A long time ago in Kashmir, there lived a king who loved a good war. He took great pride in his military and lost no chance to talk about the courage and prowess of his fighting men. He also lavished his kingdom’s treasures on his army, looking after his men well and buying them the best weapons his gold could get.
One day, keen to see how his army was shaping up, the king asked all his forces to congregate at a maidan on the outskirts of his capital city. His wazirs were also asked to be present and on the appointed day a large crowd gathered to attend the grand show.
As the king sat there, in the midst of his people, decked out in regal finery, his eyes fell upon a strange creature. A seven legged haiwan (strange animal) who upped on all sevens and fled as soon as he spied the king spying him. The king chased after him and after a short distance, the animal stopped in the middle of the path and shook himself all over, turned into a djinn and slew the king and ate him.
Upon his death, his son was anointed to the throne. He too ruled well with a firm but kind hand. Until one day, he was seized by this great desire to know what had happened to his father. When the whole story was revealed to him, he announced that he wanted to arrange just such a grand display of the kingdom’s armed forces. And so it was organised. The whole town gathered and just as it had happened in the case of the father, the young prince too spotted the same seven legged beast. He too ran after him and the beast did exactly what it had done before: shook himself all over and turned into a djinn. But the prince invoked the great god and asked him for help. And god sent an angel to the rescue who warned the prince that the beast that stood before him was among the most dangerous beasts ever to have walked the earth. If even a drop of his blood fell to the ground, it would lead to many more beasts springing up from the earth. He gave the prince a double edged arrow and asked him to pierce the beast’s eyes and bring him down. The prince did as told and the beast fell to his death.
The prince cut off his head, stuck it on the arrow and took it back with him to his palace where there were 12,000 rooms. He locked up the head in one of the rooms and handed the key to his mother. But the mistake he made was that he did not tell his mother what he had brought back with him; he merely told her that she could go to all the rooms in the palace except the locked one. Naturally, curiosity got the better of the queen and one day, she opened the door to the room with head of the beast. As she stepped into the cold dark space behind the door, she heard a hollow laugh.
Your son is a djinn, the voice said. He killed me, your husband and now wants to kill you.
The queen was shocked, confused and extremely frightened. What should she do she asked the voice.
Pretend to be unwell and ask him to get the milk of a tigress and if he can, then you will surely know he is not human.
The queen obliged and one early morning, well before dawn, the prince set out for the forest. He sat waiting on top of a tree when his eyes soon spotted a tigress with her cubs sprawled upon the grass. He aimed his arrow and luck was on his side, quite clearly that day, because his arrow tore upon an abscess that had given the tigress much pain and upon whose release, she was greatly relieved. She looked at him with gratitude and beckoned that he should ask anything he desired. The prince told her the entire story and the tigress willingly gave him some milk. The tigress also gave the prince a tuft of her hair; show it to the sun when you are in trouble and I will come to your aid, she said.
The prince duly carried it back to the queen, who was horrified at the thought that her son had achieved what no human could have done. Back to the room with the head, she went and this time the djinn said, she would have to pretend to still be unwell.
Send the prince off to a castle far away from the kingdom. In that castle, guarded by fierce men and animals, lives a princess. Ask him to bring her to you as her touch is the only cure for your sickness. The prince will not survive the journey.
The queen sent the prince off. After a while he remembered the tuft of hair and as promised, the tigress and her cubs appeared when he held it up to the sun. The tigress warned him about the mission. There were three doors to the castle she said. Behind one was a block of iron which the prince would have to cleave, if he wanted to go further. The next door had an imitation cow behind it which the prince would have to milk, or else the djinns would have him for a meal. And finally behind the third door was a princess, who would accept him only if she was pleased with him. If not, she would ensure his death.
The frightened prince asked for guidance. The tigress said that she would help him. She would sit inside the block of iron and force it to break into two. And, said one of the young cubs, he would help him milk the cow without letting the djinns interfere. And, said the other young cub, he would sprinkle a charm over the princess so that when she saw him, she would have eyes for none other.
The prince managed to get to the princess who was so smitten that she accompanied him back to the palace. When he reached home, he told his mother everything. Even his adventures with the seven legged beast and that is when his mother the queen realised her folly. She sought his forgiveness and the prince readily gave it. He married the princess and ruled over his kingdom well. And the room; that was left locked for ever.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta
TEXT SOURCE: Folk tales of Kashmir, J.Hinton Knowles