In Kashmir, there was once a rich and noble youth called Pravara. He started on a pilgrimage to see the world. Unfortunately, one day he fell into the hands of robbers who robbed him even of his clothes. Dressing in the discarded clothes of the robbers, Pravara walked many days without food or sleep and reached a strange city.
It was night. Pravara was too proud to beg for food or shelter. No one offered him what he was ashamed to ask. He reached the King’s stables near the city wall, found a pial, and lay down on it. At once, he was overcome with sleep.
King Jayasena ruled this city. He had a charming and intelligent daughter called Kanchanavalli. On attaining womanhood, the King stopped her studies and fixed up her marriage. The princess was not in favour of this marriage. She had always wanted to marry one who was her match in all respects. Rather than agree to this marriage, she tried to run away from home, see the wide world, find a worthy man and marry him.
To run away from home, she needed help. The minister’s son was her co-student and a close friend of hers. So the princess secretly sent word to him, instructing him to wait for her near the stables with a couple of horses that night. The minister’s son was ready to help her, but he was prevented from doing so because his father insisted that he, too, should attend a dance performance which was arranged at the palace.
This same performance helped the princess to escape. She pretended to have a headache. When the royal family was engrossed in the dance, she climbed down the city wall with the help of a chain and came to the stables. It was very dark, and she thought the minister’s son was sleeping on the pial. She woke him up rudely, saying. “Get up! How can you sleep when there is so much to do? Go at once and bring two horses. We must be going.”
Pravara woke up heavy with sleep. He brought two horses from the stable. The princess got upon one of them and led the way asking him to follow her on the other. They travelled all night without a stop. Before daybreak, the princess wanted to be as far from home as possible. She thought she could explain things to her companion the following day.
By morning they arrived near a tank. Imagine the princess’s surprise when she turned to her companion and found that he was a total stranger. He looked more like a thief than anything else. She realized her mistake and felt like shedding tears. But there was no going back. Her father would order her to be killed mercilessly.
The princess sat down on the ground and looked away from Pravara. Pravara did not attempt to speak to her. He broke a couple of twigs from a tree and threw one before her so she could brush her teeth. In silence, they finished their ablutions, mounted their horses and rode on till they came to a river.
A ferry boat was about to cross the river. An aged woman was entreating the boatman to take her on the boat free of charge, and the boatman insisted on payment. Since Pravara had no money with him, he looked at his companion. The princess threw a gold coin at his face. Pravara gave this coin to the boatman and told the older woman to come along.
After crossing the river, the old lady thanked Pravara. She mistook the couple to be wife and husband and offered herself as a cook to them.
“All right, granny. You can share our fate,” Pravara told the imploring woman.
By noon they reached a city called Helanagar. They went to a choultry, had food, and rested for the day. The next morning Pravara went to the marketplace and offered to give the merchant daily predictions which would be profitable to them. A few merchants bought his predictions, and he returned with some foodstuff. The older woman cooked excellent food, and all three ate it.
The next day more merchants bought Pravara’s predictions for the day and considered him a man of worth. Pravara had enough money now to take a house and live independently.
One of the merchants one day found that Pravara was an expert in diamonds. He gave him a job with a decent monthly salary.
Life was now very happy for the three of them. Only “granny” wondered why the wife and husband never exchanged a single word. Being a wise old woman, she told herself, “who can penetrate the mysteries of married life?”
One day a trader from the south brought an extraordinary diamond to the city’s King and offered it for a crore rupees. The King desired to possess this beautiful gem but wanted experts’ opinions before paying such a huge price.
So the diamond merchants of the place were called to the palace. They saw the diamond by turns and estimated its price variously from 75 lakhs to two crores. When it was Pravara’s turn, he scrutinized the gem and said, “This diamond is worth exactly one rupee. Of course, that is the charge for cutting it. As for the material, it is utterly worthless.”
This was a terrible slap in the face for the trader from the south. His reputation was shattered. He shouted, “You should not say such things without proving them.”
Pravara dashed the diamond against an iron plate to prove what he said, and it was shattered into a thousand bits.
The King was impressed by the wisdom of Pravara. That very day he appointed him as one of his advisers. Pravara justified the King’s choice by giving him wise counsel several times. A short while later, the King’s minister died, and Pravara was given the post as none else more suited for it.
After Pravara became minister, his private affairs became the subject of general gossip. One day the royal washer woman told the queen that the minister’s wife was an uncommonly beautiful lady. The queen, in her turn, said this to the King. Pravara was an ordinary man before he was made a minister. How could a commoner have an uncommonly beautiful wife? This puzzled the King. Also, he wanted to see how beautiful his minister’s wife was.
