Rudyard Kipling accorded an everlasting place in literature for the mongoose, when he created Rikki-tikki-tavi (1884), the heroic mongoose who kills a cobra and saves a child's life. Since earliest times the mongoose, with its characteristics of courage and cunning, strength, ferocity and curiosity, has been featured in religious myths and legends. "Run and find out!" is the motto of Rikki-tikki-tavi, a true mongoose..
The mongoose is a member of the Mustelid family and is found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. With its amazing combinations of colors and patterns, beautiful fur and elegant movements the mongoose is among the most appealing of Mustelid mammals. Ancient Egyptians considered the mongoose a sacred animal and believed that the mongoose would break crocodile eggs thereby reducing the number of crocodiles living in the Nile. Ancient Egyptians often kept a mongoose to kill poisonous snakes. Today, mongooses are kept as pets, particularly in tropical Asia. A mongoose fighting a cobra is still an occurrence in many East Asia towns.
Kipling may have borrowed his idea of Rikki-tikki-tavi from the Arabic fable "The Faithful Mongoose." In this fable a Brahmin goes out to the country, leaving his pet mongoose to protect his baby. A venomous snake enters his home and the mongoose kills it. When the Brahmin returns, the mongoose runs to greet him and the Brahmin, seeing blood on the mongoose’s nose believes that he has attacked his son. The Brahmin kills the mongoose in his rage. Too late, he finds his son asleep and safe, with the snake lying dead by his cradle. Kipling however, does not create a dark ending for his heroic mongoose. What follows are exerts from Kipling's story of RIKKI-TIKKI-TAVI:
It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity. The motto of all the mongoose family is "Run and find out," and Rikki-tikki-tavi was a true mongoose. He was a restless companion, because he had to get up and attend to every noise all through the night and find out what made it. Every mongoose always hopes to be a house-mongoose some day and have rooms to run about in; and Rikki-tikki's mother (she used to live in the General's house at Segowlieh) had carefully told Rikki what to do if ever he came across white men.
This is the story of the Great War that Rikki-tikki-tavi fought single-handed, through the bath-rooms of the big bungalow in Segowlie cantonment. Darzee the Tailorbird helped him, and Chuchumdra the Muskrat, who never comes out into the middle of the floor, but always creeps round by the wall gave him advice, but Kikki-tikki did the real fighting.
He was a mongoose, rather like a little cat in his fur and his tail, but quite like a weasel in his head and his habits. His eyes and the end of his restless nose were pink; he could scratch himself anywhere he pleased with any leg, front or back, that he chose to use; he could fluff up his tail till it looked like a bottle-brush, and his war-cry as he scuttled through the long grass was: Rikki-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!
The bite paralysed Karait, and Rikki-tikki was just going to eat him up from the tail, after the custom of his family at dinner, when he remembered that a full meal makes a slow mongoose, and if he wanted all his strength and quickness ready, he must keep himself thin.
Readers may want to read more about Rikki-tikki-tavi and the terrible battle with Nagaina the cobra. The Virginia Tech library's Center for Alternative Media (CAM) also has the video of Rikki-tikki-tavi.