Once upon a time, two brothers lived in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh. The elder brother was tall and handsome, though mean by personality. On the other hand, the younger brother, Kana Bhai, was a plain, one-eyed but smart guy. One day, Kana’s elder brother kicked him out of the house.

The younger brother married a one-eyed girl. To make matters worse, his elder brother gave him a one-eyed bullock to plow the fields. Whenever Kana Bhai plowed the fields with the bullock, his wife would take the second bullock’s place.

One day, while plowing the fields with the bullock and his wife yoked together, Lord Mahadev happened to pass by with His consort, Goddess Parvati. Seeing a woman yoked to the plow, the Goddess asked Kana Bhai what made him to do that. He related their plight to Her.

Goddess Parvati requested Lord Mahadeva to offer whatever He had in the wooden bowl. The Lord gave him the five pumpkin seeds left in his bowl. He asked Kana Bhai to sow them in his fields.

Kana Bhai sowed one seed in the middle and one in each of the four corners. Within a few days, pumpkin creepers had spread all over the field. When the pumpkins grew big, Kana Bhai and his wife gathered them. The next day, when his wife cut a pumpkin for the meal, she saw it stuffed with rice. She collected the rice from all pumpkins and stored it for later use.

The older brother felt extremely jealous when he learned about this. Overcome by envy, he set fire to the younger brother’s house, reducing it to ashes. Kana Bhai collected the ash in a sack and went to sell it in the market.

On his way to the market, he ran into a rich merchant who was going back home with his son. The merchant requested Kana Bhai to allow his son to ride the bullock and promised to pay for the ride when they got home. The witty Kana Bhai didn’t agree to this immediately. He told the merchant that the sacks on the bullock’s back were stuffed with gold and silver. He said that he feared that the merchant’s son would reduce them to ashes with his weight.

A bit baffled by this odd remark, the merchant promised to compensate Kana Bhai should that happen. At night, they reached the merchant’s place. Kana Bhai helped the merchant’s son get down from the bullock. He then started yelling at the merchant, accusing his little boy of soiling his sack and turning its contents into ash. The shocked merchant had no choice but to give him the gold and silver he had promised. The elated Kana Bhai went back home with his bullock.

Kana Bhai’s elder brother learned about his newfound fortunes and wanted to know how he had become rich all of a sudden. He discovered that his younger brother had exchanged the ash for gold and silver in a nearby city. Believing Kana Bhai, the elder brother set his own home on fire. He carried the ashes to the nearby city. However, he had to throw the ashes away after people began chastising him for his folly. It soon dawned upon him that Kana Bhai had tricked him. So, along with his friends, he hatched up a plan to kill his younger brother.

At night, the hired goons entered Kana Bhai’s house, tied him to the cot, and carried him away to dump him in the nearby river. En route to the river, they felt hungry. They left him tied to the cot on the roadside as they went to get some food.

While the goons were away, a shepherd walked past Kana Bhai. He asked why Kana Bhai was tied up like that. Kana Bhai replied that after he refused to get married, his relatives tied him to the cot and were forcefully taking him to the wedding.

When Kana Bhai asked the shepherd if he would like to take Kana Bhai’s place, the shepherd readily agreed. Kana Bhai tied him to the cot, covered his face, and left. Mistaking the shepherd for Kana Bhai, the men threw him into the river.

Meanwhile, Kana Bhai returned home with the herd of sheep. Surprised, the elder brother asked him where he got those sheep from. The younger brother replied that since he was thrown near the river brink, all he could get were sheep. He argued that he could have got a lot of treasure, horses and elephants had he been tossed into the middle of the river.

The greedy elder brother made Kana Bhai throw him in the deep current to get his hands on all those promised riches. With his jealous brother gone for good, Kana Bhai lived happily ever after with his wife.

…now that you’re here

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Kalai Selvi, Folk Tale writer at Ameya

Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at kalai.muse@gmail.com to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from Internet Archive.