces of horn slightly hollowed on one side—which were placed on the wounds to extract the poison. These “stones” adhere by atmospheric pressure when wetted and pressed on the skin with the hollowed side downwards. I have been informed that the wounds are made by pressing on the thumb a thorny seed capsule which has two sharp spikes at a suitable distance apart.

One of these men afterwards proceeded to a large village about a mile away, and appeared to capture three more cobras in the same manner at houses where the residents denied that any were to be found; but in the end I was told by the villagers that he had only two cobras in his basket, this being the number that I saw in his possession before these last pretended captures were made.

These people are said to live well, better, indeed, than the majority of the villagers. The women are given to lavish personal adornment of an inexpensive kind, chiefly articles of brass and glass. On one lady, perhaps considered a beauty, I counted sixteen bead necklaces; twenty-four bangles, chiefly of common black glass, on the wrists; four silver armlets on the upper arms; and six rings on each finger and thumb, excepting only the middle finger of each hand.

The Kandian village is a self-contained unit, producing everything that the inhabitants require, with the exception of the few articles previously mentioned. It hears a faint echo of the news of the great outer world, without feeling that this has any connexion with its own life. It would listen with almost equal indifference to a statement that the sky was blue, or that England was at war with a European power, or that a new Governor had been appointed.

When I asked a villager's opinion regarding the transfer of a Government Agent who had ruled a Province for some years, he replied,

“They say one Agent has gone and another Agent has come; that is all.”

The supervision of the work of maintaining in order the embankment of the village reservoir or " tank,” upon which the rice crops depend, as well as of the fencing of the rice field, is in the hands of the Gamarala, now termed in other parts than the North-central Province, the Vidane. The latter title is not recognised in any of the folk-tales, in which (with one exception) the Gamarala is the only headman represented. His jurisdiction extends over two or three closely adjoining villages, or sometimes over one only.    _

Of a higher rank and different functions is the Aracci (pronounced Aratchy), who rules over five or six villages, and who is responsible for the maintenance of order, arrests and prosecutes offenders, and acts as general factotum for seeing that the orders received from superior headmen are promulgated and obeyed.

Of much more important authority are the Korale-Aracci and Korala, the latter being the head of a considerable district, and above these again is the Ratemahatmaya, who is the supreme and very influential chief of a large part of a Province. By successive steps in promotion the members of influential or respectable families may rise to any of these offices. Though all but the highest one are unsalaried, they are competed for with a good deal of eagerness on account of the power which they confer, the possibility of further promotion, and also for the opportunities which they afford for receiving “presents,” which flow in a pleasing though invisible, but not therefore less remunerative, stream towards all but the Vidanes and Gama-ralas.

A few words may be added regarding the castes of the Kandian districts whose stories are given in this work, or who are referred to.

The Smiths come next to the cultivating caste, sometimes occupying separate hamlets, but often living in the same village as the superior caste, though divided from it by an impassable gulf, of which only the women preserve the outward sign. Those of the cultivating caste are alone permitted by social custom to dress in one outer robe in one piece ; all of lower rank must wear a separate garment from the waist upward.

The Smiths are considered to be the highest class of their caste, called Nayide, the artificers. There are said to be five classes of Nayides:—

  1. Acari (pronounced Atchary), which includes the Smiths, Painters, and Sculptors ;
  2. Badahaela, Potters;
  3. Mukkara or Karawa, Fishers ;
  4. Madinna, Toddy-drawers (“toddy” is fresh palm-juice) ;
  5. all “Moormen,” the descendants of Muhammadan settlers.

All these, and the other low castes, except the Rodiyas, cultivate rice and millet.

The Potters live by making all local forms of earthen pottery, and tiles and bricks if required. They build up large temporary kilns filled with alternate layers of pots and fire-wood, and are often intelligent men. Some of them are priests or conductors of services for the propitiation of planets and other evil astronomical bodies, as well as astrologers.

