In a certain town there lived a wealthy Brâhmiṇ. He wished to build a house—pretty large and spacious—as became his riches. For that purpose he called in a great number of soothsayers, and fixed, guided by their scientific opinion, a place for building the mansion. A certain portion of every day is supposed to be bad for doing work. This portion is sometimes called the Râhu-kâḷa—the evil time of the demon râhu and sometimes tyâjya—the time to be avoided. And abandoning carefully all these evil hours the wealthy Brâhmiṇ built his mansion in ten years. The first entrance into a new house to dwell is performed always with a great deal of pomp and ceremony, even by the poor according to their means. And our wealthy Brâhmiṇ to please the gods of the other world and the gods of this world—bhûsuras Brâhmiṇs—spent a great deal of his wealth, and with veoras and music sounding all around him he entered into his house.
The whole of the day almost was spent in ceremonies and festivities. All the guests left the place at evening, and much exhausted by the exertions of the day the Brâhmiṇ house-owner retired to rest. Before sleep could close his eyelids he heard a fearful voice over his head exclaiming:—“Shall I fall down? Shall I fall down?”
Great was the concern of the landlord at hearing this voice. He thought that some demon had taken possession of his house, and that he was going to pull down the roof of his house over his own head. That very night with as much haste as he entered the new house, he vacated it and went back to his old house.
Sirukakhaṭti perukavâḷka is the Tamil proverb. The meaning of it is “build small and live great,” i.e., build small houses without laying out much capital uselessly in houses and live prosperously; and in villages many a rich landlord would prefer small houses to big ones. The idea that he had spent a great deal of money to build a big house troubled our hero. The spaciousness of the house was one reason for the devil to come in so easily, as he thought. When he vacated his house on the very night of the day he entered it people began to talk all sorts of scandals about it. The ladies in the bathing places (ghaṭs) in rivers began to give all sorts of colour to the devils in that house. One said that when she was coming to the river she saw a company of devils dancing round and round the middle pillar of the upper storey of that unfortunate house. Another said that she observed unearthly lights in that mansion the previous night. Thus people talked and talked, furnishing new colours and new adventures out of their pure imagination for a phenomena which they never saw. And our unfortunate rich man had to lock up his house which he built after so many days, and at the expense of so much money. Thus passed six months.
In that town there lived a poor beggar Brâhmiṇ. He was in extreme poverty, and spent a great portion of the day in begging from house to house his meal and clothes. He had, poor man, seven children. With this large family he was constantly in the greatest misery. He had not a proper house to live in. A miserable hut was all his wealth in that village. Winter was approaching, and the roof of their only hut began to fall down. The increasing miseries made the poor Brâhmiṇ resolve upon suicide. He could not bring himself to do that by his own hand. He had heard of the haunted house, and resolved to go there with all his family and perish by the hands of the devils. This was his secret intention, but he never spoke of it to any one. One day he came to the rich Brâhmiṇ who was the owner of the haunted mansion, and spoke to him thus:—
“My noble lord! The winter is approaching and the roof of my hut has fallen away. If you would kindly allow it I shall pass the rainy days in your big house.”
When the rich man heard this he was very glad to see that one person at least there was in his little world who wanted the use of his house. So, without hesitating any longer, he replied:—
“My most holy sir, you can have the free use of that whole house for whatever time you may want it. It is enough if you light a lamp there and live happily. I built it, and I am not destined to live there. You can go and try your fortune there.”
So said the rich landlord, and gave the key of that haunted house to the poor Brâhmiṇ. The latter took it, and with his family went and lived there from that day. That very night he also heard the same voice: “Shall I fall down?” “Shall I fall down?” twice. Nothing daunted, and quite resolved to perish with his wife and children, who were sound asleep near him, he exclaimed, “Fall down,” and lo! a golden river of mohurs and pagodas began to fall down in the middle of the room from the top of the roof. It began falling and falling without any stopping till the poor Brâhmiṇ, who sat agape with wonder, began to fear that they would all be buried in mohurs. The moment he saw the sea of wealth before him, his idea of suicide abandoned him. “Stop please,” said he at once, and the mohur-fall came to a sudden stop. He was delighted at the good nature of the devil, or whatever good spirit might have taken possession of the house, for its having given him so much wealth. He heaped up all the mohurs in one room, and locked it up, and had the key of it in his own possession. His wife and children got up during the mohur-fall. They also were informed of everything. The poor Brâhmiṇ advised his wife and children to keep the matter secret, and they, to their great credit, did so. They all—the poor parents and children—rejoiced at the good fortune that had made its visit to them.
As soon as morning dawned the poor Brâhmiṇ converted little by little his mohurs into money and bought grains and clothes for his family. This he did day by day till rumour began to spread that the poor Brâhmiṇ had found a treasure-trove in the rich landlord’s house. Of course this rumour reached the ears of the wealthy man also. He came to the poor Brâhmiṇ and asked him all about the treasure-trove. The latter to his great honour related to the landlord every bit of the mohur-fall. He also wished to witness it and sleep in the room with the poor Brâhmiṇ, for the first time in his life, his thirst for mohurs inducing him to do so. At about midnight “Shall I fall down?” was again heard.
“Fall down” said the poor Brâhmiṇ, and lo! the mohurs began to descend like a water-fall. But, horror of horrors, they all appeared as so many scorpions to the house-owner. The poor man was heaping up the gold coins, but all of them seemed to crawl as so many scorpions to the eyes of the landlord.
“Stop please,” said the poor man, and the mohur-fall stopped.
Then turning to the house-owner, the poor man said: “My lord, you may take home this heap for your use.”
The house-owner began to weep and said: “Most fortunate of mankind, I have heard my old father often repeat a proverb, ‘To the fortunate fortune comes,’ and its meaning I have discovered to-day only. I built the house and ran away when I heard the ‘shall I fall.’ No doubt I did very well, for had I remained a scorpion torrent would have sent me to the other world. Know then my most fortunate friend, that I see all your mohurs as so many scorpions. I have not the fortune to see them as mohurs. But you have that gift. So from this moment this house is yours. Whatever you can convert into money of your mohurs I shall receive and bless you.”
So saying the house-owner came out of the room fearing the scorpions. And our poor man thus had all the fortune to himself, and was no longer a poor man. He soon became one of the wealthiest of men of his time, but remembering that he owed all his riches to the wealthy landlord who gave him the house, he used to share with the latter half of his wealth every year.
This story explains the Tamil proverb Madrishṭam uḷḷavanukku kiḍaikkum; to the fortunate good fortune.
N.B.—This story was also related to me by my step-mother whose birth-place is a village in the Trichinopoly district.
Shall I Fall Down? – Folklore of Southern India