Tales from India

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


Indian Fairy Tales: Punchkin

Reading time: (3 minutes).

As you will see later on in some older versions of the Cinderella story (pre-Disney), stories about an evil stepmother often feature a magical manifestation of the spirit of the dead mother. Here Balna and her sisters are cared for by their mother's protective spirit even as their wicked stepmother plots against them.

Now the new Ranee hated the seven poor Princesses, and wanted to get them, if possible, out of the way, in order that her daughter might have all their riches, and live in the palace as Princess in their place; and instead of being grateful to them for their kindness to her, she did all she could to make them miserable. She gave them nothing but bread to eat, and very little of that, and very little water to drink; so these seven poor little Princesses, who had been accustomed to have everything comfortable about them, and good food and good clothes all their lives long, were very miserable and unhappy; and they used to go out every day and sit by their dead mother's tomb and cry - and say: "Oh mother, mother, cannot you see your poor children, how unhappy we are, and how we are starved by our cruel step-mother?"

One day, whilst they were thus sobbing and crying, lo and behold! a beautiful pomelo-tree grew up out of the grave, covered with fresh ripe pomeloes, and the children satisfied their hunger by eating some of the fruit; and every day after this, instead of trying to eat the bad dinner their step-mother provided for them, they used to go out to their mother's grave and eat the pomeloes which grew there on the beautiful tree.

Then the Ranee said to her daughter, "I cannot tell how it is, every day those seven girls say they don't want any dinner, and won't eat any; and yet they never grow thin nor look ill; they look better than you do. I cannot tell how it is."

And she bade her watch the seven Princesses, and see if any one gave them anything to eat. So next day, when the Princesses went to their mother's grave, and were eating the beautiful pomeloes, the Prudhan's daughter followed them and saw them gathering the fruit.

Then Balna said to her sisters, "Do you not see that girl watching us? Let us drive her away, or hide the pomeloes, else she will go and tell her mother all about it, and that will be very bad for us."

But the other sisters said, "Oh no, do not be unkind, Balna. The girl would never be so cruel as to tell her mother. Let us rather invite her to come and have some of the fruit." And calling her to them, they gave her one of the pomeloes.

No sooner had she eaten it, however, than the Prudhan's daughter went home and said to her mother, "I do not wonder the seven Princesses will not eat the dinner you prepare for them, for by their mother's grave there grows a beautiful pomelo-tree, and they go there every day and eat the pomeloes. I ate one, and it was the nicest I have ever tasted."

The cruel Ranee was much vexed at hearing this, and all next day she stayed in her room, and told the Raja that she had a very bad headache.

The Raja was deeply grieved, and said to his wife, "What can I do for you?"

She answered, "There is only one thing that will make my headache well. By your dead wife's tomb there grows a fine pomelo-tree; you must bring that here and boil it, root and branch, and put a little of the water in which it has been boiled on my forehead, and that will cure my headache."

So the Raja sent his servants, and had the beautiful pomelo-tree pulled up by the roots, and did as the Ranee desired; and when some of the water in which it had been boiled was put on her forehead, she said her headache was gone and she felt quite well.


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

  • what did the girls have to eat when they were starved by their stepmother?
  • what did Balna want to do when they were being spied on? what did her sisters say?
  • how did the widow manage to destroy the tree that gave fruit to the girls?

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