Riddles are believed to be the earliest and most popular type of formulated thought. Accordingly, they are also considered to be an important element of folk-literature. The answer to the riddle is always disguised in allegorical language. Successful unfolding of the allegory leads to the discovery of its meaning. It is not only an amusement for youngsters, but has also a ritualistic function in the social life of many countries. Sometimes riddles are explained by the exercise of common sense. But only traditional answers to them are accepted and there is rarely more than one answer to a riddle. A riddle from Madhya Pradeshasks Touch the plate and the spring gushes out, what is it? The answer is the eye. The reply to the riddle is concealed here under two allegorical words, plate and spring, which mean the eye and tears respectively. An example can be taken from Orissa also:
What is the creature that is born first
But grows its legs later?
The answer is the frog. The reply is given here not by unfolding any allegorical term, but only by the exercise of common sense based on observation of natural life. A riddle collected from Rajasthan reads:
From here to there
But not in this country
I shall eat a fruit
Without a skin.
The answer is hailstone A riddle from Bihar says:
Legs up, head down.
The reply is the bat. There is also no allegory in it, but the reply is given from observation of natural life.
There are riddles associated with rituals, particularly marriage rituals. These riddles are put by the members of the bride's party to the members of the bridegroom's party when the latter enters the boundary of the former's village. They are also sometimes put directly to the bridegroom when he enters the bride's house for the purpose of marriage. The custom is still prevalent in many Indian aboriginal and Hindu societies of the eastern region of India. Here is an example from West Bengal:
Where have you come from?
O gentlemen, where is your home?
To which clump the bamboo belongs?
To which clump the arrow?
How do you cook and how do you eat?
How do you sleep and how do you go about?
The traditional reply is as follows:
We come from the East,
Haridi is the village we live in.
The bamboo belongs to the clump of Rama.
The arrow belongs to the clump of Laksmana.
We cook and serve as the wives do
And eat like a man.
We sleep like a jackal
And we go about like a lion.