4. Bride for a Dead Man
A king and his queen had no children, though they were getting on in years. Half their life was already over. So the king decided he would pray to get an heir for his kingdom. He began his penances by standing in the middle of a tank on a twelve-yard stone, with another such stone on his head. He stood there like that for twelve whole years and prayed to Siva.
Siva said, “I'm burdened by this man's devotion. His twelve years weigh on me. The stone on his head weighs on me. So I'll go down and give him the child he wants.”
He came down from Kailasa, his mountain, to where the king stood steadfastly in the water.
“Come out of the tank,” Siva said. “I'll give you a child.”
“I'll come out only when you grant me the boon. Not till then.”
“All right, I give you my word,” said Siva, “but I'll not give you the boon here. I'll come to your house and grant your wish.” And he promised to visit the king, and sealed his promise by putting his hand in the king's hand.
“Go home now and I'll come tomorrow,” Siva said, and the king ended his penance, came out of the water, and went home to tell his wife.
“Siva has given me his word. He'll come here tomorrow and give us children. Wash and wipe the whole palace, bathe, and offer worship. You must be ready tomorrow morning. Also, get five uttatti fruit.”
But his wife wouldn't believe him. He insisted, “No, no, it's true. Siva will come here himself. You'll see.”
Next morning came very fast, and Siva did descend from the sky. As he walked towards the palace, he looked at himself, alms-bag on his shoulder, a cane in his fist, a trident slung on his back. “How can I go into the world looking like this?” he thought, changed into a holy man, and went begging from shop to shop before he reached the palace. The shopkeepers were devout and gave the holy man diamonds and pearls as gifts, but he wouldn't touch them. He said, “What shall I do with these stones? If you wish, give me the fat of a flea and the fat of a bedbug. I'd like that.”
“Where shall we go for the fat of fleas and bedbugs?” the bewildered shopkeepers asked.
Meanwhile, Siva was dancing, leaping into the sky. He swayed like a peacock. But he would take nothing and asked only for the fat of fleas and bedbugs, which they couldn't get. So he went hopping through the market all the way to the palace.
The king and queen were waiting. They washed his feet and fell at his feet. He gave the queen two betelnuts from his waist band and said, “This is for you. I know you want a child. What would you like? A smart son who'll live only twelve years or an idiot who'll live to be a hundred?”
She said, “What shall I do with an idiot son? He has to rule this kingdom. Give me a smart son for twelve years.”
“Think well. He'll live only for twelve years, not a day longer. Once you've chosen, nothing can change it later. Think again.”
“I know what I want,” she said. “A smart son. Give him to me. I can't wait.”
So Siva granted her a smart son who would live only for twelve years. The queen's periods stopped, her pregnancy made her fuller by the day, and, exactly nine months and nine days later, she gave birth to a boy. Siva had decreed that a tiger would bring him his death on his twelfth birthday. The astrologers who could read such things also said so and warned his parents.
As a growing boy, he went out to play ball in town. The girls who were going to the river to fetch water said, “You're the king's son. What's the matter with you? Playing ball with the ordinary town boys! As the prince of the kingdom, you've got to go to the forest and hunt lions, tigers, and such. Then you'll be a real prince.”
So he went straight home, threw away the ball, and said to his mother, “Why didn't anybody tell me what princes do? I'm going to hunt lions and tigers in the forest.”
The mother was panic-stricken. She remembered the prophecy. “My boy, you're only twelve. Don't think of hunting and wild animals. Don't you have playmates? We'll find you some.”
But he was obstinate and wouldn't listen. He called for the servants, the stable boys, and prepared himself for a hunt. The mother said, “At least wait till I look at the omens.”
She went out to look for good omens, but all she saw were oil sellers, people carrying pickaxes and spades—bad omens. She came home and tried to stop the boy.
“I see only bad omens everywhere. Don't go, my son. You can go tomorrow,” she pleaded.
She wept, she even fell at his feet and held on to them. But he wouldn't hear any of it. He had already taken a step outside the threshold.
“See, Mother, I've already stepped outside. No real prince will take back his step and retreat inside. By your blessings, I'll come home safely. You'll see,” he said, touched her feet, and left for the forest, this twelve-year-old boy. His mother's brother, his uncle, followed and joined him in the hunt.
The hunt was a fierce success. They brought down many tigers, lions, and gryphons, stood proudly on their carcasses, and loaded them in cart after cart to send them home. When the distraught mother saw these carts coming into the palace yard, filled with wild animals ripped apart by her son's arrows, her heart revived. The cartmen said, “The prince has sent all these so that Your Highness may see and stop worrying about him. More are coming.”
“O Siva,” she said, relieved and happy. “That's truly my son. He has killed so many tigers and lions in one hunt, his very first. They said a tiger would kill him. They were afraid even of a tiger in a picture, and removed all tiger pictures from the palace. How ridiculous!”
While she was exclaiming like this ecstatically, the prince had finished his hunt and was returning home. On the way, it occurred to him to stop at their family god's temple and offer worship after his first adventure. As soon as he spoke of this plan, his uncle hurried before him. There were many pictures of tigers on the temple walls, and he knew that he could never stop his rash nephew from doing what he wanted. So he spattered the pictures with mud, and asked servants to hold curtains on either side of the prince as he entered the temple.
“Don't look around and dillydally. Go straight to the god's image, bow before it, and then let's go home. It's late,” said the uncle.
But did he listen? He prostrated himself before the god and as he turned back he saw the curtains. Impatiently, he tore them down, saying, “What's all this curtain-holding? Are you afraid I'll die? I've killed seven tigers today, remember?”
