The story of the feather of the bird is also to be seen in a different context. In a Finnish tale, called ‘The Box Without Key’, a man is out hunting, sees a woodcock in a tree, and aims his arrow at it. The woodcock begs for his life, which startles the man, but he aims again, and again the woodcock pleads. A third time he aims and this time the woodcock promises a reward if he takes him home and feeds him for a year. At the end of the year a copper feather grows out of the woodcock’s tail, that falls off as the bird takes flight, but he comes back with the request to feed him again for a year. After that year a silver feather grows out of his tail and he asks for another year. This time a golden feather grows out of his tail and falls off when the bird flies away. He comes back soon and says to his benefactor: ‘Now you will have your reward for three years of feeding me; go sit on my back!’ [Goldberg, 1969, p. 178ff. See Thompson, 1961, p. 193, type 537: The Marvelous Eagle Gives the Hero a Box which he must not open [before he is home]. I. The Speaking Eagle. A man aims to shoot an eagle, when suddenly the bird begins to speak like a human being [B211.3]. The man spares him. II. The Grateful Eagle. The bird has a wing broken. The man cares for it for three years and wastes all his property by feeding the bird. Finally the eagle recovers and will repay the man for his kindness [B380, Q45].] A comparable introduction has ‘The Fairytale of the Eagle Prince’ from the Russian Siberian storyteller Natalja Ossipowna Winokurowa, told in 1915. Ivan, the son of a [rich] merchant, while hunting, sees a wounded eagle, wants to kill him, but spares him on his request and brings him to his house [to take care of his wounds]. The feeding of the eagle turns out to be so expensive, that the merchant chases his son away. The eagle takes him on his back [to receive his reward] [M. Asadowskij, in: FFC 68, p. 39. The story begins with the statement: ‘A merchant’s son reached the age upon which a man marries.’ (ID., p. 41). ID., p. 44: Ivan the Merchant’s Son finds the Eagle and promises to feed him: daily a wether. He brings the Eagle to his father, tells him everything. The father says at last: ‘That is expensive!’].
This introduction is very similar to that of the story of Johanan we saw before. Johanan is the only son of a rich and pious Jew, who asks him on his deathbed to go after the mourning period (30 days) to the market and to buy there the first thing that he is offered. Johanan does this and buys a very fine silver drinking vessel (for ten times the original price because he didn’t buy right away). It is not an ordinary cup, because the lid won’t go off. But at Easter it opens and Johanan sees a little scorpion inside, and together with his pious wife he raises this creature (that his father had predestined for him), that soon doesn’t fit in the small cup that was in the vessel, and has to move to the bigger one, which is also soon too small. After a while the scorpion doesn’t fit in the house, and on the yard he grows as big as a mountain, and all of Johanan’s inheritance is spent this way. When they own nothing anymore, Johanan kneels before the scorpion and prays to God, whereupon the scorpion lets him choose his reward. Johanan wants to learn all the languages in the world, and the scorpion lets him swallow a piece of paper with the name of God written upon it, and immediately Johanan understands the seventy languages as well as of the birds and the animals. His wife asks for so much riches that they and their children can live without problems, and with several wagons they go with the scorpion to the forest Ilai, where the scorpion whistles and one pair of each species of animals appears with some gold, silver or gems, that they give to Johanan and his wife. [Schwartz, 1986, p. 143ff; Gaster, in: Folk-Lore 7, p. 232ff: Jochanan doesn’t swallow a piece of paper; he asked the scorpion (dragon, notes Gaster) to teach, and he did; and Jochanan was able to understand the language of animals, birds, and beasts, and all the languages of the world. The scorpion explains about himself: ‘I am the son of Adam. I am getting smaller during a period of 1000 years, and during the next 1000 years I gradually grow. I was not included in the command: “On the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”’ Jochanan asks him to bless him, and he says: ‘May God deliver thee from the evils which will come upon thee.’ Which sets Jochanan thinking what these evils may be, but the scorpion doesn’t tell him.]
