The Story of Swet-Basanta

There was a rich merchant who had an only son whom he loved passionately. He gave his son whatever he wanted, including a beautiful house in a large garden. One day, the son found a bird’s egg in the garden and put it in an almirah (wall cupboard) in his house, forgetting about it.

Years later, a beautiful girl emerged from the egg in the almirah. She grew up inside without anyone’s knowledge. When she got older, she began eating some of the son’s food that was delivered each day by his mother. This caused the son to complain to his mother about the diminishing quantities of food.

The mother was puzzled by the complaints since she sent more than enough food. On her suggestion, the son hid and witnessed the girl emerging from the almirah to eat some of the food before returning. When confronted, the girl explained she had been living in the almirah since emerging from the egg years ago.

Impressed by her beauty, the son decided to marry her despite not knowing her origins. They had two sons together. Some time after Swet’s marriage his mother, the wall-almirah lady, also died, and the widower lost no time in marrying a young and beautiful wife.  As Swet’s wife was older than his stepmother, she became the mistress of the house. The stepmother, like all stepmothers, hated Swet and Basanta with a perfect hatred; and the two ladies were naturally often at loggerheads with each other.

It so happened one day that a fisherman brought to the merchant (we shall no longer call him the merchant’s son, as his father had died) a fish of singular beauty. It was unlike any other fish that had been seen. The fish had marvellous qualities ascribed to it by the fisherman. If any one eats it, said he, when he laughs maniks (gemstones) will drop from his mouth, and when he weeps pearls will drop from his eyes. The merchant, hearing of the wonderful properties of the fish, bought it at one thousand rupees, and put it into the hands of Swet’s wife, who was the mistress of the house, strictly enjoining on her to cook it well and to give it to him alone to eat. The mistress, or house-mother, who had overheard the conversation between her father-in-law and the fisherman, secretly resolved in her mind to give the cooked fish to her husband and to his brother to eat, and to give to her father-in-law instead a frog daintily cooked. When she had finished cooking both the fish and the frog, she heard the noise of a squabble between her stepmother-in-law and her husband’s brother.

It appears that Basanta, who was but a lad yet, was passionately fond of pigeons, which he tamed. One of these pigeons had flown into the room of his stepmother, who had secreted it in her clothes. Basanta rushed into the room, and loudly demanded the pigeon. His stepmother denied any knowledge of the pigeon, on which the elder brother, Swet, forcibly took out the bird from her clothes and gave it to his brother. The stepmother cursed and swore, and added, “Wait, when the head of the house comes home I will make him shed the blood of you both before I give him water to drink.” Swet’s wife called her husband and said to him, “My dearest lord, that woman is a most wicked woman, and has boundless influence over my father-in-law. She will make him do what she has threatened. Our life is in imminent danger. Let us first eat a little, and let us all three run away from this place.” Swet forthwith called Basanta to him, and told him what he had heard from his wife. They resolved to run away before nightfall. The woman placed before her husband and her brother-in-law the fish of wonderful properties, and they ate of it heartily. The woman packed up all her jewels in a box. As there was only one horse, and it was of uncommon fleetness, the three sat upon it; Swet held the reins, the woman sat in the middle with the jewel-box in her lap, and Basanta brought up the rear.

That night, Swet wife gave birth and Swet went out to find fire to warm mother and child but Swet did not return with fire as promised.

During his journey for fire , Swet encountered an unexpected destiny. An elephant, a king-maker, transported him to a city where he was unwittingly crowned. As each king before him was found dead each morning, replacing the deceased ruler from the night before.

Swet, unveiled a nightly peril threatening his predecessors. A serpent emerged from the queen’s nostrils, devouring each king. Armed and vigilant, Swet successfully thwarted the serpent, ensuring a stable rule and then promptly forgot about about his wife, child and brother.

Basanta sat by his family through the night hoping for Swet’s return. The next morning, he went to a river and wept bitterly over their fate. To his amazement, pearls and maniks fell from his eyes in his tears. A passing merchant saw this and confined Basanta, periodically beating and stimulating more tears to collect the gems.

In the forest, Swet’s wife awoke to find her newborn baby dead, having been swapped by a passing police officer who coveted the child. Overcome with grief, she resolved to drown herself but was stopped by an elderly Brahmin who took her in.

Years later, the police officer’s son saw and fell for the woman he did not know was his real mother, now living with the Brahmin family. Overhearing two calves discussing the family’s history, he realized the truth and informed King Swet.

Swet recognized his wife and family were reunited. The police officer’s son was acknowledged as the heir. Basanta was rescued and the cruel merchant buried alive. The family then lived happily together.