The Naga, the Sun, and the Crow (based on a tale from Burma)

retold by Cathy S. Mosley

In a time long since gone there was a Naga princess - a dragon princess - whose domain was the bottom of a lake; a lake that nestled in the mountains of Northern Burma. And sometimes the villagers would see the gleam of her silver scales as she skimmed near the surface on a sunlight day.

Now this lovely silver dragon was young and curious, and much as she loved her watery home she was curious about the humans who fished and washed in her waters. Finally she felt bold enough to change into a human girl and go up to the surface, but she wasn't so bold that she would go near the villagers; instead she sat on the rocks and watched them at work and play at the lake's edge.

And just as she was a lovely Naga she was a beautiful maiden. So beautiful in fact, that the Sun (who saw her each summer day) fell in love with her, and at last he too took human form. He changed himself into the guise of strong hunter, and entertained her by playing sweet notes on a bamboo flute. Love sprung between them and the Sun could barely pull himself from her arms in order to complete his circuit of the sky.

The villagers complained loudly!! They didn't like the fact that the Sun left early in the evening and was late in coming in the morning.

The complaints grew so loud that the Sun said to his bride, "I must go. But I will return and bide with you a time."

There were tears in the Princess's eyes, and she hugged her swollen belly. But she bravely said, "It is your duty, so I know you must go, even if the days will be long without you."

The Sun kissed her and called his helper, the White Crow, to his arm. "Crow will keep you company," her husband said, "And when our children are born he will carry the news to me."

Their home was a lonely place, even with White Crow to keep her company, and so the Naga Princess returned to her dragon form and slipped back beneath her lake. The days passed. The months passed. And finally the Princess pulled her sleek and silver body out of the lake and gave birth to three fine eggs. She called out to the waiting messenger and said, "White Crow, tell my husband and your lord that his children have been born."

"I will!! I will!!" cawed the Crow, and he flew as fast as he could up to the Sun.

The Sun was delighted, and he choose the largest ruby he had to send to his wife. "Take this to my bride," he told his messenger, "And tell her to buy a kingdom for our children to rule over. Let them want for nothing when they hatch."

"I will!! I will!!" answered the White Crow, and he took the silk bag in his beak for the long flight back to the Earth.

By the time he reached the earth the Crow was tired of carrying the heavy bag, and worse yet, he was hungry. But what he saw in the village was pleasant to his eyes - they were having a festival!! The aroma of food reached his nostrils and the sound of music reached his ears. Surely, he would be allowed to refresh himself here!!! Just for a moment!!

Of course he could!!

The Crow hung the silk bag in a tree and went off to steal some food, and listen to the fine music.

And when he was gone a merchant snuck over to the tree - for the man knew that white crows were messengers of the spirits. The merchant snagged the silk bag from the tree, and almost gave a shout of joy when he saw the ruby, but he clamped his mouth shut and pondered.

Quickly he found some dung and rocks, and tied them up in the bag; then he returned the bag to the tree.

Night was falling when Crow remembered to return to the tree, and he knew he had to hurry deliver the ruby. He did not once look into the sack, but flew directly to where the Naga Princess warmed her eggs.

"For you!! For you!!" he cried as he placed the bag near her.

Great was the Princesss joy as she opened the sack, and great was her sorrow when she saw the insult. Without a word she slipped back into her lake - leaving her eggs to chill in the night air.

And great was the Sun's rage when he learned of the Crow's neglect; as punishment he scorched the bird black and swore that from then on all crows would be so.

As for the eggs..........Some say that the mountain spirits took pity on the neglected eggs, and asked the melting snows to wash the three into the great Irrawaddy.

Of what became of the first egg there is no dispute - it is said that it broke open in Mogok, spilling out rubies and other precious gems.

Of the second egg there is some debate......Some say that it broke in Middle Burma and loosed a great tiger. While others say a young maiden stepped from it, and later became queen of a now-forgotten country.

And there is debate about the third egg.....Of it, some say a giant crocodile slithered forth. Others argue that the future Prince of Sawhti stepped forth, and was raised by a hermit.

Early Spring brings with it the warming sun and the mating dance of the earth's creatures. In February and March we watch murders of crows whirl in the sky; this is their courting time. And for all of the grim myths attached to them, crows are social creatures and devoted parents.

Crows have had many guises in many cultures, since they are known nearly the world over. They have been world-creators, tricksters, and harbingers in our various mythologies; honored and defiled by turn. In the world of science they belong to the Family Corvidae, and have two sub-species: Carrion Crow and Hooded Crow. The Carrion Crow is completely black, while the Hooded Crow is gray, except for a black head and wings. Both are eclectic in their choice of habitat and food.

Nagas are found in both Hindu and Burmese mythology. In the Burmese lore can have the form of either a snake or a dragon. Often, though, they are giant dragons, whose domain is either under the earth or the sea.

Bull, John. Simon & Schusters Guide to Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1978.

Elston, Catherine Feher. Ravensong: A Natural and Fabulous History of Ravens and Crows. Flagstaff: Northland Publishing. 1991.

Ledgard, Edna. The Snake Prince and Other Stories: Burmese Folk Tales. New York: Interlink Books. 2000.

Miller, Candace R.( Tales from the Bird Kingdom. Ohio: Pourquoi Press. 1996.