[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Bengali Folktales unit. Story source: Folk-Tales of Bengal by the Rev. Lal Behari Day, with illustrations by Warwick Goble (1912).
The Story of a Brahmadaitya
After some time it chanced that the village changed its owner, and the Brahman bethought himself of asking some boon of the new laird. So one morning the Brahman went to the laird’s house to pay him court. It so happened that at that time the laird was making inquiries of his servants about the village and its various parts. The laird was told that a certain banyan-tree in the outskirts of the village was haunted by a number of ghosts and that no man had ever the boldness to go to that tree at night. In bygone days some rash fellows went to the tree at night, but the necks of them all were wrung, and they all died. Since that time no man had ventured to go to the tree at night, though in the day some neat-herds took their cows to the spot.
The new laird, on hearing this, said that if any one would go at night to the tree, cut one of its branches and bring it to him, he would make him a present of a hundred bighas [about 30 acres] of rent-free land. None of the servants of the laird accepted the challenge as they were sure they would be throttled by the ghosts. The Brahman, who was sitting there, thought within himself thus, “I am almost starved to death now, as I never get my bellyful. If I go to the tree at night and succeed in cutting off one of its branches I shall get one hundred bighas of rent-free land, and become independent for life. If the ghosts kill me, my case will not be worse, for to die of hunger is no better than to be killed by ghosts.”
He then offered to go to the tree and cut off a branch that night. The laird renewed his promise and said to the Brahman that if he succeeded in bringing one of the branches of that haunted tree at night, he would certainly give him one hundred bighas of rent-free land.
In the course of the day when the people of the village heard of the laird’s promise and of the Brahman’s offer, they all pitied the poor man. They blamed him for his foolhardiness, as they were sure the ghosts would kill him, as they had killed so many before. His wife tried to dissuade him from the rash undertaking, but in vain. He said he would die in any case, but there was some chance of his escaping, and of thus becoming independent for life. Accordingly, one hour after sundown, the Brahman set out.
He went to the outskirts of the village without the slightest fear as far as a certain vakula-tree from which the haunted tree was about one rope distant. But under the vakula-tree the Brahman’s heart misgave him. He began to quake with fear, and the heaving of his heart was like the upward and downward motion of the paddy-husking pedal.