Tales from India

Week 7: India and Japan - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Indian Fairy Tales: Princess Labam

Reading time: (4 minutes).

The story now shifts into the format of the "wedding contest", where the father of the bride has set deadly challenges that the successful suitor must accomplish. This is a motif you have seen already if you read the section on Ovid, where the suitors of Atalanta had to run a footrace with the bride, and they were executed if they lost the race. In that story, the suitor Hippomenes was helped by the goddess Venus. The ant-helpers in this story are very similar to the magic helpers in another ancient Greek story, the legend of Cupid and Psyche.

The prince then returned to the old woman's house; and when morning came the princess said to her mother, "The son of a great Raja has come to this country, and I wish to marry him." Her mother told this to the king.

"Good," said the king; "but if this Raja's son wishes to marry my daughter, he must first do whatever I bid him. If he fails I will kill him. I will give him eighty pounds weight of mustard seed, and out of this he must crush the oil in one day. If he cannot do this he shall die."

In the morning the Raja's son told the old woman that he intended to marry the princess. "Oh," said the old woman, "go away from this country, and do not think of marrying her. A great many Rajas and Rajas' sons have come here to marry her, and her father has had them all killed. He says whoever wishes to marry his daughter must first do whatever he bids him. If he can, then he shall marry the princess; if he cannot, the king will have him killed. But no one can do the things the king tells him to do; so all the Rajas and Rajas' sons who have tried have been put to death. You will be killed too, if you try. Do go away."

But the prince would not listen to anything she said.

The king sent for the prince to the old woman's house, and his servants brought the Raja's son to the king's courthouse to the king. There the king gave him eighty pounds of mustard seed, and told him to crush all the oil out of it that day, and bring it next morning to him to the courthouse. "Whoever wishes to marry my daughter" he said to the prince, "must first do all I tell him. If he cannot, then I have him killed. So if you cannot crush all the oil out of this mustard seed you will die."

The prince was very sorry when he heard this. "How can I crush the oil out of all this mustard seed in one day?" he said to himself; "and if I do not, the king will kill me."

He took the mustard seed to the old woman's house, and did not know what to do. At last he remembered the Ant-Raja, and the moment he did so, the Ant-Raja and his ants came to him. "Why do you look so sad?" said the Ant-Raja.

The prince showed him the mustard seed, and said to him, "How can I crush the oil out of all this mustard seed in one day? And if I do not take the oil to the king tomorrow morning, he will kill me."

"Be happy," said the Ant-Raja; "lie down and sleep; we will crush all the oil out for you during the day, and tomorrow morning you shall take it to the king." The Raja's son lay down and slept, and the ants crushed out the oil for him. The prince was very glad when he saw the oil.

The next morning he took it to the courthouse to the king. But the king said," You cannot yet marry my daughter. If you wish to do so, you must first fight with my two demons, and kill them."

The king a long time ago had caught two demons, and then, as he did not know what to do with them, he had shut them up in a cage. He was afraid to let them loose for fear they would eat up all the people in his country; and he did not know how to kill them. So all the kings and kings' sons who wanted to marry the Princess Labam had to fight with these demons; "for," said the king to himself, "perhaps the demons may be killed, and then I shall be rid of them."

When he heard of the demons the Raja's son was very sad. "What can I do?" he said to himself. "How can I fight with these two demons?"

Then he thought of his tiger : and the tiger and his wife came to him and said, "Why are you so sad?"

The Raja's son answered, "The king has ordered me to fight with his two demons and kill them. How can I do this ? "

"Do not be frightened," said the tiger. "Be happy. I and my wife will fight with them for you."


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the raja's son get the oil from the mustard seed?
  • in the second test, who did he have to fight?
  • who offered to help him win this fight?

Source: Indian Fairy Tales (1890), by Joseph Jacobs, illustrated by John Batten. Weblink..


Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM