(Last Updated on : 09-09-2009)
The state of Assam is home to many tribes. Each tribe has its traditional customs and beliefs and its own treasury of folktales. The following is a folktale popular among the Gam tribe of Assam. The Garos call themselves Achikmande, meaning 'Men of the Hills'. They believe that their original homeland was Tibet. Nobody knows when this story was first told, but it has been doing the rounds for generations.
In a village of Assam there once lived a chief of the Garo tribe
. His ancestors had been chiefs before him, so he was a rich man. His house was made of the sturdiest bamboo in the land while its doors and windows were draped with the finest cane matting. Silk carpets lay on the floor and copper lamps gleamed from recesses in the walls.
The chief and his wife led a very comfortable life indeed. They loved their home and the beautiful wooded country in which they lived. But most of all they loved their daughter. She was an only child, good natured and lovely to look at. The chief and his wife doted on her.
When the girl grew up, she fell in love with a young man from her own tribe. Her parents liked the boy and the marriage was settled. After marriage, the bride and the groom were to move in with the chief and his wife.
On the eve of the wedding the girl's mother took her aside and informed her that she will be given garments made of the softest silk and ornaments made of gold and studded with rubies and emeralds as her wedding gifts. But there was another gift that was more precious than these valuables.
The mother said something under her breath. Then, unlocking a stout wooden casket, she took out a wrap made of silk and embroidered with a thousand flowers in all the colours of the rainbow. They shone so, they dazzled the eye. The girl cried out of excitement and stretched out her hand eagerly to touch the wrap. But the mother cautioned her daughter and asked her not to touch the wrap without knowing the story behind it. Then she proceeded with her story. The wrap was a gift from a goddess to her great grandmother on her wedding day. It has since been handed down from mother to daughter in their family. But it was no ordinary wrap. But before touching it one must know to chant a magic spell. If anybody touched the wrap without knowing the spell disaster befell the person.
The girl soon learnt the spell. She assured her mother that on no account would she touch the wrap without first chanting the spell. When she had admired the wrap to her heart's content, it was replaced inside the casket and securely locked. The following day the girl was married and began to live happily with her husband. But he knew nothing about the secret of the wrap.
The years rolled by. The chief and his wife grew old and died. Their daughter and her husband were left by themselves in the spacious bamboo house. The wrap still remained in the girl's possession. She never wore it for fear of spoiling it. But sometimes she took it out of the casket and held it up so the embroidered flowers caught the light and shone like jewels. Once a year she aired it and locked it right back. She never forgot to chant the spell before touching the wrap. But her husband still did not know what lay inside the casket and never asked.
One day the chief's daughter felt that it was time she aired the wrap. She chanted the magic spell under her breath and unlocked the wooden casket. Then, carefully lifting up the wrap, she spread it out so the gentle mountain air could blow over it. For a while she stood there, unable to tear herself away from the glowing colours. And then suddenly she remembered that her husband had asked for a dish of crabs for his midday meal. Leaving the wrap where it was, she picked up a basket and set out for a nearby stream to look for crabs.
As she hurried down the path to the stream she met her husband. He was coming from a visit to the next village. The chief's daughter told him to keep an eye on the wrap. She cautioned him not to touch the wrap no matter happens.
The husband heard her through, though he did think all that fuss over a mere wrap was quite unnecessary. Soon after his wife had left, black thunderclouds gathered in the sky and it began to rain. The man got worried. He called out to his wife as loud as he could, but the thunder was louder. It completely drowned out his voice. His wife was hurrying home just then but the path was uphill and she could not walk fast enough.
Soon the rain turned to hail. Now the man got really alarmed. Unless he did something about it quick, the wrap would be ruined. Forgetting all about the warning, he rushed out and grabbed the wrap to whisk it away indoors. But to his horror the moment he touched the wrap he felt himself change. In a flash he had turned into a large and beautiful male bird, while the brightly coloured wrap turned into his feathers and tail. Just then his wife came rushing in. With a cry she caught hold of the one end of the wrap that remained and tried to snatch it away from her husband. But the moment she touched it, she turned into a female bird.
These two became the peacock and peahen. The man had caught a much larger portion of the magic wrap and that is exactly why the peacock's feathers are far more brightly coloured than those of the peahen and he has such a gorgeous tail. The peacock and peahen flew out of the house. They went to live among the other birds, now in the forest, now in the fields, looking for grain and tender green shoots to eat. The peacock remains our most beautiful bird. But he is always worried about his feathers. When storm clouds gather in the sky and thunder rumbles in the air, the peacock bursts into loud cries. People believe he does this because he is afraid the rain might spoil his gorgeous colours.