Child Custody

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 926

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2019


  1. Solomon and the Two Women (Bible, First Book of Kings).

  2. Link to The Iugement of the kynge Salamon (Geoffroy de La Tour Landry).

  3. The Future Buddha as a Wise Judge (The Jataka Tales).

  4. The Question Regarding the Son (Ummaga Jataka).

  5. The Brahman and His Two Wives (Telugu Folktale).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Solomon and the Two Women

The First Book of Kings

Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto King Solomon, and stood before him. And the one woman said, "Oh my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear."

And the other woman said, "Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son."

And this said, "No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son." Thus they spake before the king.

Then said the king, "The one saith, 'This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead'; and the other saith, 'Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.'" And the king said, "Bring me a sword." And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, "Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other."

Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, "Oh my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it."

But the other said, "Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it."

Then the king answered and said, "Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof."

And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.

The Future Buddha as a Wise Judge

Jataka Tales

A woman, carrying her child, went to the future Buddha's tank to wash. And having first bathed the child, she put on her upper garment and descended into the water to bathe herself.

Then a Yakshini, seeing the child, had a craving to eat it. And taking the form of a woman, she drew near, and asked the mother, "Friend, this is a very pretty child. Is it one of yours?" And when she was told it was, she asked if she might nurse it. And this being allowed, she nursed it a little, and then carried it off.

But when the mother saw this, she ran after her, and cried out, "Where are you taking my child to?" and caught hold of her.

The Yakshini boldly said, "Where did you get the child from? It is mine!" And so quarreling, they passed the door of the future Buddha's Judgment Hall.

He heard the noise, sent for them, inquired into the matter, and asked them whether they would abide by his decision. And they agreed. Then he had a line drawn on the ground; and told the Yakshini to take hold of the child's arms, and the mother to take hold of its legs; and said, "The child shall be hers who drags him over the line."

But as soon as they pulled at him, the mother, seeing how he suffered, grieved as if her heart would break. And letting him go, she stood there weeping.

Then the future Buddha asked the bystanders, "Whose hearts are tender to babes? Those who have borne children, or those who have not?"

And they answered, "Oh sire! The hearts of mothers are tender."

Then he said, "Who, think you, is the mother? She who has the child in her arms, or she who has let go?"

And they answered, "She who has let go is the mother."

And he said, "Then do you all think that the other was the thief?"

And they answered, "Sire! We cannot tell."

And he said, "Verily, this is a Yakshini, who took the child to eat it."

And he replied, "Because her eyes winked not, and were red, and she knew no fear, and had no pity, I knew it."

And so saying, he demanded of the thief, "Who are you?"

And she said, "Lord! I am a Yakshini."

And he asked, "Why did you take away this child?"

And she said, "I thought to eat him, Oh my Lord!"

And he rebuked her, saying, "Oh foolish woman! For your former sins you have been born a Yakshini, and now do you still sin!" And he laid a vow upon her to keep the Five Commandments, and let her go.

But the mother of the child exalted the future Buddha, and said, "Oh my Lord! Oh great physician! May your life be long!" And she went away, with her babe clasped to her bosom.

The Question Regarding the Son

Ummagga Jataka

A certain woman, carrying her infant son, went to the Pandit's [future Buddha's] tank, and having bathed her son and placed him on her clothes, descended into the pond to wash her head and bathe herself.

Immediately after she had gone down to bathe, a Yakinni, observing her son, and wishing to eat him, took the form of a woman, and coming near the child, said to the woman, "Friend, this child is very pretty. Is he yours?"

On her saying "Yes," the Yakinni asked her, "Shall I give the child suck?"

And when she replied, "Very well," the Yakinni took up the child, gave it a little milk, and ran away with it.

The mother, seeing the woman running away with her child, ran after her, and asking her, "Where are you taking my child to?" caught hold of her.

The Yakinni then fearlessly replied, "Where did you get a child from? This one is my own son."

These two were thus quarrelling, and passing by the gate of the "Hall," when the Bosat [future Buddha], hearing the noise of their quarrel, sent for both, and inquired of them what the cause of their dispute was; and recognising the Yakinni from the fact of her not winking, and her eyes being as red as olinda seeds, he inquired, "Will you abide by my decision?" and on their agreeing to do so, he caused a line to be drawn on the ground, and the child to be laid exactly in the middle of the line.

He then ordered the Yakinni to take hold of the child's two arms, and the mother the two legs, and said, "Now, both of you pull away, and whosoever pulls the child over the line will be declared the mother."

They accordingly pulled the child, which suffered grievous pain thereby (and cried).

The mother, whose heart burst with sorrow, then let go the child and stood weeping.

The Bosat then inquired from those who were present, "Whose heart is tender towards children? Is it that of the mother or of the stranger?"

Many answered, "Pandit! the heart of a mother is tender."

Having heard this, the Pandit inquired of all, "What now do you think? Is it the woman who has the child in her arms that is the mother, or the woman who let go the child?"

Everyone said, "O Pandit! the woman who has let go the child is the mother."

Then the Pandit asked them, "Do you all know now who it is that has stolen the child?"

And when they replied, "Pandit! we do not know," he said, "Oh! this woman is a Yakinni, and she has taken the child to eat it."

The people then asked the Pandit, "How do you know it?"

And he replied, "Because her eyes are red and never wink, and she neither fears nor loves anybody. It is thus that I found out that she is a Yakinni."

Having thus spoken, the Pandit asked her, "Who are you?"

She replied, "I am a Yakiuni."

"Why did you take away this child?"

"Lord! to eat him," she replied.

The Pandit then warning her, said, "Hear me! you foolish one. Because you committed sin in your last birth, you have been born a Yakinni; nevertheless, you commit sin still! Oh ! how foolish thou art!"

After that, exhorting her, he made her take the "Pansil," [five moral precepts] and sent her away.

The mother, taking the child in her arms, thanked him, and said, "Lord! may you live long!" and went her way.

Here ends the case regarding the son.

The Brahman and His Two Wives

Telugu Folktale

In the Dakhan lived a Brahman who had two wives. To the elder of these a son was born.

When the son was about ten months old, the old Brahman set out with his family on a pilgrimage to Benares [Varanasi], but he unfortunately died on his way.

The two women thereupon "went to an adjacent agraharam (the Brahmans' quarters in a city or village), and remained there, rearing the boy with great affection, so much so that the child knew not which of the two was his real mother.

But one day the younger lady quarrelled with the elder, and, declaring that she would no longer remain with her, took the child and set out to go home.

The elder thereupon seized the child and demanded of the other why she was taking him away.

The younger replied that as she had borne the child she was going away with him.

So the two still disputing went to the Judge and told their story. He reflected a little, called his servants and ordered them to divide the child in twain and to give each a half.

The younger lady remained silent, but the elder, being the real mother, was of opinion that so long as the child did but live it was enough; and, not consenting the Judge's proposal, said to him that the child was not her own, and requested him to give it to the other lady.

The Judge, hearing these words, decided that the elder lady was the child's mother, and had the boy given to her.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised September 24, 2019.