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The Clever Cowherd and the Deceitful Witch: A Folktale of Wit Overcoming Evil

Cowherd and the Deceitful Witch

Once upon a time, in a little village in Odisha, lived a young cowherd. His daily duty was to take the village cattle out to graze. For this, the villagers compensated him with money. But on festive occasions, they’d also treat him with homemade sweets.

Bakula Amavasya, a festival close to the hearts of the villagers, was upon them. Every household buzzed with the aroma of pithas and various delectable sweets. That morning, as the boy made his rounds gathering the cattle, he was gifted rice-cakes from each home in the spirit of the festival. It turned out to be a bountiful day for him. He shared some with his mother and saved some to relish throughout the day.

Around midday, as the cattle rested, he found a cozy spot under a banyan tree and indulged in some of his rice cakes. But his eyes had been bigger than his stomach. Even after having his fill, one cake remained. A whimsical thought struck him. Not far from where he sat, he dug a small hole in the ground and ‘planted’ the rice-cake, much like one would a seed. With a playful tone, he addressed the rice-cake, “By dawn, if you haven’t sprouted, you’ll meet my axe.

The next day, the young cowherd returned to the same pasture with his herd, having completely forgotten about the rice-cake he’d whimsically planted. While sitting idly and watching the cattle graze, the memory of the buried rice-cake flashed back into his mind. Curious, he ventured over to the spot where he’d buried it. To his astonishment, a green sprout had emerged from the earth!

Tickled by the unexpected turn of events, he spoke to the little sprout, saying, “If you don’t bear leaves by tomorrow, my axe will make quick work of you.

The day after, the cowherd couldn’t wait to check on his miraculous plant. To his sheer delight, he found it adorned with lush leaves. Satisfied but still playful, he issued another challenge: “If you don’t yield rice-cakes on your branches by tomorrow, I’ll have no choice but to cut you down.

Eager and filled with anticipation, he visited the spot at the crack of dawn the next morning. His eyes widened in awe when he saw that the tree had indeed borne fruit – in the form of white rice-cakes hanging from its branches! Overjoyed, he scampered up the tree and feasted on freshly grown rice-cakes. He didn’t forget to take some back to share with his mother, making the tale of the magical rice-cake tree a cherished memory in their lives.

Every day, the boy visited the miraculous tree, and every day it generously offered him rice-cakes.

One sunny day, while he perched on a branch, engrossed in song and feasting on rice-cakes, a witch set her eyes on him. Disguising herself as an elderly woman with silvery hair, she approached and said, “Young man, how can you enjoy so many rice-cakes all by yourself? Won’t you spare some for an old soul like me?

Look around,” the boy cheerfully responded, “there’s an abundance of cakes on the branches! Help yourself.

But my dear, I’m frail and my vision is failing. Could you kindly pick some for me?

Without a second thought, the boy shook the branches causing some cakes to tumble down. “There you go,” he smiled, “gather as many as you like.

The disguised witch feigned distaste. “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly eat those; they’ve touched the ground and are now soiled. I’d only accept if you handed them to me personally. But if you’re unwilling, I’ll move on. It’s been a day since I last ate.

Pretending to leave, she turned away, but the compassionate boy called her back. Leaning down from the branches to hand her some cakes, the boy was caught off guard when the witch, with a sudden forceful tug, made him lose his balance. He tumbled to the ground, and before he could understand what had happened, she had swiftly bagged him. Knotting the bag and placing it in her basket, the witch made her escape with the captured boy.

The sun blazed in the sky, its heat bearing down. Carrying the weight of the basket exhausted the witch, and thirst soon gripped her. She paused near a stream to quench her thirst, noticing some men tending to a paddy field close by. Setting her heavy load down by the path, she implored the men, “Could you watch this for a moment while I fetch water?

Once she was out of sight, the boy’s muffled voice emerged from the basket, “Please, help me.” Astonished to hear a voice from within, the ploughmen quickly untied the sack and released the terrified boy. He recounted his harrowing experience with the malicious witch. The men, thinking quickly, advised him, “Go now, hide behind those bushes before she returns.” They then filled the sack with stones, retied it, and restored it to its original place in the basket. As the witch made her way back, the men resumed their work, feigning ignorance.