Next in the villages come the Washermen ( Radawa , or Henaya, or Henawalaya), who possess great power as the arbiters regarding cases of the violation of social etiquette or custom. The disgrace of a refusal on their part to wash the clothes of objectionable persons is a form of social ostracism, and the offender soon has sad experience of the truth of the statement of the Maha Bhaxata that there is nothing (except fire) that is so purifying as gold (or its value). Some of the washermen are officiators at demon ceremonies. They are paid for their services as washermen in produce of various kinds, each family giving an annual subvention in paddy, etc., in return for its washing. One whom I knew could improvise four-line stanzas for an indefinite time, on the spur of the moment, each verse being composed while the audience chanted the refrain after the preceding one.    •

The Tom-tom Beaters ( Berawaya) are a peculiar and interesting caste, who formerly combined their present duties with the weaving of cotton fabrics in frames. Although the arduous work of their profession—often a whole night’s hard dancing or tom-toming—leads at the time to a considerable consumption of “arrack,” the spirit distilled from palm juice, I believe that few of them take much liquor at other times.

In their own work many of them are very expert, the result of many years of training. On one occasion three tom-tom beaters requested permission to give me an exhibition of their skill. The leader first played a short simple tune, which was repeated in turn by the second and third players. They continued to play in this way, in turn, the tunes becoming increasingly difficult and rapid ; whatever impromptu changes the leader introduced were all repeated in the same manner by the others. A number of villagers who were present, and listening critically, stated that it was a clever performance ; it was also a noisy one.

The boys are taught to learn thoroughly, without using a tom-tom, the whole of the complicated airs that are played, repeating a series of sounds such as ting, tang, etc., which with varying emphasis represent the various notes to be played on the tom-tom. Not until they can give in this manner the whole of an air correctly, as regards notes, time, and emphasis, are they considered to know it. It is a tonic sol-fa system. To these professionals, every air has its name and meaning, often1 expressed in words which fit the notes; so that when a very few notes have been heard they can state what is being said. The reader will find one or two references to this in the folk-tales.

The Durayas are the carriers of baggage for the higher caste, and nearly always have tanks and fields of more than average quality. These have been granted to them in former times by the cultivating caste in return for their services, which could be claimed at any time if a man were about to proceed on a journey, and required himself or his luggage carrying. They still occupy a very low social position. Formerly the women were not allowed to wear above the waist more clothing than a strip of calico of about a hand’s breadth, across the breast; a coloured handkerchief now generally takes its place.

Much has been written about the Rodiyas. They may be of partly different descent from the Sinhalese, but I do not know how far this matter has been investigated. Their hamlets are never called gama, “village,” but kufipa-yama.[3] I am not aware that any of them cultivate rice fields; they make ropes, and guard chenas and cattle for others. They also partly subsist by begging, and, it is said, by theft; some are gamblers also. The women usually wear no clothing above the waist. Their dialect differs from Sinhalese to some extent.

Nothing is known regarding the origin of the Kinnaras, the lowest caste of all, in whose case there are several anomalies that deserve investigation. They do not hunt as a profession. They have village tanks and rice fields, own cattle, and have good houses and neat villages. Their caste occupation is mat weaving in frames, with Niyanda fibre alone or combined with grass.

Some have their heads covered with a mass of thick, short, very curly hair, being the only people in the island possessing this distinctive characteristic. The features and the colour of the skin are of the ordinary type of the lower castes, and would not enable them to be recognised from others. Social rules forbid the growth of the hair beyond the neck. The dress of the women is restricted like that of the Durayas. Though they can never enter Buddhist temples, or the enclosures round them, they are all Buddhists. I was informed that their social ceremonies, as well as the religious ones, that is, those for propitiating evil spirits, whether demoniacal or planetary, closely resemble those of the other- castes ; and that they, as well as the Rodiyas, have their own medical practitioners, astrologers, soothsayers, and kapuwas or officiators at demon ceremonies.

