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Deccan Nursery Tales/Mahalaxmi and the Two Queens

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VII

MAHALAXMI AND THE TWO QUEENS

ONCE upon a time there was a town called Atpat. In it there lived a king who had two queens. Of one of them he was very fond, but the other one he did not care for. The name of the favoured one was Patmadhavrani, and the name of the unloved one was Chimadevrani. Now the king had an enemy called Nandanbaneshwar. Such a terrible enemy he was too! He could jump into the clouds or dive into the bottom of the ocean. At one moment he would shoot up into heaven. At another he would sink down into hell, and through fear of his enemy, the king had become as dry and as thin as an old bit of stick. One day the king, in despair, assembled all his subjects and ordered them to seek out and kill Nandanbaneshwar. All the subjects said, "Certainly, certainly, O King," and began to search everywhere for Nandanbaneshwar. Now in Atpat there lived a poor woman who had one son. On hearing the orders of the king, he said to her, "Mother, Mother, give me some bread, for I am going out to kill the king's enemy." The old woman said, "Do not be silly; you are only a poor boy, and people will laugh at you. Here, take this bit of bread and go and eat it behind a tree." The boy said, "Very well," and took the bread. But, after taking it, he joined the other villagers and went at their head to seek out and kill Nandanbaneshwar. But when evening fell they had not yet met Nandanbaneshwar, so all the villagers returned home. And when the king heard of their ill-success he was greatly grieved. But the old woman's son stayed in a wood outside the village. And lo and behold! just about midnight the serpent-maidens from Patala[1] and the wood-nymphs came close to where he was and began to worship Mahalaxmi. The boy was at first terribly frightened, but at last he plucked up courage enough to ask, "Ladies, ladies, what does one gain by worshipping Mahalaxmi?" "Whatever you lose you will find," said the serpent-maidens from Patâla; "and whatever you want you will get." The boy resolved that he too would worship Mahalaxmi. And he joined the serpent-maidens from Patâla and the wood-nymphs, and all night long they blew on earthen pots to do the goddess honour; and the woods echoed and re-echoed with the deep-booming noise which they made. [2]

At dawn Mahalaxmi revealed herself, and all of them, the boy included, prostrated themselves before her and asked for her blessing. She first blessed the serpent-maidens from Patâla and then the wood-nymphs. And then she blessed the poor old woman's son and said, "You will get half the kingdom of Atpat and half the king's treasure. He will build you a house as high as his own, and he will give you the name of 'Navalvat' or 'Wonderways.' For this very morning the king's mighty enemy will break his neck and be found lying dead in the king's courtyard." With these words the goddess vanished and flew to Kolhapur, [3] and the old woman's son went home. Now at dawn Queen Patmadhavrani got up and went into the king's courtyard, and there she saw Nandanbaneshwar lying dead from a broken neck. She was overjoyed, and ran back into the palace to tell the king. The king inquired who had killed Nandanbaneshwar. Every one said that the old woman's son must have killed him, because he stayed behind when the others went home. The king sent for the old woman's son. He was very frightened, and when he reached the royal hall he called out, "I have made no false charge against any one. I have done no one any harm. Why, therefore, O King, have you sent for me?" "Do not be afraid," said the king. "My enemy Nandanbaneshwar is dead, and every one says that it is you who killed him. Tell me if this is true." "No, O King," said the boy, "he was killed by the arts of Mahalaxmi." "Where did you meet her?" asked the king. The boy said, "I stayed when the other villagers returned home, and during the night there came the serpent-maidens from Patâla and the wood-nymphs. They taught me how to worship Mahalaxmi. In the morning she revealed herself and promised me that Nandanbaneshwar would be found lying dead, that you would give me half your kingdom and half your treasure, that you would build me a palace as high as your own, and that you would call me Navalvat or Wonderways." The king did as the goddess had foretold. He handed half his provinces and half his treasuries to Wonderways, and built him a palace of which the roof was exactly on the same level as that of his own palace.

