The Panchatantra – Story 14a

THE SERPENT SON

In the city of Rajagriha(Modern Rajir in Bihar) there lived a Brahmin called Devasarma. His wife was childless and used to weep in a heart-rending manner on seeing the children of the neighboring houses and remembering her own childlessness. The Brahmin loved his wife dearly. So, one day, he said to her, ‘Darling, do not grieve any more. I shall do the Putrakameshti (A sacrifice for obtaining a son) sacrifice. Then some god will appear and say in sweet and distinct words, “Oh, Brahmin, you will get a son who will excel all in beauty of form, length of life, and consistent good fortune”. Hearing this, his wife was greatly overjoyed and said, ‘May this come true !’ 

The Brahmin duly performed the sacrifice, and his wife became pregnant. Her heart was elated at the prospect of the forthcoming son. What was the poor woman’s horror when she delivered a serpent instead of the expected son. Seeing the serpent, all her attendants said, ‘Throw this creature away.’ But the poor mother, moved by a mother’s love for her offspring, disregarded this advice. She took the serpent lovingly, bathed him carefully, put him in a clean new pot, and gave him daily plenty of milk and butter. He grew to an enormous size on this nourishing diet. 

After some years, the son of a neighboring house was married. Seeing this, the Brahmin’s wife said to her husband with tears in her eyes, ‘You do not care at all for my feelings. You do not try to bring about the marriage to my son.’ On this, the Brahmin replied ‘Dearest, who will give his daughter in marriage to our serpent son unless I go to the underworld and request Vasuki, the King of serpents, for a snake maiden?’ At this his wife wept in such a heart-rending manner that, moved by his great love for her, ha set out with plenty of provisions in quest of a bride for his serpent son. 

After some months he arrived at the distant city of Kutkuta. There he went to the house of his old friend and relation who was a good and prosperous man. He took his bath and meals and spent the night there. When starting on the journey early in the morning his friend asked him, ‘On what errand did you come here? Where are you going now?’ The Brahmin replied, ‘I came to find a suitable bride for my son.’ On this, the other said, “If so, take my most beautiful daughter as bride for your son. You and I are of equal rank and caste and well- known to each other,’ The Brahmin gladly accepted the offer, and, taking the beautiful girl and her attendants, returned to Rajagriha. 

As soon as he reached Rajagriha, a large crowd collected, seeing the extraordinary beauty of the bride and hearing that she was intended to be married to the serpent son. Filled with love and pity for the beautiful girl, the assembled persons told her attendants, ‘How can people who pretend to be good men of religion marry away this gem among women to a miserable serpent ?’ The astonished attendants told this dreadful fact to the intended bride. All the assembled people grieved for the girl. The great and good men among them shouted ‘Seize this girl by force and save her from being married to this wretched serpent who is not even allowed the free run of the house.’ 

Then the maiden said, ‘Stop all this fooling. It has been said, “Kings never go back on their commands once issued, good men never go back on the promises once given, and maidens are never given except once. Whatever God decrees will happen, whatever is destined to occur will occur, nobody can resist fate, and even the celestials could not prevent Pushpaka from death”.’ The assembled people asked her ‘What is this story about Pushpaka?’ The maiden then related the “Story of Pushpaka“. 


‘So it is I say that no one can resist the decrees of fate,’ continued the maiden. ‘Again, if I do not marry this serpent, my father would have uttered a lie in respect of a maiden and would incur the sin of killing a hundred maidens, and I do not want him to do that.’ Then, with the consent of all her attendants, the maiden was married to the serpent. She began to serve her husband devotedly, giving him fine milk to drink. One night, the serpent came out of the big basket in her bedroom where he had been kept and, assuming the shape of a resplendent high-born youth went and sat on her bed. She was astonished at this. Thinking that it must be some stranger lusting after her, she trembled all over, rushed to the doors, threw them open, and was about to run out when the man said, ‘Darling, stay where you are. I am your husband.’ 

In order to convince her of the truth of his statement, he entered the immobile body of the serpent in the basket and made it alive. He then once more resumed his human shape, leaving the serpent’s body immobile in the basket. The maiden was overjoyed at seeing her husband in human shape with a crown on his head and shining ornaments on his arras and chest. She fell at his feet, took his blessing, and then embraced him rapturously. Then the two went to bed and enjoyed infinite conjugal bliss. When they had gone to sleep, Devasarma, who had seen through the open doors the change of shape from the man to the snake and back again to man, quietly went into the bedroom when the couple were fast asleep, took the serpent’s body from the basket, and burnt it to ashes in order that his son might not enter it again. In the morning, he and his wife went round the town with their son in resplendent human shape and exhibited him with pride to everybody as their beloved son. All the people were greatly impressed, and respected both the son and his parents far more than they had ever done before. 

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