The men of the Chetti caste, or Hettiyas, who are mentioned in some of the stories, are either Indians, or the descendants of Indian settlers. The Chetti caste is one of great importance, and many of its members are persons of the highest respectability and often of great wealth. The persons referred to in these tales are only some of the inferior members of the race, some of whom have little road-side shops or cultivate small fields and gardens.

Coming at last to the stories themselves, I may quote the words of the late Mr. W. Goonetilleke, the learned editor of The Orientalist, a journal published during the years 1884-1892, in which many folk-tales of Ceylon were given. Mr. Goonetilleke said (vol. i. p. 36),

“What is really wanted ... are the genuine stories of the Sinhalese [and other races also], those which are quite free from foreign influences, and have existed among the people from time immemorial. These can only be gathered from the inhabitants of villages and of the remoter parts of the island into which western civilization has not yet penetrated.”

It is an adherence to this advice, and, I may say also, the complete absence of all attempts to give the tales a literary appearance that the originals do not possess, which constitute the special features of the present work.

Though all have been collected by myself, I have only myself written down a very limited number from dictation. All the rest have been written for me in Sinhalese by the narrators themselves, or by other villagers employed by me to collect them, who wrote them just as they were dictated. I preferred this latter method as being free from any disturbing foreign influence. Only three very short stories were written down by me in English ; two of them were related in English by a Sinhalese gentleman, and the other, a variant of another story, was written immediately after a Buddhist monk had related it to me in Sinhalese.

The stories, as they now appear, are practically literal translations of the written Sinhalese originals, perhaps it may be thought in some respects too literal. My aim has been to present them as nearly as possible in the words in which they are related in the villages. The only liberty of any importance that I have taken has been the insertion of an occasional word or phrase where it was evidently omitted by the narrator, or was necessary in order to elucidate the meaning, or complete the sense.

It was unavoidable that many expressions, such as

  • “afterwards,”
  • “after that,”
  • “at that time,”
  • “then,”
  • “again,”

with which the village story-teller repeatedly begins his sentences, should be deleted. Many past participles which Sinhalese grammar requires have been transformed into the past tense, and most of the tense errors have been corrected, and in rare instances an unmanageable sentence has been cut in two. Such a word as “came,” when it expressed “came back,” is sometimes translated “returned” ; and “said,” where, it referred to an answer, is occasionally turned into “replied.” The word translated as “behead,” is merely “cut” in the original; but the context sometimes shows that the other meaning is to be understood.

• In other respects, the reader may rely on having here the tales in their true village forms, and expressed in the same simple manner. I have even left one peculiar idiom that is often used, according to which a question is described as being asked, or a statement made, " at the hand ” of a person ; but I do not follow the village story-teller in using this form in conversations carried on with the lower animals. It is quite usual in Sinhalese to state that a question was asked by a person “at the hand” (lit. “from the hand,” the same word meaning also “fore-paw”) of a jackal, a deer, or a reptile. It will be seen that I have not attempted to translate the interjections into English.

It will be noticed that in the majority of the tales the characters are introduced in the present tense, which is then abandoned. The narrators sometimes relapse into it afterwards, but as a rule, unless action is being emphasised, I have adhered to the past tense in such instances, excepting in the stories told by the Village Vaeddas and the lowest castes, in which it.seemed advisable to make as little change as possible.    v .

Attention may be invited to the tales told by the lowest castes, probably the only stories of theirs that have ever been collected in Ceylon. From the Tom-tom Beaters a considerable number were obtained, some of which will appear in a later volume. The few tales that have been told by the Rodiyas and Kinnaras are very simple; the chief fact is that they have any to tell.

It appeared to be likely that some of the Sindbad series of adventures might be found in Ceylon, but inquiries made in different districts, including part of the west coast, failed to reveal any tales belonging to the “Arabian Nights,” with the exception of one which probably was derived from a printed work, and orally transmitted from one of the towns. It is still possible that some may be found, as the Rukh is included in the Sinhalese tales, and the ogre called Rakshasa, who is a familiar personage in them, is correctly described in his folk-tale form, in one of the Sindbad voyages. In one story, which is not included in this work, there is the incident of the demon who was imprisoned in a bottle. The demon was Mara, Death personified, and his captor was a Vedarala, or medical practitioner. The age of the tale is uncertain.

