55. A Sage's Word
A king had a grown-up daughter. He was trying to get her married, so he showed her the pictures of many princes. But she didn't care for any of them. Finally, she said one day: “Don't worry, father. I'll go find a bridegroom for myself.” So she went, with a retinue of servants.
She went far. She reached a forest in the heat of day. As she was by now dying of thirst, she sent off her people in all directions in search of water. No one could find any river or well or tank anywhere.
A cook's son was part of the retinue. He too went looking for water. At some distance, he saw a big hill. A glittering stream was flowing from its side. As he came to the foot of the hill, he saw a rishi (a sage) muttering and chanting under a tree. He was also pouring water from one hand to another. The boy approached him and asked, “What are you doing, old man?”
“Nothing much,” he answered. “I've mastered a magic spell. When the water in this hand joins the water in this other hand, people who don't want to get married get married. Like the joining of water to water.”
“Then, can I ask you something?”
“Go ahead. Ask.”
“Our princess is out on the road searching for a suitable bridegroom. Please find her one.”
“Look, how about getting you to marry her?”
“Old man, don't talk like that. She's a princess. I'm a cook's son.”
“Young fellow, see what a rishi can do. Tell me your name.”
“Karreppa” (“Black fellow”).
“What's the princess's name?”
“Good. Here, Karreppa and Shakuntala are a couple now,” he said, pouring the water of one hand into another.
The cook's son was bewildered. He filled his pitcher with water and went back. The princess was dying of thirst. When he gave her water, she drank lots of it. It tasted sweet, divine. Happy in her satisfaction, she asked, “Who are you?”
“I'm your cook's son, madam.”
“Where did you find this water?”
“Some distance from here. I walked till I came to a big hill. A stream flows on that hillside. There I saw an old man. He was pouring water from one hand to another. I asked the old man what he was doing. He said, ‘Some people refuse to marry anyone. By adding this hand's water to that, I can get them to marry.’ Then I said, ‘Old man, our princess is one such. Where is a bridegroom for her?’ ‘Right here,’ he said. He then poured the water from one hand to another, and said that you and I will marry.”
The princess was furious. “This lad is talking nonsense without any respect for rank,” she said, and called her servants.
“Hang him up from that tree and give him lashes till he is blue,” she ordered. They did as they were told and left him there. He hung there, black and blue, groaning till night fell.
That region had a king. He had no children. He used to pray to Goddess Kali every day for a child. That night, the goddess appeared in his dream and told him, “Tomorrow at dawn, go hunting in the forest. You'll hear sounds of crying. You'll find a boy there. Do not inquire into his religion, his birth, or his family. Pick him up and make him your son.”
Accordingly, the king went hunting in the forest. He looked everywhere, keeping his ears open for human sounds. He heard groans. When he went near, he found a young man of sixteen or twenty hanging from a tree, his hands and feet tied with ropes. His body was all bloody. The king brought him down gently, got him untied, and took him home. For six months, they gave him every kind of attention. The young man thrived on it. The king got him tutors and educated him. In five or six years, he made him his heir.
Meanwhile the princess wandered through many lands and came home without a husband. Her father was disappointed. He talked to her in great sorrow: “What's the matter with you, my girl? All your girlfriends are mothers of four and five children. If the king's daughter is like this, what will ordinary people do? I have to listen to a barrage of bad words from my people. Just make up your mind, and marry someone. Please.”
That sounded right to her this time. She even felt her hair was beginning to show signs of gray. So she told him decisively, “All right then. Get me pictures. I'll choose one picture and name the man. You can arrange the wedding then.”
The king, her father, at once got busy and brought her hundreds of princes' pictures, as before. She looked and looked, put aside hundreds, and chose one of them. He was none other than the cook's son, who had newly become a prince, given to a king by the goddess. As soon as her eyes fell on the picture, the sage's power had begun to work on her. She couldn't take her eyes off the picture. She accepted him.
The king, her father, wrote letters, made journeys, ordered all sorts of arrangements, and they had a gala wedding. According to custom, the bridegroom's party took the bride to their place. There, when the couple were alone in the bedchamber, the princess wanted to touch her husband's feet. He stopped her. He said, “Wait. I've something to say.”
“What is it?” she asked.
He answered, “I became a prince by your good deeds.”
He told her about the day he was hung up by the tree and was beaten, and how his luck had turned that day, how it had led to this happy wedding. They talked for a long time and were delighted with each other.
[AT 930A, The Predestined Wife.]