India is particularly rich in colourful folklore: these stories have been told by parents to their children
for many centuries. Tales of gods and goddesses, princes, kings and ordinary men and women — all
are part of a great heritage. We can follow the life of the great god Krishna, find out how the monkey
god Hanuman helped defeat the Demon King Ravan and a host of other magical and spectacular
creatures. The stories are arranged according to the sequence of the Hindu year, and there are short
anecdotes about the festivals that have grown around the folk tales.
Madhur Jaffrey was born near Delhi and grew up listening to stories such as these, mainly from the
older women in the family. Today she is known throughout the world as a talented actress and, more
recently, as an author of Indian cookery books. In Seasons of Splendour she has returned to the
colourful myths and legends she was told as a child, and the result is a dramatic collection for
children to read for themselves or have read aloud to them in the traditional Indian way.
Michael Foreman has written and illustrated many books for children and has been the winner of the
Kurt Maschler Award, the Children Book Award and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal.
He illustrated Seasons of Splendour after a special trip to India, where he immersed himself in the
atmosphere and shapes that would complement the stories.
When I was about five years old, there was a roll-top desk in my uncle’s study. Between its four legs
was a space that seemed enormous and quite perfect for putting on plays. With a few old sheets
tacked on as curtains, we had an ideal stage.
We wrote the plays. My cousins and. You see, we all lived together in my grandfather’s large house
in Delhi. There were a good live dozen of us. a strange mix of short, plump women who spent their
days pickling, knitting and gossiping, tall shrewd men who went to work every day in gleaming cars
and returned to play bridge and drink whisky, old servants who polished the cars, milked the cows,
mowed the grass and put up the mosquito nets, and a lot of cheeky children who spent much of their
free time either listening to stories told by the elders or else translating them into live theatre.
Presiding over this entire brood was my white - bearded, barrister grandfather.
There was no tradition of bedtime stories in our family. Perhaps our parents, aunts and uncles just
did not want to yell out stories to twenty bedded—down children.
N0. Our family tradition of story-telling consisted more of the family huddle. We would crowd
around an aunt on the Big Room divan or around my grand- mother on the Prayer Room carpet or,
if my mother was telling the story from a drawing—room sofa, we would drape ourselves over its
arms and back, even overflowing on to the floor, bodies overlapping bodies.
The fund of stories seemed endless. The plump women of the house would no sooner emerge from
their baths in freshly starched summer voile saris, their faces smelling of powder and vanishing cream,
than we would drag them to a sofa or carpet or divan to tell us a story. They would demur, we
would insist. They would give in and settle down languorously with a great rustling of their crisp saris.
Pillows would be adjusted. One leg would be tucked under the other. Soon there would be no
sound other than the whirring of the fan and the twittering of garden birds.
‘Since Lord Krishna's birth is about to be celebrated, how about the story of his birth?’
‘Yes, yes, yes,’ we would say in unison. ‘Could you go up to the point when Krishna slays the
serpent?’ a cousin would ask. ‘Please make the wicked King Kans really, really wicked,’ I would
add. ‘Could we have red bulging eyes?’
Some of the stories we were told were of ancient origin and were drawn from our religious epics.
Others, also ancient, had no recognizable source. They had just been told, in my family, generation
after generation for centuries. What all the stories had in common was a clear moral tone. This made
it more comfortable for the elders to tell them to us and, strangely enough, it made us children feel
secure. What was right and what was wrong was so very clearly defined.
Death, however, was never hidden. As in our lives where those who had died were kept at home
until the family could place them on biers and carry them to cremation grounds for the final
ceremony, so in our stories death was always treated as part of the cycle of life — as much an open,
family matter as birth. Children were born at home and the old died at home. I was born in my
grandfather’s house in a back room that overlooked the Yamuna River. Years later my grandfather
died in the same house in a front room overlooking the garden. The stories that we were told were
designed not only to separate right from wrong but to prepare us, indirectly, for the vagaries of life
and the fact of death.
We, as children, did not know all this, of course. To us the stories were just plain fun.
In the heat of the afternoon when the elders of our house, well stuffed with lunches of pilaf, kormas
and pickles, would stretch out on large divans for the afternoon nap, their last words to us as eyelids
drooped were, ‘Try to sleep. You need rest. Whatever you do, do not go out in the sun.
I am afraid we did go out. But we heeded our elders to the extent that we stayed in the shade of the
mango or tamarind tree.
It was here that we told our stories. One cousin might tell the story of A Midsummer Nights Dream
that he had seen as a school play, another might regale us with an episode from the adventures of
The next step was to put together all our new information in the form of a play to be staged under
that roll—top desk, for the delight of our adoring and very indulgent parents.
What sort of plays did we make up? We were children of two completely different cultures. I, for
example, had a mother and grandmother who could not speak a word of English and who told me
stories that reinforced my ties to my Hindu, Indian past. The schools I went to were either Catholic
con- vents or Anglican missionary schools where all subjects were taught to us from English text
books as if we were sitting in a small school in Cumberland. India was still a colony so I was learning
‘Little Miss Muffet’, ‘Half a pound of tuppeny rice` and, many years later, devouring Jane Eyre and
I knew vaguely that the poems and stories at school were different from the ones my mother told me.
But I did not really know why. Nor did my cousins.
The result was that when, on those summer afternoons we met under shady trees to write our plays.
Our conversation would go like this:
First cousin: ‘Why do we not stage the fight between the good King Ram and the demon King
Me: ‘Could I play Ram?' Second cousin: ‘No, you are a girl.’ Me: ‘It is only a play.’
Third cousin: ‘Why do you not play Ram’s wife, the good queen, Sita?’
Me: ‘But Sita does not do anything. She is only, well, good.
Fourth cousin: ‘Can you shoot a bow and arrow? I Gun. I should play Ram
Me: ‘I could learn. l have almost learned cricket First cousin;. Let us get on with it. Up to the time
Ram is banished to the forest, events are quite clear. We will follow grandmother’s story. When Ram
reaches the forest, why do we not arrange to have him meet Robin Hood and his Merry Men who
have also been banished to the forest?’
Me: ‘Yes, yes. Then Friar Tuck can assist the monkey god Hanuman in finding the kidnapped Sita. I
will play the demon king, Ravan, who kidnaps Sita.’ Fifth cousin: ‘No you won’t. You are a girl.
When Ram meets Robin Hood, could he say "Well met by moonlight, proud Robin Hood"?'
And so it would go. We hardly understood the differences between East and West. We just
assumed that Someone’s grand plan included all of us in it, with all our differing cultures.
What follow are some of the stories that were told to us by the women of our household. They were
always told, not read. I doubt if a good half of them have ever been written down. Some, like the
story of Doda and Dodi, are possibly unknown outside my family.
I have arranged the stories in sequence as they might be told at religious festivals during the course of
a Hindu calender year. We use the lunar calender and our year starts at the time of the Spring
equinox around mid-April.
Back of the Book
‘The resonances of this magical and profound storybook will sing in the heart and mind long after the
hundredth bedtime.’ - New York Times book Review.
Enjoy all the magic and excitement of India, a land steeped in folklore and tradition, in
this rich and dazzling collection of short stories. Madhur Jaffrey here draws on her country’s tales,
myths and legends and also shares memories of her childhood in India. Full of gods, goddesses,
princes and demons, this absorbing volume is available for the first time in a pocket-sized format.
‘beautifully told…Madhur Jaffrey brings to [the stories] the freshness of the spoken
‘Fun and vitality characterize the stories…Michael Foreman’s illustrations are excellent.’
Brahma Sutras (79)
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