THE POMEGRANATE KING (Indian Fairy Tales) collected and translated by Maive Stokes
THERE was once a Mahárájá, called the Anárbásá, or Pomegranate King; and a Mahárání called the Gulíanár, or Pomegranate-flower. The Mahárání died leaving two children: a little girl of four or five years old, and a little boy of three. The Mahárájá was very sorry when she died, for he loved her dearly. He was exceedingly fond of his two children, and got for them two servants: a man to cook their dinner, and an ayah to take care of them. He also had them taught to read and write. Soon after his wife’s death the neighbouring Rájá’s daughter’s husband died, and she said if any other Rájá would marry her, she would be quite willing to marry him, and she also said she would like very much to marry the Pomegranate Rájá. So her father went to see the Pomegranate Rájá, and told him that his daughter wished to marry him. “Oh,” said the Pomegranate Rájá, “I do not want to marry again, for if I do, the woman I marry will be sure to be unkind to my two children. She will not take care of them. She will not pet them and comfort them when they are unhappy.” “Oh,” said the other Rájá, “my daughter will be very good to them, I assure you.” “Very well,” said the Mahárájá, “I will marry her.” So they were married.
For two or three months everything went on well, but then the new Rání, who was called the Sunkásí Mahárání, began to beat the poor children, and to scold their servants. One day she gave the boy such a hard blow on his cheek that it swelled. When the Mahárájá came out of his office to get his tiffin, he saw the boy’s swollen face, and, calling the two servants, he said, “Who did this? how did my boy get hurt?” They said, “The Rání gave him such a hard blow on his cheek that it swelled, and she gets very angry with us if we say anything about her ill-treatment of the children, or how she scolds us.” The Mahárájá was exceedingly angry with his wife for this, and said to her, “I never beat my children. Why should you beat them? If you beat them I will send you away.” And he went off to his office in a great rage. The Rání was very angry. So she told the little girl to go with the ayah to the bazar. The ayah and the little girl set off, never suspecting any evil. As soon as they had gone, the Rání took the little boy and told him she would kill him. The boy went down on his knees and begged her to spare his life. But she said, “No; your father is always quarrelling with me, beating me, and scolding me, all through your fault.” The boy begged and prayed again, saying he would never be naughty any more. The Rání shook her head, and taking a large knife she cut off his head. She then cut him up and made him into a curry. She then buried his head, and his nails, and his feet in the ground, and she covered them well with earth, and stamped the ground well down so that no one should notice it had been disturbed. When the Pomegranate Rájá came hometo his dinner, she put the curry and some rice on the table before him; but the Rájá, seeing his boy was not there, would not eat. He went and looked everywhere for his son, crying very much, and the little girl cried very much too, for she loved her brother dearly. After they had hunted for him for some time, the little boy appeared. His father embraced him. “Where have you been?” said he. “I cannot eat my dinner without you.” The little boy said, “Oh, I was in the jungle playing with other boys.” They then sat down to dinner, and the curry changed into a kid curry. The Rání was greatly astonished when she saw the boy. She said to herself, “I cut his head off; I cut him into little pieces, and I made him into a curry, and yet he is alive!” She then went into the garden to see if his head, and nails, and feet were in the hole where she had buried them. But they were not there; it was quite empty. She then called a sepoy, and said to him, “If you will take two children into the jungle and kill them, I will give you as much money as you like.” “All right,” said the sepoy. She then brought the children, and told him to take them to the jungle. So he took them away to the jungle, but he had not the heart to kill them, for they were exceedingly beautiful, and he left them in the jungle near their dead mother’s grave. Then he returned to the Rání, saying he had done as she wished, and she gave him as much money as he wanted.
The poor Pomegranate Rájá was very unhappy when he saw his children were not in the palace, and that they could not be found. He asked his Rání where they were, but she said she did not know; they had gone out to play and had never returned. From the day he lost his children the Pomegranate Rájá became melancholy. He did not love the Rání any more; he hated her.
