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The Magic Grove


In ancient India, there lived in a village, a girl by name Prabha. She lived with her father as she had lost her mother at a young age. Her father had married again. The step mother Rambadevi,  did not like Prabha . She had also a daughter a little younger than Prabha. Even though she did not like Prabha, she could do nothing about it as her husband loved Prabha  more than his life and would not tolerate any nonsense towards his loving daughter.

Prabha was a very kind girl and used to tend to the cattle of her house very dutifully. She used to take them out for grazing and stay out for most of the day and thereby escaped Rambadevi’s  anger and hatred.

One day, Prabha had taken out the cattle as usual for grazing and had settled down under a shady banyan tree . She used to amuse herself by playing a  game with some shells. Just as she had sat down and taken the shells out, to her horror, she saw a snake crawling towards her very fast. Aghast and afraid, as she hurried to get up and run, the snake spoke.

“Young Girl, please protect me!” it said in a human voice, much to her surprise. It continued, “A man is coming to kill me. Please sit down and hide me under your leg. Pleeeease… please save my life”

The snake sounded so pitiful that Prabha gave up her fear and said, “OK dear snake, I will hide you, but please do not harm me”

“Never will I harm you” said the snake, “but please sit down so that I may hide under your legs”. The snake sounded really pathetic.

Prabha obeyed the snake and took her place again under the tree where she was sitting originally. She was wearing a flowing skirt and the snake immediately slid under her legs.

The next moment, a man came running with a fat stick . He stopped for a moment on seeing the little girl.

“Hey Girl”, he called out, “did you see a snake go by?”

Prabha kept a cool expression and nodded her head in the negative.

The man did not suspect Prabha and ran away further down.

Prabha lifted her leg and said, “Come out, snake. The man has gone”. But to her utter surprise, there was no snake there and the next moment she saw a divine figure suddenly appear and come beside her. Shocked and tongue tied, all that the girl could do was to stare at him in awe.

“Do not be afraid dear girl, I am a Naga from Sarpaloka” said the man. “You have saved my life and I want to reward you. What do you want? Tell me!”

The surprised Prabha fumbled for words for a few minutes, but then told the Naga that her wish was that fodder and shade should be available for her cattle always.

It was the turn of the Naga to get surprised. He was so happy with her selfless attitude and said, “Well, little girl, you are so selfless. I grant you the wish that there will be a grove around wherever you are . The grove will move with you when you move and stop when you stop. And, whenever you need my help, just call out to me and I will come and help you”  So saying the Naga vanished. Immediately lot of trees appeared around Prabha and the place became very cool. Prabha was very excited and extremely happy.

She wanted to tell her father at once and  got up and headed for her home. The trees followed her. It was indeed a Magic Grove. When she reached home and told her father what had happened, he was extremely happy while Rambadevi, was extremely jealous. However, there was nothing she could do.

Years passed and Prabha was a beautiful young maiden now. But her inner personality had not changed a bit. She was the same loving and kind girl.

One day, she was sitting under a tree as usual playing with shells, when the king of the country came on a hunting expedition. Seeing the nice trees, the king’s retinue thought that it was a part of the jungle ahead and expected wild animals there. To frighten the wild animals, they started to beat drums aloud. Prabha’s cows were startled and started running here and there. Prabha , not aware of why the cows were running ran after them and lo and behold, the trees also started moving much to the horror of the King who was suddenly left in the hot sun!! He was so shocked and kept staring at Prabha , with wonder.

After some time, he regained his composure and after some enquiries with the villagers, he found his way to Prabha’s house. Her father was so happy that the king had come and welcomed him to the best of his ability. After the customary welcome, the king came to know the story behind the magic grove. He was so impressed by the girl’s kindness and she was equally beautiful too that he wanted to make her his queen. Prabha’s father was overjoyed and immediately gave his consent and the wedding took place with great pomp and show.

Now Prabha had to shift to the palace and the trees went with her. The king did not mind it though. Rambadevi  was fuming at the good luck of Prabha. She was waiting for an opportunity to harm her.

