A painting of the mongoose standing watch over a baby's crib.

The Mongoose & the Farmer’s Wife (Indian Fable)

The Mongoose and the Farmer’s Wife is an old folktale from the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian fables from the 3rd century BCE. It’s a grim story about the danger, or perhaps value, of leaping to conclusions. I’ll explain the meaning at the end.

The Fable

The story takes place some three thousand years ago, in a small village, right after a farmer and his wife had their first baby. The new parents were fearful of the snakes that were known to sneak into homes, so the farmer suggested they adopt a young mongoose to serve as a guard.

The farmer’s wife was hesitant at first, having heard that mongooses could be as dangerous as snakes, but her husband assured her that if they treated the mongoose well, it would be a loyal guardian. And so, against her better judgment, she allowed it into her home.

At first, everything seemed to be going well. The mongoose wasn’t aggressive around the baby, and the farmer soon started to think of it as part of the family. His wife, however, still harboured her doubts, and she never let her dear baby out of her sight.

One day, the farmer asked her to help him work the fields while the baby was napping. The mongoose had been doing so well for so long. He really did seem like a gentle creature. So she left her baby napping in his crib, with the mongoose standing solemn guard beside it.

As soon as the wife was away, a venomous snake slithered quietly into the house. The mongoose saw the snake and pounced, snatching it by the head and tearing it to bits, leaving bloody innards splayed out across the floor.

When the farmer’s wife returned from the fields, the mongoose rushed out to meet her, so proud of its heroic deed. But when she saw the blood dripping from its mouth and the trail of carnage leading into her home, a horror welled up in her throat. Her worst fear had come true: the mongoose had turned on her poor baby.

She swung her machete at the mongoose, slicing deep, killing him instantly. But when she rushed into the house to see if her baby yet lived, she found her child sleeping peacefully in the crib.

Painting of the farmer and his wife grieving the death of their pet mongoose.

The Moral & Meaning

The story warns about the dangers of leaping to conclusions. In most fables, if a species is known for being dangerous, such is its nature, and so we ought to be wary. But this fable has the opposite message. The wife’s assumption about the mongoose was premature and woefully incorrect, and she betrayed it horribly.

It’s a tricky lesson, though. After all, the farmer and his wife made an assumption about the nature of snakes, too, and at least in this case, that assumption wound up being correct. Then, consider what the heroic mongoose did. It didn’t wait until the snake had attacked the child. Instead, it pounced as soon as it guessed the snake’s intent.

We always hear that we should give others the benefit of the doubt, presuming innocence until guilt is soundly proven. But a mongoose must act more quickly than that. Sometimes, mothers must as well. And thus, we get our tragic ending.

Similar Fables

The Mongoose and the Farmer’s Wife is the most timeless fable from the Panchatantra. For better and worse, many of the others feel strange and dated. Still, you might like the Monkey and the Crocodile. It’s my second favourite.

Or if it’s tragic tales with harsh morals you’re after, here are a few of my favourites:

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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