To satisfy his curiosity, the King devised a plan. One day he invited his minister to dine with him. The queen herself was made to prepare the food and serve it. Pravara understood the King’s intention. He must do to the King what the King did to him. He could invite the King for dinner. But how could he ask a strange lady to prepare food and attend to his guest?
Not knowing what to do, Pravara went home that night and lay in bed. When granny” told him to come for food, he said, “I am not hungry.”
The princess guessed that something was troubling Pravara and that it concerned herself. She said to the old woman, “Tell him, granny, that if there is anything to be done, it will be done. Why should he go without food and worry himself?”
Hearing these words, Pravara was greatly relieved. He sat before his meal and said, “Granny, today the King gave me dinner. It was prepared and served by the queen herself. Is it not proper that we return the King’s hospitality?”
“Tell him, granny,” said the princess, “that I, too, can prepare and serve good dishes. I shall not lag behind the queen.”
The next day the King was invited to dine at the minister’s house. The princess prepared delicious dishes. She served them to the King and went away. Before returning to reserving, she changed her clothes, ornaments and even her hairstyle, so the King believed that two different women attended to him.
The King went home and told his wife, “Our minister has two wives. Both are such beauties” The queen had a great desire to see them. So she suggested to the King, “Ardhodaga is at hand. Let us invite our minister and his wives to accompany us that day to the sea. They too can take part in the ceremony of bathing couples.”
Accordingly, the King invited his minister to accompany him to the sea with his wives on Ardhodaya day.
Pravara was now in a worse plight than before. Preparing and serving food to a guest was one thing, and taking part in the ceremony of bathing couples was another. How could he make such a request to the lady who was not his lawful wife?
Pravara came home and lay down tormented by this problem. When the old lady came and called him to eat, he replied that he was not hungry.
The princess said, “Ask him, granny, how frequently he loses his appetite. Does he not know that those who helped him once can help him again, if necessary? He who pro texts can order foo. Is it not so?”
Pravara stopped worrying and sat before his meal. He told granny about the King’s invitation.
“Let him accept the invitation, granny. Let seven closed palanquins be ordered, and seven sets of clothing and jewellery got ready. Let them set up a tent with seven entrances on the beach. Everything will be in order.” the princess said.
On the Ardhodaya day, seven closed Palanquins accompanied the minister’s palanquin. Only one of them contained the princess, Kanchanavalli. The seven palanquins were set down behind the tent with seven entrances. From the first entrance of the tent, the princess stepped forth and joined the minister on the beach. They tied their clothes together according to the custom and bathed together. Then the princess went back to the tent. Soon she came out of the second entrance dressed and looking like a different person and repeated the ceremony with the minister. She did this seven times.
The King and queen who were watching this thought seven different ladies came out of the tent and bathed with the minister. Each one of them was a great beauty!
The next day the queen sent seven sets of gifts for the seven wives of the minister through her maid and instructed her to find out the names of all the seven ladies. The maid arrived at the minister’s house and requested an interview with the minister’s wives.
On instructions from the princess, granny met the queen’s maid and said, “I am afraid the queen made a mistake. The minister has eight wives. One of them could not go to the sea because she was unwell. Their names are the same as those of the eight wives of Lord Krishna. They avoid one another, and you have to meet them individually.”
The queen’s maid ran back and returned with an extra gift. The princess came to her eight times in a different dress and conversed with her, each time in a different voice and accent.
A few days later, the princess instigated granny to serve food in excess while Pravara was eating.
He protested to the old lady. “What is the matter with you today? Granny? Do you think that I have a bigger stomach today? Why are you serving me so much food ?”
“Tell him, granny, ” said the princess mischievously, “if he cannot eat all the food, there are others to finish off what he leaves over.”
Now Pravara understood how the young lady was disposed towards him. When the princess brought him to pan after food, he asked her, “when are we going to get married?”
She replied, “I left home to find a husband worthy of me. In that very instant, God has presented you before me. But I was blind and mistook a gem for a glass bead. I followed you only out of helplessness. You never even looked at me. Can I hope to meet a nobler man? You were not aware of it, but in my mind, I have been your wife for a long time now.”
Pravara was very happy to hear this. He took the first opportunity of informing the King about his forthcoming marriage. The King listened to the full story of Pravara’s wife with unconcealed wonder and exclaimed, “What an extraordinary woman!”
Chandamama July 1955 | N. S. Santha