Once upon a time there was a Raja who had no children. So he and his wife agreed that he should marry again. His second wife bore him two sons, and they were very pleased that the Raja should have heirs and all lived happily together. But after the two sons had been born, the elder Rani also gave birth to a son. This caused discord in the family, for the younger Rani had counted on her sons succeeding to the Raja, but now she feared that the son of the elder Rani would be preferred. So she went to the Raja and besought him to send away the elder Rani and her son. The Raja listened to her and gave the first wife a separate estate and a separate house and sent them away.
Time passed and one night the Raja had a dream, the meaning of which he could not understand; he dreamt that he saw a golden leopard and a golden snake and a golden monkey dancing together. The Raja could not rest until he had found out the meaning of the dream, so he sent for his younger wife and her two sons and consulted them. They could give no explanation, but the younger son said that he had a presentiment that his brother, the son of the elder Rani, could interpret the dream. So that son was sent for, and when he appeared before his father and heard the story of the dream, he said "This is the interpretation: the three golden animals represent us three brothers, for we are like gold to you. Thakur has sent this dream in order that we may not fight hereafter; we cannot all three succeed to the Raj and we shall assuredly fight if one is not chosen as the heir. It is intended that whichever of us can find a golden leopard, and a golden snake and a golden monkey and make them dance before the people, he is your principal son and shall be your heir," The Raja was pleased with this interpretation and told his three sons that he would give the Raj to whichever of them could find the three animals by that day year.
The sons of the younger Rani went away, feeling that it was useless for them to make any attempt to fulfil the conditions; even if they got a goldsmith to make the animals, they would never be able to make them dance.
But the other brother went to his mother and told her all that had happened, and she bade him be of good courage and he would find the animals; if he went to a Gosain who lived in the jungle, he would be told what to do.
So the Raja’s son set out, and after travelling for some days he found himself benighted in a dense jungle. Wandering about, he at last saw a fire burning in the distance, so he went to it and sat down by it and began to smoke. Now the Gosain was sleeping nearby and the smell of the smoke awoke him, and he rose and asked who was there.
"O uncle, it is I."
"Really, is it you my nephew? Where have you come from so late at night?"
"From home, uncle."
"What has brought me to your memory now? You have never paid me a visit before. I am afraid that something has happened."
"You need not fear that, I have come to you because my mother tells me that you can help me to find the golden leopard and the golden snake and the golden monkey."
At this the Gosain promised to help the Raja’s son to find the animals and then put the cooking-pot on the fire to boil; and in it he put only three grains of rice, but when it was cooked, they found that there was enough to make a meal of. When they had eaten, the Gosain said "Nephew, I cannot tell you what you have to do; but further in the jungle lives my younger brother: go to him and he will tell you."
So when it was morning the Raja’s son set out, and in two days he reached the second Gosain and told him of his quest. The Gosain listened to his story and put the cooking-pot on to boil and in it threw two grains of rice, and this, when cooked, was sufficient for a good meal. After they had eaten, the Gosain said that he could not tell how the animals were to be found, but that he had a still younger brother who could tell. So the next morning the Raja’s son continued his journey, and in two or three days he came to the third Gosain and there he learnt what was to be done. This Gosain also put the pot on to boil but in the pot he only put one grain of rice and a bit of a grain, yet when cooked it was enough for a meal.
In the morning the Gosain told the Raja’s son to go to a blacksmith and have a shield made of twelve maunds of iron and with its edge so sharp that a leaf falling on it would be cut in two. So he went to the blacksmith and had a shield made, and took it to the Gosain. The Gosain said that they must test it, and he set it edgewise in the ground under a tree and told the Raja’s son to climb the tree and shake some leaves down. The Raja’s son climbed the tree and shook the branches, but not a leaf fell. Then the Gosain climbed up and gave the tree a shake and the leaves fell in showers and every leaf that touched the edge of the shield was cut in two. Then the Gosain was satisfied that the shield was rightly made.
Then the Gosain told the Raja’s son, that further on in the jungle he would find a pair of snakes living in a bamboo house; and they had a daughter whom they never allowed to come out of the house; he must fix the sharp shield in the door of the house and hide himself in a tree, and when the snakes came out they would be cut to pieces; then, when the snakes were dead, he was to go to their daughter and she would show him where to find the golden animals. So the Raja’s son set out and about noon he came to the home of the snakes, and he set the shield in the doorway as the Gosain had said, and at evening, when the snakes tried to come out of the house, they were cut to pieces. When her father and mother were dead, the daughter came out to see what had happened, and the Raja’s son saw that she was very beautiful. He went to her and began to talk and it did not take them long to fall in love with each other. The snake maiden soon forgot her father and mother, and she and the Raja’s son lived together in the bamboo house many days.
The snake maiden strictly forebade him to go anywhere to the west or south of the house, but one day he disobeyed her and wandered away to the west. After going a short distance he saw golden leopards dancing, and directly he set eyes on them, he himself was changed into a golden leopard and began to dance with the others. The snake maiden soon knew what had happened, and she followed him and led him back and restored him to his own shape.
A few days later, the Raja’s son went away to the south and there he found golden snakes dancing on the bank of a tank and directly he saw them, he too became a golden snake and joined the dance. Again the snake maiden fetched him back and restored him to his own form. But again the Raja’s son went out to the south-west and there he saw golden monkeys dancing under a banyan tree, and when he saw them he became a golden monkey; again the snake maiden brought him back and restored him to human shape.
After this the Raja’s son said that it was time for him to go back home. The snake maiden asked why he had come there at all, and then he told her all about the Raja’s dream and said that as he had found the animals he would now go home.
"Kill me first" said the snake maiden; "you have killed my parents and I cannot live alone here." "No, I will not kill you, I will take you with me" answered the Raja’s son, and the snake maiden gladly agreed. Then the Raja’s son asked how he was to take the golden animals with him, for so far he had only seen where they were. The snake maiden said that if he faithfully promised never to desert her, nor take another wife, she would produce the animals for him when the time came. So he swore never to leave her and they set out for his home.
When they reached the place where the third Gosain lived, the Raja’s son said that he had promised to visit the Gosain on his homeward journey and show him the golden animals; but he did not know what to do, as he had not got the animals with him. Then the snake maiden tied three knots in his cloth and bade him untie them when the Gosain asked to see the animals. So the Raja’s son went to see the Gosain, and the Gosain asked whether he had brought the golden leopard and snake and monkey.
"I am not sure" answered the other, "but I have something tied up in my cloth," and he untied the three knots and found in them a clod of earth, a potsherd and a piece of charcoal. He threw them away and went back to the snake maiden, and asked why she had put worthless rubbish in his cloth. "You had no faith" said she "if you had believed, the animals would not have turned into the clod and the potsherd and the charcoal." So they journeyed on, till they came to the second Gosain, and he also asked to see the golden animals and this time the Raja’s son set his mind hard to believe and, when he untied the knots, there were a golden leopard and a golden snake and a golden monkey. Then they went on and showed the animals to the first Gosain, and then went to the house where his mother lived.
When the appointed day came, the Raja’s son sent word to his father to have a number of booths and shelters erected in a spacious plain, and to have a covered way made from his mother’s house to the plain, and then he would show the dancing animals. So the Raja gave the necessary orders, and on the day fixed all the people assembled to see the fun. Then the Raja’s son set the three animals on the ground and his wife remained hidden in the covered way and caused the animals to dance. The people stayed watching all day till evening and then dispersed, That night all the booths and shelters which had been erected were changed into houses of gold; and when he saw this, the Raja left his younger wife and her children and went and lived with his first wife.