A story by Patricia Hitchcock.
Once, during the reign of a great king, there lived a Brahman priest, a landlord, and a shopkeeper, who decided that their valley of Sirdu had become too crowded to allow them to own all the land they desired.
“What shall I do for my sons?” said the landlord. “If I divide my holdings equally among them, there will not be enough for anyone of them to make a living.”
“My sons will need land, too,” agreed the priest. “ For here there are already too many Brahmans to make holy work profitable.”
“The traders tell me that there is a beautiful valley farther north,” confided the shopkeeper. “It lies in the shadow of the great Fishtail peak. Let us go there together and start life a new. There will be enough land in that valley to divide among all our sons for many generations.”
So the three men packed their belongings into baskets and journeyed to the valley that lay under Fishtail peak.
On their way, they met a young Magar farmer named Mana Ras who was going to the same valley. He, too, intended to clear some land and start a new farm. Now the three companions had not counted on sharing the valley with a Magar farmer. They wanted it all to themselves. But since they were no able to farm everywhere at once, they took all the land facing the south, which enjoyed the most sun, and forced Mana Ras to go across the river to the slope that faced north. This side of the valley got a very little sun, but Mana Ras settled down to clear his fields, without complaint.
The fields were stony and full of roots. His crops were so sparse that his little wooden storage jar never had much corn in it. When he ate breakfast there was very little left for supper. And when he ate supper, he worried about the next morning’s breakfast.
One day, after the summer monsoon, a cobra slithered into the courtyard of the priest, to beg for asylum.
“Please, Pundit-ji(Brahman), hide me,” she pleaded. “ A mongoose is coming and I fear for my life.”
“Can you not see that I am busy with my workshop?” answered the Brahman, sitting with his book opened on his lap. “Should serving God be interrupted to serve a snake? Go over to the landlord and ask him to hide you.”
The cobra raced to the landlord’s courtyard to seek protection from the mongoose, but the zamindar(landlord) was just sitting down to the dinner.
“Tell her to wait until I have finished eating,” the landlord said to his wife.
“But I can’t wait, Zamindarni,” protested the cobra. “The mongoose will be here any minute!”
“Then tell her to go to the shopkeeper,” shouted the zamindar, who had overhead the cobra’s remark. “And come quickly with the curry. My rice is getting cold.”
The cobra turned and fled to the shopkeeper, hoping at last to find sympathy. But when the customers saw her coming they all ran from the shop.
“Do you think I would hide you in here after what you have just done to my business?” yelled the angry shopkeeper. “Go over there across the valley,” he added, waving his arm,” and get that stupid farmer to help you. He has nothing important to do.”
The trail across the valley was long and steep, but the cobra knew she would soon be caught if she wasted any more time. She whirled about and disappeared down the path toward the river.
“Oh, please,” she called out to Mana Ras as she approached him. “You must help me. The mongoose is coming. Hide me! Quickly! Please!”
“Of course, but where?” asked the surprised farmer.
“Your cummerbund,” she panted. “Let me crawl in there.”
Mana Ras unwound the long strip of ragged cloth which circled his waist, so the cobra could crawl between the folds. Then he cautiously would it around his waist again and went back to clearing his land.
The mongoose, in the meantime, was trailing the cobra from the priest’s house to the landlord’s and on to the shopkeeper’s. Now he was running up the path toward Mana Ras.
“Oh, Big Brother!” he called to Mana Ras. “Have you seen a cobra come here lately?”
“Yes, I have,” answered the farmer. “But she was in a great hurry. She was travelling that way,” and he pointed toward the Fishtail.
The mongoose raced past Mana Ras and disappeared into the jungle.
After a long while, the cobra whispered: “How far do you think the mongoose is by now?”
“He must be at least three resting places away,” answered Mana Ras.
“Then I am safe,” sighed the cobra. “Unwind your cummerbund and let me out.”
When the snake dropped to the ground she turned to Mana Ras and said: “Little Brother, you were the only one in this whole valley who would save my life. The others across the river have scorned both of us, but some day they will treat you with great respect. Come now, I want to repay for your kindness.”
She led him to the top of a high mountain and there commanded him to close his eyes. When she told him to open them again, he was standing in a beautiful palace.
“This is where I live,” said the cobra. “Take home anything you wish.” But Mana Ras could only stand and stare about him.
“Would you like the gold and silver pots?” she asked.
“Oh, no,” said Mana Ras. “If I kept them in a grass hut like mine, they would surely be stolen.”
“What about the elephants or the horses?”
“Choose for yourself, then,” said the cobra. “There must be something here useful to you.”