It is evident that many of the stories belong to distant times, but there is little to indicate their age more definitely. In one tale only, of this volume, the money mentioned is the kahawanuwa, in old Sinhalese kahawana, the Pali kaha-pana, a coin that ceased to be current by the tenth or eleventh century A.D., if not considerably earlier. Commonly, we find that the coinage is the masurama, plural masuran, which came into use in the eleventh century and was not coined after the thirteenth ; but of course this is far from proving that the stories in which it occurs are not of much earlier date. There are no references to the Portuguese, who arrived in Ceylon at the beginning of the sixteenth century, or to later foreign residents; but a Tamil king is mentioned.

Although a large number of the stories relate the adventures of Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses, it will be observed that these personages sometimes behave like ordinary villagers. The Queen or Princess often cooks the rice for the family meal; Sir Bartle Frere has stated in the notes at the end of Old Deccan Days, p. 324, that this

“would be nothing unusual in the house of a Rajah. . . . It is still the most natural precaution, he can take against poison, to eat nothing but what has been prepared by his own wife or daughter, or under their eye in his own zenana, and there are few accomplishments on which an Indian Princess prides herself more than on her skill in cookery.” 

It is not to be understood that such persons in these stories are supposed to be members of the family of the ruling monarch of Ceylon. These so-called “kings,” ruling over a small district or even a single city, are in reality some of the more important parumakas or feudal chiefs of the inscriptions of pre-Christian or early post-Christian years. This old title does not make its appearance in the stories, however.

Vaedda rulers who are termed “kings” receive notice in three stories. In one which was given in Ancient Ceylon, p. 93, a Vaedda youth was appointed the king of a Sinhalese district, which is stated to have prospered under his rule. In a tale in the present volume (No. 4) reference is made to a Vaedda “king” who dwelt in a forest, and who arrested some travellers and imprisoned them in what is termed a house. In another story, which is not included here, there is an account of another Vaedda “king” who lived in a forest, and who ordered his archers to kill a prince who had succeeded to the sovereignty of a neighbouring district on the death of his father, and was proceeding there in order to assume it. His offence lay in travelling through the forest without first obtaining the permission of the Vaedda ruler. We also find references to Vaeddas who were accustomed to enter the towns ; one of them laid a complaint before a Sinhalese “king” that a person had threatened to kill him in the forest. Probably Sn all these instances we have a true picture of the actual position, in early times, of some of the Vaeddas who had not yet adopted, or had abandoned, the vijljlage1 life. Their chiefs were practically independent in their wild forests.

The Rakshasas (in village spelling Rasaya, Rasl ) who are introduced into many tales are ogres like those of Europe. The Yakas are always demons or evil spirits, of little intelligence, often having a human appearance but black in colour. They live chiefly upon human flesh, like the ogres, and possess like them some supernatural powers.

With regard to the animals mentioned, it is strange to find such prominence accorded to the Lion, which has never existed in a wild state in Ceylon. Its characteristics are correctly described, even including its ear-splitting roar.

The place taken by the Fox of European tales is filled by the Jackal, full of craft and stratagems, but sometimes over-reaching himself. The Hare and Turtle are represented as surpassing all the animals in cleverness, as in African and American Negro stories.

Of all the animals, the poor Leopard is relegated to the lowest place, both as regards want of intelligence and cowardice; and in only one adventure does he come off better than the Jackal. Even in that one his position is a despicable one, and he is completely cowed by a little Mouse-deer, the clever animal of Malay stories. In Ceylon the Leopard occupies the place taken in India by the foolish Tiger.

