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.