Tadpole Norbu



Once upon a time, there was a drought all over Western Tibet. Many people died of starvation and some wandered off to other places. At that time, there was a wise and skilled young man named Abadala. He gathered all the families that had left their places and discussed the matter of irrigating the fields in order to stop the famine.

Abadala said, “Kinsmen, We wandered off to other places, and we’ve only been abused and bullied. If we depend on our own knowledge, skill and effort, won’t we be able to overcome the difficult circumstances we’ve encountered?” Everyone agreed unanimously to put his advice into practice.

They made plans to lead the Indus River, which flows toward India, to Western Tibet. Everyone took things like pickaxes, shovels, pack baskets, and they followed Abadala. Days turned into months and months into years as they undertook the difficulties of enduring hardship to turn the earth, break rocks, drill into mountains, and besides making irrigation ditches, they came to much difficulty to achieve their aim—leading the Indus to Western Tibet. Not only that, but many people also suffered bodily because of the toil, almost losing their lives. Some people were discouraged in their faith and said, “Oh my, will we still ever be able to bring the Indus to our land? This work of ours is a fool’s work.” But Abadala often urged them on and consoled them, saying, “Kinsmen, to be discouraged is wrong. If we can complete whatever work we have begun, only then will we be victorious. Our generation may not be able to bring the river to this wilderness of Western Tibet, but there’s still the next generation.”

The Goddess Tara was moved by these circumstances. One night she appeared in Abadala’s dream. In the dream, there were many wondrous signs— rainbow colors appeared in an azure sky, clouds of various colors arose, and a rain of flowers fell. Amidst these signs, Tara said with a smiling face, “Abadala, you are wise and very kind. Under your leadership, you brought the Indus to Western Tibet, a good deed which relieved the people’s famine. But when you directed the Indus to Western Tibet, won’t the people of India fall into famine? Hence I give you a diamond ring that will bring you whatever you wish. If you pray to this ring, you’ll be able to fulfill whatever thoughts you have. You must take care of this ring well. It would be wrong if it fell into the hands of a wicked person.” She placed a sparkling diamond ring in Abadala’s hand.

When Abadala awoke, he saw he was holding a sparkling diamond ring in his hand. On one hand he was surprised, and he was happy on the other. Hurriedly he arose and called all the people. He told them all about the wonderful dream and there was no one who did not rejoice.

Then they all placed the sparkling diamond ring on top of a white boulder, prostrated, and prayed in a single voice, “May the famine in Western Tibet clear up!” Suddenly clouds gathered in the sky, rain hissed down, and for several months, without a break, many hundreds of lakes and ponds overflowed, and crops and green grasses swayed. From then on everyone began to enjoy a happy life.


The people of Western Tibet chose an auspicious day and constellation and appointed Abadala chief of Western Tibet. Abadala still continuously increased the agricultural and nomadic work, and since the rains were timely, the crops were good, cattle production expanded and grasses and flowers filled the earth; so they enjoyed a pleasant life.

One day, a son was born to Abadala’s wife and he was given the name Pujung Dala. Eventually when he grew up, he was extemely cruel and greedy, and he liked to abuse the meek. Everyone secretly called him Black Devil Dala. Abadala often taught him how it was necessary always to be kind, but there was no way he could change the boy’s nature. With time Abadala grew old and his inheritance and position as chief went by default to his son.

When he was about to die Abadala said to his son, “Pujung Dala, listen to me. I’ll tell you a story . . .” He told him in detail the history of how many people had died of starvation, of how many had wandered off to other lands, of how at the time they brought the Indus to the irrigation ditches and began to clear up the famine, and of how Tara had given him the ring. After he told him, he placed the sparkling diamond ring in his son’s hand and said, “Pujung Dala, you must rely on this and accomplish good deeds. Other than that, if you do bad deeds, the punishment of Tara will certainly befall you.” After he had said this again and again, he died.

After Abaldala’s death, Black Devil Dala did all sorts of evil things. He turned the people of the country into servants. He made them build a palace, unrivalled on earth, and collected many taxes from the masses. He abused young girls and immorally used his wealth ostentatiously. He made the subjects miserable.

At that time Black Devil Dala thought, “There are few people in this land of Western Tibet, and not much wealth either. This being the case, it cannot satisfy me. What should I do?” Finally, after thinking about it often, only then did the diamond ring his old father had given him come to mind. Happily, he prayed to the sparkling diamond ring, “I want the strength and ability to gather this world under me. Fulfill my wish!” He made an obeisance, but the god that lived in the precious ring knew he was an evil person. Not wishing voluntarily to answer Black Devil Dala’s wishes, it said, “I don’t have the ability to fulfill your desires. In a place one league north of Lhasa city there’s a small sand flat. In the center there’s a white boulder. Beneath it is an old earthen lamp bowl. If you can get it, it can fulfill your desires. No one can get it except the one called Tadpole Norbu.