A modern version is described by Barbara Black Koltuv in her study of Lilith as the well known folktale of ‘Haninah and the Frog’, and it starts with the words: ‘A true story’. When the rich and pious father of rabbi Haninah was old and felt that he was dying he ordered his son to go to the market after seven days of mourning and buy the first thing he saw. It was a very valuable silver box, that contained a second box, wherein was a frog. Haninah took good care of the frog, and when he was too big for the box, he built a cabinet, and after a room, and spent all his money on feeding him. Then Haninah and his wife went to the frog room and told him they couldn’t feed him any longer. The frog told them not to be sad but to ask for a reward. Haninah’s only wish was to know the full Law. The frog wrote some magic formula’s on a piece of paper and told Haninah to swallow it. He did this and immediately he knew the full Torah and the seventy languages, and even the language of animals and birds. Then it was the turn of Haninah’s wife; they were taken to the Forest of Trees, where the frog called all the animals and birds and instructed them to bring as much jewels and pearls as each could carry, and all kinds of medicinal roots and herbs. After that the frog taught rabbi Haninah and his wife the use and the secret formulae of each herb and root. While saying farewell with a blessing, the frog revealed his identity: ‘I am the son of Adam and Lilith (from the 130 years that separated Adam from Eve [after the fall from Paradise]).’ [Kultrov, 2003, p. 105f.]
This introduction can also be found in the Hungarian tale of ‘The Toad’. The hero has worked three years and earned 100 florins, goes back to his father, who advises him to buy something good with it, whereupon the boy has on the market foisted on him a silver cup. The father is furious, but the cup contains a smaller one, and in it again up to six times, and the seventh cup contains a tiny toad (the cups have of course lids like in the case of Johanan), that is hungry and thirsty, and they feed it, whereupon the little creature starts to grow [moves from cup to cup till it is too big]. It eats more and more till it is as big a calf and runs off [Klimo, p. 197 – 208: ‘Le Crapaud’ (collected by A. Benedek)].
A variant of this introduction can be found in a story from the collection of the Jewish story-teller Jefet Schwili, entitled ‘Throw your bread out on the water’, which is a proverb from the Bible (Eccl. 11:1), with which the story of Johanan ends, including the continuation: ‘because thou will find it after many days!’ [NRSV I, p. 635:
‘Send out your bread upon the water,
for after many days you will get it back’].
Here the old man says on his deathbed to his son to divide each day a bag of bread under the poor, and if there comes affluence to throw the bread in the sea. So the son gives every day bread to the poor, and when affluence comes, he throws it into the sea, where one fish begins to grow and at a certain moment doesn’t have enough of the daily portion from the son, and also starts to eat other fish. The small fishes complain to their king Leviathan, who summons the big fish in his presence. This fish blames the man who threw the bread and is commanded to swallow him and bring him to Leviathan, which is done. The young man explains that his father has demanded this of him on his deathbed, which is to Leviathan’s liking, and he gives him a choice: to have him brought back to earth right away or to learn all seventy languages of the world, one a day. So the man stays for seventy days with Leviathan and learns every day a language (from cattle, animals, birds, etc.), after which the big fish spits him back on the land. While lying on the beach to recover his posture he hears from two crows that there, under a tree, lies a big treasure, but he first goes home, where they are already mourning him. He says that he is fallen in the water and saved by a ship, that had put him in another country. Then he brings bit by bit the treasure to his house (etc.) [Noy, 1963, p. 108f].
A Muslim version of this story has been collected by Radloff from Tartars in South Siberia, and it is called ‘The beggar’. The introduction is quite different. The hero is a white bearded old man with many children, who goes around speaking blessings, i.e. begging, and this way he feeds his children and what they leave over, he throws into the sea (not thinking about what would happen tomorrow). A swarm of fishes [although one is better] have gotten used to the feeding by the old man and have gotten fat. To the thrown-in bread [!] comes also another swarm of fish, but they are driven away and go to complain to the king of the fishes. When the king hears about the old man who always throws bread in the sea, he wants him brought before him. The fish go ask the old man, but he says he got no gills. The fish report this and the king says he has to say Bismillah and the water will give way. The man does this and descends into the sea, accompanied by the fat fish on his right, the meager on his left. The fat fish say to him that the king will heap up gold and silver before him, but he mustn’t take it, instead say: ‘Let me kiss your tong.’ The king asks him why he has caused strife among his fish. The man tells about his begging business and the left over is pure, so he throws it into the water. The king says: ‘Leave your searching for alms! Don’t go begging no more! You have done good to my fish, therefore I will give you gold and silver.’ He brings gold and silver, but the old man says: ‘Hey King, I don’t need this gold and silver, I don’t take it, let me just kiss your tongue!’ This surprises the king, who says: ‘When you kiss my tongue, you’ll become young and fat, then you will know the languages of all the creatures in the world. But when you are young and fat, how will you seek alms? How will you satisfy your children?’ The old man says: ‘Let me kiss it.’ The king says: ‘I will let you kiss it; don’t tell a person about it; when you tell it, you will have to die, and so will I.’ The old man kisses the tongue of the King of the Fishes, becomes young, fat and beautiful and returns homeward. But when he comes to the shore, he regrets not to have taken the gold and the silver. But then two birds land on a poplar and he can hear what they say. ‘This old man has been very wise. These fish break the shore and bring the gold that is there to their king; when the old man digs in the shore he will also find the gold and silver.’ He digs, finds gold and silver, and brings it to a rich man, who weighs it and gives him money, with which he buys clothes and food and other stuff for his children. His wife is very surprised about all the stuff [nothing about his age or beauty, so they are blind motifs] and accuses him of having stolen it and wants to turn him in if he doesn’t tell her how he got it. The old man is embarrassed, but doesn’t want to reveal his secret. The Fish-King knows it and sends two birds to the old [!] man, and following their example the old man whips his wife till she promises that she will never again question him [Radloff, 1872, p. 4, p. 492 – 495, nº4: ‘Der Bettler’. ATU 670: The Animal Languages. A man learns animal languages. His wife wants to discover his secret. The advice of the cock (Thompson, 1961, p. 233)].
Vaivasvata Manu and the fish (foto falgunikothar)
The introduction of the story of Johanan can also be compared to the story of Manu in the Śatapatha Brāhmaņa: One morning Manu (Vaivaswata, the seventh Manu) caught in the water, wherein he washed his hands, a fish, that said: ‘Take care of me and I will save you.’ – ‘Of what will you save me?’ – ‘A flood will drag along all living creatures; I will save you from that.’ The fish demanded of Manu, that he kept him alive in an earthen pot, and as soon as he was grown to bring him over to a dyke, and finally to the ocean (so nothing bad will happen to him). When the fish has grown into a giant fish (jhasha), he tells Manu to build a ship, to bring him homage (CH: calling, by means of the smoke of an offering) and when the waters rise, to go in the ship, then he will save him. When the flood rose, Manu attached a rope from the ship to the horn of the fish and he pulled him over the Northern Mountain [= Himalayas]. The fish then desired Manu to fasten the ship to a tree, and to go down with the subsiding waters. He did so, and found that the flood had swept away all living creatures. He alone was left. Desirous of offspring, he offered sacrifice and engaged in devotion. A woman was produced, who came to Manu and declared herself his daughter. ‘With her he lived, worshipping and toiling in arduous rites, desirous of offspring. With her he begat the offspring which is the offspring of Manu’ [Dowson, 1973, p. 199f; cf. Glasenapp, 1958, 30f].
The story is also part of the Mahā-Bhārata: Manu is praying near a river and a fish comes to him and begs him to protect him against the big fishes. Manu puts the fish in a glass bowl, but the fish grows and he puts him in a big bowl, then in a pond, but he keeps growing till only the ocean can contain him. Then he warns Manu for the coming flood and tells him to build a ship and to go aboard with the seven Rishîs and the seeds of all living things. He does this and connects the ship [with a rope] to the horn of the fish. Inexhaustible the fish pulls for years and years the boat across the piled-up waters, till it finally moors on the peak of the Himavān. Here the fish tells him to fasten the ship to a high crag and reveals himself as the great creator Brahma:
‘By me, in fish-like shape, have you been saved in dire emergency,
From Manu all creation, gods, Asuras, men, must be produced;
By him the world must be created, that which moves and moveth not.’
[Dowson, 1973, p. 200f (translation Prof. Williams); cf. Mees, 1954, 4].
