Jackal animal plays a great role in all Indian folklore. Like in many other Indian oral narratives they occupy a prominent position in Santal folk tales as well.
They are rather small animals who often wandered into the villages from the nearby forests to steal chicken and other small animals. They were common to jungles that surrounded the Santal villages and the Santal people encountered them rather frequently.
Such is their presence in Santal folklore that in his three-volume collection of ‘Santal Folk Tales’. P.O.Bodding has placed fifteen jackal stories in a separate section ‘Stories About Jackals’; where a number of animals including the jackal animals are shown to have the human ability to speak.
They are shown to even possess human characteristics and sensibilities. In the first fifteen stories (and some more in the second and third volumes) animals like the jackal, leopard, tiger, paddy bird (heron), hare, crocodile, lion, and bear speak and behave as humans.
The jackal animal which is common to all of these tales does not personify any particular trait and in turn is depicted as 6 cunning, dexterous, deceitful, malicious, and treacherous in the stories. In many others, it is portrayed as compassionate, kind, honest, helpful, and even cowardly and foolish.
Sten Konow in his preface to P. O. Bodding’s ‘Santal Folk Tales’ makes an interesting observation in saying, ‘This double conception is curious. It is possible that we have to do with two different elements, one originally Kolerian and the other originally Aryan’.
Some stories of Jackal animals
a) The Jackal animal and Husband and Wife
While returning from her father’s house a newly married wife with her husband is crossing a forest. A (spirit) bhut (bonga) is enchanted by her and taking the shape of a young man attempts to snatch her away.
He claims her to be his wife and tries to drag her away but the husband won’t let go. She cries out for help and a jackal going about its business hears the cry runs to her aid. Both the men appeal to the jackal to judge their case.
The jackal hears their accounts and then engages the young husband and the bhut in a challenge. He tricks the bhut (spirit) to enter into a kupi (small earthen receptacle) and traps him. In this manner, he saves the woman and restores her to her husband.
It is interesting to note that the Santal narrator uses ‘bhut’ (Aryan word) instead of the native bonga. The jackal has been portrayed as shrewd, just, and helpful in this story.
The story also describes the receptacles used to carry oil, kupi, a small earthen vessel for women, and a bamboo receptacle for men (…before the introduction of the bottle by the Saheb).
Use wit and presence of mind for defeating the enemy.
b) The Jackal animal and the Leopard
An altercation occurs between a leopard and some traders crossing a jungle with their loaded bullock carts. All of them decide to consult three judges – a mahua tree, a water pool, and a jackal.
The mahua tree and the water pool speak against the traders (humans) and judge in favor of the deceitful leopard. Both of them brand humans as wicked and ungrateful creatures because they use and then exploit/abuse both the tree and the water.
The jackal then tricks the leopard to enter into a sack and quickly ties him up thus helping the traders escape safely. In this story objects like the tree and water pool have also been endowed with human abilities to judge and express opinions.
Wit is essential to survive, never trust the word of an enemy.
It is interesting to note the opinions of the tree and the water pool. Both of them brand men as ungrateful and insensitive creatures and side with the leopard.
The Jackal animal and the Prince
This story has elements of a Fairy Tale and a Fable. Some part of the story takes place in a modern court of law. It is also a longer variation of the 4th and 5th stories.
It is a long rambling story about a Prince (zamindar’s son) who has been reduced to poverty and has to work as a cowherd. The first half of the story tells about the lad’s misfortunes and his struggle against poverty.
Second part of the story
In the second part of the story, the boy has left the employ of the Raj and goes to a far off land where two jackals gift him a magical cow. While passing through a village the young lad gets cheated and his magical cow is replaced with an old haggard one.
The ’Ten’ (dos jon – a village council of ten elders) accept bribes and judge against him but the boy summons the jackals who come and sets things right and restore the cow to the boy.
Later on, he is once again duped by carters (garwan) and this time he summons the chowkidar and the village headman (Manjhi) but fails to get justice. He then goes to a court of law where a ‘Mussulman Badsha’ (Mohammedan judge) orders an inquiry and a search.
The cow is recovered, the guilty carters punished and the boy compensated richly. The story ends with the boy’s reconciliation with his mother and marriage with the King’s (zamindar’s) daughter suggesting that they lived happily ever after.
It is interesting to note the juxtaposition of speaking jackals with a modern court of 7 laws in this story. It reflects the influences of the modern justice system and its impact on the tribal community.
Instead of giving up and accepting defeat as one would expect him to do under the circumstances, the boy chose to take the help of the judicial setup of the British Raj and succeeded in getting justice.
The domesticated cow in spite of her magical attributes does not utter a single word. Domestic animals rarely speak in Santal folk tales. ‘Jackal Judgement’ and ‘The Jackal and the Santal’ are two other variations of this story.
The Jackal animal and the Paddy Bird
This story is a fable. A jackal and a paddy bird (heron) enter into a ‘flower friendship’ (baha gate) and pledge to look after each other forever but the jackal soon tires of the crane. He hatches a plan to kill her.
One day he invites the crane to his house and feeds her well with lots of frogs and grasshoppers. In return, he too was invited to the paddy bird’s house and was served mice in a gourd. The jackal could not reach them through the narrow neck of the guard so he breaks it causing the mice to escape.
The heron laughs at the incident and the enraged jackal kills her and eats her up. On his way home he devours a hen, a goat, a sheep, a cow, and a buffalo and drinks a pond dry. He then challenges a wooden pole to get out of his path and then tries to jump over it.
His stomach is too heavy and as a result, he is impaled and he dies. In this story, all the characters are animals endowed with the human ability to speak. It warns the reader from getting too friendly with an alien/outsider/’other’.
The Jackal and Chicken and The Jackal and the Hen
There are two other variants of this story: ‘The Jackal and the Chicken’ and ‘The Jackal and the Hen’. Both the stories begin with the ‘flower friendship’ between a jackal and a hen.
The Jackal and Chicken
In the first story, the jackal kills the hen but the chicken succeeds in killing the jackal and eating his brains. The chicken employs the help of an egg, a mortar, and a pestle. Though they do not speak like the animals the egg, the mortar, and the pestle respond to the appeal for help and work in co-ordination to kill the jackal.
The Jackal and the Hen
In the second story, the jackal kills and eats the hen and all but one of her chicks. This little chick outwits the jackal and escapes. The jackal commits another series of thefts and terrorizing activities before the villagers trap him and kill him.
In the second story, the jackal communicates and threatens an old woman from the village. An interesting and important characteristic feature of Santal folk tales recorded by the narrators is the presence of short refrains (song) in both the stories.
The narrator sings out these verses (in Santal folk tunes) while telling the story. Sometimes even the listeners join in. Both the stories advocate the use of wit and presence of mind for survival.
It helped the tiny chicken escape from the clutches of a stronger foe and an extremely difficult situation. Here too we come across the trickster element.