As he tore down the curtains, he saw tigers, tigers, tigers all around. They opened their mouths wide and rose from the pictures on the walls. When he saw their red tongues coming towards him, he became dizzy, fell into a swoon, and died on the spot.
His uncle cried and cried all the way, as he brought the body home.
“O Siva, I brought him safely till this point and yet couldn't save him. My sister bore him in her old age, after so much trouble. Now he's dead. What shall I do?”
The mother heard it all and ran out weeping.
“O Siva, you still took him as you said you would. After killing real tigers, he was killed by a tiger in a picture, just as they said. I wanted to see him married. Even now, I will. We'll not bury him till we find a bride for him,” she said in her grief.
And even as they were preparing the bier and the chariot for the last procession of the dead boy, she sent a cartload of gold hitched to a camel with messengers: they had to find a bride, whatever the price.
The cartload went from street to street and from town to neighboring town, loudly announcing the search for a bride for the dead prince. The messengers finally met with a brahmin who had a twelve-year-old daughter named Chennavva. The poverty of the family was harsh beyond words. They said to the poor man, “Give us your daughter. We'll unload the gold here.”
He agreed and gave them his daughter. At once her mother began to weep. She brought out a little oil in a cup, some turmeric, took her daughter in and gave her a ritual oil-bath, crying all the while, “O Daughter, widowhood is not for you. How can it be? You're only twelve years old.”
Then she dressed her up in fresh clothes, put auspicious marks of turmeric and vermilion on her forehead, and blessed her, saying, “May you be like Savitri. May you keep your husband.” And she sent her with the royal messengers.
Galloping, they took her to the palace, where she was married in a proper ceremony to the dead boy. As in any wedding, they put auspicious marks of turmeric and vermilion on the bride's face, threw grains of rice, and tied the wedding thread round her neck.
When it was time to lift the dead body and take it away, they wanted her to stay behind. But she refused to stay behind. Firmly, she said, “I'm going with my husband. Bury me with him. What's the point of living without him?”
So she sat next to the body and was carried with it. As they reached the burial grounds, a great rainstorm descended on them. It seemed as if more water fell than the earth could hold. Everyone ran and found shelter from the wind and the rain. The dead body was left alone, and Chennavva held on to it. The night was dark, the place was a dismal burial ground, and she was alone with the body.
“What shall I do? This is my lot,” she said. She had sweated and her body was caked with mud. She sat down and scraped it, added more mud to it, then molded the image of Siva's Bull with it. She installed it in front of her, sang songs, and worshiped the image with flowers she picked off the dead body. As she sang and worshiped, the mud image of the Bull was filled with life. He got up, snorted, and walked about. He said, “Chennavva, your devotion is great. I'd like to do something for you.”
And he went to heaven and pleaded with Siva, “Lord, you must give back Chennavva's husband his life. You must give back her marriage to her. You must.”
“Dear Bull,” said Siva, “you're quite taken with that Chennavva, aren't you? We can't give back life like that. Wait, let's send her a tiger and let's see what she does.”
So he sent a tiger to Chennavva. She at once stood with her back to her husband's bier and, stretching out both her hands, prayed to the tiger, “Don't eat him. Eat me.”
Which pleased the tiger too. He said, “We'll send you Siva himself. You're too good for us.”
The tiger went to Siva and pleaded: “O Siva, you must give back Chennavva's husband his life.”
Then he sent lions, gryphons; he even sent she-demons, but she wasn't afraid of any of them. She guarded her husband's body and offered her own. When they all came back pleading her cause, Siva decided he would go down himself and see what she was like. He picked up his alms-bag and his cane and stood before her asking for alms. “What can I give this beggar, sitting here in the burial ground?” she thought, then took down the only precious thing she had on her, her wedding thread with its golden pendant (tali), and put it in his alms-bag.
“What's this, you've given me your wedding tali? Don't you have anything else to give?” said Siva, astonished.
She said, “No, Sir. That's all I have. What else can I have, sitting here in the burial ground?”
Siva was touched. He tied the tali back on her neck, breathed life into her husband's body, and went back to heaven. The young prince woke up as if from a long sleep. The happy couple talked all night till it dawned silver in the morning. They had much to talk about.
The people from the palace were worried all night about the body and the twelve-year-old girl they had left with it in the rainstorm. They came running as soon as the storm passed and it was light. They found the two of them talking. When they heard what had happened, they marveled at Chennavva, the power of her virtue, and how she had brought a dead man to life. His parents, summoned there by then, placed a coconut in the grave that had been dug and closed it up. The bride and bridegroom were carried back in palanquins to the palace and a whole new wedding was arranged.
When the time came for the bride to give the ritual offerings of bagina to her relatives, Chennavva said, “No one took my bagina earlier. I'm not going to give it to anyone now. I'll give it to the river goddess, Ganges,” and took it to the river.
When the wedding took place the first time, no one had received her or her bridal gifts as they should have. Everyone in the town had shut their doors on her. Why should she give it now to anyone?
“I married a dead husband and no one thought of me then. Now I'm married to a live one, I'll give bagina to the goddess and take gifts from her,” she said, and offered them to the river goddess. Then she came back, completed the wedding ceremony, and lived happily with her husband and her in-laws.
[AT 934B, The Youth to Die on his Wedding Day (but cf. Thompson and Roberts, Types of Indic Oral Tales, type 336, The Bridegroom and the Picture of the Tiger; and Jason, Supplement, type 934B-*A, Escape from Death. Cf. also Motif E 121.1, Resuscitation by a god.) This tale includes elements of both the Markandeya story and the Savitri story, which are told widely in India.]