There was in a particular village a poor man called Bhadra. He had to go to the forest and cut wood to prevent his large brood of children from starvation. Despite his day-long efforts, he could earn only just enough to provide gruel for himself, his wife and his children once a day.

One morning, he shouldered his axe and started for the forest as usual. But, while he was on the way, a slight drizzle started, and there was a torrential downpour when he reached the forest.

It was an unlucky day for him, for he had no hope of finding dry wood because of the rain. Bhadra would have gotten soaked in the shower had he not found shelter in the thick jungle.

This shelter was in a state of neglect. It consisted of a roof supported by some wooden pillars. Since the rain did not look like stopping, Bhadra began to examine the shelter. To his surprise, he found a tall stump of wood which was not a pillar. He saw a crude visage carved on the top of this stump.

“Maybe,” Bhadra said to himself, “this shelter was once a temple, and this stump of wood was the deity.”

Then, suddenly, it occurred to Bhadra that his children could have their gruel. This stump was dry. It could provide him with a heap of firewood. He would cut it down and wait until the rain abated. He was sure to get a reasonable price for his wood.

Bhadra approached the stump, raised his axe, and was about to strike when he heard words come out of the stump:

“Stop, fool!” the stump cried. Do you want to break me up? Who do you think I am?”

Bhadra was taken aback. He lowered his axe, folded his hands, and said humbly, “O Mother. I never suspected you were in this piece of wood. You see, what with this rain? I cannot find any dry wood. The entire forest is dripping. At last, I find this dry stump, but you happen to be in it!”

“I can see how poor you are, my man,” the stump replied. “Don’t think I am angry with you. Ah, poverty makes one commit still more horrid crimes. Let me help you end this poverty and be happy for the rest of your life. Go home, and buy a new pot. And place it upon an unlit stove. You will find all the food you need when you take it down again. Your family need not go hungry anymore.”

Bhadra was beside himself with joy. He flung away his axe amidst the trees, prostrated himself before the deity, and went home.

Bhadra’s wife was shocked to see her husband come without firewood and his axe. “Why?” she asked him. “You have not got any firewood! You also lost the axe! O God, what are we to eat today?”

“Don’t talk of firewood and axe anymore,” Bhadra told his wife. “The deity has blessed us!” Then he told his wife what had happened in the forest.

So Bhadra’s wife obtained a freshly baked pot, covered it with a lid, and put it on the unlit stove. Then she took it down and removed the cover. To her surprise, the pot was full of food, the rich fare they had never even looked at before. That night the wood-cutter’s family had a sumptuous feast for the first time in their miserable lives.

From then on, they had similar feasts twice a day.

Now, Bhadra had a rich neighbour whose wife was called Mandodari. This woman knew that Bhadra and his family were always on the verge of starvation. “Rich as we are,” she said to herself, “we cannot afford such feasts except once in a way. How, then, are these people able to feast every day?”

One day, she called Bhadra’s youngest boy and asked him, “Your father is not going to get firewood anymore. How are you able to get food? I hear that you eat a great variety of dishes now. Does your mother prepare them all by herself?”

The boy was too innocent to lie to her. “The deity in the forest gives us all sorts of food. Mother doesn’t do any cooking,” he told Mondodari.

Mandodari extracted the entire story from the boy. Then she was intensely jealous. She did not prepare any food for her family. Instead, she put a tight bandage on her head and lay down groaning as if in pain. When the children came to her asking for food, she cursed them and drove them off.

Her husband came home and noticed that no food had been prepared. “What is the matter with you today?” he asked his wife.

“Nothing at all!” she shouted at him. While everyone does well around here and can obtain favours from the deity in the forest and enjoy feasts without lighting the stove, I must kill myself with cooking and cleaning!

Her husband patiently got her to tell him Bhadra’s story and asked her, “Well, what do you want me to do now?”

“You are going to do exactly what the other fellow did,” Mandodari retorted. “Go to the forest with an axe and threaten to split the head of the deity and obtain her favour. I do not propose to cook anymore!”

“One doesn’t split the heads of deities, you know,” the husband protested.

“It shows that you are a fool,” Mandodari said. “If favours are not to be got by supplication, they have to be obtained by threats.”

The husband knew fully that he would not have peace unless he obeyed his vicious wife. He took an axe and went to the forest. After a certain amount of searching, he found the shelter and the stump of wood in it. He walked to the stump and raised his axe.

Before he could bring it down, there was a violent tremor under his feet, and, at the same time, there was such a brilliant light before his eyes that he could see nothing. In that state, he received a violent kick and heard these words: “Stop, fool! Do you want to break me up? Who do you think I am?”

All his limbs were aching, and his body was on fire. Trembling with fright, he said, “Pardon me, Mother, I am a miserable sinner. But you were kind to Bhadra, who committed the same sin while you are angry with me!”

“I was kind to him because he was utterly destitute,” came the reply. Why should I pity you, a well-to-do man???

“If he is destitute, I am ignorant,” the man pleaded. “Do pity me, Mother.”

“I shall spare you on one condition,” the deity said. “I gave Bhadra all kinds of food in the pot. By mistake, I forgot to give him ghee. And the low-income family has been eating food without it. Now, I want you to go home and send Bhadra a seer of ghee every day and rectify my mistake.”

“Spare me, Mother,” Mando-Dari’s husband replied, “and I will do whatever you want me to do.”

At once, he was rid of all bodily pains. He went home and told his wife, “Let this be a lesson to you, woman! From now on, you are to send Bhadra a seer of ghee every morning. These are the deity’s orders!”

When Mandodari heard the whole story from her husband, she decided not to offend the deity in the forest any further.

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