Friday, July 4, 2014

Khasi: What Makes the Lightning

This story is part of the Khasi Folktales unit. Story source: Folk-Tales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920).

What Makes the Lightning

In the early days of the world, when the animals fraternised with mankind, they tried to emulate the manners and customs of men, and they spoke their language.

Mankind held a great festival every thirteen moons where the strongest men and the handsomest youths danced “sword dances” and contested in archery and other noble games, such as befitted their race and their tribe as men of the Hills and the Forests — the oldest and the noblest of all the tribes.

The animals used to attend these festivals and enjoyed watching the games and the dances. Some of the younger and more enterprising among them even clamoured for a similar carnival for the animals, to which, after a time, the elders agreed, so it was decided that the animals should appoint a day to hold a great feast.

After a period of practising dances and learning games, U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, was sent out with his big drum to summon all the world to the festival. The drum of U Pyrthat was the biggest and the loudest of all drums and could be heard from the most remote corner of the forest; consequently, a very large multitude came together, such as had never before been seen at any festival.

The animals were all very smartly arrayed, each one after his or her own taste and fashion, and each one carrying some weapon of warfare or a musical instrument, according to the part he intended to play in the festival. There was much amusement when the squirrel came up, beating on a little drum as he marched; in his wake came the little bird Shakyllia, playing on a flute, followed by the porcupine marching to the rhythm of a pair of small cymbals.

Every one was exceedingly merry — they joked and poked fun at one another, in great glee; some of the animals laughed so much on that feast day that they have never been able to laugh since. The mole was there, and on looking up, he saw the owl trying to dance, swaying as if she were drunk and tumbling against all sorts of obstacles, as she could not see where she was going, at which he laughed so heartily that his eyes became narrow slits and have remained so to this day.

(lynx)

When the merriment was at its height, U Kui, the lynx, arrived on the scene, displaying a very handsome silver sword which he had procured at great expense to make a show at the festival. When he began to dance and to brandish the silver sword, everybody applauded. He really danced very gracefully, but so much approbation turned his head, and he became very uplifted and began to think himself better than all his neighbours.

Just then U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, happened to look round, and he saw the performance of the lynx and admired the beauty of the silver sword, and he asked to have the handling of it for a short time, as a favour, saying that he would like to dance a little, but had brought no instrument except his big drum.

This was not at all to U Kui’s liking, for he did not want any one but himself to handle his fine weapon, but all the animals began to shout as if with one voice, saying “Shame!” for showing such discourtesy to a guest, and especially to the guest by whose kindly offices the assembly had been summoned together, so U Kui was driven to yield up his silver sword.

As soon as U Pyrthat got possession of the sword, he began to wield it with such rapidity and force that it flashed like leaping flame, till all eyes were dazzled almost to blindness, and at the same time he started to beat on his big drum with such violence that the earth shook and trembled and the animals fled in terror to hide in the jungle.

During the confusion, U Pyrthat leaped to the sky, taking the lynx’s silver sword with him, and he is frequently seen brandishing it wildly there and beating loudly on his drum. In many countries, people call these manifestations “thunder” and “lightning,” but the Ancient Khasis who were present at the festival knew them to be the stolen sword of the lynx.

U Kui was very disconsolate and has never grown reconciled to his loss. It is said of him that he has never wandered far from home since then, in order to live near a mound he is trying to raise which he hopes will one day reach the sky. He hopes to climb to the top of it, to overtake the giant U Pyrthat, and to seize once more his silver sword.



(800 words)






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