Black Devil Dala heard this and his greed grew even greater than before. He disguised himself as a beggar and set out on the road to Lhasa to search for the magical earthen lamp bowl.


On the Middle Circuit of Lhasa, an intelligent boy was always dancing and singing for alms. Since the boy’s body was small and his eyes were always shifting, he was called Tadpole. But his parents called him Norbu. Everyone on the Middle Circuit was happy to watch him dance and there were many that gave him coins.

One day Tadpole was dancing and begging. Black Devil Dala, who had been roaming around but not found anyone called Tadpole Norbu, came to the Middle Circuit. At that time he heard a man say, “Oh, oh, today Tadpole is doing a new dance.” He asked the man, “Is this beggar boy’s name Tadpole?” The man answered, “Everyone calls him Tadpole. He’s doing a new dance. Look how good it is.”

Tadpole finished dancing, collected his coppers and went home. On the way, Black Devil Dala asked, “Boy, what’s your name?” The small boy said, “Everyone calls me Tadpole. My parents call me Norbu. Uncle, you can call me Tadpole Norbu. Today I got many coins, so I can give you three as alms.” He gave three coins to Black Devil Dala and went.

On one hand, Black Devil Dala was glad, and on the other, he remained doubtful and followed the small boy. The boy went into an old hovel. When Black Devil Dala knocked repeatedly on the door of the house, Tadpole Norbu came to the door and recognized him. Black Devil Dala said, “Little boy, please give me a place to stay.” The kindly Tadpole Norbu took pity on him and promised to get his parents to give him a place to stay.

That night Tadpole Norbu and his family cooked delicious soup and entertained Black Devil Dala well. Tadpole Norbu’s father asked him, “Uncle, what’s your name?” to which he, pretending to be sad, replied, “My name is Merchant. I came to Lhasa from Western Tibet to buy things to sell, but since there are many bandits in Lhasa now, I had no choice but to disguise myself as a beggar. I’ve no relatives in Lhasa at all, so I don’t even have an assistant.” The father felt pity for him and said, “Merchant, you don’t have to be sad. My family can give you any help you need.”

Then Black Devil Dala knew he was close to fulfilling his aims, and, his mind galloping as quickly as a horse race, he said, “If Tadpole Norbu could help me for a day, I could give him a high salary.” He took a wallet out of the fold of his robe, and gave him ten golden coins. The parents were so glad, they could not even shut their mouths. They promised that they would send Tadpole Norbu as his friend.


Black Devil Dala took Tadpole Norbu and set out on the road that went north from Lhasa. They went along and there came into view a small sand flat which looked as if gold dust had been poured onto a plain. In the center a white rock glistened.

They got to the rock and Black Devil Dala said, “Tadpole Norbu, I put my trade goods beneath this boulder. We have to move the boulder over.” When they moved the man-sized boulder over, there was a dark pit where it had been. Then Black Devil Dala said, “There’s an earthen lamp bowl in the pit. Bring it to me and we’ll have done our job.” He grasped Tadpole Norbu by the hand and he backed down into the pit.

Tadpole Norbu descended to the floor of the pit, and when he looked, there was a pitch-black hole in each of the four directions. Guessing, he entered one of the holes. He was frightened, but as he continued on, his hands stretched out before him, he saw the gleam of a small light. When he went in that direction, he came to a cave which was filled with light. He looked carefully and on the side of the cave he saw a filthy, greasy earthen lamp bowl in which there was a flame. He thought, “What is such a big merchant going to do with an earthen lamp bowl like this? Even I don’t have any use for it.” But he put out the flame, put the lamp in the fold of his robe and went back.

When Tadpole Norbu got to the place to get out of the pit, he shouted, “Merchant, please help pull me up!” Black Devil Dala asked, “Did you find the lamp bowl?” Tadpole Norbu joked, “We have a lot of lamp bowls like that in our house. I broke that one.” Black Devil Dala got really angry and his fury rose. “Wicked Tadpole! You’ve lost my treasure.” He took a handful of sand and threw it in the pit, but the ring he was wearing on the end of his finger also fell into the pit.