A few years later, the king sent a messenger with loads of gifts to Prabha’ s house to convey the good news that they were expecting their first child. Prabha’s father wanted to see his daughter and sent word through the messenger that he would come soon. Rambadevi , surprisingly supported this wish of his and urged him to go soon and see Prabha.

“Whatever royal food she may have, she will miss home food at this time and you should carry a big laddoo for her”, she told her husband. Still surprised, he thought that her attitude had changed at the thought of her going to become a grandmother.

Rambadevi  then proceeded to make a big laddoo but mixed some deadly poison in it. She then packed it and gave it to the husband asking him to give it to Prabha. The old man took it and went on his way . It was a hot day and it was noon. He sat down under a big banyan tree and was soon  dozing off under the cool shade.

Now, this tree happened to be the home of a Yaksha ( celestial being) and this yaksha had supernatural powers and could sense that the man was carrying something bad. The yaksha got down and with his magical power took the laddoo being carried by Prabha’s father and replaced it with a laddoo he created with his powers. After a short while, Prabha’s father, got up, unaware of what had happened, continued his journey and went to the palace and saw Prabha and gave the laddoo. He stayed with her for a few days and came back to the village.

Rambadevi  was surprised  to see him come home happily for she thought he would come bringing the news of her ‘sudden death’.  She could not figure out what had happened as Prabha’s father said that Prabha enjoyed the laddoo.

After a few months, news came from the palace that a handsome baby prince was born to Prabha. Rambadevi  was burning with jealousy. However, she did not show her feelings and told her husband,  “We may be not so rich , but is it not our duty to bring our daughter home with her child? After all, she must be also yearning for parental support now. Go and bring her home. Tell the king that we shall send her back after three months. Hurry up, Go now! And, do not return immediately. The king may feel insulted. Stay there for a few days and then bring her!”

The father was really impressed at what he felt was a ‘sea change ‘ in her attitude. He happily agreed and  went to the palace to place this request before the king.

Rambadevi, in the meanwhile called  some expert well diggers secretly and asked them to dig the deepest well in the middle of their garden. “The mouth of the well should not be too wide” she told them, “but see that the well is as deep as all the wells put together in this village. If the job is done well, you shall have a bag of gold coins!”

The well was dug in a matter of days by the experts and she called her trusted servant and told him to cover the mouth of the well with some coconut palm leaves and then carefully made some floral pattern with grass and some rare flowers on top of that. Nobody could suspect that it was the opening of a deep well.

After a few days, Prabha came home with her baby and her father in a royal palanquin with lots of gifts and gold.  The Grove also accompanied her and once more her house was surrounded by the cool shade of the grove. Her  stepmother welcomed her with fake affection and cuddled the baby with great love. She treated Prabha to lots of goodies and spent time nicely with her.

After few days Prabha herself started believing that her step mother’s attitude had changed. One day, when the father had gone out, the stepmother called out endearingly, “Prabha… O Prabha dear, come out in the garden. You should get some fresh air.” Prabha went out leaving the baby in the care of her step sister. As expected, the new patch in the garden caught Prabha’s attention and she asked her step mother about it.

“Well Prabha, those are very special flowers. I got them specially for you.  They are as soft as silk and the scent of them will linger for months together in your hands. Go, see and touch them” said Rambadevi.

Prabha who was still a naive girl unwittingly stepped on the pattern when the grass beneath gave way and she fell in. “Aaaah……. I am falling!!  Save me….” she cried, and then remembering the Naga, she called out aloud, “O Naga! Save me… please…”

The next moment  the Naga appeared beneath her in the well and she landed in his arms.  Prabha was so relieved and told the Naga to take her back. “My child is alone there” she said. “Take me back to my house and I will go back to my husband”.

“Wait” said the Naga. “I will see that your step mother gets what she deserves and so do not hurry. You can stay in my palace in the nether world. Close your eyes”

Unable to disobey the Naga, Prabha closed her eyes and the next moment on the Naga’s command, she opened her eyes to see that she was in a beautiful palace with many attendants to take care of her needs.

