Bedtime StoriesFablesPanchatantraStories from India

The Girl Who Married a Snake

In Palace City lived a Brahman named Godly, whose childless wife wept bitterly when she saw the neighbors’ youngsters. But one day the Brahman said: “Forget your sorrow, mother dear. See! When I was offering the sacrifice for birth of children, an invisible being said to me in the clearest words: ‘Brahman, you shall have a son surpassing all mankind in beauty, character, and charm.'”

When she heard this, the wife felt her heart swell with supreme delight. “I only hope his promises come true,” she said. Presently she conceived, and in course of time gave birth to a snake. When she saw him, she paid no attention to her companions, who all advised her to throw him away. Instead, she took him and bathed him, laid him with motherly tenderness in a large, clean box, and pampered him with [178} milk, fresh butter, and other good things, so that before many days had passed, he grew to maturity.

But one day the Brahman’s wife was watching the marriage festival of a neighbour’s son, and the tears streamed down her face as she said to her husband: “I know that you despise me, because you do nothing about a marriage festival for my boy.”

“My good wife,” answered he, “am I to go to the depths of the underworld and beseech Vasuki the serpent-king? Who else, you foolish woman, would give his own daughter to this snake?”

But when he had spoken, he was disturbed at seeing the utter woe in his wife’s countenance. He therefore packed provisions for a long journey, and undertook foreign travel from love of his wife. In the course of some months he arrived at a spot called Kutkuta City in a distant land. There in the house of a kinsman whom he could visit with pleasure since each respected the other’s character, he was hospitably received, was given a bath, food, and the like, and there he spent the night.

Now at dawn, when he paid his respects to his Brahman host and made ready to depart, the other asked him: “What was your purpose in coming hither? And where will your errand lead you?”

To this he replied: “I have come in search of a fit wife for my son.”

“In that case,” said his host, “I have a very beautiful daughter, and my own person is yours to command. Pray take her for your son.”

So the Brahman took the girl with her attendants and returned to his own place. But when the people of the country beheld her incomparable opulence of beauty, her supreme loveliness and superhuman graces, their eyes popped out with pleasure, and they said to her attendants: “How can right-thinking persons bestow such a pearl of a girl upon a snake?”

On hearing this, all her elderly relatives without exception were troubled at heart, and they said: “Let her be taken from this imp-ridden creature.”

But the girl said: “No more of this mockery!”

I do not wish my father reproached for double dealing on the part of [181} his daughter.” When she had said this, she married the snake, with the permission of her companions, and at once began devoted attendance upon him by offering milk to drink and performing other services.

One night the serpent issued from the generous chest which had been set for him in her chamber, and entered her bed. “Who is this?” she cried. “He has the form of a man.” And thinking him a strange man, she started up, trembling in every limb, unlocked the door, and was about to dart away when she heard him say: “Stay, my dear wife. I am your husband.” Then, in order to convince her, he re-entered the body which he had left behind in the chest, issued from it again, and came to her.

When she beheld him flashing with lofty diadem, with earrings, bracelets, armbands, and rings, she fell at his feet, and then they sank into a glad embrace.

Now his father, the Brahman, rose betimes and discovered how matters stood. He therefore seized the serpent’s skin that lay in the chest, and consumed it with fire, for he thought: “I do not want him to enter that again.” And in the morning he and his wife, with the greatest possible joy, introduced to everybody as their own an extraordinarily handsome son, quite wrapped up in his love affair.

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