Unaware of the switch, the witch balanced the basket atop her head and proceeded home. Upon arrival, her daughter greeted her at the door. “Take this, my dear. It’s filled with meat for a lavish curry. Make sure everything is ready by the time I’m back from bathing in the river,” the witch instructed.

When the daughter opened the basket, she found it filled with nothing but stones. Perplexed, she confronted her mother when she returned from her river bath. “How do you expect me to make curry out of these?” she queried, gesturing towards the stones.

The witch peered into the basket, her eyes widening in disbelief. “What! That cunning boy managed to escape! He’s made a fool out of me! Next time, he won’t be so lucky,” the witch vowed angrily.

Several days later, the crafty witch returned to the rice-cake tree, this time adopting the guise of a beggar woman. Spotting the boy atop the tree, she pleaded, “Such delightful cakes! Could you spare some for a famished soul like me?

Recognizing the familiar tone, the boy retorted, “You think I can’t remember our last encounter? Luck was on my side that day, and you won’t trick me again.

Feigning innocence, the witch responded with feigned surprise, “I haven’t the slightest clue about what you’re implying. This is my first time here. You must be confusing me with someone else!

Scrutinizing her closely, the boy pondered, ‘Could I be wrong? Maybe this is a different woman. Still, it’s better to be cautious.’ Holding onto a branch with one hand, he cautiously reached out with the other to offer some cakes, advising, “Take these and leave me in peace.

Seizing the opportunity, the witch grabbed his outstretched hand with an iron grip and yanked him. Her pull was so fierce that the branch snapped, sending the boy tumbling down. Swiftly, she bound him tight and whisked him away in her sack.

Upon capturing the boy again, the witch, learning from her previous mistake, didn’t delay and headed directly to her home. “Prepare everything for cooking; I’ll gather firewood,” she instructed her daughter.

Once the witch was gone, the daughter, curious, opened the sack. To her surprise, a young man with a rich mane of dark hair emerged. Her own scalp was nearly barren of strands, a stark contrast to the thick locks of the lad before her. Envy took hold of her heart. “How do you maintain such luxurious hair?” she inquired.

Sensing an opportunity, the boy responded, “It’s a closely guarded secret. Why would I share it, knowing you plan to harm me?

Torn between her desperation for lush hair and her task, the girl considered his words. The allure of possessing such magnificent hair proved too potent. “If you share your secret,” she vowed, “I will let you go.

With earnest gravity, the boy revealed, “The secret lies in goat’s milk. Each night, my mother gently applies it to my hair. Embrace this routine, and you’ll be blessed with lustrous, ebony locks in no time.

Thankful for this newfound knowledge and the promise of beautiful hair, the girl released the boy.

Crafting a plausible tale for her mother, the daughter explained upon her return, “Oh, Mother! The boy managed to escape. I had confined him in a room while I was grinding spices for the curry. When I returned, he had vanished. See, he broke the window and fled through it.” Infuriated, the witch chastised her daughter severely for her negligence.

But the relentless witch wasn’t one to surrender. Her determination to seize the boy only intensified. The boy, understanding her persistence, anticipated her return. To face the impending threat, he strategically hid a sharpened crowbar amidst the branches of the rice-cake tree.

Indeed, as expected, the witch returned in disguise. She positioned herself below the rice-cake tree, pleading for some cakes. The cowherd, recognizing her deceitful ways, thought, ‘I’ve seen through your tricks, old witch.‘ However, he called out, “Open wide, and I’ll drop some cakes for you.” Unsuspecting, the witch obliged. Seizing the opportunity, the cowherd used all his might to drive the sharpened crowbar into her mouth, ending her wicked reign. In doing so, he liberated himself from her malevolent clutches.

This age-old folktale serves as a reminder that wit and wisdom can overcome even the craftiest of foes, especially those in disguise.

Disclaimer: The stories shared on this website are folklores and have been passed down through generations. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the information presented, we cannot guarantee the original source of these stories. Readers are advised to use their own discretion and judgment when reading and interpreting these stories. We are not accountable for the source of these stories or any claims that may arise from their use.


Quote of the day

A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.

Norwegian proverb

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