6. A Buffalo Without Bones
In a certain town, there were three brothers. They had a sister who had been given in marriage to a man from another town. The brothers were also married and each had a son. Their sister had a daughter. In the course of time, the eldest brother grew old and was about to die. His son, who was by now a young man, came to him and asked, “ Appa, what did you do for me?”
The father said, “What have I not done for you? I'm leaving you lands, orchards, fields, wealth, sheep and cattle. The house is full of gold and silver. What else do you want?”
The son replied, “I'm not asking for wealth and property. You didn't get me married while you were still able to do so.”
The father shook his head in agreement. “Oho, that's true, that's true. But never mind. My sister has a daughter whom you can marry according to our custom. She is a fine girl and very beautiful. Wait for a few days and go talk to your aunt. Ask her to give you her daughter in marriage. Tell her I said so.”
Having said this, he breathed his last. The son buried him in the proper manner and mourned him for a long time.
The second brother also grew old and it was time for him to die. His son too came and asked him, “Father, what did you do for me?”
The father said, “What haven't I done for you? I'm leaving you plenty!”
“That's not what I'm talking about. You didn't get me married while you were still strong and able.”
“That's quite true. I should have and I didn't. But no matter. Your aunt's daughter is a fine girl and very beautiful. When you're ready, go and ask your aunt's permission and marry her daughter.”
Hardly had he finished saying what he did when his life left him. The son dutifully buried him according to the proper rites and mourned him for a long time.
When it was time for the third brother to die, he too told his son that he should marry his aunt's daughter, and then died.
One fine day, the three sons of the three brothers dressed themselves up in their best clothes, put on their best jewelry, and arrived at their aunt's house. She gave them water for their hands and feet, asked them to sit on the cot, and inquired why they had come and what they would like. Then the eldest nephew said, “When my father died, he told me that I should marry your daughter. So I've come to ask for her hand.”
The other two brothers' sons also said the same thing.
The aunt was quite bewildered. “What shall I do?” she cried in distress. She even sat for a while with her head in her hands. Her husband came there and soon found out what the matter was.
“By god, this is difficult. We have only one daughter and here you are, three eligible young men ready to marry her. Whom shall we give her to?” he said, and thought of a way out. He called each of them and gave each a hundred rupees (which was a lot of money in those days), and said, “Dear boys, use this money to buy what you consider the best thing this money can buy. The person who brings the very best thing will get my daughter, for he would be the smartest of the three. Let's see what you bring. Go now.”
Off the three cousins went with the money, looking for the best thing it could buy. They traveled hundreds of miles through many regions and arrived in a strange city. There, in the marketplace, a man was offering a mirror for sale. The eldest of the three cousins was taken with the mirror and asked for the price. The man said, “A hundred rupees.”
“Why a hundred rupees for this mirror? What's so special about it?” asked the cousin.
The man replied, “This is no ordinary looking glass in which you look at your face. If you stand in a high place, utter a spell (mantra), and look into this mirror, you can see everything that's happening in the world.”
“Aha, this indeed is the best thing in the world,” said the cousin, and bought it at once for a hundred rupees.
The second cousin was also wandering in the same town, wondering what he should buy, when he saw a merchant with a weird-looking chariot. The cousin asked him the price and was told it would cost him a hundred rupees.
“Why a hundred rupees for this old piece of junk?”
“Because it is no ordinary chariot. If you sit in it and utter a spell, it will carry you anywhere in the world, this chariot will.”
“If that's so, I'll buy it,” said the second cousin, and bought it at once.
The third cousin thought, “My cousins have already bought their things; one has a mirror, another a chariot. What shall I buy that's better than theirs?” As he roamed the streets, he came across a man with a stick in his hand. The stick looked unusual. It too cost a hundred rupees. The young man asked him, “Why should a mere stick cost a hundred? It isn't made of gold!”
The man explained: “This is better than gold. If a man dies of snakebite, scorpionbite, or even plague, this stick can bring him back to life. Rub some kasturi-musk into asses' milk, dip this stick in it, and put it in the dead man's mouth, and he will sit up alive.”
So the youngest of the three cousins bought the stick. When the three of them were returning home, each thought he alone had made the best purchase.
On the way, the eldest said, “It's more than a year since we left our aunt and uncle. Who knows what has happened during this year? Well, I've this mirror in which you can see everything that's going on in the world. Let's look and see.”
Then he went up a hill, uttered a spell, and looked into the mirror. His aunt and uncle were all right, but their daughter whom all three had wanted to marry was dead. A black scorpion had bitten her to death. Relatives had gathered, placed her dead body on a bamboo stretcher, and were about to take it to the graveyard to bury it. When the three cousins were worrying about what to do and how to get there, the second cousin said, “Why do you worry? I've this chariot. Get into it.”
All three of them climbed into it and he uttered a spell. It carried them hundreds of miles in no time and landed them in their aunt's place. Just as relatives were lifting the dead girl on to their shoulders to take her to the burial grounds, the third cousin stopped them, asked for some kasturi and some asses' milk, rubbed the kasturi in the milk, dipped the stick in it and let a few drops fall on the dead girl's lips. At once, she sat up, stretching and yawning, asking everyone how long she had been asleep and what the crowd was all about.
Now the youngest cousin told his aunt, “I brought her to life. So you should let me marry her.”
The second cousin said, “We were hundreds of miles away. But for my chariot, how could we have come here in time? So I deserve the bride.”
The eldest one said angrily, “Aha, so what if this fellow had a magic stick which brought her to life, and so what if this other fellow had a chariot to bring us here? What would we have done if we hadn't known our dear aunt's daughter was already dead? That's why my mirror is the best. I'm the one who's going to marry her. Arrange the wedding.”
So the three of them fought with each other, each thinking that he was the rightful suitor for the dead girl now come alive. The case went to the village councils and to court after court of appeal, but no one could decide who was right. At one of these places where they were arguing with each other, a wise old man held their hands and asked them to tell him what the dispute was.
All three showed him their magic objects and told him about the aunt's daughter. The old man listened to them carefully and asked them to wait while he went and talked to their aunt and her daughter. When he came to their house, he found the two women wringing their hands in great distress over the three suitors. “How can I marry three men?” cried the girl. The old man quieted them and told the young woman, “Think about what I'm going to say. There's a buffalo with no bones: one without hands milks it, and one without a mouth drinks the milk. Think about this.” Then he left as he had come.
It was evening. The three quarreling cousins came there, still arguing. The daughter poured some warm milk in a bowl and asked all three to drink it. All three of them asked, almost in chorus, “How can we drink milk from the same bowl?”
She said, “You are like fathers to me, all three of you. Have you ever heard of fathers marrying daughters? You gave me life. So I can't marry you. Each of you will have to find someone else to marry.”
So they went their ways, and married suitably elsewhere, and found happiness.
What's the meaning of the old man's saying? “A buffalo without bones; one without hands milks it, and one without a mouth drinks it”: the rain cloud is a buffalo without bones, the wind is the one without hands that milks it, and the earth is the one without a mouth that drinks the milk of the cloud. The rain, the wind, the earth, the three together give us life; they are like parents. These three cousins together gave the girl life and so were like her parents. That's why she wouldn't marry them. She married someone else, a nice handsome man, and found happiness.
[AT 653B, The Suitors Restore the Maiden to Life (IO).]