Meanwhile the children lived in a little house built close to their mother’s grave. God had given her life again that she might take care of them. But they did not know she was their mother; they thought she was another woman sent to take care of them. God sent also a man to teach them. Somehow or other the Rání Sunkásí heard they were still alive in the jungle. She did not know how she could kill them. So at last she pretended she was very ill, and she said to the Rájá, “The doctor says that in the jungle there are two children, and he says if you will have them killed, and will bring their livers for me to stand on when I bathe, then I shall get well.” The Rájá sent a second sepoy to kill the children, and this man killed them and brought their livers to the Rání. She stood on them while bathing, and then said she was quite well. She then threw the livers into the garden, and during the night a tree grew up there with two large beautiful flowers on it. Next morning the Rání looked out and said, “I will gather those flowers to-day.” Every day she said she would gather them, and every day she forgot. At last one day she said, “Every day I forget to gather those flowers, but to-day I really will do so,” and she sent her servant to pluck them. So he went out, and, just as he was going to gather them, the flowers flew up just out of his reach. Then the Rání went down, and when she was going to pick them they flew up so high that they could not be seen. Every day she tried to gather them, and every day they went high up, and came back again to the tree as soon as she had gone. Then the flowers disappeared and two large fruits came in their stead. The Rání looked out of her window: “Oh, what delicious fruits! I’ll eat them all myself. I won’t give a bit to anybody, and I’ll eat them by myself quite quietly.” She went down to the garden, but they flew high up into the sky, and then they came down again. So this went on, day after day, until she got so cross she ordered the tree to be cut down. But it was of no use. The tree was cut down, but the fruits flew high up into the sky, and in the night the tree grew up again and the fruits came back again to it. And so this went on for many days. Every day she cut down the tree, and every night it grew up again, but she could never get the fruits. At last she became very angry, and had the tree hewn into tiny bits and all the bits thrown away, but still the tree grew again in the night, and in the morning the fruits were hanging on it. So she went to the Rájá and told him that in the garden was a tree with two fruits, and every time she tried to get them, the fruits went up into the air. She had had the tree cut down ever so many times, and it always grew up again in the night and the fruits returned to it. “Why cannot you leave the tree alone?” said the Rájá. “But I should like to see if what you say is true.” So the Rájá and the Rání went down to the garden, and the Rání tried to get the fruits, but she could not, for they went right up into the air.
That evening the Rájá went alone to the garden to gather the fruits, and the fruits of themselves fell into his hand. He took them into his room, and putting them on a little table close to his bed, he lay down to sleep. As soon as he was in bed a little voice inside one of the fruits said, “Brother;” and a little voice in the other fruit said, “Sister, speak more gently. To-morrow the Rájá will break open the fruits, and if the Rání finds us she will kill us. Three times has God made us alive again, but if we die a fourth time he will bring us to life no more.” The Rájá listened and said, “I will break them open in a little while.” Then he went to sleep, and after a little he woke and said, “A little while longer,” and went to sleep again. Several times he woke up and said, “I will break the fruits open in a little while,” and went to sleep. At last he took a knife and began cutting the fruits open very fast, and the little boy cried, “Gently, gently, father; you hurt us!” So then the Rájá cut more gently, and he stopped to ask, “Are you hurt?” and they said, “No.” And then he cut again and asked, “Are you hurt?” and they said, “No.” And a third time he asked, “Are you hurt?” and they answered, “No.” Then the fruits broke open and his two children jumped out. They rushed into their father’s arms, and he clasped them tight, and they cried softly, that the Rání might not hear.
He shut his room up close, and fed and dressed his children, and then went out of the room, locking the door behind him. He had a little wooden house built that could easily catch fire, and as soon as it was ready he went to the Rání and said, “Will you go into a little house I have made ready for you while your room is getting repaired?” “All right,” said the Rání; so she went into the little house, and that night a man set it on fire, and the Rání and everything in it was burnt up. Then the Pomegranate Rájá took her bones, put them into a tin box, and sent them as a present to her mother. “Oh,” said the mother, “my daughter has married the Pomegranate Mahárájá, and so she sends me some delicious food.” When she opened the box, to her horror she found only bones! Then she wrote to the Mahárájá, “Of what use are bones?” The Mahárájá wrote back, “They are your bones; they belong to you, for they are your daughter’s bones. She ill-treated and killed my children, and so I had her burnt.”