Without realizing his ring had fallen into the pit, Black Devil Dala covered the pit with the white boulder. Tadpole Norbu was left in the dark pit. He thought, “Uh, oh. Because of a damned lamp bowl, I have to die willy-nilly in this pit that no one even knows about. If I hadn’t put out the flame in that damned lamp I could have looked for a way out.” Getting angry, he took the lamp bowl out of his robe. When he was about to throw it on the ground, the lamp in the bowl suddenly burnt brightly. He was glad, and he was looking for a way to get out of the pit, when he found the sparkling diamond ring. Then he thought, “At this worst time when I don’t need valuables, there’s a diamond ring to be found. If my parents and I are able get together, my gracious mother can wear it.” While he was thinking this, he mumbled, “You damned lamp bowl, because of you our family split up,” when suddenly a whirlwind roared. Instantaneously, Tadpole Norbu emerged in front of his parents.

Startled and surprised, Tadpole Norbu showed them the lamp bowl he was holding in his hand, and he told them all about the amazing circumstances he had encountered.


Then Tadpole Norbu gave the diamond ring to his mother. She was amazed for a moment and said, “Oh, where did you bring the diamond ring from? I don’t have the merit to wear this precious ring,” and she put it down. The family realized that the earthen lamp bowl was something very precious; they placed it as a ritual lamp in the inner part of the house and because they made obeisance and prayed to it, they did not need alms and were able to live a happy life.

In time Tadpole Norbu grew to adulthood and became a courageous young man. When he had been beggar before, he had fallen in love with a nobleman’s kindly daughter who had always given him change. He and she had become close and secretly met each other. One day they discussed it and Tadpole Norbu decided to go to the nobleman’s house and ask for her hand in marriage.

Tadpole Norbu returned to his home and told his parents the circumstances. His parents were dazed, and said, “Norbu, we are of very low serf lineage. How can we receive an aristocratic girl as a bride? Supposing we did; we would have to lure her with wealth. Where would we get gold, silver, turquoise and coral ornaments, or silks and fine woolens from?” Tadpole Norbu consoled them, saying, “You, my parents, don’t have to worry about that. Don’t we have a wish-fulfilling gem in our house?” When they prayed to the earthen lamp bowl with the offering lamp in the inner part of the house, various precious ornaments and silken garments were heaped in front of them.

Tadpole Norbu took it all and went to the nobleman’s house to ask for his daughter. When the nobleman learned that Tadpole Norbu had come, he thought, “Tadpole, you brazen beggar boy. You want to ‘play with the dragon’s horns’ and get the best of everything, don’t you?” But when he saw the pile of precious ornaments and the silks, he calmed down and promised, “Brave young man Norbu, I’ll certainly give you my daughter. We can celebrate the marriage in a month.”

Tadpole Norbu was really happy and returned home. He told his parents the circumstances and they were glad also. But the evil nobleman not only kept his daughter in the house and did not allow her out, but he gave her by force to another aristocrat’s son and quickly finished the marriage rituals. After Tadpole Norbu came to learn of this, he got furious and sought for an idea.

The nobleman’s family celebrated the marriage ceremony, and on their wedding night Tadpole Norbu prayed to the earthen bowl. The cottage where the couple was staying moved to the cattle pen of his own house. The nobleman’s son was put into another room. And Tadpole Norbu himself stayed together with the girl. Early the next day the cottage was moved back to the nobleman’s house. This happened for many days and nights. The nobleman’s family had no choice but to annul the marriage.

Tadpole Norbu went a second time to ask for the girl’s hand. The wicked aristocrat angrily said, “You brazen beggar boy! If you want to ‘make the dragon’s horns a toy’ and get the best of everything, make a nine-storied house in front of my estate. Not only must my daughter be made to live in that house, but furthermore the inside of the house must be filled with various precious things. If not, don’t even dream of marrying my daughter!”

Tadpole Norbu promised to do so. He returned home and, when he prayed to the earthen bowl, early the next day a splendid nine-storied house had been built. The nobleman was astonished and rubbed his eyes with his hands. When he looked he saw Tadpole Norbu watching him with a smile from a window of the nine-story house. The nobleman did not know what to do, and he allowed his daughter and Tadpole Norbu to remain married.


Tadpole Norbu’s fame also spread to Western Tibet. Black Devil Dala heard of it and he became furious. There came a point when he could neither eat during the day or fall asleep at night. After he had thought about it for many days and nights, he conceived a plan. He disguised himself as a merchant and set out for Lhasa city.

He got to Lhasa, and one day when it happened that Tadpole Norbu was not at home, he took a golden lamp bowl in his hand and cried from the doorway of Tadpole Norbu’s nine-story house, “Does anyone want to change an old earthen lamp bowl for a golden one? Is there anyone who wants to change an old earthen lamp bowl for a golden one?” The nobleman’s daughter was sitting in the house heard him. She thought, “Isn’t there an old earthen lamp bowl in our altar room? If I can exchange it for a gold one, it would be wrong to miss this present chance.” Without asking Tadpole Norbu’s parents, she took the old earthen lamp bowl from the altar room and exchanged it for the gold one of Black Devil Dala disguised as a merchant. At that time Black Devil Dala, bubbling over with joy, prayed to it: “My jewel, my jewel! For your sake, I’ve undergone not a few difficulties. Please move me and this nine-story house to Western Tibet right now!” Instantly, with a sky-shaking roar, Black Devil Dala and the nine-story house went flying off toward Western Tibet.

