Once upon a time, there was a King called Satrujit. Prince Ritu-dhwaja was his son. The young Prince was so cultured, handsome and brave that young men came from far-off places for his companionship. Two youths of the Serpent World, belonging to the Naga tribe, took on the disguise of Brahmans and went to the noble Prince, seeking his companionship. These youths showed he was always anxious to have them by his side. They kept company with the Prince all day and went home only after dark.

“I never see you during the daytime,” the Naga King, one day, said to his two sons. “You are at home only during the nights. Why is it so?”

“O father,” the boys replied, “we have become the friends of Prince Ritu-dhwaja. We keep him company all day. We don’t think he has a rival in all three worlds: cleverness, beauty, or courage.”

The Naga King was happy at this. He said, “Well, why don’t you give him some nice gifts?”

“What is it that we can give him, father?” the boys said. “He lacks nothing. If an occasion should arise when we can do him a good turn, we will certainly help him.” The Naga King agreed to this.

Now, a certain hermit called Galava was doing penance in a forest when a demon named Pathala-Ketu, belonging to the Nether World, began to harass him. The poor hermit knew not what to do. He looked up at the sky and heaved a great sigh. The next moment a strange horse came down from the sky and descended before him, and he heard these words from above:

“O Galava, this horse can travel the three worlds. It is a Three-World Horse. Take this to Prince Ritu-dhwaja so that he can ride it, go everywhere and protect you from the demons.”

Without delay, Galava the hermit mounted the Three-World Horse and went to King Satru-jit. He begged the King to let the Prince accompany him. The King agreed, and the Prince mounted the horse and went to Galava’s hermitage.

It was evening. Galava sat down to worship his fire. The demon, Pathala-Ketu, took on the form of a wild hog and rushed into the fire chamber and frightened Galava. The lads of the hermitage shouted for help. The Prince rode to the spot and hit the hog with a well-aimed arrow. The hog began to run away, groaning with pain. The Prince chased it for a while and finally saw it jump down a pit.

It was no shallow pit; it was the passage’s entrance to the Nether World. Luckily the horse could go anywhere, and the Prince entered the course on it. Presently he emerged near a well-lit city and entered it. At one place, he saw a woman near a house. As for the hog, it had disappeared entirely.

“Who are you, madam?” the Prince asked the woman. “What is your name? What is the name of this place?” Instead of replying, the woman moved and went inside the house. Intrigued by her silence, the Prince followed behind her.

Inside, he saw a fairy-like damsel reclining on a couch. The woman the Prince saw outside was standing by, fanning the damsel.

Now the woman was anxious to speak. “O Prince,” she said, “my friend here is the daughter of a Fairy King called Visva-vasu. Madalasa is her name. Pathala-Ketu, the demon, kidnapped her and brought her here with his devilry. He went away after in- forming her that he would marry her on the thirteenth day of the moon. My friend would have committed suicide, but for my intervention. My name is Kun- dala, and I am her companion. I think that Providence has sent you here to rescue my friend!”

Kundala learned from the Prince his story. She found that Madalasa was favourably disposed to the young gentleman. She took Madalasa’s hand, placed it in the hand of the Prince as a gesture of marriage, and said, “O Prince, from now on, she is your responsibility.”

The Prince put Madalasa on his horse and began to retrace his steps when there was a shout: Stop! Don’t move a stage!” The demon Pathala-Ketu stood before him with his forces.

At once, the Prince took out an arrow that produced intense heat and hit the demons, which heat and hit demons, who

Then the brave Prince took Madalasa to his home and married her. Until noon, he wandered the three worlds every day, protecting the hermits and their rituals. The rest of the day he spent with his loving wife. Because of his horse, people began to call him the Three-World Rider.

Pathala-Ketu, who died at the hands of the Prince, had a younger brother called Thala-Ketu; he bore a grudge against the Prince because the Prince had killed his brother and married the girl he had intended to match. He devised a plan to avenge himself on the Prince. He dis- guises himself as a hermit, built a hermitage on the banks of the Jumna and pretended to do penance.

One day, the Prince came to that spot, saluted the false hermit and asked him, “Holy man, are you free from the troublesome demons?”

“My son,” the other replied, “what can the demons do while we have such a one as you to protect us? But,” he added, “I need your help.”

“What can I do for you?” the Prince asked.

“I thought of performing a yajna underwater. I need some gold. I want you to give me your necklace and stand on the bank, seeing that no demons come this way,” Thala-Ketu said to the Prince.

The young man believed him and gave him his necklace. While he stood on the bank with his bow and arrows in readiness, the cunning demon swam to the other bank of the river under the water and soon reached the place of Satru-jit.

“O King,” he wailed, “I bring you unfortunate news. The demons have killed your son. At the last moment, the boy handed me this necklace. We ascetics have no use for gold. So I came to tell you the sad news and give you this necklace.” Having said this, the demon departed.

As soon as she heard of her husband’s death, Madalasa fell into a swoon, in which she died. This only added to the sorrow of the King and Queen, who were already filled with grief.

In the meantime, the demon Thala-Ketu swam across the river under the water again, came out of it, and said to the Prince, “Thanks to you, young man, I finished my yajna. You can go now!”

The Prince rode back to his place. The entire city appeared to him to be devoid of life. He noticed that several persons were staring at him wildly. He reached the palace without comprehending anything. His father and mother embraced him, crying, “Are you alive, son!” But they did not cease to shed tears.

“What are you weeping for?” the Prince asked them. They told him how, when Madalasa got the news of his death, she had died of shock.

The grief of the Prince was immense. He blamed himself for remaining alive after hearing the news of his wife’s death. He would have killed himself, but for the consideration that suicide was sinful. “I shall never marry another woman in my life!” he swore.

None of the Prince’s many friends did share his sorrow. The Naga youths approached their father, saying, “O Father, now is the time for us to go to the help of the Prince if we can. In his present condition, nothing can please him as much as regaining Madalasa.” They told him all that had happened.

The Naga King thought for a while. “I shall try,” he said, “whatever lies in my power.” At one time, the Naga King had worshipped Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, and pleased her. She had bestowed upon him the gift of music. Now he went to Mount Kailas and sang before Lord Shiva.

Lord Shiva was so pleased with the singing that he said, “My son, you made me so happy with your music. What can I do for you in return?”

“Lord,” said the Naga King, “I want you to bring Madalasa back to life!”

“But she is already cremated,” Lord Shiva said. “How can she come back to life?”

“Create her again, Lord,” said the Naga King. “I am very eager to make the prince my son-in-law.”

“So be it,” said Lord Shiva. “Go home and worship your ancestors. Offer them the usual morsels of food. Then eat the middle of the morsels, and Madalasa will be reborn out of your head.”

The Naga King did as he was told, and Madalasa came out of his head alive again. He hid her in his palace. Then he called his sons and said, “Sons, you have never once brought your Prince here and given him hospitality. Now that he is immersed in grief, you must entertain him and make him forget his sorrow.”

The Naga boys at once went to the Prince and said, “O Prince, you have never been our guest. Our father keeps asking for you. Won’t you come with us?”

The Prince agreed to be their guest for a while. The three of them came to the banks of the Gomati and got into the waters. When the Naga boys were underwater, their bodies changed to those of serpents. The Prince saw gems shining on their heads.

“What a surprise!” the Prince exclaimed. “You are not Brahmans but Nagas! Why did you keep it secret from me?”

“O Prince,” the boys said, “we were afraid that you would refuse to be friends if you knew that we were Nagas. You must pardon our deceit!” “What do I care if you are Nagas?” the Prince replied. “Whoever you are, you are dear to me.”

The Naga King gave the Prince a colourful reception. There was no end to the feasts and entertainments he got up in honour of his guest. He offered a seat to the Prince by his side on his diamond throne and said, “My dear young man, my sons talk about you all the time. I thought I should have such a charming young man for my son-in-law. I heard that your wife had died an untimely death. You are still young and should marry again. Accept my daughter as a gift from me!”

“Pardon me, sir,” the Prince said. “I have vowed that none but Madalasa should be my wife ever!”

“Oh, you will change your mind,” said the Naga King, smiling, “after seeing my daughter.” Then he ordered the maids to bring Madalasa.

What was the joy of the couple when they saw one another again?

The Naga King told the Prince precisely what had happened and said, “Well, son, she was your wife first. But now she is my daughter too. Permit me to marry you again.” The marriage of Madalasa took place amidst great splendour and rejoicing. The Naga King heaped gold and diamonds upon the couple when they took leave of him and returned to their country.

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