Bengal is a region of the Indian subcontinent giving its name to the Bay of Bengal and the following story is a retelling of a folktale from that region. The story retold here is based on a story called the Origin of Rubies, from a collection compiled by Lal Behari Day, and illustrated by Warwick Goble titled, Folk-Tales of Bengal. According to the compiler it ends with a verse that traditional Bengali storytellers used to conclude their tale. He makes it clear he does not know what it means and why they did it and neither do I, but I chose to end this story in the same way in keeping with the tradition.
The Origin of Rubies
There was once a king who had four sons. Sadly, this king died and left his sons in the care of his wife and Queen to bring them up. The favorite son of the queen was her youngest and she made sure he had the best food, the best clothes and the most affection at the expense of her other sons making no secret of her deep love for him. As her other three sons grew up they saw all of the love and attention their mother heaped upon their younger brother and grew increasingly jealous and resentful. They made him and their mother move into a separate house and plotted against him. With all the attention and affection heaped upon him by his mother the youngest son grew up very selfish and wilful. He always demanded to have his own way and always got it.
One day his mother took him down to the river to bathe. The young man was intrigued to see that a boat had tied up along the bank and while his mother bathed he went to investigate it. There was no captain, or crew, on the boat so the prince went on board to have a look around and shouted to his mother to come and join him. His mother told him to get off the boat as it did not belong to him but the prince replied, “No, I will not! I am going on a voyage and if you want to come with me you must hurry up and get on board, for I am leaving.”
Hearing this, his mother again told him to get off the boat immediately but her son ignored her and began to untie the ropes that held it to the bank. The queen ran up the bank and boarded the boat as it began to float off down the river and taken swiftly by the current. Neither the prince or his mother knew anything about boats so they had to watch as the current took them rapidly down the river to the sea where it continued to float out of control at the whim of providence. On and on the boat floated with its two passengers helpless to control it as it took them out into the open sea.
After a while the boat came to a giant whirlpool and looking down into it the young prince saw hundreds of huge rubies whirling around in the maelstrom of the pool. Reaching down the prince caught many of these red round rubies and brought them on board. His mother said, “You should not take those red balls because they may be the property of someone who has had the misfortune to be shipwrecked and they may think we are stealing them!” At first the prince refused to throw them back, but after his mother continued to insist he eventually did, but kept one back which he hid in his clothes.
The boat then began to drift to shore and came to rest in a great port where they disembarked. The port was a thriving, bustling city and the capital of a rich and powerful king who had a beautiful palace and the prince’s mother found lodgings that looked out over the palace lawns.
Like all boys the young prince loved to play and when the king’s children came out to play he would go down and join them. The royal children liked to play marbles and although he had none he would play with the round red ruby that he had got from the whirlpool. Using this every time he hit another marble that marble would shatter into shards.
The King’s Daughter
The King’s daughter greatly admired the brilliant red marble this strange, unknown boy played with and wanted it for her own. She ran to her father and told him all about the beautiful red orb the strange boy was playing with. She told it she wanted it for her own and if she did not get it she would starve herself to death. The King loved his daughter greatly and indulged her every whim and so he sent his servants to seek out the strange lad with the beautiful red stone.
His servants went out and found the prince and took him to see the King. He asked to see the red stone and when the prince showed him it he was astounded at his size and rich red beauty for he had never seen its like before. The King was so impressed he did not believe another of its like existed anywhere else in the world and asked the prince where he had got from. The prince told him he had found it in the sea and when the king offered to pay him a thousand rupees for it the boy, not knowing the value of rubies eagerly accepted and ran quickly back to his mother with the money. At first his mother was terrified he had stolen the money but he continued to reassure her that he had got the money by selling the red stone to the king had brought the red stone and at last she believed him.
The Pet Parrot
Back in the palace the king had given the red stone to his daughter who had put it in her hair and ran to her pet parrot and said, “Tell me beloved parrot how beautiful I Iook!” The parrot looked at her then retorted, “Beautiful! You look like a poor serving girl. What princess would ever wear a single ruby in their hair? It would be more befitting of your royal station if you had at least two in your hair.!”