When Tadpole Norbu returned home, there was nothing to see except where the nine-story house had been. He ran back and forth, calling the names of his parents and wife again and again, but no one answered him. He was completely at a loss and when he was thinking with bowed head, he suddenly saw a white light sparkling in the grass in front of him. He quickly went there and in the grass he saw the sparkling diamond ring. Happily he picked it up in his hand.

Miraculously, the diamond ring spoke: “Norbu, my son. Don’t be confused. Your parents, wife and house were all taken to Western Tibet by Black Devil Dala, who came disguised as a beggar. Now go to Western Tibet! I can help you!” On one hand Tadpole Norbu was astonished, and on the other he was glad. After he had thanked the diamond ring, he put it on his finger and set out for Western Tibet.


Tadpole Norbu went through many difficulties and went to Western Tibet to investigate Black Devil Dala. One day he got to the place where Black Devil Dala was staying.

On the way he met an old man whose hair was completely white. He asked him, “Is there someone called Black Devil Dala here?” The old man looked him over carefully and said, “What do you intend to do investigating Black Devil Dala?” Tadpole Norbu told him all the circumstance openly and said, “This diamond ring brought me here.” When he showed him the ring on his own finger, the old man was left in astonishment a while. Then he immediately knelt and whined, “Chief, this old man has eyes, but he didn’t recognize your face. Please don’t get angry.”

Tadpole Norbu did not know what was going on and said, “Uncle, it’s not right for you to do that, get up quick. I’m not a chief. I’m a beggar boy.” He hurriedly braced the old man up. The old man took Tadpole Norbu to his house, gave him tasty food, and made him change his clothes. Then the old man told him in detail the circumstances of how Black Devil Dala oppressed the serfs; how they had enjoyed the good life before during Abadala’s time; how he, the old man, had followed Abadala when he was young and channeled the Indus; how the goddess Tara knew of the people’s suffering at that time, and later, how the famine had been cleared up by the diamond ring she had given Abadala; how Abadala had been made chief; and how from one generation to the next this ring should determine the chief of Western Tibet.

Then after Tadpole Norbu came to know all of this, he said to the old man, “I absolutely must defeat Black Devil Dala. But no one must know anything about it. He should not know I’ve arrived here either. Were he to know, since he has a powerful and potent earthen lamp bowl in his hands, let alone defeating him, he’d defeat me.”

One day Tadpole Norbu disguised himself as a beggar and went to Black Devil Dala’s palace. He saw the nine-story house in front of the palace. He went to the door of the nine-story house and called out, “Kind householder, please give me a little food!” His wife, oppressed with sadness in the house, heard him and recognized his voice. With mixed joy and confusion, she looked down from the window and recognized Tadpole Norbu. She tumbled down the stairs and came to the door, embraced him and wept.

They were inexpressibly happy to meet. When he asked about his parents, she wept and told him with terrible regret, “Because I changed the old earthen lamp bowl for a golden one, these unfortunate circumstances came about. Your parents have been imprisoned, and I’ve been forced to be his wife.” Then they discussed in secret how to defeat Black Devil Dala.

One day Black Devil Dala went to hunt, and when he returned, his wife received him with a smile, giving him tasty food and sweet wine. Black Devil Dala asked, “Sweetheart, why are you so happy today?” She said, “Today’s the day that Buddha descended from the gods. How is it possible not to be happy? Ever since I parted from my homeland, I’ve been sad. Today, do I have your, the chief’s, permission to drink with you?” She put Devil Dala in a happy frame of mind and served him again and again with beer into which she had put a lot of an intoxicating drug. Black Devil Dala became immediately drunk and fell onto the bed.

Then, as they had discussed, Tadpole Norbu and the old man came, bringing the serfs. They destroyed the gate of the palace, killed a few guards and captured some others. They wrapped up Black Devil Dala, who was still drunk on the bed, like a ball of yarn, and threw him amid the serfs. It was like falling into a nest of black ants; the people immediately killed him.

Tadpole Norbu’s wife gave him the earthen bowl; they destroyed the gate of the jail and released his parents and all the prisoners. Then the people, led by the old man, appointed Tadpole Norbu chief of Western Tibet. A happy new sun shone in Western Tibet once more.

—Snyung bu, Qinghai Folk Literature 3, 1996


[1] Alladin.