Folk Tale – Madman and Shadow

This folk tale is about the Madman of Naaraanathu who was a unique and divine person. He was in the habit of rolling a huge rock uphill and then pushing it downhill, laughing uproariously and clapping his hands at the total waste of so much effort. Since the people could not understand why he did so they came to call him Madman and the name stuck. Madman did not care what they thought about him. He was immune to their derision.

Some people started viewing Madman as a godman and tried to offer worship. They came and stood at a distance when he was rolling his huge rock uphill. Some of them brought offerings in the form of fruits and milk in small earthen vessels. Madman did not pay any attention to them either. He continued to roll his rock uphill and when he was done, he went to a nearby village to beg for food.  

Madman was a solitary person and did not like to be disturbed during his day’s labours. He normally spoke in monosyllables and grunts and did not take kindly to those who disturbed his routine or his solitude. Once a man started following Madman like a shadow everywhere. When Madman was rolling his rock uphill, he tagged along with a goatskin bag full of water. When Madman reached the top of the hill and had pushed the rock down, he helpfully offered Madman a drink of water from the bag. Madman accepted the water but said nothing.

When Madman went to beg for alms in the afternoon Shadow was there right behind him. Madman had certain principles. He would not beg for alms more than three times. If nobody gave him food he would stop wandering and sit down in the shade of a tree and go hungry that day. If someone gave him food he would cook it in his copper pot that he carried with him in a cloth bundle.

Shadow made sure that Madman got food every day and did not have to go hungry. Every evening when Madman cooked the rice he received in his copper pot, Shadow sat at a respectful distance. There was always enough rice ever since Shadow had joined him and Madman offered him a share of the meal. This went on for a few days.

Shadow went about the village boasting that he was Madman’s one and only disciple and that he could get Madman to do anything for him. He let the villagers know that Madman would curse them if they did not offer him alms and would bless them with untold wealth and prosperity if they did. This was the reason why no one refused Madman alms since Shadow had joined him. Shadow was quite proud that Madman never had to go hungry even on one day. He hoped his master would notice this and be thankful. But Madman did not say a word.

One day at dawn Madman set out from the village where he normally lived. Soon Shadow caught up with him puffing and panting as he had run the distance from the village on finding that Madman had woken up at the crack of dawn and disappeared.

“Master, where are we going today?” asked Shadow.

“We?” asked Madman slightly annoyed that Shadow had managed to follow him.

“Yes, Master. I like to be with you all the time. I only eat what you eat and drink what you drink.”

“Oh-uh,” said Madman and fell silent. All through the journey Shadow wondered where they were going but could not muster enough courage to ask Madman. They walked fast under the hot sun through forests and fields of paddy. Madman neither slowed his pace nor stopped for a drink.

When it was almost lunchtime, they reached the hut of a poor man. Lunch was being served as it was the death anniversary of the man’s father. Madman sat down happily and had lunch. Shadow too sat down with him and had a sumptuous lunch taking second and third helpings of all the dishes.

After lunch Madman immediately set out again. Shadow was so full of food that he wanted to take some rest but he did not because Madman was already on his way. Though he found it difficult to keep pace, he managed somehow. After they had walked for some time Shadow started feeling very thirsty and wanted badly to stop for a drink of water. But Madman showed no signs of slowing down.

Finally, when he could bear it no more Shadow said, “Master, I’m extremely thirsty. Let’s stop for a drink of water.”


When they reached a large public well Shadow tried to stop but Madman continued walking. So Shadow did not drink any water and continued to follow Madman.

“Why didn’t you drink water?” asked Madman.

“Master, I only eat what you eat and drink what you drink,” said Shadow obsequiously.

“Oh, is that so? Then let’s stop at this hut for a drink,” said Madman.

They entered a thatched structure. Shadow found that it was a copper smith’s workshop. There was a fire burning in a corner and on it stood a large cauldron of molten copper which two workmen were about to pour into moulds. Madman reached out for an earthenware glass and dipped it in the molten metal and drank the whole of it in one gulp!

He then extended the glass helpfully to Shadow and said, “Go on, have a drink.”

Shadow squealed in terror. “But Master,” he said, “if I drink this, my insides will be burnt and I will surely die.”  

“But I thought you just said that you would eat what I ate and drink what I drank.”

Shadow had nothing to say and only whimpered.

“Follow me not,” said Madman calmly and disappeared into the blazing afternoon. It is rumoured that no one ever tried to become Madman’s disciple after that.

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