The Pomegranate Rájá and his children lived very happily for some time, and their dead mother, the Gulíanár Rání, having a wish to see her husband and her children, prayed to God to let her go and visit them. God said she could go, but not in her human shape, so he changed her into a beautiful bird, and put a pin in her head, and said, “As soon as the pin is pulled out you will become a woman again.” She flew to the palace where the Mahárájá lived, and there were great trees about the palace. On one of these she perched at night. The doorkeeper was lying near it. She called out, “Doorkeeper! doorkeeper!” and he answered, “What is it? Who is it?” And she asked, “Is the Rájá well?” and the doorkeeper said, “Yes.” “Are the children well?” and he said, “Yes.” “And all the servants, and camels, and horses?” “Yes.” “Are you well?” “Yes.” “Have you had plenty of food?” “Yes.” “What a great donkey your Mahárájá is!” And then she began to cry very much, and pearls fell from her eyes as she cried. Then she began to laugh very much, and great big rubies fell from her beak as she laughed. The next morning the doorkeeper got up and felt about, and said, “What is all this?” meaning the pearls and the rubies, for he did not know what they were. “I will keep them.” So he picked them all up and put them into a corner of his house. Every night the bird came and asked after the Mahárájá and the children and the servants, and left a great many pearls and rubies behind her. At last the doorkeeper had a whole heap of pearls and rubies.
One day a Fakír came and begged, and as the doorkeeper had no pice, or flour, or rice to give, he gave him a handful of pearls and rubies. “Well,” said the Fakír to himself, “I am sure these are pearls and rubies.” So he tied them up in his cloth. Then he went to the Rájá to beg, and the Rájá gave him a handful of rice. “What!” said the Fakír, “the great Mahárájá only gives me a handful of rice when his doorkeeper gives me pearls and rubies!” and he turned to walk away. But the Mahárájá stopped him. “What did you say?” said he, “that my doorkeeper gave you pearls and rubies?” “Yes,” said the Fakír, “your doorkeeper gave me pearls and rubies.” So the Mahárájá went to the doorkeeper’s house, and when he saw all the pearls and rubies that were there, he thought the man had stolen them from his treasury. The Mahárájá had not as many pearls and rubies as his doorkeeper had. Then turning to the doorkeeper he asked him to tell him truly where and how he had got them. “Yes, I will,” said the doorkeeper. “Every night a beautiful bird comes and asks after you, after your children, after all your elephants, horses, and servants; and then it cries, and when it cries pearls drop from its eyes; and then it laughs, and rubies fall from its beak. If you come to-night I dare say you will see it.” “All right,” said the Pomegranate Rájá.
So that night the Mahárájá pulled his bed out under the tree on which the bird always perched. At night the bird came and called out, “Doorkeeper! doorkeeper!” and the doorkeeper answered, “Yes, lord.” And the bird said, “Is your Mahárájá well?” “Yes.” “Are the children well?” “Yes.” “And all his servants, horses, and camels and elephants—are they well?” “Yes.” “Are you well?” “Yes.” “Have you had plenty of food?” “Yes.” “What a fool your Mahárájá is!” And then she cried, and the pearls came tumbling down on the Mahárájá’s eyes, and the Mahárájá opened one eye and saw what a beautiful bird it was. And then it laughed, and rubies fell from its beak on to the Mahárájá.
Next morning the Mahárájá said he would give any one who would catch the bird as much money as he wanted. So he called a fisherman, and asked him to bring his net and catch the bird when it came that night. The fisherman said he would for one thousand rupees. That night the fisherman, the Mahárájá, and the doorkeeper, all waited under the tree. Soon the bird came, and asked after the Mahárájá, after his children, and all his servants and elephants, and camels and horses, and then after the doorkeeper, and then it called the Mahárájá a fool. Then it cried, and then it laughed, and just as it laughed the fisherman threw the net over the bird and caught it. Then they shut it up in an iron cage, and the next morning the Mahárájá took it out and stroked it, and said, “What a sweet little bird! what a lovely little bird!” And the Mahárájá felt something like a pin in its head, and he gave a pull, and out came the pin, and then his own dear wife, the Pomegranate-flower Rání, stood before him. The Rájá was exceedingly glad, and so were his two children. And there were great rejoicings, and they lived happily ever after.
Told by Dunkní at Simla, 26th July, 1876.
Enjoy other stories by Maive Stokes.