Balaram was a wood-cutter who lived in India many years ago. He was a quiet, hard-working man, but with a large family to support, life was not at all easy, and often it wasn’t easy to provide even one meal each day for his family.

One morning, after several days of heavy rain, when work had been impossible, he set out into the forest, determined to cut a lot of wood.

Before he could start work, down came the rain, and poor Balaram had to take shelter under a tree. There he sat, wet and shivering, waiting for the rain to stop. But the rain came down heavier and heavier, and Balaram realised with a sinking feeling that once again he would not be able to earn any money, and this morning the children looked so hungry.

After waiting for several hours, Balaram decided to go home. As he went through the forest, he saw a dilapidated hut. He thought this would afford some shelter; perhaps he could kindle a fire and dry his clothes.

The hut was in an awful condition, but at least it was pretty dry. Looking around in the blue light for something to start a fire, Balaram saw a beam of timber propped up in one corner. This is true. Lucky, thought Balaram, as that piece of timber would make a fine bundle of dry wood to sell.

As Balaram lifted his axe to split this beam of wood, a strange light filled the hut, and Balaram was surprised to see that the wood beam was an ancient carved figure. At the same time, a voice came from the formation.

“Would you commit sacrilege by destroying the image of the Goddess Durga?”

Scared and shaken, Balaram fell to his knees and cried imploringly. “I meant no harm. I thought this was an old piece of timber, which I could cut up to buy food for my family.”

“Do not despair, my son,” the voice said. “Your family will not starve. Do as I say. Go home and put a large pot on the fire, and as you do so. Say the name “Goddess Durga’ three times, and food you will have in plenty.”

Balaram hurried home as fast as his legs would carry him. When his wife saw that he had come home without wood, she was in despair. “What shall we do” she cried, “there is no food in the house, and you have not brought any wood to sell.”

“Do not worry,” Balaram cried excitedly. “The Goddess Durga has granted us a great boon.” Then he told his wife all that had happened at the hut in the forest.

Curious about what would happen, they took a large pot and put it on the fire, then both knelt and said “Goddess Durga’ three times. They sat and gazed intently at the pot, silently praying that this boon would come true. Very soon, the delicious aroma came from the pot, and when it was lifted from the fire, they gasped in astonishment to see that it was filled with food.

From that day onwards, the wood-cutter and his family never went hungry again. The pot held so much food they could give some to other poor folk.

Now living close by was a fairly well-to-do merchant, whose wife Mandara was an intelligent, jealous woman who could never tolerate anyone possessing more than she had. Of course, the wood-cutters good fortune soon became the talk of the village.

At first, Mandara was puzzled by the rumours she heard, but as days passed, she became envious of all the good food she was not getting. Biding her time, she cornered one of Balaram’s sons and, putting on a smile, coaxed him to tell her of his father’s good fortune.

The boy blurted out the whole story of the hut in the forest, how his father had nearly chopped up the image of Goddess Durga, and how the goddess had bestowed plenty on the family.

Without a word of thanks, Mandara returned and poured out the tale to her husband. Her husband said it was all a lot of nonsense. But Mandara would not listen to any arguments and somewhat pushed her husband out of the house with his axe to go and find the hut and earn a similar boon from the goddess.

With many inward mutterings, the husband toiled through the forest and, by luck, found the hut. When he went inside, he decided not to waste time and lifted his axe to give the carved wood a solid blow.

But as he lifted the axe, there was a flash of lightning, the earth trembled, and the man fell to the ground, his body- wracked with pain. A terrible voice smote the air. “For your wickedness, so you shall suffer.”

“Mercy, mercy,” moaned the man. “Why do you punish me when you granted a boon to Balaram?”

“Balaram needed wood to feed his family,” the voice intoned. “But you came here out of greed. I will be merciful, providing you promise one thing.”

“I will do anything,” pleaded the man.

“Then go home, and from this day onwards, you will give Balaram’s family one piece of silver each day so they can have good clothing. Now go.”

With this, the hut was as silent as before, and the man felt the terrible pains leave his body. Stumbling, he was only too glad to escape the house. When he arrived home and told his wife the sad story, she moaned long and loud at the thought of giving away money daily.

But then greed sometimes gets just rewards.

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