49. The Pomegranate Queen
A certain gowda had two daughters. He had arranged a good marriage for his elder daughter, but he couldn't do that for the younger one. She was obstinate. She refused to marry any of the young men who were brought as possible bridegrooms. When she had thus refused many, many offers of marriage, the gowda could not take it any longer. He was an angry man and, one day, when his wife had gone to visit her elder daughter, he cut up his younger daughter into pieces and buried her in the backyard. Then he sent word to his wife that her daughter had suddenly taken ill and died, and that he had to bury her before she came home. The mother mourned for a long time.
But a pomegranate tree sprouted and grew in the place where the daughter's remains were buried. It grew tall and green, and it bore a single large flower that opened its petals only at night but at sunrise folded into a bud. The gowda's younger daughter lived in it as the Pomegranate Queen; she played tunes on a vina every night. Every night the gowda and his wife would hear soft unearthly music, but they never found out where it came from.
Indra, the king of the gods who lived in the sky, had a son. One day, the young man was traveling through the heavens when he too heard lovely music wafted from the earth. He was astonished and wondered whether anyone on earth could play such beautiful music. It seemed to surpass the music of celestial minstrels (gandharvas). He traced the direction of the music and hovered over the pomegranate tree till he sighted the one large flower in it. He fell in a faint. When he came to, he saw the Pomegranate Queen playing the vina in the flower. Her beauty was more entrancing than the beauty of celestial (apsara) women. Indra's son fell in love with her at once. When she finished playing, she came out of the flower, and she too saw him and her heart began to beat fast. He asked her to marry him, and she said, without a moment's thought, that she would. But he said, “We'll have to wait a little. I'll go back to heaven and get my parents' permission,” and sped back to his heavenly palace. And there, he went to his room and lay in his bed covered in blankets. His mother came to ask him to get up and eat his dinner, but he refused.
“Why, what's the matter?” she asked him.
He said, “I must get married.”
She laughed and said, “Of course, we'll look for a bride at once. Now get up and eat.”
He interrupted her. “No, no, that's not what I mean. I don't want you to look for a bride. I've already found one, in the earth-world.”
“But you are not earth-born. Why do you need those mortals? They're not our kind. I'll get the most beautiful of apsara women for you. Just wait and see,” said his mother.
But he was stubborn. “No, I want no woman from our world. No one is as beautiful in all three worlds as the Pomegranate Queen. And she plays better than any of our gandharva minstrels.”
“If she is as good as you say, let me also go and see her,” said she, and in no time mother and son arrived at the pomegranate tree in the gowda's backyard. It was not dark yet. The sun had not set. So the pomegranate flower was not yet open. The mother asked impatiently, “Where is your Pomegranate Queen?”
“Wait, Mother, wait. Don't be in such a hurry. She is inside that flower. In a few moments it will open and you can see her,” said Indra's son in a whisper.
She laughed at him. “My dear son, are you crazy or what? Do mortal women ever come out of flowers? Come, let's go home,” she said.
He asked her to wait and watch, and told her that this pomegranate flower opened only at night and was shut all day. Even as they watched, the flower slowly opened and they began to hear the strains of vina music. His mother looked at her beauty and she too fell in a faint. The woman in the flower looked like a blaze of light. She shone like the sun and the moon together. She was indeed more beautiful than any apsara woman in heaven. The mother regained her senses very soon and said to her son, “You're absolutely right. I've never seen anyone as beautiful,” and went to the Pomegranate Queen, talked to her, and took her with them into the sky-world, where the two were married in great style.
The pomegranate tree in the backyard now began to wither. One day it crumbled to the ground, a bundle of dry sticks. The gowda's wife watched the flourishing tree suddenly dry up and die, and she couldn't understand why such things were happening. One day, while she was staring at the dry sticks, the Pomegranate Queen came down from heaven with her husband. As soon as she set foot in the yard, the dry sticks came to life, stood up straight, and sprouted green leaves. The gowda's wife was amazed. She also noticed that the tree had again put out one large flower. In it, she saw her young daughter. She ran out, unable to contain her happiness, and asked her daughter, “O Daughter, are you here? Your father said you'd taken ill and died suddenly. That isn't true! You are alive!”
“No, what Father said was true. In his anger, he cut me to pieces and buried me here. I became this pomegranate tree and lived in this flower as the Pomegranate Queen all these months. But now I'm married to Indra's son and live with him in the heaven-world. When I left, this tree dried up. When I came back visiting to see how things were, it sprouted again and regained life.”
Her mother said happily, “I'm glad you're happily married, wherever you are. All these days, your death was my only grief. I see now that you're well and happy. That's all I've ever asked for.”
Then her daughter and son-in-law saluted her, received her blessings, and went back to their heaven-world. The gowda's wife was peaceful and happy from that day on.
[AT 780A, The Cannibalistic Brothers (IO).]