67. Three Sisters Named Death, Birth, and Dream
In a little town like this one, there lived a poor, poor boy. Call him Racha, if you need a name. Racha had no father, no mother, no kith and kin whatever. He was utterly alone. He made a living by going every day to the forest, cutting wood, and selling bundles of it in town.
The town had its annual fair. All the boys of his age put on new shirts, wore new turbans, and strutted about like cocks-of-the-walk. Racha was too poor to buy anything new or old. He felt sorry for himself. He walked far out of the town, sat on the bank of the river, and cried into his knees, remembering his father and mother. He cried and cried till he dropped off to sleep.
When he woke up at sunset, he saw golden fish playing in the water. Fascinated, he gazed at them. “How marvelous!” he exclaimed. “If I could catch just one of those golden fish and sell it, I would never be poor again,” he thought, and stalked around to catch one. When one of the fish leaped out of the water, he dived into the river with both eyes open. Just as he was losing breath and trying to surface, someone pulled him down, far down. He was suddenly in front of a door. He pushed it open. There was no one inside. Whoever it was that had dragged him down wasn't anywhere around. Cautiously, he tiptoed in. A great fabulous palace. Great big sofas and chairs with pillows. Tables and soft downy beds. Wondering where he was, he sank into one of the beds and fell asleep at once.
When he opened his eyes, the house was lit with electric lamps of many colors. Three beautiful women came towards him, each more beautiful than the next. They pointed at him and each said, “He is mine,” “He's mine,” “He's mine.” After much haggling, they agreed that he should be husband to all three by turns. It wasn't difficult for him to agree. He soon found that they were three sisters. The eldest was Sister Death, the youngest was Sister Birth, and the middle one was Sister Dream.
He also saw three large locked rooms in the palace. The first one had a golden lock on its door, the second one a silver lock, and the third an iron lock.
He was to spend each night with a different sister. At dawn all three would vanish. But before they vanished, they took care to warn him: “Don't even look into these three rooms. The rest is yours.” And they would leave the keys with him before they left. He kept his word, and many days passed.
Being alone all day began to bore him. One day, unable to bear the boredom, he opened the door with the golden lock. Inside it, there stood a heavenly golden elephant, an elephant with seven golden trunks. It even spoke like a human being.
“Brother Rachanna, I'm glad you came. Climb onto my back. Let's roam through three worlds, all in three minutes. Come,” it said.
He said “Okay,” and clambered onto the elephant's back. In three minutes it sped through three worlds and returned to the palace room.
That night, when the three sisters named Death, Birth, and Dream came home, they found elephant tracks, and asked him, “Why did you do this?” He told them the truth. They liked his truthfulness and told him not to open the doors of the other two rooms.
Next day, when they were gone, his curiosity got the better of him. He opened the second door with the silver lock. There stood a silver stallion. It too spoke like a human being and invited him to ride on his back—which Racha did. It too showed him sights of the three worlds in three minutes and returned him to the palace.
That night again, the three beautiful sisters found tracks—this time, the hoof prints of a horse. They asked him, “Why did you do this?” He told them the truth. They liked his truthfulness but warned him strictly never, never to open the third room. Never, they said, whatever happens.
But on the third day, his curiosity was unbearable. “I've seen two. Why not the third? Let's see what happens,” he said to himself, and opened the door with the iron lock on it. In there stood a mule. It too spoke to him like a human being, inviting him to ride on its back. As soon as he climbed onto it, it flew to his hometown, a place like this town, threw him down, gave him a kick with his back leg, and left him there.
Racha longed for his beautiful wives. “Why didn't I listen to them?” he cried in despair. He dived into the river over and over and searched for the magic palace door.
Such is man's life.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif B 102.4, Golden Fish; Motif C 611, Forbidden Chamber, or Motif C 611.1, Forbidden Door; and Motif C 952, Immediate return to other world because of broken tabu.]