It is perhaps the chief merit of these stories, and certainly a feature which gives them a permanent value, that we have in them the only existing picture of the village life of ancient times, painted by the villagers themselves. From the histories we can learn practically nothing regarding the life of those of the ancient inhabitants of Ceylon who were not monks or connected with royalty, or the conditions under which they existed. It is here alone that the reader finds the daily experiences and the ideas and beliefs of the villagers gradually unfolded before him. In some of the stories we may see how the village life went on in the early centuries after Christ, and how little it has changed since that time. Others doubtless contain particulars which belong to a much later period, and in some there is an incongruous mixture of the old and the new, as when the slates of school children are introduced into what is evidently a tale of considerable age.

In the case of stories like these, composed for the amusement of villagers only, and related by villagers to other villagers, it might be expected that a considerable number of objectionable expressions would occur. So far from this being the fact, I am able to state with much satisfaction that in only three or four instances in this volume has it been thought desirable to slightly modify any part of the stories. It is to be remembered that it is not the function of these tales in general to inculcate ideas of morality or propriety, although kindness of heart is always represented as meeting with some adequate reward or success, and the wicked and cruel are punished in most cases. But successful trickery and clever stratagems are always quoted approvingly, and are favourite themes in the tales which are most evidently of entirely local origin. In this respect they do not differ from many Indian stories. Undaunted bravery, and also self-abnegation and deep affection, are characteristics which are displayed by many of the heroes and heroines ; but untruthfulness is practised, and is never condemned.

The instances of polygamy are almost confined to the members of the royal families ; there is one case of polyandry in which both the husbands were brothers. Infanticide was practised ; in one tale a woman is recommended to kill her infant son because his horoscope was said to be unpro-pitious, and in another the parents abandoned their newly-born infant in order to carry home some fruit. In a story that is not included in this volume, a king is described as ordering all his female children to be killed immediately after birth. In another tale which is not given here, another king is stated to have sold his children during a time of scarcity.

These “kings,” however, are almost always depicted in an unfavourable light. They are represented as cowardly, selfish, licentious, unintelligent, and headstrong, ordering their sons or others to be executed for very slight faults, in sudden fits of anger. Murders are referred to as being commonly committed with impunity, and by no means of unusual occurrence. One man is said to have exchanged his wife for a bullock.

Yet although the story-tellers do not relate social events which were not within the range of the common experience or traditions of the people at the time when the tales were invented, it may be doubted if the great mass of the villagers differed much as regards crime and morality from those of the present day. The humdrum life of the ordinary villager did not appeal to the story-teller, who required more stirring incidents. It is not necessary to assume that such events were of everyday occurrence.

Considering the situation of Ceylon and the Indian origin of the people, it was certain that numerous tales would be similar to those of India, if not identical with them ; but, with the exception of the story of the Creation, there are merely bare references to the Indian deities in about four of the tales in this volume.

The great majority of the folk-tales collected by me, and almost the whole of those given in this volume, come from districts of the far interior of the island, where storybooks in Sinhalese, Tamil,[4] or Arabic do not appear to have penetrated, and English is unknown by the villagers. Such tales are therefore nearly free from modem extraneous influences, and must be looked upon as often of genuine Sinhalese origin, even when they utilise the usual stock incidents of Indian folk-stories. A very few which resemble Jataka stories may owe their dissemination to Buddhist teaching, and doubtless some also were orally transmitted by immigrants who were often of South Indian nationality—as their similarity to South Indian stories shows—or in some instances may have been settlers from the Ganges valley, or near it.

With regard to the latter, it is not probable that they consisted only of the early immigrants of pre-Christian times. King Nishshanka-Malla, who reigned from 1198 to 1207 A.D., has recorded in his inscriptions that he was a native of Sinhapura, then apparently the capital of the Kalinga kingdom, which extended far down the east coast of India, southward from the lower part of the Ganges valley; and he and his Chief Queen Subhadra, a Kalinga Princess, must have brought into Ceylon many of their fellow-countrymen. The Queens of two other earlier Kings of Ceylon were also Princesses from Kalinga.

In the Galpota inscription at Polannaruwa (Prof. E. Muller’s Ancient Inscriptions in Ceylon, No. 148), he stated that

“invited by the King [Parakrama-Bahu I], who was his senior kinsman, to come and reign over his hereditary kingdom of Lakdiva [Ceylon], Vira Nilshanka-Malla landed with a great retinue in Lanka” [Ceylon].

Further on in the same inscription he stated that

“he sent to the country of Kalinga, and caused many Princesses of the Soma and Surya races to be brought hither.”

A connexion with the Kalinga kingdom seems to have been maintained from early times. In his inscriptions the same king claimed that the sovereignty of Ceylon belonged by right to the Kalinga dynasty. He described himself in his Dambulla inscription (Ancient Inscriptions, No. 143), as

“the liege lord of Lakdiva by right of birth, deriving descent from the race of King Wijaya,”

the first king of Ceylon, who according to the Sinhalese historical works was also born at a town called Sinhapura, which is stated to have been founded by his father. In the Galpota inscription we read of

“Princes of the Kalinga race to whom the island of Lanka has been peculiarly appropriate since the reign of Wijaya.”

Nishlanka-Malla was succeeded by his elder half-brother, Sahasa-Malla, who remarked in his Polannaruwa inscription (Anc. Inscriptions, No. 156) that he also was born at Sinhapura. He, too, claimed that Wijaya was a member of their family. He said,

“Because King Wijaya, having destroyed the Yakshas, established Lanka like a field made by rooting out the stumps, it is a place much protected by Kings from this very family.”

Thus it will be seen that stories which are current in Central India, or the lower part of the Ganges Valley, or even the Panjab, as well as tales of Indian animals such as the Lion, may have been brought direct to Ceylon by immigrants from Kalinga, or Magadha, or Bengal. Apparently it is in this manner that the evident connexion between the tales of Ceylon and Kashmir is to be explained, the stories passing from Magadha or neighbouring districts, to Kashmir on the one side, and from Magadha or Kalinga to Ceylon on the other.

To show the connexion of the Sinhalese stories with those of India, the outlines of some Indian parallels have been appended after each tale, as well as a very few from the interior of Western Africa ; but no European variants, except in two instances, where they are inserted for the benefit of readers in Ceylon.

The stories have been arranged in two parts. In the first one are those told by members of the Cultivating Caste and Village Vaeddas; in the second one those related of or by members of lower castes. Those of each caste are given consecutively, the animal stories in each case coming last.

The general reader is advised to pay no attention to diacritical marks or dots which indicate separate letters in the Sinhalese alphabet, or to note only the long vowels. In all cases ae is to be pronounced as a diphthong, like a in “hat,” and not to rhyme with “me.” It is short where not marked long.

Enough material has been collected for a second volume, which it is hoped may be published next year.

As reference has been made to the subject in the foregoing extracts from Sinhalese inscriptions, a few lines may be added regarding the district from which Wijaya came, and his journey to Ceylon. The sentences that have been quoted prove that at the beginning of the t hir teenth century A.D., it was claimed by two kings of Ceylon who came from Sinhapura in the Kalinga country that they were of the same family as Wijaya.

At a very early date the lands along the southern bank of the Ganges were divided into a series of states that once were independent. Proceeding eastward in the lower part of the valley, these were Magadha, occupying southern Bihar, with its capital Rajagaha (called also Rajagriha and Girivraja), afterwards abandoned in favour of Pataliputta, near Patna; Anga, separated from it by the river Campa (c pronounced as ch), on which was its capital Campa; Vanga or Banga, probably extending on both sides of the Ganges, and forming part of the modem Bengal; and Tamalitta, or Tamralipta, with a capital of the same name at Tamluk, near the southern mouth of the Ganges. Extending along the east coast was Kalinga ; and between it and Magadha and Anga came the Pundra and Odra states, the latter occupying part of Orissa.

An old legend recorded that several of these states had a common origin. It was said that the wife of a Yadava king Vali or Bali had five sons, Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Pundra and Odra or Sunga, each of whom founded a separate state. The names of the first four are grouped together several times in the Maha Bharata, as taking part with Kosala and Magadha in the great legendary fight against the Pandavas, and on one day the troops from Magadha and Kalinga are said to have formed, with aSnother people, one wing of the Kuru army.

