Tales from India

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

Indian Fairy Tales: Punchkin

Reading time: (3 minutes).

The role of the father in these stepmother stories is often vague or ambiguous. The situation of Balna's father is described in very vivid detail: his wife is about to make a terrible demand, and he must decide whether to obey her wishes, or not.

Next day, when the seven Princesses went as usual to the grave of their mother, the pomelo-tree had disappeared. Then they all began to cry very bitterly.

Now there was by the Ranee's tomb a small tank, and as they were crying they saw that the tank was filled with a rich cream-like substance, which quickly hardened into a thick white cake. At seeing this all the Princesses were very glad, and they ate some of the cake and liked it; and next day the same thing happened, and so it went on for many days. Every morning the Princesses went to their mother's grave, and found the little tank filled with the nourishing cream-like cake.

Then the cruel step-mother said to her daughter: "I cannot tell how it is, I have had the pomelo-tree which used to grow by the Ranee's grave destroyed, and yet the Princesses grow no thinner, nor look more sad, though they never eat the dinner I give them. I cannot tell how it is! "

And her daughter said, "I will watch."

Next day, while the Princesses were eating the cream-cake, who should come by but their step-mother's daughter. Balna saw her first, and said, "See, sisters, there comes that girl again. Let us sit round the edge of the tank and not allow her to see it, for if we give her some of our cake, she will go and tell her mother, and that will be very unfortunate for us.

The other sisters, however, thought Balna unnecessarily suspicious, and, instead of following her advice, they gave the Prudhan's daughter, some of the cake, and she went home and told her mother all about it.

The Ranee, on hearing how well the Princesses fared, was exceedingly angry, and sent her servants to pull down the dead Ranee's tomb and fill the little tank with the ruins.

And not content with this, she next day pretended to be very, very ill - in fact, at the point of death - and when the Raja was much grieved, and asked her whether it was in his power to procure her any remedy, she said to him: "Only one thing can save my life, but I know you will not do it."

He replied, "Yes, whatever it is, I will do it."

She then said, "To save my life, you must kill the seven daughters of your first wife, and put some of their blood on my forehead and on the palms of my hands, and their death will be my life."

At these words the Raja was very sorrowful; but because he feared to break his word, he went out with a heavy heart to find his daughters. He found them crying by the ruins of their mother's grave.

Then, feeling he could not kill them, the Raja spoke kindly to them, and told them to come out into the jungle with him; and there he made a fire and cooked some rice, and gave it to them.

But in the afternoon, it being very hot, the seven Princesses all fell asleep, and when he saw they were fast asleep, the Raja, their father, stole away and left them (for he feared his wife), saying to himself: "It is better my poor daughters should die here than be killed by their step-mother."

He then shot a deer, and returning home, put some of its blood on the forehead and hands of the Ranee, and she thought then that he had really killed the Princesses, and said she felt quite well.

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

  • what did the girls eat when the pomelo tree was gone?
  • how did the widow persuade her husband to kill his daughters?
  • how did he trick the widow into believing that he had killed 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