Hearing her pet parrot’s stinging answer she was flushed with shame and ran to her bedroom and took to her bed refusing to eat or drink. When her father heard she was not eating and drinking and refusing to get out of bed he went to see her to ask her why she was so sorrowful.
The princess told her him what her parrot had said and told him, “I am very sorry father, but if you do not find one another ruby to match the one I have I will kill myself!”
The king was frightened that she meant it and was very worried because he did not know where he could get another ruby to match the one he had bought for her. Therefore he sent his servants to bring before him the boy who had sold him the ruby.
When his servants brought the prince before him the king asked him where he could get another ruby like the one he had sold him from. The prince told him he did not have another ruby in his possession but he knew where he could find one saying, “I found that ruby in the sea and I know where to go to find many more. They are all swirling around in a whirlpool far over the sea, but I can go and get some more for you, if you like.”
The young prince clearly had no idea of their value and the king was astounded at his reply because he knew their worth. He promised to pay the boy handsomely if he would bring to him a ruby to match the one his daughter now had.
The young prince ran home to his mother and told her he was going back to sea to bring back a ruby for the king. His mother was not at all happy with idea being frightened for his safety. She begged him not to go but he would have none of it. His mind was set and he was intent to go to sea and bring back a ruby for the king and would not change his mind. Without listening to his mother’s entreaties he ran to the boat, untied the ropes and set sail for the whirlpool without her.
The Palace of Siva
When he arrived at the whirlpool he looked into it and saw the rubies swirling around in the maelstrom and looked to find the source of where the stream of rubies were coming from. Once he had located it he went into the centre of the whirlpool where he could see through the funnel of water the ocean floor. Then he dived in leaving the boat riding round and round in the whirling current.
On reaching the ocean floor he was amazed to find a beautiful palace and he went inside to explore. He made his way to a vast central hall where he he found the god Siva sitting with his eyes closed engaged in a meditative state. Just behind the god and just above his head that was covered in matted hair, was a platform where a beautiful young woman reclined. Seeing her and being enthralled by her beauty the prince went to the platform where the he was shocked to find her head had been severed from her body. The horrified prince did not know what to make of the terrible scene but as he looked on he noticed a stream of blood was trickling from her severed head on to the matted hair of the head of Siva and then seeping into the ocean, which turned into the red rubies that were whirling around the maelstrom of water.
As he looked on in horror he noticed two batons lying close to the head of the woman. One was silver and the other was gold. Moving to pick up the batons to examine them closer he accidentally touched the severed head of the woman with the golden one and to his shock the head instantly joined with the body and the woman stood up.
She looked at him in astonishment as is if she had never seen another human being before and then she asked the prince how he had managed to find his way to the palace. After hearing his story she shook her head and said, “Foolish young man, get you gone from this place now with all speed, for when Siva awakens the very glance from his eye will burn you to ashes! Go now before it is too late!”
The prince had fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful young woman and would not leave without her. At last after much begging and pleading she agreed to runaway with him and he led her back the way he had come, through the whirlpool to the boat. Together they collected a great chest of rubies and departed.
When they arrived safely back at the port he had left he found his mother anxiously waiting and we can only imagine her wonderment at seeing the young woman who accompanied him. Bright and early the next morning the prince took a basket of rubies to the king who was astonished at seeing so many big beautiful gems. His daughter was delighted that now she had more gems to match the one she already had demanded of her father that she marry the strange and marvelous bringer of rubies.
Even though the prince had the beautiful woman he had brought with him from the palace on the ocean floor he accepted a second wife and they all lived happily together for many years. They had many sons and daughters between them and now this story is brought to an end in keeping with the traditional way of Bengali storytellers: –
Thus my story endeth,
The Natiya-thorn withereth.
“Why, O Natiya-thorn, dost wither?”
“Why does thy cow on me browse?”
“Why, O cow, dost thou browse?”
“Why does thy neat-herd not tend me?”
“Why, O neat-herd, dost not tend the cow?”
“Why does thy daughter-in-law not give me rice?”
“Why, O daughter-in-law, dost not give rice?”
“Why does my child cry?”
“Why, O child, dost thou cry?”
“Why does the ant bite me?”
“Why, O ant, dost thou bite?”
Koot! koot! koot!
© 30/05/2018 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright May 30th, 2018 zteve t evans