When Queen Patmadhavrani heard what had happened, she sent for Wonderways and asked him how to worship Mahalaxmi. And he told her all that he had seen the serpent-maidens of Patâla do, and he also told her on the eighth day of the month of Ashwin [4] to tie on her wrist a thread with sixteen strands in it, and to wear it continually for the rest of the month. When the 8th of Ashwin came, Queen Patmadhavrani dutifully tied round her wrist a thread of sixteen strands, and resolved to wear it every day for the rest of the month. But a day or two later the king came to Queen Patmadhavrani's apartments and began to play saripat [5] with her. As they played he noticed the thread on her wrist and asked what it was. She told him how Wonderways had instructed her to tie it on. But the king got very angry and roared out, "I have in my palace garlands and twine, bracelets, and hobbling-ropes. So throw away that wretched piece of thread. I will not let you wear it." The queen did as she was bid, and, pulling off the thread bracelet, threw it on the floor. Next morning the maids and the slave-girls began to sweep the palace, and among the sweepings one of them noticed the queen's thread bracelet. She picked it up and showed it to Wonderways, and he grew very wroth with Queen Patmadhavrani. He took the thread and at once went with it to the palace of the unloved Queen Chimadevrani. He told her what had happened, and she begged him to give the thread to her and to tell her how to worship Mahalaxmi. But he said, "You will grow vain and get so conceited that you will not do what I tell you to do." But she promised that she would obey him in everything. So just as he had told the Queen Patmadhavrani, he told Queen Chimadevrani all the rites which he had seen the serpent-maidens from Patâla and the wood-nymphs perform. Everything went on just the same for a whole year. But the next year on the 8th of Ashwin a very strange thing happened. The goddess Mahalaxmi disguised herself as an old beggar-woman and came to Atpat. First she went to the part of the palace where Queen Patmadhavrani lived. But no one there was paying the least honour to the goddess Mahalaxmi, although it was the 8th of Ashwin, and therefore specially sacred to her. Mahalaxmi was dreadfully put out at this, and when she saw Queen Patmadhavrani she said, "Lady, lady, Patmadhavrani, mother of sons, what have you in your house to-day?" The queen replied, "I have nothing in my house to-day." The old woman went on, "Lady, lady, Patmadhavrani, mother of sons, if you give this beggar-woman a little water, you will acquire merit sufficient for all your kingdom." But the queen replied, "Even if I were to give you a copper cauldron of water it would not suffice for all my kingdom." The old woman then said, "Lady, lady, Patmadhavrani, mother of sons, if you give this old beggar-woman a little rice and curds, you will gain enough merit for all your kingdom." The queen replied, "Even if I were to give you a big dinner of nothing but rice and curds, I should not gain enough merit for all my kingdom." Then the old woman got very angry and cursed the queen, saying, "You will become half a frog and half a human being, and you will stand outside your co-wife's bath-room and croak like a frog." But the queen did not mind her the least little bit, and she laughed so loud at the old woman that the noise was like two chains rattling together. Mahalaxmi went off in a great rage and entered Queen Chimadevrani's part of the palace. There she saw all the accessories of worship ready, and there was a beautiful image of Mahalaxmi leaning against the wall. The old woman cried, "Lady, lady, Chimadevrani, mother of sons, what have you in your house to-day?" "To-day," said the queen, "we are worshipping Mahalaxmi." Then the old beggar-woman said, "I am Mahalaxmi." But the queen doubted and asked her, "By what sign shall I know you?" The goddess replied, "In the morning I shall take the shape of a little girl. In the afternoon I shall take that of a young married woman. In the evening I shall become an old hag." After the goddess had taken all three shapes, Queen Chimadevrani called her into the palace and bathed and anointed her. She gave her a silk skirt and a platform to sit upon. Then she sent for Wonderways, and both of them worshipped the old beggar-woman and blew on earthen pots in her honour. The king heard the blowing on the pots and told a sepoy to find out why there was such a noise in Queen Chimadevrani's quarters. The sepoy went there, and when he saw what was happening joined also in the worship. After a little while he went back and told the king. The king said that he would go there too. He followed the sepoy, and Queen Chimadevrani came to the steps and met him and took him upstairs, where both played at saripat until dawn. And all the time Mahalaxmi sat by and watched them. At dawn Queen Chimadevrani asked Mahalaxmi for her blessing. She blessed the queen and said, "The king will take you back with him to the palace, and your co-wife will become half frog, half human being, and will have to croak outside your bath-room while you bathe." But Queen Chimadevrani begged the goddess not to place such a terrible curse on Patmadhavrani. The goddess relented a little, but said, "The king will drive her into the jungle for twelve years." At these words she vanished and flew to Kolhapur. When the sun rose the king placed Queen Chimadevrani in his chariot and drove her to his own part of the palace. He then sent a message to Queen Patmadhavrani asking her to join them. Shortly afterwards Queen Patmadhavrani appeared, dressed all in rags with a skirit round her legs and her hair all unfastened. On her head was a pot full of burning coal, and she began to shout and scream at the top of her voice. The king became very angry and roared out, "Who is this that is shouting and screaming? Is it a ghost or a she-devil or what?" The sepoys replied, "O King, it is neither a ghost nor a she-devil, it is your Queen Patmadhavrani." "Take