Punyakoti the Cow and Arbhuta the Tiger

Informant: RS

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: Konkani

Age: 53

Text: [RS] Once upon a time, in a small village in India, there lived a cow named Punyakoti, who was the gentlest and wisest of all the cows. Every day, she would peacefully graze with her herd, until one day Arbhuta the tiger came along. He hid behind a rock until he was able to pounce, catching Punyakoti. Punyakoti begged Arbhuta to allow her to return home to say goodbye to her calf, promising that she would come back and offer herself to be eaten after she had done so. Arbhuta, moved by her pleas, let her go home. Punyakoti dutifully went to say goodbye to the calf, who tearfully begged her not to go. However, Punyakoti said she had made a promise, and so she returned to the tiger to be eaten. Arbhuta was so surprised that she stuck to her word, that he decided he would rather die of hunger than kill such a pure and honest being. After that, Punyakoti joyfully returned home to her calf, and Arbhuta never bothered the herd again.

Context: [RS] This is a popular tale amongst Konkani children. When I was little, my uncle used to tell me and my siblings about Punyakoti all the time, and our parents would remind us of the tale when we got in trouble for lying to them. It used to be one of my favorite stories! 

Analysis: The tale of Punyakoti is a folk narrative meant to serve as a moral compass for children, teaching them the importance of honesty and honoring commitments. Punyakoti represents honesty and selflessness, determined to fulfill her promise even though it will cost her her life; on the other hand, Arbhuta is transformed by Punyakoti’s values. Through the story, children are taught that honesty is always rewarded, and that it is never too late to find redemption through virtue. This reflects common themes within Indian culture and folk narratives, stemming from Dharmic philosophies within Hinduism, which often favor honesty, generosity, compassion, etc as part of the karmic cycle. These overarching moral guidelines within the community trickle down into these folk tales to be made palatable to children, instilling in them the values of the community.