In the meanwhile, Prabha’s father had returned and asked about his daughter for which his wife feigned ignorance. She said she found Prabha ‘missing’ and was herself in a state of shock. “I am afraid what the King will say!” she said and started sobbing. Then later on, she told her husband that she would manage when the King came. As expected the King came in a few days.  The step mother presented her own daughter with the child to the king.

Puzzled, the king asked, “Where is Prabha?”

“This is Prabha, your Highness!” said the stepmother. “Soon after she came here, she contracted a rare disease that has left her features changed. Please take her to the palace and get her treated by your doctors”

“But where is the grove?” asked the king who was not convinced by her answer.

The question was unexpected and the step mother said hurriedly “Hmmm… That  grove.. Hmm.. It has gone to water itself… It will come back..”

The king was even more puzzled as never had this grove gone to ‘water’ itself, but he could not find the grove or Prabha’s trace anywhere in the house. Reluctant as he was, he could not believe the version of Prabha’s step mother , but he could not do anything about it either. So half heartedly he took Prabha’s sister with his child back.  He was still suspicious about the whole affair and therefore  appointed an elderly nurse to be with the baby all the time. He had also shared with the nurse his suspicion about Prabha’s ‘disease’ and changed features  and asked her to be extra vigilant and tell him if she noticed anything strange.

In the meanwhile, Prabha could not bear the separation from her baby. She pleaded with the Naga to let her go and see the child.

“OK “ said the Naga. “You may go if you wish. But I will take you there every night and you have to come back to me by midnight after seeing your child. I am telling this for your good only and you will realise soon. If you do not return as promised, I will never hereafter answer to your calls” he said.

Prabha was very excited and happy and every day, she went after the palace had slept. She sneaked in through the balcony , saw her child , cuddled and fed him and put him to sleep in his cradle while her sister was happily sleeping in her bed. Prabha also saw to it that she always returned before midnight to the Naga.

Now, one day, in the morning, the nurse noticed stains of milk flowing from the lips of the baby and was surprised for it was she who cleaned his face before he went to sleep every day. This happened  successively in the next few days and the nurse reported the matter to the king who told her to be awake and find out. The following night, the nurse was in for a shock when she saw Prabha coming like a fairy and feeding her child. She pretended to be asleep and reported the matter to the king the next morning.

The surprised king also hid in the darkness near the balcony that night and as Prabha was slipping away caught her in an iron grip. “Leave me”, she shouted. “I have to go back to the Naga! Please leave me….” The next moment there were guards with lights and the bright lights shone on the face of Prabha and the king and the king sternly asked her what the matter was and why she was hiding. Prabha, told the king what happened, sobbing in grief. Her stained cheeks showed how much sorrow she was in.

The king immediately called Prabha’s sister and asked her . She was also afraid and confessed that she was also a part of the conspiracy. The enraged king immediately ordered capital punishment for mother and daughter but Prabha intervened. “Your Highness”, she said, “Please do not be so harsh on them. After all,  my step mother brought me up as my mother was not there and I should always be grateful for that. Please forgive them”.

“I appreciate your kindness Prabha “ said the king, “but the wrong doers must be punished. And so I am banishing them from this kingdom forever. You father can come and stay with us in the palace” .

The king’s orders were carried out and the grove had appeared and Prabha lived a peaceful and happy life with no need to call the Naga any more.

This is a story I have read in my childhood in Amar Chitra Katha. I have read it so many times and also narrated it to my children many many times that even today as I write,  the pictures of the story are vivid and evergreen in my memory. Of course there are tiny figments of my own imagination added here and there.

Blind Luck

This is a folk tale from the North of India.

Long long ago, there lived an old man near the city of Varanasi. His wife had died young and he had two sons. The elder one, Sonu, was blind at birth and the younger one Monu was a happy go lucky fellow hardly caring to educate himself or do any work.  Sonu, though blind had been bestowed with a rare power and that was to understand the language of the birds and animals. He would listen to their language and come to know of the happenings around him.

