The Belbati Princess

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there were seven brothers the youngest of whom bore the name of Lita. The six elder brothers were all married but Lita refused to marry and when questioned he said that he would not marry any one but the Belbati Princess. His sisters-in-law laughed very much at the idea that he would marry a princess and worried him so much that at length he decided to set out in search of the Belbati princess. So one day he started off and after some time came to a jungle in which was sitting a holy muni. Lita went to him and asked if he knew where he would find the Belbati-princess. The muni said that he did not know but that a day’s journey farther on was another muni who might be able to tell him. So Lita travelled on for a day and found another muni who was in the midst of performing a three month’s spell of fasting and meditation. Lita had to wait till the muni returned to thoughts of this world and then made his enquiry. The muni said that he did not know but that three days’ journey farther on was another muni who might be able to help him. So Lita went on and found the third muni who was in the midst of a six months’ fast. When this muni came to himself and heard what Lita wanted he said that he would be very glad to help him. The Belbati princess was at the time imprisoned in the biggest bel fruit growing on a bel tree which was guarded by Rākshasas. If he went and plucked this fruit he would secure the princess, but if he took any but the biggest fruit he would be ruined.

Lita promised to bear this in mind and then the muni changed him into a biti bird and told him the direction in which to fly. Lita flew off and soon came to the tree, which was covered with fruit; he was very frightened when he saw the Rākshasas there, so in a great hurry he went and bit off the first fruit that he came to; but this was not the biggest on the tree and the Rākshasas immediately fell upon him and ate him up. The muni, when Lita did not come back, knew that something must have happened to him so he sent a crow to see what was the matter. The crow came back and said that one bel fruit had been picked but that he could not see Lita. Then the muni sent the crow to bring him the droppings of the Rākshasas. The crow did so and from the droppings the muni restored Lita to life. The muni reproved Lita for his failure and told him that if he wished to make a second attempt he must remember his behest to pick only the biggest bel fruit. Lita promised and the muni turned him into a parroquet. In this form Lita again flew to the bel tree and picked the biggest fruit on the tree. When the Rākshasas saw the parrot making off with the fruit they pursued him in fury; but the muni turned the parrot into a fly so small that the Rākshasas could not see it, so they had to give up the chase.

When they had departed Lita recovered his own form and went to the muni with the bel fruit and asked what more was to be done in order to find the princess. The muni said that the princess was inside the fruit; that Lita was to take it to a certain well and very gently break it open against the edge of the well. Lita hurried off to the well and in his anxiety to see the princess he knocked the fruit with all his force and split it suddenly in two. The result of this was that the princess burst out of the fruit in such a blaze of light that Lita fell down dead. When the princess saw that her brightness had killed her lover she was very distressed and taking his body on her lap she wept over him. While she was doing so a girl of the Kāmār caste came by and asked what was the matter. The princess said: “My lover is dead, if you will draw water from the well I will revive him by giving him to drink,” but the Kāmār girl at once formed a wicked plan. She said that she could not reach the water in the well. Then said the princess: “Do you hold this dead body while I draw the water.” “No,” said the Kāmār girl, “I see you mean to run away leaving me with the dead body and I shall get into trouble.” Then said the princess: “If you do not believe me take off my fine clothes and keep them as a pledge.” Then the princess let the Kāmār girl take off all her jewellery and her beautiful dress and went to draw water from the well. But the Kāmār girl followed her and as the princess leant over the edge she pushed her in, so that she was drowned. Then the Kāmār girl drew water from the well and went back to Lita and poured some into his mouth, and directly the water touched his lips he came back to life, and as the Kāmār girl had put on the dress and jewellery of the Belbati princess he thought that she was the bride for whom he had sought. So he took her home to his brothers’ house and married her.

After a time Lita and his brothers went to hunt in the jungle; it was very hot and Lita grew very thirsty; he found himself near the well at which he had broken the bel fruit and went to it for water. Looking down he saw floating on the water a beautiful flower; he was so pleased with it that he picked it and took it home to his Kāmār wife; but when she saw it she was very displeased and cut it up into pieces and threw the pieces out of the house. Lita was sorry and noticed shortly afterwards that at the place where the pieces of the flower had been thrown a small bel tree was sprouting. He had this planted in his garden and carefully watered. It grew well and after a time it produced ripe fruit. One day Lita ordered his horse, and as it was being brought it broke loose and run away into the garden: as it ran under the bel tree one of the bel fruits fell on to the saddle and stayed there. When the syce caught the horse he saw this and took the fruit home with him. When he went to cut open the fruit he found inside it a beautiful woman; he kept the woman in his house. At this time the Kāmār woman fell ill and was like to die. Lita was very distressed at the thought of losing his Belbati princess. At last the Kāmārin said that she was being bewitched by the girl who was living in the syce’s house and that one or other of them must die. Lita at once ordered the girl to be taken into the jungle and killed. Four Ghāsis took her away and put her to death. Her last request to them was that they should cut off her hands and feet and put them at the four sides of her grave. This they did. After the death of the girl the Kāmār wife recovered her health.

After a time Lita again went hunting and at nightfall came to the place where the girl had been put to death. There he found standing a fine palace. He went in but the only living creatures he saw were two birds who seemed to live there; he lay down on a bed and went to sleep. While he slept the birds sat by him and began talking. One told the other the story of the search for the Belbati princess and how the Kāmār girl had thrown her into the well and taken her place. When Lita heard this he awoke and was very unhappy. The birds told him that once a year the Belbati princess visited the palace in which he was; her next visit would be in six months. So Lita stayed there and at the end of the six months he hid behind the door to await the princess. She came and as she passed through the door he caught her by the hand, but she wrenched herself away and fled. Lita was very depressed but the birds told him to be more careful the next time. So he waited a year and when the princess was expected he hid himself: the princess came and seeing no one entered the palace and went to sleep. While she slept Lita secured her. They were married and lived happily ever after, and the wicked Kāmār girl was put to death.