Regarding Kalinga, Pliny gives the name of a race called the Maccocalingse, who have been thought to belong to Orissa, and he wrote that the Modogalingse occupied a very large island in the Ganges, that is, apparently part of the delta.

At a later date there were said to be three districts called collectively Trikalinga. Whether these were portions of the more southern part of the Kalinga country only, or included the land of the Modogalingse, is not clear. If the Kalinga kingdom once included the territory of the Modogalingse, the Tamalitta district would be part of the Kalinga country at that time; but apparently Vanga was unconnected with Kalinga, the two being mentioned as separate kingdoms.

Divested of its impossibilities, the story of Wijaya’s ancestry which is contained in the Sinhalese histories is that a king of Vanga, who had married the daughter of a king of Kalinga, had a daughter who joined a caravan that was proceeding to Magadha. On the way, either a robber chief called Siha, “Lion,” attacked and plundered the caravan, and carried off the Princess, or she joined a member of the caravan who had that name. They settled down in a wild tract of country termed Lala, near the western border of the Vanga territory. There she had two children—the eldest being Siha-Bahu—with whom she afterwards returned to the Vanga capital, where her cousin Anura, who became King of Vanga, is said to have married her. Her son Siha-Bahu went back to his father’s district, Laja, founded a town called Sihapura or Sinhapura, and lived there as the ruler of the country around. Evidently it was a subordinate district belonging to Vanga ; it is stated that the Vanga king granted it to him ( Mah . i. p. 31). It is not mentioned in the Ramayana, the Maha Bharata, the Jataka stories, or in the lists of countries given in the Puranas to which I have access; but the people of Lata are referred to in a tenth century grant from Bhagalpur, a town on territory that once formed the eastern part of Magadha ( Indo-Aryans , by Dr. R. Mitra, ii. 273).

The first marriage or elopement of the Princess does not appear to have affected the status of her son Siha-Bahu. According to the histories, his eldest son, Wijaya, eventually married the daughter of the Pandiyan king of the southern Madura, and his second son, Sumitta, who succeeded him, married the daughter of the King of Madda or Madra, probably a small eastern state of that name, rather than the distant Madda in the Panjab.

The Sinhalese histories record that Wijaya was exiled on account of his lawless behaviour, but the truth of this statement may be doubted, and it is a suspicious fact that this part of the story resembles folk-tales from Kashmir.[5] We are informed in those works not only that he was exiled, but that he was also forcibly deported by sea, together with seven hundred followers, and their wives and children, that is, two or three thousand persons.

All that is actually credible in this incident is that for a reason which is unknown, perhaps a love of adventure, or possibly at the solicitation of traders who had settled there, he proceeded by sea to Ceylon, where he became the first Sinhalese king. Most probably he accpmpanied a party of Magadhese or other merchants.

It ish recorded that from an early period vessels sailed across the Bay of Bengal from various ports on the Ganges. In the Jataka stories some are mentioned as passing down the Ganges from Benares with traders, and being far out at sea for several days, and even going to Suvanna Bhumi (Burma) and back. Tamalitta was a famous port in early times and for many centuries ; and there is a definite and credible statement that vessels sailed direct from it to Ceylon in the reign of Asoka, in the third century B.C. There is no reason to suppose that similar voyages were not undertaken long prior to the period during which the Jatakas were being composed. If they are not mentioned in earlier Buddhist works, this may have been merely owing to the fact that their authors felt no interest in the trade of the countries near the mouth of the Ganges.

In the presence of such evidence of the sea-going capabilities of the vessels which sailed from the ports on the Ganges, the statement of the Sinhalese histories that Wijaya embarked at Baroach, on the western coast, whether accompanied by a large party of followers and numerous women and children or not, cannot be credited. It is impossible to believe that any travellers who wished to proceed to Ceylon in the fifth century B.C., from a district lying between Anga and Vanga, and probably within a few miles of a port from which vessels sailed, would not step on board a ship at their own doors, so to speak, rather than undertake an arduous journey across several other countries, in order to embark at a port more than eight hundred miles away in a direct line, which when reached was still no nearer their destination.