Mana Ras was silent for a moment, enchanted by all the beautiful things he had never seen before. Suddenly he spoke up.
“I would like that!” he exclaimed, pointing to a little dog sitting in the coring on a couch. “She will not eat too much and she will be a good company when I am alone at night. During the day when I go to work in the fields, she can stay home and guard the hut.”
“Very well,” said the cobra. “If that is what you want, take her home with you. You have chosen wisely.”
Mana Ras thanked the snake and left the palace, cradling the little dog in his arms.
When he got back to his hut he was very tired. He cooked a big pot of cornmeal and ate quickly, saving a handful for his little dog. But the dog was not hungry. “Perhaps she was fed just before I left the palace,” thought Mana Ras, and making a soft bed for the dog between himself and the fire, he rolled up in his blanket and went to sleep.
The next morning before going to the fields, Mana Ras tried once more to feed his dog, but again the dog would not eat.
“Maybe you are used to finer food,” said Mana Ras. “But I am sure this will taste very good to you when you are hungry.”
He left the food on the floor, bade the animal guard the hut well, and went out into the fields to hoe his corn.
In the evening, a short time before Mana Ras was to come home, the little dog, who had been guarding the hut, stretched and stood up. Suddenly there was a loud bark and the little dog changed into a beautiful girl. The girl looked about her. Then she stamped her foot on the ground three times. At once a delicious meal appeared beside the hearth-rice and mutton curry, with many sweets. The girl separated the food into two portions, ate her share, and set the rest aside for Mana Ras. When she heard him coming down the trail, she quickly turned herself back into the little dog and curled up by the fire as if she had been there all the time, sleeping.
Mana Ras stepped into the hut and closed the door.
“What is this?” he said aloud, looking in amazement at all the food beside the fire. He sat down and cautiously picked up each dish, tasting the food with the tip of his finger. When he discovered how delicious it was, he ate hungrily and almost finished everything before he remembered his little dog.
“Ah, my spoiled pet,” he began. “At last I can offer you something worthy of your attention. See how you like this!” And he put some of the rice at the animal’s feet. But the dog only raised her head, then went back to sleep.
“What a hopeless animal!” cried Mana Ras. “You will not last long in this house with such a fussy appetite. But you cannot be starving or you would eat. From now on I will let you beg for food before I waste anything more on you.”
He picked up the uneaten rice and curry and dropped it into the fire. Then he rolled up in his blanket and slept.
The next morning Mana Ras ate his usual breakfast of cornmeal, left a bowl of water for the dog, and went into the jungle near his house to clear more land.
In the evening, before it was time for him to come home, the little dog again turned into a beautiful girl. And, as on the night before, the food appeared, the girl ate her share, and she changed back into the little dog again. Mana Ras could not imagine who was preparing these feasts for him. He was determined to find out.
The next morning he went to clear land again. After cutting only a few trees, he returned to a spot near his hut, where he could hide and still see through the doorway. At the usual time in the evening the little dog stood up, stretched, and-to Mana Ras’ astonishment – changed into a beautiful girl. The girl stamped three times on the ground with her foot and produced a magnificent meal-fried chicken, rice, chutneys, and many vegetables. She divided the food into two portions and sat down on a mat by the fire to eat her share. While her back was turned, Mana RAs stole up to the door, leapt into the room, and grabbed her.
“Oh!” she said, jumping up and spilling her food on the floor. “Do not touch me! I’ve guarded your hut and fed you handsomely, and yet called me hopeless and spoiled. Why didn’t you choose the gold and silver pots or the horses and elephants? Perhaps they would have pleased you better.”
Mana Ras was sorry he had spoken so harshly. But how could he have known the dog who refused to eat was really a beautiful girl?
“You must forgive me,” pleaded Mana Ras. “I did not know I was speaking to you when I scolded my little dog for not eating. I only wanted the dog to eat, so she would not become ill.”
Mana Ras softened the girl’s heart with his arguments until she was convinced that he loved her very much. After talking together for a time, they decided to get married.
“I am just a poor farmer,” said Mana Ras sadly, turning his head toward the fire “What can I give you but a hut for a home and hard work all of your life?”
The girl stood up as though she had not heard him and stamped seven times with her foot. Slowly the little hut turned into a beautiful golden palace.
“Is there no end of surprises you have in store for me!” laughed Mana Ras in delight.
The girl gave him a bewitching glance and promptly stamped her foot again. At once the horses and elephants appeared, carrying the gold and silver pots.
Mana Ras called his new bride Indra. She was a good wife and the two were very happy living together in the golden palace.