The old man had some wealth and so they were living peacefully. However, the man fell ill after some time and was lying in his death bed.

He called both his sons near him and said to Monu, “Monu, please do not leave the side of your elder brother ever. Even if you have to beg and eat, please take your brother with you and share the food. Please promise me this…” Monu kept his palm on his father’s palm and promised and the old man fell dead. After the rituals for the man had been performed, both the brothers sustained on the little wealth that had been saved by their father. After some time, the wealth was over and Monu started selling the assets one by one and finally sold the house also and spent the money.

Finally, they had to resort to begging. As his father had told him, he did not leave his blind brother and took him along wherever he went. The people of the city pitied the brothers in the beginning but slowly started to think that Monu being a healthy fellow could go for a job but had resorted to begging and they refused to give them food. Monu started feeling that his brother was a burden as he could not find food for himself and kept on thinking on why he should stick to the promise made by him to his father. So, one day, he decided that he would leave his blind brother in the forest. He told his brother that they were going for a walk and took him deep inside the forest and told him to stay there till he brought him fruits. He also bound one hand of his brother to a tree saying that since it was a new place, it would be difficult to locate him when he came back with fruits, if he went astray.

Sonu, being a simpleton, believed in what his brother said and waited under the tree, his one hand bound to the trunk of the tree. He kept on expecting his brother to come and he was feeling very hungry. Time passed but there was no sign of Monu. Slowly, it dawned on Sonu that his brother had betrayed him. He could sense that it was nearing evening. He could hear the shrill calls of the birds returning to their nests and could also hear the far off growls of the wild animals.

As he thought of his fate in the dark unknown forest, he was terrified. Further, he could not even run away because his hand was bound to the tree. After a few moments, he remembered that he had a small knife in his cummerbund. With the free hand, he pulled out the knife and cut off the ropes. Suddenly, he could hear the growls of the animals nearer and in sheer desperation, climbed up the tree to a safe height and sat on a branch.

As the sun set, many animals converged under the tree on which he was sitting. Amongst them were a lion, a cheetah and a bear. Though Sonu could not see them, being able to understand the language of the animals and birds, it was interesting for him to hear their conversation. Soon it was pitch dark.

“Hey cheetah!” said the lion, “Tell us some new secret you know!”

“Hmmm…… Well, do you know that this very tree under which we are standing is a magical tree?”

Sonu now pricked up his ears as the conversation continued.

The cheetah continued, “Do any one of you know that the pulp from the bark of this tree, if put into the eyes, can cure a blind man?” “Oh, is it?” asked the lion. Sonu, astonished at what he had heard just then, scratched the bark of the branch on which he was sitting with the knife he had and found that a pulpy substance oozed out. He applied the substance in his eyes and lo and behold! He could see even in the pitch dark of the night. He looked down to see a cheetah, a bear, a lion and various other animals and was amazed at his newfound sense.

The bear now spoke, “Hey, I know a secret too!” “What?” asked the others. “Did you know that the princess of this kingdom is always ill? And nobody knows why. But I know…” The animals looked amused as the bear continued. “There is a small black cat curled up underneath the princess’s bed and not even the princess or her maids or security guards know about it. The cat carries the evil spell of a witch. If the cat is removed from underneath her bed, the princess will be okay immediately. But the poor king not knowing this is asking doctors from all over the country to treat her…Ha ha ha…., now Lion, you tell us the secret you know”. Sonu listened with awe.