her into the jungle," roared the king, "and kill her there." Then he went back into the palace and began to live in great happiness with Queen Chimadevrani. But the sepoys took Patmadhavrani into the jungle and told her that they had been ordered to kill her. She began to weep. The sepoys were kind-hearted men and they felt very sorry for her. They said, "Lady, lady, do not weep. We have eaten bread and drunk water at your hands so we cannot kill you. We will leave you here, but you must never come back into the kingdom again." The sepoys left her and returned to Atpat. But the poor queen wandered on until she came to a distant town, where she entered a coppersmith's lane. Therein a coppersmith was making bangles for a beautiful young princess who had just been crowned queen of the city. But suddenly none of the bangles would join. He began to search for the cause, and asked his workmen whether any stranger had come near his house. The workmen looked about and found Queen Patmadhavrani in hiding close by. They told the coppersmith, and he and his men beat her soundly and drove her away. She ran into the lane of some weavers who were weaving a sari for the new queen. Suddenly none of the looms would work. They began looking about to see if any stranger had come. After a little while they found the queen. So they beat her soundly and drove her away. Then she ran out of the town back into the jungle. There she wandered about until she came to the cave of a rishi or sage. The rishi was sitting lost in meditation. But she bided her time, and, when he went to bathe, she slipped into the cave and swept it and neaped it and tidied up all the utensils used by him for worship. Then she slipped out of the cave and ran back into the jungle. This went on every day for twelve years without the rishi showing that he was aware of what she was doing. But in his heart he was really pleased with her. And one day he called out in a loud voice, "Who is it who sweeps and neaps my cave? Whoever she is, let her step forward." The queen stepped into the presence of the rishi and threw herself at his feet and said, "If you promise not to punish me, I shall tell you." The rishi promised, and she told him her story. The rishi took out his magic books and, consulting them, learned that Mahalaxmi had cursed her. So he taught her how to worship Mahalaxmi, and all night long they blew on earthen pots and performed rites in her honour. At dawn she revealed herself and the queen asked her for her blessing. But the goddess was still very angry with the queen. Then the rishi joined her in begging the goddess's pardon, and at last she relented. She said to the queen, "Put under that tree a foot-bath full of water, sandal-wood ointment, plates full of fruit, a stick of camphor, fans made of odorous grasses; and handle them all so that they retain the fragrance of some scent which the king will remember you used. To-morrow the king will come. He will be thirsty. He will send his sepoys to look for water. They will see all your things ready. And when they go back and tell him, he will come himself." Next morning, as the goddess had foretold, the king came. He saw the cool shade of the tree. He was tired with hunting, so he sat down and rested. He washed his feet in the foot-bath. He ate up all the fruit, drank the cold water, and sucked the stick of camphor. When he had rested to his heart's content, he asked the sepoy, "How is it that in the water I drank, in the fruit I took, in the camphor I ate, I noticed a scent which Patmadhavrani always used?" The sepoys replied, "If the king promises to pardon us, we will tell him." The king promised. The sepoys then told him how they had not killed the queen, because they had eaten bread and had drunk water at her hands, but had let her go. The king told them to look and see if she was anywhere about. They searched and searched until they came to the rishi's cave. Then they ran back and told the king. The king rose, and going to the cave did homage to the rishi. The rishi accepted the homage and lectured him at great length. At last he ordered the king to prostrate himself before the queen. The king obeyed, and the rishi handed Patmadhavrani back to his care and blessed both her and her husband. The king put her in his chariot and took her to Atpat. Outside the town the king stopped his chariot and sent for Queen Chimadevrani. Chimadevrani bathed and anointed herself, and put on all her silk clothes, her shawls, her embroideries, and her jewels. In front of her she placed all the horn-blowers of Atpat. And as she went to meet the king they blew their very loudest on their horns. The king was amazed when he heard the noise, and roared out, "Who is coming with such pomp and splendour? Is it the serpent-maidens of Patâla or is it the wood-nymphs who live in the heart of the forest?" The sepoys said, "O King, it is neither the serpent-maidens of Patâla nor is it the wood-nymphs who live in the heart of the forest. It is Queen Chimadevrani, who is coming to meet you as you ordered." The king turned to Patmadhavrani and said, "If you had come in this guise to meet me, instead of coming like a mad woman, you would never have suffered as you did." Queen Patmadhavrani said nothing, but sat still in the chariot, and the king lifted Queen Chimadevrani into the chariot, and all three entered the city. And as they entered, the horn-blowers blew so loud that every one was quite deafened. And the king lived from that time forth in perfect happiness with both his wives. And because of his happiness, he ruled so well that his subjects thought that King Ramchandra of Ayodhya had come back to rule over them.

  1. For serpent-maidens of Patâla see note to Story XX.
  2. Mahalaxmi is always worshipped in this way. And it is a common practice for anyone who wants anything to blow on a pot and then wish for it.
  3. Kolhapur is the chief seat of the worship of Mahalaxmi.
  4. Ashwin corresponds approximately with October.
  5. A kind of draughts.