In the Purānas the fish is an avatar of Vishnu. In the Matsya Purāna Manu is pictured busy doing spiritual exercises in Malabar. When the fish takes on gigantic proportions, Manu gets to know the ‘fear of god’ and speaks to him: ‘Thou art some god, or thou art Vâsudeva. How can anyone else be like this? Reverence be to thee, Lord of the World!’ Thus addressed, the divine Janârdana, in the form of a fish, replies: ‘Thou hast well spoken and rightly know me. In a short time the earth, with its mountains, groves and forests shall be submerged in the waters. This ship has been constructed by the company of all the gods for the preservation of the host of living creatures. Embarking in it all living creatures (…) and plants, preserve them from calamity. When, driven by the blasts at the end of the Yuga, the ship is swept along, thou shall bind it to this horn of mine. Then, at the close of the dissolution, thou shalt be the Prajâpati of this world, fixed and moving.’ When the deluge took place, the Serpent Ananta came in the form of a rope and connected the ship with the horn of the fish [Mees, 1954, p. 5; cf. Dowson, 1973, p. 35f. The story is as in the Śatapatha Brāhmaņa. A small fish came into the hands of Manu and besought his protection. He carefully guarded it, and it grew rapidly until nothing but the ocean could contain it. Manu then recognized its divinity, and worshipped the deity Vishnu thus incarnate. The god apprised Manu of the approaching cataclysm, and bade him prepare for it. When it came, Manu embarked in a ship with the Rishis, and with the seeds of all existing things. Vishnu then appeared as the fish with a most stupendous horn. The ship was bound to this horn with the great serpent as with a rope, and was secured in safety until the waters had subsided. Vishnu has a thousand names (Sahasra-nāma), amongst others, Vāsudeva (father of Krishna) and Janârdana = Janārddana, ‘whom men worship’ (Dowson, 1973, p. 363f)].
In the version of the Bhāgavata Purāna the fish says to the sage Satyavrata, who becomes Manu in the next cycle: ‘On the seventh day the three worlds shall sink beneath the Ocean of Dissolution. When the universe is dissolved in that ocean, a large ship, sent by me, shall come to thee. Taking with thee the plants and various seeds, surrounded by the seven Rishîs, and attended by all existences, thou shalt embark on the great ship and shalt, without alarm, move over the dark ocean. When the ship shall be vehemently shaken by the tempestuous wind, fasten it by the great serpent to my horn, for I shall be near.’ [Mees, 1954, p. 5] Dowson tells the story a little different: In one of the nights of Brahmā, and during his repose, the earth and the other worlds were submerged in the ocean. Then the demon Haya-grīva drew near, and carried of the Veda which had issued from Brahmā’s mouth. To recover the Veda thus lost, Vishnu assumed the form of a fish, and saved Manu as above related. But this Purāna adds, that the fish instructed Manu and the Rishîs in ‘the true doctrine of the soul of the eternal Brahmā’; and, when Brahmā awoke at the end of this dissolution of the universe, Vishnu slew Haya-grīva and restored the Veda to Brahmā [Dowson, 1973, p. 36]. Hayagrīva is an avatar of Vishnu, born to recover the Veda, that is to say, the Tradition, which had been carried off by two Daityas, called Madhu and Kaitabha. As vanquisher of the demonic giant Madhu Vishnu is called Madhuribu. [Mees, 1954, p. 13; Vollmer, 1978|1874, p. 319a]. Garuda is called in the Mhb. ‘Hayagriva, the stallion-necked incarnation of Vishnu’ (Adi Parva, section 22, infra). Singhal, 1963, p. 20f: At the end of the previous Kalpa there was a Pralaya (dissolution of the universe into vast waters) and Brahma (the creating God) went to sleep then the four Vedas slipped out of his mouth and they were seized by the Demon Haygreve and taken beneath the waters. Then arose the Matsay (fish) incarnation [of Vishnu] for rescuing the four Vedas. (Shrimad Bhagwat Puran, VIII:24:7 – 9). In verse 11 it is said that this took place at the time of king Satyavrat, who after this pralaya became the Manu of the present Manvantar (follows a discussion about the contradiction in these statements). The story of the fish (verses 10 – 57) is: King Satyavrat was worshiping on the banks of the river Kritmala (or Saraswati on the banks of which all religious actions or Kritas were performed). When he took water in his hand he noticed a tiny fish in that water. He prepared to throw the water into the river. Then the tiny fish spoke: ‘O great king, I shall be eaten by the bigger fish. Do not throw me into the water but protect me and put me in your jug.’ The king did so. But later the fish grew and began to feel uncomfortable and prayed to be put in a bigger and bigger vessel till even the river proved to be too small. Then the king put it in the sea, where the fish assumed an enormous size. Then the king was wonder struck and asked the fish whether it was an incarnation of God for none else could show such wonderful powers. Then the fish replied and said that he had appeared in that form because on the seventh day from then there will come a great flood which will submerge dry land and he had come to save him. The Fish Incarnation asked king Satyavrat to collect the seeds of all things necessary for life and his people. On the waters will come a boat to him. He should put all things there. The Sapt-rishis (the seven great scholars) also will be there. Then he should tie the boat to the great horn growing from the head of the Fish. The Fish will then steer his boat on the waters of the flood safely and will take it to a safe place till the flood subsides. All this was done and then after the subsidence of the flood Satyavrat returned to India and began the present Manvantar. While steering the boat the Fish Incarnation killed the demon Haygreve and rescued the Vedas from him for giving their knowledge afresh to the world.] But there is also a demon Hayagrīva who had stolen the Veda when Brahmā, the Creator, was asleep in the stage of Pralaya or Dissolution. In order to recover the Veda, Vishnu took on the form of Matsya (the Fish) and slew Hayagrīva, a demon of immense size and terrible lewdness, who plunged the whole world in ruin by stealing the Vedas during the sleep of Brahmā at the end of the sixth manvantara (ruling period of a manu; the present one is the seventh). He devoured the holy books, with the result that the whole of humanity sank down into sin and calumny, which resulted in their destruction in the Flood, from which only the seven Rishîs and king Satyavrata escaped, for they were saved by Vishnu because they had remained pious. Hayagrīva had hidden himself at the bottom of the ocean, but Vishnu took on the form of a horned fish, split open the giant and took out the holy books; but the fourth part of it was consumed, that is why there are only three Veda books now [Vollmer 1978|1874, 226b]. The Matsyavatara (Fish Avatar) is considered the first avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu at the beginning of the first yuga or World Age which was also the beginning of this Kalpa, a greater world age, consisting of four yugas that are defined as the sides of a primitive die: four, three, two, one. The beginning of a kalpa has a prelude, named Pralaya or Dissolution, wherein the earth is covered by the primeval waters on which the hero (Noah, Manu Satyavrata, Xisuthros-Athrahasis-Utnapishtim, Deukalion, etc.) is tossed in his divine boat. The Fish Avatar is the Maha-fish (Big Fish), called Cetix by the Brahmans. During Pralaya (which is a spiritual black out) the rebellious and revolting spirit of humanity in the person of the giant Hayagrīva stole from the sleeping Brahmā the four Vedas, the Laws of the World, a gift from Brahmā to humanity, and the lawless world had to sink in the Realm of Evil. Then Vishnu saved the world by pursuing the giant, who had hidden himself under the sea, in the appearance of a fish, and forced him to return the stolen books. [Vollmer 1978|1874, 325a.] Kaiţabha and Madhu were two horrible demons, who, according to the Mahā-bhārata and the Purāna’s, sprang from the ear of Vishnu while he was asleep at the end of a kalpa, and were about to kill Brahmā, who was lying on the lotus springing from Vishnu’s navel. Vishnu killed them, and hence he obtained the names of Kaiţabha-jit and Madhu-sūdana. The Hari-vanśa states that the earth received its name of Medinī from the marrow (medas) of these demons. In one passage it says that their bodies, being thrown into the sea, produced an immense quantity of marrow or fat, which Nārāyaņa (= Vishnu?) used in forming the earth. In another place it says that the medas quite covered the earth, and so gave it the name of Medinī [Dowson, 1973, p. 139, with the comment: ‘This is another of the many etymological inventions.’ The Mārkandeya Purāna attributes the death of Kaiţabha to Umā, and she bears the title of Kaiţabhā]. Of the name Nārāyaņa Dowson says: 1. The son of Nara, the original man, and often identified or coupled with Nara; 2. The creator Brahmā, who, according to Manu [in his Law-book], was so called because the waters (nara) were his first ayana or place of motion. The name is found for the first time in the Śatapatha Brāhmaņa. The name as commonly used applies to Vishnu, and is that under which he was first worshipped. [Dowson, 1973, p. 220f. There is also Nara-Nārāyaņa, two ancient Rishis, sons of Dharma and Ahinsa. The Vāmana Purāna has a legend about them: Their penances and austerities alarmed the gods, so Indra sent nymphs to inspire them with passion and disturb their devotions. Nārāyaņa took a flower and placed it on his thigh. Immediately there sprung from it a beautiful nymph whose charms far excelled those of the celestial nymphs, and made them return to heaven filled with shame and vexation. Nārāyaņa sent this nymph to Indra with them, and from her having been produced from the thigh (uru) of the sage, she was called Urvaśī].