The Lion gave a growl and started his secret. “Hey buddies, do you know, there is a village by name Soonapur at the end of this forest and true to its name, the village has become very scarcely populated due to a strange happening there” Sonu and the animals listened with great interest. The lion continued, lowering his voice. Sonu had to strain to listen to what the lion was saying. “All the children in Soonapur die as soon as they are born and all the elders in the city are suffering from a strange illness for the past two months. Their spinal cords have become twisted all of a sudden and they are becoming hunchbacks. None of them know why this is happening and they are at a loss to know what to do to stop this happening.” The lion stopped and all the animals stared at him, expecting him to continue. The Lion continued, “There is an old Peepul tree near an abandoned temple in the village and there lives a black cobra in a hole in the tree. If anyone feeds milk to the cobra in a black pot early exactly at mid day, it will drink it and leave the tree. Then the spell of the village will be lifted”

Sonu had listened with total concentration and was extremely excited. Soon the voices were lowered and the animals slept under the tree. At day break, the animals got up and went their ways. Sonu enjoyed the brightness of the light which he was seeing for the first time in his life. He savoured the beauty of the forest, its trees, waterholes and all and slowly walked in some direction. Luckily he spotted the village Soonapur soon. He was surprised that what the lion had said was true. He enquired with the people about the tragedy and was pained to hear their story. He consoled them and promised that he would put an end to their tragedy by that evening. He got a black pot from one of the villagers and some milk and went in search of the abandoned temple. He found the tree and the hole before midday and placed the pot with milk in front and prayed with folded hands. After a while, a black cobra slid down from the hole and drank the milk and glided into the thick vegetation swiftly.

The next minute the people of Soonapur felt a tingle in their spines and were surprised to find their backs becoming straight. Sonu was returning from the temple, when all the people rushed out and showered him with lot of money and gifts. Sonu told them to wait until he went on another mission and promised that he would be back soon.

He walked on and on and by the night, reached the capital city. Though it was very late, he reached the palace and asked for an audience with the king. The gatekeepers refused but seeing his insistence, they went and reported the matter to the king. The king called and asked Sonu about his mission and Sonu claimed that he could cure the illness of the Princess. The King was furious as he thought Sonu was a joker and said, “Look here, I have tried the services of the best doctors in this country and it has been of no avail. If you have come here to play any kind of joke, beware! This sword of mine is very sharp and can chop your head in a second”. Sonu was least flustered by the king’s words. “Your Highness, said he, I am confident that your daughter will be up by tomorrow noon, and when I cure her, will you give what I want?

“Yes” said the king totally sure that the boy would be the prey to his sword the next day.

The next day, Sonu went to the chamber where the princess lay. The chamber was the highest room in the king’s fort and out of the window in the chamber; one could see the deep river gushing with fury miles and miles below. He asked all the security men and maids to leave and they all obeyed as it was the king’s order that Sonu should be given what he wanted, to cure the princess. Sonu went in and closed the doors. He opened the window and peered underneath the bed of the princess. The princess was in deep sleep. There was a tiny black cat curled up under the bed. In a moment, he picked it and flung it down into the river through the window.

After a while, the princess jumped up from bed. “Why was I sleeping so long? I am hungry” she said as Sonu opened the door to the curious onlookers which included the king. The princess ran up to the king and hugged him. “Papa, why did I sleep so long?” she asked in her sweet voice. The king saw that she was perfectly okay and was overwhelmed with joy. Even without Sonu asking for it, he offered the princess hand in wedding to him and overnight Sonu became a Prince, the son in law of the king.

He spent happy days and went back to Soonapur and met the people, who were very happy and showered him with gifts. As he was going back to the palace, he saw a beggar in tattered robes and the beggar was sobbing. Sonu recognised that it was Monu and went up to him and talked to him. Monu was extremely surprised at the blind luck which had befallen his brother. He was ashamed when Sonu was still affectionate to him even as he had ditched him in the jungle. He asked for forgiveness and Sonu, a good person he was forgave him readily and gave him money to start a new business and Monu turned a new leaf and they all lived happily ever after.

 

The Curse On King Dasaratha

This is a story from the Valmiki Ramayana.

Dasaratha, who was the emperor of Kosala, died a painful death separated from his four sons- Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna. It is indeed ironic that a powerful emperor who had not one, but four valiant, handsome and righteous sons, did not have even one of them near him, while he passed away.

