Kindness of a Snake Mother

Kindness of a Snake Mother

{Many times on reading Indian stories I have felt that animal are portrayed with a strong negative bias. A thought came to my mind to rewrite some of them with a positive slant. The following story is so favorable to snakes that it required little change from my side.}

Long ago there lived a wealthy merchant in a town in Gujarat. He had seven sons and daughters-in-law. The youngest daughter-in-law, Uma, was an orphan. She did not know of any relatives either. In that culture at that time this was the greatest disability that a young married woman could have. She was treated badly by everyone especially by her mother-in-law Kokilaben. Everyone called ‘one who has no relatives,’ and often taunted her mercilessly. Her only friend and supporter was her loving husband. A few months after marriage she became pregnant and began to have craving for special food.

One day the shradha festival came when souls of ancestors are fed. The family cooked milk pudding (khir). Uma loved it and in her condition craved to have it. But she was not given any and was told to scrape the vessel when everyone else had eaten. She obediently scraped the pot and tied the crumbs in a piece of cloth and went to the well to take a bath first. When she returned to put on her clothes her bundle of crumbs was empty. She sat down feeling very sad and said, “Well, my pudding is gone. But perhaps it was eaten by someone who needed it more than I. I should be thankful, for sharing food is a pious act.”

She was terribly frightened when a big snake appeared from nowhere and said, “Young lady my name is Nagrani. I ate your pudding. Had you cursed me I would have bitten and killed you. But because you blessed me I will do everything I can to help you. Tell me why you look so sad?” Uma told the snake about her having no relatives and her miseries as a consequence. Nagrani said she would be her mother in future and take care of all her needs.

On returning home Uma told her mother-in-law that she had found an old relative. Few days before the celebration of her pregnancy she asked Kokilaben to give her an invitation letter for her newly found relative and duly delivered it to Nagrani. Nobody believed that Uma’s relatives would actually come but to their amazement a whole contingent of well dressed men and women (snakes appearing in human bodies) arrived carrying expensive gifts for every member of the family. Everyone was pleased. The guests were received with due respect and offered a sumptuous feast for lunch. Uma was sent with her relatives for the delivery.

One day, while Uma was living in the den of her snake relatives, her foster mother Nagrani said to her, “Daughter, as you know, I too am pregnant. My time to hatch my eggs has come. I warn you, you may find it hard to watch what you see. But that is the way of our species.” Then she began to break little eggs and eat the babies as they came. Only two or three escaped and slithered away. “We snakes are prolific. If we let all our babies live, this earth will be covered with us,” she said.

Few months later Uma returned with her baby son. Several of her new relatives accompanied her to her husband’s home and delivered fabulous gifts for every member of Kokilaben’s family. After that Uma was treated with respect and kindness for the rest of her life. Naturally, she was ever thankful to her snake mother Nagrani and family.

October 13, 2007