24. A Girl in a Picture
In Simhala country, one Vikrama was the king—young, unmarried, a smart ruler of his people. One day a diamond merchant came to him and reported: “Your Majesty, every full-moon day a flowering tree rises out of the ocean. A beautiful woman lies luxuriously on a golden cot under that tree. She enjoys the ocean breeze for a half hour or so, and then the tree, the cot, and the woman sink and go under the surface. What could be the meaning of it?”
That full-moon day, he went with the merchant to the center of the ocean. By midnight, as he watched the moonlit waters, a tree in full flower rose from the sea, just as the merchant had said. Under it was a golden cot. On it a celestial beauty lay luxuriously, served by maids.
The beauty of it all went to the king's head. He felt he was going crazy. He stood there gaping at the scene. About half an hour later, the tree began to sink in the ocean. The young king was no coward. He loved adventure. So he jumped into the waves and grabbed a branch of the disappearing tree, which took him at once into a nether world of Nagas. The girl he had seen earlier was there, still on her couch, served by her maids. When their eyes met, they were both thrilled. The girl sent a maid to bring him closer to her. As the maid took him by the hand, he asked her who this celestial beauty was. She explained, “She is a god's daughter. She has taken a vow that she would marry only someone who had the courage to risk his life and come here all by himself. Here, you've arrived. She's yours to marry.”
He married her and lived in ecstasy with that divine female. A wish-fulfilling tree gave them whatever they desired. He had a goddess for wife. What else did he need?
One day she came to him and showed him a girl's picture and said, “My king, my love, enjoy whatever you want in this world of mine, but don't ever covet the girl in this picture. That's the only thing you've got to do without.”
The king said, “That's easy. I've everything.”
One day when he was alone in his palace, his eye fell on the picture. He was curious. He passed his fingers over the girl in the picture. At once she came alive and kicked him hard on the chest. Before he could even blink his eyes, he was in his palace in Simhala country.
From that moment on, he could find no pleasure in anything in his palace or his kingdom, and renounced it all to become a wandering sanyasi.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif F 420.7.1, Visit to Water-goddess's underwater home; and Motif T 11.2, Love through sight of picture.]