On the sixth night after Rama left Ayodhya, the devastated King Dasaratha could not have a wink of sleep. It was past midnight and the King lay wide awake, his heart full of grief at the injustice he had done to his beloved Rama. His mind was looking back at all the events in his life and he suddenly remembered this incident. He asked Kausalya to come nearer and started narrating the incident to her.Dasaratha said, “When a person does good things, he reaps good things and the same way, when he does bad things, he reaps its effect. By the time one realises this principle, it is too late to make amends. I am also a victim of this cycle and I want to relate to you an incident which happened when I was a young prince.” Dasaratha then shared his story with Kausalya.

When Dasaratha was a young prince, he was a master archer and had learnt a difficult technique in archery by name “Shabdavedi”. By mastering Shabdavedi, he could, by listening to the sound made by any animal, kill it with his arrow aimed from a distance. Dasaratha was very proud of his achievement and it helped him in his hunting.

One day during the rainy season, Dasaratha went to the banks of the Sarayu, to hunt. It was raining and it was exciting for him to hunt in the rain. As he stood near the Sarayu, he could hear the noise made by an elephant drinking water with its trunk. Since Dasaratha was well versed in Shabdavedi, he shot an arrow in the direction from which the sound came. After a moment, much to the dismay of Dasaratha, a human voice cried in pain and someone said, “Who has done me to death? Why should I be hunted like an animal? Who is this shameless man who has done this heinous crime?” A horrified Dasaratha rushed to the spot to see a young man lying along the banks of the river, with mud and blood smeared on his body. Beside him was a pot half filled with water.

Dasaratha at once realised the grave mistake he had committed. He had mistaken the sound of the pot being filled up with the river water to be that of an elephant drinking water. The young man looked at Dasaratha and said, “You are a prince! And yet, you have hunted me like an animal? I was going to carry water to my old parents who are both blind. They are totally dependent on me and now you have hunted me, who was their only support….” Shravan Kumar, the young man, was now speaking with great difficulty due to the pain he was suffering on account of the arrow which was embedded on his chest. He continued, “My parents will be helpless without me and they do not even know that I am dying.” Shravan stopped talking, writhing in pain. Dasaratha, overcome with emotion, fell at the feet of the young man pleading with him to be forgiven.

The man could not be pacified and after a while, told Dasaratha to take the pot full of water to his parents who were waiting with thirst at the ashrama which was some distance away from the river. He also said, “O Prince! Please tell my father what you have done and please ask for forgiveness as he may curse you in his anger. Please also remove this arrow from my chest so that I may die in peace.” A reluctant Dasaratha obeyed Shravan and removed the arrow from his chest after which Shravan died almost immediately. Then, with a heavy heart, he proceeded to the ashrama with the pot of water in his hands.

The old couple were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their son at the doorway of the ashrama. Hearing Dasaratha’s footsteps, they were impatient as their son had gone a long time back to fetch them water. So, mistaking Dasaratha for Shravan, they called out to him in endearing words to give them water without delay.

Dasaratha, mustering enough courage, broke the tragic news to them. The couple were shocked beyond words. After a long moment of silence, Shravan’s father spoke, “If you hadn’t admitted your guilt, my anger would have caused your head to explode. Lead us to our son.”

Dasaratha witnessed heart-rending scenes as the couple mourned their son and performed his last rites. Still unable to reconcile with what had happened, Shravan’s father turned to Dasaratha and cursed him, “I’m suffering the pain of separation from my son on account of your thoughtless action! I CURSE YOU THEREFORE TO SUFFER A DEATH SIMILAR TO MINE! YOU WILL DIE WHEN YOUR SON IS SEPERATED FROM YOU!!” Saying thus, the couple entered the fire which had been created for the last rites of their son.

As he ended the story, Dasaratha’s eyes were flowing with tears. Kausalya too wept as she was too stunned to react. Dasaratha lay,lamenting his fate, and his life ebbed out that tragic night. The Sun of the Ikshwaku clan had set.

This is the story of The Curse On Dasaratha.

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