In any case, there is no likelihood that a large number of women and children were taken, unless we are prepared to accept the improbable hypothesis that a fleet of ships was expressly chartered for the voyage. In the case of the small vessels which ventured on such long trading expeditions, every foot of storage space would be required for the goods that were carried, and for the accommodation of the merchants who went to exchange these for the products of the ports at which they called. It is most unlikely that many other passengers were ever carried so far in Indian ships in early times, notwithstanding fanciful tales of imaginary ships with hundreds on board, in the Jataka stories.

Nishsanka-Malla and his brother do not claim that the Sinhapura at which they were born ;was the city founded by Wijaya’s father. It is possible, however, that they could trace some distant connexion with the Lala family, and it has been noted already that Wijaya’s great-great-grand-father was said to be a king of Kalinga.


With regard to the exorcism of the flies, I give a relation of the similar treatment of locusts in Abyssinia, by Father Francis Alvarez, who visited that country in 1520, in the suite of a Portuguese Ambassador. The account is appended in Pory’s translation of the History of Africa, by Leo Africanus, 1600, p. 352. An appeal having been made to Alvarez to drive away an enormous flight of locusts,

“which to our iudgement couered fower and twentie miles of lande,”

the following is his own record of the proceedings:—

“[And so I went to the Ambassadour, and told him, that it would be very good to goe on procession, beseeching God that hee woulde deliuer the countrie, who peraduenture in his great mercie might heare vs.

This liked the Ambassadour very well: and the day following we gathered togither the people of the land, with all the priests, and taking the consecrated stone, and the crosse, according to their custome, all we Portugals sung the Letanie, and appointed those of the land, that they should lift up their voices aloud as we did, saying in their language Zio marina Christos, which is as much to say, as Lord God haue mercy upon vs : and with this manner of inuocation we went ouer a peece of grounde, where there were fieldes of wheate, for the space of a mile, euen to a little hill: and heere I caused many of these locustes to be taken, pronouncing ouer them a certaine coniuration, which I had about me in writing, hauing made it that night, requesting, admonishing, and excommunicating them, enioining them within the space of three howers to depart towards the sea, or the lande of the Moores, or the desert mountaines, and to let the Christians alone: and they not performing this, I summoned and charged the birdes of heauen, the beasts of the earth, and all sorts of tempests, to scatter, destroy, and eate up their bodies: and to this effect I tooke a quantitie of locusts, making this admonition to them present, in the behalfe likewise of them absent,[6] and so giuing them libertie, I suffered them to depart.

It pleased God to heare us sinners, for in our re-turne home, they came so thicke upon our backes, as it seemed that they woulde haue broken our heads, or shoulders, so hard they strooke against vs, as if we had beene beaten with stones and cudgels, and in this sort they went towards the sea : The men, women, and children remaining at home, were gotten upon the tops, or tarrasses of their houses, giuing God thankes that the locusts were going away, some afore, and others followed.

In the meane while towardes the sea, there arose a great cloude with thunder, which met them full in the teeth, and continued for the space of three howers with much raine, and tempest, that filled all the riuers, and when the raine ceased, it was a fearefull thing to behold the dead Locustes, which were more then two yardes [marginal note, or fathomes] in height upon the bankes of the riuers, and in some riuers there were mightie heapes of them, so that the morning following there was not one of them found aliue upon the earth."

Footnotes and references:


See note at the end of the Introduction.


Cf. Jataka, No. 206 (vol. ii, p. 106).


From the Tamil kuppam, a village of small houses, perhaps + ayam, ground.


The Tamil stories of Mariyada Raman, or some of them, are known in one district. Arabic is unknown.


Folk-Tales Of Kashmir, Knowles, 2nd ed., pp. 258 and 331.


Agata anagata, as the early cave inscriptions say.

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