52. The Prince Who Married His Own Left Half
The king had a son. When the prince came of age, the king wished to get him married, but the young man didn't want to get married. He listened to no one's advice, not even to the elders'. The father became rather desperate and threatened to hang himself if the prince didn't get married. The son then said, “All right. Split my body in two and bury my left half in flowers. A woman will be born out of it. I'll marry her. I won't marry anyone else.”
The king was terrified that his son would die during the operation of cutting him in half. He asked the prince, “Is there no other way, a simpler way?”
The prince said, “There's no other way. Other women are uncontrollable. It's hard to keep them in line.”
The king finally agreed. An expert cleaved the prince's body into two halves and buried the left half in flowers. In a few days, a lovely woman came out of the flowers. The right half grew whole, and it was as if the prince had never been cut in half. The king got her married to his son according to the proper rites.
The prince had a wonderful palace built in a deserted place for his wife, and visited her there. The king also was very fond of his daughter-in-law. He too would visit her now and then and see that everything was right for her.
One day a wizard came to that place. On his way to some far-off country, he saw this wonderful palace in a deserted area and he started walking around it. The king's daughter-in-law, who was standing at her window, saw him and smiled at him.
The wizard took shelter in an old woman's house in the nearby village. The old woman used to make garlands for the king's daughter-in-law every day. The wizard made a fantastic garland one day, gave it to the old woman, and said, “Take this to the king's daughter-in-law and tell me what she says.”
The old woman took the garland to the king's daughter-in-law, who unfurled it and got the message. Though she felt happy inside, she pretended to be angry; she pressed her hand in vermilion, slapped the old woman's cheek, and sent her home. The old woman came home weeping, and when she showed the man her cheek, he consoled her by saying, “Don't worry about it. It's nothing. She just wants to let me know that she is having her period.”
A few days later, he made another garland for the palace and gave it to the old woman. This time, when she received the garland, the king's daughter-in-law dipped her hand in white lime and slapped the old woman's breasts. The old woman came home weeping. When the man saw the white marks, he said, “Don't worry. She wants to tell me that it's full-moon time.”
In a few days, he sent the palace a third garland. This time the king's daughter-in-law dipped her hand in black ink and hit the old woman on her backside. She came home crying and told him what had happened. The man said, “You must read these things right, old woman. She wants me to go to the back of the palace on a dark new-moon night.”
When he went there on the dark new-moon night, a rope was hanging from the back window of the palace. He gripped it and hauled himself up, and went in through a window. The king's daughter-in-law was waiting for him. She was happy and they made love. She said to him tenderly, “If you come like this in your natural shape, the guards at the gate will not let you in. So disguise yourself, and you can come here often.”
The young man said, “That's easy,” and used to visit her in the guise of a snake. He would enter the palace through the drainpipes. As soon as he came into her room he would change into a man, and they would make love. Many days passed in this way.
One day, when the prince came to see his wife, he saw a snake slithering out of the drainpipe. He at once called his servants and got it killed then and there. He asked them to throw the dead snake outside the palace, and went to his wife's chambers. When he said, “You know, I saw a snake coming into the house. Your luck was good. I saw it, got it killed and thrown outside,” his wife howled and cried out, “ Ayyo! What a terrible thing!” Then she fainted.
When she came to, after much first aid, she was grief-stricken inside that her lover had been caught and killed. But outwardly she pretended to be terrified of the snake and by her narrow escape. Before he left, the prince tried to comfort her by saying, “Why are you scared? The snake is really dead and gone.”
From that day on, she was in mourning. She gave up food and sleep. One day a dasayya, a holy mendicant, came to her door asking for alms. She called him in and asked him a favor.
“Look here, dasayya, I'll give you a rupee. It seems there's a dead snake lying outside. Will you go check if it's there?”
He went out, checked and found it there, and came back to report that it was still there. She said to him, “Go take the dead snake to the cremation grounds, cremate it, and bring me the ashes. I'll give you two rupees for your trouble.”
The dasayya agreed, took it to the cremation grounds, cremated it according to proper funeral rites, and brought her back the ashes. She gave him two rupees first, then added three more.
“Go now to a goldsmith and get a talisman,” she ordered.
The dasayya went out again and came back with a talisman.
She placed her dead lover's ash in the talisman and tied it around her shoulder. Mourning her dead lover's death all day, she grew thinner. The prince heard about her emaciated state and thought, “My wife has some secret sorrow. I must go to her and console her. She's growing thinner each day.”
He came to the palace and asked her why she looked so thin and sick. He talked to her in any number of ways. He asked her to tell him whatever was happening. But she didn't part her lips once. She didn't tell him a thing. He made her sit on his lap and used all the arts he knew, and persuaded her. Finally she said, “What else can I do? You've kept me here in a jail. I get to see your face here once on full-moon day and once on new-moon day. How can my heart be happy or content?”
The king's son felt very contrite when he heard about her sorrow.
“Then I'll stay here all the time, every day,” he said, to console her.
That was not what she wanted. She said, “I'm going to tell you a riddle. If you answer it, I'll throw myself in the fire and die. If you can't answer it, you must throw yourself in the fire and die. If anyone asks afterwards why this happened, neither of us should tell them why. If you agree to these conditions, I'll tell you the riddle. Otherwise, let's quit.”
The crazy prince agreed. He placed his hand in hers and gave her his word. Then she said,
“One for seeing,
Two for burning,
Three for wearing it on the shoulder—
A husband on the thigh,
A lover on the shoulder!
Tell me what it means.”
The prince struggled and groaned for days to get the answer to the riddle. He could not, for the life of him, find any answer. So, according to his word, he fell into a fire and killed himself. His wife who was his own left half took another lover and lived happily.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif F 525.2, Man splits in two parts; Motif H 607.3, Princess declares her love through sign language; not understood; Motif H 611.2, Sign message sent by girl to enamored prince: interpreted by prince's friend; and Motif H 541.1, Riddle propounded on pain of death. See also AKR's comments in Ramanujan 1991a.]